Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Power of the Hoodie

I snapped this picture last night. It's of our wiped out 8 year old, as he waits for dinner to be served:

All I could think of was this article I saw posted a while back:

The first hoodies, they say, were manufactured by Champion Products in the 1930s. They were designed for athletes and labourers. It was the result of a technological advancement; Champion had developed ways to sew thicker underwear material. Before that, they’d mostly made knitwear. The first hoodies were sold to cold-storage warehouse workers and tree surgeons working in the hinterlands. Then they were sold to school athletes, sitting on the sidelines in inclement weather.
The hoodie’s countercultural associations came later. In the 1970s, hoodies made their way into hip hop and skater culture. They kept breakdancers warm while they waited their turn to hit the floor. They served another purpose. Hoods are cheap instant anonymizers. They protected graffiti artists and skateboarders as they trespassed to perform their art. They protected muggers as they performed their art too.

It's remarkably to consider how much utility and baggage one piece of clothing can carry. And it really does work - is our 8 year old resting his eyes, or plotting a scheme to avoid having to eat the vegetables that will soon be on his plate?

Personally, I very much like my black hoodie and find it a surprisingly warm choice for the walk to the bus stop.

My Work Tablet: Staples Quad Ruled Composition Notebook

I've got an iPad, Nexus 7 and Galaxy S3 device at my desk. But those guys are just for testing apps. For real work, my tablet of choice is the Staples® Quad Ruled Composition Notebook. Yes, that's a $1.99 notebook. But it works oh so well! The graphed ruling means that I can easily write and sketch on it, and the composition style binding means they don't fall apart.

Here's what they look like:

For years now, I've started off each work day the same way. I draw a vertical line down the right hand side page. I use the far right column to note my TODO list (usually with times of the day when I plan to have the item completed), the middle (narrow column) is where I jot down blog posting ideas, so they'll be ready if/when I get time during the day to blog. Finally, I use the whole left hand page so scribble down notes, ideas, phone numbers, etc. Here's how the page generally looks:

My Dad independently found out how awesome these notepads are, and in the past has required their use as a lab notebook for his students. I think he even uses the same left page as notes, right page as data, technique, too.

For any page or information that I want to store or share electronically, I just snap a photo with my cell phone camera. Problem solved.

The system Just Works. So much so, that I can't imagine replacing it with any fancier device - be it paper or electronic.

A Little P-51 and P-38 Love

This post is about the P-38 and P-51 can opener, a US military issue piece of gear that has taken on a sort of legendary status. Bottom line: they are cheap, very durable, and most importantly, have many, many uses.

The Humble P-38

One of my readers sent me a link to this article: You’re a SEAL Stranded in Hostile Territory: What’s in Your Survival Kit?. Of course, being a fan of all things in kit form, I was definitely curious what the big boys carry. And yes, I smiled when I saw this requirement:

P-38 can opener
   a. Packaged so as to not rattle while in case.

I guess some gear never goes out of style.

The other aspect of the list I found interesting was just how standard the kit was. If you started with a AMK survival kit and went on a shopping spree over at, you could probably build exactly what they describe in the article. Naturally, you'd want to pick up the handcuff key from (a surprising source for escape and evasion gear, no?).

I suppose the ordinariness of the kit just speaks to the fact that wilderness survival is a pretty well thought out animal. Whether you're a Boy Scout, hunter or special forces operator, you've got more or less the same needs.

The P-38's Big Brother, The P-51

I keep a P-51 on my key chain, and usually keep it from flapping open using a Ranger Band (read: slice of an old bicycle inner tube). However, the band I was using just worn through, and I thought I'd look to alternate options.

Turns out, a jumbo paper clip seems to hold the P-51 together fairly well:

As a bonus, I now have an extra McGyver Survival Kit Multitool on me, should I need it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Artists and Travelers at Work

Apparently author and artist Danny Gregory has a new book out: An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers, and as such, is doing a series of video interviews with each of the contributors. I'm finding them absolutely fascinating.

Many of the challenges and benefits they encounter from sketching while traveling match up to those I encounter while blogging and photographing our trips. And of course, they are filled with inspiration, be it drawing, travel or just creative ideas in general. Definitely worth taking some time to watch. If nothing else, it's nice to see a smart way of marketing a new book in action.

I saw the first video on Urban Sketches, a blog/project that I'm really loving. I'll have more to say on that site soon, I hope, as it's a truly wonderful resource.

