Capn Design

December 2004

This month I posted 37 entries, watched 6 videos and took 19 photos.

Tops of 2004: Music

Posted December 31, 2004

Last year I ended up with 30 albums I felt were worth sharing. This year, I only have half of that. Although there were a few things I really enjoyed, I was not as excited by this year's releases.

That being said, all of these records below made me extremely happy for a period of time. Instead of giving you a miniature review of each record, I'll just give you links to read about and then buy the album. Enjoy.

1. The Arcade Fire - Funeral
Metacritic / Amazon

2. Air - Talkie Walkie
Metacritic / Amazon

3. Iron And Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
Metacritic / Amazon

4. Kanye West - College Dropout
Metacritic / Amazon

5. John Vanderslice - Cellar Door
Metacritic / Amazon

6. The Faint - Wet From Birth
Metacritic / Amazon

7. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender
Allmusic / Amazon

8. A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder
Metacritic / Amazon

9. The Divine Comedy - Absent Friends
Metacritic / Amazon

10. TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Metacritic / Amazon

11. Joseph Arthur - Our Shadows Will Remain
Metacritic / Amazon

12. Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine
Metacritic / Amazon

13. The Secret Machines - Now Here Is Nowhere
Metacritic / Amazon

14. The Libertines - The Libertines
Metacritic / Amazon

15. Phantom Planet - Phantom Planet
Metacritic / Amazon

Best EP: The Decemberists - The Tain
Sorry, no Metacritic or Amazon stuff for you.

Albums I liked but needed more time:
Brian Wilson - Smile
Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse
Wilco - A Ghost is Born
Nellie McKay - Get Away From Me

Previous Years' Music Lists:
2003: 1-15 16-30

Metacritic Redesigns

Things are busier, but still good, and they added books

New Years Resolutions and Reward System

Posted December 30, 2004

I'm sick of resolving to do things every year and then do them for just a week or so, only to give up. After talking to my friend Alyssa, I've decided to institute a reward system. She has to accomplish certain goals each week, and if she completes them she buys herself a private boxing lesson. This seems like such a simple idea and I think it could work for me.

I'll have a simple point system for each of the things I'd like to do. Ideally, it will work something like a credit card rewards program (but with attainable goals) If I reach my goal, I'll set aside $15 to spend on toys (CDs, movies, video games, etc.).

Below are my resolutions for 2005. Each time I do one of these things in a week, I get a point. I'm going to start with 15 points as my threshold until it's warm enough to bike; after that it'll go up to 20. Also, for every point over 15 I'll add a dollar to the pot.

  1. Ride my bike to work (1 point for each direction)
  2. Floss
  3. Go to the gym
  4. Email an out-of-town friend for no particular reason
  5. Post to my photoblog
  6. Pack a lunch for work

This is a decent start. If this works, I'll begin to add things and up the point threshold. I'll also be adjusting the threshold on the fly if it is much to easy to accomplish my goals.

After the first month of putting this into practice I'll give you an update.

Amazing Card Stacking by Bryan Berg

Where Did the Humans Go?

Posted December 29, 2004

In tomorrow's Circuits, Katie Hafner of the New York Times takes on customer support numbers. Just about everyone is familiar with how difficult it is to get customer support numbers for internet companies, the most famous example being's customer support number (800-201-7575). Hafner talks to a number of people who have learned tricks for finding a path to a human.

Aside from hiding their phone numbers, companies make it insanely difficult to speak to a human once you find their phone number. Virtually every call I make to a major company begins with a lengthly discussion about their website, their automated systems and every other product they've created to avoid human interaction. There is only one company that I know of that promotes their number: Their gimmick, which definitely works for me, is that a human picks up the phone when you call instead of a sweet-talking aumotated system. I can't describe how valuable this is.

The lack of human interaction these days reminds me of James Gleick's book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. In it, he devotes a chapter, "The Telephone Lottery", to customer support numbers and how companies have shifted from valuing the customer's time to valuing their own.* The chapter talks about this in depth, but one impressive stat is that the software industry by itself makes Americans wait 3 billion minutes every year.

