Give Us Your Best Shot

It’s about that time again – time for the annual CostCo Photo Contest. I entered last year with one of my pictures from Japan; it was fun, but I didn’t win anything. I totally plan on entering again this year, I’m just not sure which photo I should enter; I have a few photos I’m a fan of. Supposedly the judges tend to lean towards “people” shots over landscape shots, but I’m listing some of my favorite shots, regardless.

Any thoughts or opinions? Maybe something else you saw in the gallery at some point, that you think is better? Let me know; the deadline is September 30th, so I have about a month before I need to make a final decision.

Photo-Blogging

Recently I’ve been on a photography kick. I’ve always liked photography – I took classes in high school and college, and had an old, fully manual, SLR for my high school photography class. I lost interest for a while, but am just starting to re-discover that interest.

In my rediscovery, I stumbled upon many websites on the subject of photography, and quite a few photoblogs. I really like the idea of a photoblog, and being able to categorize photos by subject type, rather than event. I even stumbled upon a nice photoblog host. It’s like a combination of LiveJournal and Flickr. My problem is – I have my WordPress blog, and my Gallery already. I’m not really interested in converting my blog into a photo-blog, despite the number of plug-ins that can easily convert a WordPress install into a photo-blog. And my gallery serves a purpose – I have photos arranged by event, mainly, so that friends and family can go find photos from events, should they desire. I could get an account at Animus3 and maintain that separately from my gallery, but I know myself too well; it might start out nice, but would become more trouble than it’s worth. That’s why I gave up on LJ; I have my WordPress blog, and didn’t see the point in maintaining 2 independent sites with the same content. What I need is a way to modify Gallery to provide a way to categorize photos by style, in addition to holding them in sub-albums arranged by event. I’ve already added a custom field to photos for “category” – I’m sure with Dynamic Albums in Gallery 2.2 I can work out a way to give visitors the option to browse the established albums, or browse dynamicly created albums, organized by category. Let’s see what happens.

Going Old School

It’s probably been a month or more since I gave up Outlook (more here), and I’ve noticed something. As a result of giving up on Outlook, I seem to have given up on my PDA as well. Not that I ever used my PDA to it’s full potential; I used it mainly to manage my schedule, maintain my address book, hold shopping lists and display driving directions.

But times have changed. I stopped using Outlook, so it’s pointless for me to input my work schedule into my PDA, since I’ll just re-enter it into Google Calendar when I get home. MapQuest no longer supports the offline, downloadable maps for portable devices that it used to, which was the only reason I ever used MapQuest, really. If I can’t download my directions onto my PDA, I’ll just go back to printing them out like I did before I had my PDA.

So this basically leaves me with two remaining functions; address book and list holder. But again, since I’ve given up Outlook, I won’t keep the contacts in there up to date. I’m in the middle of creating a digital address book in Access to hold all my contact information, so that when Christmas comes around, I can just do a mail merge and print the addresses onto the envelopes. Hand addressing envelopes sucked when it was just my friends and family – I’m not crazy enough to try that for two families worth of Christmas cards. As part of that, I’m trying to find a way to print out address cards, as a sort of do-it-yourself kind of address book. I’m playing with forms in Access – ideally I want one card per person, so that when their information changes, I can just print a new card and replace it. Finding a way to keep it bound together, and not in an index card box, is proving problematic.

After ruling out calendar management, driving directions and address book, I’m left with list holder. That’s right, my PDA is a glorified notepad. And honestly, if I’m just using it to hold shopping lists, do I really NEED a PDA? I think not. And so, after checking out the Hipster PDA, I think I’m ready to give up the PDA and go analog again. We’ll see how it turns out.

Giving Up Outlook

A few weeks ago I decided I would try giving up Microsoft Outlook. I already used Gmail as my primary email account, and was getting frustrated with trying to achieve a two-way sync between Google Calendar and my Outlook appointments, so I thought I would just give up Outlook for Google. And honestly, it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. The main reason I used Outlook wasn’t just for use as an email client – if it was as simple as email, I would have given up Outlook for Gmail years ago. No, I used Outlook as a management system for my appointments, tasks, address book and email.

