The Treo mail alert Swoosh sounds a lot like the background piano drops in Kanye West’s song "Heard ‘Em Say," which is Track 2 on Late Registration (also available through iTunes). Every time mail is received, I start singing:
Nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today
Nothing lasts forever — but be honest Babe,
it hurts but it may be the only way. . . .
Posted March 8, 2006 by Mariva in entertainment, fun, gadgets, music
This is driving me nuts. What do you do with the hat once the snowman melts and his face mysteriously appears on the spinning thingamabob at the top that used to be the timer? (You have to play the game for that to make sense.) Or, without realizing it, did I actually win?
Gee, if I can’t even tear myself away from this thing, can you imagine me with Katamari?
Posted February 24, 2006 by Mariva in fun, games, innovations
Sometimes what strangers say and write, taken out of context — especially when taken out of context — is fascinating. Overheard in New York publishes transcripts of random conversations overheard in the Big Apple. FOUND Magazine is a repository of personal ephemera — such as love letters, school notes, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, business plans, telephone bills, doodles and so on — that are lost by some and found by others.
Posted February 17, 2006 by Mariva in arts, community, fun, innovations, social
Ever feel nostalgic for products or supplies that you remember from childhood, but haven’t been able to find in years? Your search may be over. The Vermont Country Store offers a wide variety of products that your parents or grandparents used — all brand-new and recently manufactured. How is this possible? The proprietors get permission to re-create vintage products as close to the originals as possible — including design and packaging — and bring them to market for another generation of consumers. If you’re not in the neighborhood of one of the stores in Weston or Rockingham, Vermont, you can order vintage games, classic New England apparel (warning: not for the fashion-conscious), long-lost fragrances and even food and beverages online. If you can’t find what you want, let them know, and they’ll consider re-creating it for you.
Posted February 15, 2006 by Mariva in bath & spa, business, decor, edibles, fun, games, gifts, home, innovations, kitchen, resources
It really makes you think —
Philosophy Talk: A couple of Stanford University professors discuss one broad, intriguing topic — such as time, happiness, forgiveness, virtue, propaganda, science, free will, democracy, beauty and so on — each week on a public radio program.
ScienceBlogs: A central location for a variety of science-oriented blogs, from fun stuff like Uncertain Principles (physics, politics, pop culture) to more obscure subjects like Aetiology (the causes, origins, evolution and implications of disease and other phenomena). My favorite is Cognitive Daily, because it’s like reading about a brain teaser every day.
Future Tense: Technology news and information in daily five-minute radio capsules. The February 1, 2006 report is kind of funny.
Science radio programs: This Week in Science, Science Friday, Earth & Sky, The Naked Scientists, Berkeley Groks Science Show, American Institute of Physics Science Report, Everyday Science (browse the archives of two-minute vignettes), Quirks & Quarks.
Scientific American Frontiers: A PBS series starring my favorite Army surgeon.
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Posted February 8, 2006 by Mariva in education, entertainment, fun, innovations, news, resources
I can’t imagine a sweeter Valentine’s Day gift than a personalized teddy bear — especially one from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company (sister company to the PajamaGram Company), which makes high-quality, hand-crafted, fully jointed huggable friends that are guaranteed to last a lifetime.* As the company name indicates, each teddy bear is made in America, specifically in the Green Mountain State of Vermont.
To make your gift even more special — now that the original "-gram" communications service has ended — consider sending a Bear-Gram, which includes a bear of your choice, delicious gourmet chocolate and a personal message printed on a colorful gift card — all encased in a fun gift box, complete with an "air hole" so that your bear can get fresh air on his or her journey. You can choose from over one hundred Valentine’s Day Bears, including the "Heart Throb" bear pictured here.
*How does the lifetime guarantee work? Simple: if your bear is ever "injured," you can admit him or her to the Bear Hospital, no proof of bear health insurance required! (A full-coverage, lifetime health plan is included with each purchase of a Vermont Teddy Bear.) And how might a bear get injured? See for yourself with the “When Bad Things Happen to Good Bears” video footage of bear bloopers.
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Posted February 1, 2006 by Mariva in decor, edibles, fun, gifts, holidays, home
Ever wish there were a radio station that played exactly what you wanted to hear? Well, there is — sort of. Pandora is an online project put together by music experts who’ve spent the past five years analyzing recorded songs from over 10,000 different artists. The analysts have assembled hundreds of musical attributes — or "genes" — into a massive database, which they call the "Music Genome."
To some extent, Pandora can guess what kinds of music you like based on your specific tastes in various musical attributes: melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics and so on. You "train" Pandora to refine your selection over time by giving each new song a thumbs-up or -down. While the analysis is very good — nothing yet can beat the human brain of an expert, especially in a relatively subjective realm such as describing music — the system isn’t perfect. If you happen to like one song by an artist, for example, it doesn’t mean you’ll like other songs by that artist, or other versions of the song played by other artists. Pandora sometimes gets stuck on tangents, and it takes some trial and error to get it to move on.
