Category Archives: Mouthinkin

Chess Opening Principles

Up front, I am far from being a chess master.  If you’re experienced enough to know that you’re not very good, we’d probably have a decent game.  But, I’ve done some research on chess openings, and played quite a few games, and would like to put together a quick, accessible summary of some sound opening principles.

These opening principles are guidelines: you will find plenty of exceptions as you play.  But faced with so many options, this should help to narrow them down.

What is the opening for?

In general, the opening is for:

  • developing pieces
  • protecting the king
  • controlling the center

One of the first things you’ll find as your game improves is that you are not trying to win in the opening.  You are just laying the foundations for a sound middle game.  As we learn in life, a strong opening is the key to creating your own luck.

The opening challenge

Almost all openings begin with either e4 or e5 for white.  This is a play for the center.  Black often responds in kind.  The key here is that white plays first.  That 1/2 move advantage is large for white, enough so that white and black typically have different goals in the opening: white’s goal is to secure an advantage, whereas black’s goal is to achieve equality.

The chess narrative

A chess match has three components: the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame.  Not so unlike a book.  And similar to a book, it can be a bit unclear as to when one ends and the next one begins.  So think of the opening as the part of the book where the story is established.  The characters get introduced, the major themes may be outlined, the world is described.  But more subtly, the pacing of the story may be set, the writing style and intentions laid out.

Similarly in chess, the opening gives players a chance to horse trade to achieve their desired narrative, which takes shape in the middle game.  In the opening, characters are introduced in the form of pieces being played to key squares.  Subtle differences can lead to a majestic and sweeping middlegame with valiant piece exchanges, or it can lead to a calculatingly tactical set of skirmishes for control of a single key square.

As you advance, you’ll discover ways to guide a game to become the type of game that you would like to play, which includes guiding a game to become the type of game that your opponent does not want to play.

The tactics

Here are some rules of thumb that I have found useful:

  • Don’t move a piece twice (this includes pawns) – it’s all about rapid development at this point.  Moving a piece twice is often a waste of time because the narrative has not yet unfolded.
  • Only move the King and Queen pawns eatly
  • Knights then Bishops – in the quest for efficient development, knights are often the easiest to deploy.  There are really only two squares where you’d want to move a knight: the bishop file, or the next one towards the center.  The Bishop has several more to choose from, so you may like to let the narrative unfold a bit before introducing this character.
  • Knights and Bishops then Rooks – the rook is very powerful, but takes time to unleash correctly.  Leave it home until you see where it will unleash maximum firepower.
  • Castle, please Castle – This protects the king, connects the rooks, and develops a rook, all in one move!  Just do it, do it early, and do it kingside.
  • When in doubt, castle – I like to get my development on as quickly as possible.  Usually at some point I’m not sure where I want to go next, so Bam!  Castle, done.  Castling when your opponent castles can help too.
  • Develop your side of the board – it’s dangerous across the border.  Your pieces will be subject to attack by lowly pawns, which will force them to move twice.
  • Play for the center – The four squares in the middle are the most strategic positions to own early in the game.  Play to them, support them, own them

The principles

Fast, solid development is the key to a strong middle game.  To think about the speed of a game, the notion of tempo was introduced.  While it is roughly the same as a move, there is a critical difference: you can gain and lose tempo over your opponent.  To gain tempo, you make moves that cause your opponent to waste moves.  An easy example of this is attacking while developing.  You make a move towards the middlegame, while forcing your opponent to react to you.  To give an idea of the importance of tempo in chess, black starts the game down one tempo, and overcoming that is one of black’s primary goals.

Controlling the center of the board allows you the most freedom while restricting your opponent.

A strong pawn structure is crucial.  Moving  just one pawn wrong can expose your king and cause you to waste tempi in protecting your line.  Try to leave the kingside pawns home to protect the king for castling, and delay moving the queenside pawns until you have a goal for them.

What’s next?

Play some games.  Get used to the tactics and principles.  Read further.  For reference, these are some good articles in the same area:

http://www.chess-strategies-tactics.com/chess-opening-principles

http://www.chess.com/blog/NimzoRoy/chess-opening-principles

Read books, play through some games.  I recommend studying Capablanca, as I find his games incredibly clear for such a high level.

Then, learn a few openings.  Two or three are good for a start…one as white, and then a black response to P-K4 and P-Q4 each.  I’m always amazed at how quickly games diverge from the openings.  But you will notice themes.

MS Flight: they still don’t get it

Well, I have to say, I’m a bit sad.  I have really enjoyed MS Flight.  It seemed to be targeted at the casual Flight Simmer.  I suppose that would be me.  I like FSX as well, but it’s a bit clunky, and very full-featured.  When I feel like some defined missions or lightweight adventures, MS Flight is great.  The graphics and performance are nice on my system.

I just read today that they’ve cancelled the program, which is too bad.  I do hope for the best for the team behind MS Flight.

Carbon Cub above Alaska
Southern Alaska in my Carbon Cub over  beautiful scenery, but I can’t get into the cockpit!

The Pricing Model

I really appreciated the idea behind the Flight pricing model, as variant on the freemium DLC model.  Basically, you could download and play the game for free with a limited amount of scenery and planes.  The limited scenery consisted of one Hawaiian Island and a couple planes.  You could then purchase the rest of Hawaii, or a few additional planes.  Or they offered the bundle for 25 or 30 dollars.  At the same time, it was possible to purchase the bundle through Steam for $15, which I promptly did.

