This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Monday, January 31, 2005
VivaMustachio! logo design

I decided to start working on VivaMustachio.com, so I worked up the logo you see above. I think it is pretty snazzy. I hope to crank out a Blogger template for it this week. I've already picked out the first mustache to be showcased. Stay tuned.
Friday, January 28, 2005
Haterism & Viva Mustachio!
I picked up yet another domain name this week. This time, it is haterism.com. The term comes from a Dungeon Family lyric that had always made me laugh: "And I keep a box of extra clips / Cuz haterism is a trip."

I got the domain on a whim after my coworkers and I noticed that we always referred to any criticism within our little work group as "hatin'" or "playa hatin'" or "haterism." So we thought it would be funny to create a website that celebrates both playa hatin' and playa appreciatin'.

Some of our random ideas included a blog dedicated to calling out haters (like the NFL after fining Randy Moss for the fully-clothed, simulated moon). And we might just have a section, sort of like HotOrNot.com, where you can "hate" or "appreciate" as you step through a series of celebrity photos. Of course, there could be an e-mail newsletter called HateMail.

BTW, the last domain that I registered on a whim, VivaMustachio.com, will be used to create the "premier destination for mustache enthusiasts" (whatever that means). Think of it as a MulletsGalore for the new millennium.

So go ahead and add those links to del.icio.us now.
Some Kind of Monster
I was almost late for work this morning because, for some reason, I started watching the just-released Metallica documentary "Some Kind of Monster." I am only about 20 minutes in; however, I am hooked. It's got that whole Behind the Music feeling where you know something bad is bound to happen.

I used to listen to Metallica in junior high and high school(Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets) and even went to a couple of their concerts over the years (opening for Ozzy on Master of Puppets, headlining their Black Album tour).

The last one I attended was actually in college. I wasn't really a fan of the music anymore; however, a fraternity brother of mine loved them (and I had access to tickets and backstage passes). So I went for old time's sake, I guess.

After the show, we were backstage when we saw James Hetfield hanging out and drinking a beer in the hall. He didn't really seem to be doing anything, so we figured it would be OK to go up and talk to him. When we approached him to ask for an autograph, he belched beer in our faces, scribbled "Jaymz" on a piece of paper and quickly went back into their dressing room. A real charmer.

Later, Jason Newsted walked past us wearing a sweater and glasses ('cause that's so metal), but we didn't say anything to him (We had decided to not approach anyone else after the "Jaymz" incident). Newsted, however, still felt compelled to hold up us his hand (to imply "Don't bother me") when he passed us. Dork.

I pledged on that day to never put another penny into their stonewashed pockets. So, I can't wait for the scenes in the movie when they go to rehab (Is that wrong?)! Buuuuurrrrrpp!
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Reaction to Oscar nominations
After looking over the list of nominees for the 77th Annual Academy Awards, I am really disappointed (as usual) with some of the choices.

The biggest omissions, IMO, were Jim Carrey for Lead Actor in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and Michel Gondry for Directing "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Sure, "ESOTSM" was my favorite film last year; however, how does Kate Winslet get a nomination and not Jim Carrey. It's especially ironic because Winslet was playing the typical Carrey role in the film.

And as for directing, no director did more visually than Michel Gondry. I truly believe that it wouldn't have been close to the same film without Gondry at the helm. Nothing against Taylor Hackford who got the obligatory nomination (because "Ray" was nominated for Best Picture); however, Gondry is much more deserving.

There were two pleasant suprises in the list as well. Charlie Kaufman getting a Best Original Screenplay nomination for "ESOTSM" and Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke getting a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for my other favorite film of 2004 "Before Sunset."
Monday, January 24, 2005
IceRocket's RSS Builder
IceRocket, the very Googlesque browser which counts Mark Cuban as an investor, has launched an RSS service called RSS Builder.

Although it took me a minute to figure out what the point was (and I'm still not 100% sure), I think I know what they're offering. RSS Builder allows you to create a custom RSS feed item by item and then publish it to your website.

So, you could add that item you saw on Slashdot, then something you saw on Engadget and something else you saw on sMoRTy71. RSS Builder will generate a new feed that allows you to serve us those random items in your own feed.

While it is cool that they are offering a free service, it makes me wonder why you wouldn't just create a del.icio.us account and use the RSS feed that comes along with that to accomplish the same thing. Seems like that would be easier to do. However, if you are one of those people that prefers to do things the hard way, then RSS Builder beats the crap out of del.icio.us.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Cracking my own software
Software makers really need to rethink the whole idea of printing the serial number to their software on those little white CD envelopes (and not anywhere on the CD itself). If you lose the envelope, you lose the ability to install the software.

