aCuppa

Tea-drinkers running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) should head to the Android Market and download the free version of Cuppa for Android, aCuppa. It’s a straight port from the iOS version, so looks and acts exactly like iCuppa on iPhone/iPod Touch. I intend to create a native Android app at some point but I figured this ported app was better than nothing.

iCuppa

From the App Store description:

Cuppa for iPhone is finally here! iCuppa is a small application for iPhone and iPod touch to time your cup of tea as it steeps. Tired of leaving your tea too long, to become bitter and cold, or drinking it too soon and not appreciating its full potential? Then this utility is for you!

Just tap the name of the beverage you are brewing. Cuppa will begin timing the brew, and you’ll see a teabag appear in the cup and gradually darken as the tea steeps. A countdown timer shows the steep time remaining. When the tea is done iCuppa will let you know by making a sound.

Tap the “Edit” button on the selection screen to customize your personal iCuppa beverage list and steeping times.

Click here to view iCuppa in the App Store.

A Life Well Wasted

Sometimes my nerdiness takes over and I end up doing the darnedest things. Today I finished a project, the results of which are pictured above. Yes, I painstakingly (and rather expensively) constructed this pixel art tribute to my favorite retro arcade game, Snow Bros, out of 285 LEGO bricks in nine colors. It stands 10″ tall. Why did I do this? Nerdiness.

Best Albums of 2008

  1. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
    I adore this album. Its soaring lightness combines with simple earthbound beats, and the result is certainly their happiest and most perfect work yet. Seeing Sigur Rós live for the first time — finally — at Benaroya Hall earlier this year cemented my opinion that they are one of the best bands ever.
    • One great track: “Við spilum endalaust”

  2. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
    I guess I didn’t realize that the hype swirling around West for a couple of years now was actually deserved. I started listening to Graduation shortly before 808s came out and was hooked immediately. 808s is completely different and completely genius.
    • One great track: “RoboCop”

  3. The Knees – Sexual Radio
    This is some of the catchiest music I’ve heard in a long time. Imagine Liz Phair fronting Weezer and somehow in the process creating some very, very infectious songs that you’ll be singing in the shower for days.
    • One great track: “Sick of Being Stoned “

  4. The Teenagers – Reality Check
    A surprisingly good, if sophomoric, pop album. Unfortunately I’m 100% certain that we’ll never hear anything from The Teenagers again (or at least not anything worth listening to).
    • One great track: “Love No”

  5. M83 – Saturdays = Youth
    Oh, my. It’s so beautiful.
    • One great track: “Graveyard Girl”

  6. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
    Where else are you going to hear Kelly Clarkson, Nine Inch Nails, MC Hammer, Elvis Costello, Shawty Lo, Rick Springfield, Chris Brown, and Nelly Furtado — all on the same track? This is a man who can do a proper mash-up.
    • One great track: “Here’s the Thing”

  7. The Grand Archives – The Grand Archives
    I am just so pleased that Carissa’s Wierd continues in these various new forms (see also: Band of Horses).
    • One great track: “Sleepdriving”

  8. The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me
    The Notwist have definitely not produced an album to rival or even match 2002’s Neon Golden, but this is still a really strong offering. I’ll take it.
    • One great track: “The Devil, You + Me”

  9. Black Kids – Partie Traumatic
    Merits? A consistently good album with one obvious standout track, but also, they get props for an sincerely fun a-cappella performance at Easy Street Records.
    • One great track: “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You”

  10. The Cure – 4:13 Dream
    Yay! It doesn’t suck!
    • One great track: “Underneath the Stars”

Best Albums of 2007

  1. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
    Six more tracks of epic instrumental post-rock from these highly consistent Texans.
    • One great track: “Welcome, Ghosts”

  2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
    Their sophomore effort wasn’t nearly as disappointing as I feared it would be.
    • One great track: “Keep the Car Running”

  3. Blue Scholars – Bayani
    The best hip-hop duo in the Northwest (and possibly the best anywhere).
    • One great track: “Back Home”

  4. Maps – We Can Create
    Hard to describe but easy to appreciate.
    • One great track: “So Low So High”

  5. Coconut Records – Nighttiming
    If these songs weren’t so dang catchy, I’d happily hate Jason Schwartzman’s self-indulgent new project.
    • One great track: “West Coast”

  6. Rock Plaza Central – Are We Not Horses
    IT’S A CONCEPT ALBUM ABOUT ROBOT HORSES!
    • One great track: “I Am an Excellent Steel Horse”

  7. Stars – In Our Bedroom After the War
    I think the best of their creative juice has been depleted, but Stars can still write a dulcet tune.
    • One great track: “The Night Starts Here”

  8. Maserati – Inventions for the New Season
    Yummy, psychedelic experimental rock.
    • One great track: “Synchronicity IV”

  9. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
    More of the same, but that’s okay.
    • One great track: “Ode to LRC”

  10. Radiohead – In Rainbows
    How much did you pay for it?
    • One great track: “House of Cards”

Death of a Murderer

Rupert Thomson’s eighth novel, Death of a Murderer, is something of a departure from his earlier work. Previously Thomson has preferred to set his stories in blurred, dreamlike alternate realities such as Moon Beach, the pseudo-Los Angeles of The Five Gates of Hell whose economy is based on funerals, or the nameless European city where The Insult‘s protagonist finds himself unable to see except, paradoxically, at night. It is Thomson’s skill in treading the line between realistic fiction and outright fantasy — never fully crossing into either territory but always staying within spitting distance — which has earned Thomson the respect and adoration of me and many other readers.

