Monthly Archives: February 2010

On how influential you – yes! You! – are

As a parent, I am very aware of how much influence I have over my kids. I
try to see my behavoir from their viewpoint and shape my actions to (I
hope) have a strong positive effect.

I took this way of thinking and applied it to my everyday life recently. To
examine how much influence I might have, I thought about how others
influence me. How they act, how they carry themselves, even how they
present themselves. I realized that people have a significant influence on
me once I started to think about it. Courteous people, friendly people, and
other people with positive attributes all affect me in a positive way. I
feel better about my day, my world. Negative people tend to do the
opposite. Now this influence is not all powerful, and it affects people
differently, but is is not negligable. Given this, I have endeavoured to
try to project in a positive way as best as I can, and I encourage you to
do so too. For you have alot more influence than you may think. Use your
influence wisely.

(This was hacked together on my Blackberry. Thanks for reading it)

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Awesome: Smokey Robinson and Jennifer Hudson perform “People Get Ready”

I like Jennifer Hudson alot. And I love “People Get Ready”. Combine that with Smokey Robinson, whose artistry I practically worship, and you have one great duet. Here they are, for “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music From the Civil Rights Movement”, Jennifer Hudson and Smokey Robinson performing “People Get Ready”.

That just made my week.

Sade, Charlie Pride, and the mystery of the 69 cent song on iTunes

Sade has a new album out, Soldier of Love, and all of the songs are priced at $1.29 on iTunes. That  appears to be the premium price. I am a big fan of hers, going back to the 1980s, and since she doesn’t have a lot of other albums out, I decided to look at her other albums available on iTunes. Of the ten albums and dozens of songs available, a number of the biggest hits are $1.29, but most of them are $0.99. This is not surprising. What is surprising is two songs:

Tar Baby from her second album, Promise and Immigrant from Lovers Rock, are the only two songs priced below are $0.99, at 69 cents.

This got me thinking: why those two songs and those only? Could it be they sell signifigantly less? If so, why? Could it be their titles? If they don’t sell less, then why only these two songs? Why not other songs from other albums?And why 69 cents?

It’s a mystery to me. I’d love to here a good answer for it.

Speaking of songs less than 99 cents, I want to say that I am disappointed in iTunes pricing overall. When Steve Jobs talked about pricing songs above the 99 cent price point, he said there could also be songs for less. I thought that made perfect sense and was looking forward to it. Since then, though,  I have not seen too many songs priced less than the 99 cent price, and I would be willing to guess than far less than 1% of the songs in the entire iTunes catalog are less than 99 cents.  For example, I checked out two favourite of my mom’s: Harry Hibbs and Charlie Pride.Great artists in their own right, but I am willing to bet not the biggest sellers in the catalog. However, not one song off Harry Hibbs songs that I can see is less than 99 cents. To be fair, where I do see iTunes dropping the price is on entire albums. Both the best of Harry Hibbs and the best of Charlie Pride are very cheaply priced at 7.99 and 5.99. Indeed, if I randomly poke around, it appears that Apple wants you to buy albums, and you are more likely to get deals that way. (For example Eurythmics Boxed is $44.99, but it has 125 songs on it, which works out to around 36 cents / song).To me it looks like Apple abandoned the notion of cheaper individual songs.)

Still, I am curious about the 69 cent songs for Sade…

Lovers Rock by Sade – Download Lovers Rock on iTunes

Rich versus Poor

From the tumblelog Brooklane

Why I don’t read books and why I might read ebooks but likely will not

I agree with Matthew Yglesias (and Henry Farrell): (Many) Books Are Too Long. Over the years I have slowly stopped reading books, though I read copiously on the Web.

 There are two reasons for this slowdown, depending on the book:

  1. for non-fiction, I side with Farrell: “They (the authors) make an interesting point, and then they make it again, and again, padding it out with some quasi-relevant examples, and tacking on a conclusion about What It All Means which the author clearly doesn’t believe herself. The length of the average book reflects the economics of the print trade and educated guesses as to what book-buyers will actually pay for, much more than it does the actual intellectual content of the book itself.” I don’t know how many books that I have picked up, read about 50-100 pages and then thought: well, it is clear that the author needed to pad this out to get it in the 200-400 page range and therefore chapters 4, 5, 6, etc. and revisions of chapters 1, 2 and 3. At that point, I put the book away. 
  2. With fiction, too often I pick it up and read the jacket to get a sense of it, and the sense I get is reading a synopsis of something that is ultimately aimed at becoming a film one day. (I can almost hear the movie trailer narrator as I read it: “In a time of trouble, John Doe rises up to deal with some difficulty or other”. Of course if it is really serious fiction, then John Doe will fail and suffer.) And it too will go on for 200-400 pages when it could easily be done really well in 100. So I put it back.

