Monthly Archives: March 2009

Tuesday TubeWatch: Creativity – Inspiration

How do we create? What takes us from the point where a story, or a song, or a painting doesn’t exist to a point where it does exist? How do we get a web site, or a new mathematical theorem, or a new game for our kids, where none existed before? What takes us from nothing to something?

There are many varied answers to that question, and many steps in the process(es). But the first step is invariably the idea – the inspiration.

But inspiration is tough to work with. It’s unreliable, really. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. When it is there, it’s frequently fleeting: an ember that needs to be coaxed into something usable. So how do creative people do it? How do they harness inspiration?

Those clips show three ways to handle inspiration [hey, Jon, check out the closed captions]. In the clips from Finding Forrester, action is used to drive that spark of an idea. In the first, it’s the pure action of typing, even in stream of consciousness, that Sean Connery’s character shows leads to ideas—just let the words flow and you’ll get something you can then work with and craft later.

In the second clip, he’s employing another method. When nothing is coming—when you’re blocked—it can help to use something else as a crutch just to get the juices flowing. If you’re drawing, trace or copy a favorite picture until you start seeing ways to change it to make it your own. If you’re designing a web site, start by looking at other web sites and beginning to recreate what they have, until you see ways to improve it or make it more unique. These aren’t meant to create the finished product immediately, of course, but just to get you creating… coming up with ideas… being inspired.

In the final clip, Bela Fleck got his inspiration in an epiphany, and needed to capture it before it faded away. He called his answering machine. He could start carrying an MP3 recorder. People who draw or write stories could keep a pencil and pocket notebook on hand. Find some way to hold on to those moments where inspiration comes unbidden.

I’ve had experience with all three of these entrees to creativity; I’m sure we all have, from time to time, whether we recognized it or not.

One of the creative things I do as a hobby is write music. I’ve had times where just playing on the keyboard, hitting notes almost haphazardly, eventually leads to a melody that becomes more defined—frequently more quickly than I expect. I’ve had times where I’m in the shower humming a song and it morphs into something completely different and interesting as I get into the flow of the music and start to define my own direction rather than following the original song. And I’ve also had times where I sit up in bed with a fully formed song (once even an entire orchestral piece) bursting in my head and I need to find some way to capture at least some of it. Typically in those cases I get to my computer in the next room and record myself humming or singing the tunes. A couple times I just had pencil and paper and had to guess at the notation on a hand drawn staff. (It’s frustrating to realize that I’ve lost more of those than I’ve captured.)

Back when I was trying more actively to write fiction, I had those same types of experiences. I used to carry around a notebook and a portable mini-tape recorder (in the days before easy digital recording) to try to grab my ideas as they came. In my day job, I’ve had inspirational moments of recreating our work flow to improve our output and I’ve had times where I needed to tease that inspiration into existence. No matter the medium, inspiration is a tricky prey.

It’s important to remember, though, that what Bela Fleck says is correct: once you’ve had the inspiration, then comes the craft. Taking that inspiration and transforming it into something fully formed and precise is a whole different animal. That’s what the character of Forrester says as well: don’t think on the first draft, just let the inspiration happen. The second draft is where the craft comes in.

But that’s a subject for another time.

How do you deal with inspiration? How do you track it down? How do you capture it once it hits? What is the weirdest situation you’ve found yourself in during those moments of inspiration that threaten to escape?

Here’s one of my weirdest: I woke up with an orchestral score for a scene of a non-existent movie going through my head. At the time, I had no way to capture that, and no skill for playing an instrument (still don’t have that). So I ran out of my room, grabbed my roommate at the time (who is an excellent pianist), and got him to play what I sang to him. Then he helped me jot down the basic notation. The whole time I was in my underwear.

Beat that. That’s today’s challenge. It doesn’t have to be musically related. It doesn’t even have to be something typically thought of as “creative” like acting, writing, or drawing. It could be a time you came up with a new way to approach something at work, for example.

Or you could just write to let me know I’m an idiot for sharing that story. Your choice.

Does steak cost less delivered in bulk?