Odd, then, that he’s decided to set his latest novel in a recognizable modern-day England, complete with accurate descriptions of existing roads and highways as well as a cast of characters that can only be described as normal. And, of course, the premise of the story itself is firmly based in reality, inspired as it was by the death of the infamous killer Myra Hindley in 2002. After Hindley’s death, her corpse was placed under 24-hour police protection until the funeral, such was the vitriol of the UK public’s hatred of the woman.

In Death of a Murderer, Thomson imagines what it may have been like to be one of those constables, sitting alone in a hospital morgue with the body of a serial murderer. Sounds creepy, right? We are introduced to Billy Tyler just as he’s being offered overtime pay to do the hapless job. Billy accepts, feeling a mixture of dread and curiosity, and for the bulk of the novel we are treated to a kind of psychological case study of Billy’s reaction to the situation. In the presence of the killer’s body (Thomson never actually mentions Myra Hindley by name) he cannot help but recall certain episodes from his own past, sometimes dredging up memories directly related to the murders and at other times addressing Billy’s lingering doubts about his own moral worth.

The macabre, fascinating subject matter, paired with Thomson’s trademark precise but evocative writing style, makes for a very good read. One reason why this book works so well is that creepiness just exudes from nearly every page. There is a pervasive undertone of death and sadism throughout the book, which is quite obvious at times, as in the passages describing the killers, but more often manifests itself on a smaller, more personal level as Billy explores his past, his feelings about his family, and the recesses of his psyche. Some readers might find the ending unsatisfactory; although we’ve followed Billy into some very dark places, learning quite a bit about him along the way, as he exits the morgue at the book’s conclusion it’s unclear what, if anything, he’ll do next. But I think with Death of a Murderer Thomson has really succeeded in creating a memorable and evocative case study contrasting the dark deeds of a serial killer with those of a simple everyman. I highly recommend this novel.

Marshmallow Burger Dad

This weekend I had the pleasure of viewing Hamburger Dad — a movie that answers the question, “Is it better to wake up in the morning to find you’ve turned into a hamburger, or a lobster?” Along the way we gain much insight into the life of a newly transformed hamburger. For example, the hamburger cannot drive a car but can operate a TV remote control. Also, the hamburger is the life of the party, perhaps because of his wry, self-deprecating sense of humor and his leniency regarding alcohol use in his home. I won’t spoil the surprise ending of this movie, but suffice to say that Hamburger Dad and his angstful teenager have a very touching father-son bonding moment.

At the end of this odyssey, though we felt a bit disoriented on leaving the theater, my companion and I had the presence of mind to present the filmmakers with a marshmallow burger. Because what else can one do with a marshmallow burger? Certainly not eat it.

Things I’ve Bought That I Love

Say you got together a dozen scientists and told them to come up with the perfect beer. This beer would be light and refreshing but also flavorful. Scientists are a practical folk, though, too, so they will want to add some healthful ingredients to this concoction. Of course the trick is to find something that fits. Chinese medicine has long recognized the antioxidant properties of the goji berry, and since it tastes really good, a scientist-brewer could do much worse than to include goji juice in a beer. Granted, they would probably have to be scientists that tend slightly toward hippie sensibilities. But choosing the goji berry is definitely a stroke of genius, as I recently discovered when I tasted New Belgium Springboard Ale for the first time and I realized it is it. The perfect beer.

I’m not sure if New Belgium referred the secret ingredient selection process to a panel of hippie scientist geniuses, but according to my imaginary world this is the only way such a wonderful beverage could have come into existence. So, if you only drink one beer this spring, make it a Springboard, because it’s only available seasonally.

(With apologies/props to Mindy Ephron.)

Sun Whitebox

My coworker and I toured Sun’s experimental Blackbox when it stopped by UW earlier this week, just for giggles (we run a fairly small shop, so we’ll never need one of these things). Ars Technica did a nice job on their writeup of the tour, but here are my own observations about this product.

  1. Project Blackbox only includes the shipping container full of racks and related infrastructure. No cooling, nor electrical generator, is included. This makes the product significantly less exciting (to me). Imagine if this system was completely self contained — just plop the container down in the jungle and it can run independently for a week on diesel or something — now that’d be awesome. Sun’s reps did, however, say that they have partnered with vendors for chillers and generators, so they can at least help you get everything needed to run one of these things.
  2. The way they cool these racks of equipment is pretty unique and clever. The eight racks are arranged in two lines along the sides of the container, back-to-front, kind of like lines of marching ants. There are no cold aisles or hot aisles; the (cold) front of one rack abuts on the (hot) rear of the next rack, with a condenser/fan assembly in between to chill the air and keep it moving. When the system is sealed by closing the doors at each end of the container, airflow takes a circular route around the perimeter, getting cooled at eight points along the way to keep each rack at optimum temperature.
  3. The guy giving tours was Conan O’Brien’s miniature doppelganger. But he was not hilarious.