The mysterious case of the missing headphone is now solved

15 08 2009

In my previous post I wrote that my son found a way to hide really well my old Sony headphones, and therefore I had to buy new ones. I just came back from golfing and dining with friends a few minutes ago and got the news from my wife that the headphones resurfaced while I was away. They were inside this thing:

If you have kids, nephews or nieces, you probably know this is the fancy Fisher-Price potty, which:

  • Plays 4 royal tunes as a reward!
  • Converts to a sturdy stepstool!
  • Can be used on a grownup toilet seat!

And apparently can also be used to hide Sony headphones.

I guess I should consider myself lucky that at least he didn’t use the potty for its default purpose during the week.

My “frugal” Philips headphones

12 08 2009

I blogged before about being an avid podcast listener. In my new job at RBC, my commuting time is longer (about 50 minutes door-to-door), so now I have full 100 minutes to randomly go through my ever-growing list of fluffy stuff. For years I’ve been using Sony Fontopia in-the-ear headphones. While not great, they fit my ears better than the ones that come with the iPhone – which kept falling off all the time. I’m not sure about the precise Fontopia model I had, but it looked like this one:

On Monday though, my 3-year-old decided to play hide and seek with them, and I’m still trying to figure out where they are. I bet that a few years from now I’ll find them inside some old shoes or some jar around the house. After a day suffering of podcasting withdrawal, I paid a visit to the Best Buy store at Yonge and Dundas to get a new pair, and found these Philips in-ear headphones (model SH5910) for CAD$ 9.99:

Call me cheap (or “frugal” as suggested by some friends on Twitter 🙂 ), but I loved them. They fit my ear canal perfectly – I’m glad I’m not the only one with a wacky ear shape, they have the best isolation I’ve experienced to date, with the exception of those noise cancelling phones that I find eerily quiet, and, well, they are really cheap 😛 .

Of course, take this recommendation with a huge grain of salt. First of all, I’ve been wearing them just for a day. Also, I use these phones mostly for podcasts and audio books. At home, I have fairly good Sennheiser wireless headphones to listen to my favourite songs, but for the road I really need something I can fit in my pocket. Finally, the rush hour ride in the Toronto subway is not exactly a home-theatre like environment, so my number one need was good isolation, not pristine sound quality. The fact that I can now listen to podcasts without having to max out the iPhone volume is probably good for my hearing health anyway.

The Apple logo, Annie Hall and the single version of the truth

9 08 2009

CreativeBits published last week a good interview with Rob Janoff, the designer of the Apple logo (thanks to TUAW for the pointer). Over the years, I’ve heard several theories explaining the bitten apple, from the obvious (Eve’s bite on the forbidden fruit representing the lust for knowledge), to the nerdy (a reference to the computer term byte), to the convoluted (like the one below from Wikipedia).

Another explanation exists that the bitten apple pays homage to the mathematician Alan Turing, who committed suicide by eating an apple he had laced with cyanide.

Then you learn directly from the horse’s mouth that all of the above are just BS (his term, not mine). The real explanation turned out to be so much more mundane and simpler:

Anyway, when I explain the real reason why I did the bite it’s kind of a let down. But I’ll tell you. I designed it with a bite for scale, so people get that it was an apple not a cherry. Also it was kind of iconic about taking a bite out of an apple. Something that everyone can experience. It goes across cultures. If anybody ever had an apple he probably bitten into it and that’s what you get.

All the fancy theories about the bitten apple logo and the real reason is that Janoff didn’t want to have people mistaking his stylized apple by a cherry??? “Kind of a let down” is the understatement of the year.

This whole discussion reminds me of this classic scene from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall movie:

The video above is a bit long, so here is a description for the time-starved among you:

In one scene, Allen’s character, standing in a cinema queue with Annie and listening to someone behind him expound on Marshall McLuhan’s work, leaves the line to speak to the camera directly. The man then speaks to the camera in his defense, and Allen resolves the dispute by pulling McLuhan himself from behind a free-standing movie posterboard to tell the man that his interpretation is wrong.

