Merry Day-After-Christmas!

I hope you had a better day than these two did:

Merry Christmas!

<creepyvoice>Hello, children….</creepyvoice>

I had a great Christmas. I got all kinds of neat stuff! I’ve been playing with my new iPod for hours, finding album art for all of my music, migrating my list of podcasts from Juice into iTunes, and just cleaning everything up. (Goodbye and good riddance to Windows Media Player 11. iTunes is a joy to use by comparison. I keep finding out about neat features, like the fact that you can preset the equalizer settings for each song if you want)

I also got a neat 300-in-1 Electronics Kit. You’re asking yourself: Is J.D. Harper a ten-year-old? No. I’ve always wanted to learn basic electronics, and this particular kit was recommended by Make Magazine for that purpose. I used to have a 30-in-1 kit from the 1970’s. While this kit taught ultra-basic electronics, it was not very good at all, especially considering that it was deteriorated and some of the parts didn’t work. (Thank you, Goodwill.)

So, I’ve been learning how to figure out the strength of a resistor by reading the colored bands on their side and what a transistor does. All kinds of fun.

Other Christmas Fun: I enjoy buying presents for people that aren’t on their lists. This is dangerous, because you can end up buying someone something they don’t like, but it’s also more rewarding, because it means that you put more thought into the gift. This year went well; I think I found something everyone wanted or could use. I got my dad a program that schedules bids for things on eBay, so he can bid on something five seconds before the auction ends without having to remember to get to the computer at that time. I got Jason a USB-powered rocket launcher (which should be great fun at the BJU library). I got Jesse, my youngest brother, a castle expansion set for the board game Heroscape. (We played with it today; the castle looks really, really cool, and it was a lot of strategic fun as well.).

My mom’s present was a little more difficult to find. She has a big interest in missionary stories, and one of her favorites is the story of Jim Elliot and four other missionaries who were killed by the Huaorani Indians (then called the Auca Indians) in Ecuador. The wives of several of these missionaries returned to Huaorani Indians, and were able to convert them to Christianity. The story attracted the attention of Life Magazine, which published a photo essay about the Huaorani in 1956.

So, at one point, my Mom mentioned that she would like to see the original Life magazine article. I noted this and started looking for it. Eventually, with the help of the great online community at Metafilter, I was able to located an eBay auction with the magazine issue in it. Incidentally, this lot had something like forty other life magazines in it from the same year; if you want a 1956 issue of Life Magazine, I probably have a copy.

She seemed to enjoy it.

So how about you guys? Get or give anything interesting this year?

Book Tag

My mom wants me to play a game of Book Tag.

1. Grab the book closest to you.
2. Open to page 123, go down to the 4th sentence.
3. Post the text of the following 3 sentences on your blog.
4. Name of the book and the author.
5. Tag three people of your own.

Here’s the quote:

You can use five-by-eight inch index cards to make your own blank schedule, or adapt it to whatever schedule format is already in your daily appointment book. Note that I’ve left you twenty-four hours to schedule work and play. This way you account for every hour, including sleep and meals.

That’s from The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore, Ph.D. Recommended to me by Merlin Mann of 43Folders.com. I’ve been meaning to read it for a couple of months now. But I’m not procrastinating, really!

I Tag:

The Future of the Newspaper

World News Page When I first heard about the New York Times Reader, I thought: “That’s stupid. Why would I want that when my RSS feeds are so much more efficient?” But today, I finally tried it, and it’s amazing.

The NYT Reader is a bit of software available from the Times website. When you run the program, it downloads all of the day’s news onto your computer. Each section–like World, U.S., Business, or Opinion–has a page that lists the relevant headlines for that section. When you click on a story, the reader lays out the information in a newspaper-like columnar format (3 columns at the default font size on my 1024×768-sized laptop, although it reconfigures based on screen size, so a larger screen would have more columns, rather than just wider columns).

Why use this instead of an RSS reader? RSS and the NYT Reader are two different tools with two separate purposes.

RSS is for consolidating lots of news sources into one place, letting you grab information from all over the blogosphere at once. With RSS, I find myself skimming through everything. Engadget and Gizmodo, for example, put out so much content each that I find myself glancing at the headline and the picture, and then skipping to the next story, often in under a second, only stopping to read when something catches my eye.

Article View The NYT Reader is a little different; it’s designed for browsing, not for speed-reading. I find that the New York Times reader is easier to go through at a slower pace, partially because the volume of information is so much lower than a fully-loaded RSS reader.

The other reason is design. HTML and it’s associated technologies are limiting when it comes to layout and graphics design. The Reader’s adaptive columnar layout would be difficult to implement on a web page. Decent fonts are currently impossible with HTML and CSS. Because there’s no cross-platform way for web developers to embed fonts in web pages, they are limited to less than a dozen standard fonts.

The Reader software bypasses these problems and lets the Times capitalize on its long experience with the newspaper format. The Times Reader uses an easy-to-read font and maintains the easy-to-read column lengths. It can scale the fonts to a larger or smaller size, and continues to look attractive even at the largest font sizes. There are no scroll bars anywhere; if you article goes beyond one page, just push the down arrow to bring up the next page. To move to the next article, just hit the right arrow.

You can also easily save or print articles–which print as beautifully as they appear on the screen–and you can highlight and make notes on individual articles. There’s even a “News In Pictures” view that displays a slide show of the pictures of the day; click on a picture, and you can read the associated article.

The only downside: This program requires Microsoft .Net version 3. If you don’t already have this installed, the Reader Installer will go ahead and download it for you, but this process will take a long time. Fortunately, you only have to install it once. From then on, it’s smooth sailing.

The New York Times Raeder an absolutely beautiful program, exceptionally well-designed. I only wish my local paper, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, had a similar service. But since the H-J is a NYT affiliate, there is yet hope!

In the future, when the electronic newspaper finally supplants the dead-tree newspaper at the breakfast table, this is how the news will look.

ANTI-DISCLAIMER: I’ve received no money or incentive from the NYT or any of its affiliates to write this entry. I just think it’s a great piece of software you should try.

Photo Hunt: Red

PSHunt

Grab the Scavenger Hunt code.
Photo Theme: Red. Join the blogroll. Visit participants.
I know, I know. I’m late. Sorry. For my penance, I’ll put up two pictures instead of just one.
Santa!
This inflatable guy was outside Jake’s Christmas Trees, where we’ve bought our Christmas trees for the past several years. He looks… concerned.
For Sale
This is a car that Jake is trying to sell. A very nice 1964 Chevy Impala for $12,000.

Internet Quiz: Accents

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

“You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

What American accent do you have?

This is odd, since I’ve never lived north of the Mason-Dixon line. I’m thankful though; it prevents people from assuming that I’m some stupid back-water redneck. Sorry folks, a southern drawl is a disadvantage when it comes to first impressions.