The Phone App

I haven't actually liked using telephones since high school, but it's getting a little silly. My iPhone home screen This is me every time I have to call a phone number with my iPhone:

  1. Press the "Home" button
  2. Realize that was unnecessary because the "Phone App" is one of the four apps that shows up regardless of what screen I'm on.
  3. Open the "Phone App"
  4. Take a second to realize which screen I'm looking at (generally "Recents" or something).
  5. Take another second to realize that I need to find the number pad and do so.

From there on, I'm cool, but it's such a clunky interaction that I am 90% sure is my problem, not the iPhone's. Perhaps I should make myself start calling people more often before my telephone muscles atrophy altogether...

Gmail Hijackers Ahoy!

Woke up this morning to an interesting email from my mother's address:

Pls reply me back

Happy New Year...

I'm sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it's  just because of the situation of things right now, i'm stuck in London, I came down here on vacation, i was robbed, worse  of it is that bags, cash and cards and my cell phone was stolen at GUN  POINT, it's such a crazy experience for me, i need help flying back home, the authorities are not being 100% supportive but the good thing is i still have my passport but don't have enough money to get my flight ticket back home, please i need you to loan me some money, will refund you as  soon as i'm back home, i promise.

Thank you Rand Winton

Hmmm. No. That's not real at all.

I replied to it and the hijackers further prompted me to provide help. So they are actively using her account. Great.

After texting her (she's been bombarded by all her contacts checking whether she's OK or letting her know she's been hacked) I tried to login. Of course her password didn't work. I tried the password retrieval mechanism and it said it was sending the change request email to an address that looks like ******@y****.**.uk -- also not my mother.

So, I have reported the problem to Google and am waiting for their response.

It looks like these people also deleted an announcement I posted to Mom's Facebook wall, too, so I assume they are in there also.

Sometimes the internet is such a jerk!

Update: She has managed to wrangle her Gmail out of the clutches of the baddies. Her Facebook account is currently locked down, but she's barely concerned about that.

How do you quantify self-improvement?

Say you have some goals (or "resolutions", in the case of the new year)... How do you measure progress toward success? Goals are much easier to actually accomplish if you break it into steps. I haven't done the Googling, but I assume tapering with the help of patches or nicotine gum is a much more successful method of smoking cessation than cold turkey. Fitness improvements are almost by definition something to work toward one step at a time -- you can't just go from the couch to running a marathon, you need to run around the block first.

This all came about from me lying in bed thinking about some things I'd like to accomplish this year and trying to come up with ways to keep track of my paths toward them. A lot of this is based on my use of the Physics Diet web site for tracking my weight. Even when I'm not succeeding, I love having the data in front of me. I can forgive myself a big red spike if I then come back with some green afterward.

I want something like that for other goals, so I started bending my brain around it a little. Physics Diet depends on daily weight and body fat measurements, and each day your "goal" (in most cases, at least) is to weigh less than you did the day before. How do you break other types of goals into similarly measurable "micro-goals".

I think the main crux is how you formulate your goal.

Suppose I want to be able to run ten kilometers this year. The first step is to get out and run - period. That means running once in this next week is an improvement from the previous state of not running at all. Then if I get to the point where I am running consistently three days a week, I need to change my metric to something like distance covered or even time if my distance covered is the same as before. Obviously, this just got a lot more complex than a weight chart...

At least there are still obvious metrics, though - in the example above you have frequency, distance, and time. All of which you can easily measure and compare. You might even be able to make a pretty chart/graph to show progress/regression. Even without the chart I could track progress in each of the metrics and use that data to motivate myself toward my originally stated goal of running 10k within my time frame.

Here's another one: I want to learn to play my Fluke ukulele. How the heck do I "chunkify" something like that? Well, I could rephrase the goal to something more like "I want to practice the ukulele every day." That give me the frequency metric again. I could also perhaps measure a duration metric, too. Those will definitely be helpful to me at the start, but after a while two hours of plinking tunelessly will become a disappointment, and it's a big jump from counting how often I practice to counting something like songs I've learned to play....

Perhaps this illustrates a lack of knowledge -- I might not actually understand what it takes to reach my goal.