Of course that is not all books. I have read and loved great works of non-fiction, like Stalingrad and The Peacekeepers, that are 500-1000 pages long and loved them. Likewise, two of my favourite fictional works are The Satanic Verses and The Brothers Karamozov, neither of which is short (and in many cases, of varying quality). But alot of fiction and nonfiction that I read, or start to read, could easily be 99 pages and priced at $3.99.

Right now I am reading Seneca’s “The Shortness of Life”, part of Penguin’s Great Books series. Frankly, at $9.99 it feels overpriced. But I love the size and format, and appreciate the opportunity to read works like this. I would likely buy more if they were cheaper.

When eBooks started to take off, I was hopeful that writers and publishers would consider alternative forms and lengths of works. I think that would be very enticing. Instead, we can see from this, Amazon Caves To Macmillan’s eBook Pricing Demands, that nothing is going to change in the book publishing world. At least from inside the book publishing world. Instead, it will happen outside the book publishing world. If MacMillan and others think that they can price this way for an eBook, based on protecting their own margins, they are likely in for a bad surprise.

One more thing: I am surprised how much teen hardcover fiction is. I buy it for my 14 year old and most of it is $19.99. Why? Because teens won’t / can’t pay more than that. So why do the hardcover fiction aimed at adults cost almost twice the price. The quality of the book itself is the same.

Generally I find books today are poor value. I am afraid ebooks will be the same. And what the book publishing industry will find eventually is that they go the way of the music industry.

The world has dramatically changed economically in the last decade – here’s evidence

I found this chart in The Economist to be astounding when I see the changes in GDP shares of the G7 versus the Brics. It’s striking evidence of the shift in purchasing power from the G7 countries (essentially “the West” or the First World) to Russia (the old Second World) and the largest countries of the developing or Third World).

Not your great great great great ……great grandfather’s Dante

Looks like Electronic Arts is not only playing fast and loose with Dante’s Inferno (according to the but with Sony and David Jaffe’s games series, God of War. I can’t speak for that series of games, but I do know Dante’s Inferno, so when I read this:

“…images of Virgil spout lines from the poem at you once in a while, and Dante’s ranged weapon appears as crosses of light, but there is no heavy religious imagery and never any real sense of horror or torment. There are, however, a lot of bare female breasts. There is even a giant Cleopatra demon who spurts knife-wielding unbaptized children out of her nipples.”

I wonder: is it likely that this game will get younger people — ok, men — to read Dante? It would be a good thing if it did, but I am doubtful. (And if they do, they will be likely disappointed in the lack of bare nekkid ladies in it.). I am also doubtful if you should get this game. It sounds like God of War is better.

What do you have to do tomorrow? Just the impossible

From The Just and the Unjust by James Gould Cozzens. I am aware of this quote from my copy of The Practical Cogitator (page 115). It’s a great quote from a great anthology:

“In the present, every day is a miracle. The world gets up in the morning and is fed and goes to work, and in the evening it comes home and is fed again and perhaps has a little amusement and goes to sleep. To make that possible, so much has to be done by so many people that, on the face of it, it is impossible. Well, every day we do it; and every day, come hell, come high water, we’re going to have to go on doing it as well as we can.”

“So it seems,” said Abner.

“Yes, so it seems,” said Judge Coates, “and so it is, and so it will be! And that’s where you come in. That’s all we want of you.”

Abner said, “What do you want of me?”

“We just want you to do the impossible,” Judge Coates said.

