Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mullets, Facepalms, and Creative Commons

I was looking at my referrers the other day, and other than a random MSN Search query for "Card for blessing non religious person who has more than her share lately" (got that, Hallmark people?), there wasn't really that much out of the ordinary.

That is, until I saw a hit from Wikimedia Commons for "Wikip-facepalm.jpg."

I followed it back to the Wikipedia entry for facepalm (it's on the Types of Gestures page) -- and there I am:

This, of course, is a spiritual followup to my mullet making it into Wikipedia.

Now, other than the pure showing off/vanity of it, this illustrates one of the primary benefits of forgoing copyright in favor of Creative Commons licenses:
If you make it easy for people to use your stuff, they will use your stuff -- and it's more likely that they'll attribute you for it, than if they simply stole it.
Of course, I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't have any pretensions of making any money off my photos. So I license nearly all of my pics "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic" -- I don't even require "noncommercial" use (whatever that means these days) -- just give proper attribution and adhere to share alike (which, in all likelihood, would really curtail any use except noncommercial use).

I'm not a revolutionary -- I do still think that there is a place for intellectual property (though I feel that the idea of "tolerated use" is fascinating). But when it comes to personal sharing, I've come around to the idea of "What are you saving it for?" (I'll probably talk about that some more later.)

Incidentally, since I wear glasses, the photo doesn't depict my actual facepalm (fingerprints, you know) -- my true facepalm is more of an eyerub:
My Real Facepalm

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Dumb Is Your Gain: Feist CD Giveaway Winner

Last week, I announced a CD giveaway, because I'd bought a copy of Feist's Let It Die (even though I'd already owned it), and I wanted someone else to benefit from my dumb move (because stupid should hurt -- or at least cost).

Seven of you commented in the entry before the 11:59 PM cutoff date, and were eligible for the giveaway: Dan, Talking Budgie (E), Kanyixin (Kim), Anime Heart (Joanna), Susie, That Tatted Up Chick, and Push the Pull Door.

In the interests of transparency, and to prevent any accusations of favoritism (or stinginess, especially when it involves postage to exotic locales like Australia or Wisconsin), I decided to shoot the video of the robust and completely random selection process:

And here's a photo of the winning number:

Congratulations to Kim -- I will send you your CD as soon as you tell me where to send it.

Now, I realize that the video doesn't actually prove anything, as I could have easily re-shot the video until I achieved the desired result. (Whatever that would be.) But if you think I would actually do that, maybe you should be spending your media cycles somewhere else.

(Incidentally, this is also the first real video I took using my poor man's steadycam, though I really just used it as a monopod.)

Thanks to all the commenters, and a special thank-you to Susie for giving me a plug in the TruTV Dumb as a Blog.

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Stupid Should Hurt: Health Club Audition Edition

Probably the AOL perk I miss the most is easy access to the well-appointed, on-campus fitness centers. (Not that I used them much in my last few months, but still.)

So I'm currently (not to mention finally) in the process of auditioning a new gym, which I haven't had to bother with since the McBurney YMCA in NY a few speculative bubbles ago. (It was a nice setup -- after work, I'd take the bus down from midtown, work out, then use my transfer to go crosstown to my place on 20th.)

I visited a couple of the local gyms last week, looked around and got free passes. I went to the first place on Friday, did an extremely lame and light full-body workout, and yet still managed to knock the legs out from under me.

Today, as I was heading into the second place, I discovered that I had left and lost my lock at the first place.

Now, I have a few extra combination locks at home (I even have the combinations for some of them), but I didn't feel like driving back. Luckily, there was a sporting goods store next door that had them for a higher-than-usual markup, so I bought one (remember, stupid should hurt -- or at least cost).

Unlike the duplicate CD caper, though, you do not get any benefit from this dumb move -- although you can have my old combination in case you run into my old lock (it's purple):

From Joelogon's Macbook

(Incidentally, I know that it's trivially easy to make a padlock shim out of a beer can.)

