Favorite TV shows of 2007 (Plus a Bonus)

Posted in reviews, tv at 11:28 pm by danvk

(See also my favorite podcasts of 2007)

I’m not usually much of a TV watcher, but with shows increasingly going online, a one-hour episode can nicely fill up a shuttle ride. Without further ado, my favorite TV shows of 2007 (the bonus comes at the end):

I Love New York
Quick question: what’s the most commented-on post on danvk.org? It’s this one by a mile, with 74 comments and counting. Clearly danvk.org should become a Reality TV blog. After some digging, I realized that this was where all the visitors were coming from. New York was a completely hilarious show, hitting its stride about halfway through as the antics of Chance, Mr. Boston and the Stallionaires developed. I haven’t seen much of season two, but I have high hopes.

(FOX, Monday nights and online)
Sometime last year Gray’s Anatomy decided that medicine wasn’t interesting anymore and I started looking for a new show. Hugh Laurie could make just about anything entertaining, and the show comes up with some fun cases as well. Major style points for the Massive Attack theme song.

(PBS, WGBH Boston)
Frontline won my affections by putting their Endgame" actually made me understand The Surge in Iraq. Almost all episodes are great, but "Hand of God", "A Hidden Life", "e;Tank Man" and "The Age of Aids" are particular favorites.

planet_earth.jpgPlanet Earth
(BBC and Discovery Channel)
The prettiest show you’ll ever see, this was produced to help push new HDTV’s. One of my friends bought one this year, and this series was simply breathtaking on it. The first episode, “Pole to Pole”, “Caves” and “Jungles” are my faves.

Favorite Hip-Hopera of 2007
There’s just no contest in this post’s special bonus category.

closet.jpegTrapped in the Closet
(R. Kelly)
I’m afraid the first five or six scenes of this ‘hopera will squelch this genre with their greatness. R. Kelly just can’t keep up the intensity, and the later episodes are just too complicated. But man are those first few scenes great! Here they are on YouTube. The South Park spoof only adds to the magic.


Best Podcasts of 2007

Posted in reviews at 11:29 pm by danvk

(So begins a series of “Favorite X of 2007″ posts. Feel free to add your own faves or otherwise pillory me in the comments.)

Sometime after purchasing an iPod and gaining a two-hour daily commute, I discovered the wonderful world of podcasting. Podcasts are essentially perfect for bus rides. You can listen to them while waiting for my shuttle to come. It takes no effort to pack and unpack my iPod when I get on/off the bus (compare to a book or laptop). Raining? Lights not working on the bus? Laptop low on batteries? No problem.

The podcasting universe as I know it is split between existing shows (from NPR, etc) using a new distribution method and new shows made exclusively as podcasts. The beauty of podcasts is that they allow intrepid amateurs to exploit the long tail of people’s interests. The very best are surprisingly well-produced shows on a particular topic by someone who cares deeply about it. My favorite podcasts of 2007 are split between these two kinds.

this_american_life_logo.gifThis American Life
(WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, updated weekly)
Who doesn’t like this show? Ira Glass and friends find interesting stories from all around the country and bring them to you each week. Almost any episode is interesting but some of my favorites include “Act V”, “Habeas Schmabeas” and “My Reputation”.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

byzantine_emperors.jpgTwelve Byzantine Emperors
(Lars Brownworth, sporadically)
Lars is a retired high school history teacher who happens to have a passion for the Byzantine empire and an excellent delivery. Lars finds a way to make each episode entertaining, and you’ll wind up learning a lot about a pretty obscure period that bridges the ancient and modern worlds. Sound too obscure? Think again, this is one of iTunes’ top fifty podcasts.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

on_the_media.jpgOn the Media
(WNYC — New York Public Radio, Friday evenings)
This is meta-news: reporters reporting on what reporters reported the previous week. And that can often be more interesting and informative than the story itself. In three months of listening to this show, there’s only been one episode I didn’t enjoy. New OTM episodes pop up on iTunes around 6 or 7 Friday evening and, I’ll admit, I’ve stuck around work until then just so I could listen to the new episode on the shuttle.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

(Richard Miller, sporadically)
One part of “the long tail of people’s interests” is local flavor. Sparkletack is the San Francisco History podcast. Richard is a graphic designer who loves his home town, and his podcast has turned him into an amateur historian. Early episodes are short and hit a wide range of topics, then sometime early this year they started to become more professional: longer, more in depth, and better researched. Some of Richard’s mannerisms can be a bit much, but his episodes are generally excellent and give me perspective on my new home. About halfway through one episode, I realized that all the events were taking place at a park just a few blocks from my house! I doubt that many cities have a local history podcast, but if yours does, give it a shot.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

meet_the_press.jpgMeet the Press
(NBC, Sunday mornings)
I’ve always liked Meet the Press, but I could never listen to it in the past, either because I was asleep or in Church on Sunday morning. Podcasting solves that problem. I usually enjoy the analysis more than the interviews with newsmakers.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

What are your favorites? I’m always looking for new podcasts, and would love to hear suggestions.

