Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This is a Bizarro novel, where the intent is to write shockingly silly stories, funny because they are so preposterous. At first I was like OMG how cool is that: Shatner battling TJ Hooker and Kirk and Denny Crane! Tell all my friends! And it brought a chuckle and silly grin a few times, like any fairly well written piece of fan fiction. But that's all this is - fan fiction that needs a lot more editing and drafting. It coulda been a contender, a grin that breaks out every time I watch Denny Crane fart inappropriately, kiss inappropriately, or sniff his friend Alan Shore because he has the lingering scent of a woman about him... inappropriately. Instead, it's a piece of gum that you enjoy only for the extraordinarily short time during which the flavor lovingly caresses your taste buds and fills your mind with the joyous sounds of a light saber singing as it decapitates versions of William Shatner left, right and centre, over and over again.  At least Shatner didn't sue: he even gave it his seal of approval at the end. :)

Check it out Jeff Burk's own Shatnerquake page or on Amazon.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Smart Playlists in iTunes

Smart Playlists are one of the main reasons I like iTunes so much. Below is just such a favoured Smart Playlist.

This controls the music I listen to day to day. It defines the following rules:
  1. Give me music from my general music collection.
  2. Add items from a separate Smart Playlist that contains un-played podcasts that I consider to be music e.g. ABC Radio National's In the Night Air, KEXP's Music That Matters, Mixtape Show Hip-Hop, The 20min Mixtape Show, IndieFeed: Hip Hop and Alpa Pup's sadly defunct Alternative Hip-Hop Lounge.
  3. Don't include items I have rated 1 or 2 stars. 
    1. I delete items rated 1 star. I never want to listen to them again!
    2. Generally I want to keep items rated 2 stars, but don't want to listen to them again on my device. Usually they are part of some collection I want to keep as a whole.
  4. Don't include items that I have listened to two or more times.
  5. Don't include items that I have listened to in the last eight weeks.
  6. Don't include items that I have skipped over previously (usually means I didn't want to listen to them and was not prepared to actually take the device out of my pocket and rate the item).
  7. And lastly, out of the 30GB or so that match these conditions, choose a random 5GB to put on my device.
Some useful links for Smart Playlists:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Know when you are using WiFI vs 3G on your iPhone

I first got a data plan with my Nokia N95 8GB - just $5 for 50MB a month because frankly it isn't a good "Internet" machine. YouTube never worked over 3G and browsing the web on the N95's tiny screen and navigating with "physical" buttons was slow, clunky and painful. When I was given an iPhone 4 last week (thank you Süheyla and Talya!) I wanted to test just how much of a 3G Internet hog I could become, so I upped the plan to $15 for 1GB a month, to kick in during the next billing period (a couple of weeks or so from now).

In the mean-time, I found a couple of cool Internet radio applications and began using them at work and home - where I have access to Wi-FI. Today I checked my 3G Internet usage and found I have a bill for $256.97 for 125.48MB excess beyond my 50MB per month (excess Usage 0.20¢ per KB). I rang my supplier to explain the situation and asked to be forgiven for the debt. Politely enough I was refused and given a $20 discount instead.

It was explained to me that the iPhone has a feature: if the Wi-FI gets disconnected, it automatically switches over to 3G. I was horrified; under normal situations I would think this a cool feature, but not while I have only 50MB a month!

So here is my lesson; maybe you can learn it too.

How do i know if my iPhone is using Wi-FI or my Data Plan? On the top left of the screen, to the right of your supplier's name is an icon. This symbol means you are currently using your 3G data plan:

This symbol means you are currently using a Wi-FI network:

See page 21-22 of the iPhone User Guide to see what all of the possible icons mean - including EDGE and GPRS, which are other forms of Internet connectivity offered by certain suppliers.

Great - but it didn't save me, since obviously my Wi-FI disconnected at some point and automatically switched over to my 3G data plan. I have since found that you can stop that from happening too (iOS 4, iPhone 4): go to Settings > General Network > turn off Mobile Data. This will ensure that from now on, I will only be able to use Wi-FI for Internet - at least until my 1GB plan kicks in.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Test slideshow

Text above the slideshow.

Text below the slideshow.

Human Landscapes from My Country

For Süheyla, with love.

Haydar Pasha Station,
spring 1941,
On the steps, sun
                                    and confusion.

A man
         stops on the steps,
                 thinking about something.
His nose is long and pointed,
and his cheeks are pockmarked.
The man on the steps,
                  Master Galip,
                           is famous for thinking strange thoughts:
"If I could eat sugar wafers every day," he thought
                                                           when he was 5.
"If I could go to school," he thought
                                     at 10.
"If I could leave Father's knife shop
before the evening prayers," he thought
                                            at 11.
"If I could buy a pair of yellow shoes
so the girls will look at me," he thought
                                            at 15
"Why did Father close his knife shop?
And the factory is nothing like this shop,"
                                                                he thought
                                                                at 16.
"Will my pay go up?" he thought
                                      at 20
"Father died at fifty -
will I die early too?" he thought
                                     when he was 21.
"What if I get laid off?" he thought
                                     at 22.
"What if I get laid off?" he thought
                                     at 23.
"What if I get laid off?" he thought
                                     at 24.
And out of work from time to time,
he thought "What if I get laid off?"
                                     till he was 50.
At 51 he thought: "I'm old -
                   I've lived one year longer than my father."
Now he's 52.
He's out of work.
Stopped on the steps now,
        he' lost
                in the strangest of thoughts:
"When will I die?
Will I have a bed to die in?
                                        he thinks.
His nose is long and pointed.
His cheeks are pockmarked.

