Tuesday, February 26, 2008


These are the best pictures I got of the eclipse from last week. Yes, their blurry. They were taken with my little Coolpix S200 digital camera, on a tripod. Full digital zoom in play (hence the blur) ISO at 800, I think and the exposure set to +20.

Now that I look at them again, I realize of the 20 or so that I took, at various exposures and settings, even these pretty much look the same.

It is funny to me that I was so drawn to it--not in a howling ware wolf kind of way, but in a "Ooo cool, look at that, watch it before it's all over for two years" kind of way. I guess the simple fact that it is a rare occurrence prompted me to take the pictures. That, and you don't see a red moon very often. Even less than a blue moon, I guess!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Streetview comes to Raleigh

This is really cool. And no, I'm not concerned about privace issues--not until they come into my house and start taking Panoramic pictures of my living room.

Google has updated their streetview maps in 12 new locations. Here is a screen shot of my house. Looks like I was probably at work when the Google video van came by.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Using RSS

If you haven't tried using an RSS reader, I would strongly suggest you look into it. There are a variety of readers available for free (just type "RSS reader" into a Google search and you'll be able to choose from many). Readers are frequently built into email apps like Thunderbird or Mac's Mail.app, or you can find online varieties, where you log into a single web service that catalogs all your feeds for you.

RSS has been around for a while. For the uninitiated, RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. It is a simple (oddly enough) and automated way for you to keep up with some of your most frequented sites.

I resisted using a reader for a long time. Part of this was because I enjoyed going to the various blogs I liked to read, or news sites, or fun sites, and browse through them. After a while, however, selecting "open all in tabs" when you have 30 bookmarks under one subject heading not only takes forever to load, but it can become cumbersome to go through each site, only to find that there is nothing new in half of them since the last time you looked.

The beauty of RSS is that once you subscribe to a page, the data comes to you. Whenever there's a new blog post, a new news story, or whatever it is your favorite site is pushing through, you know about it because it appears in your feed. No need to continually check web sites over and over.

I first gave RSS a try at home in our Thunderbird email client. More recently with the addition of RSS in Leopard's version of Mail, I tried it in there for a while. The cool thing about the mail client is that you can be offline and read the feeds because they are stored locally for a period of time.

I didn't explore using Mail for my reader for very long, because I lost my settings when my HD crashed and I just never brought it back. You can see below some of the feeds I had. The thing I never explored in Mail's reader is how if at all these feeds can be organized. I never got far enough to see if you can create folders to put these various feeds in.

In steps Google.

Google reader has become my RSS reader of choice. Not only does it allow for organization of feeds into user-specified subjects, it lets me share my favorites (in fact, if you haven't noticed, I've installed a widget on the top right column of this page that shows my recently shared RSS items), email the articles directly from the reader, and customize its interface through Firefox extensions such as Better Reader. By the way, you can subscribe to my shared items by following this link.

So, for all of you wondering how to set up and subscribe to your very own reader, let me show you! I recently set up my wife's Gmail account and took screen shots along the way.

How to set up Google Reader

First, you'll need to go to the Google home page. Once there click the "sign in" tab in the upper right.

If you don't have a Gmail address or a Google account already in place, you can create one here, otherwise, enter your Gmail address and password.

Once logged in, click on the "more" tab.

Click on "Reader" at the bottom of the list.

You'll need to set up your reader account by verifying your Google account info again.

At this point you can add some suggested subscriptions. These are sites that Google has thrown together by category that are of general interest. Add what you'd like.

Next, go to your favorite news site, blog, etc, and look either for text on the page that says "subscribe using RSS" or push this little button if your browser supports it in the right hand side of the location window.

If you are given a list of options from which program you would like to use to assign this feed, be sure to select Google Reader.

Click "Add to Google Reader"

Once added, you can decide if you'd like to keep it as is, unsubscribe or organize your feed into a folder you specify. If the folder you'd like isn't there, select "New Folder..."

Finally, label the folder name you'd like and your feed will live there.

Now whenever someone updates their blog, you'll know if it because it will appear in this folder.

There are many more options and tricks with Google reader, many of which are shown to you from the main Reader page. I think it's a snazzy reader.