Tommy Kane: An Illustrated Journey from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Liz Steel: An Illustrated Journey from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Steven Reddy : An Illustrated Journey from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Prashant Miranda: An Illustrated Journey from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Tell me after watching the above videos you don't have the urge to toss some pencils and note cards in your bag with the plan to make some art on your next trip?

One Thing We're Really Good At

That one thing? Destroying stuff.

In about two days they've cleared all trees, and nearly all the vegetation that separated our block from the highway on ramp. It's all part of the bridge maintenance project they're working on, and is no doubt a reasonable and required step. But still, it's amazing how quickly we can destroy what took decades, if not longer, to grow.

In many respects, it's humbling.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gotcha of the day: Tweaking Blogger's Image Display Size

I'm loving the new image upload capability on Blogger. The multi-select capability to upload a bunch of photos at once is huge. And while I'm a bit skeptical about selling my soul to Google+, the ability to have super easy access to any of my cell phone photos is also amazing. The only thing I found missing is that I no longer get to choose what size my photos will be displayed at. At least I don't get easy access to this while editing in HTML mode.

Whenever I upload photos, the following code is dropped on the page:

<a href=""
 imageanchor="1" ><img border="0" 

The default size to display images is 320 pixels wide. Turns out, I can set this to any arbitrary value by tweaking the HTML code a bit. I just need to change the img source URL component s320 to a new value. For example, I can take the above URL:

And change it to: s580, and now the page will show a 580 pixel image:

See this example live:

Proof Spring is Right Around The Corner

Sure, it's cold outside...but you can't help but notice the buds on the trees. I'm telling you, it'll be spring before we know it.

I'm still amazed at the quality of photo the Galaxy S3 can produce. The above was taken in macro mode with no additional accessories.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Field Testing a New Set of Cans

My Mom gave me my first pair of active noise cancelling headphones this weekend. After I bust them out of the package, I asked my dad for a few suggestions as to what songs I should first try them out on.

His responses were: Sergei Rachmaninov's, Symphony No. 2 and Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony. My Dad then went on to tell a story about his college days. Apparently he had a buddy down the hall with an especially sweet sound system, and every day he'd go down there to blast Tchaikovsky's 5th. He also told me about the time that they were blasting the 1812 Overture out the window of his Frat house, that is, until the cops showed up to shut them down. Way to go Dad, I'm impressed!

The pieces of music were beautiful, and the headphones work great.

Here, give them a try:

By the way, I especially like the occasional very delicate hand/finger gestures from the conductor of piece by Rachmaninov. I wonder what they mean and how scripted they are, or whether he's just making all this up to look good? I'll have to get the skinny from my Dad.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Most Fishy Passover Plan

It's that time of year again, when I go to the supermarket and get absolutely freaked out over the presence of Kosher for Passover items. That can only mean one thing: I'm already behind on my Passover cleaning and prep.

And how did I react this year? By crying in the isle? Nope. By taking out my notepad and starting a TODO list on the spot? A good idea, but again, no.

No, I looked over the on sale items and said, "hey, look, at that deal on sardines and anchovies - I bet those will make my Passover Rock!" So I bought a variety pack:

Like most brilliant ideas, I'm already wondering what the heck I was thinking.

But at least I took action! Action high in Omega 3 action, at that. That has to count for something?

Shira has also made her first purchase for Passover and it's quite a bit yummier:


Pairs well with sardines, right?

OK, time to work on that TODO list...

Let me guess, you're totally prepared for the big Passover, right?

So not ready to have this conversation

As I was tucking our 8 year old into bed we got onto the topic of family resemblance. He explained to me that a person typically looks like his mom. No, I corrected him, you get your looks from both your mom and your dad. No, he pushed back, you get them mainly from your mom. After all, he reasoned, you come from your mom. "Yes, but" I started to say, and then trailed off as it suddenly hit me that I most definitely didn't want to get into the topic of how a daddy contributes to the birth of a baby. I mumbled something and tried to move on to the next topic.

He puzzled over my words. "Are you saying that Jeffery at school looks like his dad because his daddy carried him in *his* tummy?"

Crap. Now I've really confused the boy.

In the vaguest possible terms I tried to explain that he was right, babies always come from mommies.

I expect a phone call from the principal tomorrow asking me why Michael is spreading the rumor that some babies come from daddies, and some from mommies. Add to this fact that our son is absolutely fascinated by the fact that in DC, boys can marry boys, and girls can marry girls, and you've got one potentially very confused little boy.