Maybe that's OK, though. Maybe tracking data on these small metrics is just a way to get me off the ground for some goals, while with others - like running or other fitness goals - it could be a long-lasting habit.

Besides, there are other things to track. Perhaps some goals are better broken into a sequential checklist of milestones -- when you can check something off, you have made progress. This sort of goal wouldn't really have backwards progress, I suppose, aside from stalling out on time.

What do you think? Is this likely to be a useful tack for achieving goals? Am I just using the idea of tracking data as a procrastination tool? (Thanks to my experience with Physics Diet, I'm quite certain this isn't the case. Tracking measurements takes very little effort and thinking out your goals is never a bad thing.)

An Appreciation of the Hard Way

Here's the thing, Bunky, a lot of people get really focused on "efficiency" in life. Those folks think a new book, the latest gadget, or a new notebook might push them over the edge so that they might Get Things Done faster than they used to, and definitely faster than the other guy. And of course faster is better, right Chief? That straight line between points A and B must also be the optimal route. How could it not be?

Well, I have come to the point in my life where I am developing an appreciation for the winding road. In my mind, actually firing up the stove trumps bringing up the Pizza Hut iPhone app to get a pie and some wings (although there are still close calls on that front, to be honest). If a 50 year old hunk of metal gets the job done as well as the modern conglomeration of plastics and who-knows-what, this guy is probably going to go for the antique. I can - and will - go on...

Build Something

A great example of what I'm talking about is home repair and/or home improvement. These days most folks run the numbers and decide their time is worth more than the cost of hiring a guy to come do the job for them.

The truth of the matter is fixing or building things around the house is super intimidating and sometimes actually difficult. These points are especially true if you have never had any training or experience with this kind of work. That said, however, the resources are out there for you to quickly gain the knowledge you need to give it a go. Go learn how to do the thing you need to do and give it a try.

Remember, even if you really fuck it up, you can hire that guy on Service Magic to fix it, but odds are you'll do fine and you'll have the satisfaction of having done it yourself.

Make Your Own Food

This past year, the thing I've done that has excited me the most is our raised bed garden. Even though it didn't get finished until very late in the summer, we grew our own food in our own back yard. Talk about satisfaction!

Even if you don't want to grow food, though, it's worth putting in the effort to cook your own meals as much as you can. People who say they "can't cook to save my life" are both lazy and lying. Cooking is one o the the most easily acquired skills there is in this world. Your food will be better than most things you'd go out to buy and there's a high probability that it will even be better for you.

That Straight Razor Thing

The three of you who read this thing have already heard a lot about my obsession with straight razors. At this point I shave almost exclusively with a straight razor. Sometimes that means I only shave once a week, though, which doesn't do me any favors. At that point my technique suffers and I am more likely to cut myself. I might actually have a very faint, but permanent scar on my face now... For real.

I still love it, though.

Shaving takes a long time with the straight razor. First, I strop my razor and prep my lather brush; then I hop in the shower for a long, hot one; once I'm dried off, I make some lather and start shaving -- I usually do at least three passes at around 10 minutes each. The whole process takes 45 minutes or so, and I enjoy every single one of them. I play music I enjoy and just spend quality time with myself. More people should find something that allows them to have that kind of time with themselves.


Learning about and mixing classic cocktails, and even trying to concoct my own new recipes, give me a lot of joy, as some of you may have noticed. There's not much more to say about that, really. It's just another hobby that requires a bit more effort than the average Joe puts into it.

Your Way?

Now, let's be truthful, I'm not the King of the Hard Way by any stretch of the imagination. By no means do I always shun the efficient or the easy. Even the things I've listed above aren't exactly earth shattering, but it's an attitude I've been pondering lately.

So, how about you? Tell me about something you do the "hard way". What is an activity that give you more satisfaction when you do it by hand rather than with some kind of "modern convenience"? I'll bet some of you are doing way more interesting things than I am.

Well said, Sir.

I love Merlin Mann. Even though his signal to noise ratio often gets a bit low for me to tolerate, without fail he eventually comes up with a gem that makes me want to resubscribe to all his feeds. Case in point:

Now that I’ve had it both ways, I can highly recommend choosing to make things you like with people you think are awesome. By comparison, the private consolations of doing otherwise turn out to be surprisingly modest.