How to live your life and manage your career by Seneca

On the Shortness of Life, by the Roman philosopher Seneca, is not just a great “book” on how to not waste our lives. it is also something I would recommend to anyone starting a career. Seneca addresses this book to Paulinus, who has a job managing the corn stores of Rome, but he could just as easily be addressing a doctor, lawyer, or an IT professional. In this book (more an extended letter), Seneca is advising Paulinus not only how to live one’s life better, but on how to keep his job in perspective. It may be centrues old, but it is still good advice.
I think anyone with a career or considering a career should read this book. Good advice never goes out of date.

For more on the book, goto the Penguin site and check out On the Shortness of Life – Seneca – Penguin Books

Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and now Big Soda

The U.S. Government looked to tax soft drinks to decrease consumption, saying it was a signifigant contributor to obesity. Soda manufacturers did not want that and countered by saying that the tax would hurt the poor. Sad. Reading the article, it appears that the major soda manufacturers are adopting the same approaches big tobacco adopted. This is telling, and terrible. I like drinking diet soda, but I think it is time to ditch it when I see behavoir like this. You read and let me know what you think: Beverage industry douses tax on soft drinks – (via Matt Yglesias).

The Sno-Wovel?!

I have no idea if this works or not, but Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools recommended it, and that’s good enough for me. If you have to deal with alot of snow, don’t like snow blowers, and find shovelling exhausting (or life threatening!), consider this:

To buy, check it out at The Sno Wovel Wheeled Snow Shovel

P.S. It’s unusual enough you might be able to get some kids to do your shovelling, I mean snowovelling, just because it is unusual and fun to try! :)

2 or 3 things I though about while watching “500 Days of Summer”

Someone near and dear to me has wisely advised me to watch “The Hangover” and “500 Days of Summer (“500″). Eventually I watched the first (and loved it) and now the second (and also loved it). Though one is buddy movie/comedy and the other a romantic comedy (rom com), they share a number of things and if you liked the former, I recommend you try the latter.500 is really smart. It is smart in all sorts of ways, from the title on through to the end of the film. Some of those are obvious. First up is how it plays with time. Not only from the obvious sense, of going from day 1 to day 300 and something, then back to day 100 and something, although I thought that was a great way to tell the story. But visually as well. There are any number of references to the 1960s and the 1980s.

In fact, the film has loads of references, from the film references in the black and white movie he goes to see, to the film “The Graduate” (when he first sees her in bed) to his skinny ties (from the 60s and the 80s) to his Joy Division T shirt to her 1960s haircut to the discussion of the Beatles, music by the Smiths and even Hall and Oates, etc.There are likely lots more. There was also one I really like of a bowler hat with a green apple on it that immediately made me think of Rene Magritte. I am sure there are tons more, and the person who did the art direction should get an award.

The film also plays around nicely with visual representation. It uses split screen well (it reminded me of the 1960s, though I am not a rom com fan, and fans of the genre might say: oh no stupid, they use that all the time), especially the “expectation / reality” scene, where it takes the mundane and makes it interesting through juxtaposition. I particularly liked how there is just a touch of animation in the film from time to time. Heck there is even a fantasy dance number! And there are lots more. Again, these are things you take for granted in a Tarantino film, but in a romantic comedy, they make it all that much better/smarter.

It is an American love film, and love is seen as all redeeming and the ultimate virtue. It has the strengths of a good comedy (good characterization, great dialogue) and suffers — and I say this as not a rom com fan — of confection such as the too die for living/working environment and the fantasy wedding scene. But hey, I love a good action film, and they suffer from their own conventional excesses. (No doubt if I were to whisper such a comment in the film, the person sitting next to me would just say “shhh!”)

I like the fact that is is set in LA, yet talks about and revers architecture and the architecture of that city. LA is not seen in the same light as NYC or Chicago or even Miami when it comes to it’s buildings and spaces, but it clearly has great architecture and it is a great city in its own right, and this film appreciates that.

There’s lots more that I could say about the film. I am writing this, though, to hear what smart people I know thought about it, rather than just broadcasting my thoughts. So lemme know whatcha thought! :)

When I commented that I was watching this, someone on twitter (@patrick_a7) said it is not nominated for any Oscars. That is hard to believe. It’s a really good film. As you can see, I highly recommend it.

Friday Night music – Paramore – Use Somebody (Kings Of Leon Cover) – BBC Live Lounge

I love the covers done at the BBC Live Lounge. Here’s another one:

This song hasn’t been out long, but already I’ve heard a few covers of it. No wonder.

