I wonder what Freud would say

Over the weekend, I dreamt I met Steve Jobs.

I crossed a humped bridge and came into an abandoned carnival which was being dismantled. As I wandered around checking everything out, I came across a second-hand book stall and sitting there, selling books by some guy called Eugene Stanford1 (who looked remarkably like Jerry Garcia) was Steve Jobs.

I was overwhelmed, and shook his hand enthusiastically. He was polite and chatted for a bit. I decided to press a little further, beyond the normal smalltalk of a starstruck fan.

‘“How did you do it, Steve? You were 20 when you started Apple. You were in the prime of your life, and you were devoting 18 hours a day to your dream. How did you maintain that focus? How did you maintain relationships with those around you?2 I mean… I’m spending my time worrying about shelves and varnishing and things like that. I’m not pursuing any of my dreams. I haven’t accomplished anything. How did you do it?”

He replied simply and calmly.

“I took a lot of drugs."


  1. which gives me a clue as to why was dreaming of Steve Jobs - I’d just read his Commencement Address to Stanford University ↩︎

  2. of course, having read The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, I know that he didn’t really manage to maintain relationships with those around him during the start of Apple ↩︎

The Cult of the Hipster PDA

There’s an old saying in software development that says that “Every application expands to the point where it can read mail” - even if the software started as a way to get away from reading mail.

When it was first introduced by Merlin Mann, the Hipster PDA was a bit of an anomoly. Its analog, low-tech approach to task management and organisation was something unexpected and interesting. It ditched all of the fancy padding we put around our personal productivity and stripped it right down to the bare minimum. Perhaps that’s why it caught on so well.

For the uninitiated, the Hipster PDA is simply a stack of 3"x5” index cards held together with a binder clip which functions as a notebook, to-do list, calendar, shopping list, whatever you need. Breathtakingly simple.

Over at a million monkeys typing, Douglas Johnson has released a “Hipster PDA edition” of his popular “DIY Planner” pages. In this, he includes

  • GTD quick reference card
  • Covey Planning quick reference card
  • calendar of the next two years
  • few month planner cards
  • weekly planner card
  • a few “day keeper” card
  • “GTD all-in-one” card
  • next actions/agendas/waiting for
  • a shopping list
  • a “finances” list

and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Now, maybe I’m completely missing the point (and let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be the first time), but this is looking more like my packed, hardback diary/planner than the Hipster PDA as Merlin originally described it. It has, in effect, returned a lot of the padding that the Hipster PDA took away. It has, in effect, expanded to be able to read mail.

I’m not trying to say that the DIY Planner isn’t a good idea, because it most certainly is. All of its blank lines and empty tickboxes made me shiver with excitement at being able to fill them in. But it lacks the beautiful simplicity of the Hipster PDA – the very thing that, for me, made the Hipster PDA unique.

Even though it is just a stack of plain paper.

Retrospective: Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads were the first band I was can remember being ‘aware’ of.

I mean, I understood music in a general sense. I understood “songs”. I understood that there were songs that scared the crap out of me (I used to challenge myself to listen to Ray Parker Jnr’s theme from “Ghostbusters” in the dark, alone. I don’t think I’ve managed to do it yet) and I understood that there songs whose videos made me laugh (Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life”). But I really didn’t understand the concept of “bands” until quite late.

When I was about four or five, my sister - ten years older than me and a die-hard Prince/Adam Ant fan - challenged me to name the bands I liked. So I named “Talking Heads”, the only band I was aware of.

“Arty wanker.”

(I was five)

It wasn’t until much, much later that I understood what she meant. Talking Heads did their best to skirt the line between art and commercialism, occasionally pushing one more than the other. Sometimes this produced something difficult and awkward (like the deliberate nonsense-language of “I Zimbra” on “Fear of Music”). But sometimes, it produced something beautiful. Like “Stop Making Sense”.

The few concert videos that stand out as something special do so because the artist and the director have a clear definition of what they want to achieve (and both have the talent to support it). Other examples, such as Prince’s Sign O’ The Times and Scorsese’s The Last Waltz are both as entertaining to watch as movies as they are to listen to. Stop Making Sense represents a band at the peak of their abilities with enough of a vision to, if nothing else, produce something completely unique.

