Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lake Conroe On A Sunday Afternoon

Music Monday - Electronica Classics Recorded In New Orleans


Since yesterday's Katrina Retrospective post deviated from my traditional Set Sunday series, I'm reappropriating this week's Music Monday post with a hand-picked selection of four electronica performances recorded in New Orleans over the past 15 years.

The first two are drum & bass mixes from events I had the pleasure of attending at the State Palace Theatre.  Shy FX performed at "Caffeine Mean Joe Greene" in August of 2001, and Ed Rush & Optical performed at "Zoolu 8" during Mardi Gras 2002.

The final two mixes represent the oldest and newest recordings I have of electronica events in New Orleans.  One is a recording of legendary electronica duo Orbital's performance at the French Quarter House of Blues during November of 1996.  While it's only encoded at 96kbps, the 1.5 hour recording is still quite listenable, and a personal favorite in my collection.  The final mix is a pristine recording at 320kbps from Mark Farina during his performance at the Moloko Lounge last fall.

As the world waxes nostalgic about the Crescent City this week, take these sets as examples of what made New Orleans special for me.

Shy FX - Live at Caffeine Mean Joe Greene, New Orleans 2001-08-04

Ed Rush & Optical - Live at Zoolu 8 New Orleans 2002-02-09

Orbital - Live at House of Blues New Orleans 1996-11-28

Mark Farina - Live at Moloko Lounge New Orleans 2009-09-26 (Right Click, Save As)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cube Rat

Cube Rat
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

This plastic creature adorns the top of a cubicle wall not far from my desk.

Hurricane Katrina: A Real-Time Retrospective

I lived in New Orleans from August 23, 2000 to December 18, 2004. During those years I fell in love with the city and had my life forever changed because of it. While an education at Tulane University was the driving force behind my residency in New Orleans, a contributing factor was the city's thriving electronic music culture. As I transitioned from high school to undergraduate studies, my passion for electronica was perhaps only exceeded by my love of computers.

Given my interests, it wasn't long into the fall of 2000 before I discovered the Disco Productions Forum. This was an online message board hosted by the company of successful rave promoter, Disco Donnie Estopinal, and grew to be the preeminent virtual community of electronica enthusiasts in the Gulf Coast region. Although the central focus of the discussion board was electronic music, it came to be a hotbed for bantering about all things New Orleans.

When I moved to Delaware in early 2005 to begin my career as a Communications Officer at Dover Air Force Base, I still made daily visits to the Disco Forum to maintain a connection to New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, my wife & I breathlessly watched the cable news coverage from our apartment in Dover as the disaster unfolded. It was truly like witnessing a loved one being tortured in slow motion.

Aside from being glued to the television coverage from our vantage point some 1,200 miles away, we also frantically searched online for any news concerning the fate of the city. At the time, Facebook was still in relative infancy and Twitter did not exist. The Disco Productions Forum, however, turned into a virtual water cooler where all those from New Orleans or with ties to it gathered to swap stories and information.

During any disaster, an uncurated information clearinghouse will be peppered with hyperbole, misinformation, and emotionally-fueled tirades. It will also have some amazing insights, rich details, and first person accounts that a book or movie written about the disaster just cannot capture.

After nearly two weeks of living on the Disco Forum in the lead-up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that these hundreds of posts written by individuals impacted by the storm told an amazing story. So on the evening of September 7, 2005, I spent about two hours saving all of the Katrina-related posts to my hard drive.

This morning after I watched the fifth anniversary coverage of Katrina on Meet The Press, I remembered that I'd captured some really unique content all those years ago and hadn't done anything with it. So I've spent the rest of this August 29, 2010 compiling those threads from the Disco Forum created during the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.