Now, as to the Reston health club offerings, here are my capsule reviews:

Reston Sport and Health
Positive: Lots of machines (though some are older, uncomfortable, and, frankly, just look like filler). Close to the W&OD Trail.
Negative: Bumpy parking lot. A little hard to get to during rush hour (though I suppose that goes for practically anywhere around here).
Neutral: Open floor plan.

Fitness First Reston

Positive: Free weight area set apart a bit. They have a machine setup I'm used to, plus headset audio for the TVs in front of the cardio machines. Can use the other locations.
Negative: On the small side -- a little cramped (though the space is well-utilized). Plus, it's in Plaza America, so parking can be tight at times.
Neutral: Looks like it has its share of both meatheads and hot chicks.
Perverse: It's on the second floor -- and the main way up is an escalator.

Reston YMCA

Positive: Big, lots of machines. Indoor running track and basketball court. Swimming pool. Lots of programs and activities.
Negative: Very pricey. And I'll probably never use the programs or pool.
Neutral: Right next door to Chipotle. (Better make that a negative. The Fitness First is right next to a Five Guys, with the pizza place and Baja Fresh just a few doors down, so I guess that's even worse.)

Health Club of Reston
Positive: Convenient location across from Reston Parkway.
Negative: No longer exists.
Neutral: That about covers it.

There are a few more possibilities, though I don't see myself as a Gold's person. I'm leaning towards the Fitness First -- it's marginally cheaper and open a little later. But whatever happens, I'm sure I'll be fit, ripped and huge shortly.

If anyone has any opinions about Reston/Herndon fitness club options, leave a comment.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Talking About Hedging Your Bets

Cameraphone pic from the Harris Teeter parking lot this afternoon:


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Friday, June 20, 2008

Hirshhorn After Hours: What Ticketless Suckers Can Expect

Hirshhorn After Hours is tonight. Advanced ticketing, which I think was available all the way up until yesterday, is now closed.

If you didn't get your tickets in advance (fool), you can still purchase tickets at the door. Here's what you can look forward to, based on my previous experience in April (I scribbled notes on an old ATM receipt):

* 7:30pm: Get to the museum. Congratulate myself on my cleverness and foresight in getting there 30 minutes early.

* 7:31pm: See the line, which already runs down Independence from the museum entrance in the middle of the block, down to the corner on 7th. Stop congratulating myself.


* 7:35pm: Suffer the indignity of being gawked at tourists on Segways:


* 8pm: The line, which has stretched far down 7th, out of sight, starts moving. Advanced ticket holders start arriving and breeze past us. I hate them.

* 8:35pm: Getting through the cursory bag check, I turn around and take a picture. Then, more waiting:

DSCF4362 DSCF4361

After a few more minutes, we get inside the building. The security guard at the door has a clicker -- I ask him and he says the count is already at #250.

Since there are supposed to be 500 tickets at the door (and 1500 presale), I wonder how many disappointed people there are going to be. Their number do not include me, as I get mine.

At this point, I should be able to stop taking notes. But I don't.

* 10pm: Smell the first doobie of the night.

* 10:15pm: Overheard: "This is, like, the best party I have ever been to." Surmise speaker needs to get out more.

* 10:30pm: The beer starts to run out.

Here are some photos that are not of the line -- the lit plaza fountain from above (through a dirty window) and band Hooliganship:
DSCF4384 DSCF4408

Purple and shadows:

A faux-infrared photo -- the pink/orange light from the building was a neat effect on the trees:


You can see my full photo set (including some sculpture and many museum artwork labels) on Flickr: Hirshhorn After Hours, 4/4/08.

And I look forward to breezing past the line-waiters tonight.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's an RSS Feed, Not a Calendar, Dammit

I'm in the process of cleaning up my feedreader (currently NetNewsWire), which is wildly disorganized and bloated with redundancy right now.