Earlier this week, Gather Little by Little ran an article about Omaha Steaks, and how expensive it was in comparison to the grocery store. His calculations had the meat coming in at anywhere from $38-44 per pound. Even for good steak, that’s pretty expensive.

Coincidentally, I purchased bulk steak from a competitor of Omaha, US Beef, a little more than a week earlier. This was a door-to-door sale—something I usually am able to turn away. But I’ve always wanted to try these delivered services anyway, and he was knocking huge amounts off the full price (the story was that he had leftovers from another delivery… I don’t really buy that, but it’s irrelevant) so I gave him a shot.

He was going to give us two packs for the price of one: $369. That was an easy “no.” The price kept dropping, though. $325… $300… eventually down to $250 for two packs. Even at that price, I still would have said “no” and gone on with my day, but it so happened that a friend was over at the house and offered to split it with me. That turned out to be $125 for a case of 61 pieces of meat (which isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds, as most are burgers, but stay with me). At that price, it was certainly worth considering.

Here’s what was included:

  • 5 – 12oz NY Strips
  • 8 – 6oz Filet Mignons wrapped in bacon
  • 8 – 7oz NY Strips
  • 8 – 4oz center cut sirloins
  • 8 – 4oz pepper steaks
  • 24 – 4oz sirloin burger patties

Doing the math, that’s 20.25 lbs of meat, for a cost per pound of $6.17. For steak, that’s not bad at all.

Comparing against a local grocery store, the NY Strips ($5.56/lb for the 12oz US Beef) came out over $3 cheaper per pound than the sale price at the store. Even the burgers (at $3.47/lb from US Beef) were $0.40 cheaper per pound in my order.

Spreadsheet for calculating costs

Spreadsheet for calculating costs

Now, of course, that’s with the discounted price I and my friend got. If I paid full price, would it have worked out as well?

Not so much.

At the full $369 per pack, the cost per pound works out to $18.22 – definitely more expensive than I would pay (but interestingly, way less than GLBL reports for Omaha, though there may be a quality difference). The maximum I’d be willing to pay for the pack I got is probably $175, which would work out to $8.64/lb overall.

Does it look like I got the math right? Do you have any experience with bulk food delivery to your house? Does it seem like a good deal to you? Leave a comment.

Review: Battlestar Galactica finale

It’s over.

For four years of my life (which, oddly enough, took six years), I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica weekly. This redesigned joy from my childhood became an engaging, exciting, and dramatic story in my adulthood. As with any other TV show, there are excellent episodes and episodes that fell flat. A series finale, and the lead-in stories, must meet the highest standard, in my opinion – especially in an “arc” show (i.e., one that tells a cohesive story from beginning to end, rather than “episodic,” in which the characters are all but reset at the end of each episode). There’s a lot to bring together. A lot of questions that must be answered.

Did BSG bring the goods?

There are SPOILERS below. Turn back now if you haven’t seen it. Seriously. I’m gonna touch on just about everything.

But first, a note to the Sci-Fi Channel. I think I said it best when I exploded on Facebook:

You think maybe a mention at the end of the previous episode that “hey, guess what… next week’s long awaited series finale is going to be running a bit long, so if for some reason you can’t make it home in time to see it, you might want to set your recorder to run, oh, about 15 minutes extra so you DON’T MISS THE END OF THE ENTIRE FLIPPIN’ SERIES THAT YOU SAT ON THE COUCH AND FAITHFULLY WATCHED FOR FOUR STINKING YEARS” might have been warranted?!?!?!?

I don’t know… just seems courteous to me. But I’m funny like that I guess.

About an hour and a half later I downloaded the show on bit-torrent and forced my wife out of bed to watch the last 10 minutes at about 1am (she’s a very nice woman who has refrained from killing me for years). The gap ruined the flow of the ending for me, but at least I saw it.

Okay, on to the show…

The battle stuff was just plain cool. There’s no denying that. When they said point-blank range, they weren’t kidding. The ship took a full-on beating. Loved it. Nice tactic with the Raptors jumping around as well. To nitpick, however, a couple of times I had a hard time figuring out which turrets I was looking at and whether the fact that they were firing was good or bad. CG team and director needed to work together better there. Also, while I loved the old style centurians showing up for the beating, I’m not sure why they were there, story-wise. Why would obsolete models be guarding the main colony?

