Blog Archive for September 2007

Yes, It's True

As Joe Bowar says about a household member, "You act as if Dan just joined your religion." That's not true. But it's pretty exciting.

MacBook Pro

Just in case you haven't heard, I today purchased a MacBook Pro. It's a first-time Mac purchase for me, but it's been a long time coming. We'll see how much I like it, but so far, it's been great.


The New Bath & Body Works

The Old Bath & Body Works

I've once or twice been near to these stores because my sisters were in there. Well, I recently noticed their stores have a slick new look:

The New Bath & Body Works

The best part, though, is that they now have proper government-mandated warning on the front of these stores:

 Some of the items in this store and coming out from this store may cause illness, nausea, or death when inhaled.


Know Your Google Readers

With the Internet and the aggressive caching of data by almost everyone, it's hard to measure your visitors accurately. For example, Google may only check your feed once, but any number of people may be reading your site via Google Reader or iGoogle or other services. At first, they announced that you could see the amount of individual subscribers in your server access logs, but who wants to go fishing for that information? Recently, another great system of the mother company, Google Webmaster Tools, has started displaying the data as well. Check this out:

Google Webmaster Tools RSS Statistics

If you run a website, you should give Google Webmaster Tools a look. It'll give you information about how often Google is indexing your site, what keywords are performing for you, who Google sees as linking to you, and many other tools and information.


Google Presentations Now Live

Login to your Google Docs area (formerly known as Google Docs and Spreadsheets), and you can create a presentation! Now there's a free PowerPoint-ish program right on the web. I haven't tested it out yet, but it sounds interesting.

Also, to promote Docs, they came up with this kinda cheesy but also fun little video to promote Google Docs:


Keeping Spammers Away with Third-Party Tools

As anyone who runs a website these days knows, spam on the internet is becoming more and more of a problem. It's hard to keep up with it on your own. That's why you don't do it on your own. Here are a couple free services to install on your website to keep the spam away.

Akismet is my favorite tool and I use it on almost all my sites that use WordPress or Drupal. Content submitted to your server gets passed to Akismet's servers and their service says it's good or not. On WordPress, the spam doesn't even show up in the comment moderation queue. On Drupal, I have it set so you have to approve them, but it makes it easier to tell which ones are spam or not. Also, they have built in the opportunity to teach the Akismet servers as well, for you can after the fact mark a spam as "ham" or notify them that a good comment was actually spam. In the future, Akismet's filtering systems will take it into account.

reCAPTCHA is a newer service that I have not used as much, but it seems to be promising as well. (A CAPTCHA is one of those images where you have to type the letters in to get past them. It's supposed to tell if you're a computer or not.) Instead of giving a CAPTCHA that is easy for a modern computer to read via OCR or providing one that's so hard to read that not even humans can do it half the time (like Ticketmaster, Google, and vBulletin do), this system uses words that OCR can't read. The reCAPTCHA team out at Carnegie Mellon University has been digitizing books via OCR document scanning, and reCAPTCHA is words that the character recognition system could not recognize. They slightly skew them and draw a line through them, but they are much more readable than most CAPTCHAs. When you visit a reCAPTCHA-enabled page, you get two words from their database, one which the system knows and the other which it is unsure about. If you get the first one right, it'll assume you're a human and got the second one. After double-checking the second word with a number of other reCAPTCHA users, it knows it is correct, thus verifying humanness and helping to digitize books. I haven't used it on any of my sites, but a couple phpBB installs here at work were having trouble with spammers registering, and added the reCAPTCHA system to the login form via their plug-ins page totally took away the user registration problem immediately. (They have plug-ins for WordPress, Drupal, MediaWiki and many more as well.)

The best thing about these tools is that you don't have to manage them. Just a couple minutes of adding some code and registering for access gets you all these features for free. But by far the best benefit is what you only get when hundreds and thousands of websites are using these systems: a look at the global spam systems and a better chance to block them. For example, I could run a blacklist of sites just for my WordPress comments, but that would be a huge undertaking. Akismet already caught over 7 million spam today, so they have a good idea of what computers are most likely sending spam. They maintain the blacklists and other filtering for me, and out of the goodness of their heart, it's free for personal users. In the same way, reCAPTCHA also blocks sites that are already sending too much spam their way so I don't have to worry about it. Joining these big guys in fighting spam is the way to make sure our blogs stay safe from spam and also helps others who sign up for the program too.


