Friday, November 28, 2008

American Consumerism at it's Worst

Here's America's consumerism at it's worst. An employee at Wal-Mart was trampled to death due to the rushing crowd on the day after Thanksgiving. Sadly, it's not a joke. Read the news here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Re-imagining pop tunes with a Cuban beat

I don't know how I missed this in the past, but if you like Cuban music, the album "Rythms del Mundo Cuba" is worth a listen.

It came out back in 2006 and has a selection of pop songs redone to a Cuban beat. What originally caught my ear was hearing a Cuban version of Coldplay's Clocks while listening to Radio Paradise.

The album includes songs by Sting, U2, Franz Ferdinand, Ibrahim Ferrer, and more!

You can read and listen to more about the album on the official web site All profits from the album go to a good cause, too: Artists Project Earth (APE).

The album is available on iTunes here: Rhythms del Mundo & Coldplay - Rhythms del Mundo Cuba

Friday, November 21, 2008

Radio Paradise

I've added yet another radio player app to the iTunes App Store. You can read about the details on my company blog here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dim Sum

One of the things I really like about London is just about every restaurant in the city has vegetarian options. Even a restaurant that specializes in chicken dishes has a special section of their menu for vegetarians. You'd never see that back home with a place such as KFC.

I've often heard good things about dim sum, but never took a chance to try it back in the states since it's usually made with meat. I finally got a chance to try it here (at a restaurant called Ping Pong) and it's quite good.

For those who've never tried dim sum, here's my rough, probably inaccurate description. It's a Chinese meal composed of baskets of steamed foods, usually small breads or rice paper stuffed with meats or veggies. For a more complete and accurate description, check out Wikipedia.

Here's a snapshot of part of my meal.

I got some oddly named drink called a Chinese Mule - it seemed to be apple juice, sprite, mint leaves and lemonade mixed together. It looked a lot like swampy water, which seriously was a plus for me. I enjoy odd looking drinks which are tasty.

This last picture shows what a backet might look like inside. The larger puffy looking pastry is bread filled with vegetables and the other more shiny items are those wrapped in rice paper. I've never had bread that's been cooked via steam. It's has a much more delicate consistency than baked bread.

The item on the right in the basket is sticky rice wrapped in a large leaf (maybe a banana leaf?). When I first walked into the restaurant, I saw someone unwrapping one of those leaves and thought the person was pulling skin off a fried fish. Fortunately, I was terribly mistaken. The rice wrapped in a leaf is very good! Sticky rice is probably my favorite style of rice, when it's cooked properly. (There was the one time I ordered sticky rice from a Thai restaurant and it had the shape and consistency of a hockey puck. I literally could not even cut it with a sharp knife! That was definitely the worst rice I ever had. )

Quantum of Solace

It was a rainy day on Monday (surprising weather for London) so we took some time out to see the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

For a while it was looking like we were going to be the only people in the theater:

But, shortly before the film started, more people starting showing up.

It was a pretty good film, but I liked the previous one better. This one seemed to have a less developed story and was pretty much non-stop action. Yeah, I know, a James Bond film with non-stop action - who would have thunk it?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

New Forest

I took a ride out to the British countryside today. Some friends and I went to New Forest. It's a national park in southern England - about 2 hours drive from central London.

One of the interesting facets of the "forest" is the roaming animals. My friends had told me there were "wild horses" roaming the forests and that they've been there since the time of William the Conqueror (from 1060 AD). As it turns out, the horses aren't actually "wild" - and they're actually ponies. They are owned by the "commoners" who live in the area and were granted certain rights to the forest by the Crown back in the time of William the Conqueror. One of those rights was to allow their animals to graze the forest. You can read more about the history of the forest here.

While the horses aren't really wild and they are actually ponies, they do roam free throughout most of the forest. It was kind of crazy driving down a road to a hiking trail to suddenly come across 4 ponies in the middle of the road walking directly towards the car. They did scatter out of the way fairly quickly, but it was a frequent occurrence to come across some ponies in the road. Here's a photo I snapped from the car (sorry it's a little washed out):

While it is called a forest, it's not necessarily what you might picture when thinking of the word forest. In this case, the term forest has a legal meaning, again dating back to the time of William the Conquerer. It was an area of land set aside for his official deer hunting grounds. So, the trees aren't "old growth" forest trees dating back to the 1000 AD. It's a managed area of land that has multiple uses, including timber harvesting. In fact, in much of the area, there aren't any trees at all. It's a very boggy area, and the soil is very poor for nutrients (the ground has a lot of clay), so not much grows in the area other than some types of brush and trees (which is apparently one of the reasons it never got developed like much of England).

What I found interesting was where there were trees, the surrounding ground was covered with only ferns. It made for a very pleasant area to walk. Here are a few pictures I snapped along the hike.

This last picture is just something I accidentally snapped while putting my phone away. I kind of liked how it turned out looking like the picture was melting...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Thinking about connotations

I've run into a situation I didn't think I'd ever have worry about with my new job. As I've mentioned in the past, I've developed an iPhone app for playing streaming audio over the iPhone. Now, a company is paying me to create an iPhone app for them for a rock-and-roll radio station.

