A compilation of random and interesting things, musings, musics, videos, and more. Brought to you by a UChicago student with a penchant for procrastination.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Senior Year Nostalgia

With college approaching in about two weeks or so, it's been fun making the most of the time I have left -- not only has blogging been great, but I've had a lot of time to catch up on some of the perks of being a summer sloth. Hanging out with friends and reveling in favorite pastimes has definitely made my summer a restful one, yet the prospect of college, new experiences, and all of that great academia is so close by I can almost taste it. I can't wait to see what the future will hold - and while that sounds cliche - I'm glad to have had such great experiences in the past to warrant this surge of optimism/naivete.

So hey, seeing as I need to break in my new Compaq Presario V3015NR notebook, and I'm still too wholly captivated by a borrowed box set of 24 (season one) that I'm watching in the background -- here are some screencaps of the past year too keep me nostalgic enough to put aside my college woes and focus on what's important - Jack Bauer!

Fairchild's Advanced Computer Art Accelarated Class

EF Bell' Italia Trip, Spring Break with the Italy Crew

Maxwell's Eighth Period AP Themes in English Class

Prom Night (lookin' So Good!)

Senior Lock-In (Cruisin' Class of 2006)

D.C. National History Day (Sen. Barack Obama's office)

The Aca-Family at our regular Starbucks Hangout

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Edu-tastic Video Compilation

Even now, after having graduated from high school, I have to admit - it really is difficult for me to separate myself from the educational fun-ride that was k-12. Everywhere I look, it seems, I find benchmarks of my educational upbringing, from French dictionaries gathering dust on my bookshelf to one random elementary school spelling book that I should've definitely returned about nine years ago. It's been fun to rummage through old grade reports, laughing at awkward class photos, and sympathizing with elementary school teachers who racked their brains to try and impart some form of factual information to us.

Seriously though, an 'A' for all those spelling mistakes and random capitalizations? I would've deported myself outright for pledging 'alligance' to a 'republik' run by a lesser 'god' than He who directs the thoughts and actions of his progeny George W. Bush

Yet the internet has been the ultimate harbinger of memories connected to those nostalgic years - with the ability to simply Google old PBS educational shows I've been able to find countless reminders of the clever ways in which adults choose to inundate children with massive amounts of facts. And while giant purple dinosaurs perhaps are better suited for giving children an irrational phobia, one reoccurring technique has definitely stuck out for it's practicality - songs.

Since the dawn of time, it seems, as long as there have been core factual concepts (mathematics, science, history, language) people have always attempted to commit their base principles to memory through simple and repetitive forms. Things like mnemonic devices (SOH CAH TOA, Roy G. Biv, My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas*), rhymes, sayings, and songs have attempted to make the chore of pure repetition more mentally expedient. Sure, simply memorizing things through rote repetition is a staple hallmark of childhood (from reciting prayers or the pledge) -- yet songs have always added that extra bit of excitement that could trick entice a hyperactive child into doing some inadvertent learning.

But returning to the point, I don't think any s
ort of nostalgic post about the magic of song in education could be complete without a rundown of the very songs which permeate my subconscious mind, making me a slave to catchy jingles and quickly recited bits of information. Below is a compilation of the videos which I consider to have the most creative and powerful use of song to achieve that perfect jingle to fact ratio.

Ah, the Animaniacs - with their take on the nations of the world who could go wrong? Although, they did misspell Israel as 'Isreal' -- but I'll give Yakko a break, for a singing whatever-the-hell-it-is that's still pretty good.

School House Rock made my One Saturday Mornings notable (next to Doug, Recess, and Pepper Ann) -- and as far as this integration of the bill-making process to song I'd say it definitely has raised my political efficacy ... what person doesn't still secretly wish that the next bill passed could befriend them and after breaking out into song do a Kool-Aid man sort of "oh-yeah!" cheer?

Sesame Street always had tons of innovative clips presenting letters, colors, and numbers - so what better way to convey the concept of '6' than with a psychedelic pinball machine countdown?

Ok, this isn't necessarily an aide for conventional knowledge - but it sure did work for brainwashing me into being aware of the dangers that evil villains pose to the environment. But man, captain planet was a tad creepy himself, at least the cute South American boy with the pet monkey made up for it. We're the planeteers, you can be one too - cause saving our planet is the thing to do!

