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Vote for Pedro's Apartment

My friend David has entered his 500-sq-ft Hyde Park apartment in Apartment Therapy's Smallest Coolest Apartment Contest.

David's Creative Sanctuary David's Creative Sanctuary

He'd sure appreciate your vote.

Surf the rest of the contest entries for lots more tasty architecture porn.

toys 2006.03.24 / link / 3 comments

Burning got better

While burning a stack of xmas CDs I ran into the one and only improvement I've noticed so far since upgrading to iTunes 6:

Now when I tell it to burn a disc, iTunes takes my insertion of the disc as approval to go ahead. The workflow used to be a multi-stage process that included a subjectively interminable wait while it checked out the disc before asking for a final okay.

Sometimes it's a few seconds here and there which make all the difference between a tolerable UX and a maddening one.

toys 2005.12.17 / link / 1 comment

Primal blender

Those wacky Media Lab kids.

Blendie 2000 by Kelly Dobson

By Kelly Dobson.

toys 2005.04.14 / link / comment?

Am I tagged or not, the latest incarnation of Ben Brown's ageist dating site, now has tags. It's unclear yet whether early-adopter chic will make it a success -- Consumating tells me that it has 1636 people in my area, of whom 24 are girls, and their median last login date was two months ago. Could tag-happy geeks be 98.5% male? That seems a little high. Sure enough it says there are 60 local boys, probably closer to a typical dating site's male-female ratio. So does that mean that the other 1552 are neither boys nor girls?

Speculations about gender and set theory aside, Consumating's tagging scheme does point out a weakness of having one big pot of tags for everything. The signup interface invites you to create tags in three categories: what you look like, what you like, and what you do/where you do it. But the three categories of tags are merged in the profiles. So a short person who likes tall people would end up with both "short" and "tall" in his or her tags. tags tagged austin

The buzzmongers for Consumating also take pains to point out that it uses Ajax. Talk about geek aphrodisiac!

toys 2005.04.10 / link / 9 comments

Yahoo 360 timeouts and IM newbiehood

Yahoo 360 is the new social network system from Yahoo and at first glance it's as tired as the rest of them. The parody Sixfoo 660° seems to be right on as far as I can tell: "Finally a way for social networks to stay connected to other social networks and meet interesting social networks like yourself."

Sixfoo 660

Yahoo 360° is using the viral marketing trick learned from Gmail and Orkut that you have to be invited to join while it's still in beta. The artificial scarcity of invitations is a way to drive the buzz. Anyway, if anybody's burning to try it out let me know and I'll invite you.

But that's not why I'm posting this. The thing about Yahoo 360° that's driving me crazy is that I'm getting frequent timeouts or "document contains no data" messages when I try to do anything in it. Uploads almost never work and plenty of other operations fail, too. The problem is not browser-dependent: the same thing happens in Firefox 1.0, Safari, or MSIE 5.0 for Mac. This is on my Powerbook G4 running Mac OS X 10.3.8.

I've had the same problem with a small handful of other services: Orkut, the American Airlines frequent flyer site (but not their regular site) and a couple of library web apps. My ISP is Time-Warner Roadrunner and I do have a wireless router. Having exhausted other ideas, I'm starting to wonder what kind of firewall issues might unite this odd collection of problematic sites. Any suggestions? Or where I could go to debug such an obscure problem? For starters I've tried a couple of Roadrunner boards without success.

In related news, I'm also now experimenting with IM for the first time. Yes, hard to believe that I'd reach such a ripe old age without synchronous messaging, but there you have it. I'm registered as "pztejas" on AIM and "pzriddle" on Yahoo. If you see me online and want to say hi, feel free. One thing I'm wondering about off the bat is: are there technological or cultural or fashion differences between the two that I should be aware of? I can't see myself running them both on a regular basis; will I prove myself cool or lame by picking one over the other?

toys 2005.04.02 / link / 14 comments

Live from SxSWi, almost

Until today I took David Nunez's advice and left my laptop at home, but for fun today I'm blogging live from South by Southwest Interactive.

At the moment Wonkette is on stage speaking about political blogging in funny and colorful terms not appropriate for a family blog. Her use of sexual metaphor is endearing; what offends me is that she uses the mainstream media's narrow and self-absorbed definition of "blogger" as "narrowly political A-lister". Two quotes:

"Bloggers could not exist without the mainstream media."