That happened to me today when I was trying to install a copy of the Nero Burning Rom (that I own) to use with DVD Shrink. I had the CD, but not the envelope with the serial number on it. So, in order to use it, I had to go online and search for a serial number to crack my own software.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Composite mania

Donald Andrew Agaratt's "Professor Lull"

I recently saw the wonderful composite photos from Donald Andrew Agaratt on the Flickr blog and thought I would like to try his technique.

Well apparently, I wasn't the only one who wanted to give it a try. Searching Flickr for the tag "composite" returns 191 photos.

Here are a few of them: The Tomahawk Kid, Hodge, Phillip, Springdew, Dehgenog, Uidzero.
Unfortunate juxtaposition
As any reader of this blog knows, I am not a fan of Apple products. Some may go so far as to call me a "hater." So you can imagine my dismay when I was forwarded this e-mail from one of my co-workers.

The right column of the e-mail shows my photo in an ad for the Show Us Yours home theater showcase that I was featured in back in September. The left column features nothing but Apple products. So there I am smiling like a goofball next to a bunch of white, over-priced, zealotry-inducing "computers."
Thursday, January 20, 2005
I really like Picasa 2
Being a Flickr snob, I had never bothered trying any other photo services or software. I just figured that I had Flickr, so what more could I need?

Well, as with many things in life, I didn't fully understand what Picasa is all about. So, on a friend's advice, I downloaded Picasa 2 this morning. Damn, it's cool! I'm really starting to think those folks at Google really are as smart as everyone says they are.

Although I haven't played with all of the features yet, I love having the ability to organize my photos. We've taken over 6GB of photos in just over a year (that's what having 3 kids will do for you) and they're currently just arranged in folders by the date they were downloaded to the PC.

Picasa has freed us from the crash-happy Kodak EasyShare software we had been using for the past year. That makes me very happy.

So get Picasa 2. It's free.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Never go inside a McDonald's
Let me start off by saying that I rarely eat fast food anymore (probably 4-5 times per month). One of the main reasons is because my wife is a vegetarian and, as Jules so wisely noted in "Pulp Fiction," that pretty much makes me a vegetarian, too.

With that said, I still like to "dig on swine" occassionally. So, I spend most of my 4-5 monthly fast food visits at McDonald's during breakfast hours. And despite my horror while watching "Super Size Me," I usually get... the McGriddle.

Today, I was heading in to work a little early and found the McDonald's drive-thru line wrapped around the building (yet another reason I shouldn't go into work early). I took a quick peek into the dining room and saw only one person in line. Against my better judgment, I parked the car and went inside. Bad move.

First of all, the lone guy in line also worked at McDonald's. I think he figured it was OK to totally be mackin' on the cashier when he was off the clock, so they chatted and flirted and laughed for a couple of minutes before finally taking my order.

Next, an angry old man came bursting in and went behind the counter to confront the woman at the drive-thru window (No kidding!). The man claimed that he didn't get any sausage on his sausage biscuit. Apparently, he thought the woman in the drive-thru window would have his sausage. This whole confrontation ground food preparation to halt for a couple of minutes while Gramps was wrestled to the floor (Just kidding, there was no wrestling...unfortunately).

Finally, I find out that this McDonald's maintains a single order queue. So all of the orders from the drive-thru are getting filled before mine. I simply have the benefit of being inside enjoying the "show."

After all that, I walk out with my McGriddle just as the car that was originally behind me in line pulls up to the window to pick up their food. Ba-da-ba-ba-bah, I'm lovin' it.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Automated again
I hooked up all of my super low-tech x-10 automation stuff again. For some reason, I go through these phases where I want to do more home automation stuff. Other times, I get frustrated with how lame my x-10 stuff is and throw it all in the basement. It's basically one or two notches above the Clapper.

I've got the kids' lights, our outside lights, our garage lights, our basement lights and the my "sanctuary" (my home theater) lights on modules. I haven't really programmed anything fancy yet, though.

I just have the outdoor and basement lights programmed to turn off at a set time. We always tend to leave those on all night.

I also have the kids' lights set to dim down to 25% brightness at bedtime. That way, we don't need to leave a hall or bathroom light on for them all night. The lights then turn all the way off around midnight.