While I couldn't find an embed-able version of this next one, the Periodic Table of the Elements song by Tom Lehrer has been a standard for Chemistry teachers across the nation since 1955. If you've never encountered this song in class then you've missed a chemistry hot-topic that's almost as fascinating as the idea of the mole (Avogadro's number, equal to 6.022 x 1023 atoms or molecules). You can however find a flash version of an animation done to the song at privatehand.com/flash/elements.html

And a treat, perfect for Pi Day! An amazing parody of all of the above, with the perfect dose of humor tossed in -- no Steve, not Pie, Pi (and in case you were hungry for that pi goodness, or just insane, you can find pi calculated to a million digits at piday.org)

* Note: seeing as Pluto has been demoted to the status of a dwarf plant (or trans-Neptunian object) alongside Ceres and 2003 UB313 as of August 24, 2006 ... I guess elementary school kids can go with something like My Very Educated Mother Just Said Uh-oh No Pluto (here's a visual).

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Music: The Spinto Band

The Spinto Band is an immensely catchy indie power pop band that I happened upon quite a while ago. It's songs - as brilliant and captivating as ever - have continued to pique my interest with each passing through my indie play lists. With imaginative lyrics matched by assorted vocals (at times powerful, at times wavering) and an upbeat pop-rock feel, the powerful sounds of this East Coast band will definitely stick with you. The layers of sound, woven through with unique instrumental elements (like kazoos featured in the song Brown Boxes), ultimately create the perfect mesh in a series of musical masterpieces. Each song in their repertoire remains distinctly different -- yet, if one song should be crowned their piece d'oeuvre, their latest single release Oh Mandy would take the honor.

While songs like Crack The Whip and Did I Tell You? from their album Nice and Nicely Done have emphasized their definite rock out quality, Oh Mandy has become the breakaway hit of the album. With a ghostly ambiance to the vocals and guitar, yet the propulsion of a strong beat and the band's pop roots, this song has captured a synthesis of sounds unlike anything I've heard before - undoubtedly lending to it's staying power on my mind and play lists.

The music video for Mandy is equally as haunting, employing stop motion animation combined with photograph cutouts for some really neat animation work.

You can check them out at spintoband.com or spintonic.net

Spinto Band - Oh Mandy (mp3)
Spinto Band - Brown Boxes (mp3)
Spinto Band - Crack The Whip (mp3)
Spinto Band - Look At The Floor (mp3)
Spinto Band - Baby Nerd (Part 1) (mp3)
Spinto Band - Tractor (mp3)

Songs available are from their album Nice and Nicely Done

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

TED Conference Videos

If there's one thing that Google Video can claim in it's ongoing struggle against YouTube's size and interface - it's the amount of professional resources, documentaries, and otherwise inaccessible video footage (see C-SPAN's White House Correspondent's Dinner) that it provides for the everyday, Google-browsing, John Q Public.

This effort, while seemingly dwarfed by the amount of content available on YouTube, has a striking advantage in the quality of video made available. And that is probably why, on my last traipsing through the Google Video hallowed grounds, I happened upon a treasure trove of sorts - a collection of presentations that were not only informative, but actually interesting ... a shocking discovery to say the least.

The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference videos, sponsored by BMW and Google Video, host an amazing roster of individuals who are not only passionate about their fields of study - but can express themselves in a way that leaves you inspired by the potential for the future. These "trusted voices and convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses" really are a pretty neat bunch, and Google Video presents their various talks on one easy to access page with the suggestion "plan to listen to at least three, start to finish. They have a cumulative effect..."

After watching the presentation of one man specifically, Hans Rosling,
a public health expert and director of Sweden's world-renowned Karolinska Institute, I was truly enlightened. Rosling's presentation revolves around opening individuals to the current state of the world and debunking the myths floating around concerning the relative status of life in different countries. Fundamentally, the point that really resonates throughout the presentation is the fact that such stereotypical mindsets continue to prevail in the face of data that is screaming the opposite. Watching the presentation I was forced to confront beliefs about world health that are not only outdated but generalized. If you get the chance, watch it below and see if it affects you as much as it has me.

Ultimately, the goal of Rosling's presentation simply underlines the greater goal of his non-profit organization, Gapminder.
With an initiative to 'gap' the bridge between global statistics and an accessible view of the health situation in the modern world - the impact of this work could lead to not only a more educated public, but viable changes in public policy and the means through which global problems are assessed and solved. Having e-mailed Mr. Rosling after watching the performance, he responded by noting "do use, download and spread what we have on www.gapminder.org" -- Will do.