"Without the New York Times bloggers would have nothing to complain about."

Give me a break.

At the other end of the spectrum of thoughtfulness, here's a linky shout out to the five excellent panelists on the Blogging While Black session. I won't try to repeat what they said; visit their blogs and see for yourself. They were Tiffany Brown of (what it says), (her tech blog), (wine); Lynne D. Johnson of; George Kelly of All About George and the group blog NegroPhile; Tony Pierce of busblog; and Jason Toney of Negro Please. And not on the stage, but in the air: the late Aaron Hawkins of Uppity Negro, Cecily Kidd of Formi(ca), and conservative Michael Bowen of Cobb and

For grins, I took a snapshot of images from the SxSW LAN during the Blogging While Black panel:

SxSWi etherpeg shot

Watching the images stream by in EtherPeg is interesting, but that static view is pretty dull. Come to think of it, attending the conference with my mind half on my laptop is generally sort of dull. I won't bring it tomorrow.

toys 2005.03.14 / link / 5 comments

Hillbilly iPod

Here's the rig I used to get me through those long bus rides in Mexico: a cheap CD walkman, an assortment of throwaway discs burned in iTunes, and a pair of discount noise-canceling headphones from Fry's.

hillbilly iPod

The headphones worked much better than I expected. I'd flip them on and the rumble of the bus was reduced to a little background noise over which it was easy to hear the music at a modest volume. I guess the technology has improved -- I tried a more expensive pair years ago and returned them to the store. I need to scrape together the cash to buy a couple more for my daughters, who also listen to music on long car rides and have more hearing left to lose than I do.

For the trip I burned multi-CD sets of Café Tacuba and Maldita Vecindad, a reunion with two of my favorite bands whose music I haven't listened to enough lately. I also used my trick in iTunes of sweeping a bunch of tracks from a particular genre into a temporary playlist which I scramble and burn as a form of poor man's shuffle, in this case discs for cumbia, rock en español and mixed latin. And for a break from my program of Spanish immersion I brought along cool mixes by Jez and Gwen. Listening in the dark with no distractions was very nice; it's something I did a lot as a teenager and need to do more of.

All this, a Paco Ignacio Taibo II novel, water, granola bars, and Pepto-Bismol and I'm set for a ride to Patagonia and back.

toys 2005.01.04 / link / 3 comments

Oblique Strategies as a Mac OS X app

Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies are a set of one-line instructions to be selected at random to break creative block or shake things up in the creative process.

Discard an axiom.

Find a safe part and use it as an anchor.


Shayne of curvedspace has now implemented an Oblique Strategies app for Mac OS X. (Via Ed Vielmetti.)

Oblique Strategies for Mac OS X

Geeks have been playing with the Oblique Strategies for a long time. Here's a Usenet thread from 1992. Someone even implemented them in FORTRAN!

The strategies invite many variations. This gets the gears in my head turning about a version suitable for children.

toys 2004.12.08 / link / 2 comments

MP3 blogs to playlists to streaming to podcasts to your newsreader

While the RIAA does battle with the big music-sharing services, smaller communities are gathering around the fringes to do interesting things with blogs, playlists and RSS feeds.

Item: MP3 blogs are weblogs which offer MP3s to illustrate their authors' comments on music. There's a flourishing MP3 blog scene, mostly dealing with obscure material of little interest to the big record companies. If you like the idiosyncratic world of blogs, you may enjoy MP3 blogs, too. A couple to start with could be Soul Sides and Fluxblog.

Item: Webjay is a "playlist community" of people who post playlists of links to MP3, Windows Media and RealMedia audio. For instance I've been browsing Webjay playlists of cumbia and Brazilian tracks. Webjay doesn't deliver the audio, just links to audio found elsewhere on the web, but it makes the audio available in a lot of useful ways. It has nice search, social and recommendation features (e.g., if you like a playlist you can find other playlists which contain overlapping material). More importantly, Webjay offers each playlist in M3U and SMIL formats, so your favorite streaming audio tool can deliver the playlist as a continuous stream. And it offers each playlist as an RSS feed suitable for podcasting.