They later offered an Alaska pack as well, along with one additional plane.

The Content

Overall, the content is beautiful.  The water is beautifully rendered, shadows and skylines are great, and the towering cliffs look fantastic.  Scenery feels unique, not tiled.

The Gameplay

Well, it appears that the hardcore simmers aren’t too pleased with the gameplay.  They miss being able to fly anywhere.  There’s a shortage of planes, and no big ones, gliders, or helis.  There’s a limited amount of customization available.  And honestly, I think the hardcore simmers prefer a more spartan UI.

I’d like to be able to build a flight plan and use it.

The missions are fun and challenging, and I enjoy the occasional aerocache hunt.

So what’s the problem?

After so much experience with their Flight Simulator series, and success, why would MS discount the industry that they helped to create?  There are a ton of companies build around custom scenery, planes, add-ons, hardware, consoles, and chassis.  MS Flight doesn’t support any of them.  MS decided to go it alone.  Would the iPhone have been successful if Apple had squashed 3rd party apps?  It would still just be a phone that browses.  How could MS have missed this opportunity?  For relatively little work, they could have enabled 3rd party developers to release scenery, planes, missions, and more, through their proprietary “app store”, all the while, raking in the easy money.

Instead of raking in easy money, they chose to keep it closed and go it alone.  Well, it worked well for them in the 90s, why not now?

It’s tricky though

In the end, MS did bite of a pretty complex problem.  They attempted to take niche product and grow the market.  Unfortunately, they appear to have alienated their existing customer base by not offering something that appealed to them and snubbing their entire commercial advocate community.  At the same time, they offered a product to the commodity gaming market that isn’t exactly “fun”.  Flight simulators aren’t exactly a “fun” game, which is probably why they’re niche in the first place.  Rather than fun, they deliver an experience.  It’s occasionally fun, but that’s not what keeps me coming back.  It’s challenging and educational.  It puts me in places to see places around me from a new perspective.  It’s flying, and it’s not for everyone.

So what could they do better?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has some good suggestions as to what could have saved MS Flight.  Among them are additional planes (such as gliders and helicopters).  While I’m pretty happy with Hawaii and Alaska for flying around in, I probably won’t be forever.  I enjoy using  Orbx’s Pacific Northwest scenery to explore the areas I most often go.  Sadly, this will probably never be an option for MS Flight.

The Steam thing was really confusing for me.  I purchased the DLC, then they made me install Steam and run Flight through there, and I don’t know why or what it meant.  Why not just offer the discount themselves instead of some weird bait-and-switch maneuver.  Oh, well.

Community.  I’ve flown a bit with others in MS Flight.  It was pretty fun.  Tools to help people be in a community would be handy.

Tools for the newb.  Flight simming is much more fun if you aren’t just flying.  Provide tools and guidance for building flight plans, and for connecting with experienced flyers.

The comments on this thread from passionate flight simmers are quite telling as well:

“If only MS realised from the start that it was us FREEWARE developers that really made the FS franchise it is today….. ” – 7107delicious

“Microsoft did without a doubt take their eye off the ball. We’ve been loyal to them for many years; this last go round we were treated like the unseen red-headed step children of the software world.” – Aaron aka Stretch

Conclusion

MS Flight is a great product.  The experience is quality, the visuals are solid.  But MS managed to not learn from their own experience, and from the successes of others.  I guess it’s just too bad that MS keeps making these silly mistakes over and over.  They continually release a solid product that is just subtly yet significantly flawed.

But MS continues to underestimate the power of community, and how communities react.  They seem to live in this world where they believe one action has no effect on another.  (their wooing of the OSS community is another wonderful tale I witnessed).  If you have a bunch of people who support you, at least let them think that you’re supporting them back.

Simplify

I’m embarking on a new mission with my family to simplify our lives and get out of debt. We’ve somehow managed to drive our credit card debt well into the 5 figures, and that’s not sitting too well.  We are working on becoming aggressive towards our debt.  Here are the initial steps we’ve taken to eliminate this burden.

  • Stop using credit cards
  • Move cc balances to 0% interest account
  • Kill debt with savings
  • Consolidate subscriptions
  • Question purchases
Debt in the cross hairs
This is where we’re at after an initial paydown, and the consolidation in progress.

 

Stop using credit cards

This has been a huge shift.  Enticed by my REI dividends, I’ve been using my REI card for years.  At first I had the intention of paying monthly, but then a large expense would hit, and it would carry.  The balance would cascade and build and then everything else was a drop in the pan.  Credit card is out of the wallet now.

I used my credit card to pay my subscriptions and have online for the Apple store, Amazon, Playstation Network, Google, and others.  It’s how I paid my gym membership, Netflix, and just about everything else.  Everything is being moved to our account at our credit union.  Almost everything is there now, but there are still a few lingering.

I use Mint to see what’s still hitting the credit card, then seek and destroy.

Move cc balances to 0% interest account

Since I’m not going to be able to annihilate my credit card debt in one fiscal quarter, I decided to take advantage of some 0% balance transfer offers.  For 3% of the total balance, I’d be off the hook on interest for a year.  3% is $300 for every $10,000 in debt you’re carrying.  The credit cards run around 12% give or take, so that same $10,000 costs about $100 per month.  So I transferred everything I wasn’t confident that I could pay down in 3-4 months.