Rule #1: never underestimate 8 year old logic.

I'm off to Google "What age should you teach your kids about sex?" My gosh, what did parents do before the all knowing internet?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Your Third Option For Shaving

For nearly all my life I assumed you had two choices when it came to shaving: a disposable razor, or an electric shaver. Sure, there were lots of razor options - from cheap CVS brand to battery operated, multi-bladed monstrosities, but they were all more or less the same. Many years ago I had a cheap electric razor, and quickly decided that an old school blade was better.

Sure, some time ago I heard rumblings of a third shaving option, but that involved far more than a new razor. To do shaving right, I was told, involved brushes and mugs and soap and aftershave and, most importantly, time. So while it was novel to consider, I never did anything about it.

A few weeks back I started an experiment. I splurged and purchased a $6.00 shaver and a few dollars worth of double sided safety blades at Rite Aid. After installing the blade in the shaver I realized what I was holding in my hand: it was exactly the same thing as the disposable / cartridge razors I'd been using for years, at a fraction of the price.

This last weekend I finally put the setup a to the real test. I shaved one side of my face with the new setup, and the other side with a multi bladed contraption. I asked Shira to guess which side was which. She got the answer right: she guessed the slightly smoother side, with a tiny cut was the new razor, and the side where I missed a spot was the multi blade one. Bottom line, the combination setup worked just as well, if not better, than what I had been using.

The economics are almost staggering. The same shaver I bought a few days ago, is now on sale for $3.45 (with free shipping!) and you can get 100 blades for $8.63. Figure you use a new blade a week, that's almost two *years* worth of razors for half the price of a 12 pack of fancy disposable razors.

I'm not saying that you're going to like the replaceable blade system more than your fancy 3 blade Gillette system. But you're a fool for not at least trying, right? And if you want to get fancy supplies, go ahead, but as I've learned they're hardly required.

Gillette and friends are truly marketing geniuses for convincing the likes of myself that a cartridge razor is my only option for shaving with a blade. Seriously, how did they pull that off?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Grandpa Project, v1.0

A few weeks back I was mulling over what kind of surprise I could give me 92 year old grandpa. To make the matter trickier, he's effectively blind from macular degeneration. And then it hit me: music. Who doesn't love music? And there's no doubt, it can have amazing effects on us. I dashed off a quick e-mail to Shira with my half baked plan: I'd add a whole bunch of songs to an Apple iPod, box it, a pair of headphones and some basic instructions for an aid to follow, and ship it to my Grandpa. Once unpacked, all he'd have to do is put headphones on and hit play. Voilà! My Grandpa would be rocking out to tunes that I'd selected. To my surprise, Shira responded that she thought it was a good idea--an extremely rare occurrence when it comes to my hair brained schemes.

My plan was to keep this little project as simple as possible. I chose an iPod shuffle for a number of reasons. First off, without an LCD screen, it's essentially designed to be used without sight. Second of all, the iTunes integration means that I could trivially buy and install a playlist. Finally, there's something novel about my 92 year old grandpa sporting an iPod. Shira picked up a 1GB iPod shuffle on eBay for cheap, and I purchased a comfortable and cheap set of over the hear headphones. The hardware turned out to be easy enough.

Then came picking out music. This got tricky in a hurry. I'm hardly a music guru, and I wanted to give him some music that I thought he'd like as well as some music I enjoy. Most importantly, I wanted to avoid analysis paralysis. I didn't want to get stuck trying to make the perfect playlist, only to never get around to making anything. In the end I decided on a simple strategy: pick two songs from each of the following categories: classical, 40's music, country, rock, pop and electronic. Where possible, I picked drinking songs. With the exception of the 40's music, which I had no strong affinity, I wanted to pick songs that I relish listing to.

Here's what I arrived at:

  • Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) by Frank Sinatra
  • I'll Be Seeing You (1944 Single) by Billie Holiday
  • If I Were a Rich Man by John Williams
  • William Tell Overture by London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Act 3: Duettino - Sull'aria (The Shawshank Redemption - 1994) by Sofia National Opera Orchestra, Victoria Anderson & Ivan Marinov
  • Alcohol by Brad Paisley
  • Friends In Low Places by Brooks Stars Garth
  • Run by Collective Soul
  • All I Want Is You by U2
  • I'm Sexy and I Know It by DJ K.O.
  • Born This Way by Lady GaGa
  • Clarity (feat. Foxes) by Zedd
  • Fine Without You (feat. Jennifer Rene) by Armin van Buuren

For the very first track, I created an audio introduction. You can listen to it here. It serves as pretty solid proof that I'm not quitting my day job to be the next Ira Glass.