Item: Podcasting is the practice of automatically downloading audio from an RSS feed into your iPod or other MP3 player. The name is confusing as the kind of MP3 player doesn't matter; what's important is that podcasting lets you time-shift audio the way a Tivo or other DVR (or a VCR for that matter) lets you time-shift TV. Tell your "podcatcher" the RSS feeds to watch and it will grab any audio they link to and save it in your player for you.

Item: Playthispage is a Webjay feature which brings the three previous items together. Webjay can turn any page which contains links to MP3s into a playlist and into a podcast-ready RSS feed. Thus the URL of the MP3 blog Soul Sides:
...can be used to automatically generate a corresponding Webjay playlist:
...which in turn has an RSS feed that you can use with your favorite podcast software:

But that's only one way these goodies can be hooked together. I don't have a standalone MP3 player and I'm a little fuzzy on how podcasting would work for me without one. In any case I'm more interested in the ability of Webjay to take a list of discrete MP3s and splice them together in a continous "show" that I can have playing in the background. So here's what I've done: in my RSS newsreader I've subscribed to the Webjay Playthispage RSS feeds for several MP3 blogs. If I see something that looks interesting in the newsreader, I visit the Webjay playlist page and use it to launch my Quicktime player to play the show. (There's a trick to making that work in Firefox that I can elaborate on if anyone has read this far.) If something catches my ear, I visit the MP3 blog itself to read about the track; if I still like it, I download the full MP3 and save it in iTunes.

That gives me three things I like to have connected to one another: "radio" to play in the background, MP3s to download, and liner notes.

Someday I'm sure the preceding hodge-podge will exist in one system; iTunes is most of the way there. But such a system is likely to be for pay and limited to the content available in somebody's master library of licensed material. As klugey as MP3 blogs, podcasting and Webjay are, they're open-ended and limited only by the content the web at large chooses to make available.

toys 2004.11.15 / link / 12 comments

Programming for prisoners

I went back to Inside Books for a few more hours on Sunday and because of one prisoner's request learned that their computer section is awful. It was like Goodwill on a really bad day: old manuals for obsolete versions of business software and forty-seven flavors of aging web design books. I can't imagine that any of them would be remotely useful to a prisoner, and certainly not the best use of the $1/lb. that it costs the cash-strapped Inside Books Project to ship books.

That raises a couple of questions:

Do any prisoners in Texas have computer access? If so, what kind? (Network access is prohibited by TDCJ rules, so those web books are useless.)

And is there any kind of book on programming which could be useful to someone without a computer at hand?

On the second point, I suppose Knuth's Art of Computer Programming would fit the bill -- for a bright, mathematically-minded and highly motivated reader.

But the prisoner in question wanted "computer programming for dummies or something of that sort". I'm sure the prison system has its share of bright people but few highly educated ones -- one source says only 31% of Texas inmates have high school diplomas compared with 71% in the general population. So is there a "Knuth for Dummies", so to speak, which teaches programming concepts and how to think algorithmically, written for a general audience and without requiring a computer?

If not, that could be an interesting open-source education project.

toys 2004.05.17 / link / 1 comment


What has eight legs and barks? (Or maybe oinks or moos.)


Answer: the Octodog. I'm wondering whether I could use an Octodog maker for my vegetarian, soy-averse daughters. Maybe it would work on string cheese?

File this with the popcorn forks, zoo sticks, and orange peelers.

toys 2004.02.16 / link / 5 comments

Food on the sidewalk

Zeldman on RSS.

Q. If you offered an RSS feed, I could read your stuff without visiting your site.
A. If you stored your groceries on the sidewalk, we could eat your food without sitting across the table from you.

Exactly. Reminds me of why I stopped participating in blogcritics, which didn't even want me to link back to my blog.

(Shamelessly stolen from Elizabeth Lane Lawley.)

toys 2004.02.01 / link / 2 comments

Delicious is a "social bookmarks manager" and the hot new web-based app of the moment. It's a bookmarks manager because you can use it to record and annotate web URLs as your surf (a bookmarklet makes the process as easy as saving bookmarks within your browser). It's "social" because your bookmark list is visible to other users and as an RSS feed.