If you set up an account and begin sharing your favorite posts, send me your subscription url so I can add that to my reader!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"It would be in good taste to stop the music now."

Really? Who does this guy think he is? Come on, the music means you shut up and sit down - just like everyone else. Way to make your momma proud. (Watch the whole video and you'll see what I'm talking about--in case you missed it!)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tax Rip Off

If you are filing your taxes using Turbo Tax, be warned: The fees they are charging now for the convenience of having your returned wired to you has increased.

It was just a few years ago they charged about $10 for the federal return to be wired to you. Now, the states have evidently caught on. It's now going to cost a lot more to get your money back using Turbo Tax.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

Experts say one of the most alluring sleep distractions is the 24-hour accessibility of the internet.

Well THAT explains a few things. Here is a list or interesting random facts about sleep.

I must be sleep deprived since I routinely fall asleep within five minutes of laying down.

Friday, February 08, 2008

How to Read a Book

Last weekend I had a nice opportunity to run a few household errands and end my time with about an hour at Borders. I had a partially used gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket and needed to get...something. It's not that I don't enjoy being at home. I'm rather a bit of a homebody. It's just that sometime we introverts need to get recharged by getting away from the din of the home team. Even if it means going to a place where there is a crowd of people. At least they're strangers.

The decision to buy a book was a difficult one. I already have several books sitting on my shelf, waiting to be scanned by my eyeballs. Do I really need to get another one? If I do, will it just go to the end of the long line and finally get read some time next year?

As I approached the store, there were several boxes outside. There was the $6.99 set of books in boxes on tables on the left hand side of the door, and there was the $3.99 set of books in boxes on tables on the right hand side of the door. I started browsing the $6.99 books. I probably spent a whole half hour outside browsing through the selection.

The first book that grabbed my attention was Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season. I flipped through this book and thought it looked very interesting. A lot of two things I like in there: baseball, and history. I flipped through, looked at old photos of ball players in their baggy uniforms, with cigarettes hanging out of their months, either smirking at the camera, or looking oblivious to it all together. I held on to that book for a while. It was a hard back and $6.99 seemed pretty good, even though it would leave about $10 on my card. I kept looking.

Next I saw a very intriguing book. Capone: The Man and the Era. It too looked interesting. Also some history. Also old black and white photos of guys with hats on, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, and sometimes even smiling. I put down the Robinson book. I flipped through Capone and saw names I recognized: O'Hare, Ness, and the notorious Capone brothers. As I looked through the book I realized that all that I really knew about Capone I know from the 1987 movie (and one of my favorites), "The Untouchables." What a cast that movie had! Robert Di Nero as Capone, Kevin Costner as Ness, Andy Garcia and Sean Connery as part of the "Untouchable" gang. What a great movie! I put the book down. I was never going to really read it. I had already seen the movie.

I remembered the book I had come for--or at least to look for and hold in my hand and flip through and see if I really wanted it, see if I could really stomach it. It was Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation. The atheist manifesto of "how dumb can you Christians really be to believe there is a god" rhetoric. I found it, flipped through it, and then decided not to buy it. Not here. It's not that I didn't want to be seen carrying it, it was that I didn't want to pay full price for it thereby endorsing his creed. Much better to buy it used on half.com or something like that later.

I was running out of time. What am I going to get? Then--I remembered. The book I had heard of for some time and never purchased. The book that will undoubtedly become the subject of future blog posts. The book with the ironic title: How to Read a Book.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mac and Cheese Sales Increase Equals Recession?

From one of my favorites, the Freakonomics blog, comes speculation from this story about how the sales of Mac and Cheese may be interpreted as an economic indicator. What do you think?

I recall buying Mac and Cheese for 25 cents a box during special sales in college. Yes, better than just about any other meal a college student living off campus could possibly afford, Mac and Cheese became at least a weekly staple.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Yeah, right!

I get invited to join all sorts of little groups and applications on Facebook, most of which I usually ignore. And his one? I don't think so. I don't want to see my rating...! And besides, what would it say about me if I accepted this invite? Alright, fess up all you out there who have added this...!