I had a great literature teacher who told me many years ago that what an artist meant when creating his art is important if you are interested in history or passing an exam, but all the possible interpretations by consumers of that art are as legitimate as the one by the author, be her or him a writer, a musician, a painter or a sculptor. The bottom line is that once the art is out to the public, the audience owns its meaning, and that meaning will evolve as time and context keeps building on top of it, regardless of what the author’s original intention was.

Revisiting the Annie Hall scene from that perspective, Allen’s character, McLuhan and the Columbia U professor were all right in their distinct interpretations, and all wrong in assuming that only one was possible.

In the fields of IT and Business Intelligence, we often hear the (terrible) acronym SVOT, or Single Version of the Truth (sometimes referred as “one version of the truth”). While in very technical terms that may make sense – a person cannot have two different places of birth, for example – SVOT in anything above bits and bytes is just an urban myth.

A personal story to illustrate this: my maternal uncle’s place of birth was supposed to be some Japanese city named Keijo, according to old documents from my grandfather. As many of you know, my mother is Japanese, and I always just assumed that my uncle was born in Japan, so I never bothered looking for Keijo in the map. Last month, talking to my sister over Skype, I googled it and found that Keijo is actually the former Japanese name used for Seoul, the capital of South Korea, during the period of Japanese rule! In a few seconds, SVOT just became to me IDWTYART, as in “it depends what truth you are referring to” 🙂

Just to bring this post back to its original subject, I want to conclude it with a pictorial representation of SVOT vs. IDWTYART juxtaposing the iconic logo and its corresponding pwned version:

Flops I love: Blindness

7 08 2009

In one of the many rainy and gray days this (supposed) summer, I watched “Blindness”, the movie adaptation from the excellent book “Ensaio sobre a Cegueira”, by Portuguese author and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago:

This is the plot summary, sourced from IMDB:

A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant “white blindness”. Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created “society of the blind” quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hording the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is however one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble.

I read the book in Portuguese (my first language, if you’re a newcomer to this blog) more than 10 years ago, and was skeptical about how well it would translate to English, as Saramago’s style of long and convoluted sentences may irk folks used to a language that excels in being concise and objective. A movie adaptation would be even more challenging: the book is an allegory rich in images, smells, noises and emotions. Converting that to actual faces and action could ruin the whole experience.

My expectations were very low for the movie, but I was immediately hooked by its attention to details such as the effort to make it set in a non-recognizable city, use of an international cast, and the camera point-of-view. Of course, most people don’t care about any of that, but I also found the storytelling to be engaging and well-paced, and the actors are really good too.

I’m clearly in the minority here: according to Box Office Mojo, the production budget for Blindness was $25 million, while the worldwide gross revenue came short at $20 million. Its “rotten” consensus in Rotten Tomatoes does not help either: “not as interesting as its premise implies”. I beg to differ, but for the sake of full disclosure you need to know that Blindness was written by a Canadian and directed by a Brazilian, so I may not be a very impartial judge here. And hey, have I told you that I liked The Godfather Part III and Beneath the Planet of the Apes and hated The Lord of the Rings? Now you know, so follow my recommendation at your own risk.

The Circus and le Cirque

7 08 2009

Over the long weekend, my wife and I took L to see the Shrine Circus at the Centre Point Mall in North York.

Looking at the kids on the back of this elephant was a trip down the memory lane:

Despite all the controversy around the use of animals – a Twitter search for that event will return at least as many protests as praises – I have to admit that one of my earliest and fondest memories as a kid is playing with a lion cub in some anonymous circus, duly recorded in a badly preserved picture (I’m the one on my father’s lap):

The last time I’ve been to a traditional circus – i.e., excluding the Cirque du Soleil – I was a 9-year-old living in the same city I was born at. I vividly recall my friend Drausio petting a camel and getting sprayed with drool all over his face – no picture of that, unfortunately 😛 , and no relationship with the delicious camel drool Portuguese dessert, or “baba de camelo”.

