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September 27, 2006

Beach Bocce

Two years ago when Dad, Jeb, Grant, and I visited Tybee we were stuck inside due to a hurricane and re-invented Bocce (botchee) where we would roll a small ball (which we called a "pith," though I have no idea why since it isn't called that; there is a pith ball that is used to measure static electricity in physics) and then see who could roll a larger ball closest to the pith. When it finally stopped raining, we moved this game out to the beach. That was more interesting than indoors since you had more room, terrain, and different textures of sand (hard wet sand, soft dry sand). We would go all up and down the beach throwing the pith and then trying to land balls closest to it (sometimes the pith gets knocked around, which changes everything). This year the sea gulls seemed very interested in the egg-sized white pith ball.


Before we went down this year, Grant and Jeb looked around for bocce sets, but couldn't find anything. Dad bought some lacrosse balls which turned out to be good for juggling. Jugglers Grant and I practiced juggling where the person juggling would toss a ball out and the other person would toss a ball back in without missing a beat. The objective was for both of us to be able to juggle and toss balls back and forth. We never got nearly that far.

Sunday morning Grant drove in to Savannah and found a nice bocce set at Walmart. That afternoon we started playing. At low tide parts of the beach are soft, parts are hard, and parts are very wet. So this made for good varying conditions as we moved threw the pith from one place to another. Sometimes the ball would roll way down the beach towards the water, sometimes into the water. Because the winner of the previous round gets to throw the pith, the game wanders all over the beach, incorporating dips in the sand, abandoned sand castles, etc. I was pretty good at some of the more random shots and won the first match, but everyone was pretty evenly matched at first, so much so that Jeb said it was all random.

The next day Dad must have started using his golf skills or something because he was unstoppable. While sometimes it is best to roll the ball towards the target, he was good at using backspin to make the ball stay put. We were on the south end of the island near the geocach and the sand was pretty soft, the bocce balls leaving deep impressions when they would land. Grant and Jeb threw the pith near a tidal channel which made for some tough shots. Even with flies biting his ankles, Dad was able to beat everyone, and in the final match he won 7 rounds to 1 for each of the sons.

When I got back I looked up bocce on the internet and it appears to be a far less interesting game in real life than it is on the beach.

September 17, 2006

Cover Flow

When I installed iTunes 7.0 I opted not to import artwork for all of music. Songs purchased from iTunes always have artwork incorporated into the file, but CD's that I have imported into iTunes do not. With a 3G iPod I can't see the artwork anyway, but newer iPods can display the cover of the CD you are listening to. Also iTunes shows it to you to. Now there is a neat music browser that lets you browse by the cover. That's kind of neat because it's like going through your CD collection.

You can add the artwork into iTunes yourself. A few months ago I found a program that was supposed to import the artwork into iTunes, but it took a really, really long time and I wasn't impressed with what it was importing. But by then I was hooked, so I spent a lot of the rest of the day going to Amazon and getting cover artwork from them and manually pasting it in to iTunes. To save file space, I only pasted it in to the first song of a CD. Still the images were pretty small: 240 pixels square and about 15-30 kb each.

So when the new software came out and Jeb wrote about it, I talked myself into getting the artwork as I was writing my response. Again, it took a really long time. I had about 470 albums that needed artwork and it took a couple of minutes for each. With a dial-up connection, it took about 4 hours to get all of it. And by "all of it" I mean whatever it could get, which was maybe 80%.

I found out why the artwork was taking so long to download. While most of the Amazon images were small, many of the iTunes images are quite large, maybe 600 pixels square. That's a lot bigger than the little square that shows the cover in iTunes and it is way bigger than an iPod screen. However it does look nicer with the cover flow viewer (which I had a horrible time finding and at first thought it was only available for Macs; apparently the only way to get to it is to press a button at the top right of the screen).

The neat thing about having already pasted in artwork on the first song is that iTunes left it in place and then put it on the rest of the songs. So I could compare by alternating between the first and second track. The ones iTunes brought over generally were pretty good, but the color might be a little different or it might be cropped a little differently. Sometimes a CD will have different versions available with slightly different covers, like Bob Marley's Legend (the image I got is on the left, the iTunes version on the right):

But for Hotel California by The Eagles, the 15th best-selling album of all time, they picked the artwork for a tribute album. The Spanish mission of the original CD is completely missing:

That's a pretty big lapse to miss that one. For one of my Frank Sinatra albums they also picked the wrong album:

This wasn't entirely iTunes' fault. The offical title of the CD was Classic Sinatra His Great Performances 1953-1960. And I had changed it to just Classic Sinatra. I changed the CD title of one of the songs and had iTunes fetch the artwork over again (I had to delete the old artwork first by going to the Get Info screen for that song) and this time it got the right cover.

Also, I noticed a different take on a Happy Mondays album I have. I hadn't even noticed that I had gotten artwork that didn't match my CD until I could see that mine from Amazon was different from iTunes. But pulling the CD off the shelf, I verified that iTunes got the right one:

And I guess that sometimes a CD can have different cover art (Some Girls by The Rolling Stones being a famous one). For Mosaique by The Gipsy Kings, iTunes pulled a completely different cover(but it seems to have the right title on it, maybe this is the cover a single since Mosaique is also the name of a song on the CD?):

Anyway, it did a pretty good job. Most of the images iTunes retrieved were better than what I had. It missed some pretty major CD's that I guess Apple doesn't have at their store like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but it still got most things right.

September 2, 2006

Netflix Reviews

I think that I will do Netflix for one more month before I stop. One of the neat things about Netflix is they let users review movies, like Amazon does with products it sells. Reading several reviews by normal people you can get a pretty good idea of whether you will like the movie or not. Based on those reviews, I checked out Secondhand Lions, which I thought was actually pretty dismal. So it doesn't always work out. Because it had gotten such amazingly positive reviews, I thought I needed to write a review and warn people like me away from it. When I went to post a review, I found a link to see or edit reviews I had written previously, including the ones from three years ago. While I have a ton of reviews on my website, I have only written 3 reviews on Netflix and I had to laugh when I read another review of discontent from three years ago for Farewell My Concubine which I gave 2 stars out of 5 (I like the simple Netflix system: 1 star if you hated it, 2 if you didn't like it, 3 if you did like it, 4 if you really liked it, and 5 if you loved it):

"This might be a well-made movie. I wouldn't know since I didn't make it all the way through. It appeared to be a movie about beating and otherwise mistreating orphans before the Gang of 4 comes in and does worse. I didn't realize that it was primarily about orphan boys learning Chinese opera, in particular an opera called "Farewell My Concubine". From the title and the description you might be looking for some seductive movie about a love triangle. I was expecting something on the order of The Last Emperor. This isn't like that and I didn't care for it, but I could see how the patient or those interested in Chinese opera before Mao with a high tolerance for violence against children could really enjoy it."

It tells me that 14 people found my review useful. Fortunately it doesn't say how many did not.