Now, others have noted why it's a good idea for you to subscribe to your own blog's feed, primarily so you can spot technical problems. For example, in the Small Wars Journal feed some of the longer entries lose line breaks in NetNewsWire -- see "The Problems With Afghan Army Doctrine" -- it's one big mass of text.

(Actually, "full-content feeds with line breaks removed" could be a middle ground between offering full-content feeds and summary-only feeds: It lets you see all the content, but it's basically unreadable unless you click through to the main article.)

For another example, I'm going to call out my friend Susie Felber, whose RSS feed looks like this:
Feb-head, I think you need to tweak your Blogger template a little bit -- you're not populating the TITLE field of your entries. (I, of course, know to read all of your entries since you're such an interesting person. But others might not.)

The other reason to check your RSS feeds is editorial: It tells you when your entry titles are not useful.

For example, here are the recent feed item titles for My Damn Channel (home of You Suck at Photoshop):
I realize that they're announcing new video clips, but that's not an RSS feed -- that's a calendar.

Now of course, sometimes you don't need a super-descriptive title -- you just want to announce that new content is up -- for example, for the Dilbert Daily Strip, "Comic for June 18, 2008" is fine. (Especially for a comic with serial storylines. Though I think that a descriptive name never hurts - look at XKCD's feed.)

Other times, you're announcing a new content update, but one that features a lot of different components, like the DC Blogs Noted and Postsecret feeds, where you might not be able to list out everything in the title.

Where practical, I like to do at least a taste of the content -- you start out with the name of the regular feature, followed by a sample of what's included (a la Things That Are Upcoming: Blog Potomac, Puppini Sisters and More).

The Morning News's feed does a mixed model, where the generically-named feed items ("17 June 2008: Morning") are just a mass of links, but where their original stories do have descriptive titles. (I don't find the "mass of links" model particularly useful -- I might break those kinds of things out into a separate links feed, a la Waxy.org Links, so you don't drown out the original stuff.)

Anyway, this isn't an SEO-entry or anything -- just to say that good titles are good titles, whether they show up in a browser window or as a line in an RSS reader. So check out your own stuff, so you can see it as others see it.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Free CD Giveaway: Because Stupid Should Hurt (Or at Least Cost)

A week or two ago at the CD Cellar, I did one of my trademark dumb things yet again -- bought a CD I already own (Feist's Let It Die).

Here, you can see both copies in my poor attempt at a Sleeveface:

Yes, I know the head tilt is all wrong, but it was a pain trying to set it up by myself.

I could probably bring it back for a store credit (especially seeing as how I most likely bought both copies from CD Cellar locations), but I (like many) believe that "Stupid Should Hurt."

So I'm going to do a free Feist CD giveaway: If you want the CD, leave me a comment in this entry by 11:59PM EDT, next Tuesday, June 24, 2008.

On Wednesday, June 25, I will randomly select a commenter (I still have my D&D dice around here somewhere) from the entries received (one entry per person), and do a followup blog entry announcing the winner, to whom I will mail the CD at my expense.

I'm hoping that this will force me to be more organized when it comes to my CD collection, though an unintended consequence may be that I'll never buy another Throwing Muses or Stereolab CD again, because I just can't be certain.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tips on Getting Fark Greenlights (or, an unexpected Fairfax Times Twofer)

I was catching up on this week's Fairfax County Times (Reston/Herndon edition -- the print version comes out mid-week), and I saw a couple of stories that I thought were potentially Fark-main page worthy: The first because it involved beer pong/beiruit and offsetting stupidity; and the second because it hews to one of Fark's favorite current ideological punching bags, "millenials as precious snowflakes."

I like submitting items to Fark -- partly to contribute to the community (in the realm of the Fark top 100 commenters, I'm solidly in the 9-percent portion of the 90-9-1 participation inequality ratio side of things), but mostly to test out my writing chops, to see if I can generate a funny or interesting wordplay, or one that otherwise fits in with the current Fark zeitgeist -- something that stands out among the thousands of submissions.