In the New York Times article, Katie Hafner discusses a woman's problems when her credit card was declined. She couldn't find a support number and freaked out a bit. Hafner writes:

"I was getting a bit panicky," said Ms. Flynn, who lives in Cork, Ireland. "And when you're in a panic state you really want to talk to a human being." Finally she found an online customer-service form and filled it out, twice, just to be safe. It took four days to get a personal response by e-mail.

Later, she writes:

Mr. [Lou] Garcia, from the consumer affairs group, said that he planned to stick to his guns; that it was in a company's best interests to make sure a customer could get through to a person. "Because if they can solve your problem, the chances are really high that you'll be a satisfied customer," he said.

This reminded me of the book I'm currently reading, Defensive Design for the Web, which is about contingency design. The book focuses on how to turn mistakes into something positive. When talking about a customer study from a hotel chain, they said, "Guests who experienced a problem that was quickly and politely resolved rated the hotel service higher than guests who had no problem at all. And guests with happy resolution of their hassle were more likely to recommend the hotel than trouble-free guests." This hits the nail on the head -- why don't these companies view the ability to talk to a customer as an opportunity? Another quote from the NYT article says that people were calling an iPod accestory store for iPod technical support. Instead of turning off phone support, which is what they did, the company should have trained their sales staff to gently explain why they can't give support, offer them some helpful alternatives and then try and turn the call into a sale. This seems like common sense.

A company like Amazon has less to gain from posting their phone number for all to see, but people have come to expect and now accept that large corporations are difficult to contact. Email might be the best option in those cases. It is small- to medium-sized companies that stand to benefit.

As an example, a few years back I bought $75 worth of speaker cable from a small company online. Two weeks passed and I hadn't received anything despite leaving phone and email messages, so I wrote and said I'd be cancelling my order. Still, I couldn't get a response. They finally contacted me after I told them I had called the Better Business Bureau. I was surprised when they credited me and also sent me the product, but their lack of customer support meant I would never buy from their company again.

It's only a matter of time before companies begin to realize the opportunities available in customer support. If myself or any of the people mentioned in the NYT article had made human contact early in the support cycle then we would have been happy customers. Instead, I'm ranting about this on my blog and Ms. Flynn is being quoted in the New York Times. If these online stores shift at least some of the value of time back to the consumer it would be a win-win situation -- consumers would walk away happy and retailers would sell more product.

If you know of any good or bad examples of customer support, I'd love to hear them. Let's smoke out the baddies together.

*Previously, I wrote a post about how to enhance the waiting experience.

ThinkSecret Reports that Apple to Announce $499 Mac in January

MacWorld is shaping up to be exciting this year

The Perils of Car-Naming

[via autoblog]

American is Stupid and I'm Stupid

Posted December 24, 2004

This morning, Jori and I arrived at 6:21 for our 7am flight from JFK to LAX. We were rushing, since there wasn't much time left to get there, but we weren't expecting to be locked out.

"I'm sorry, the flight is closed."

"What?!? It's not even 6:25!"

"Our flights close exactly 45 minutes before departure."


Yes, we should have caught an earlier subway and arrived an hour and a half early, but completely locking someone out of a flight when they are there 45 minutes in advance seems excessive. I suppose I've learned my lesson but it's frustrating that we'll likely be waiting to leave until 4pm, which is the flight we now have boarding passes on. We were lucky to even get those, as some of our fellow standby buddies weren't able to fanagle the same deal.

These buddies are one of the few good things about waiting around in the airport. Like my last battle with airlines, I've met a few good people who are stranded here. It's like having your own support group.

With any luck, Jori and I will be in Palm Springs tonight, enjoying my grandparents' swanky pad in the desert. In the meantime, I'll be watching Divx episodes of the Amazing Race and the Wire.

Village Voice's Take Six: Best Films of the Year

[via GreenCine Daily]

Five in a Row for the Bulls

First time since 1998. Sweet.

