[Surf's Up, as publishedin the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, June 12, 2008. Click here to read more columns.]
I've bookmarked a few helpful websites that handle conversions: you know, from metres to yards, pounds to dollars, centimetres to inches. But what about other, more creative conversions? Your weekly tour of the web starts there, and includes a site that plays with its words, some sources for scoping out quality photographs, and a water cooler for the Jane Austen set.
Sensible Units A metre is just over three feet in length ... but did you know it's also the same length as 20 AA batteries, laid end to end? Did you know 10 square miles is the size of 13 Monacos? Or that 100 kilograms is equal to the weight of 20 average cats? Neither did I. The cool thing about Sensible Units is that it converts various units of measurement into things that may mean something more, say, realistic. For instance, 10 metres equals 5.1 Kobe Bryants, or 2.3 double-decker buses stacked on each other. That said, I was a bit surprised that units like litres and gallons didn't trigger anything. Doesn't volume count for anything anymore?
Will you "Your friends will betray you. Time will not wait for you." Those are two of the messages that float along the screen on this page, among many, many unusual groupings of words that have only two words in common. The game: you can create your own phrase. The idea is simple: you have two blank fields, with the words "will" and "you" parked alongside them, leaving you to be creative with the words you choose. Some of the submitted phrases are a bit tasteless, so be warned. One of my favourites: "Anonymous will annoy you."
PicApp Every Stock Photo Photographic sites and services abound on the web, and here are two that are aimed at people who publish their own blogs and sites. PicApp has a rich supply of images for you to consider. You don't download what you like, but rather copy some code into your file (if working with code frightens you, you may be deterred, but it's actually really easy). Every Stock Photo boasts a free service, but that doesn't mean everything on it is free for you to use. What is free is registration. From there, you'll be directed to a library, where the licensing terms may vary from one photo to the next. It pays to read the fine print, but if you're in the business of needing to source photographic materials, you probably (and hopefully!) know all that already.
Locate TV Here's a service that has some potential. It's still in beta, which is a fancy way of saying they're still testing it out, so don't get peeved when it doesn't work. The idea is simple: type in a TV show or an actor's name, and find out when you'll next see it on the air. The beta part is key for this limitation: you have to live in the U.S., the U.K or Ireland to get locally relevant listings. That said, I liked poking around this clean and attractive site, even just to see which shows are now available on DVD.
The Republic of Pemberley How to explain the allure of Jane Austen? Apart from the often-lush film and TV adaptations of the last decade or so, Austen's novels hold up to this day, I think, because they are simply great reads. The Republic of Pemberley is named after the home of the esteemed Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, and it's a gathering ground for Austen fans ... and there's a lot of them, to judge from the activity here.
Two-bit explanation What's a bit? Why's a byte? What's a gig? They're all here. If you've always been curious, now you know.
I of course am neither a Yankee nor a "rebel" - that is, a southerner, at least in the case of this online quiz that polls Americans on their word choices. Growing up in St. John's, I was always taken how people used different words to describe the same thing (porch vs. stoop, pop vs. soda vs. Coke, which was not just a brand name but a catch-call for all kinds of like beverages). Have a go at this quiz and see what you make of it.
Jerry Dammers - the gap-toothed brains behind the Specials/ Special AKA - was joined by Amy Winehouse, of all people, to sing lead on Free Nelson Mandela for Friday's concert in Hyde Park to celebrate Nelson Mandela's forthcoming 90th birthday. Half of London appears to have joined them on stage, including some other well-known faces. (Dammers is, admittedly, not that well known; that's him on organ.)
Lest we forget how potent the original single was in 1984, when Nelson Mandela's name was far from a household word and the video itself was banned from some TV stations, here's the original version - featuring a sparkling horn arrangement and some of Elvis Costello's best production work.
George Carlin, who died Sunday, made me laugh, and frequently. When I was a teenager, I played FM & AM repeatedly, to the point that I could imitate some of his sketches (Radio WINO, you'll always have a fan in me). Carlin also had a way of making you think. This famous sketch on euphemisms and our never-ending preference to pick words that "take the life out of life" is as good a commentary I've ever heard on word choice, and the implications that come from using vague, bland, passive-voiced, abstract non-words.