I’ve always been just a casual fan of Talking Heads. I’d never seen Stop Making Sense, but I thought I’d gotten everything I could out of their music. Until a few weeks ago. I was at a Skinny Wolves night in Bodkins. At these things, they usually accompany the music with movies projected on a big screen without the sound - things like the Clash’s Rude Boy and Devo Live. This particular week, they were showing Stop Making Sense.

Now, it may have been the copious amounts of booze sloshing around my system, but I was completely mesmerized. I must have come across as a rude sumbitch because I think I spent most of the night ignoring all attempts at conversation. I was completely transfixed by these bunch of complete… well, there’s no other way to put this… geeks doing the coolest things I’d ever seen on stage.

Throughout the entire thing, David Byrne moves his gangly body in strange, hypnotic ways. And the entire band puts out enough energy to power the show themselves. For example, the entire band jogs its way through Life During Wartime. During the guitar solo, David Byrne jogs around the entire stage, again and again and at the end, goes back to singing without being even slightly out of breath.

There are set changes, costume changes, instrument changes, but none of it seems forced. It seems progressive. It gradually, sensibly builds up. Rather than blowing its load right at the very start (like U2’s technically impressive Zooropa and Popmart tours), Stop Making Sense has a structure. It starts off with David Byrne coming out to a bare stage in a suit, with an acoustic guitar and boombox, and announcing to the crowd that he’d like to play a song. He launches into a version of Psycho Killer that is so different from the album version as to be almost unrecognisable.

For the next song, part of the band comes out. For the next, the backing singers come out. And so on. By the end of the show, there’s a small country on the stage.

And, like Psycho Killer, each song on Stop Making Sense is radically different from the album versions which makes them instantly compelling. And more significantly, they’re arguably better than the album version. When it came to producing a “Best of”, Talking Heads chose to present two songs from Stop Making Sense instead of their album versions, that’s the kind of quality we’re talking here.

It’s easy to understate just how amazing this movie is. Even if you’re only a casual fan of Talking Heads, I’d encourage you to hunt down this movie and be won over for yourself.

Resources:

The state of Irish Open Source

Reading an article about how Europe is falling behind on open-source, I can’t help but think of the recent ICT Expo, which took it on itself to dish out “Industry Excellence” awards. Except it got so much wrong, it wasn’t even funny. It looked more like a bunch of old boys meeting together to congratulate each other than an actual representation of the Irish IT industry.

Ignoring all of the other categories and just focusing on the “Open Source Project of the Year”, we can instantly see that there’s something very wrong here. The two nominations were

  1. Soft Telecom
  2. Enovation

Soft Telecom

I have no idea what these guys do. Or did, since currently their website redirects to their Ensim administrator page. So, regardless of exactly what kind of open-source project they’re undertaking, this hardly reflects any kind of “Industry Excellence” so far.

Enovation

When the winners were first announced, I looked very hard, but couldn’t see what exactly Enovation actually did. If they provided open-source software, their site certainly didn’t mention it. Now they’ve got a large banner which explains exactly what they did to win the award - they set up Moodle for a college.

That’s it.

I mean, Jesus. This is frightening.

But thinking about it, what else is there? ILUG is a useful resource, but not particularly pro-active. Likewise, BUGI has been spluttering its way into actual usefulness for the past few years. OpenEir has potential, but is still in its infancy.

Are there any significant Irish Open Source projects?

Minor update

I’m still waiting for Irish Broadband to contact me about an installation date, so I’ve had four days away from a computer. And so much has happened.

Apple to use Intel Microprocessors beginning in 2006 Christ. This had been rumoured for a couple of weeks now (and a couple of years before then), but still… wow. John Gruber suggests that Apple may not transition to x86 chips. But then again, he also discounted the possibility of Apple releasing the iPod Shuffle and last week attempted to debunk the rumours of Apple switching to Intel. But this is so completely huge that it’s easy to understand why he was a litle skeptical. Apple say they’re looking at completing the transition to the Intel chips by the end of 2007.