During the battle, Boomer turns the tide by rescuing Hera, thus moving towards redemption. I’m split on this. Seemed like convenient writing to me, but at the same time it provided a nice end for the character, especially with the flashback to her talk with Adama. I liked that she took responsibility and knew it would cost her her life. I also liked that Athena was the one to finish it. Still, it was a rather convenient hinge for the whole rescue.

Speaking of people dying: I thought it was great that Tory knew it was likely she was toast but went ahead anyway. And Tyrol was nice about it, given the circumstances. No blood. No speeches. Just efficient action. I also liked Tigh’s comment that he would have done the same thing.

Interesting that after Anders’ end, the Final 5 are the Final 3.

Angels. I actually thought that was a pretty good resolution to the Baltar/Six problem. There was enough setup that it made sense. Heck, it was flat out stated at one point in the third season. So I’m okay with that.

But then there’s Kara. Was she also an angel? She seems to be significantly different. There’s really no resolution with her, beyond that she knew the music and that turned out to be Earth’s coordinates. How is she dead on the original Earth? How did she come back after imploding? How was she having visions? How does she just disappear? Obviously there was “God’s” intervention in these things, but it’s never really stated. Here’s what Ron Moore said to TV Guide:

TVGuide.com: What exactly is Kara at the end of the series? An angel?
Moore: I think Kara remains an ambiguous figure. Kara lived a mortal life, died and was resurrected to get them to their final destiny. Clearly she was a key player in the events that led to [the fleet’s] finding a home. And, I don’t know if there’s any more to it beyond that. I think you could call her an angel, you could call her a demon, the second coming or the first coming, I guess, chronologically speaking. You can say that she had a certain messiah-like quality, in the classic resurrection story. There’s a lot of different ways you can look at it, but the more we talked about it, the more we realized there was more in the ambiguity and mystery of it than there was in trying to give it more definition in the end.

TVGuide.com: So she is completely different than the hallucination/visions of Baltar and Six?
Moore: Yes, Kara was physically among us. Everybody saw her. She was tactile, she flew a viper, she was around. She was with us. And yet, there was a body that died on the original Earth, and Baltar did the DNA analysis and it was her body, so she was literally brought back from the dead by something — by some higher power or other power, and she came back to serve a function.

So in other words, they wrote themselves into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to explain what they set up. That last answer is exactly the problem. It’s all setup and no resolution. I could even live with the larger ambiguity, I suppose, if they would just say how there’s a 2000 year old crashed Starbuck on an old Earth, and why that’s at all relevant. And maybe how is Kara the “Harbinger of Doom” as foretold by the hybrids?

Moving on…

Loved the theme from the original BSG making a showing as Anders drives all the ships into the sun. Very nice. That was always one of my favorite themes.

The shared dream between Athena, Roslyn, Hera, Baltar, and Six… so the only explanation there is that it’s a vision from God? Hmmm… okay, I guess that fits the story.

Admiral Adama and Roslyn: I liked the way that played out, for the most part. I liked that Roslyn didn’t receive some miracle cure or overly happy ending. They did that right. There are two things I don’t understand, though.

1. Why did Adama leave everyone else, never to return, and why did everyone accept that as inevitable? That seemed out of left field to me.

2. What happened to his Raptor?

The ending with Baltar and Six in Times Square: a little heavy handed there at the end, but okay.

Overall… this is a mammoth story to try to pull together in a satisfying way for a finale episode with resolutions for so many characters and requisite action. I think they did a good job. I think they would have done a much better job if they knew where they were going from the start instead of making the series up as they went along – they probably would have fixed the Kara-sized holes, for example – but it was a good finale, overall.

Not sure if I’ll sign up for “Caprica,” but there’s a real good chance I’ll watch “The Plan.” If nothing else, I enjoy Dean Stockwell’s acting.

What’s in YOUR browser?