Today I received the artwork for the app and found myself taken by surprise. For the background image used to represent the app in iTunes and on the iPhone, the station chose a photograph of a woman in a bikini. It's typical rock-and-roll imagery - woman in low-cut bikini laying on the ground (and wearing high heel shoes). Yeah, I know, it's no big deal - go to any beach, watch some TV, or stand in line at the supermarket, and you'll see similar images. (Ok, maybe at the beach you won't see the high heels part... I'd think the heels would sink into the sand making it difficult to walk.) But, it's not the photograph itself that I'm concerned with writing about here - it's my reaction to the artwork that what got me to writing this post.

For some reason, my initial gut reaction was, "I can't submit this to iTunes and have this image associated with my new company." Yet, the more I think about it, I'm not sure why that was my gut reaction. I was originally thinking the picture was "low class" but now I'm trying to figure out if there's more to it. Is it instead the case of me being a typical male and I'm reading more into the picture than there really is?

Why should I have an immediate negative connotation to a picture of a woman in a skimpy bikini? Can I blame my parents for my strict religious upbringing? Am I being sexist? Does this reaction say something deeper about my opinion of women in general if I think there's something negative about such a picture? And why am I writing all this personal stuff in my blog for everyone else to read?

Ok, at least I can answer that last question. I found it interesting that the idea of trying to analyze why I found something negative got me to finally consider maybe the problem was actually with my own perception of things. The whole direction the thought process took was unexpected. And I thought others might also find it thought provoking.

I still need to think a bit more about whether I really have a problem with the photo, but I definitely have some new sides to the issue to think about that I didn't initially consider.

Modern art/architecture at The O2

The O2 exhibition center is an odd looking building. It's on the Thames River near an industrial wharf area. Its design reminds me of the large piles of salt covered with tarps at the wharfs back home in Providence with the additional oddity that someone left some "crane seeds" in the pile and these yellow cranes sprouted up. Yes, that description makes little sense, but check out the photo and you might have a better idea of what I'm trying to describe:

The structure is HUGE and underneath that tarp are a bunch of buildings housing restaurants, a concert center, an exhibition hall, several movie theaters, etc. etc.

At the landing for the catamaran ferry, there were several modern art sculptures. I found this one particularly cool:

Here's a closer-up view of crane seedlings sprouting out of the roof of the tarp dome.

London sunshine

Believe it or not, this photo was taken around 1:00 PM - this is the height the sun would be around 3:30 PM back home. I forgot how low the sun is on the horizon in London this time of year. It starts to get dark around 3:30... ug....

And while it was sunny at the time of this photo, it was raining a few hours later (as was predicted).

London Tower Bridge

I took a catamaran ride down the Thames to visit the O2 Exhibition Center to see the Body Worlds exhibit.

Along the way, we passed under the Tower Bridge. It's a pretty cool view passing directly under it.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos on this trip. I didn't bring my real camera - just the camera built into my iPhone. It's always a trade off of the convenience of less baggage to worry about vs. the lack of having good control of taking a picture of an interesting scene. For this trip I opted for less baggage. On the river trip today I definitely regretted not having a camera with a decent lens. There was lots of interesting architecture along the way.

London city home garden

Here's the backyard garden view from the home where I'm staying. Most
homes in the city have their own little private patch of walled-in
green in their back yard. It's a quaint little spot.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Typical London Weather

In case you wonder whether the London stereotype of lots of rain is true, here is the extended forecast:

Look! Down in the sky!

It's a bird! No it's a plane!

If you click on the this picture for a larger view, you can see there's another plane slightly below the plane I'm in. I guess this is a busy route. In about on hours time I saw our plane pass over 2 or 3 other planes while we were over the middle of the Atlantic.

The US election results from a British perspective

While riding the subway (or "tube" as they call it) from the airport, I saw an interesting headline on the front page of a local London newspaper: "America is looking a bit cool again." I wished I had snapped a photo of it - it was typical London tabloid style - the headline was in such large print it took up the whole front page!

Anyhow, it's promising to think America's world-wide reputation might be on an upswing from steep nose-dive it took over the past several years. Of course, it was just a sensationalistic tabloid headline, so who knows whether world opinion is really changing...

Sunrise somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

This is a view from my flight to London last night / this morning. I left Washington DC around 10 PM, but didn't arrive in London until 10:30 AM. I happened to wake up just before the sun came up - I think it was around 3:30 am (home time, or GMT -5), but was over the middle of the Atlantic the time.

Coincidentally, there was another airplane about a half mile away heading in the same direction, but I couldn't get a good picture with my phone's limited camera.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Today's the day, so take some time out of your busy schedule and visit your local polling place.

It's a surprisingly warm and beautiful fall day. I took a break from work this morning and walked the 1/2 mile to the nearby elementary school that's my designated polling place. There were absolutely no lines. Other than the walk, the actual voting process took about a minute. I had to sign a form and then play connect the dots on the voting card:

In an odd coincidence, two different people sent me this same humorous video

I guess they really think I'm an unreliable voter...

My favorite part of the video is the view of the church sign saying "All God's children welcome, except for Brian Stormont."