Kill debt with savings

This one might be a bit controversial, but the interest on a savings account is much lower then the interest on a credit card.  So, we’re paying down the debt with savings.  I guess if we’re struck with an emergency we end up going back to the credit card, or hitting a retirement account.  But I think it’s key to eliminate this debt, so the snake will be eating its tail for the next year.

Consolidate subscriptions

We’re investigating ways to consolidate our online subscriptions.  For example, we both splurged on spotify accounts.  We now share one account, saving $10/mo. We also share a kindle account.   Now I need to figure out how to share our google account.

Question purchases

Still working this one out, but we’re taking a stronger look at our discretionary expenses.  No more “hey, this magazine looks like fun” types of expenses.  So far I’ve managed to cut this fairly dramatically, but still looking at drawing the actual numbers out of it.

Next steps

Well, I’d like to let the waters settle from these initial actions and make sure that we’re taking advantage of our new patterns.  But, my hope is to simplify our lives, and the space we live in.  Take an aggressive stance towards paying down the debt over the next year, and reign in expenses as a lifestyle.

Loving the Max

was just thinking about my commute since I’ve been riding regularly, and how much I enjoy my morning time on Portland’s light rail, the Max.

It’s really the only time of the day that I can count on to be my own time. I can read, write, get some work done, chat with strangers, or just stare blankly.

When I work, it’s without fear of interrupts, so that 30 minutes can be more productive than a whole day in the office. as far as production goes.

All this while I’m actually making progress towards a goal, which is getting to work.

And then when I ride home over the west hills, that beer tastes even better.

20120704-151537.jpg

New toy review: Flip Mino HD

I recently received my new Flip camera.  I ordered online and got the custom design.  Sorta half-assed that, but that’s okay.  The first thing I noticed about it after picking it up is that it is lighter than I’d expect.  As in it feels somewhat plastic.  I immediately plugged it into my computer to charge it and play with it.  The charge happened pretty quickly, so the playing did as well.

The second thing you notice about the Mino HD is that it doesn’t have a lot of buttons.  There’s a big red one in the middle.  Must be important.  There’s right and left arrows, a plus and minus, a trash can, and a play button, none of which are tactile.  On the right is a flush button for power, and on the left is a slider that unlocks the USB.  This Flip has a place for an (mini) HDMI cable (that I don’t have) and tripod mount on the bottom.

Cleverly, the unit is entirely self-contained, with the exception of the soft sack that contains it.  Even the software comes onboard and is compatible with Mac and PC.  The movies play in Linux with mplayer, but then I have to forgo editing power, so I’ll overtax my poor old mac laptop.

The image stabilization was a key factor in my selection of this model.  I’m not looking to take Blair Witch baby movies (baby = reason I got this thing).  And I’m happy with the stabilization. It does a pretty good job and making my non-surgeon hands feel steady.

I am not happy with the non-tactile buttons.  Their placement is awkward for me, in that I hit them when I don’t want to and can’t hit them when I do.  Running the entire set down each side with a selector for right-or-left-handed operation might be an interesting way to handle it.

The screen is fine, it shows you what you’re filming, and since you can’t control anything but zoom and what you’re pointing at from where, it doesn’t matter except for framing and sanity check.  We’re not filming the next great Galifinakis film here, it’s a Flip so I can film my daughter (upcoming) and dog and send them to family and a few friends who care.

I’ve had the Flip crash on a few occasions.  Lockup, lockdown, both ways to Sunday.  One time I had to jam a paper clip into the tri hole.  That let it do a hard reset, which didn’t appear to do anything more than a plain reset (data was still there) except it worked again.  It’s a simple device and I haven’t used it that much, so it’s feeling fairly unstable so far.

The software is fine.  It seems like it might have the beginnings of some social characteristics, but I think it’ll be a pretty nice way to send stuff to the aforementioned family and friends.

Overall, I’m going to give the Flip Mino HD a C+/B-.  In some ways it’s great, but in too many ways it’s just not awesome enough.

Instant Replay in Soccer

After the US’s disappointing (yet thrilling) tie against Slovenia, you can be sure that there will be a clamor for instant replay in soccer. On the surface, it seems like a great idea. Matches will end with the true winner victorious, honor will be restored to the game.

This is a terrible idea. There is a purity about soccer. 23 men on the pitch, and only a few rules on how to play the game. All you need is a ball and some friends to play.

It’s true, there are a lot of bad calls. Sometimes the referee is biased, sometimes, he’s bad, and sometimes he gets emotional. But bad calls are a part of the game. You can’t interrupt the fluidity to stick your face into a replay booth every time someone is unhappy with a call. Because the review would overturn the call too often.

In a soccer game there are 22 players on the pitch, and they are subject to the rule of one man: the referee. If the referee decides that the game should last for 112 minutes and kicking with your left foot is a foul, that’s how the game will be played. People may not be happy with it, and the ref will likely not be invited back, but that is the game that was played.

How not to get shot by the police

okay, police violence sucks. It’s a drag that unarmed people get shot. Lately, I’ve been putting together some tips I’ve picked from my years of experience not getting shot at by the police in an effort to help people avoid the short barrel of the law.

First, you can take a preemptive strike and keep the police away in general. Try to avoid situations in which housemates and loved ones feel the need to call the police in regards to you. Sometimes it’s easiest to just go to bed and apologize in the morning.

