Archive for November, 2006

Delicious Library

Oh my God. As you know, I really get a kick out of having the computer interact with the real world. I love scanners, which allow your computer to “see”, and I’m fascinated whenever I print something on a printer in a different building over a network.

Imagine my delight with Delicious Library. This is a tool (Mac-only) that works as follows: 1. Start the program; 2. hold a book or CD or DVD or video game in front of your iSight camera so that it can see the barcode on the back of the book; 3. the program reads the barcode and imports all relevant information on the book from Amazon or some such; 4. and adds it to your library so you can e.g. keep track of whom you lent the book. It will also let you assign due dates for books you lent out and put them into your iCal calendar, but that’s just sick.

It’s not like I’m going to use this in any major way, and certainly I won’t pay a $40 registration fee for being able to have a library with more than 25 entries or synchronise it with my iPod. But it sure beats the hell out of the book database that I wrote when I was 15. And imagine how helpful this tool would be for an actual small lending library. This is so awesome. :)

Now, back to work.

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Me on the tree :)

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’tis the season to be part of a singing tree

As of tonight, I’m an official member of the Barbershop Harmony Society. I have a golden lapel pin and everything. Most importantly, I finally have my own copy of the Barberpole Cat Songbook, which contains the twelve standard songs that every barbershopper is assumed to know (and which you can sing with random strangers at barbershop conventions).

I won’t get around to learning many of the songs for now, however, because I’m still busy learning about a dozen Christmas songs for the South Street Seaport concerts. These concerts involve some thirty grown men (= us) dressing up in silly green coats with red hats and scarves and singing barbershop arrangements of Christmas music. I understand they’re supposed to be great fun, but from where I stand, I primarily worry about this eating up about five hours on every Friday and Saturday between now and Christmas. And while I can sing the songs for the most part if I’m allowed to see the sheet music, I will have to know them all by heart. I wonder when I’ll do that.

Incidentally, I have been featured (though not by name) on the Big Apple Chorus website. Now I’ll be famous. Yay.

Sports, New York City style

My apologies for the recent infrequency of my posts, but the last few days have been hellaciously busy, but so much fun. I’ve been meeting some great new people, gone to a really weird open microphone event, and also managed to squeeze some actual work in. With the ACL deadline looming just two months from now, I’m glad to have the Utool 3.1 release out of the door so I can focus on generation again.

But what’s more, I’ve finally managed to pick up doing some sports again, and I’m fully prepared to do it the New York City style, as follows:

  • Yesterday afternoon I went to a party at Centerpoint Yoga, a yoga studio that my pal Brad, whom I know from singing, just bought into. This party was precisely the kind of real but slightly overengineered fun that I’ve come to associate with this city. There were terribly healthy but quite tasty snacks, including carrots and celery sticks with home-made vegan dips, and a show part that involved a bellydancer and a guy juggling with fire and a guy who did overtone singing and a number of people who confessed how yoga changed their lives and stuff. In stark contrast to this, there was a barbershop quartet among the visitors, who then spontaneously performed a song or two (and further illustrated my belief that there’s nothing that gets a crowd more excited than just a couple of guys singing a cappella for them). And there was the highest concentration of stunningly beautiful women I have ever seen in one place. I kind of get the idea of why Brad decided to get involved in this enterprise. He’s the kind of guy who could actually take advantage of such opportunities; I, on the other hand, was rather shy because I didn’t know anybody until the barbershoppers arrived, but I still ended up chatting with a guy who used to be an actor but ended up a professional acupuncturist, and avoiding to chat with the very gay lawyer of the head yogi. Anyway, I got a free one-week pass for this studio, and because I’ve wanted to take up yoga for quite a while now, and it’s also the New York thing to do, I’m going to take two classes next week.
  • Then, at the end of the yoga party, I had to hurry off really quickly, because I had an appointment with a colleague to play squash at the Columbia Fitness Center (at the opposite end of Manhattan). At 11pm in the night. :) I’d never played squash before, but it’s great fun, and really exhausting but in a nice way, and I want to do it again soon. Perhaps we can make this a weekly thing too.
  • In addition, I found out that another colleague of mine used to be a competitive synchronised ice skater. And as some of you know, I’ve been kind of curious about learning to skate for a while now. And she agreed to teach me! I find it slightly unnerving that she explicitly didn’t take any responsibility for broken bones and such, but if all goes well, we’re going to meet at the ice rink in Central Park (which you’ve seen in lots of movies) on the weekend in a week, and I’ll get to do my first baby steps on the ice.

So, in summary: The city that never sleeps doesn’t let me sleep either, but I’m having a fantastic time not doing it. And before you know it, I’ll be a master athlete and swim around Manhattan or some such.

That’s barbershop!

Today, I got the most efficient haircut ever.

I first tried to do the neighbourly thing and go to the hairdresser two houses next to mine. This is an artsy coiffeur who is so utterly gay that he has pink business cards. However, he couldn’t cut my hair at a reasonable time.