All of the nearly 150 threads linked below are as I downloaded them on September 7, 2005. I've sequenced and time-stamped them in the order they were originally created because I think it truly illustrates how consuming and spreading information during a disaster is a bit like being in the fog of war. The only modifications I've done are to change the links in multi-page threads so that page 1 properly links to page 2, page 2 to page 3, and so on. All posts and their respective content are the ideas and responsibility of their respective authors. Some of the posts are controversial, profanity-laden, or have come to be understood as untrue with the luxury of five years of hindsight. I am reposting them today because I believe they have some historical significance and serve as a valuable reference for those who study Hurricane Katrina, social networks, disaster preparedness, disaster response, and the influence of the media on our culture.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lake Conroe

Lake Conroe
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

As seen from the patio of Eldorado Jacks.

Software Saturday - Simplenote

Recently I began writing more frequently on my blog, to the tune of at least one post per day.  I write best when I can first outline the structure of my story, and the inspiration for that post might strike at any point throughout the day.  That frequently includes a time when I'm not in front my laptop, so I sought out an app for capturing and outlining my thoughts that could run across my iPhone, iPad, & MacBook Pro.  Simplenote was the app I ultimately chose.

What most attracted me to Simplenote was its automatic syncing between instances of the app. That meant if I typed a few notes on my Simplenote iPhone app, those notes automatically appeared on the web version, the iPad app, and the third-party OS X Simplenote desktop client, Notational Velocity.

The app is decidedly no-frills, so you won't find a rich text editing environment like Microsoft Word or even Google Docs.  Think of it more as a cloud-enabled version of the venerable Notepad.  The stripped-down nature of Simplenote was part of its appeal to me, though.  It does one thing and does it well, without other bells & whistles as potential distractions.

You can sign up for a Simplenote account and find links to the iPhone/iPad app at the address below.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thirsty Thursday - Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Label

Located in Delaware, the Dogfish Head Brewery is an excellent craft brew maker that came to my attention upon moving to Dover in mid-2005.  The first time I had their 90 Minute IPA, it was paired with a delicious cheeseburger at the Dogfish Head Brewpub located in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Since the brew has a 9% ABV rating, you can only find it bottled in 4-packs.  This is the kind of beverage you pour into a glass and enjoy over the course of an hour.  It's remarkably flavorful and merits truly savoring each sip.  I drink this beer the same way I approach a nice scotch.

Photographs of the bottle enjoyed this evening are illustrated below.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Carton

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA 4 Pack

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Label

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Label

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Bottle Cap

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA Logo


Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Had my copy of this excellent book signed by author David Eagleman at tonight's TEDxHouston Book Club meeting.

Auburn in The Woodlands

Auburn in The Woodlands
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Saw this truck when leaving the office today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Safari In Corporate America

Safari In Corporate America
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Although the browser isn't available on my work PC, it apparently gets love from my company's graphic design folks when creating advertisements.

Writing Wednesday - Colorado Travels


Last week Ashley & I drove over to New Orleans to drop off Puggles, Texas Ranger at his grandparents' house, and then catch a flight to Denver.  The reason for our visit was two-fold: to visit some of our Air Force friends now living in Colorado Springs (who used to live with us in Delaware), and to attend the wedding of our friends Brian & Claude in Estes Park.

I'd prepared for our flight by loading up the television miniseries of Stephen King's "The Shining" on my iPad to watch on the plane.  This version of the movie was filmed at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, where we were staying for two nights of our visit.  Watching the movie over a couple of cocktails and chocolate chip cookies on our Frontier Airlines flight made for pleasant travels.

After renting a car at Denver International Airport, we headed south to Colorado Springs to visit our friends, the Tydingcos.  My love of gadgets is surpassed perhaps only by my buddy Anthony, so it was a lot of fun getting to check out his new home theater setup and hard drive collection.  Our evening was somewhat bittersweet, though, as Ashley & I learned that one of my fellow lieutenants from Dover Air Force Base, Tate Baloun, had died in an airplane crash in South Dakota only a few weeks earlier.

The next morning, we awoke to Christine cooking us a giant breakfast to start the day.  The first item on our agenda that day was to visit the United States Air Force Academy.  I'd visited the Academy during the summer of 2001 to participate in the SOAR glider program, but this was Ashley's first visit to the institution.  The cadets were already in classes for the fall, so we got to witness some of the freshmen marching in lines along the Terrazzo in the center of the Academy.