My wife can’t figure out what I do online for hours at a time. I can’t blame her for being confused. Sometimes I don’t even know how so much time can go by before I get out of this chair and do something besides attempt to contract cancer from my monitor.

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what I’ve got open in my browser right now and see if that can provide some answers. Strap in… I’ve got over 40 tabs open at the moment.

More tabs than fit on the screen...

More tabs than fit on the screen...

  1. The “new post” window in which I’m writing this post
  2. This blog
  3. Google Reader (which has over 300 unread items at the moment)
  4. An unscrambler tool to help with brain-dead moments of Scrabble
  5. Facebook
  6. Newegg.com – search results for memory upgrades for my wife’s computer
  7. Pipl.com – the most effective search engine I’ve found for locating people
  8. Today’s Deals of the Day – nice aggregator of daily deal sites (related post)
  9. SmartMoney.com article “How Much Auto Insurance Do You Need?
  10. Gizmo’s list of the Top 10 Free Game Sites
  11. Caddickisms Store search for “The Losers” comic books
  12. Wikipedia article on Y: The Last Man
  13. Osalt.com – article on Open Source alternatives to Microsoft Publisher
  14. XXClone – site for software that will copy your system disk to a new drive
  15. MorphThing.com – site to morph two pictures of faces
  16. Review of Morpheus Photo Morpher
  17. Download page for FotoMorph 6.0
  18. I Will Teach You To Be Rich article on ways to make more money
  19. Computerworld article: FAQ: How Google Latitude locates you
  20. YouTube: Caddickisms Channel page
  21. Secunia.com’s Online Software Inspector
  22. Fat 2 Fit by 50 (a friend’s blog)
  23. YouTube: Microsoft Songsmith’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” video
  24. YouTube: Microsoft Songsmith video when fed data from the stock market
  25. Review of Ashampoo’s Clipfinder
  26. Review of Format Factory
  27. PostSecret.com
  28. Get Rich Slowly article: 2009 tax guide
  29. Get Rich Slowly article: Top 10 tips for preparing your tax return
  30. Frugal Dad article: Recession-proof your debt snowball
  31. Medical article on CCAM
  32. YouTube: Marvel/DC: Wolverine/Dr. Manhattan
  33. Article on designing e-learning courses in Moodle quickly
  34. TurboTax version comparison page
  35. David Pogue article on Google Voice (really impressive sounding service, btw)
  36. Our Daily Bread article: Thomas Time
  37. Funeral home obituary for my grandmother who passed away on Sunday
  38. Slate.com article on a link between diabetes and alzheimer’s disease
  39. NY Times Op-Ed column on how people choose news to fit their preconceived ideas
  40. ING Compare Me
  41. ING Your Number

Well, that’s it. Many of those are intended to be the topics of blog posts (a good percentage of which won’t see the light of day). Some are work related. A few are just for fun. Some have been open for weeks, as I keep procrastinating whatever task I have that relates. All of them are interesting to me in one way or another.

Here’s what I take from this list: I’m interested in many topics, and procrastinate a lot. Most of my attention seems to be focused on money management and technology.

What’s open in your browser? (Other than this site, of course.) What does it say about you?

Review: Watchmen

Watchmen broke ground as a comic book/graphic novel. The movie was extremely faithful, with few exceptions, to the book. Is that a good thing?

Going in to this film, I thought, “I hope they don’t stray too far from the book.” They didn’t. There were things removed for the sake of time, but for the most part everything that was in the movie came from the book. It was probably the most faithful retelling of a story as I’ve seen. And that’s why it failed.

I’m willing to devote a lot more time to a book’s attention to side stories. They’ve got time to develop them, and even to bring the side story into the central plot. In a film, you gotta stick to the core story with almost laser focus. Move the action forward at all times. It’s a rare film that can successfully explore the ancillary without losing itself.

A lot was cut from the book to make this movie. But it wasn’t cut nearly enough.

Also, there was a lot more graphic gore in this movie than was in the book. And that’s saying something.

For the most part, this film lost my wife by the end of the opening credits montage over “The Times They Are  a’Changing” by Bob Dylan. That whole piece was in there mostly for the fans. While it had some use in setting us in the bleak, depressive world of the film, it just went on too long and was too disjointed for the uninitiated.