Update -- You'd better believe that I've snagged these conference videos for my Video iPod. iTunes offers free video podcasts subscriptions to the presentations, which you can access at itunes.com/podcast?id=160892972
(note, this will request to run iTunes)

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Reddish Studio Designs

Having seen some of their work on various other websites, I decided it was finally time to check out the entire portfolio of the Design Firm, Reddish. Their website reddishstudio.com features a wide collection of work, from furniture to clothing, all with a unique take on the balance between functionality and art.

The X Table
, for example, takes the premise of a simple coffee table and adds a detail that is a reoccurring theme in Reddish design - embroidery.

The description found on the website pr
obably describes the studio's intentions in the best way: The genes of ... two products were mixed together into a new combination of Materials, shapes and traditions.

Reddish studio focuses on keeping its designs clear and intriguing , and spends most of the time helping objects feel better about themselves.

The Reddish line of tabletop items, specifically the cutting blocks, take on a very unique character that transcends the simplicity of a wooden block and strives to infuse the mundane with a unique design sensibility.

Make friends with your winged neighbors. After dining, place this bread stand on the window ledge so birds can feast on the crumbs. Celebrates coexistence and the joy of sharing.

An offspring of a bread stand and a small tablecloth. The delicate embroidered wood enables the anonymous bread board to leave the kitchen and become a respected center piece.

With a protfolio of items that should definitely not be missed, Reddish takes the idea of home aesthetics to a new level - redefinig the relationship of the owner with their belonings

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Find Me: Billion To One Man

Think there's anything more to this photograph?

Well, this seemingly unexceptionally photograph of one man, a so called "Satoshi" has such a captivating story ... or rather, lack of story, that he is now in the center of a global man hunt.

No, he's not a criminal, but through the efforts of hundreds of participants the discovery of his identity has become synonymous with a massive reward. One gaming company,
Mind Candy, based in England, but now sporting a worldwide following, has created a global search for the so-called Receda Cube - a prize attainable only by solving sets of puzzle cards in the hottest new alternate reality game - Perplex City. As more cards are released, 256 in total, players strive to answer questions of varying difficulty in the hope of uncovering more information behind the nature of Perplex City, it's characters, and most importantly - the location of the Cube. With his photograph featured prominently on one of the most challenging cards in the series, Satoshi challenges Perplex City participants to go all lengths to fulfill the card's message : 私を見つけなさい = watashi o mitsukenasai = find me. And the response has been startling.

By consolidating their efforts, participants have created a grassroots search that invokes the power of the six degrees of separation principle to flood the internet with e-mails and weblinks to this man's image in the hope of finding someone who recognizes him. Websites like haveyouseenhim.info and billion2one.org have sprung up in the hopes of expediting this search. And progress is being made, with a lively forum discussion and a positive match on the location where the photo was taken (Katyserberg, Alsace, France) - following the progression of the hunt definitely makes for some pretty bizarre yet fascinating entertainment.

The most interesting thing to come out of this project, however, is the wealth of advertising being done on behalf of Mind Candy and their new brand of gaming. This business approach, which spreads word of the game through the wide reaching impact of it's challenges, not only captivates and individual's imagination, but lets them follow along with the story and become potential participants themselves by buying cards and amassing points through the main website. With the success of the Perplex City project, I look forward to future Mind Candy ventures - and, for the sake of the challenge, here's my contribution to their campain.

Still Perplexed? Here's More:

Unfiction Card Discussion Thread - Follow the Search
Official Perplex City Website - Join the Game

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Music: Hotels

For the past couple of days, I have to admit, I've been almost unequivocally mesmerized by the music of Hotels (and if anything gets me to bring out the vocabulary like that, you'd better believe it's good). With a mellow indie-pop vibe, interspersed by electronic accents, the music of Hotels definitely has a unique feel to it. While it carries an almost spacey vibe it can at the same time get across a more reticent feel. For me at least, that can be best summed up as a kind of nostalgic return to now a faint dream of having been abandoned on the docking station to the third moon of Jupiter. But hey, I've found it welcome, especially as my insomniac tendencies keep me up past a decent hour working at the computer. I'd definitely recommend Hotels as an addition to any music library, discovering them in your play list is truly a wonderful treat.