After a beef brisket-filled lunch at Rudy's BBQ in Colorado Springs, we headed to Manitou Springs to catch the Pike's Peak Cog Railway.  This 3.5 hour round trip train took us up to the top of Pikes Peak, at a whopping 14,110 feet in elevation (see picture above).  When we arrived at the top, I went into the gift center to look for their world-famous donuts.  The elevation made me extremely light-headed, though, and I ended up knocking over a shelf of stuffed animals while trying to gain my footing.  Given the lack of oxygen, this just seemed humorous, so I picked up the animals, found my donuts, and giggled for several minutes before venturing back outside to take photographs.

That evening, we grilled out back at the Tydingco's house, and got to catch up with our friends the Falks, too.  Brian was getting ready to deploy to Iraq for six months, so he got to pick Ty's brain about what to expect and what to bring.  Ty did a year-long deployment at Camp Victory in 2008, so we all sat around and listened to modern-day war stories.  Truly captivating stuff.

The next morning, the Falks hosted us at their house for another giant breakfast (yes, food was clearly a theme during this trip).  Ashley & I actually lived with the Falks during our last week in Delaware, and their dog, Sadie, is widely rumored to be the dog that finally convinced me that I should add a dog to the Western household.

After saying our goodbyes to our friends in Colorado Springs, Ashley & I headed north to Denver.  While we only spent 2 hours in the city, we were able to scout out most of downtown, grab some pictures of Coors Field, and even get recommendations for breweries to check out in Boulder from a random bartender.

Based upon that recommendation from our bartender at Rialto Cafe on 16th Street in Denver, we intended to check out the Walnut Brewery in Boulder.  However, after we made the 45 minute drive and parked our car, the most serendipitous of venues turned out to be located right next door:  the Boulder Absinthe House.  This restaurant / electronica club hybrid had only opened a couple of weeks before our arrival, but it was a perfect match for my interests.  As soon as we walked in the door, my eye spotted a bottle of my favorite absinthe behind the bar:  Jade Liqueurs Nouvelle-Orléans.  The only other place in America that I've found this absinthe is in Pirate's Alley in New Orleans, and I chronicled my discovery of that venue last year here.

Once we finished our absinthe & lunch in Boulder, we headed onward to Estes Park.  This would be the site of The Stanley Hotel, and the wedding we were attending.  When we checked into the hotel, the woman at the front desk indicated we would be in room 213.  As it turns out, room 217 (the haunted room from The Shining) was only two doors down, so Ashley was immediately freaked out.  I tweeted this out, and within a few minutes The Stanley Hotel responded, indicating that rooms 215 & 219 (our adjacent rooms) were also haunted.  Kudos to the venue for their social media savvy!

That night we attended the Kelly rehearsal dinner, and got to visit with Brian & Claude's extended family.  Since Brian & I have been friends for a decade, I'd met many of his family & friends previously, but it was enjoyable getting reacquainted in such a festive setting.

The next morning, the gentleman in the wedding party were up early to take a hike on Mills Lake Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park.  Hiking uphill from 7,000 to 10,000 feet turned out to be challenging, but the 9 of us on the adventure were able to make the 5 mile round-trip in 2.5 hours.

We all got back to the hotel with just enough time to shower & toss on our suits prior to the photographer showing up and then heading to the church.  As an added bonus, the wedding photographer looked almost identical to Richie Hawtin, which I pointed out to him by showing him this photograph.

The wedding itself was in a very small church built atop a giant boulder.  It was both memorable & romantic, so I have to give credit to Brian & Claude for choosing such an appropriate venue.  When the ceremony was complete, we all headed back to The Stanley for the reception to begin.  They'd hired a jazz band for the occasion, and we were treated to a sit-down steak dinner.  A truly classy and memorable affair.

Below I've linked in the various photo sets & videos that Ashley & I shot during our trip.  Hopefully it won't be another nine years before I can visit Colorado again!