How well do you know your Simpsons character? Not just the easy ones, either. This Simpsons quiz will be fun for Springfield fans: you have 63 faces to identify, and 10 minutes in which to do it. I was relieved - having watched the show steadily for years - to get them all right. Have fun.
[Surf's Up, as publishedin the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, June 5, 2008. Click here to read more columns.]
In the film version of Sex and the City that opened last weekend, there's a scene in which a distraught, hysterical Carrie Bradshaw needs to make a call, and asks a friend to lend her a phone. (Without giving too much away – it's pretty early in the film – it's important to know she's in a wedding dress, and thus doesn't have one of her own.)
She's handed an iPhone, the too-cool-for-school gadget from Apple. "I can't work this!" shrieks Carrie, or at least that's what I recall her saying. She soon gets a regular, old-fashioned phone – you know, one with buttons.
The joke got a few laughs at the screening we attended, but it's a joke with a limited shelf life. It was funnier, I'm sure, when they were shooting the movie last year, and the iPhone's sheer, slick screen was brand-new … and maybe a little intimidating to gadgetphobes.
It may even work next year, when the DVD edition still seems current. Years from now, though, I doubt the line will work at all.
Why? By then, Apple's iPhone will be as mainstream as, well, its iPod was a few years ago, and so tool will be the knockoffs and competitors.
Technology news blogs and sites top one another with advances in what's coming down the cellphone pike. Guaranteed will be the ability to stream live full-motion video over the web, right to your mobile. (Calling it a "phone" does seem a bit limiting, after all, as you may wind up only rarely using it to place a call.)
Indeed, whether or not you ever have an iPhone, I'm sure your mobile will likely become the hub of how you live. It will become your TV, your jukebox, and a Slingbox-like device that will seamlessly connect your entertainment equipment and your PC. You won't have to study a manual; you'll turn it on, like a TV set. You'll play games, manage all your communications, pay your bills, make recordings and, basically, manage every slice of minutiae in your digital life.
And we don't even have the iPhone yet in Canada. [Note: After this article appeared, a launch date of July 11 was announced.] When Rogers, which has the rights here all locked up, finally launches it, maybe we'll see plenty of Carrie Bradshaw moments all over the place.
I'm sure, though, we'll adapt.
Personally, I can live with what I have. I use an old, dented (no kidding) Motorola that has a very basic array of services. And I'm OK with it. I work at my desk most of the day, and don't need an office-on-the-go, one that fits in my pocket.
Nonetheless, I sooner or later would like a device that will make it easier for me to work on the fly. Being able to update and manage my websites – the nitty-gritty details, that is – from a coffee shop or the back of a cab? Catching up on a TV show I recorded on my PVR and dumped to my mobile, while I eat lunch at my desk? Managing the countless strands of data, from my calendar to my bank account? Watching TV – live, no buffering, in high-resolution?
Yep, those are things I would very much like to do. As much as I like the gadgets, I can wait for the right device, at the right price, to come along.
Elsewhere this week
Sketch Make a sketch, then exchange it with a total stranger. Use your mouse to draw anything you want. If you’re not impressed with your work, hit “undo” and try again. When you’re ready, click on “swap,” and your image heads off to someone, somewhere. In return, you get someone else’s sketch. It’s kind of cool. Be warned, though; there is no moderation, which means you could be sent anything.
13 Awesome Screensavers Ah, the screensaver. Before flat screens and current technologies, computer monitors had the unfriendly habit of burning in their images, should they be left alone too long. A brilliant workaround was developed: the screensaver, which not only prevented your Quattro Pro spreadsheet from becoming ingrained on your screen, but gave you, say, flying toasters or endless spirals to gaze at. Here’s a tribute to some of the best.
Here's a handy thing to bookmark, should you do a fair bit of typing and wonder how to get more out of your keyboard: alt-controlled marks, so you can create special characters (à, å, ç, etc.) and symbols (♪, ♀, ♂, etc).
Ryan Snoddon (above) joined us at the CBC bureau in St. John's a few weeks ago, to fill in for Krysta Rudofsky during her maternity leave. Last week, Ryan launched NL Weather 24/7, a new blog on the local weather. Ryan, who came to us from Peterborough, is still getting used to RDF-drenched June weather in St. John's; check out his posts as he keeps up with the one topic that is never dull.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.