The headlines I submitted this afternoon, though, were not particularly interesting. So I was surprised to see that they were both greenlighted to the main page, back-to-back, in a Fairfax Times two-fer:

(Some Guy) Stupid School groups protest forthcoming beer pong game for Wii. Game company claims beer pong actually discourages drinking because, "If anything, you're going to be drinking less" (67)
(Some Snowflake) Asinine Fairfax County, Virginia schools abandon "valedictorian" in favor of groups of "honor graduates." Reactions range from, "This is a communist system" to "I'm glad I don't have to give a speech." (145)
I wonder if the Fairfax Times people are scratching their heads trying figure out where the traffic spike is coming from. (They seemed to handle the load okay, though they didn't get any comments -- most likely due to the required registration.)

So that takes me to 24 greenlit headlines. Not a lot, but a respectable number.

I've never had any success trying to pitch anything I'm working on professionally (and rarely try), but here are a few strategies that seem to have worked for me in general (this is in addition to following the submission suggestions in the Fark FAQ):

* It doesn't have to be new, but it has to be interesting: My very first Fark greenlight was in 2004, referencing a 1997 article about Army lessons learned from the 1992 LA Riots. Not at all current, and the the headline was pretty straight. However, the straight headline invoked some very comical imagery, and was therefore funny: "Lesson learned from the 1992 L.A. riots: Cops and marines understand "cover me" to be two entirely different things"

If you try to submit breaking news or something that's already being highlighted on another popular social linksharing site, you have to be fast and funny (funny enough -- by the time you craft the perfect comedic gem, you will probably have already lost out to someone else). There's a lot of competition around the time-senstive stories, so I try to stay out of it.

* Submit outside of peak times: Since I'm a night person anyway, I'll take a look at the BBC News to see what they've got going on that the US will get to in a few hours. Also, the next-day's Washington Post top stories are usually up on the Web by then. (I submit a lot of Washington Post items, mostly because I'm reading it anyway.)

It's somewhat paradoxical, but if you submit during a slower time, when fewer items are flowing through the submissions queue, there's a higher likelihood of your submission catching someone's eye.

* Know your Fark community: Admins tend to pick topics that they know will generate lively discussion. As I said before, Farkers lately like to beat up on the perceived "everybody gets a trophy" stereotype of the millenial generation, though boomers are also pretty common targets. Hence a lot of "precious snowflake" and "get off my lawn" references in headlines.

Other discussion drivers include guns, driving, fat people, female teachers having sex with students, and bad parents.

Here's another example -- after an April 2007 redesign caused some problems and complaints from some folks, a Fark employee ill-advisedly told people, "You'll get over it." It's made it into Fark folklore and at least a few headlines (including a recent one of my own).

* Crowd-pleasing headline constructions: There are certain headline conventions that are pretty popular on Fark. Most of them are now tired cliches used by unfunny people trying to be funny. But when used carefully (especially if you can turn a headline cliche around and do something different with it), they'll resonate with the community.

The Fark FAQ has a list of Farkisms (though a lot of them have aged out by now). Other headline constructions I'd note:
  • [Alarmist story.] EVERYBODY PANIC (bonus points for clever wordplay variations)
  • Having solved all other problems, [politicians wasting time on trivial matters]
  • [Something strange in an otherwise mundane story. ] Wait, what?
  • *Shakes Magic 8-Ball* used in connection with a reason for a change in oil prices
There's a bunch more, including backwash/blowback from 4chan, SomethingAwful, and other internet memes. Keep an eye out and you'll see some trends that you can dovetail your submission into.

* Rhyme and alliteration are the province of hacks: Of course, anyone can be a hack at any particular time, and a good use of rhyme, alliteration, puns, germane movie quotes, etc. can be worth a cheap laugh. And a cheap laugh is still a laugh. Just don't try to force it too hard.