Now, it might happen that you can’t avoid the police. Like you were speeding or made a bad lane change. In that case, it’s easy to avoid getting shot at. Stay in the car. In the seat that you have been in the whole time. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Listen to the instructions. They’ve been trained to make them simple. Things like “step out of the car” and “don’t reach for the glovebox” are good ones to act on. Slowly (we will return to this).

A really good way that I’ve learned to not get shot is to not hold a gun. You may even be able to make it through life (the long version) without owning a gun. They’re rentable, and in many places they are not actually requisite for safety. However, I appreciate your preparedness for survival after the fall. I think that it is completely possible to not get shot by the police and still own a gun. All you need to do is follow one simple rule: only get the gun out if you intend to use it. Mardi Gras parties and community theater do not count as legitimate uses.

Keep in mind that once you’ve been tagged as “having a gun” you’re going to have a tough time shaking that rep. So leave it in the shoebox away from the kids. Guns are scary to a lot of people when they pop-up in unusual situations like “watching Jeopardy”.

So, let’s say you haven’t been able to avoid the police paying you a visit. Whether it’s your house or a bank robbery, the same principles apply. First, when you’re caught you’re caught. At this point, the cops are not on your doorstep to make a judgment. They’re there to diffuse a situation. Don’t try to sweet talk out of it, and yelling isn’t going to help. Be easy to work with. Move slowly. Steady, following instructions. If they say get down, they don’t mean dance. Keep your hands visible. To the police. Avoid sudden movements like running, reaching for things, turning. And if you have a weapon, let them know with words.

You need to keep in mind that the police really don’t know what you’re thinking. When their guns are drawn, it’s because they think they may need to use them to protect themselves or innocent bystanders. At that time, it’s your job to not give them a reason.

Tomorrow’s a new day. You can sort it out then.

I’m not copaphile. They’d better have a damn good reason for pulling that trigger. I’m not happy to see cruisers on the street in general. But if someone’s incapable of following these simple steps and a tragedy occurs, it’s pretty tough for me to point a finger.

Specialty beer prices

Like Jeff, I recently followed a thread at the OBC about the price of beer. It was surprisingly heated, considering that nobody was forcing people to drink specialty beers, and these are people who spend a lot of time making beers of their own and promoting the craft. Jeff’s article is very thoughtful and reasonable (as usual) , and we both draw similar conclusions.

But I wanted to toss in a few more pieces. Beer is experiencing an evolution. Craft brewing is growing beyond the classics. New styles are popping up. Brewers are experimenting. And frankly, beer is getting better.

To produce specialty beers, there are often unique processes involved. These can increase expense in several ways. First, the process itself can be expensive. Equipment of the quality and magnitude required by a brewery can cost a lot, education to apply the techniques can be costly. Second, the experiments leading to the process can be expensive. Third, the time involved is expensive. Additional steps take time. With specialty beers, that can be a lot of time. Barrel aging requires that the beer stay in a location for an extended period of time. This not only takes up space with stock not rotating, but can be a financial burden by extending beyond net-30 by definition.

Then there is the risk. Brewing is a combination of art and science, of chemistry, biology, and physics. In those realms, things get complicated fast as more variables are introduced. Putting beer into a barrel greatly increases the risk of spoilage. Roasting/smoking/whatever grains can introduce off flavors. If a batch goes bad, that can be extremely costly to a brewery. This risk needs to be accounted for in the cost of the beers unless you’d see the producer of your favorites disappear suddenly after a batch goes wrong.

So those are some of the more tangibles contributors to higher cost. Jeff makes an interesting observation regarding scarcity as well. By pricing these beers higher, it makes it possible for a greater number of consumers to enjoy the products, rather than a smaller number of entities rapidly depleting the market. Seems like a supply and demand curve for people who like beer.

In addition, there is the perception of beer. The far more established wine market is a good one to consider. The economics tends to work itself out. Cheap wines are typically mass produced and lack character. There are occasional gems, but those typically climb the scale or are a bit more lucky catches. There are plateaus as you move up the price scale, to inexpensive wines, moderate, expensive, and so on, with each level improving in quality. Typically you’ll find diminishing returns as you climb up in price, so the goal is to find the right wine for you at the time. Now, the same can be applied to beer. The mountain doesn’t climb as high, but the plateaus are there. Keystone, Natural Light, and others form the foundation, supporting Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Corona, Heineken, Fosters, and many others sit here at the sweet spot of the American pallet. On top of that we go to the Bridgeport IPAs, Hefeweizen, Mirror Ponds, Terminal Gravity, and other distributed microbrews. Some of these breweries make craft beers as well, and those being to fill the next tiers, along with Rogue, Dogfish Head, Stone, and many others.

The great thing about the larger microbreweries pushing up the plateaus is that it really opens the door for smaller breweries to do the same. At those price points, breweries like Upright Brewing and Captured by Porches can release their specialty runs without needing to compete at the 6-pack level. So even if Abyss is overpriced, it is a great thing for beer in general. Buy a bottle and share it with some friends. Or just drink it yourself.

The Dems are blowing it

Okay, I’m pretty frustrated with the more liberal party right now. Tuning in, there are two major themes right now. Health care and Fort Hood. These are both important issues, but I am not liking what I’m hearing.

