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Electronic airline boarding pass hitting .500

En route to the Google developer’s conference, I tried an electronic boarding pass (the kind you can show on your phone) for the first time. The TSA kiosk did great, but the AA scanner couldn’t read it, right when dozens of people were behind me trying to board. They ended up typing in my seat manually.

Also, it was actually a little uncomfortable to not have the piece of paper, knowing that my phone needed to (a) not run out of battery and (b) stay on one page in the browser and/or be ready for the tens-of- seconds reload if I want to surf away to some other site and/or app. And having to hand your phone to strangers frankly feels a little bit invasive.

I think I may actually stick with paper for the time being, as cool as not having to worry about it can be.

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Ert’s a dad

Hey, I’m a new dad to a big, beautiful baby girl!

A tired new dad.  More info soon.

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My favourite iTunes playlist

So I actually rate my songs in iTunes:  Assuming that the vast majority of songs I own are in my library for a reason, two stars is my baseline for unremarkable tracks, three stars is a reasonably enjoyable song, four is a really good and memorable song, and five stars is reserved for my all-time favourites.  The garbage gets one star.

I have a smart playlist that collects the fifty least recently played four and five star songs — songs that I like a lot but haven’t heard in a while.  Then I put that list on shuffle or, even better, start iTunes DJ up, using that playlist as its source material.  As songs get played they automatically fall off the list and get replaced by other oldies but goodies.

I also have another, shorter, playlist that collects just the dusty three-star songs, and then a third playlist that merges the first two.  So I get a playlist that is mostly songs I really like but also mixes in a bit, yet not too much, stuff that I like to hear now and then but not too often.

This does not stop iTunes from being a bloated non-command-line monstrosity, but it does make me happy.

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The 2010s TV plunge

We were still getting “Basic” and “Expanded Basic” Cable TV in addition to broadband with our Comcast account.  Besides the having-a-baby household budget analysis that brought scrutiny to the cable bill, the Comcast transition over to digital in December introduced a couple of converter boxes into our lives — boxes that are still sitting unpacked in the baby’s room a couple of months after all the analog Expanded Basic channels went away and we failed to notice their absence.

Far from my near-daily consumption of The Daily Show that the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign saw, this sole cable show that had once argued for a $400+/yr cable package can now be bought for $125/yr on iTunes, assuming I was watching every episode, not to mention simply watched piecemeal on the Comedy Central site.  Dollhouse we were watching on Hulu last autumn in a vain attempt to help get the show renewed, and pretty much everything else is Netflix nowadays.  The radio shows are almost all podcasts now.  And my recent media-unifying installation of Plex on the living room computer was really the nail in the coffin.

So, there it is.  I just cancelled everything but Basic cable (and would’ve cancelled that, too, if they didn’t demand you pay them for it with the broadband regardless of whether or not you use it).  They’re sending someone physically out to the house with some wire cutters or a hacksaw in a couple of days.

It seems to me the FCC is totally on the right track with the broadband-centric plan.  Maybe we’ll even be able to unsubscribe from Basic cable one day.

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Strangely charmed

A visit to a nuclear power plant while in my teens originally introduced me to the idea of substituting the periodicity in the periodic table of the elements with neutron count to give a sense of the known isotopes for each element.  But, while previously aware of strangeness, my periodic dips into 21st century particle physics had not previously acquainted me with the existence of a three-dimensional non-periodic table of the elements, splaying nuclides out according to their atomic number and neutron count and then stacking them up the more strange they got.

The discovery this month of an antihypernucleus, strange antimatter with an antistrange quark, started building this table down instead of up, adding stuff in the opposite direction from the stuff that is perpendicularly arranged from all the stuff that I have in my house.

I, for one, applaud the terrestrial creation of hydrogen that is measurably less strange than everything else I’ve ever owned.  It even appears to be colour-coded magenta so I can easily identify it when I encounter it.

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The cost of a book in Boston

My wife and I have a lot of books.  About a thousand, in fact.  Not as many as some, but more than many others.  So many books we have, in fact, that we’re making a baby to help shoulder the load of reading them all.

The baby apparently comes with needs beyond books, though, and we’re currently rearranging the house to make room for those needs that take up material space.  Baby clothes, for example.  And that’s forcing us to come to grips with exactly how many books we’re housing, and that line of thinking led me to wonder exactly how much we’re paying to store the books (nevermind purchase them).

So.  We have a three bedroom flat in the greater Boston area.  Wandering over to Craigslist and grabbing the first 1000 listings, I find the average asking price for a three bedroom apartment in the Boston area.  $2,913.88, as it happens.

Then I do the same for an average four bedroom.  $3,325.29 as of the moment.

So if we were renting an average three bedroom in the Boston area and found ourselves so bursting at the seams with books we needed a bigger place, we could move to a place with an extra room for an extra $400 a month or so.  Sounds about right.