The Graphing Calculator Story


A Fantasy Football Quandary

Posted December 22, 2004

This week I am competing in our fantasy football superbowl. My team has been doing really well as of late, but now I'm torn regarding my quarterback situation. Below I will list the four QBs on my roster and the team they're opposing this week. I'd like you to chose the two guys you think I should start.

As of right now, I'm leaning towards Eli Manning and Aaron Brooks. They are by no means perfect choices, but none of these guys are. Harrington is typically cold and the Bears have a good passing defense; Holcomb has broken ribs; Manning is facing what's proven to be a tough Falcons defense; and Brooks is pretty safe, but he has been slumping this year. With that, I'll open this debate up to you all.

  • Aaron Brooks (New Orleans Saints) facing the Cincinnati Bengals
  • Joey Harrington (Detroit Lions) facing the Chicago Bears
  • Kelly Holcomb (Cleveland Browns) facing the Miami Dolphins
  • Eli Manning (New York Giants) facing the Atlanta Falcons
Meta-list of Best Books of 2004

by Media Bistro [via TMN]

Floating Logos Project

[via Robot Johnny]

Chrismukkah Comercialized?!?

Posted December 19, 2004

YarmuklausI can't believe it. Last year the OC invented Chrismukkah and it was beatiful. A melding of Christmas and Hannukah that brought us all together. Well, the purity of Chrismukkah is finished. Fox has tainted it by selling all kinds of shwag.

Did you see that Yarmuklaus on last week's episode? Well now you can buy it for $15.95. They also have a $46 dollar photo album, Chrismukkah cards and tons of wrapping paper. It's really just too bad. This holiday used to mean something.

The only reason I can allow this at all is because this season of the O.C. has been great so far. Every week it's a new crisis which is partially resolved by the end and it rules. It's like it jumps the shark every week. Hell, I think this show is the shark but that's why it's fantastic. Pure and simple, it is my guilty pleasure. Well done Fox.

If you haven't seen the show, here are some bittorrent links to download a few episodes.

Blogs for Business Conference Call

Posted December 16, 2004

I decided to sit on a free conference call today called Blogging for Business, hosted by Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners and Anil Dash of Six Apart. It is designed to help businesses to use blogs to open up a new line of communication with their customers. I don't know how helpful it will be for me personally, as I work for a non-profit, but I'm hoping I'll catch some interesting nuggets.

I'm in the call right now and I'll update this live if anything interesting comes up.

  • A key factor in the success of a business blog is the authenticity of the message. Is the author authentic or are they just regurgitating previous messages? People want a real voice, which is a hard concept for many companies and organizations to swallow.
  • Tools effect content. When a blog is used internally for a project, participants tend to take more time composing their message because they know it will be available later in the archives. With email, they are less likely to have well thought-out comments.
  • Coudal's site for this seminar

The seminar is over and it was...fine. It seemed to be geared more towards people who didn't know too much about blogging. Also, there didn't seem to be too much information in there, which isn't surprising since we only had an hour.

I'd love to see something similar done just for non-profits. I feel like this is a subset of business blogs that needs to be treated differently Hopefully the powers that be will take notice and start something.

Lists companies' political contributions. Thank God Netflix is in the blue. [via The Real Janelle]

Glasses Held to Face by Piercing

[via boing boing]

A Simple Restaurant Idea

Posted December 15, 2004

About five years ago, getting a personalized beeper was all the rage at chain restaurants that tend to have long waits. You'd sit around waiting and then a little disc in your lap would start to pulsate and flash red LEDs, then you'd go to your table.

Instead of that, we should be using text messaging. When you give your name and the number of people in your party, you should also give your cell phone number and your provider. Then, when your table is ready, the reservation system will send you a text message telling you so. This little feature would let people run a quick errand or head across the street for drinks and when their table is ready they can make their way back. It's terribly simple and would be quite helpful.

I'm sure there are tons of applications to manage reservations and waiting lists at restaurants and I couldn't imagine this would be tough to implent. The only requirement is that the computer have an internet connection.

If you know anyone who makes reservation software, let me know. I'll sell them the idea for six figures. And sure, I'll cut you in.