First, Fort Hood was a tragedy, plain and simple. But the theme that I’m hearing on the (left) radio is almost a defence of of Hasan for the pressures he was under. Laying the onus on the military, that they didn’t listen enough. It’s a military, not a cruise ship. I do not, and cannot know the true motivations of the shooter, whether he snapped, if it was terrorism, or what. But what he did was wrong, extremely wrong, and he is the responsible party in the end. This was premeditated. And it was a tragedy. My heart goes to all those affected.

Second, health care. Now that things are happening (for better or worse) people are bitching about one particular issue. Abortion. And that it may or may not be covered by the health care plan. All I can say is that this is not the time or the place to make a Roe v Wade stand, or whatever bill is up your craw. Abortion as covered in the health plan must defer to other laws as to its treatment. That’s right. Leave it the heck out of the health care bill, at most indicating that it will be covered as a health issue as prescribed by the law. Then if there are laws that block what you see is right, tackle those. But quit screwing up our freaking health care bill, it’s complicated enough already.

So those points bring me to my overarching problem with the dems. They just can’t seem to get their act together. Really. Let’s find some alignment. It isn’t perfect, you won’t please everyone. One of your jobs isn’t just to represent the people (or too often the money), it is to turn it around and influence the people with what is right. You need to make the hard decisions and sell them back to your constituents. So get it together, get a keel on your ship, and let’s get something done before half of you get fired next year.

What’s the Matter with V?

I was pretty excited about V. It was bringing back what in my mind was the original miniseries, and a nice bit of sci-fi. But this time with a budget and awesome effects and some hindsight on making a great series. Plus, I wrapped BSG and 4400 up pretty recently and need a new sci-fi serial fix.

I watched the pilot last night, and was a bit disappointed. 4400 was great, and there are some strong ties to that show here, between Joel Gretcsh and Scott Peters they really raised the bar. And after one episode, I just am not hooked. I will give it another go, but I’m not chomping at the bit for more yet.

I’ve heard people criticize and/or laud V for its ‘harsh commentary on Obamamania.’ It definitely made unveiled references to the president and current political situations. Brave. But they came out looking like something from a Sophomore’s script. Just silly. A commentary on universal health care and hope. We all know what the visitors are. They’re also presented as terrorists. I have to “hope” that the Obama references were limited to their uninspiring pilot, that their intention is to borrow from many modern charismatic leaders for the evolution of the V plot.

I suppose that my advice for the V writers is if you want to go political, start by modeling ideologies and create parallels. People will get it, and they’ll point it out for the ones who don’t…or at least the message boards will start lighting up. Get too specific and your point will be watered down, and at some point you’ll have to sacrifice your principles in favor of the fiction, or vice-versa. Symolism and metaphor are powerful tools. Billboards are too, but I’d prefer to see them on the highway (or not at all).

I was not upset by the rate at which the visitors were revealed as sinister. It wasn’t going to surprise anyone, so why put that sort of effort into a surprise? So they needed to spend some time on character development. Unfortunately they wasted too much on demonstrating which stereotype to model each character on. Most annoying was the whiny-teen you’re never around because you’re saving the world archetype of the son. Of course he’s going to be a V ambassador (or was it Hope?). Chad Decker looks to be the Faustian reporter who will sell-out his principles and the human race. I can only hope that he has a fraction of the complexity of Gaius Baltar, but for now it looks like he’s going to be the visitor’s reluctant lapdog, accepting more and more power, until he grows a pair and starts to help the resistance on the sly.

The product placement in V was pretty robust. It felt like there was almost as much as in 24. iPhones and cars and more. Lots of stuff for us to buy. Maybe it’s a visitor plot.

A two-hour pilot would’ve been a wise move. If you’re creating an epic, it helps to build empathy and plot. But if it’s a teen drama don’t worry about it.

I will watch the next episode, and probably the rest until the break. And then I’ll decide if V will continue to visit my living room. It wasn’t terrible, but so far I just don’t care, and my TV time is valuable! One positive is that V inadvertently introduced me to FastForward, which is excellent so far…sort of cop show meets memento with a bit of sci-fi thrown in.

Comfort – the end of a generation

Portland has been a Gen-X city for as long as I can remember. Which is as long as I’ve been here. We’ve had a lock on cuisine, fashion (?), transportation, attitude, periodicals, entertainment. Pretty much the whole shebang. Sort of a Gen-X wonderland. Don’t get me wrong, PDX is a city of variety and range, there’s a lot of of other stuff too for Y’s and boomers and everyone in between. But Portland has been the slacker capital.

But times are a-changing. The comfort food proliferation. It is taking over. If you want a successful restaurant, you’d better have something battered, fried, stuff with cheese, slathered in gravy, then fried again if you know what’s good for you. I do love some comfort food. Biscuits and gravy are probably my greatest weakness there, but a scotch egg comes in close. But that’s a chef’s salad hold the egg compared to some of the concoctions being delivered. Burgers with grilled cheese for buns. Poutine which is lightly battered deep fried potatoes smothered in gravy with cheese and other health food sprinkled on. Pasties and fried pies. It’s all delicious. But so wrong.

At first I thought that the comfort food revolution came about through the typical Portland Gen-X ironic thing. Oh we’ve been eating garden burgers and tofu and mediterranean food. But this stuff makes the arteries yearn for another slice of pepperoni again. And I don’t think it’s ironic. Jared can piss off, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he wants cream-filled all day long.