I packed up the setup and sent it off. A few days later, I got an excited call from my Grandpa. He hadn't yet listened to the music, but was very much looking forward to giving it a try.

And yesterday I received another phone call, the verdict was in: he was absolutely elated with the music, the iPod and the sentiment.

The project was a success, and I can tell I'm going to have to think of a clever ways to get him more music. I'm also considering sharing some audio snippets from our travels. I can't show him photos of where we've been, but I can share the experience through sound.

You can find the instructions I put together explaining how to hook up the iPod here. Feel free to grab, customize and put them to work for yourself.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person

I've tried to read the The Book of Job (you know, the one from the Bible) before. It starts off with a couple of chapters that are both understandable and pretty riveting. And then things get less understandable. A lot less understandable. After a few chapters , I've lost sight of who's trying to convince who of what, and why. When I saw Harold Kushner of Bad Things Happen To Good People fame, tackled the text I was hoping he could guide me through the book.

It turned out to be a wise choice on my part.

The first thing Kushner explains is that there's textual evidence that the Book of Job consists of two independent parts. The first two, and last chapter comprise a simple fable. One that's ancient, and easy to understand. The middle 39 chapters or so, however, comprise a complex poem which may be among the most difficult texts in the bible to understand.

Well that explains my difficulty, doesn't it?

Kushner then proceeds to walk the reader through the 39 chapters of poetry, pulling from different sources, explanations and examples to make it as understandable as possible. And he manages to succeed; I walked away with q coherent view of how the Book of Job can be understood.

Kushner's book, however, is more than just a user's manual to the Book of Job. In many respects, it builds on the philosophy that he originally describes in When Bad Things Happen To Good People. And just what is that philosophy? Well, consider the following three statements:

  1. G-d is all powerful
  2. G-d is all just
  3. G-d is all good

Now, suppose something terrible happens to you, like in Kushner's case, the loss of a child. How do you make the above statements make sense? If you suppose (1) and (2) are true, then how can the loss of a child be considered good? And if you suppose (1) and (3) are true, how can you suppose that a child dying is just? Instead, Kushner outlines a philosophy where (2) and (3) are true, and that (1) isn't. That is, G-d is not all powerful. Crazy, I know. In the above example, he might say that G-d is good and just, but he wasn't responsible for killing your child - cancer, a drunk driver, or whoever else was. When I first heard this philosophy I didn't buy it for a second. But after reading When Bad Things Happen to Good People and now his take on the Book of Job, I'm more and more convinced that Kushner is really on to something.

Another way to look at it: if you're someone who looks at arguments against G-d like this one, and think, "Hmmmm, there are some really solid points there" - then you might find Kushner's philosophy especially sensible.

Regardless of what you believe, this book is an absolute winner. It was a true joy to untangle such a mysterious text.

Now *That's* A Bus Trip

Mention traveling by bus, and you're going to have to sit through me telling stories of me traveling 12 hours by bus to visit my girlfriend in College. (A decision that would have been reckless except for one fact, she's now my wife).

12 hours on a bus? That's nothing! How about traveling from DC to Antarctica by bus! OK, our hero actually made it the Southern tip of America via bus, and took a ship to Antarctica (versus what? swimming?).

I've only read a brief summary of his trip. When I get the time, I'm psyched to dive into the full itinerary. How can it be anything but fascinating?


Monday, February 18, 2013

From Pant Leg to Backpack

Stumbled over this clever recycling project:

had a pair of nice, heavy, duck cloth pants that bit the dust, so I decided to make a Veschmeshok-ish type pack...

From this:

To this:

What a sweet little hack.

A related project: Ten minute no-sew recycled t-shirt bag!. Though, that one is considerably less manly.

Extremely Close, Indeed

Here's 3 minutes and 30 seconds of wow. Some people just have the right combination of skills, nerve and good luck:

Via this question about base-jumping from high rise buildings.

And if the above didn't get your adrenaline pumping, this movie should:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Say it with more than a little bit of snark

This last Shabbat, I accidentally gave away someone's honor to another person (Sorry Jonathan - no hard feelings, I hope). During the Kiddush, I promised him that if Hallmark ever came out with a card collection for Gabbaim, I'd be sure to send him one. Better yet, I hoped that someecards would step up to the challenge.