Back then, having a circus coming to our city was a big deal, as the only other mass entertainment available for kids was to watch old movies on Sunday’s matinées. Old is an understatement: I actually remember going to a black-and-white Tarzan movie featuring Johnny Weissmuller. Most Disney cartoons didn’t get distributed beyond the large cities, but you don’t miss what you never had, so I have no complaints there. The pluses of growing up on the countryside outweigh by far the constraints – in my naturally biased view, of course.

Not much changed since: the Shrine Circus 2009 show was not very different from the ones I used to see so many years ago: no high-tech involved, just the artist, the act and the public, all frozen in time and space. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong here, but I think I just saw the last few breaths of a dying art. I quoted Evan Solomon (CBC) a few months ago saying that “when a new technology comes, the incumbent never dies: it simply goes after deeper efficiencies”. The innovation pipeline does not always work like that, as typewritters and the telegraph can attest. Radio, TV, movies, games and the Internet all fragmented the entertainment space in formats that are more easily consummable, forcing live performances to go after deeper efficiencies.Thus, circus performances will live on through the several forms of Cirque Nouveau, but somehow the amateur spirit is gone as shown in this Wikipedia excerpt:

Cirque expanded rapidly through the 1990s and 2000s, going from one show to approximately 3,500 employees from over 40 countries producing 15 shows over every continent except Africa and Antarctica, with an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$ 600 million. The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night, 5% of the city’s visitors, adding to the 70+ million people who have experienced Cirque. In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier, and with 95% ownership, has continued to expand the brand. Several more shows are in development around the world, along with a television deal, women’s clothing line and the possible venture into other mediums such as spas, restaurants and nightclubs.

I used “amateur”, but the precise word is “mambembe” – no idea on how to translate that from Brazilian Portuguese. So, in the mambembe spirit, I’d like to conclude this post with this very amateurish video with my favourite circus song:

Aunt May 2.0

4 08 2009

A few years ago, during a visit to the Portuguese Language Museum in São Paulo, Brazil, I found that one of my favourite childhood characters, Cebolinha, was getting into blogging:

2004 is typically considered the year that blogs went mainstream, so no surprises there. It’s expected that a cartoon character would just follow the habits of his target demographics.

That notwithstanding, I had a good laugh getting my weekly dose of geeky fix in this sequence of Amazing Spider-Man #599:

So Aunt May is active in both Facebook and Twitter? Is this just a Marvel plot to get more people to follow them in Twitter? One would expect Johnny “Human Torch” Storm to be twittering (see below), but Aunt May, seriously?

If you believe in this comScore report and the referred Reuters blog post from a few months ago, Aunt May could in fact be as likely to be a Twitter user as Johnny Storm:

comScore blog – (…) 18-24 year olds, the traditional social media early adopters, are actually 12 percent less likely than average to visit Twitter (Index of 88). It is the 25-54 year old crowd that is actually driving this trend. More specifically, 45-54 year olds are 36 percent more likely than average to visit Twitter, making them the highest indexing age group, followed by 25-34 year olds, who are 30 percent more likely.

Reuters blog – Twitter may even be catching on among people who have a reached a post-business phase of their lives: Of the 4 million U.S. Twitter users in February, 5.2 percent were 65 or older.

To keep things in perspective, if you Google “Twitter demographics”, you’ll find all kinds of conflicting data, like this one by Quantcast or this other one by Pew Internet & American Life Project, so don’t start placing all your Twitter bets on the older segments of your target audience just yet. But keep in mind that the online landscape keeps changing at a fast pace: if you are still stuck in believing that Social Media is owned by generation Y, maybe it’s time to check if that latest Twitter follower you’ve got is not your grandma taking a break from all the World of Warcraft craziness.