Dear Plutor of the future

Dear Plutor of the future: I know that the crumbling economy, skyrocketing gas prices, and warming climate trend has likely made the world of 2008 a bleak Mad Maxian landscape. If the grocery stores are even open anymore, the selection is likely poor – jicama and tomatillos being among the very few surviving produce. But I have good news for you. I know of a place where, ideally in August, you can pick and eat delicious ripe blackberries until you explode. I will leave the task of fashioning a boat out of household materials to you[1] – I’m certain that as the world spun towards chaos, the last issue of Make Magazine was particularly helpful. You’ll need to boat straight out from the end of South Boston to Spectacle Island. Once there, hope that the trails have not yet been completely overgrown, and follow them to the north drumlin. Along the path, you’ll see the plants, but the mother lode is just before you get to the hilltop, on the left.

Bring a few containers. And good luck.

[1] - I don’t envy you this task. In 2007, there was a Ferry that you could pay $12 to bring you to Spectacle Island and the many other harbor islands. It was fun for a number of reasons other than the fruitful bounty.

Is Google a killer?

It’s hard to argue with the fact that Google has grown to the point where it can be a real challenge to compete with it. The first public demonstration (in my memory) came this week when web calendar Kiko went up for auction on eBay, and the obvious reaction was to think that it was killed by Google Calendar. Paul Graham went so far to say that the big lesson here is “to stay out of Google’s way”. The Kiko team itself came away with some rather different lessons.

But I think that David Heinemeier over at 37signals said it best. Google isn’t the be-all end-all. In fact, no one product or application or website will ever be the best thing for everyone. There are plenty of Google applications (among them the Calendar), that while neat, don’t suit my needs. When people balked at this idea, claiming “Google is big. Backpack calendar is small. They win, you just haven’t realized it yet,” Jason Fried piped up with defining your own success. Success is not a zero-sum game. Two competitors can both succeed.

And that’s probably the most important lesson.

How I got a new DSL modem

MetaFilter — or more accurately AskMetaFilter — is a thing of beauty. Last week, after about a month of noticable deterioration, my DSL stopped functioning almost entirely. I spent three hours on the phone with five different AT&T helpdesk people until they finally decided to send out an engineer. He showed up, plugged something into the wall, mumbled “your modem is broken” and left. They wanted $100 to replace it, which I considered (information super-)highway robbery.

EBay has hundreds of DSL modems listed for a lot less, and I decided I’d get one there. But I didn’t know what to look for. There are a lot of acronyms and whatnot, and I wasn’t really interested in doing hard research and studying for a twenty-dollar piece of equipment that I only need for a few months. So I asked MetaFilter. I got better answers than I expected. Two people offered me free modems. One lived in New Haven and I met him last night.

It works like a charm. The Internet is a wonderful place. Thank you, horsemuth.

Flickring the news

I don’t get the newspaper, and I don’t watch TV news programs; instead, I get almost all of my news via the Internet and NPR. The problem with this is that I don’t often get a chance to see what places or people in the news look like.

For me, Flickr is a great way to follow current news events visually. Today, I’m keeping an eye on photos tagged with strike and the NYC group pool.

Reading 2005

Late last year, I finally started requesting inter-library book loans regularly. As I started reading more (because it was now simple and free), my list actually got longer, so I started writing it down. One unexpected advantage to this is that I can go back and look at the books I’ve enjoyed (or not) over the last year. I’m not an especially prolific reader, but I’ve surprised myself with the amount that I’ve actually had time to get through.

  • 3.5/5 stars Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
    An epic fictional memoir that brings you through three generations of family conflict. Quite touching and surprisingly entertaining.

  • 1.5/5 stars The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio
    Phi is an interesting subject, but in the end the book was unfocused and a bit weak. I was hoping for something Simon Singh-esque.

  • 4/5 stars Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Borrowed from Rosi)
    Amazing. Somehow, Margaret Atwood explains absolutely nothing until the very end, and then you realize there wasn't really much to explain. Totally believable.