To my surprise, there were those at the Kiddush who hadn't heard of someecards. Well, let me do my Internet duty and introduce you to them. With Passover just around the corner, here's a few someecards to get you into the mood and give you the idea about what they are all about: - Sorry you're no longer young enough to read the Four Questions - Please help me understand how boils and locusts are plagues but bread that tastes like cardboard isn't - My version of pornography is spending Passover week staring at cupcake boards on Pinterest - I think you may be confusing Passover with the South Beach Diet - I fondly remember when the ten deadly plagues of Passover were scarier to me than current earthly disasters

So, if you've got an occasion, and need a little attitude than Hallmark can provide, say it with someecards.

You're welcome.

Getting a Kick out of Valentine's Day

You might think that because Shira and I skipped the romantic dinner and box of chocolates this year, that we didn't celebrate Valentine's Day. You'd be quite wrong. This year Shira truly kicked it up a notch by arranging our attendance at a V-day couples Kick Boxing class offered by the Northern Virginia MMA studio she attends. The idea was to give significant others such as myself a view into the training that the ladies do on a regular basis.

This is only slightly problematic for a few reasons: (1) I'm not in shape for this kind of work out (take me on a 5 mile run, no problem. Make me do 10 push-ups, and you've got a big problem, and (2) my coping mechanism for dealing with stressful situations is to talk, and there's a strict (yet unwritten) no-talking rule during workouts.

Still, for the sake of love, we decided to go ahead with this little adventure.

I got to the gym and Shira wrapped my hands. I tried as best I could, but I couldn't resist one crack about the wrapping feeling oddly similar to my Thursday morning Tiffilin ritual. See:

The work out got started, and the I found myself actually enjoying the warm-up. A little light jogging around the gym, a couple of burpees, maybe this wasn't going to be so bad. I was even keeping my mouth shut.

After about 20 minutes of the hour long class I was spent. I mean done. I didn't have a single burpee, push-up or or high knee left in me. There were 3 other couples in the class, and I was clearly the only guy struggling. I would have felt bad if I had any energy left in me to feel anything.

Somehow I managed to make it through the entire class. For a few moments in there I thought, you know, this is probably what it feels like just before one passes out. But I didn't pass out. Instead, I just lost my dignity, and got a blister on each foot (apparently I was failing to pivot on the kicks. Yeah, pivoting was the least of my problems). And in a strange way, masochistic way, had fun. For the record, I did chit-chat with the instructor and Shira a little bit (I had to!), and the class didn't fall apart.

The gym had each of the ladies present their man with a rose and we posed for some pictures. I left sore, and with additional respect for the workouts Shira endures. Maybe I'll be ready to do this again next Valentines day, but certainly not a day before that.

Maybe next year we can just do the candle lit dinner thing? I know, where's the fun in that.

I love you babe, thanks for a Valentine's Day I won't ever forget.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Meeting Maya

Last night I met Maya! She didn't have a whole lot to say, most two week olds don't, I suppose. But she let me hold her for 30 minutes without making so much as a peep, so I'll take that as a sign that we're going to be fast friends.

Maya's big sister was registering off the charts for cuteness. She's at an age where everything she does is adorable - like the way she tucked in her various dolls to go to sleep.

What a joy it was getting to invade our friend's home and being surrounded these amazing kids.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Saving the Princess

Nearly every morning, our 8 year old walks across this telephone-pole-turned-bus-stop-waiting-bench. And when he does so, he's transformed from a kid walking to the bus stop to a brave (Jedi?) knight crossing a perilous bridge, on his way to save the princess.

Don't worry, before he starts his traversal I remind him to put in his lava shoes for protection, should he slip off.

That's one tough vacancy to fill

I found this story of how Pope Gregory X was chosen to be absolutely fascinating. Here's a snippet to get you started:

[T]he humble city of Viterbo, sixty miles north of Rome, know popes were not always elected in Rome. Sheepishly, perhaps, they know that current tradition of strictly-ruled elections was caused by a particularly inefficient election that they hosted.


When Pope Clement IV died in Viterbo in 1268, cardinals gathered there to elect his successor. A two-thirds vote was needed, but very hard to get. At first, the Viterbese were proud to host the election. Cardinals stayed all over the city and gathered once a day to vote. It was exciting to have the dignitaries in their midst. However, day after day, week after week, no settlement was made between two competing interests. This took its toll on the local population who were hosting and feeding these guests and their entourages.

