Sunday, April 29, 2007

Not Your Father's Car

I know this was news a couple of weeks ago, but I still want to bring it to your attention just in case you missed it. The same people who brought us the Ansari X Prize are now bringing us the Automotive X Prize. The idea is to try to spur development of a commercially viable 100 MPG car.

I think that is awesome! I love creative ideas for trying to promote innovation. The X Prize for the rocket was cool and all, but this Automotive X Prize has the real possibility of impacting all our lives in the near future not just the lives of billionaires and hundred millionaires. The more ideas we can get for this and other problems, the better off we will be.

However, while looking at ways to improve existing transportation methods, I hope we are also able to spur a diverse marketplace of automotive technologies. Too many people seem to be looking for a silver bullet solution to our traffic woes and our gasoline dependence. For example, the "hydrogen economy" was all the rage at the water cooler a while back. Well, the water cooler where I work anyway.

I think this narrow view (at least here in the US) is caused by the fact that we've basically had one solution our whole lives: gasoline powered automobiles. We're so dependent on these things, that almost any city that has seen significant growth since the '40s has a design that basically only accommodates cars and is hostile to any other form of transportation including pedestrians. So, when we think of solutions, we tend to think that there must be just one solution when in fact there are many solutions to our problem. At least, I'd like to think so.

I'd like to see a true marketplace for transportation. Not just a marketplace for conventional cars and trucks and sometimes motorcycles. I'd like to see whole new categories of automobiles and cities that accommodate them. So, with that segue, did you hear that the Smart Car is coming to the US next year? I'm keeping my eye on that.

Feist - Let It Die

Let It Die Album Cover, Copyright Respective Owner
I'm a little late to the party with this particular "review". Let It Die has a copyright date of 2005, and while it doesn't feel like it was that long ago since I first became aware of Leslie Feist's music, it probably has been two years. Time flies...

When I first heard Feist, I was initially attracted, but somehow she failed to capture my heart and mind enough for me to put down the cash. But I admit that my own moods can affect my perceptions about new music, and after two years, I finally came around and picked up Let It Die.

You may have heard "Mushaboom" and "Secret Heart" on standard commercial radio, and if you listen to the excellent World Cafe, you've had multiple opportunities to hear more of the music off this album.

Most of the tracks on Let It Die have a spare and open arrangement. Feist's voice takes center stage. She's not a loud singer, but her voice is steady and clear and effective (and probably stronger than it seems). Combining the minimal music with her distinctive voice creates a somewhat intimate listening experience. This is especially true when using headphones. The music wouldn't be out of place in a small room with a handful of appreciative listeners.

A few of the songs remind me of something you might have heard on the radio in the seventies. "One Evening" and "Inside and Out" especially give me that feeling. Looking at the liner notes reveals that "Inside and Out" is a Bee Gees cover. I suppose that explains that song and some of her apparent influences. I have to admit that the seventies influence I detected two years ago prevented me from really giving her music a chance. I got over it.

I think "When I Was a Young Girl" is my favorite track on Let It Die. Oddly enough it is a traditional song but may be the most rhythmically complex on the CD. Feist also gives one of her stronger performances with that song. Her singing is more full throated and emotional.

Anyway, I obviously like Let It Die. So, I'm sharing as much as I can with you using my meager writing abilities. But there is also an intentional coincidence in the timing of this post. Feist is coming out with a new CD called The Reminder that should be available starting in May. Just a heads-up.

Feist has an offical homepage with some music samples. I always hesitate to send people to MySpace since it is one of the ugliest places on the web and people seem to be busy doing things I don't fully understand (I'm probably too old). However, musicians have been using it effectively. I guess it can't be all bad. Here's her MySpace page with more music samples and the like. Just be careful where you click.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Before Boardacious

In my previous post, I showed off "Boardacious" pretty much in his final form. He still needs polishing, but I'm very unlikely to shape him much more. However, I thought you might like to see "Boardacious" before he was as boardacious as he became. I dug up some pictures that I took with my first camera. I didn't document the whole process, but there's enough here to give you an idea of how things went.

So, I'll start this story in the middle to keep it short. About 13 to 14 billion years after the universe appears to have expanded from nothing, the universe eventually got around to producing a big chunk of what we call alabaster and deposited it in the Colorado foothills around Ft. Collins. It was there that a fellow with a front loader dug out a big chunk of alabaster and dragged it back to his storefront. It was as this storefront where I, stumbling around unsure of myself, spotted a particular piece of the original chunk that looked like it would be suitable for what I had in mind. Although I was uncertain of my own vision, I could see its potential.

I humbly, and probably too cautiously, hammered away at this stone and produced what could surely be called a smaller stone.

I eventually began to make noticeable progress. Success or failure felt equally likely at this point. After the ten thousandth hammer blow, my neighbors were voting for failure.

Eventually I did finish as you can see here.

The third image above above shows the setup I used while working in my previous apartment. I crafted a crude dust barrier from PVC tubing and plastic sheets you might normally use as a painter's drop sheet. The PVC barrier was a little taller than I am and when I worked, I arranged them around the opening to my open balcony and draped the plastic sheets over them and along the floor. My carving stand went in the middle on top of the plastic. Once everything including myself was inside the wrap around barrier, I closed it off except for the balcony. I also placed a fan on the floor blowing out through the balcony door. That kept any floating dust moving outside instead of into the apartment. In the third picture you can't see the fan nor the pumping techno music that's playing.