The sex scenes were just boring, not to mention unnecessary. At least 2 couples walked out of the showing during these scenes and never returned. Whether they left because they were offended or simply bored, I’m not sure, but I don’t blame them.

I could probably go on for hours about the little successes and downfalls that combined to make this overall not worth the time, but also not patently terrible … more forgettable than anything. But there are two things that I want to say in direct comparison to the graphic novel.

First, as I feared, they made the superheros a little more “super” than is conveyed in the book. In my previous post I talked about that a bit. The most obvious example of it is in many of the fight scenes where people are being thrown around rather cavalierly by punches and kicks or making leaps that humans just can’t make. Nite Owl slides a little into Batman territory with his ‘cape gliding’ ability. Kind of annoying.

On the positive side, however, I think the mechanism by which the ending is brought about  – the villain’s end-game – is better in the movie than in the book. I really think the movie made a good improvement in that category. Good job there.

Oh… one more thing. The use of music for this film was absolutely horrible. Seriously. Just bad, bad, song choices placed in entirely inappropriate scenes. Bad.

If they hadn’t felt compelled to stick so fanatically to the source material, I think this movie could have been made well and fit in approximately two hours – maybe a bit more – and not sacrificed the core story. Fanboys would have cried and wailed, but the movie would have been so much better.

Two and a half stars.

TubeWatch extra: Watchmen cartoon

I can’t wait until next Tuesday to share this one.

Does anyone else remember this Saturday morning cartoon from the late ’80s?

The best episode was the cross-over with “Josie and the Pussycats,” where Rorshach made Alexandra cry. That was classic. Sebastian totally pwnd Bubastias, though – stretched believability for me. When the two bands got together at the end, and Josie offered to let Silk Spectre join them, though, you knew everyone was gonna be okay.

It’s a shame it didn’t last more than a season.

Tuesday TubeWatch: Social networking will eat your brain!

It’s a popular debate lately: are these social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.) bad for us? Recently an Oxford professor, Baroness Susan Greenfield, made some rather provocative speculations about the cumulative effect frequent use of these sites can have on our physical brains. As reported by ars technica:

Greenfield said that sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and Twitter may be forcing kids’ brains back into an infant-like state, as infants need constant stimulation to remind them that they exist. She added that she worries that “real” conversation will eventually give way to these little snippets of text dialogue, indicating that our normal language might eventually turn into pokes, wall shout-outs, and 140-character snark fests.

She’s also shown explaining her view in the video below (though to be honest I had a hard time following her).

As a result of her statements, a debate was born on a British news show. On February 24th, BBC Newsnight aired this segment:

They go back and forth about the issue. Sort of. I actually think the anchor, generally, did a good job.

Here’s what I learned from this debate:

  • Even with a British accent, snarky people are annoying.

(For the record, I know absolutely nothing about these individuals beyond what I see here.)

Both of these guys have useful things to say. It’s a shame they’re not having the same discussion.

This whole debate seems a bit twisted, actually. It’s supposedly about Susan Greenfield’s statements, but she’s not there to defend them—instead they got Aric Sigman (the ‘conservative’), who apparently has never met Susan nor was he involved in her research (or lack thereof). He did apparently also write something that was taken as alarmist on a similar subject, though he does a fairly good job, I think, of clarifying that his point is simply that there is reason to examine whether Social Networking sites, among other activities that reduce “face time,” could possibly have a negative effect on attention development. He cites similar studies (that no one refutes) on the effect of TV watching. More research is warranted. That pretty much seems to be his point.

He also gets around to parental responsibility in monitoring and limiting children’s time on the computer.

Honestly I’m not sure where the argument is here. Aric’s statements don’t sound alarmist to me. A bit of responsibility seems reasonable to request.

Ben Goldacre, on the other hand, won’t let go of talking about Susan Greenfield’s statements. He’s making valid points about policy setting, in the end, but they are not really directed at Aric as much as they are at Susan, who isn’t there. Childish looks of superiority abound.