Weeks turned into months, so to hasten the process, the cardinals were pushed to move into the Papal Palace and forced to work together behind locked doors (cum clave—"locked up"—where we get the term "conclave"). When that didn't work, the Viterbese reduced the food and wine supplies to the palace, hoping to create a less hospitable environment.

Read the whole story here.

Next time I think our religious committee is slow at coming to consensus, I'll think back to this story.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I found Missing in the State of the Union

I had fairly low expectations from the State of the Union this evening. I expected Obama to deliver a solid speech with the usual themes: we need smarter government, not bigger government, we need to make progress understanding that no initiative will be perfect and no party will be completely happy with the results, we need to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges -- that sort of thing. But, for the most part, I was expecting to a rehash.

While many of the themes were there as expected, and the delivery was indeed solid, I was actually impressed with a number of specific new programs mentioned. He really had me when he mentioned 3D Printing, a topic that the White House apparently has a real interest in. But that's all the besides the point.

The question I was left asking was this: if you're going to present proposals for new programs, shouldn't you at the same time publish the details that demonstrate how you recommend they be paid for? I'm talking hundreds of pages of specific assumptions, calculations and such, that drive the claim that these new programs won't add to the deficit.

As we're teaching our 8 year old with respect to his math homework: Rule #1: Show all your work.

Of course, the real winner of the night was Poland Springs. Poor Rubio.

The Next Business Book I'd Read (if I hadn't already started a business)

Cool Tools has added the book: Incredible Secret Money Machine to its list of recommended tools. From the Cool Tools review:

When I first started to get serious about making money I ran into this book written in 1978 by a hippy-hacker living in Arizona. His advice was aimed at “craft and technical” types who wanted to create a small business “doing their thing” whether that was creating ceramic pots, designing outdoor gear, or writing computer code. He talked about doing a starting up before that term was subverted by the implication that your start up would take over the world. Instead the author preached one-person self-employment that made you a living.

As someone who's living this lifestyle, I say, bravo! A quick scan through the excerpts show a number of points that I heartily agree with. If you've got something you love to do, but can't see how you can turn that into a business, you'll definitely want to check this book out. Best of all, it's available for free. Given the availability of tools (Blogger, WordPress, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.) and sales platforms (eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, etc.), you've definitely got a leg from someone starting a business just a few years ago.

Somewhat connected to this book recommendation is a post from Seth Godin titled Those People. A snippet from his elegant post:

"Well, the bad news," she said, "is that we have to let everyone in. And the truth is, many of these kids just can't be the leaders you're describing, can't make art. We need people to do manual work, and it's those people."

I couldn't believe it. I was speechless, then heartbroken. All I could think of was these young adults, trusting this woman to lead them, teach them, inspire them and push them, and instead being turned into 'those people.'

I've got to think that everyone's got a passion. You may flip burgers by day, but be a fan of Civil War Re-enacting or love to watch Reality TV shows by night. Whatever it is, you love it and get lost doing it. It's only a matter of creativity to find a way to turn that passion into a business. Maybe the Incredible Secret Money Machine book can help you do this. Or maybe not. Whatever you do, don't give up trying.

Take a Deep Breath and Watch This

Here's the perfect short film for the season. I'd say more, but I don't want to ruin the ending.

Trust me, it's worth watching the whole way through.


Monday, February 11, 2013

A First Visit to the National Children's Museum

This past weekend we hit the National Children's Museum with our 8 year old and Aurora, who's 1 1/2. The museum provided some excellent opportunities for the kids to play pretend (the cooking area being a highlight for both kids), be surrounded by a number of kid friendly exhibits and do some arts-and-crafting. The museum isn't as large as the one in Boston (my only point of reference), but there was definitely lots to do for Aurora, and our 8 year old had tons of fun, too. When we go back again, I'll probably take him directly to the arts and crafts classrooms first, as we explored that at the end and didn't have enough time to do all the activities there.

Aurora was in heaven when Elmo made an appearance.

Speaking of arts and crafts, I love that the materials and projects (community hats and paper beads) are easily replicated at home. I assume that's by design, and offers parents their own opportunity to learn a new parenting trick or two. Next rainy day, we are so busting out the junk mail headed for the recycling bin to turn it into jewelry.

If you've got young kids, you'll definitely want to keep the National Children's Museum in mind on those cold and rain days when you just need to get out.