In my case, the music I like generally falls into two broad categories: the great jazz vocalists of the ’50s (Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole) and the folk/rock singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s (Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Beatles), with an eclectic mix of various other artists thrown in (Willie Nelson, Chris Isaak, Dave Matthews, Kanye West, Stevie Nicks, Alison Krauss, Fatboy Slim). My musical tastes seem to present something of a challenge to Pandora. A Chris Isaak or a Richie Havens song, for instance, with attributes like "mild rhythmic syncopation," "mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation" and "major key tonality" is characteristically different from a Dinah Washington or Nina Simone song, which features "swing or jazz influences," "a mid-tempo dance style," "strong vocal technique," "a horn ensemble," "acoustic sonority," "interesting part writing" and "strong melodies." (I keep meaning to ask my friend what "extensive vamping" means.) I’ve inputted a number of my favorite songs and artists, and Pandora does seem to be getting the hang of it more and more.
Unfortunately, Pandora doesn’t support classical music yet, probably because most classical pieces are lengthy and linear and therefore not easily described by the relatively simple attributes of popular music.
You can hear a discussion about and a demonstration of Pandora on the December 16, 2005 edition of The Al Franken Show.
Update: Geoff thoroughly explains extensive vamping:
Vamping is essentially the repeating of a section of a song — such as a chorus, verse or (rarely) a bridge — one or more times to create space in the tune. Why would you do this? Maybe to extend a tune out, create space for a couple players to take solos or maybe just because the audience is having fun dancing and it’d be a shame to make them stop. Vamps are sometimes called jams (although jam usually connotes less structure).
Sometimes a vamp happens at the end of a song — say to accommodate a fade-out — but short vamps can easily happen in the middle of tunes. In live performance, bands usually return to the head, main theme or chorus one last time after a vamp before ending a tune. The underlying form is usually dictated by the song, but many elements of a particular vamp are improvised and spontaneous.
Extensive vamping means that the balance of a section or an entire tune is taken up with vamping. For instance, many standards are pretty short songs (often just 32 to 64 bars), so if you hear one of those tunes played for, say, six minutes, that’s a good candidate for the extensive vamping tag. But, basically, extensive vamping can refer to any time a listener thinks, "Oh, the band has gone off on its own now; this isn’t actually part of the tune." Sometimes this can happen in as little as four bars!
By the way, the bit of Pandora lingo that struck me as funny was mild rhythmic syncopation, which is like saying "a mildly woody tree." In music, you can’t have syncopation without rhythm (although you can have rhythm without syncopation).
TidBITS offers a tidbit about Pandora with regard to holiday music.
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Posted January 23, 2006 by Mariva in entertainment, fun, innovations, music
We use technology all the time — telephones, computers, the Internet, television, cars and so on — but do you ever wonder how these things work? What happens after you press the "on" button or turn the key? In plain English, Marshall Brain (yes, that’s his name, and no, it’s not a pseudonym) demystifies everyday things from tattoos to airplanes to cell phones in How Stuff Works, a fun reference book featured on today’s Oprah.
If you’re not sure whether to invest in the book, start with the HowStuffWorks.com web site, which features explanations of Google Earth (how it works), dieting (how it works) and chocolate (how it works), as well as experiential things you may not have even realized had explanations, like laughter and dreams.
Posted January 19, 2006 by Mariva in books, education, fun, innovations, resources
Knowing that I have an addictive personality — at least with regard to the "soft addictions" — I do my best to stay away from treacherous time traps like Freecell Solitaire. And if I owned a game console that could play Super Mario, I’d probably never see the light of day.
This morning, however, Fresh Air had an interesting story about a new video game that got my attention. The game is supposed to be both highly addictive and very popular — and not just among teenage boys, but among girls and grown women as well. Most intriguing of all, it’s not violent — at least in a kick-and-punch and shoot-’em-up kind of way. Produced by Namco Games, Katamari Damacy ("Roll It Up" in English) and the more recent We Love Katamari, begin with your avatar pulling a tiny ball that rolls around picking up random objects, like candy and game tiles. As you successfully pick up more and more objects, your ball grows larger and larger — first picking up animals and automobiles and then eventually skyscrapers and airplanes — until you’re devastating the landscape with your colorful mass of sticky stuff. The concept seems like an amalgam of the 1950s sci-fi flick The Blob and a black hole, with a little 3D PacMan thrown in.
I dare not start rolling around in such an appealing virtual world because of my aforementioned addictive nature, but if you’d like to give it a go, Katamari is available for Sony PlayStation 2 and other video game consoles.
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Posted January 18, 2006 by Mariva in entertaining, entertainment, fun, gadgets, games, gifts, home, innovations, news