Now, I had seen this slightly seedy-looking barbershop (complete with barberpole and everything) on Ninth Avenue yesterday, two or three blocks away from my house. So I decided that as a bona fide BACman, it would be almost my duty to give it a try. Also, I thought, it would be authentic and possibly fun.

And boy was it fun. It’s like in the movies: You have three barbers (Italian, I think) cutting hair simultaneously, while a bunch of guys sit around in the back of the shop waiting for their turns. Only guys: There was a single woman in the room while I was there, and she was the company of one of the male customers. I took out my laptop and worked a bit for ten minutes, then this sixty-year-old barber called me. After minimal negotiation, he started cutting my hair, fast. It was like in those cartoons where the hair flies away in all directions, punctuated by the scissors’ snip-snip-snip. We didn’t talk; he just cut hair, like if it’s a service rather than an art form. Ten minutes after I had sat down, the haircutting was finished. That’s when he whipped out the shaving cream and started shaving my neck (without consulting me first). Guys, it is an experience to have someone shave any part of you with a naked razorblade. After some final applications of alcohol and powder, I paid and left.

So as of today, I’m a barbershop fan in more than one way. :)

What a day!

My, aren’t these days just packed when I actually manage to get up early?

So yesterday, I:

  • had an extended breakfast with Ken at the cupcake cafe and had extended discussions about object orientation and type systems;
  • went to a panel discussion about “women in engineering”;
  • had a chorus rehearsal: They distributed the sheet music and played a demo recording of the song for the International Contest next year, which is beautiful. The arrangement was specifically written for our chorus, and the demo recording was done by Tim Waurick, an utterly amazing singer who earns money by selling demo recordings of songs in which he sings all parts. He sings tenor in the current International Champion quartet, but that doesn’t keep him from singing a low E on our demo recording, and on the other hand he has some sample arrangements for women’s voices on his website where he easily goes up to the E three octaves above that. My God.
  • finally went to have dinner with the people who will hopefully make up my novice quartet at the Rodeo Bar, which is decorated in a weird Texas cowboy style and is just another one of these places that you’d never suspect behind a New York door. There was live music by The Moonlighters, a really nifty local group doing “ukulele and steel guitar” music who play arrangements of 20’s songs and compositions of their own. They had one amazing song about the Suicide Hall, which was a saloon in the Bowery where prostitutes would go to drink poison in order to commit suicide, and which apparently ended up as something of a local attraction where people would go hoping to see something interesting. They have now torn it down to replace it with condo housing, and I really have to wonder when the furniture will start moving by itself and blood coming down the stairs.

Also I was a little annoyed with my neighbours last night because I could hear music playing, but then realised in the morning that I had left my Ipod on in coat pocket all night. Sorry, neighbours, my fault. But at least we now know that the Ipod nano really has a battery life of more than nine hours.

Next up: We challenge New York to provide a reasonable haircut.

The Mac as a gaming machine

My new Macbook Pro is blazingly fast. When I look at Manhattan in Google Earth using the university’s fast internet connection, I can zoom through the skyscrapers without so much as a stutter in the movement. Nonetheless, it’s of course not an ideal gaming machine for me because all my computer games are Windows only, and I refuse to just buy them all again, even if they all existed for the Mac, which they don’t.

We have ways and means, of course. Yesterday I ordered a new, moderately legal copy of Windows XP to run with either Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop. Once that arrives, next week or so, the future will look rosy. But even at this point, I have collected quite a list of cool stuff that I can already play, and because I just know that you’re dying to learn about it, here you go:

  • The regular Windows version of Pharaoh runs on Codeweavers Crossover Mac, which is a commercial version of the old Wine project. You don’t need Windows to play it because Crossover contains a complete emulation layer that translates Windows API calls into Mac ones. It’s quite an amazing piece of technology.
  • All LucasArts adventures run on ScummVM, which is available for the Mac. Games I have with me include Monkey Island 1 and 2, Indiana Jones 3 and 4, Sam and Max, and Full Throttle.
  • Likewise, the Privateer Remake and Exult both run on the Mac as well as on Windows. Thank you, open source people, for making your applications cross platform!
  • Second Life runs natively on the Mac and is free. (But I’m stuck with my character and can’t get back to the Help Island, so I don’t know if I’ll ever really get into playing that.)
  • I’ve also experimented with FlightGear (a free, cross-platform flight simulator) and with the demo version of Civilization IV (which seems to run flawlessly), but don’t really see myself spending a lot of time with either. FlightGear seemed to be easier to use than the Microsoft Flight Simulator I played with in 1990 or so, when I had enough time to play out real-time flights between different cities in the US. At least, I managed to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge without crashing my plane after only minimal practice.

It’s not like I have that kind of time to play computer games today. But still, it’s nice to have choices, and once my Windows CD arrives, I should be able to waste as much time as I want again.


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