Yes. Yes, indeed.

(I'm still not going to follow the guy on Twitter, though. The last time I tried it was like drinking from a fire hose.)

Still Alive

Just FYI. I love me some GTA IV. If you can wrangle a couple friends to play the online multiplayer it all becomes worth it. My Xbox Live Gamertag is JakoBlah, but I won't be your friend unless I know who you are first.

I caught Explosions in the Sky on Austin City Limits this past weekend. They are right up my alley.

Scarlett Johansson singing Tom Waits songs? Not as bad as you might expect, but not exactly awesome, either. She sure is pretty, though.

Hillary is ... Guh. Never mind.


Do you ever feel like you've stopped having ideas? I can solve the problems presented to me with little effort, but I can't say I'm coming up with anything cool on my own these days. It relates to the paucity of posts on this here blog.

Later: Isn't that a coincidence?

Kay You En Tee

They way I imagine this happening

Scene: A junior exec from KM Communications is trying to bond with his teenage sons over a "meal" from Wendy's, since he's never learned to cook and hasn't introduced his girlfriend to the boys yet out of fear that they would tell his ex-wife about her.

Dad: Hey! I've been put in charge of picking the call letters for some new TV stations. You guys wanna pick some out?

Boys: *whisper-giggle-whisper* Yeah, Dad, that'd be really cool. How about these...

Now the question is: Are there any other offensive call letters out there?

Rules of the game:

  1. 4 letters (no numbers)
  2. First letter must be K or W

Personally, I don't come up with much. WUSS and WIMP is about as good as I get.

Deus ex Point/Counterpoint

This month's issue of Wired (to which I have recently (re)subscribed for almost entirely different reasons than I did in the 90s) has a cover story by Gary Wolf called Battle of the New Atheism. The so-called "New Atheism" is, in particular, the brand of atheism espoused by Richard Dawkins whose latest book is called The God Delusion. Dawkins is extremem in his atheism -- to the point of anti-theism. He thinks tolerating the good that religion does is as evil as tolerating the evil religion does. It's an extreme view, but one many people are adopting, it seems.

"I'm quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism," Dawkins says, after we get settled in one of the high-ceilinged, ground-floor rooms. He asks me to keep an eye on his bike, which sits just behind him, on the other side of a window overlooking the street. "The number of nonreligious people in the U.S. is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million," he says. "That's more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we're in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people had the courage to come out. I think that's the case with atheists. They are more numerous than anybody realizes."

Dawkins looks forward to the day when the first U.S. politician is honest about being an atheist. "Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they've got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can't get elected."

That "Smart people are atheists, and I'm wicked smart, so I hate your 'God'!" attitude is largely what turns me off when I read or hear something from Dawkins.

Myself, I'm a card carrying agnostic. My views on spirituality are as variable as the weather, honestly, but my opinions on religion are fairly static:

  • Fundamentalists are evil in their intolerance
  • Organized religion often gives fundamentalists a means to get people to act on their intolerance (take your pick: Crusades or "jihads")
  • Religious ceremony gives me the heebie jeebies.
  • (These basics can be extrapolated further, but these are sufficient for this particular monologue.)

Basically, I think religion is a lot like sexual preference: as long as you're not causing someone else harm, it's all good.Personally, I don't really buy most definitions of "God". In fact, the Wired article has a pretty good description of me:

... technical and scientific people, possibly the social group that is least likely among all Americans to be religious. Most of these people call themselves agnostic, but they don't harbor much suspicion that God is real. They tell me they reject atheism not out of piety but out of politeness. As one said, "Atheism is like telling somebody, 'The very thing you hinge your life on, I totally dismiss.'" This is the type of statement she would never want to make.

So anyway, you get the point. Dawkins says all relgion is BAAAAD, I don't really agree because lots of religious folks are genuinely good people and I see no reason to crush their beliefs just because I don't share them.