Let’s say it’s an average-sized room, perhaps 10′ x 11′, so 110′ of wall, less about 11′ for a door, couple of windows, and (ha!) a closet.  So 100 linear feet of wall space.

Counting up a few shelves of books around the house, I find that each book averages about 1″ of shelf space, give-or-take.  And our bookshelves are six shelves high.

So that extra $400 a month, assuming we use all the wall space for bookshelves and stick a work table or something in the middle of the room, gets us space for another 7200 books.  That’s about 5.5¢ per book per month, or 67¢ per book per year.

So a decade of storing a paperback costs us as much as the original book cost.

Hm.  Time to get sliding library shelves.  Or a more compact baby.

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Olympic medals per capita

My cousin just won her third and final gold medal on the Canadian women’s hockey team (woo!), so I was poking around the olympics today for snippets.  I found an interesting analysis by Richard Florida in The Atlantic calculating a Winter Olympic Medals Per Capita metric.

I certainly expected such a ranking to drop the U.S. a fair amount, but was surprised to see how far Canada drops, too.  Norway just dominates, roughly doubling the second-placed competitor in both the 2010 and all-history rankings.  (Now I know where to go skiing next!)

What also really struck me is how much of the map isn’t coloured in.  Most of the world really couldn’t give a flying fig about the winter olympics, y’know?

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Well, *that* was cool

This week we went to chilly Florida, where we got to see the last (scheduled) nighttime Space Shuttle launch.

The first night we were treated to a few of the wee hours hanging out in Space View park, freezing along with a few hundred other wanna-sees.  As the launch window approached our few hundred friends ballooned to a few thousand, all present to share the launch scrubbing.  Space shuttles fear clouds.

The second night we brilliantly reserved a walking-distance hotel, allowing us to sleep until the magic hour of 3am and then stumble down the street to a more intimate gathering near a local pump station of some variety.  A 4 ish year old was complaining about being hauled out of bed to sit in the cold, giving voice to everyone’s inner thoughts.  And then there was a mumbled new-year’s-eve-esque countdown among the people who actually had access to inside information.  My iPhone’s data connection had long ago been overwhelmed by everyone sharing the local cell tower.

I had already digested the idea that I’d be going to see a cool significant historic event, but somehow I hadn’t really processed the idea that I’d be seeing the biggest fireworks show that I’ve ever attended.  Four million pounds of fuel, give-or-take, 95% of what’s on the launchpad.

So my new friends finish the countdown, and someone lights the wick.  And it’s suddenly daylight.  Several people, myself included, are unable to resist saying “wow” aloud.  Repeatedly.

A while later, the sound arrives.  And gets louder.  And louder.  Before the peak I start getting worried that the sound is going to hurt, but it peaks well below there.  Still, I figure the whole Florida Atlantic coast is awake at this point.

Before and after pictures below.  You’ve got four more chances.

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The bad old days

Listening to NPR’s 50 Great Voices this morning, and one interviewee’s description of Ahmad Zahir as a great voice because he reminded people of the “good old days” of the 1970s, I had a rapid-fire barrage of impressions.  ”Good old days?  1970s?  Rising crime?  Stagflation?  Watergate?  Vietmam?  Oil shocks?  Are you remembering the same 1970s as I am?”

Of course he wasn’t, he was remembering the Afghan 1970s, and this was the first time I considered that Afghanistan probably indeed remembers the 1970s comparatively as the golden years before things seriously went downhill.

Really, I should associate the 1970s with Pierre Trudeau and Tom Baker, which have good associations in my mind, but years of steeping myself in American views of…well, everything…has left me with a pervasive Hollywood dull colour rear-view of the 1970s.  I find myself wondering if any American thinks of the 1970s as the “good old days.”

Which then led me to wonder if anyone will think of the naughts as the good old days.  I got married, and I suppose there’s some Web 2.0 fans and Google employees who also have some fond memories of the last decade, but from a larger perspective don’t we really all want to forget that it ever happened?

I mean, they even cancelled Firefly.

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Wonderflonium’s avatar is unobtanium

A few years ago I read an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone about their choices when creating “Team America: World Police” that they considered the possibility of doing an all-puppet version of a Jerry Bruckheimer script instead of writing a new script.  In effect, the puppets would be a little flag that says to audiences “OK, this time you’re supposed to laugh at this movie instead of cheer it on.”

So, when watching Avatar last night, it seems they said “unobtainium.”  A few times.  The characters.  On screen.  And I thought “wait, did they just say ’unobtanium’?  Like, in the post-script-editing, still audible in the final release way?  Because I think that’s a ‘laugh at this movie now’ flag.  Take a Jerry Bruckheimer script, add the word ‘unobtanium’ into it, and then audiences know they’re supposed to laugh at this one.  Right?”

That said, visually stunning.  Well worth seeing it in 3D if you’re going to see it.  Also well worth not seeing if you’re looking for anything other than the visually stunning thing.

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