Nintendo Revolution’s classic Nintendo games will be free Nintendo, who have been keeping quiet in this round of “Our console will have hi-def” “Ours will massage your feet while you play!” have dropped a bombshell in the form of massive amount of backward-compatibility for free! They will be releasing almost every game they published for their previous consoles as a free download, available from the launch of their new console, the Revolution. This includes things like Ocarina of Time, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Zelda II and one of my favourite games, Uniracers (Unirally over here). Miyamoto (the creator of Mario and Zelda) has said that he’s tired of sprawling epic games and is appealing to developers to create something unique and fun (but not neccessarily huge or big-budget) for the Revolution. I guess this is Nintendo paying attention. Update: Full list of games available for download

My copy of Difficult Questions about Videogames was waiting for me when I arrived in work today. This should give me plenty to chew through for the next couple of days, at least until GTA:SA and God of War arrive and start soaking up all my free time. Update: A few pages in, and I’m convinced of something that I’d always suspected - Kieron Gillen needs to find himself an editor.

Everything Bad is Good for You

I’m almost finished moving to my new apartment. It’s not quite time to crack open a beer and relax, but almost. In the meantime, I’ve taken my pastimes out of their temporary hiatus and once again started playing games (the beautiful, memorable Cruise for a Corpse via the wonders of Dosbox) and reading (Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You). Although I’ll probably end up writing something about Cruise for a Corpse later, I’ve got a couple of things I’d like to say about Everything Bad is Good for You.

The last book I read before the move was Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City, a book about the theory of town planning. Most of that book is spent teaching us new ways to look at cities and helping us develop a new vocabulary for describing cities and town planning - most memorably, it introduces the idea of a city’s imageability. Dan Hill took this concept and applied it to videogames in his amazing essay Los Angeles: Grand Theft Reality - I would encourage everyone to read this, regardless of whether or not you are interested in videogames.

Stephen Johnson does something similar in Everything Bad is Good for You (EBIGFY). Like Lynch, Johnson also tries to teach us to look at videogames in a new way and give us the vocabulary to describe video game concepts. Johnson accurately and eloquently sums up the positive aspects of videogames beyond the oft-repeated “improves hand/eye co-ordination” nonsense, such as teaching us the art of making sense of chaos in order to achieve a game’s objectives (he calls this practice “telescoping”). He also describes, on a physiological level, why we enjoy playing games in spite of the fact that they tend to frustrate us for 90% of the time.

Although his section on videogames is barely 35 pages long, it provides a more succinct and lucid essay about the merits of video games than I’ve yet seen from actual videogame commentators.

Lazyweb: Broadband options

My girlfriend and I have been apartment-hunting for the past couple of weeks. We saw a fantastic apartment yesterday up in Stoneybatter that ticked all of our boxes (and a few we didn’t even know we had, like a Smeg fridge). Possibly the only thing I didn’t like about the apartment was the lack of a phone line.

We just got word today that the landlord is offering the apartment to us. Hooray! There’s a two-week overlap between our current place and the new place, so this gives us plenty of time to move our stuff up there and get everything ready. Since my girlfriend and I are both nerds, I figure it might be a clever idea to use these two weeks to arrange for some form of internet connection to be installed.

I was thinking of checking out Irish Broadband first, because it elimates the need for a phone line. But does anyone know what IBB’s service is like? Any horror stories?

When we moved into our current place, I asking IBB if they could provide service for us. The guy actually laughed down the phone as he gleefully told us “We’re not taking any more customers on that node! We’ve got enough! haha!” So, if IBB isn’t a goer, we’ll just have to bite the bullet; get a new phone line installed and go with one of the ‘traditional’ providers. Any recommendations? Smart? Esat?

Please, Lazyweb. I need your advice.

Meatballs

There is something intrinsically fun about playing with your food. Children understand this. And we tell them not to do it because.. well.. we were taught not to do it and, goddammit, if we can’t do it, we won’t let anyone else do it either. So there.

This is why I love meal-making with mince. Making mince mushy. Alliteration aside, when I’m preparing a meal out of paste that was once recognisable as meat, I’m instantly transported back to my youth: I’m 5 years old again, creating a mess with mala. Except my meat creations taste marginally better than my mala ones.

I’ve made a couple of batches of meatballs now, but the ones I made during the week were the first ones where the ingredients felt right. And best of all, it was thrown together in less than a half an hour when I got home late and wasn’t really in the mood for anything too complicated.