Colorado Trip 2010 (The Entire Photo Collection)
Air Force Academy Visit
Pikes Peak Visit
Denver Visit
Boulder Visit
The Stanley Hotel
Hike In Rocky Mountain National Park
Brian & Claude's Wedding


Scale Model of United States Air Force Academy
United States Air Force Academy "Pursuit of Excellence" Video
View From Atop Pikes Peak Clip 1
View From Atop Pikes Peak Clip 2
Buster & Sadie Falk Around The Breakfast Table
Serving Jade Liqueur Nouvelle-Orleans Absinthe At Boulder Absinthe House
Driving Up To Estes Park
In Front of The Stanley Hotel Clip 1
In Front of The Stanley Hotel Clip 2
In Front of The Stanley Hotel Clip 3
In Front of The Stanley Hotel Clip 4
Rocky Mountain National Park Hike Clip 1
Rocky Mountain National Park Hike Clip 2
Rocky Mountain National Park Hike Clip 3
Wedding Reception at The Stanley Hotel
Matt Morales Gives Best Man Toast At Kelly Wedding
First Dance at the Kelly Wedding

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tech Tuesday - How I Use My iPad

Apple iPad + Sprint Overdrive

I bought my iPad on launch day this past Easter weekend, only a couple of hours after finishing the Crescent City Classic 10K in New Orleans.  Standing in line at the Best Buy still sweaty from the run (and a little fuzzy from the free Abita Amber that flowed post-race), I wasn't entirely sure how the iPad would fit into my computing lifestyle.  Now that I've been using it for 4 months, let me describe the five areas where I find it most useful.


When I've talked to friends & family about the iPad since it was announced, I described it as the perfect couch computer.  With long battery life, an instant-on capability like a phone, and its light-weight form factor, I don't mind holding it in my lap for a long time.  I can't say the same about my MacBook Pro, which gets painfully hot on the lap.  When I'm on the couch, I'm interested in casual computing, which means light-weight browsing of articles and social networks.  As such, I mostly use Reeder for reading my Google Reader feeds, and Flipboard for browsing Facebook & Twitter.


My wife, Ashley, & I make a lot of road trips between Houston & New Orleans, to the tune of about once a month.  A week after I bought the iPad, I also purchased a Sprint Overdrive which sucks in a 4G/3G signal from Sprint's WiMAX & EvDO networks and spits out a Wi-Fi cloud within a 30 foot radius of the device.  This means I can connect our phones, laptops, and yes, iPad to Wi-Fi as we're cruising down I-10 at 70MPH.  Ashley & I usually split the drive in half between Texas & Louisiana, so one of us gets to surf the web on the iPad for 3 hours and then we switch.  Mobile Safari, Reeder, Flipboard, iBooks, and Kindle tend to be the most frequently used apps when we're in the car.


As I wrote about last month, Penultimate tends to be the iPad app I use most frequently at the office.  Aside from it, I've found that I'm listening to more podcasts on my iPad than on my iPod or iPhone, so the iPod app on the iPad gets used frequently.  Recently, my company also switched over to using Cisco's WebEx conference calling/screen sharing solution, so I'm now regularly using the WebEx iPad app for meetings.


While we've only taken two round trip flights since I bought the iPad (one to Paris & one to Denver), it's proven to be the focal point during our air travels.  I picked up a Belkin RockStar headphone splitter to provide audio to Ashley & my brother during flights, and then encoded my movies with HandBrake for iPad compatibility.  When we weren't watching Paris-themed movies or The Shining, I usually played Pinball HD by myself or Game Table Checkers against Ashley.


Bringing the iPad on vacation is perhaps the coolest use-case I've encountered yet.  While staying at our apartment in Paris, the iPad turned out to be the computer of choice for my family, being used for directions on Google Maps, checking e-mail, and sharing our digital photos from the day with each other every night.  Using the iPad Camera Connection Kit, we copied over the images from my digital camera to the iPad each evening, and then passed around the tablet in the living room so everyone could see our pictures on a large screen.