YouTube – Paramore – Use Somebody (Kings Of Leon Cover) – Live Lounge

How to turn leftovers into delicious pureed soups like carrot soup, parsnip soup, etc

For years I have had a recipe for carrot soup that I enjoy making. It has a fair amount of butter, but it is delicious and still fairly light. For my carrot soup recipe, I have the following ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 onion (or more if you like onion)
  • 1 clove of garlic (again, if you like more, make it 2…or 3.. :))
  • 2.5 cups of carrots, chopped
  • 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (it calls for water, but I prefer stock)
  • 1/4 cup of long grain rice, uncooked (for thickening, I think)
  • Seasoning: herbs or spices (more on this in a bit), salt and pepper

The recipe is easy.

  1. Get out all your ingredients and prepare them (e.g. chop the onions, mince the garlic, roughly chop the carrots).
  2. Put a pot on a burner on medium heat. It should be big enough to contain all these ingredients (at least 3 L / 3 Qt)
  3. Melt the butter in the pot. Once it stops sizzling, add the onion and garlic and stir around until the onion and garlic are soft. Don’t brown them. (2-5 minutes, depending on the pan you use and your burner).
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients, save the seasoning
  5. Turn up the heat to high and bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots have softened. Put a lid on it while it simmers.
  6. Once the carrots are soft, puree them.  As for me, I use a hand blender from Braun. In the worst case, mash ‘em up then use a whisk to make the soup silky smooth.
  7. Add seasoning until it tastes the way you like.

So that’s the basic carrot soup recipe.

Now if you like that, try replacing the carrots with other root vegetables. I used parsnips the other day and that was delicious. I am going to try sweet potatoes next. Also try combos: if you have one parsnip and a bag of carrots, make carrot-parsnip soup. I start by getting a deal on root vegetables and go from there. You know those soon to be tossed out veggies at the supermarket or local green grocer? Those are cheap and are great in this recipe.

For carrot soup, I prefer adding herbs like thyme or chives as a seasoning. A good parsley works, as will tarragon. For the parsnip soup, I found spices go well and I used Asian garlic-hot sauce and that was great. Curry powder would be good, and blends like herbes de Provence are also good. Heck, you could even try a dash of lemon or lime juice  or even Tabasco or HP sauce if you like.  (If you are experimenting, try it in an individual bowl first, rather than on the entire pot of soup. That way, if you overdo it, you have only ruined part of the soup.)

If you like a thicker soup, change the ratio of liquids to carrots. Right now it is 2:1 in terms of quantity. For a thinner soup, try 3:1. For a thicker soup, try 3:2 or 1:1. (If you make it too thick, just slowly add warm broth until it is the way you like it).
For other ideas, check out this recipe: Golden Carrot Soup with Mozzarella. Note the carrot to liquid ratio is the same, but they replace the stock with milk to make it a creamier soup. Nice! Also, they add cheese. (Hey, it’s by the Daily Farmers! :)) These are all great ideas, but I like my simple and humble soup.

Please stick with the 1/4 cup of butter. I think a bowl of this soup has around 100-150 calories, but the butter makes it delicious, and you need some fat.

Experiment with herbs and spices. Whenever you see a nice spice combination, for example in a Jamaican or African inspired dish, mix up a batch of the herb or spice combination and put it in a spare pepper shaker and then shake it into your soup. (And once you have this shaker, you can use it on baked fish, roasts, grilled veggies, rice, etc.)

Try adding some canned beans to the soup (e.g. 1/8-1/4 cup of chickpeas per soup bowl) for some additional protein. Make sure they get a chance to warm in the soup before you serve it. You can add left over meats (e.g., sausage, rotisserie chicken) to it. Sometime those additional bits of meat that don’t look good on your dinner plate will look great in your soup.

Cooked pasta (without sauce) that was left over the night before will also go well with the soup. Indeed, soup is a great way to use up things. If you have some leftover corn, or peas, or green or yellow beans, they would also go well.

Of course dried bread, crackers or croutons also go well with purreed soup. Again another way to use up bread starting to dry out. (Plus if you add in after seasoning, they will thicken up the soup more.