As a bonus, the weather was warm enough that we could explore more of National Harbor and let the kids play on The Awakening - perhaps the greatest kid friendly sculpture of all time.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Gotcha of the Day: flvcheck fails to run on linux

FLV Check is a handy tool for, well, checking flv files. It's supposed to be trivial to run: download it, unzip it, and execute it.

But when I did this on an Amazon EC2 server, I got the following error message:

 [foo@bar linux]$ ./flvcheck
 bash: ./flvcheck: /lib/
    bad ELF interpreter: No such file or directory

After searching around, I found my first lead of what may be going on here. I went ahead and installed glibc.i686:

  sudo yum install glibc.i686

This got me the new error message:

 [foo@bar linux]$  ./flvcheck
 ./flvcheck: error while loading shared libraries: cannot open shared object 
   file: No such file or directory

Aha! That's a new error message. I then ran this guy:

 sudo yum install libstdc++.i686

And now flvcheck works like a charm.

Happy flvcheck'ing!

Worth a Try: Shaving with a Double Edge Safety Razor

Internet geeks know you are supposed to shave with a safety razor. It's how you Grandpa did it, and maybe even your dad. Real shaving with a safety razor involves a badger bristle brush, a mug full of shaving soap and a very sharp blade. It's an art, time consuming, and you will bleed. But, it's supposed to be far more economical than say a Mach 3 Razor, better for the environment and better for your face.

I'm not quite ready to buy into all that hype.

However, my package of bulk purchased Costco razors were coming to an end, so I decided I should try something different. Option one was to try the safety razor approach, option two was to check out (yes, based solely on one advertisement I saw). I decided to go with option one.

I purchased myself a $6.32 shaver and a package of 15 blades from Rite-Aide. (I would have purchased 100 blades from Amazon for about $10.00, but I couldn't justify paying shipping.) A few days later, I had the shaver in front of me:

So, how did the setup actually work? I've got say, pretty well. I skipped the shaving brush and fancy soap (for now, I suppose), but I do shave in the shower--which I think helps immensely regardless of the razor. I was expecting the process to super tricky, assuming that I was attempting something as difficult as shaving with a straight razor. I couldn't have been more wrong. The "safety" part of a safety blade applies here. The blade is setup so that unless you're at the right angle, you won't cut anything. I just keep reminding myself to let the weight of the shaver do the work, and the process went smoothly. I've now shaved twice, and the shave is just as good that from the fancy multi-blade contraption I was using.

I plan to get a few more shaves under my belt, and then really put the setup to the test: I want to shave and have Shira guess to see which razor setup I used. That's the true test, I suppose.

Still, if you've never tried a safety razor, you should totally give it a try. If nothing else, for a few minutes in the morning, you'll feel that much more manly.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Two Fresh Ways Of Looking At Trees

Sure, trees have a lot of uses, but here are two that I hadn't really thought of before:

Tree as a witness to history :

Watch Video

Trees a source of music:

Watch Video

Mind bending, no?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Caption Me, Up To No Good Edition

Caption me, please.

Adventures in Ethiopian Cuisine

Somewhere between 5 and 10 years ago, Shira and I went out of our way to try Ethiopian cuisine. I'm a pretty flexible guy when it comes to what I eat, but after a few blah attempts, we just couldn't get into it. I more or less wrote it off as a type of food I just wasn't intended to eat.

A few weeks back, we finally got around to re-testing this assumption by visiting KaRaMaRa - an Ethiopian place on Columbia Pike, walking distance from our house. I've got to say, it was really good. We mainly ordered vegetarian items, and they had a consistency and flavor very similar to Indian food (which we very much like). The family style serving, and eating with your hands made for a fun adventure. I still wasn't overly in love with the cold, spongy bread, but of course, that's standard Ethiopian fare. The highlight was the side order of tilapia, which turned out to be a whole fried fish and was absolutely delicious. It was especially surprising, because it was a $3.99 add on to the vegetarian sampler.

With one positive experience under our belt, we thought we'd try another, even closer restaurant to us: Dama Restaurant. This time, we went on a double date with my brother and his fiancee.

The experience started much like Karamara -- ordering a bunch of dishes, but not knowing what we were going to get out of it. In the end, we just asked the waitress to bring us some good vegetarian food. A while later (neither Karamara or Darma had anything resembling fast service) we were again delivered a big tray of family style food. To our surprise, a few of the dishes looked very much like meat. We were, however, told that they were certainly not meat, but vegan alternatives. After tasting them, we confirmed that: (a) it wasn't meat, and (b) they were wonderfully tasty!