  • 0.5/5 stars Unfinished Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John E. Ferling (17 Feb 2005 - 10 Apr 2005)
    I just couldn't get interested in this one. I had high hopes that it would be enlightening in the shadow of the 2000 and 2004 elections.

  • 3/5 stars Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams by M.J. Simpson (10 Apr 2005 - 3 May 2005)
    You appreciate the Hitchhiker's Guide books so much more when you learn how close they came to never really being written. A great biography of a hilarious, distractable author.

  • 1/5 stars Unfinished Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design by Henry Petroski (5 May 2005 - 17 June 2005)
    I picked this up at the book store and was enthralled. But the chapters somehow were both repetitive and unconnected. I got bored about two-thirds of the way through.

  • 4/5 stars Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (19 June 2005 - 23 June 2005)
    Short and sweet. A great summer read.

  • 3.5/5 stars Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (23 June 2005 - 30 June 2005)
    A classic that I somehow never got around to reading. Despite the fact that this is a massive novel, I finished it in a week. The jumping point of view was perfectly done, and the plan to settle Mars was very well planned.

  • 4/5 stars Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks (2 July 2005 - 24 July 2005)
    Dr. Sacks' book was one-half childhood memoir and one-half the history of chemistry. I don't know which was more interesting.

  • 5/5 stars The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (24 July 2005 - 28 July 2005)
    I can't say much more about this book. One of the best stories I've ever read.

  • 3.5/5 stars Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (30 July 2005 - 7 August 2005)
    Another good summer read. It's nice to see how much numbers and carefully designed studies can explain. I follow their blog, now, too.

  • 4.5/5 stars Re-read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (8 Aug 2005 - 13 Aug 2005)
    Waiting for a book to get to my library, I decided to re-read this classic. (See Ender's Shadow, below)

  • 3.0/5 stars Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking (16 Aug 2005 - 5 Sep 2005)
    A great introduction to modern physics and astrophysics theory. In fact, it's written so well that I want to read more Hawking.

  • 4.5/5 stars Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card (9 Sep 2005 - 15 Sep 2005)
    Waiting for another book, I decided to re-read the parallel novel to Ender's Game (above). This time, I realized how much is left open at the end, and I was inspired to read the rest of the series (see below).

  • 2.5/5 stars Unfinished The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy by William Strauss and Neil Howe (16 Sep 2005 - 10 Oct 2005)
    This book is wholly remarkable. It suggests (and strongly supports) a theory of cyclic American history, and warns of a coming period of "Crisis". But it is so dense with information and concepts that it reminded me too much of college. I'm glad I read what I did, though.

  • 4.0/5 stars Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card (6 Oct 2005 - 10 Oct 2005)
    (See Shadow of the Giant, below)

  • 2.5/5 stars Unfinished Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (11 Oct 2005 - 31 Oct 2005)
    Something made me lose interest by the end of this book: either Dr. Sacks' earlier writing is less engrossing, or the fact that every patient had fairly similar symptoms and reactions to L-DOPA. But he covers a startlingy insidious disease and its ambiguous "cure" in fantastic detail.

  • 3/5 stars Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card (24 Oct 2005 - 28 Oct 2005)
    (See Shadow of the Giant, below)

  • 5/5 stars Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card (23 Nov 2005 - 27 Nov 2005)
    By the time I got to the fourth book in the Bean Series, I was worried. Each book had become a little less strong than the last, and although I was still interested in the story, I was worried it was going to end badly. I was wrong. The finale literally moved me to tears. It was absolutely amazing. Another thing: In the original Ender Series, Card has this habit of introducing a new planet based on a single country (the Portuguese Planet, and later the Chinese Planet). It seemed really silly at the time, but he explains it well here, and is able to show the same deep understanding of different societies in these books without it seeming quite as clumsy. Looking back, this was (by far) the better series.

Revolution back-titles not free

So here’s the situation as it stands now. We know for a fact that there will be backwards-compatibility of some sort built into Nintendo’s Revolution console. We know (or at least are fairly sure) that online access will be free of charge. Unfortunately, we also thought that a huge number of first-party games would be free. We were amazed and incredulous, since that list included every Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong game ever made, as well as a number of other ground-breaking and phenomenal games like Gyromite and Goldeneye.