What bothers me the most about this is that I think people will see this and relate more to Ben (as the “individual” raging against “The Man”) and discount Aric’s point almost out-of-hand. It’s not that most people would disagree with Aric’s points if they listened, it’s that they won’t really hear what he’s saying. Who would disagree that we need to pay attention to the amount of time our kids spend on the computer? That it would be helpful for them to cultivate ‘real life’ friendships and ensure that the proper time is spent on them?

What they’ll probably hear instead is that Ben is arguing that Facebook will not melt your brain and cause developmental disorders, so they’ll assume that Aric’s point is that Facebook will melt your brain and must be shut down. Which is nowhere near what he’s saying.

Gotta go… I need to Tweet about the problems I’m having coming up with my Facebook statuses.

(found via Corporate e-Learning Strategies and Development)

Watchmen, Star Trek, and Star Wars (sort of)

(Grab your pacemaker, it looks like I’m making two posts in two days! Will the madness ever end?)

A few things came to my attention today that I just couldn’t wait to pass on.

First of all, as you undoubtedly know, Watchmen opened today. No surprise there. But did you know these stats?

  • 90% of all Fandango’s weekend ticket sales has been for Watchmen.
  • IMAX’s website crashed four times this week due to the increased traffic of people looking for information on Watchmen IMAX showings.
  • The movie breaks the record for the most “playdates” for an R-rated film, according to Hollywood Reporter.
  • 1600 locations had midnight showings last night. Compare that to 656 midnight showings for that other Zack Snyder film, 300.

Apparently there is some demand for this movie. :)


While I’m on the topic of Watchmen, I saw a review of the film in the NY Times today. The reviewer didn’t seem to find the film relevant. As I thought about it, he probably has a point. It is set in 1985, during the Cold War, and it does help to get into that mindset when reading the graphic novel. I’d imagine the film to be the same way. So keep that in mind as you make your way to the multi-plex.

Oh, and I thought of something as I was looking at some of the commercials for the film today. I’m a little worried that they might strip a bit of the realism away from the physicality of the superheroes in the film. In the book, they were mostly just regular people who got this notion into their heads to put on a costume and fight crime. No super-strength, no amazing feats of acrobatics, just people trying to help. For example, in the book, there’s a scene where Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre save some people from a building fire. They land on the roof, run down the stairs, and lead the people back to their ship. In the clip I saw, Silk Spectre leaps from the hovering “Owl Ship” crashes through the roof, and lands cleanly in the top floor hallway. More visually stunning, definitely, but people can’t do that, really. That’s one of the things that set the book apart—its treatment of the heroes (except for Dr. Manhattan) as people who didn’t necessarily have a special physical skill, just a need to help as best they could. Nite Owl II even seemed a bit flabby in some panels, which would be appropriate for someone who was not keeping in shape during his “retirement.”

So while that exaggeration probably won’t keep me from enjoying the film, it is a bit disappointing that they’re apparently ignoring one of the central (IMO) conceits that made the graphic novel unique.


Star Trek has released its third trailer! Take a look at the goodness:

(YouTube is okay and all, but you really ought to see it at the Official Site, or even better, in HD from Apple’s site.)

This one delves a little more into the character and drama than the others (backed up by some dramatic music), and I got a better sense of the early part of the story. And it has, apparently, a planet being swallowed by a black hole weapon. That was just cool. Very nice.

You also get a better sense that the actors are not just doing impersonations of the characters previous interpretations—they’re bringing themselves to the roles. As much as that may grate on some fans, I think that’s a good thing. These actors need to inhabit these characters themselves, not channel some other actors. That never goes well.

Also, I think the battle scenes in this are going to completely blow away any Federation battles we’ve seen to date. I hope I’m right.


Finally, I mentioned in a previous post that the Family Guy crew is going to do a sequel to their “Blue Harvest” send-up of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, focusing on The Empire Strikes Back. The title will be “Something Something Something Dark Side,” which I think is kind of lame, but a little better than “Blue Harvest” (I never really understood that title… can someone explain?). It will debut in the fall.

It’s also been announced, though it’s not too surprising, that they’re already working on a third installment to spoof Return of the Jedi.