After vacationing in Colorado last weekend, I discovered that Ashley & I each had about 300 photographs taken between our iPhone 4s.  Conveniently, you can connect your iPhone directly to the iPad via the Camera Connection Kit, and copy over the photos from the iPhones to iPad.  This meant that I could compile all the photos from our point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot SD970IS and our two iPhone 4s directly on the iPad so we could view the images from three cameras all on one device.


The iPad isn't going to replace my desktop, laptop, or iPhone anytime soon.  My desktop has terabytes of storage, my MacBook Pro is beastly in terms of processing power & RAM, and my iPhone can't be beat in terms of portability or quick bursts of computing.  But for a gadget geek who loves being connected, the iPad definitely fills a gap where a big screen, portable device is likely to be used for an extended period of time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Music Monday - Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue - Orleans & Claiborne

I first learned about Trombone Shorty from his appearance on Good Morning America during Mardi Gras 2006.  This was the first Mardi Gras following Hurricane Katrina, so there was an increased national interest in the city's recovery six months after the disaster.  Trombone Shorty was tapped to play intro & outro songs from commercial breaks during the show being broadcast live from Jackson Square.  The appearance was great exposure for the artist, and his "Orleans & Claiborne" album turned out to be only the second album I'd ever purchased from iTunes.  

For context, I cut my teeth on the No Limit Records and Cash Money albums of the late 90s.  These rap recordings were known for their unique style of syncopated beats and clear influences from the New Orleans R&B and jazz styles.  On "Orleans & Claiborne", Trombone Shorty captures that same sense of rhythm and beat style, but infuses it with the classic New Orleans brass band sound.  It is a powerful combination.

You may already be familiar with Trombone Shorty from his appearances as himself in HBO's Treme or from his song "Hurricane Season" which is the theme song for this season of MTV's Real World in New Orleans.

Since this Sunday marks the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, selecting this album from perhaps my favorite modern New Orleans musician seemed like a clear choice.  Music like this is what makes the city great.

You can purchase the album from Amazon below:

Trombone Shorty - Orleans and Claiborne

Ninja Japanese Restaurant

Ninja Japanese Restaurant
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

The crunchy rolls at this sushi joint on Oak St in New Orleans are the best in the world.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Giant statue of the jazz great in front of Concourse C in the New Orleans airport.

Denver To New Orleans

Denver To New Orleans
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Shot of the head rest GPS display in the Frontier Airlines jet before takeoff.

Solar Panel Farm Outside DIA

Solar Panel Farm Outside DIA
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

There appeared to be hundreds of rows of panels along the road between the rental car area & terminals.

Foursquare Swarm Badge

Foursquare Swarm Badge
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

I didn't think I would unlock this badge until SXSWi 2011, but it seems DIA had more than its fair share of Foursquare users on this Sunday morning.

Security Bin At DIA

Security Bin At DIA
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Picked up this fitting item when I checked into Denver's airport on Gowalla.

Set Sunday - Desyn Masiello at SOS Cruise Party NYC 2008

I ran across this set on MercuryServer only a couple of weeks after it was recorded aboard the Queen of Hearts cruise ship that sails around Manhattan.  If you can imagine the perfect mixture of mellow house music to accompany a sunset behind the New York City skyline, it would be this 2.5 hour compilation of tunes.

The production outfit of SOS consists of Demi, Omid 16B, and Desyn Masiello.  While all 3 individuals played during that evening in August 2008, this mix is Mr. Masiello's contribution to the party.  I had this recording in heavy rotation during the fall of 2008, finding it was just minimal enough to make a good study mix.  Enjoy.