Using Track Parser

Posted in music, programming, web at 12:27 pm by danvk

pitchfork-tracks.png Pitchfork Media has released their two standard year-end lists, the Top 100 Tracks of 2007 and the Top 50 Albums of 2007. As usual, they’ve been lampooned all over the web, including one critique in pie chart form. For me, they made for perfect listening on a long car drive this weekend.

In my case, this list led to a good use of my Track Parser script, which is in all likelihood the most useful program I’ve ever written. It’s an AppleScript for iTunes (i.e. Mac only, sorry) that lets you apply regular expressions to track names/tags. Here’s how I used it today…

Through some strange turn of events (certainly nothing to do with this), I found myself with a playlist of the top 100 tracks. The music was all there, but none of the songs had their “Artist” field filled in! Here’s where my Track Parser script came in.

I googled around and quickly found this page, which has some commentary on the list, as well as what we’re interested in: a copy of all the songs/artists in simple text form. (For what it’s worth, I agree with his reactions.)

I copied the list and ran two regular expressions to get it down to just the artist (s/ ".*//g and ^\d*: if you must know). The tracks are in reverse order of what we want (100 to 1 instead of 1 to 100). So I ran pbpaste | tac | pbcopy to put the #1 track at the top of the list. Or I would have, if Mac OS X had the tac command. Instead, I ran this monstrosity:

pbpaste | perl -ne 'push @x, $_; END { print for reverse @x }' | pbcopy

to do the same thing. In retrospect, I should have just sorted my playlist in reverse track order.

Next I went into iTunes and selected my songs. I ran “Track Parser (Clipboard)” from the Scripts menu, clicked “New Pattern” and put in “%a” to extract the artist from each line. Track Parser handled the rest. Total time: about five minutes.


San Francisco History Center

Posted in personal at 11:07 pm by danvk

If you live in San Francisco, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to the History Center on the sixth floor of the downtown library.

I’d heard about it in a Sparkletack episode and decided to do a little research on my apartment this weekend. The staff was incredibly helpful. I walked in and told them that I’d like to learn about the history of my apartment in Russian Hill. The staff took me by the hand showed me which resources I should consult, what sort of information I could expect to find, how to use the microfilm reader, etc.

As a first step, we looked at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which are accessible online with a SF Library card. Sanborn created detailed block-by-block maps of many American cities from the mid-late 1800′s to the mid-1900′s. We used these to establish that my apartment existed in its present form at least as early as 1913. Here’s a detail from my block in that year:


Next I looked at the San Francisco Block Books, which catalogued the owners of each property at various times from 1894 to 1915. For a span of 25 years, there was surprisingly little turnover on my block. Houses kept their owners, or changed hands within a family. We yuspies must not have found the neighborhood yet!

There was also an 1890 block book on microfilm, but they only had half of the Western Addition maps. Mine was in the other half which, as the main helping me explained, was probably destroyed in the fire after the 1906 earthquake.

Before the library closed, I took a look at the Water department’s records, also on microfilm. The date that the water was turned on at an address is a good indicator of the date the property was built. It also names the owner of the property at the time. There was an entry for 1371/3 Union Street from May 24, 1884 listing “Geo. L. Bradley” as the owner. There was a famous George L. Bradley who lived around this time, but I couldn’t find any evidence that he’d ever been to San Francisco.

That will have to wait for next time. I’ll definitely be heading back to the San Francisco History Center!

Never buy a D-Link WBR-1310 Wireless Router

Posted in personal, reviews, web at 10:25 am by danvk

I bought one from Fry’s a few months ago because it was the cheapest option and I assumed all wireless routers were more or less the same. Not so. You’d think the D-Link QA people would have discovered that this thing can’t maintain a connection for more than five minutes before it went to market. Here’s a smattering of reviews:

  • Strengths: the lights are really pretty with the rest of the blinking lights that make up my computer setup.
    Weaknesses: how about holding a connection for more then 2 minutes”
  • “Mistakenly, I didn’t check any reviews before buying it, but if you look, you’ll see the same thing over and over. The WBR-1310 drops its wireless signals, without fail, every 5-15 minutes. Not once, in the entire time I owned it (which was only 2 weeks untill I finally got fed up enough to return it) did it hold a signal for over 15 minutes.”

So do your research before you buy a wireless router! I bought a Linksys WRT54G to replace the D-Link, and have been happy with it in the past two days of use. The Wiki article says that this was the first wireless router to have its firmware open-sourced. As my roommate pointed out, that speaks volumes about Cisco’s confidence in this product.

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