Friday Random 10: Big day edition

A big day indeed: it’s finally sunny (cause for celebration in and of itself), it’ Friday, it’s the end of the quarter, and we’re about halfway through the year. Our company shipped some major products this week, though for various reasons the press release won’t be out until the second week of July. And I have some other news that will have to wait until Monday, for various reasons.

In the meantime, it’s a good sort of day to sit down and shuffle through the iPod and see what comes up:

  1. Bob Dylan, “Hurricane,” (Desire)
  2. TartanPodcast, “Sleepy Sunday Show #10”
  3. Moby, “Memory Gospel,” (Play: The B Sides)
  4. Eva Cassidy, “Songbird,” (Eva By Heart)
  5. M. Ward, “Oh Take Me Back,” (Transistor Radio)
  6. Neko Case, “Knock Loud” (Fields and Streams compilation)
  7. Robert Shaw Festival Singers (Arnold Schoenberg, composer), “Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), Op. 13” (Evocation of the Spirit)
  8. John Coltrane, “Blue Trane (alternate take),” (Blue Trane)
  9. Clem Snide, “Moment In The Sun” (The Ghost of Fashion)
  10. The Stills, “Love and Death” (Logic Will Break Your Heart)


I think wants to be for music what LibraryThing is for books. Because it’s track and playcount focused, it’s a different experience. But I think if it could give me a similarity list for the contents of my library, it would probably turn up my Seattle friend Tom Harpel, on the basis of his recent Favorite Records list. Thanks for the listening suggestions—I’ll have to check the thirteen albums on the list that aren’t already in my library.

One more note on LibraryThing: data portability

Okay, so I was a little inaccurate in my last post about LibraryThing; it’s not an overnight sensation, having been launched back in August of last year. In fact, Alex Barnett (who was in my home aggregator but not my Bloglines subscriptions; rectified) wrote about them back in January, as he was gentle enough to remind us this week.

Alex’s point bears thinking about. LibraryThing is an online service that makes it possible to get your data back out, in a variety of ways—RSS and blog badges and mobile access, of course, but also plain ol’ tab-delimited or CSV export. And that’s pretty cool.

In the meantime, the rest of my books have finished importing (guess they were pretty backed up!), so I’m off to play with it a little.

Lazyweb: full list of Sony BMG owned domains?

A non-spam comment recently arrived on the old Boycott Sony site, which is something of a rarity these days. Reader PJ asks whether there is a known list of sites that are owned by Sony BMG, or Sony generally, so that he can block those sites for showing up in AdSense ads.

I don’t have such a list. Does anyone out there? I suspect that part of the issue may be that Sony Music/Sony BMG registers unique domains for its artists, meaning that blocking ads for them may turn into a game of whack-a-mole. But I’ll throw the question out to LazyWeb anyway.

Whoa indeed.

real banana jr.

Via BoingBoing, this spectacular casemod brings memories of my childhood flooding back. My favorite Banana Jr. moment may still be the first strip: as the computer dances around the panel, Oliver Wendell Jones reads from the directions, “And most importantly… it turns off.” And the Banana Jr. collapses backwards, its feet up in the air, cartoon smoke coming from its case.

The Banana Jr. was a nice evenhanded mockery of personal computing in its day. Oliver Wendell Holmes was always hacking into remote systems (my fave: the New York Times headline “Reagan Calls Women ‘America’s Little Dumplins”), a quintessentially IBM PC activity. But the speaking, dancing computer was all Macintosh. I was almost disappointed when I got my SE/30 that the resemblance wasn’t closer. And Breathed was legendary for merchandising his characters everywhere (to the point that Opus made a joke about little plush versions of himself in one strip), but he missed a killer opportunity: stands for original Macs in the form of Banana Jr. legs. They would’ve been beautiful.

Second impressions of LibraryThing

Following up my initial LibraryThing report from yesterday, last night I exported my Delicious Library to text (necessary because the underlying XML file was bigger than the 2 MB limit for imports) and uploaded it to the service. In spite of being overloaded by WSJ and BoingBoing traffic, the site was responsive; it reported all the ISBNs that it was going to add to my library, told me how many others were already ahead of mine to look up, and said that it should be done in about 10 hours. It beat that estimate and had my catalog of books live by 8 am this morning—unfortunately, though it was only part of it, since I hit the 200-book limit that comes with free membership.

The UI is a dream. You can view your books as a list or a virtual “shelf” displaying all the covers (fans of Delicious Library will recognize this view). Clicking on a title in shelf view toggles some options—look up the book in Amazon, view your information about it, view the social information (tags, ratings, reviews, weighted recommendations), or edit the information. In addition to the obvious features (tags, etc.), editing the information provides one very useful function, the ability to change cover art to one of a dozen variant editions, to art provided by another user, or to upload your own cover art. Very slick.

Similarity is an interesting feature, as is the ability to browse to see who else has a book in their library. I also like the automated tag clouds, and my personal author cloud is telling (though, again, skewed by the fact that only part of my library is represented). I look forward to exploring some of the additional social networking features over time.