Try replacing the onion with related vegetables like leeks (perfect with potatoes) or vidalia or red onions. If you use a nice looking onion, put a bit aside, chop up finely, then garnish the soup with it before you serve it.  Likewise, if you have some roasted red peppers in your fridge — I keep a bottle around — they also look good chopped up and garnished on your soup.

The key is to start with a basic recipe and then try different ideas.

Anyway, I am not a professional chef, but this works for me, and it should work for you too. Let me know what you do!

The inventive Nouvelle Vague

I love smart new bands that can refresh and recreate older music and make it their own. Nouvelle Vague is such a band. blogTo wrote about them being in Toronto recently, and this lede into the review of their show sums them up quite nicely:

Nouvelle Vague brought back British ’80s new wave and punk in their own style Wednesday night at The Opera House. It’s not everyday you get to see a pretty, young French singer break into The Clash, Sex Pistols, New Order and Joy Division.

Recreating some memorable hits in either a country, bluegrass, bossa nova or folk genre, they put on quite the entertaining cabaret-style show. Supporting their third studio album, 3, the French group, led by arrangers/producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, enchanted the audience with 20 remarkably reworked songs, sung by two young chanteuses, Helene Nogueira and Karina Zeviani.

They have lots of great videos over at YouTube, including this one:

That’s not your Dad’s Billy Idol. And I should know! :) But it’s great pop, done terrifically well.

The Seven Stages of Moving

Over at John Hamilton’s Life and Times blog is a great post on the stages or emotions you go through when moving from one place to another. As John says:

So you might know about the seven stages of grief, especially if you’ve had a relative go through a bad illness or someone close to you died. Denial, bargaining, acceptance… It’s important to know this stuff and you should:

Well, apparently there are seven stages of emotions you go through when you move as well. Especially with an international move.

You might think: well, there is a big difference between dying and moving. True. But moving is highly disruptive and stressful. Anyone considering a big move like John’s would be advised to check this out.

Brilliant Brushes-strokes at the New Yorker

The New Yorker has great examples of artists using the Brushes application for the iPhone/Touch, such as this one.

The works are brilliant in themselves, and an impressive display of how to use a technology. What I also like about the animation is how they show the work being built up, and illustrates how the artist goes about creating it. For non-artists like myself, that is very educational.

A new phishing attack

This one is pretty obvious. The email says:

Dear customer

We regret to inform you that your Bank of America Online Account
has been temporarily suspended.
Your account has been suspended after too many failed login
attempts have been made. This is most likely an attempt to gain
unauthorized access to your account and/or personal information.

To resolve this problem we have attached a form to this email.
Please download the form, open it and follow the instructions on
your screen.

Bank of America, Member FDIC
©2010 Bank of America Corporation

First off, I am not a BofA customer. Second, they want me to download a form (!!) and basically fill in information that runs some PHP program on some non-BofA site.

Needless to say, NEVER fill in such forms. If you ever get an email like this, talk to your bank or other institution directly.

More Polish Food – how to make pierogis has not only a great video on how to make packzkis, but they also have a good video on how to make another polish food:

If you like traditional Italian dishes like gnocchi and ravioli, then you want to consider pierogi: they are closely related. Likewise, paczkis are a form of fried rich bread, much like Berliners and other jam filled pastries.

Give them a try!

Paczkis? Yes, paczkis!

Thanks to Bakers Journal for a great article  (and photo) of a great Polish desert: paczkis! (“pronounced “poonch-key,” “pooch-key” or “punch-key”). According to this article,

“on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (known as Fat Tuesday or Paczki Day; in 2010 it falls on Feb. 16), (Polish) bakers would enrich their yeast-raised dough with sugar, shortening and eggs to create a deep-fried pastry delight similar to a raised Bismarck or jelly doughnut. Their original purpose was practical: to use up lard and eggs, which are prohibited during Lent. But now, like king cakes in New Orleans, they are marketed as a last-minute indulgence before the Lenten season of sacrifice.”

They are truly delicious. We used to make the dough, stuff it with jam, then deep fry them until they were golden brown, then shake them around in a bag of sugar before eating them hot! Having them that fresh really makes a difference. But even cold, they are tasty.

So if you are looking to give up something like eggs for Lent, try having some of these first. You’ll be very glad you did.