  • 450g pork mince
  • kielbasa sausage (or any smoked/spicy meat)
  • clove garlic
  • wholegrain mustard
  • half an onion
  • 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce
  • lime leaves
  • salt & pepper

Chop the onion really, really, really fine. It doesn’t have to be evenly chopped, a few larger bits here and there add to the texture. But it still needs to be thin.

Similarly, chop the sausage into really, really, really small cubes. As small as you can. A good handful should do you.

Crush the garlic with the side of your knife and then chop it fine.

Throw the onion, sausage and garlic into a bowl with the pork mince along with two teaspons of the wholegrain mustard and about a teaspoon of the tabasco sauce.

Roll the lime leaves in your fingers to crush it, then chop it to make sure it’s extra-fine and add it to the bowl. Season the mix generously.

Now the fun part - mush the whole thing around until you get a consistent paste. All the ingredients should be roughly spread throughout the entire thing. Roll the whole thing up into little balls. There’s no rule as to the size of these, but I’ve found that they should fit in the palm of my hand, not on the palm of my hand. Does this make sense? Bear in mind, the size of the balls will affect the cooking time.

Pour a good amount of oil (olive oil won’t splash, vegetable oil will) into a decent non-stick pan and get it good and hot. When it’s ready, start adding the meatballs. You’ll never have a completely round ball, so I’ve found it’s best to cook these on one side, until they’re on the point of burning, then flip them onto another side. When they’re a dark brown on most sides, you can start turning them more regularly, to cook the inside.

Serve in some noodles with some chicken stock (Knorr do my favourite store-bought chicken stock right now).

Movie release calendar

Warning!

This is still very much beta - use at your own risk

Today, I set about teaching myself the basics of web scraping, with the intention of putting it to some good use. Coincidence or providence, I read Kottke’s post about creating an ical for summer movie releases, and immediately thought of a personal itch I could scratch.

The Irish Film and Television Network provide a list of Irish Theatrical Releases, but this is just one big flat HTML file that is only marginally helpful. It still relies on me to remember to go to their page and see what’s out and when. It would be much more useful if this information was somewhere I tend to spend a lot of my day looking - say, my calendar program - and even more helpful if it was somewhere I could carry it around with me - say, my phone.

Well, now I can. Using various combinations of bash, sgrep, awk and sed, I created a script that will automatically grab the ‘releases’ page of IFTN.ie and export it as an .ics file, which can be read through iCal/Sunbird, and from there, synched to my phone.

You can grab the .ics file here: http://www.fuckcuntandbollocks.com/dorkus/irish_releases.ics

If you find this useful, please let me know.

And now the caveats:

  1. IFTN’s listing page is braindead. I can’t help this, and my script can’t predict its unusual behaviour. For example, why does it have two release dates for “Kicking and Screaming”, one on June 3rd, the second on July 29th? And why does it randomly have two “2005"s after “Fever Pitch”?
  2. This is my first real time creating a .ics file. I ploughed through RFC 2445 for pointers, but I might have commited some mortal vcalendar sin without knowing it.
  3. Bug reports to the usual address

Update For my next trick, I did the same for videogames using Eurogamer’s release dates. Grab the calendar file here: http://www.fuckcuntandbollocks.com/dorkus/irish_game_releases.ics

BBC Backstage

Tim O’Reilly suggests that at least part of the reason for Amazon and Google’s success comes from their open API. This allows people to access their information in ways that fit people’s individual needs (“rip, mix, burn”), giving them a massive advantage over monolithic proprietary apps. He gives the example of their own use in O’Reilly - they monitor the ‘technology’ section of Amazon’s books for how well their books are doing, their prices vs. their competitor’s prices, what new books have been released and so on. With Google, we’re seeing this as it happens as people continue to extend maps.google.com to tie in with other services, such as Flickr, producing Geotagging.

Well, the BBC must have been listening. Yesterday, they launched BBC Backstage, which is set to provide a one-stop-shop for all of the BBC’s web content, from their RSS feeds to their Search API (not available yet). Most interestingly for the casual user (read: non-developer), they’re also using this as a way to track the ways in which people are using the BBC website, such as providing a way for people to provide their own “external links” for stories, or giving stories del.icio.us-style tags.

I look forward to seeing what sorts of things people come up with.