The bottom line is that just a day or two after its launch, LibraryThing is shaping up to be a really interesting way to explore books, authors, and other people’s reading habits. Fun!

Delicious LibraryThing

The Wall Street Journal pointed me to LibraryThing, a new social networking site based on the contents of your bookshelves. I dug into it and found a very cool feature: you can give it your Delicious Library database and it will import all the books (based on recognizing ISBN numbers) into your online bookshelf.

I haven’t played with it yet but you can bet I will when I get home. This is a near perfect marriage of offline and online functionality: scan a book with your iSight, upload the record in one step, and you’ve published it online. Very cool. Thought this was functionality that should have been in Delicious Library from the beginning.

Buffett: Estate tax repeal “counter to democracy”

I find it interesting that one of the wealthiest men in America thinks that the estate tax giveaway currently being debated by Congress is a bad idea. After all, I thought the whole point of the estate tax repeal was to benefit the wealthy. But if the wealthiest Americans think that it’s a bad idea, then who thinks it’s a good idea?

And just how bad an idea does Buffett think the estate tax repeal is? There have been various quotations from him over the past few days that suggest that he thinks it’s a very bad idea indeed:

  • NY Times, A Gift Between Friends: “As for any thought he might have had in giving the bulk of his billions to his three children, Mr. Buffett was characteristically blunt. ‘I don’t believe in dynastic wealth,’ he said, calling those who grow up in wealthy circumstances ‘members of the lucky sperm club.’”
  • NY Times, Buffett’s Billions Will Aid in the Fight Against Disease: “Mr. Buffett was scathing yesterday in describing his feelings about estate taxes, which the Bush administration is trying to kill. The ability of rich men to pass on ‘dynastic wealth’ to their grandchildren is offensive to the American tradition of meritocracy, he said. He gets particularly upset at his country club, he said, hearing members complain about welfare mothers getting food stamps ’while they are trying to leave their children a more-than-lifetime-supply of food stamps and are substituting a trust officer for a welfare officer.’”
  • Boston Globe, Buffett gives billions, hits bid to repeal the estate tax: “‘I can’t think of anything that’s more counter to a democracy that dynastic wealth,’ he said. ‘The idea that you win the lottery the moment you’re born: It just strikes me as outrageous.’”
  • (from 2001), Dozens of the Wealthy Join to Fight Estate Tax: “ Mr. Buffett said repealing the estate tax ‘would be a terrible mistake,’ the equivalent of ‘choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics.’”

Smart. Very Smart

It looks like Smart cars, which I saw for the first time on my trip to Paris in 1999, will finally be making their way to the US market. At least, that’s what rumors and unnamed sources say in such prominent places as the Wall Street Journal and Der Spiegel. Think that’s a lot of fuss for unverifiable rumors? You probably haven’t filled up recently. The nifty two seater Smart is poised to enter the market at a banner time for small vehicles thanks to soaring post-Katrina fuel prices; fuel economy is reported to range from 46 MPG city to 70 MPG highway. Of course, they crumple like an aluminum can if you breathe on them wrong, but honestly—after my most recent $40 tank of gas, I’m thinking that sounds like a reasonable trade-off for a lower fuel bill.

If nothing else, the Smart should set a bar for other automakers as the subcompact market heats up. Maybe now we’ll finally see the Volkswagen Polo in the US.

God bless the tellers of truth II: Museum of Bad Art

When an article about the famed Museum of Bad Art in Dedham opens with the line, “When I heard the Hockney show was closing [at the MFA], we thought we’d pick up some of the slack,” you know the gloves are off. This is apparently my morning to try to piss people off, but I wasn’t really drawn to the David Hockney show at the MFA, and the MOBA’s take on it, “Hackneyed Portraits,” is just brilliantly funny.

I like the new works, but they still can’t hold a candle to Lucy in the Field With Flowers or Sunday On The Pot With George.

God bless the tellers of truth

I thought his book Kitchen Confidential was nasty, brutish, and not short enough, but at least Anthony Bourdain has the cojones to tell it like it is:

[Emeril] looks like [legendary chef Georges Auguste] Escoffier now compared to some of the bobble-heads who are on that network… [For example,] Rachael Ray. She’s paid more and is more popular [than Emeril], and I see a day when the executives say, we don’t need Emeril anymore, even though he built their network. They’ll replace him with some industry-created freakozoid who’s been grown from a seedling into a recognized brand. When you look at Sandra Lee or Rachael Ray or some of the new shows like “Calorie Commando” that are just vomit-inducing — at least Emeril worked his way up and has a real restaurant empire.

Heck yeah. Apologies to her fans, but we really need to have a Beat Up on Rachael Ray week. It’s still not clear to me why she’s become such a Persona when her main talent appears to be talking endlessly and purveying mediocre food.