Like Music? I Want Your Help!

As many of you know, for almost a decade now I've been running a music review website. It started out on GeoCities, but thanks to the writing and hard work of many people, it's been at for years, and it did pretty well as an independent, alternative source for honest reviews of Christian music. It was a good run, but in the last couple years the contributors have just gotten too busy with family and other commitments so the site has lacked a bit.

For the last year, we've been slowly building a new site, Over the years, we've found, like many Christians, that the small subcategory of "Christian" music does very little to define the listening habits or lives of most Christians. With, we're hoping to build a group of Christians who like writing about music and sharing some of their favorite music.

Speaking of which, this is where y'all come in. I know that many of you, as Christian brothers and sisters and (some of you) members of the People of Praise, enjoy music a lot. We enjoy all kinds of music - not just "Christian" music, but music by rappers, rockers, and folk artists (among others) who have something meaningful to say. (Let's face it, I also listen to some who probably don't have much to say too.)

I'm looking for people to write for the site. Our writing staff at the moment is very small, and we'd love to put out more reviews, but that takes people and time. Writing really isn't that hard, especially when it's about an artist or album that you're really passionate about. Or, if you're a music lover who wants practice in writing, this is a great place to start too. Not many of us, and certainly not me, are considered professional writers, but we strive to write honest, in-depth critiques of the music we hear and the music we love.

We've got a number of things lined up for this coming year, and if you're interested in joining us, please contact us at We'd love to have a regular commitment of about one review per month, but just a good one-time feature or review is great. Also, persons to cover music news or maybe even avid music listeners who just want to blog free-form about it are welcome. There's no pay at this point, but if we can start to sell advertising and cover costs in the future, there may be some. This isn't just open to you as my friends, but if you know anyone who is interested please pass on the word.

In other news, to better keep the website going, I'm thinking of getting a new computer, more specifically a MacBook Pro. If anyone has any comments or thoughts on other computer options, I'd love to hear what you think.


Apple and the New iPods

Well, the crowd has spoken, so I'll rise to the occasion, I guess. (Oh wait, that was only one person or 1/15th of my known audience.) Anyways, I'm posting her to cover the latest Apple announcement event because my sister thinks I need to cover it.

iPod shuffles in all their bland colorsThe iPods have gotten an overhaul for the holidays. The iPod shuffle is the most boring, as usual, as it now comes in a set of their new, rather muted colors. White and blacks are replaced with more gray-leaning tones, and the hot colors have given way to more bland colors.

The tiny iPod nanoThe most popular iPod line ever, the iPod nano, has gotten the biggest overhaul. The new nano is a bunch wider, but that's to fit a gorgeous high-resolution 2" screen. With the higher-quality screen, they can now fit the controls snugly on the left side and give you more eye candy like album covers on the left side. Also, Steve Jobs seems to be the only one who actually browses by Cover Flow, so it's on here too. Another big step is this tiny thing that fits in the palm of your hand plays videos for hours. I don't know who wants to watch a movie on a 2" screen, but if you want to now, you can. These little guys are only $149 for 4GB and $199 for 8GB.

These iPod classics really are small for their capacityWith very little fanfare they introduced the iPod classic, which used to be just called the iPod. I heard some Mac pundits say that they doubt the iPod classic will be around for long, but there's still some of us who like to carry all 15,000 songs in our picket for those road trips. And with 80GB for $249 and a whopping 160GB for $349, these things are even smaller and have more capacity than ever before. Plus, the bigger screen and all the new features of the iPod nano are in there too. Oh yeah, both the iPod nano and iPod classic have a couple new games included on the system, including a quiz game and a click wheel version of Breakout called Vortex.

The iPod touch main menuWe were all wondering when the iPod would become more like the iPhone, and today it happened. The iPod touch is an iPhone nano in an iPhone's body, basically. The beautiful, large touchscreen takes center stage with this product, of course. Also, for as low as $249, this new device is what Apple is turning into a PDA platform, because the iPod touch has wireless and Safari built in. It's quite impressive, but why leave out Mail and Google Maps? Also, I totally don't want YouTube on my iPhone or iPod touch, but . Why wants to watch all those crappy videos? The only ones I watch are behind the scenes videos of bands, really.