Cycling in the City

I’ve been riding my bike a fair amount this year, pushing 30 miles 2-3 times a week, from where I work in Beaverton to home in fairly far-east Portland. The route that I take has a variety of paved terrain, from busy suburban and downtown streets to cozy residential streets to dedicated bicycle (and other non-motorized activity) paths. There’s a lot of controversy around bikes this year, as more people take to the pedal path, they remain misunderstood.

Talking to people, there are many who would like to ride more, but a nervous about riding no city streets. Here are some tips to help with safety and hopefully enjoyment. There are a lot of tips here. They boil down to: Be prepared, be aware, be comfortable.

Relax Just keep pedalling and enjoy the ride. You’ll get there. If you are in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, pull over, get off, and walk until you are in a better place.

Be aware You don’t need a mirror if you can turn your head confidently. But it is important to know what other vehicles and innocent bystanders are doing, and where they are.

Signal Signalling on a bike is much like a car without blinkers, but you have an extra option. Signal when turning, changing lanes, or passing. For left, simply reach your left arm straight out. For right, you can bend your left arm upwards or reach your right arm straight out. The important thing is that others know what you’re doing. Tip: I turn my hand so the thumb is up and make a gun with my hands…it makes you a bit more visible (thanks Karrla).

Know your route You won’t always know where you’re going. But it helps. Bike maps, bycycle.org, word of mouth, and signage, are handy ways to know how to get there. Know the best paths for going cross-town. If there are good dedicated paths, know how to get to those. Waterfronts and freeway frontage are often available this way.

Take control The fewer cars that pass you, the better, so I try to travel at the speed of traffic. This is controversial (and illegal in many places), but I often get a jump on the signal by crossing before my light turns green. Intersections are more complicated than roads, so I prefer not to interact with cars there, and the early start helps me get up to speed as well.

Watch out for doors The car door is one of the greatest threats to riders. If you see a car park ahead of you, make sure you give clearance for a door swinging open. Places to be extra careful are parks and schools where parents sit in their cars waiting. Watch for heads and signs of activity. Be ready, be aware (in case you need to swerve). These are often on quieter roads, so just ride towards the middle of the road if you’re not impeding traffic.

Use a lane I try to maintain a positive relationship with autos. My goal is to get where I’m going with as little impact on others doing the same thing as possible. But there are times when you want to take up a whole lane. Do it with confidence. But please be considerate. Try to go the speed of traffic, and pull right so that cars can pass. If there’s a bike route nearby, consider going out of your way to use it.

Equipment is important Know your bike. If you just pulled it out of storage after years, consider a tune-up. Failures always occur at the least convenient time. Tire rubber will decay, so change your tubes and tires if necessary. Keep your distances short the first few rides. Buy lights: a rear red one and a white front one. Don’t leave them on your bike because they’re easy to steal. Carry a lock. My bike’s not fancy so I usually just use a strong coil lock. It’s up to you. Wear a helmet. They all meet safety guidelines, so the biggest differences are in airflow, weight, and fashion. Your brain is worth protecting.

Ask people The more cyclists on the road, the fewer cars, which is a good thing for cyclists. So most everyone is helpful. Ask a rider, stop by a store, go for an organised ride, ride with friends.

Have fun Keeping those pedals turning can be hard work. It’s great exercise. You’ll take new routes, and you’ll see a lot more. You’ll feel the wind in your face, and a thrill being so connected to your equipment.

The bicycle: Car or Pedestrian?

The debate has been serious this summer. From touchy questions on sides of buses to annoying comments on blog posts to occasional legal debate. The community has been vexed by this question: Is a bicycle a car or a pedestrian? To help shed light on this problem, beerdrinker has gone undercover, actually riding his bicycle most days, frequently more than 25 miles.

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite awhile, but it really came to a head (or mine) when Webtrends posted their controversial question on Portland’s public transportation: Should cyclists pay a road tax? The confusion was evident most clearly in a response to that question…”Cyclists should pay $.10 every time they change roles.” or something like that. But it’s been prevalent in conversation around the internet and reality for a long time.

With more people riding bikes due to higher fuel costs, better and/or more vocal communities, and peer pressure, the answer to the debate is becoming more pressing. Drivers are more frustrated, and more vocal. Bike lanes are taking up more precious road space. Green boxes are making colorful areas near busy intersections to the dismay of automobile owners. At some places, cyclists even have their own signals, and in others roads dedicated to them (and pedestrians).

Sometimes it becomes necessary to take a step back from the problem to really see what its inner workings are, and how they fit together. So I looked up the terms.

A pedestrian is a person traveling on foot.
wikipedia – pedestrian

An automobile or motor car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers, which also carries its own engine or motor.
wikipedia – automobile

Those are pretty clear, and pretty general. There are unfortunately vehicles that do not fit into either classification. In fact, the subject of this article does not.

A bicycle is neither a pedestrian nor an automobile!

Well, dangit. I guess we need to be asking a different question, like “where do cyclists belong?” But first, let’s continue the analysis to make sure we’ve covered all our bases.

A bicycle is like a car in many ways. It has wheels and a passenger (sometimes 2-3). It moves faster than pedestrians typically move. It will hurt a pedestrian if it hits them.

At the same time, there are a number of differences between cars and bikes. A car can accelerate and travel far faster than a bike. A car propels itself. Typically, cars do far more damage in collisions than bicyclists, and cars will universally win contests of strength. Like a turtle, cars have a crunchy, protective outside and a chewy center, whereas cyclists are a bit more like a delicious chicken leg with a hard lower part and a moist, fleshy upper portion.