Everything I liked about Outlook, I can accomplish with Google, with few exceptions. I love Google Calendar, and the ability to manage my calendar and appointments online. I can share my calendar, manage invites, and have my daily agenda emailed to me so I don’t forget anything. With the personalized Google homepage, I basically created a web based version of Outlook’s “Today” view; email inbox, upcoming appointments, and tasks with upcoming due dates. Embedding my email and calendar into my homepage were the easy tasks; Google doesn’t yet have a to-do list, and so I had to look elsewhere for list management. Remember The Milk does Task management, and then some. You can share tasks with other users, tag tasks, associate a web page, give a time estimate, and more.

Honestly, the only thing I can’t accomplish with Gmail is auto-adding birthdays and anniversaries from contact information into a calendar, which would be really nice. Otherwise, I can never remember who has an upcoming birthday or anniversary. Another thing I wish Google would add is the ability to label/tag/categorize contacts. I would love to be able to filter out contacts; say I want to send an email out to family, but I don’t want to make a “Family” mailing list. If I could just filter out business contacts and friends, that would be convenient.

Review: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

If you’d asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d be reading a children’s book about wizards and witches at a magical boarding school, I’d probably have laughed at you. (Although The Worst Witch was great, back in the day.) It’s been a few days since I finished reading Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it. Out of respect of those who haven’t finished reading it, I’ll try not to give away any major plot points.

Overall, I’d say Deathly Hallows was a good book, although there were a few things I didn’t care for. For starters, the pacing and intensity. There seem to be only two levels of intensity, either mundane or OMG!DeathEaters!, with little segue between the two. While I have no problem with the dramatic, intense moments, you can’t have the entire book run at fever pitch, because then the readers get burned out.

A second point is the way some character’s deaths were handled. Now, I’m not talking about character death in general; I knew and fully expected loads of character death, since this is the big magical showdown between good and evil. But when a fairly central character dies, I was expecting a little more than just a passing “oh, so-and-so died.”

Predictability was also an issue. I realize this is supposed to be a children’s series, and so maybe Rowling didn’t want to confuse young readers with all sorts of dramatic plot twists, but I felt the ending was fairly predictable. Who would win, who would live, who would die, who would end up together; maybe there was a little meandering on the way, but I saw the final outcome a mile away. And while I was right about certain character’s allegiances, the only somewhat surprising thing for me was the REASON behind those allegiances.

And finally, one of the biggest beefs for me, was how contrived the plot was in places. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it deus ex machina, but it was close. Like when one of the horcruxes is destroyed, and Hermione explains the heretofore unmentioned magical phenomenon that can ALSO destroy horcruxes. Wow! Lucky thing that, eh? And the existence and behavior of the Deathly Hallows themselves.

All things considered, I would say Deathly Hallows is a decent finale to the Harry Potter series. It ends the series neatly, gives us a peak into the future, but leaves room for more. Whether or not Rowling will give us more is debatable, but there is certainly room for more history and interludes, should she choose to write them.

Review: Sex God

I suppose I should start by saying that this isn’t even a book I purchased for myself, as religious non-fiction doesn’t tend to be my genre of choice. I picked this up for Matt a few months ago, and after he finished it, twice over, he asked me to read it so that we could discuss it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a book named “Sex God,” but I figured it couldn’t be bad – the author is Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill, which is the church I attend (irregularly). I enjoy his sermons, and hoped his writing style would be similar.

To start off, the title is a bit misleading; attention grabbing, but just slightly misleading. The focus of the book, as the full title suggests, is the connections between sexuality and spirituality. The definition of “sexuality” isn’t the conventional one, though; Bell’s definition of sexuality is a bit broader, more like the connection with others that we are all in search of. Not what I was expecting, but it was interesting. Rather than sexuality, I would say this book is more about personal relationships, marriage and love, and how they relate to and are paralleled in our relationship with God. The book also manages to be religious, without being terribly preachy; most points and messages are delivered via anecdotes and short stories, including pop culture references.

While the book wasn’t what I was expecting, it was a good read. I found it insightful, and thought provoking. My only real beef with the book is that it doesn’t seem to focus on any one topic, which is likely due to the anecdotal, slightly meandering style of writing. You’ll start at one point, and sort of wander around a bit, and eventually come full circle; while there are some thought provoking points made, I just wish that he could have gone into more depth. My other minor quibble is how he does his footnotes. All of his footnotes are at the back of the book; you’ll read a passage, see the number for the footnote, flip to the back of the book, and find out exactly which passage of the Bible he’s referencing. That’s it. Not even the text of the passage, just the book, chapter and verse number. If I had to flip all the way to the back of the book, I want it to be for more than just 2 words. Shorter footnotes, like references to Bible verses, could have easily been placed at the bottom of the page, or even in-line with the text. All in all, though, I would definitely consider this to be a worthwhile read.