I really can't wait until we build our next house. I am totally going to shell out the cash for one of the Control4 systems. I want to be able to walk around the house and have dumb stuff happen automatically.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Netflix calculator
I love stumbling onto things like this Netflix calculator. It makes me realize that all of the goofy stuff I do with my website or my HTPC are just as goofy as what some other people are doing. I take some comfort in that.

Anyway, if you have ever wandered how many DVDs you could get per month with Netflix (if just estimating in your head isn't exact enough), then the Netflix calculator will sooth your inner Rain Man.
Those kidders at Weather.com
I was playing some music in Meedio tonight when I decided to check out the weather forecast. One of the images I use in the Meedio Weather module is the Severe Weather Alerts radar image. For some reason, I never noticed the text that Weather.com adds at the bottom of the image. It says:

"In order to comply with National Weather Service safety tests, occassionally this product will display test alerts, which are normally conducted during calm, quiet weather."

Wow, that makes me feel great knowing that the radar image for severe weather could be showing test data. You would think that they could come up with some more reassuring verbiage and maybe even some "test" graphic that overlays the map. Then again, that would take all of the fun out of it.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Grouper is Souper!
I downloaded Grouper today and it is super cool. It is a private P2P app that integrates chat and a media player. While this might sound like a wacky combination of features, it really makes a lot of sense.

Here's how Grouper works:
You install Grouper and select files that you want to share with your friends. You then create a group and invite friends to join (just enter in their e-mail addresses and Grouper sends out an invitation). Once friends join the group, you are able to browse and download any files that your friends have shared.

One of the cooler applications is for streaming MP3s. The built-in media player lets you play files from your own computer or from the shares of your friends. No need to download them. Just queue them up in your playlist and stream them.

I have my HTPC's music files shared and I listen to them from the Grouper app I have installed at work.

Best of all, Grouper is private and encrypted, so there will be no "Imperial entanglements."

Grouper is free. Get it here.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Unsecured webcams
HackADay.com feature this Google query a couple of days ago. You can use it to find unsecured internet webcams. And I'm not talking about your garden-variety, static webcams, these are webcams, like the Veo Observer, that allow you to actually move the cam around from your web browser.

I only poked around for a couple of minutes (and many of the links are hit or miss in terms of them actually loading a webcam); however, I was able to reposition a couple.

I have been planning on getting a similar webcam. I guess I will need to avoid leaving them unsecured like these poor schmos.

Find some unsecured webcams.

UPDATE (01/14/2005):
HackADay suggests a new query for "inurl:ā€¯ViewerFrame?Mode=Refresh" instead of the one mentioned above.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
CNN.com finally adds RSS
I'm not sure how long they've been doing it; however, I just noticed that CNN has added RSS feeds to their site. There are 14 feeds that, for the most part, align with the site categories in their left nav bar.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Taggregator
Found a link (via del.icio.us/flickr) to a tag aggregator that someone wrote to display both del.icio.us and Flickr results for a given tag.

Just add your tag to the end of this URL:
http://oddiophile.com/taggregator/index.php?tag=

I did a test using the term "Vikings" and actually saw 3 of my Flickr photos in the results.
DirecTV's move to MPEG-4
One of DirecTV's big CES announcements was that they will start rolling out HD local channels to about a dozen markets this year. While that sounds like great news for anyone living in those markets, there is some concern about hardware requirements.

The new HD locals will be MPEG-4 which will allow for more efficient compression of the video signal (more compression = room for more channels). Currently, DirecTV doesn't use MPEG-4. So all of us with HD DirecTV receivers who wish to receive the HD locals will need to upgrade our HD receivers (and possibly the dishes, too!).

If I have to scrap both my DirecTiVo service AND my $450 HD receiver in 2005, I will definitely be looking for a new provider (after 8 happy years with DirecTV). I can only imagine how those suckers who shelled out $1,000 for the HD TiVos feel.
I really want to try Videora, but...
OK, as my loyal reader(s) know, I am always trying out the web technology flavor of the month whether it be an RSS service or a social networking site. I just love to see what other people are doing with web technologies and then see how I can apply that to my site or my work.

Now recently, I subscribed to the "BitTorrent" tag on del.icio.us and am seeing all of the cool apps and sites that are serving up TV shows via BT.

Using RSS apps like Videora, you can search for TV shows that you would like to download as well as set up Season Passes and Wish Lists. It really is (as has been widely quoted in every technology publication) TiVo for the internet.