* Be useful, be interesting (or best of all, be both): You don't always have to be funny. In fact, if you're not funny, you probably shouldn't even try. Just play it straight, but be informative. And brief.

Things I wouldn't recommend doing:
  • Sometimes, a headline will be so miserably spelled (or otherwise incomprehensible), the administrators will approve it just for the entertainment value. I wouldn't call it a good strategy.
  • Seeding a comment to get your submission into the "Commented" category (as opposed to the full-on regular queue) -- I don't do this, and I have no idea if it would help anyways.
Oh, and you can also try looking at the profiles of some of the more prolific submitters -- they tend to highlight their favorite headlines (braggarts, the lot), so you can see some samples.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Things That Are Upcoming: Blog Potomac, Puppini Sisters and More

Okay, so I've been slack on any number of things this week. Here are a few things of interest coming up in the near future:

* Tomorrow, Friday, June 13: The Blog Potomac Conference at the State Theatre in Falls Church. I'm looking forward to it, even if I bagged the dinner after the Social Media Club DC event for the book Now Is Gone.

(I like blathering about social media and online community as much as the next social media and online community consultant, and there were a few folks I genuinely enjoy seeing. So why did I bag? For some reason, the thought of hearing and saying more blather about social media and online community -- even my own -- made me seriously consider throwing myself out the plate glass window on the second floor of the Clarendon Barnes and Noble.

Instead, I ended up browsing briefly through Eastern Mountain Sports, the Apple Store, and the CD Cellar -- where I, yet again, bought a CD I already own -- and had dinner at the East-West Grill before going home.)

* Sunday, June 15: The Puppini Sisters play Birchmere. As previously noted. Not sure how definite this is. (Well, for me -- I'm sure they'll be playing.)

* Wednesday, June 18: As with every third Wednesday, come to RFD in DC (right across from the Verizon Center) for the monthly Washington Blogger Meetup. Remember, there is wifi available, so bring a laptop if you're interested in starting a blog or spiffing up your existing blog (the members of the Washington Blogger Meetup cannot be held responsible for any damages incurred to your blog. Especially since alcohol may will be involved.)

(Incidentally, it appears that Meetup has redesigned. It seems a bit friendlier. Definitely more 2.0ish.)

* Friday, June 20 is another Hirshhorn After Hours. Trust me: If you're interested in going, get your tickets in advance. I keep saying I'll do an entry explaining why you want to do this -- and I may. Eventually.

* Wednesday, June 25 is the Web Content Mavens June meeting, also at RFD. This month's topic seems pretty interesting, though I have a conflict.

* Thursday, June 26 is the inaugural event for the DC Design Babes at Cafe Citron in Dupont Circle. Hey, since my (real) purpose for going to DC-area tech events is to meet girls (I'm really bad at it, which is why I just end up networking), I'm there.

After that: Independence Day. Then, onward to the sweet embrace of death.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Michael Mann Calls You "Sport" Before You Get Shot

I did that thing the other night again, landing in the place halfway between not being able to get to sleep and waking up way too early.

Either way, I was too useless to try to do anything productive, so I decided to dip into my stack of unwatched DVDs. I chose Michael Mann's Miami Vice of 2006.

It did not put me to sleep. Although I'm a little surprised that it didn't -- it takes a while to get rolling. And even when it does, it drags in places -- most notably, during the courtship of Colin Farrell and Gong Li. Of the rendered judgments of the movie, this is the one I agree with the most -- it's flat, and if there was any chemistry there, it didn't show up on film.

The narrative is a little disjointed -- it feels like it's missing something: as if it belongs in a four-episode arc of a series. Especially the ending, which is kind of weak on its own.

I wouldn't rank it among Michael Mann's best works. However, it does have a few bits of great dialogue, including this doozy delivered by Detective Gina Calabrese (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) to a hostage-taker who says he's going to push a button and blow up everyone in the room:
"That's not what happens. What will happen is... what will happen is, I will put a round at 2,700 feet per second into the medulla at the base of your brain. And you will be dead from the neck down before your body knows it. Your finger won't even twitch. Only you get dead. So tell me, sport, do you believe that?"
The visual works better when you see she's behind a Heckler & Koch G-36C when she's saying it:

I just can't see "dude" working as well in this context.