Case in counterpoint: Terry Eagleton in the London Book Review's coverage of Dawkins' tome: Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching (which comes to me via Garret)

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief. (Where, given that he invites us at one point to question everything, is Dawkins’s own critique of science, objectivity, liberalism, atheism and the like?) Reason, to be sure, doesn’t go all the way down for believers, but it doesn’t for most sensitive, civilised non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain. Only positivists think that ‘rational’ means ‘scientific’. Dawkins rejects the surely reasonable case that science and religion are not in competition on the grounds that this insulates religion from rational inquiry. But this is a mistake: to claim that science and religion pose different questions to the world is not to suggest that if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine, the pope should get himself down to the dole queue as fast as possible. It is rather to claim that while faith, rather like love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it. For my claim to love you to be coherent, I must be able to explain what it is about you that justifies it; but my bank manager might agree with my dewy-eyed description of you without being in love with you himself.

Now, why can't more believers express themselves like Mr. Eagleton? Why does the Christian mainstream seem to be more about banning the study of evolution and other such nonesense? Perhaps the rational, sensible church-goers tend not to make much noise. (You would expect so, since they should be tolerant types filled with love for all things, right?) If so, they should realize that much like Mr. Dawkins makes folks like me look like elitist pricks, the teeth-gnashers are making them look like loons.

I'm sure Rod would be able to go on for days on this subject. Personally I'm worn out... I'll just close with the Gary Wolf's sentiment after a discussion with Sam Harris author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation:

Here is the atheist prayer: that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.

Quick Hits

I'll Systemize Your Systemization

So... Remember the Autistic Quotient thingy? Well, that post got a trackback from this post discussing it in comparisson to a couple of similar personality tests called EQ (empathizing quotient) and SQ (systemizing quotient). I took those, and here's what I got:

Here are your EQ SQ results: EQ: 33 SQ: 86

The important factor to consider is not your absolute score, but the difference between the two. This indicates whether you have more natural ability as an Empathizer or a Systemizer. If your scores are about the same for your EQ and SQ, then you have well balanced empathizing-systemizing capabilities.

Holy crap, yo! I guess I'm about as lopsided as I thought all along, eh?

For reference, here are the average scores:

  Males Females
Average EQ: 39.0 48.0
Average SQ: 61.2 51.7

It's interesting to note that my EQ test answers mostly fell in the middle of the grid (agree/disagree slightly), whereas I had much stronger feelings about the statements on the SQ test. It almost felt like the thing was rigged: the EQ test is shorter (obviously, because that empathy junk is dumb!) and the SQ test has all kinds of questions about my CD collection (I swear!)...

Where's my tinfoil hat...?

Wookiee Yawns

Hi, my name is Jake, and I yawn like a wookiee. This hasn't always been the case, but for the past couple years my yawns (and still not all of the time, but it seems to be more often than not nowadays) have born an erie similarity to Chewbacca's throaty growl/howl.

I wish I could claim this as a "talent", but it only works for me involuntarily. I can recognize the onset of a Chewie yawn and play it up or prolong it a bit, but I cannot for the life of me produce the sound on command. I know there are many people on this planet who can; I'm just not one of them.

It baffles me as much as it amuses my co-workers.

What Would Jesus Mix?

Matt: what would you put on a mix tape for Jesus?Matt: first song Matt: 'South of Heaven" Jake: Jesus Built My Hot Rod Matt: "Spirit in the Sky" Jake: followed by Satan Is My Motor Matt: "I saw your mommy and your mommy's dead" Jake: last song: Sheep Go to Heaven (Goats Go to Hell) Matt: nice touch Matt: I think Super Trouper and Run to the Hills need to be on there somewhwere Jake: how about a little Faith No More: Surprise! You're Dead Matt: thats good Matt: I think Death Metal is too obvious Jake: yeah Matt: but Slayer has a song called 'Jesus Saves' Matt: I think jesus would like some Dead Kennedys Jake: remember the Cardigans? they do a cover of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Matt: oh yeah, thats good Matt: I'm thinking 'God id Dead' by Crass. Or anything by the punk band the Crucifucks Jake: we would have vastly different mix tapes for Jesus

Effective Playlist Management

Since a lot of you either got iPods last year during this time of year or may be getting one from Santa this year, I thought I'd share my system for song management using iTunes (the ubergeeks out there who think iTunes is teh sux0rs can ignore this, obviously). iTunes does have its deficiencies, but it actually is great at playlist management. Personally, I have the 20GB fourth generation (click wheel) iPod, but I have about 60GB of music in my iTunes library. Given that, my first step is based on a tip I found somewhere or other (I totally forget where...): I have a normal playlist (the kind you have to physically drag songs into) that I call "_General". This playlist serves as my iPod library. I fill that playlist up to about 18.5GB, which is the iPods actual capacity -- at least that's what I've seen with mine.