Comparing a pedestrian to bicycle, we again see similarities and differences. They can both fit on sidewalks. They both weigh about the same. They are both self-propelled. Yet, bicycles can move faster than pedestrians and do have pokey hard parts. In a battle between cyclists and pedestrians, the cyclist would have the upper hand. In addition, they typically gain the element of surprise.

At this point, we have pretty much established that a bicycle is neither a car nor a pedestrian, having some qualities that are common to each, and some dramatic differences. In the future, I will explore how cyclists fit into a system that has difficulty seeing the grey areas.

Facebook isn’t Twitter

I’m a fan of social media sites. Sites like twitter and facebook are loads of fun, and great for staying in touch with old friends, new friends, and potential friends. In a recent post I commented on what I felt were the differences between facebook and myspace. In the end, I believe that myspace is primarily a vanity site, whereas facebook focuses on relationships.

A more subtle comparison happens between facebook and twitter. Both of these sites really focus on relationships, and both are amazing. But they excel at completely different things. This article will look into how they are similar, yet dramatically different, especially in terms of what your audience is.

First, let’s look at how they are similar Both have popular mobile device integration. Both are open to anyone with internet. Both allow direct communication, photosharing, and miniblogging. Both have profiles of some sort. They both get mentioned on mainstream media pretty frequently.

Next, let’s look at some key differences. Facebook requires mutual acceptance prior to establishing a relationship. In twitter this is an option, but most people do not employ it. Twitter has a great open API, whereas facebook recently offered one. Basically, this has allowed a lot of third-party applications like TweetDeck to thrive with Twitter, while the Facebook interface has been the primary manner of updating FB. Twitter also limits communication to a small number of characters, whereas it is possible to send or share almost anything through facebook. Facebook also has a great set of tools for finding possible relationships, whereas the built-in twitter interface for this is quite Spartan. Facebook’s site threads conversations by default, whereas on twitter does not. While both sites have profiles, there is a tendency to have more sensitive information on facebook (phone number, email).

Twitter enables very agile communication. It enables one entity to communicate to a large number of people, who are self-selecting, very easily. The communications are brief, and preferably clear and succinct. Lots of people spin on Twitter etiquette…things like multiple consecutive tweets, retweets, referrals, and more are blogged about ad nauseum.

Facebook is a bit less agile. While you can post to facebook in a similar manner as twitter, using many of the same tools and updating concurrently, the primary mode of interaction with facebook is the conversation. The existence of the trust relationship between friends on Facebook encourages different types of communication as well.

These factors contribute to the types of relationships users of the two sites typically cultivate. Twitter’s agility has made it a very convenient tool for keeping contact with my closer friends. We have brief conversations and typically have device updates enabled. It also allows me to have conversations with strangers who have similar interests. A lot of people see this aspect of twitter as a great marketing tool. Get the word out on something, and it spreads virally. This certainly happens. The consequence of this, and the relationship with like-minded strangers, is that there’s a certain branding that occurs with your twitter voice. A lot of people want to convey a particular message overall from their tweets.

In twitter, there are profiles that will provide almost any kind of information. Realtime updates on Blazer games, one-line jokes, news, recommended books, whatever you’re looking for you can probably find it.

Facebook, on the other hand, discourages relationships with people you don’t actually know. It’s up to you to decide how high or low you want to set the bar for friendships in facebook. These are typically family, friends (old and new), colleagues. I’ve read Defective Yeti for years and follow him on twitter and RSS, and know a lot of his life story, but am not friends with him on facebook. I doubt I’d turn him down, but can’t imagine why Matthew would ask.

This means that on facebook you can be yourself. Relatively. I don’t kid myself that people don’t try to build a facade, but we do in our classic relationships as well. But there’s not the same drive for personal branding as on twitter. Relationships tend to be deeper. While public, conversations are more directed, and there is more background available. Inside jokes are more accessible.

Time plays a bigger role, past and future are more real in facebook. Twitter focuses on what is happening now. What am I doing. What I did rolled off the bottom hours ago. In facebook, what you’re doing is right next to photos of what you did.

So, what’s the point of all this?

In the end, it all comes down to audience. It is important to think about who is on the other end of what you’re broadcasting.

In twitter, you’ve got close friends to complete strangers following you. Why are they following you? Do you care? In facebook, you’ve mutually friended relationships from throughout your life. What do you want to share?

In the end, it’s about having fun and enriching our lives. Both of these tools are amazing, and can be life changing.

I dedicate this article to all of the people who always update facebook and twitter with the same content and miss out on the conversation. cheers!

Is this poison oak?

I am terrible at identifying plants, yet at the same time I’m really susceptible to poison oak. For some reason, it is very difficult to find a decent image of the toxic weed. Guidebooks all have the same line drawing as can be found at trailheads. Pics on the internet are obscure and frequently hidden behind broken links.

So I found a plant I think might be poison oak. Can somebody please confirm?

Is this poison oak?
Is this poison oak?

thanks! I didn’t want to get any closer for fear of getting the aerial wrath of this f%*ker.

Facebook vs. Myspace

I’m completely aware that Facebook is pretty handily kicking the figurative ass of Myspace. I am pretty excited about this, because I’ve never been a fan of Myspace as a social networking site. I’ve enjoyed visiting band sites, and I managed to connect with a few people there.