EA Purchases Exclusive Rights to NFL Licensing

This means that they will have pretty much no competition. Ridiculous. [via]

Nifty Homemade iPod Ad
Secrets of Firefox 1.0

Finally, Soup Burg Gets Some Credit

Posted December 10, 2004

This week, Time Out NY lists the top 100 burgers in NYC. At number three on the list is my all-time favorite burger, Soup Burg. For as long as I've been reading lists about the best burgers in the city, Soupburg seems to be left out. This time, it's all the way at the top.

Their burger has nothing quirky about it -- it's just a flat-out great tasting diner burger. I highly recommend the Bacon Swiss Burger. Also, Soup Burg has a distinct charm. Hidden away between Madison Avenue's fancy shops is this wood-paneled diner that has been around for 55 years. It's one of those places where you see rich folks dining alongside construction workers. I just love it.

Here is the rest of the top ten, which I'm dying to check out:

1. Donovan's Pub
2. P.J. Clarke's
3. Soup Burg
4. Pastis
5. J.G. Melon
6. Rare Bar & Grill
7. Fanelli's Cafe
8. Paul's
9. Blue Ribbon
10. MetroCafe & Wine Bar

The company's new iMac G5 model is the single best desktop computer I have ever reviewed

, said Walt Mossberg. Take that Windows!

Born Into Brothels

Posted December 8, 2004

This week, Born Into Brothels opens theatrically. The film is a documentary that follows Zana Briski, a photographer, as she befriends and teaches photography to children of prostitutes in Calcutta's red light district. I was able to see this film this summer at a screening at the Museum of Television and Radio and it was very moving. The filmmaking was not spectacular, but it was mostly do to editing and that's likely been fixed by now.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because Jori helped out a little bit with promotion early on. So, I feel connected and I want to see this succeed. On top of that, the story is truly unique and it was chosen as the best documentary of the year by the National Board of Review.

As a result of her experiences in India, a non-profit organization called Kids with Cameras was created by Zana. The page also contains the official Born Into Brothels page.

If anyone would like a viewing buddy, I'll be happy to see it again.

Uncle Mark's Tech Gift Guide for Non-Techies

Not too many suggestions and some unrelated material in the back, but very thorough and useful [via MUG]

Five Mistakes Made by Band/Label Sites

Amen, brother. These ideas were floating around in my head for years.

Cartoon Character Skeletons
I'm Gonna Get the S710a

This shall be my new phone. Supposedly, it'll be out on Cingular by the end of the year. I can't wait.

Red Herring Writes About Kottke's Legal Issues with Sony


A Couple Site Changes

Posted December 3, 2004

First, the RSS files now point to the quick post URL instead of the archive URL so you won't have to click in your news reader. I used the MTCompare plugin to do that.

Also, in order to prevent comment spam, I am closing comments on entries older than a month old. Also, I'll only open comments on entries that warrant comments. For instance, this one won't have comments. You can always send me an email though.

That's it for now. I'm hoping to do some new stuff with this site in the next month or two. Don't worry, you'll be informed.

Netflix Friends

Posted December 2, 2004

According to Hacking Netflix, Netflix is planning on rolling out a new feature called Friends (no relation to the tv show, thankfully). Essentially, it'll be a social network where you can see ratings by your friends and you'll have a page where you can see recommendations based on what your friends are watching. Netflix has posted an informational page about the new feature.

I'm really excited about this feature. Everyone trusts their friends' judgement over those of the critics and random movie nuts, which is why this is so cool. Without sending an email to all of my movie friends, I can already have their opinion on the site when I'm scoping out a movie.

The feature is in public beta right now, but I'm hoping it rolls out soon. I'm really excited to play with this.

Also, the Netflix link has an informational flash video and Hacking Netflix has a few screenshots.

EA Responds to Claims of Sweatshop-like Hours
Largehearted Boy's Best of 2004

with MP3s

The New Issue of Game Studies is Now Up

This is "the international journal of computer game research"

Tenative Coachella Lineup for 2005


New Rules for the Subway

Reminds me of Jason's rules for the subway


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