Darma also has an amazing desert selection, which for completeness, I had to sample. Yum!

All in all, my views of Ethiopian food have been reversed. Darma turns out to be an awesome option if you eat vegan and like the fake-meat options. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

In Pursuit of More Compact PHP Code

One day I'll have reliable access to PHP 5.3 and real anonymous functions. Alas, that day is still far off for me. Recently, however, I put together a few trivial functions to make using the old school create_function capability easier. Or, at least easier for quick one liners. I give you: fn1($code), fn2($code) and fn3($code).

A few sample uses:

$prefixed = array_map(fn1('return "x_" . strtoupper($x);'), $data); // [1]

$mathed   = array_reduce($values, fn2('return $x + sqrt($y);'), 0); // [2]

$e = $do_encoding ?                                                 // [3]
     fn1('return mb_convert_encoding($x, "Windows-1251", "UTF-8");') :
     fn1('return $x;');

$texted   = $e($a) . "//" . $e($b) . "//" . $e($c);

The third example is the most fun one, as it shows that functions can be sort-of treated as first class values.

The implementation of these functions couldn't be simpler:

function fn1($code) {
  return create_function('$x', $code);

function fn2($code) {
  return create_function('$x,$y', $code);

function fn3($code) {
  return create_function('$x,$y,$z', $code);

As my freshman professor, Kulbir Arora once said: Be Pithy. I'm trying man, I'm trying.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Review: The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

My latest technique for finding good books to read has been to troll the New Book section at the library. It insures I see a variety of subjects and has allowed me to find some really unusual and fun books. Though, after my last find, I'd hit a kind of slump. I borrowed a handful of books and none of them kept my attention for more than a few pages. While I was poking around the New Books section, I saw that the Graphic Novel section was nearby, so I thought I'd check out the selection there. I expected I'd pick up some dark noir thriller, instead, I found the Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders.

The Photographer is the story of Didier Lefèvre's journey into 1986 warn torn Afghanistan. The format of the text is immediately striking. Here's a few quick snapshots:

What you're seeing there is a more or less traditional graphic novel (read: fancy comic book) mixed in with black and white snapshots that Didier has taken along the way.

The format turns out to be absolutely marvelous. The hand drawn story works well, and I found it effortless to follow. And the snapshots re-frame the text as something stunning and real. There's something special about having a picture in your head about a pass or scene, and them bam! you see it as it actually was.

The format alone, though, doesn't give you the whole pictures as to why this book was such a page turner. No, what drives that is the remarkable story. Didier took me on one heck of an arm chair adventure that I just didn't want to put to down. From learning about Afghan customs (hint: never pee standing up, that's taboo - only animals do that), to witnessing the horrors of war, to savoring the joy of overcoming remarkable physical hardships and creating lasting life time bonds. This book has it all. It's hard not to walk away at least a little inspired at those who will do anything to make life better for others.

And then there's the photography aspect of the book. Imagine a 3 month long trek into the wilderness, where exhaustion, disease, war and nature all serve as an impediment. Where you snap picture after picture and have no way to know if even one has come out. Where your film or cameras could be ruined in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. And then to return home with a 195 rolls of film, and just hope that your efforts weren't in vain. Think about that, 195 roles. At 36 exposures per role, that's about 7,000 photos. On our last 1 week vacation, I shot round 2000 photos. I simply can't imagine traveling for 3 months and trying squeeze all that into 200 rolls of film.

Yet, Didier pulled it off. And his images are wonderful.

There's so much to learn from this book, I'm truly greatfull I took the time to read it.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

16 Lessons In Keeping The Love

A few days back, I stumbled across this blog post: 16 ways I blew My Marriage. If you are married, want to get married or are hoping for a divorce, this is relevant reading.


Thinking About Generators

Given our tame winter, it seems like now's the perfect time to think about buying a generator. Here's a video we stumbled on last night while doing some research, and I've got say, it was really helpful:

As for which generator to choose, Cool Tools has a portable one that very much appeals to my compact/minimalistic sensibilities. Of course, Shira thinks that ridiculous, and wants one that's going to power the whole dang house with watts to spare. Guess who's going to win this argument?

Friday, February 01, 2013


"You look good, smell good and have hair to die for..."

My wife. Not describing me, but our new dentist.

In her defense, she's totally right.