I really, really want to give this a try. More for seeing how it works than for the TV shows (OK, that's kind of like saying that you read Playboy for the articles, but it's true). After all, I already have a TiVo and my HTPCs are configured to record TV as well.

I guess all of those MPAA lawsuits are having an effect on me because, during the Napster heyday, I would dangle my IP address out there for anyone to see (that sounds like of dirty, doesn't it?). Now, I don't want to risk getting busted.

Hey, maybe I could come over to your house and test it out! That would definitely work.
Sunday, January 9, 2005
Netflix: Profiles
Sorry for all of the Netflix stuff the last couple of days; however, I just noticed that Netflix has added yet another new feature called Profiles. It allows you to create different queues for up to 5 people on the same account. So, I can set up one for my wife or the kids and then select how many of our 3 DVDs that they can have at one time. For example, I could say that my main account gets 2 of the 3 DVDs we can have at any one time, while my wife or kids gets 1.

To set it up, go to "Your Account" and select "Add Profile" from the "Account Profiles" box.
PVRBlog's CES TiVo wrap up
Matthew Haughey over at PVRBlog was able to swing by CES last week and check out the latest products and services from TiVo.

I like Matt's coverage because he goes beyond the press releases/media hype and really looks at the products. For example, he confirms that the upcoming standalone HD Tivo will have two tuners (a topic of much speculation on message boards) and he points out some of the sure-to-be-annoying aspects of the TiVo-to-Go DRM (having to enter your password every time you play a TiVo file on your PC).

If you're interested at what you'll be seeing from TiVo over the next 12-18 months, check out his entry here.
Saturday, January 8, 2005
Netflix: Friends & UI
Good news: I got an e-mail from Netflix yesterday saying that they were rolling out the Friends feature to all Netflix users. I've really enjoyed the feature so far and look forward to expanding my Friends list. It is really interesting when you see 3 or more friends rate a movie differently (especially when it is a big difference between the ratings).

Bad news: For some reason, Netflix has removed the color coding that made their tabs and the star ratings easy to figure out. For example, the "Browse" tab and the overall user rating (for the general Netflix population) were red. The "Recommendations" tab and your own movie ratings were both shown in yellow. The Friends tab and Friends' movie ratings were purple. As a new user, that color coding really helped me learn how the site worked.

Now all of the tabs are the same color (and are in a different location). This is a bummer since the design change doesn't have anything to do with the new Friends functionality. It appears to be a change for change's sake and those usually don't work so well.
Friday, January 7, 2005
DirecTV's TiVo-less DVR
According to News.com, DirecTV has announced its first DVR product that doesn't use TiVo. As it was heavily reported a few months ago, DTV, which is now owned by News Corp, sold all of its stake in TiVo and started developing products by News Corp-owned NDS.

And based on the press release from DTV, TiVo users are not their top priority. "We'll support our existing TiVo customers... but our core initiatives and new customer acquisition will focus on our new DVR."

I really love the superior picture quality, convenience of a single unit and cost savings ($5 instead of $13 for TiVo service) I get from my DirecTiVo. I really hate to think that when I need to upgrade my 4 year-old DirecTiVo (in the next year or so) that I may lose those benefits.
Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink"
WIRED has a two-page review of Malcolm Gladwell's upcoming book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." From what I read in the review (and from my previous experience with Gladwell's "The Tipping Point"), it sounds like a really good read.

As with TTP, Gladwell turns conventional thinking on its head a bit with his concept of "thin slicing" which refers to "people reacting to the barest of new information and arriving at smart decisions others with more information couldn't make."

The part of the WIRED piece that hit home most with me was this section:
"We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it."

I have had colleagues in the past who would shoot down the feedback of more experienced co-workers by mentioning how long he/she has been thinking about the problem (as if the amount of time somehow negates the co-workers' collective experience).

It is great to see Gladwell showing that, if you don't have the proper experience or knowledge, you can think about something for a really, really long time and still not come up with the answer (or idea) that might take those with more experience a few seconds to arrive at.

The book is set to be published on January 11th. You can preorder it from Amazon here.
Thursday, January 6, 2005
Hammered on 43 things tonight
I finally got around to trying out 43 things which is yet another one of the social networking sites that I've signed up for in the past few weeks.

Basically, 43 things is a public to-do list. You post things that you want to do and others can add that task to their list. Eventually, you form little groups around common tasks.

While it sounds kind of kooky (and the many of the tasks are kind of flaky), I think it could be interesting and helpful for certain things that require collaboration or advice. I guess it can also be used as a way to organize and chronicle your progress through a particular task.