Did I say an RSS feed? Actually lets users or RSS subscribers see the bookmarks arranged in numerous different ways. The top page is a ticker tape of whatever users have been bookmarking most recently. There are views by keyword (e.g. CSS, language or art), by user (riddle or blogal villager), and by a combination of the two (my CSS bookmarks). In its most "social" application, you can even use it to see who has bookmarked a particular item (say bookmarks for the Rosetta Project) and perhaps find people with common interests. is by Joshua Schachter of memepool and GeoURL fame. is in "pre-pre-alpha" state so it would be premature to criticize any missing features. My main concern is that, as with GeoURL, appears to have several problems of scale from the outset. One is that it is aggressively chronological in its presentation: that's how you want to see things if your interest is in catching the latest memes to hit the shore, but not if you want to use it as a reference across a reasonably long time span. Another, of course, is that currently has maybe dozens of users; assuming it can be made to function for thousands of users ("a simple matter of programming" as they say, and hardware) there's still the usability question of how to make a Mississippi of bookmarks into something from which one can take a satisfying drink.

Subject access is strictly on the basis of whatever keywords users enter without even an accommodation for spelling errors, let alone a controlled vocabulary or a subject hierarchy. Of course the simplicity of raw text keywords can be seen as a feature rather than a bug from the point of view of an individual user, who can use whatever set of subject buckets he or she prefers and won't be slowed down when making a bookmark by having to navigate someone else's complex and all-encompassing subject system. However, the idiosyncrasies of dozens or thousands of individual keyword choices severely limit the collaborative value of the system. (If you say "socialSoftware" and I say "social_software" how can we collaborate?) A thesaurus, perhaps even an automatically generated one, might go a long way to solving this problem.

Regardless, Joshua has come up with an ingenious proof of concept and a highly addictive toy. It's especially fascinating right now while the early adopters are putting in a lot of high-quality links (there's not even any spam yet!) Take a dip and you'll have trouble not checking back throughout the day to see what new goodies have been bookmarked.

toys 2004.01.28 / link / 2 comments

Powers of ten and powers of ten thousand bucks

Some online geographic visualization goodies I've been saving up.

Powers of 10: a redo of the classic zoom-in-from-the-universe-to-an-electron photo essay, this time in Java so you can control the action and with oak DNA as a stop along the way. (It seems to be popular -- it's loading very slowly.)

Money Maps: See which parts of the country are giving money to Democrats vs. Republicans or to particular Democratic candidates, by state, 3-digit zip code or county. I see that even the supposed island of liberalism I live in, Travis County, is a net Republican donor county (like all but a few counties in Texas), but we're also a real hotbed of Dean supporters. (Although that may be deceiving -- Austin gives to a lot of candidates, as do a number of cities.)

North America by night Red vs. Blue contributions

The Living Earth: this oldie but goodie simulates views of the earth sliced and diced more ways than you can think of. Select views by angle, altitude, date, from satellites or the moon, centered on cities, and with various models of earth topography and weather. Here is the earth from over Austin, Rio, Vienna, and Delhi. There's also a moon viewer.

You are Where You Live: a demo of several segmentation systems used by marketers. Enter your zip code and learn the main market "segments" in your neighborhood. For instance, according to the PRIZM NE system, the most common segments in 78705 (the university area in Austin) are "Urban Achievers", "Bohemian Mix", "Multi-Culti Mosaic", "American Dreams" and "Urban Elders". If you do a search and click the link for a particular segment, you'll see a description, a cute illustration, some demographics, and examples of their consumer habits (ugly secret: "Bohemian Mix" watches Friends re-runs!). I'm fascinated by segmentation systems -- they're like astrology for capitalists.

City Size Comparisons: something I've been wanting for a long time, a tool to generate side-by-side maps of cities at the same scale. Works mostly for American cities but also for Baghdad. I'd love to see this idea expanded to include more international cities and also cities in history -- say colonial New York or Chaucer's London or Tenochtitlán.

Scorecard: environmental maps, with links to custom reports by zip code for key environmental issues. I had no idea Austin's air quality was this bad.

(Via, More Like This, Reenhead, Swirlspice, and Viking Zen.)

toys 2003.11.14 / link / comment?

In one gear and out the other

A cautionary tale from the New York Times.

Veronika Vichit-Vadakan owns many electronic gadgets that she rarely uses

I love that photo! And her perfect name: Weronika Widget-Wadakan. (Via ataraxy.)

toys 2003.10.15 / link / 2 comments
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