Now, besides the word "medulla," the other word that you don't hear very much is "sport" (at least, not as a term of address, and certainly not one outside of crazy uncles and 1950s sitcoms).

One other place you'll hear sport used like this is Michael Mann's 1986 movie Manhunter -- the line comes from Will Graham, as he's about to get serious about catching the bad guy:

"It's just you and me now, sport."

You know he's serious, as he's looking out at the rain. Also, that he's smart, since he's not getting wet.

In conclusion... well, I didn't really have a conclusion. I had a digression -- looking up Manhunter surfaced an interesting YouTube video, which led to the start of a much more involved discussion about the merits of Michael Mann's Manhunter version Brett Ratner's Red Dragon (hint: Manhunter is better) but that will have to wait.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Skate or Blog: Choose One

I'm so out of shape right now, when I go skating, it wipes me out for the rest of the day. And for a good chunk of the next day. Which is probably one of the reasons I haven't posted for a while.

My first time out this year was in Baltimore, for the Kinetic Sculpture Race (the photos of which I still haven't done up yet). It was a sink-or-swim kind of deal, since it covers about 15 miles over the course of the day, but I made it. (More or less -- but were my feet sore.)

I went out again last Wednesday afternoon, starting at Sunset Hills and going west just past Herndon. Not too far, but my legs were still dead from a bike ride on Memorial Day Monday (only Reston to Vienna, but the hill at Blackthorn Road coming back wiped me out).

I also wanted to do a trial run on skates using my Poor Man's Steadycam, but I ended up just hauling it around in my backpack to get a sense of the weight (it's not a delightful experience). Though I did take a few video test shots just holding my camera -- kind of a "before" shot for comparison -- it's pretty unwatchable because of all the side-to-side motion (until I get to the coasting part):

Leaving aside the fact that it would be kind of, you know, dangerous, to try skating at speed while hanging on to the rig with both hands, I'm hoping I can still use it while coasting on flats or mild downhills. Which would make me kind of a human steadycam dolly.

During the ride, my bearings were making a lot of noise. I figured I'd thrashed them pretty good in Baltimore, so over the weekend, I took them apart to rotate the wheels, and clean and regrease the bearings:
Skate shell, booties, wheels, bearings, shields, clips, spacers, bolts and grease.

Here you can see my current, first, and only skates: Rollerblade Coolblades, which I bought back in 1994 or 1995 for about $300 (with pads). I've taken them up and down Manhattan, through the Central Park loop countless times, up to Niagara Falls, and out to Iowa. They've held up surprisingly well -- I've only replaced the wheels and bearings a couple of times.

They still pinch at the base of my shins, but I'm pretty used to that by now (bloody socks and all). Though I'll think I'll eventually switch to a traditional lace-up boot, maybe jump over to K2s (K2 still makes skates, right?)

Here's a macro shot of one of the bearings:
Degreasing brought to you by Simple Green.

Anyway, I and my now-clean bearings went out again on Monday, starting at Sunset Hills and going west. I got a late start (6:20ish), so I figured my turnaround time would be 7pm, giving me enough margin to get back before safely before sunset (even if I gassed out).

At 7pm, I'd just made it to Church Road, which is just close enough to the Route 28 overpass that I decided to stretch it out a little more. Although I wasn't able to do a full speed run on the overpass's westbound downhill (which is still one of my favorite things to do -- it's no Central Park "Big Hill," but it has a nice, long, straight rollout), since there was an inconvenient bit of gravel on the trail.

I eventually made it back with time to spare. Again, only about a 15-mile round trip. But here's a tip -- if you're going to be skating close to dusk, try to keep your mouth closed. (Bugs -- ptooey.)

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