In addition to things you want to do, you can also keep a list of the things you have already done. I've created a pretty goofy list of things just to try out the functionality:

http://www.43things.com/people/view/sMoRTy71

At some point, I am going to have to go back and delete all of these memberships, otherwise I will have all of these test profiles with really lame things in them. And we can't risk tarnishing the sterling reputation of sMoRTy71, right?
Wednesday, January 5, 2005
RSS Digest is cool!
I started using yet another free RSS service this morning called RSS Digest. It allows you to take any RSS feed from any website and get a script that will display items from that feed as HTML on your website.

For example, I used the RSS feed for the list of links that I just started creating on del.icio.us (because del.icio.us doesn't have "badge" functionality like Flickr does) and created a section on the lower right of this page to display them. I am also going to create one for my Netflix Queue just to have some more dorky fun.

What would be really cool is if you could input multiple RSS feeds into RSS Digest. So if your blog or website dealt with a particular topic, you could display links from all of the topic-related websites.
Tuesday, January 4, 2005
Started using del.icio.us
I have had del.icio.us on my list of sites to try for several months; however, I had never gotten around to setting up a membership.

Today, after reading this article on the emergence of user-generated taxonomies ("folksonomies") on sites like del.icio.us and Flickr, I decided to give it a shot.

Basically, del.icio.us is like Flickr for links. You can create a list of bookmarks that you tag with keywords. Others can then view your bookmarks based on the keywords you use or by going to your user page. If you've used Flickr's Tags feature, you'll be able to figure out del.icio.us tags.

I have only put a few links in so far; however, you can check out my page here:
http://del.icio.us/sMoRTy71
Robo pr0n
If robots excite you (I mean, really excite you), then you should download and print the free 2005 PlayBot calendar.
Monday, January 3, 2005
Affordable home automation
WIRED has a really cool article about a company called Control4. They make turnkey home automation systems; however, unlike other systems, Control4's systems are actually affordable.

According to the article, they are trying to expand the market for home automation products beyond high-end new construction (which only accounts for 1% of new construction).

I've dabbled with cheapo home automation stuff for several years; however, I've only really done things that control lights or appliances. When we build our next house (sometime next year), I am definitely going to look into the Control4 solutions.

You can go through an interactive demo to find out what kind of solutions Control4 has for your needs.
Clearance shopping at Target
Amy and I are among the most frugal (or is it "froogle"?) people on the planet. We usually have most of Christmas presents purchased by the end of the summer and we never pay full price. So, as you can imagine, the 75% off after-Christmas markdowns at Target are like a religious pilgrimage for us.

Last night, I went out to pick up a cheap printer for the computers upstairs (my current Canon multifunction is kind of buggy as a network printer). I was able to pick up a Canon IP2000 photo printer, which is a solid, budget-priced printer according to CNET, for $29 (marked down from $80). They also had all of their photo paper on sale for 50% off, so I got 100 4x6s for $12.

While I was getting my 3 items, Amy and Mira, who had split from the group, had managed to fill an entire shopping cart (past the top) with 75% off merchandise. Because some of it may end up as your Christmas present next year, I will refrain from listing all of the items. However, I will say that she got over $400 worth of stuff for around $100.
Saturday, January 1, 2005
Thank you, Toys R Us
Yesterday, we went out to run a bunch of errands (Home Depot for some flooring, BedBath&Beyond if we had enough time). One of the things we planned to do was take the kids to Toys R Us to let them spend their Christmas gift cards. We decided to go to TRU last so that the kids would have plenty of time to shop.

We arrived at around 5:55PM and were ready to spend the next hour or so buying toys that the kids absolutely didn't need. Unfortunately for us, Toys R Us was scheduled to close at 6PM because it was New Year's Eve.

Cut to 5 minutes later. Mahlon and I are outside and I am getting the "I-told-you-we-should-have-gone-to-ToysRUs-second speech. As my eyes glaze over, I look back inside and see Miles having a total meltdown at the exit door. He is crying and pretty much freaking out over the cruel 5-minute toy shopping trip we've just subjected him to.

The manager of the store also noticed this and told us that the employees would be in the store for at least another half an hour, so we could come back in a continue to shop. On top of that, one of the clerks, who I'm sure was ready to go enjoy NYE, went to the back, put on the Geoffrey costume and came out to see the kids.

I haven't always been the biggest fan of TRU; however, they really went above and beyond what we expected in this situation. Now, we have more toys...hooray?

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.