Remarkably it worked pretty well. I only had a little bit of dust outside the barrier, and I think that happened mostly when I took down the plastic sheets. I was surprised that I didn't actually get any complaints from the neighbors while I worked. I know they heard me because somebody commented on it when they saw me moving out. I did try to stop work before prime time. I'm sure that helped.

Here's a more complete picture of the barrier.

You still can't see the pumping techno...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I think you guys may have already seen this guy, but I just picked up a better camera today. So, I'm takin' pictures! Part of the reason I started this blog was to satisfy the ever increasing demand for pictures on the internet. I feel I need to do my part. I don't want the internet to run out of pictures.

To start, I've taken one of my sculptures and posed it on one of my finest black t-shirts.

You probably noticed that I still need to polish him. I will. You know, later, man.

As the title of this blog states, his name is "Boardacious". That clever name was my sister Dina's idea. I'm not nearly so clever nor concise. The best I came up with is "Totem" which is more a dictionary definition than a title. And while it is concise, it is hardly clever. So, thanks, Dina!

Here we see a close up of his mug.

So, I realize the sculpture leaves something to be desired. But the truth is that he came out much like I wanted him to. I wanted a totem like feel. Not something that looked like an actual boar, but something of an idealized version of the boar. He's meant to be a symbol. I mean, would you look at the size of those tusks! I wanted something with a sense of power and direction. I think I achieved some of that, but I still feel it could have more umph.

Since he actually came out much like I planned, all his failings can be attributed to where I set my sights when I started out. I think there is a life lesson in there for all of us. [Cue cheezy music]

Also, as this was my first stone sculpture, I learned something else. I actually attempted to design something easy (something I was sure I could complete). While he was easy to draw, I discovered that large spherical and conical shapes are actually tough to form. Their symmetry makes all flaws obvious! So, that head of his has a lot more time and effort into it than you may think. Additionally, the whole design was symmetrical. That symmetry made things tough. You can end up disappointed because the stone may not entirely cooperate (it didn't in this case).

Of course, maybe I just need to get smarter about how to pick my stone.

Specs: Colorado Alabaster carved with hand tools.


This is just a test upload from a device that is not my main computer. The picture is the view above my desk at home. His picture was taken with the same device (Nokia N800). I´m thinking about trying to use the N800 portable computer should I ever actually take a trip someplace. Hopefully, it won´t just be an expensive toy. Since I´m here, here´s a review of the N800.

Update: By the way, I should mention that the above sculpture is a creation of Sandra Lira.

Books in your email or feed reader

I think I saw a reference to this the other day but ignored it at first. I saw another reference today and decided to take a closer look. There's a service that will send you small sections of books in your email or through a syndication feed (you can set the frequency). It's called DailyLit. It seems like a neat little service and a way to stay disciplined about reading a book if you already spend a lot of time sitting at a computer. Of course, maybe this isn't a good thing if you're trying to spend less time at the computer.

I already read way too much, but I've signed up to receive War of the Worlds through a syndication feed. They not only have books whose copyrights have expired, but they are also adding books that are offered through Creative Commons licenses. The syndication feed only had one small "sponsored" link at the bottom to buy the book at Amazon. If you're worried about giving away your email address, I'd recommend using the syndication feed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Birds and the...

You've probably already heard some news stories about the apparently alarming disappearance and decline of bee colonies, but have you heard any news stories that weren't delivered in the usual breathlessly sensationalistic manner? You know, quotes from Einstein describing how humanity will perish within four years if honey bees suddenly disappeared? Some simultaneously wild and vague numbers of decline like "25 to 75 percent" of all bee colonies are gone? What useless news reporting.

Anyway, I did find some good coverage of this story here if you are interested. The biggest take away is that people are all over this problem. Which isn't to say that it is something to ignore, but at least it seems the right people are tackling the issue.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rodrigo y Gabriela

On Saturday morning, there was a segment on NPR about a guitar duo that perform as Rodrigo y Gabriela. They apparently have been performing for a while starting out in a Mexican heavy metal band, but eventually they left that band and started busking in Ireland playing acoustic guitars. Considering their musical tastes, it shouldn't be too surprising that they used to perform acoustic versions of heavy metal tunes.

I found their story and music samples too tempting to pass up. I discovered that Emusic carries them. Since I subscribe to that service (and had downloads available), I snapped them up. I've been listening to them quite a bit since then. I'm not a music expert. I'm just an enthusiast. I find their playing to be expressive, passionate, and more than proficient. I'm sure an expert on acoustic guitar would find faults (how nice for you) or not compare them favorably to traditional flamenco (or whatever). All I know is that they rock, and I find their playing exciting and interesting.

In reference to their musical roots, they have two covers on their album: "Orion" (Metallica) and "Stairway to Heaven" (Led Zeppelin). I enjoy their cover versions, but I have to agree with others in that I find their original material much more powerful and recommend the album based on that material. As a bonus for the guitar players in the audience, the CD appears to be packaged with a DVD that contains (among other things) a tutorial on their method of playing.

Links: Amazon, Emusic, NPR

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Catching Up to the Present

I've noticed that this blogging thing has been all the rage for a while (on the internet at any rate). It does seem like a handy way to keep people abreast of various goings-on. And then once I saw that even my folks have a blog, I finally decided to join in.

This is obviously a personal blog, but being the sort of person I am, it is unlikely to be too personal. That's all I'm prepared to say at this point. Let the blogging commence!