The iPhone’s many phasesThe last big product news was the quick mention of an iPhone price drop. Until this week, iPhones were $599, but now they're only $399. This is getting close to selling them with a small profit margin, and I guess Apple decided to go for market penetration instead of big profits faster than any of us expected. Hopefully the stockholders will figure out this is a good thing, honestly. A day after the announcement, Steve Jobs vowed in a letter that they'd be giving all the early adopters a $100 store credit, because apparently people don't know how early adoption of a technology product works. (Or, for that matter, any technology product.)

The iPod touch at the Starbucks page in iTunes Wi-Fi Music StoreThe final item is a nice upgrade to the iTunes Music Store that we've thought may be coming for a while: the ability to purchase songs on your iPod touch or iPhone anywhere with Wi-Fi. They call it the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, and songs downloaded directly to these devices are synced back up with your computer when you connect to iTunes. The interface looks pretty good, but what about the real good features? I want a podcast client that I can update at any Wi-Fi spot if I'm really gonna buy one of these things!

In the "crappy" department of the event, Steve Jobs announced that you can now get music ringtones for your iPhone. Sure, you can get a ringtone from over 500,000 songs in the iTunes store, and you can select any bit of the song via a handy ringtone maker. But, why not just make them from any song in my library? Of course, because some idiot actually pays $2.49 to listen to a song ring on their phone. Thankfully, Apple's gonna be slightly more civil, only charging you $2.00! Please, I'll stick with the beautiful ringers that come with the phone.

The Whole iPod FamilyAnd, finally, the CEO of Starbucks came to announce that Apple and Starbucks are teaming up. When browsing the iTunes Store near a Starbucks, you will be able to browse a list of recently played songs as well as some special collections that Starbucks put together. The only thing good on their menu are the Izze's fruit drinks since there hasn't been a Jones Soda there the last couple times I've been in to the home of the $5.00 coffee.

All in all, the Apple event was interesting and I think Apple will sell well this Christmas season. Who knows when they'll start opening up their new iPod/iPhone platform.


Zip Code Google Maps

Ever knew where you were but needed to know the zip code? Bookmark this Zip Code Map site and you'll be set for life. Look at this in all its glory:

Zip Code Map of Dowtown Minneapolis Area


Critical Mass: Biking for No Reason

A number of times in the last year or two I've seen this phenomenon where the street is taken over by a couple hundred bikers. I had noticed it a couple times, but it seemed like maybe it was a one-time or seldom-practiced demonstration. After seeing it a couple more times and hearing that they did it in San Francisco as well, I realized it was a much bigger event.

Critial Mass down UniversityAlthough the event, which is called Critical Mass and happens throughout the world in many major cities, is very unorganized by design, it obviously is a program that promotes cycling in one way or another. Here in Minneapolis, as in most places, people gather on their bikes and ride through the streets of the city together on the last Friday of the month. In Minneapolis they bike north on Hennepin Ave. through downtown and then down University through the U of M area.

The first Critical Mass event took place in September 1992 in San Francisco as a protest of how unfriendly to bikes the city strets were. Since then, it seems that Critical Mass has become worlwide and less goal-focused. One constant, though, is that the large mass of a couple hundred bikers have decided to bike through the streets of cities disregarding any sort of traffic rules, stoplights, or cross traffic. Because it is so big and so purpsefully unorganized, it also seems that members seem to relish the incidents with police or citizens.

I think that, in general, Critical Mass gives the wrong impression to society. Those who are trying to get home from work through downtown are just annoyed by a couple minutes of cyclists blocking their way. I enjoy biking around town, but I respect all rules and signals while biking, of course. I just think that, if anything, the general populace (and maybe the city) will just consider Critical Mass to be a bunch of annoying hippies trying to piss us off and not some sort of protest. Plus, I thnk the Twin Cities, at least, has plenty of support for cyclists with plenty of bike lanes throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul and a pretty extensive network of trails. It seems that it's pretty unneccesary to me.