QTN™: Harpoon Saison (100 Barrel Series)

I’ve written about Harpoon’s limited 100 Barrel series before—including the Oatmeal Stout, the most phenomenal offering in the whole series. But I need to amend that last statement. The new Harpoon Saison is the finest beer yet to come from this particular brewery… and I say that not just as an aficionado of the Saison style in particular and most Belgo-French styles in general, but as a fan of fine beer in all its forms.

The nose is a good start—bready with banana undertones promising good complex esters in the taste. The taste doesn’t disappoint either—up front hoppy brightness, opening into a bready but bright (lemon? spices?) body, with a pleasantly lemony aftertaste.

The more impressive part, though, is the nature of the middle part. If you close your eyes, the Saison could be a French Saison or even a Belgian—Lisa’s comment was “It tastes like LaChouffe.” This is high praise indeed for an American beer in general and a New England beer in particular, this region not noted for its Belgophile beer styles.

This last may be the biggest obstacle to the Saison joining Harpoon’s regular lineup. It’s so different from Harpoon’s regular styles that I can’t get my mind around it. It’s like Sam Adams suddenly brewing a Duvel. But the disjoint in styles may ultimately be a good thing. Harpoon’s regular lineup has been stuck for a long time. But suddenly a raspberry-flavored Hefe has joined the family, and maybe some more will come. I vote for the Saison sticking around for a long long long time.

Friday Random 10: Oh thank god edition

I can honestly say I’ve never been so glad to get to the end of a week as I am today. Of course it’s not over; I have a stack of calls and meetings this afternoon. But as I look at the window in my new office at work I can already feel my blood pressure dropping. Bring it on, rainy weekend! I pwn j00z!

  1. Mitch Hedberg, “Candy Bars” (Mitch All Together)
  2. Beth Orton, “Absinthe” (Comfort of Strangers)
  3. They Might Be Giants, “Narrow Your Eyes” (Apollo 18)
  4. Brodsky Quartet (George Crumb, composer), “Black Angels I: Absence: Threnody II. Black Angels (Tutti)” (Death and the Maiden)
  5. Choir of Trinity College, “Gloria sei dir. v. 3” (In Dulci Jubilo)
  6. Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny, “Message to a Friend” (Beyond the Missouri Sky)
  7. Luscious Jackson, “Under Your Skin” (Fever In Fever Out)
  8. Sufjan Stevens, “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” (Illinoise)
  9. The Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat” (White Light/White Heat)
  10. The MDH Band, “Satellite of Love (reprise)” (The Million Dollar Hotel)

DRM or Free’n’Ugly: why Hakon Lie is wrong about web fonts

As I keep forgetting to prove by posting some old work, I was once an ardent amateur typographer before the web rendered that pastime, as well as most desktop publishing, all but obsolete. As someone who used to code my favorite font family into my stylesheets on the off chance that someone would have Minion installed on their machine, I should be right in the target market for Opera CTO Hakon Lie’s write-up on improving web typography.

And yet, I find myself with some misgivings. Not because there aren’t problems with web typography. To cite one example, several sites that I visit from my home browser used to appear strange to the point of being unreadable because Safari read the type family and found the nearest match—but as you can see, Myriad Wild is no substitute for Adobe’s elegant Myriad sans serif, and when the browser identifies the music-font variant of Minion as the right text in which to set a page of text it’s time to give up.

But the biggest problem with fonts online for me is the same as the biggest problem offline: quality and readability. And for this cause I think Hakon’s suggestion that free fonts should be accessible by browsers to render web pages is not the best idea. The best example I can think of is the one Hakon used: Goodfish. I may be a font snob, but I can’t help but think a web page set in this font would drive me to turn off font downloading—or stop visiting the page. It’s not a bad font, it’s just not a good font for setting text. In fact, it was the general unavailability of good fonts for reading text on screen that drove Microsoft to commission Verdana, Georgia and the other fonts in their Web type set in the first place. Display faces are a dime a dozen, and I happily use freely available ones where necessary—but good fonts for setting text are worth their weight in gold, and the odds of them being released for free use without some sort of DRM are minimal. (That I can name only two exceptions, the highly useful Gentium and Bitstream’s Vera, proves the rule.)

And speaking of DRM and free, there are two unattractive possibilities that would come from the institution of standards for downloading Web fonts. First, there is a long history of ripping off and undercompensating font designers (think of all those collections of 1001 free fonts that consist entirely of cheap knock offs of gold standard fonts that cost money) that can only get worse if the pressure to provide free fonts for Web use grows. I think that a flood of even more cheap knock-off fonts falls in the category of really bad unintended consequences. At the same time, the last thing I want to see is an even more restrictive set of DRM schemes around font technologies. And think of the challenges of enforcing “web only” font licenses through DRM when more and more of the user’s desktop applications are migrating to the Web.

I also think the point that is made on Big Patterns about the difference between free-as-in-beer and free-as-in-speech fonts is well made. But at the end of the day what I want is good fonts that can be used online without resorting to PDF, Flash, or various CSS image replacement techniques—and without paying an ASCAP-style yearly license for the right to do so. I don’t see this happening under Hakon’s suggestion without some extremely creative thinking on the part of the font foundries and software engineers.