You can check them out at hotelsmusic.com

Hotels - Atlantic (mp3)
Hotels - Farewell to Love (mp3)
Hotels - Cinemascope (mp3)

The songs available are from their album Thank You For Choosing...

Update (Aug 20) -- I was checking my e-mail when I happened upon an response note from none other than Blake of the Hotels (one of the mystery men pictured to the right). I've gotta say, it's discovering the energy and amazing individuals behind these unique groups that encourages me to keep on scouring the web for such great music! Thanks for the encouragement!

Check out Hotels at their myspace home for more photos.

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The Cutest Conflict: KittenWar

The internet is known for spawning many a furious, yet utterly frivolous war. Whether it be a hypothetical battle to the death between fictional and legendary characters (as illustratred vy Grudge Match's legendary Mr T vs Mr Clean face off) or a fight to determine the victor in an Instant Messaging popularity challenge (Aim Fight) - the internet allows almost any conflict to be resolved with the sophistication of a global audience. Honestly, where would the provincial conflict of Pirates vs Ninjas be today if not for it's escalation to internet-dom, surely not on ninjapirate.com!

But, if I may, I wish to bring to light a new war - one whose implications are so far reaching that they threaten to redefine the very tenets
of cuteness!

Featured on The Colbert Report, kittenwar.com seeks the input of it's internet aud
ience to decide which, in a paired set of kittens, is cuter - ultimately allowing a given kitten to become a 'winningest' or 'losingest' bastion of cuteness.

Is Mula cuter, or will Aoong take the lead?

Ultimately though, is trivializing war in such a manner, by making it accessible to millions online and changing it's meaning to connote a thing of perference or pasttime a signal of the degeneneration of our society as a whole? Have our values have become so enmeshed in the instant-access and triviality of the web that they no longer carry an attachment to the true weight of war and conflict? Has ... oh ... wait ... what? Bitsy isn't the winningest cute kitten yet!? This is outrageous! Egregious! This means war!

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Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Japanese Name Translator

A neat website allows you to translate an American name to Japanese - very handy if you've ever had musings about an Japanese alter-ego in the Mr. Sparkle fashion. It even allows you to change the font of the characters, from Calligraphy to Traditional to Manga.

It's a fun way to pass the time, check it out. It even gives you a brief pronunciation guide. Apparently Agnes = Agunesu, though tough luck if you have a more obscure name, like Barack Obama, as the name index will redirect you to something closer to it's database ... like Brock, or Brooke. But hey, it's always useful for other politician's names, like Geroge Bush, which is pronounced Jooji - classic.

Your - Name - In - Japanese

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Mr. T 's Sound Advice

When doing anything in life, whether creating a blog for the first time or simply picking out what to wear -- it seems that the sound and universal advice of Mr. T has always aided me in pursuing the right direction. It's not just his bling, or amazing quips that attract me to this wise man's expertise, it's the unshaken faith in his own personality that makes his message all the more real and factual. That's why it seems only natural to kick off this blog with a post about Mr. T's self-assured guidelines for forming your own amazing persona. You've got to "be somebody" but additionally, know how to pull off the Mr. T style. Cause if you ain't a body, you're gonna be someone's fool, and we all know Mr. T's personal outlook on fools all too well.

If a music video and Mr. T rapping can't convince you
to formulate a personality ... I'm afraid nothing can. So, what're you waiting for, give into the catchy 80s rhythm, video montage-style, and be somebody! Just listen to those inspiring lyrics:

If anybody tries to call you square - jus' look 'em in the eye - tell 'em you don' care
If you don't wanna be a crazy foo' - you'd better study real hard an' stay in schoo'

Now everybody know Mr. T don't lie, and it ain't no fun jus' scrapin' by ...
So if you wanna be cool - jus' like me - you'd better try real hard to be somebody!

There are no truer words around:
Everybody gotta wear clothes, an' if you don't you'll get arrested. So listen to Mr. T and maybe, just maybe, you'll be as stylin' as him someday.

You don't have to give in to the fashionistas, but, just keep your eye out for the Jeff, there's no doubt that he's the "hippest cat in town" seeing as he's pulled off break dancing in a flannel shirt and red suspenders, but somehow, I just don't trust him.

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