Sadly, it sounds like that’s not entirely true. Some games will be available for free to owners of certain other games, but let’s hope that Nintendo doesn’t go too far in the wrong direction with this. If Mario 128 (ooh, Brian’s gonna squirm about that) comes with every back Nintendo game, they’ll sell.. er.. okay, they won’t sell any more additional games. But they’ll get lots of love from the Nintendo community, instead of pushing away those of us who liked everything we saw about the Xbox 360.

Bibliomation Global

It’s a little-known fact that with a library card in the state of Connecticut, you can take out books from any public library in the state. You also don’t even need to go to a library other than your local one to do it, and even then you don’t have to go until your book is in. Visit the Bibliomation global catalog and search for the book. If it’s in any of about fifty participating libraries, it’ll come up. Click the “Request Item” button to the right of your result and put in your library card bar code number.

It generally takes less than a week for your local library to get the book. They call the phone number associated with your account when they get it in, and you borrow the book for the lending library’s standard period (usually 2-3 weeks). I’ve got three different books out on inter-library loan right now. It’s easy, useful, and it increases the pool of available library books immensely.

(Note, also, that many libraries carry movies on VHS and DVD. Bibliomation includes these, but it’s sometimes difficult to tell what format the video is in.)

Free Frosty Weekend

To try to counter an anti-chili-finger backlash and sales drop, Wendy’s is giving away Free Jr-sized Frosties this weekend, Friday 13 May through Sunday 15 May. (No purchase necessary).

For the curious, 160 calories, 4g fat, 21g sugar.

Mefi Swap

I’ve signed up for the MefiSwap, and other Metafilter users should consider doing the same. Sign up, and you get put into a group with five other Mefites. You send each of them a mix tape CD by the end of February, and you end up getting five mix CDs in the mail.

As a birthday gift, I was presented with this lovely message on my account this morning:

5 of your referrals must sign up and complete one offer. Currently 5 of your friends have joined and successfully completed one offer.

Thanks to Brian, Chris, Manish, Nomad, and Mari for making this possible. Hopefully you guys aren’t suspicious-looking frauds, and they’ll approve my free iPod!

Update: They decided that Chris and Mari, who now live together, were the same "household", and thus cancelled their referrals. I felt really crappy about this yesterday afternoon, but then my parents gave me a 175G SATA drive, and I feel better now.

Free Sidekick II

Looking for a new cellphone, with lots of extra features and huge nerd cred? Don’t want to spend a lot of money? Well, if you buy a T-Mobile Sidekick II from Amazon before Nov 17 and sign up for a $40-a-month plan, it’ll be free, even including shipping. I kinda wish work didn’t give me a phone.

This post is a test of easy Amazon links and my new Amazon Associates account.

The Kleptones

The Kleptones' new release, A Night at the Hip-Hopera is damn rockin. A lot of Queen and Beastie Boys sampling, and it’s free for download! There’s also a sample listing reference, courtesy of Andrew Baio (who I get lots of my links from BTW).

Liberated Games

Liberated Games aren’t abandonware, but they’re just as Free (as in Beer in some cases, as in Speech in others). I was just thinking the other day how my new rig would handle Homeworld.

Gmail invitation

I now have one new gmail invitation available. If you want it, or know someone who knows someone who wants one still, first come, first served.

Free iPods?

First, you hear about free iPods, and it’s an obvious scam. Then you read a Wired article about how it’s not so much of a scam. Then you read other things about the deal. Then you check it out, and you realize that, well, it is a pyramid scheme of sorts, but not the kind where it necessarily costs you money. Give a spam-filtered email address, give AOL a credit card number and don’t let them bill it, and get five of your friends to do the same. Seems worth it, and if Wired says it’s legit, I’ll go along with that.

Please follow this link to if you’re considering doing it, so that I get your referral.

(See also