Here's where it gets fun...

The next step is to create some "smart" playlists based on the "_General" playlist. Be sure to set "Match *ALL* of the following rules" for all of them.


  • "_Unheard"
    • Playlist is _General
    • Play Count is 0
  • "_Recent & New"
    • Playlist is _General
    • Year is greater than 2004
    • Date Added is in the last 6 months
  • "_Favorites"
    • Playlist is _General
    • My Rating is greater than 3 stars

I also recently started using the Comments meta field (Select a song and do "Get Info" to edit the meta data.) to tag my music a la Flickr,, and all those other Web 2.0 cool kids. The "smart" playlists for those look like this:

  • "_Cool Kids"
    • Playlist is _General
    • Comment contains coolkids

And yes, that's a real example.

Another modification I'm thinking about trying is to use two "normal" playlists -- one for my stand-by stuff that I just have to have on my iPod at all times and another high flux playlist for stuff that might only be on there for a little while -- and then have "_General" be a smart playlist that combines the two.

Anyway, once you have the playlists set up, you go into the iPod settings and tell it to only update using your fancy new playlists (including "_General").

So, yeah, if you're looking for a better way to organize your music, you might try this method.

--- [Totally off topic, but if you have a blog, I highly recommend checking out Performancing for Firefox... This post was my test run, and it's the bomb. Although, it does make for some hairy markup, now that I look at it...]

Dancin' in the Slaughterhouse

People who don't live in Colorado have a lot of misconceptions about Colorado weather. The fact of the matter is that we have close to 300 days a year with sunshine, the temperature is wildly variable - sometimes we have 70's in January!, and it actually doesn't snow that much in the Denver Metro area. On the whole, it's extremely nice here. But then there are the windy days.

High wind days in the Colorado Front Range are like an apocalypse.

At the Jefferson County airport, wind speeds up to 90 mph were measured. High winds are expected to continue throughout the day in areas close to the foothills, west of I-25.

For reference, my office building is right next to the JeffCo Airport...

The suburbs become surreal realms of wandering trash bags, garbage can lids, and (if it's really blowing) garbage cans. Waves of debris (from snow and dust to leaves and tumble weeds to groups of somersaulting children) roll down the streets.

As you move into less populated areas the little "waves" from residential streets grow into ominously huge sheets of dirt, sand, small gravel, tumble weeds the size of Christmas trees (Tumble weeds are everywhere in Colorado, it's true.), and the occasional Kansas farm house. God forbid you should have to drive by a major construction site.

Even low-profile vehicles shimmy and shake as if about to be lifted into the sky. My way into work was closed this morning -- I have to assume somebody got rolled over by a gust. And now that I'm here, I'm realizing just how porous my office building is -- the wildly surging water in the toilets are especially disconcerting. And it cuts right through your body, as well (What's the wind chill when it's 27 degrees with 90mph gusts?). Your skin turns to dust, and the wind literally takes your breath away.

Like most winter weather, though, I hate dealing with it directly, but I'm glad it happens. It's kinda cool.

[The post title is for you Tom Waits fans out there.]

CL350 - Progress Marches On

Last night, Erik and I changed the front tire. Went on easy-peasy. In the mean while, we've taken to calling the bike "Rocket Man" because the Elton John song keeps coming on Erik's radio while we work on it. Erik is convinced the gas tank need sa pin-up girl on it. Of course we find all of this hilariously ironic, since the CL is A) no rocket and B) not a pin-up worthy chopper.

Good stuff if you ask me. Like a guy on a Vespa with a Hell's Angels jacket.


Side Note: Happy Veterans' Day. Always keep the men and women of the armed service in your heart.