Spring comes to Haydar Pasha Station
wih the smell of fish in the sea
                           and bedbugs on the floor.

Excerpt from the very beginning of Human Landscapes from My Country, an Epic Novel in Verse, by Nazim Hikmet, translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk.

ISBN 0-89255-273-5, Published 2002, Persea Books.

Pictures from Carol Guillaume' album Railway Stations and Marco's Gallery.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

iPod 2nd Gen and flip covers with magnet

It's true - Magnets MAY harm Ipod Touch. I bought myself a swish looking suede flip cover secured with magnets. My iPod started acting up like crazy: crashing twice a day or more. Sometimes I could bring it back just by powering it up again for a bit. Other times I had to hard reset, after which the iPod needed to be restored for goodness sake! Thankfully, I read this article, discarded the case last week and haven't had a single problem since.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett (ISBN:0060094931)

I listened to the audio of this trilogy on my iPod. It is a very
different style of humor from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. The
humor can almost be called quaint.

The story revolves around a group of nomes (gnomes) - whom it turns
out are highly advanced aliens who landed on Earth when we were still
Neanderthals. They got stuck on Earth without any electricity or a way
to communicate with their ship or rebuild anything technical (no
metal) and over the preceding thousands of years somewhat devolved

Nomes are very short lived (10 years makes for an old nome) and
experience time around 10 times faster than humans. The humor in this
book mainly revolves around the idea that the nomes are so literal
that they cannot understand anything about humans (and too fast to
understand our speech). Terry Pratchett works this angle very well as
you would expect since he has such a wry wit. But their "literalness"
also annoyed me consistently throughout the whole experience: how can
they ever have become so advanced if they are so stupid? How can you
create things like spaceships without mastery over abstraction? Surely
over the thousands of years they have been here, they would have
advanced further, discovered new things or at the very least worked
out how to communicate with humans?

Having said that, the books are still very funny, filled with
Pratchett's insightful observations on humanity and some typically
heart warming relationship building.

Overall, well worth a listen or read if you get the whole trilogy
together and treat them as one book (because they really do read as
one piece in three chapters).

Mostly Fiction book review of The Bromeliad Trilogy:

The Bromeliad Trilogy on weRead:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dr Who and Me

I have been a big fan of Dr Who ever since primary school when I could watch a couple of episodes back to back on Channel Two on a Sunday morning - before, after or instead of my chores, depending on how sneaky I was. Tom Baker was brilliant and I fondly remember Adric, Romana and K9. In high school I would devour a Dr Who book in a single night and watched Sylvester McCoy with the indomitable Ace.

Then there was a period of void, where I forgot about the Doctor.

Sometime later I rediscovered him in the new, more adult oriented books brought out by BBC and Virgin. They introduced an edge to the Doctor and his companions I had never experienced before. I was enthralled by the drama and introspection that resulted in the now common-place "super-hero" tension: the "I can't save everyone" effect (TM). Sacrifices are consciously made, if not willingly; companions die, friends are removed from the time-line.

Later, glory of glories, BBC began making the TV series again. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith. I was over-joyed that the Doctor was back with relatively good special effects, high quality acting and even a spin-off (Torchwood). But something was wrong... the stories didn't seem to make as much sense as I remembered - and the sonic screwdriver became Harry Potter's wand. It was being used for every thing from opening mechanical locks, stunning creatures, cutting rope and being an all purpose interface to any electronic system (or biological even). The Doctor didn't have to think his way out of every scrap or scrape. The stories began to feel implausible, I began to get annoyed.

But just recently I had an epiphany. It occurred while I was watching a re-run of The Satan Pit, where the Doctor confronts "The Devil". He says something along the lines of "I don't deny your existence but I don't have to believe you are who you say you are" and it is suggested that the creature survived from an earlier time (literally): that it existed before the Big Bang and survived through it into our time, still imprisoned.

Just at that moment it occurred to me that this is what the Doctor is really about: huge ideas! Science fiction, stretching the imagination just to see what happens. It doesn't have to be internally consistent (it isn't) or eternally plausible (it ain't). The stories are just trying to be enjoyable and wild.

And so they are.

The Call of Cthulhu

H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu is available on WikiSource.

H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu horror is both powerful and inaccessible because it is visceral. Cthulhu is a monster of indescribable horror that is being described. We are used to monsters in films, books and pictures so we can conjure up images of foul beasts easily enough, but it is decidedly harder to adjust our mental image when Lovecraft writes that "The Thing cannot be described".

Thus, the essence of Cthulhu horror is emotional rather than visual. Lovecraft tries to evoke the sense that the monster and the reality it belongs to is so morbidly incomprehensible that just bearing witness to it will bring insanity and inevitable death! This notion is not friendly to intellectual inquiry: we understand "monster" as something concrete but the Cthulhu monster is imbued with a fear of something abstract.

I see this abstract horror in stories that leave things unexplained: in the movies Cloverfield and The Mist we never find out where the monsters came from, how they got here or what they wanted. What Lovecraft adds on top of that is a sense of incomprehension; like a person from a two dimensional universe trying to comprehend our three dimensional universe. In the 90's Sam Neill starred in what I think are two horror movies that are very close to Cthulhu horror: In the Mouth of Madness and Event Horizon. Both movies involve a somewhat hapless curiosity that descends into an incomprehensible, inescapable and abominable fate.

I enjoyed reading Call of Cthulhu because it was challenging to me; trying to comprehend what Lovecraft wanted to portray by writing a story about incomprehensible horror.

3.5 out of 5

Read this on my iPod Touch.