On the other hand, I love Facebook. I talk about Facebook. I advocate its use, and might occasionally be obnoxious about it. But the conversations are interesting.

While interesting, they usually boil down to a few fairly standard themes. This is my favorite: “I didn’t get much out of Myspace, why should I bother with Facebook?” And that’s what I’m going to get obnoxious about in this post.

The word social sucks. Almost as much as the word sucks does. It is as overloaded as web2.0. Because Myspace and Facebook are both social does not mean they are the same. The difference is simple.

Myspace is a vanity site, while Facebook is about relationships and interactions

That’s the major difference. In Myspace, people collect friends. In Facebook, you establish relationships. There’s a trust relationship. Partly due to the amount of information that you provide in your profile. But most of it is in the consensual nature of friendships.

In Myspace, users are free to break (I mean design) their pages as they see fit. Boxes and blinks and blasting bass. Truly annoying and totally broken pages. And relationships are limited to writing to a person’s page or send a personal message.

On the other hand, in Facebook, the information of your established friends rolls past. Like life, you can miss a lot and still distill some quality. In Facebook, you aren’t talking about yourself, you’re sharing your story. And you’re inviting others to contribute and share.

Of course, there are those who say they “Just don’t do social sites.” That’s another article. But in the meantime, just tell them, “You will.”

How do you share photos?

There are tons of ways to share photos (and videos) on the web. I currently use three main sites to share my photos, each for different reasons.

  • Picasaweb – I’ve been using google’s photosharing the longest, largely because I didn’t want to deal with getting a yahoo id. Which isn’t that tough. I like the album nature of picasaweb, and put most of the photos that I take onto there, treating it like as a bit of a cross between a backup and a social network.
  • Flickr – I recently broke down and created a flickr account. It’s been pretty fun. There’s much more of a streaming nature to it, and Flickr seems great for highlights. I’ve been putting my favorites onto there, so it ends up having a lot less pics than my picasaweb. Here’s an example of a flickr photo.
    From frolf at dabney
  • Facebook – while Flickr is somewhat social, it’s not social like facebook. I’ve been putting fun pictures onto facebook. Pictures of people, events, stuff that I want to share with friends. This is more likely a facebook selection:
    From broomball 2008
  • blog – However, if you look at either image it links back to my picasaweb. That may change in the future, at least for flickr pics, but for now it’s really easy to put picasaweb shots into my blog. My blog isn’t really a photo site, photoblog, or photostream. I don’t think of it that way. I use photos to augment stories (probably should do it more).

So each of the sites provides its own value. Picasaweb is a bit more encyclopedic. I’m using picasaweb to provide my blog pictures. Flickr is a bit more photo-centric, either looking at quality shots, quality subjects, or both, or whatever feels good. I guess in my case it’s the latter.

Facebook is more social. It is album-oriented like Picasaweb, but it puts photos in your friends’s and acquaintences’s faces. While I don’t mind people clicking around my public photos at will, I’ll be a bit more selective about what goes onto facebook. I’ll probably not put 500 photos of a mountain on there, for example. But I might do that on picasaweb.

I’m lazy with my picasaweb photos. Pretty much everything goes up there. I relatively few photos. While with flickr and facebook I choose what to upload, with picasaweb, I choose what not to upload. Sometimes. For example, this photo would never sneak through onto flickr or facebook.

From frolf at pier 12/08

There are other photo sites out there. Do you use something different? Why do you use the tools you use?

Devaluation good?

So, I’ve been working on an idea. Devalue the dollar. Print money. Lots of it. My idea is to print money and use it to help people pay mortgages. Bottom up principle. Save people’s houses. Keep the notes good. The banks stay solvent. Everybody’s happy.

Of course, what if you don’t have a mortgage? I guess that’s a bummer for you because your dollars are being devalued as well. I’ve been trying to think of a better solution. But it’s not all bad…if you rent, at least you won’t be evicted because your landlord can’t keep the house.

So, I’ve been liking this idea. I’m sure it’s flawed, and it is definitely incomplete. But it’s better than printing money and putting it into play at the top. In my idea, that money has a definite purpose, and it is inserted into the system in a definite way. It is accomplishing something and getting the wheels turning. By by printing money to put it into play at the top, to make it available for banks to lend out, do we really know what they’re doing with it? Are they actually going to do something with it? There is little control there.

Anyway, there’s my idea, let me know what you think, maybe we can make it a whole idea.

The kids are all write

I’ve been thinking about social web stuff a lot today. The good folks at Nemo Designs were good enough to have a long chat with anners and me about their social interweb. But that’s just the setup, I’m not really going to go into that…it was interesting though.

What I wanted to hit on is the kids and their lack of email! Which is something that’s come up in conversation, and it came up sometime after the aforementioned meeting, but not during. So the argument that I hear goes something like this:

- Email is going away.
- Why?
- Because kids don’t use email.
- Huh?
- Yeah, they’ve studied kids and they use facebook and twitter and stuff and they don’t even have email accounts.

So, my response is…So what? I mean, did you have a mailing address as a kid? I don’t recall getting much mail. And most of it was highly temporal, non-transactional information. Birthday cards, Ranger Rick, um, I think that’s about it. I was way ahead of my time and couldn’t stand sending letters because the transit time was ridiculous and I didn’t want to pay for a stamp.
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