A New Project

Earlier in the month I posted about looking for a reading list type plug-in for WordPress, and finding Now Reading. I’ve since installed it, and finished customizing my library. I’m happy with how it looks (for now), and have decided that in an attempt to both read and write more, I’ll post my thoughts on books as I finish them. Not quite as ambitious as the “52 in 52” meme, where bloggers attempt to read & review a book a week, but a decent start, I think.

Frustrations with Tagging

As some of you may have noticed, I finally got around to implementing tagging a while ago, via the Simple Tagging plug-in. The categories in the sidebar are more like a table of contents, and the tags work more like the index at the back of a book. Generally, I’m very happy with the tags; I love having the list of related posts show up on the single view, and the Tag Cloud on the archive page makes it easy to find posts by specific topic.

My only problems are minor formatting issues, really. I want the Tag View page (the page you go to when you click a tag) to display just like it displays all the other archived entries. It does, mostly; I’ve made it use the same template that I use to display archived entries. The only problem is in the number of posts it displays at a time. I installed the Custom Posts Per Page plug-in ages ago, to dictate how many posts show up on given page views. On the home page, it is supposed to show 4 posts. On the daily view, monthly view, and search result pages, it’s supposed to show no more than 10 posts per page, and for all other views it’s supposed to show 999 posts. For whatever reason, the tag view page thinks it’s the home page, and displays only 4 posts.

The other minor bug relates to the footer. The 5 most recent posts and 5 most recent comments show up at the bottom of the page; on the tag view pages, the 5 most recent posts for that tag are displayed instead. The 5 most recent comments show up correctly, though.

I suspect the quirks may be related, but I don’t know for certain. My reasoning is that since WordPress thinks the Tag View is the home page (as the query property comes up true when I check if it’s the Home view), it’s using that same query to get the 5 most recent posts. I can create a workaround for displaying the proper number of posts on a tag view page, but I’ve exhausted most of my ideas for fixing the Recent Posts in the footer. Any ideas out there?

Reading List Plug-ins?

So, I’ve been checking out “reading list” type plug-ins for WordPress, because I’m getting sick of just keeping a text file on my PDA of books I’ve read, and ones I want to read. Whenever I come across a book that looks interesting, it gets added to the text file, but then I forget about reading anything on the list until I come across a new book that looks interesting. Wash, rinse, repeat. I was searching online, and came across the Now Reading plug-in, which is great – it lets you add books to a “library,” and you can mark books as “Have Read”, “Reading” or “To Read,” along with other details like when you read the book, and your own review. There are some beautiful implementations of it (Example) as well. The author of the plug-in has a nice implementation as well (here). I really like that rather than hiding the reviews away in the library, where someone may never see them, he’s made each review into a post, and linked to them from the book summary in the library.

Of course, the “Now Reading” plug-in made me think about what else I might consider applying it to. It would be nice to be able to create a library of video games; what I have, what I’ve played, what I’m playing now, what I plan to play. And for movies, as well; what movies I’ve seen, what I thought of them, what movies I own, et cetera. Of course, I already have lists of what movies & video games I own; reviews could be easily accomplished by simply creating and using a “Movie Review” or “Game Review” tag. So would I really NEED to extend “Now Reading” to include Movies & Video Games? For how I would use it, probably not.

I have a Wii!

So finally, I have a Wii. I was slightly off on the “Wiis are coming in on the 19th” aspect, though – they arrived at the DEPOT on the 19th, and we got them in Friday night, for Saturday. And I was almost right about them not lasting the day – I sold what APPEARED to be the last Wii at around 2:30pm. Someone had stashed another Wii by the towels, though, and we didn’t discover THAT one until almost closing. So there is still one Wii left!

This evening, of course, was spent setting up the Wii, making our Miis, and playing a little Wii Bowling. I still beat Matt, by a much smaller margin this time though. After that, I added the Wii to my wireless network, and let it update. This also means I need to get Wii codes from my friends out there with Wiis!