Desyn Masiello - Live on SOS Cruise Party NYC 2008-08-02
Megaupload Download Link


01. Mr. Haywood Presents Goloka - Thinking About You (Islas Baleares Mix)
02. Alexander Koning - Basic Melody (Shur-I-Kan Remix)
03. Weekender - Route 1
04. Slyde - Frequency (Miles Dyson Remix) [Dub Edit]
05. Luca & Paul - Dinamicro (Karotte By Gregor Tresher Remix)
06. Wudwerd - Bocas del toros (Wudwerd Bros Main Mix)
07. ID
08. Subotic - I'm sure
09. Komytea - Professional Killers
10. Yves Murasca - Saxophobic Satisfaction (Christian Hornbostel Harpo Dub Mix)
11. ID
12. Sebastian Davidson & Nick Orisun - Natural (Cosmic Belt Vocal Mix)
13. More Or Less - Breeze
14. Toni Rios - Second Hand
15. Booka Shade - Charlotte (Remix)
16. Rodney Hunter - Huntermatic (Dub Edit)
17. Three Minutes, Mark Murphy - Secret (Dublex Inc. Remix)
18. ID
19. Michael Cassette - Winter
20. Kiki & Lisa Evans - Bipolaire
21. Juergens - Love It
22. Tocadisco - Morumbi (Original Mix)
23. Alex Tepper - Grains (TG Mix)
24. Agaric - It's Hot [Luxaflex Holland]
25. Madonna - Vogue (Edit)
26. Kenny "Jammin" Jason - Can U Dance
27. Telespazio - Telemetric (Arto Mwambes Guitar Down Mix)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Software Saturday - BeejiveIM

When I used to carry an Air Force-issued BlackBerry circa 2005/2006, the Google Talk BlackBerry OS application served as a great replacement for my SMS needs.  Typically the people I texted with frequently were my wife & brother, and both were heavy Google Talk users.  Instead of sending SMS messages back and forth, they would just IM me via Google Talk.

Once I upgraded to a Palm Treo 700wx in late 2006, there wasn't a great mobile instant messaging application for Windows Mobile, so my mobile communication habits changed.  Unless the message was urgent, we would just e-mail each other.  If the message needed to be received quickly, we would SMS or place a voice call.

Upon moving to an iPhone in late 2008, I discovered another great mobile instant messaging application: BeejiveIM.  It wasn't quite as fast on my iPhone 3G as the original Google Talk application was on my BlackBerry, but it got the job done.  

After upgrading to an iPhone 4, though, BeejiveIM has become my go-to mobile communication app.  With the new phone's more powerful hardware, BeejiveIM is lightning fast and makes sending/receiving/managing IMs on the device painless.

I only keep my Google Talk account logged into the app, but it supports all of the major protocols such as Facebook Chat, AIM, MSN, & Yahoo.

Since I normally have my Google Talk account logged in via Adium on my MacBook Pro, too, it's not uncommon that an incoming message will be delivered simultaneously to BeejiveIM and Adium.   Based upon which device I respond from, subsequent incoming messages will only be delivered to that device for approximately the next 30 minutes.  I consider this to be a welcome feature, as I wouldn't want duplicate messages on each device once I begin a conversation, but want the option to decide which device to reply from during future conversations.

You can learn more about BeejiveIM & find purchase information at the link below.

Redrum Ale

Redrum Ale
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

The Estes Park Brewing Company makes this beer for The Stanley Hotel.  As you can see, "The Shining" is fully embraced.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Room 217

Room 217
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

The haunted room in The Stanley Hotel, made famous in Stephen King's "The Shining". Our room during our visit was 213, a mere 2 doors down.  Spooky times.

Boulder Absinthe House

Boulder Absinthe House
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Enjoying a glass of Jade Liqueur Nouvelle-Orléans absinthe at the new absinthe bar & electronica club in downtown Boulder.

Draft Selection in Colorado

Draft Selection in Colorado
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Mostly brews native to the state, as seen at Rialto Cafe downtown in Denver.

#FF Twitter Recommendations - Gadgets

This week's Follow Friday entry showcases those Twitter users I follow to stay current on what's happening in the world of gadgets.

Ryan Block - Co-Founder of gdgt - @ryan

Jacqui Cheng - Senior Apple Editor at Ars Technica - @ejacqui

Laura June - Editor for Engadget - @laura_june

Nilay Patel - Managing Editor at Engadget - @reckless

David Pogue - NY Times Tech Columnist - @Pogue

Peter Rojas - Co-Founder of gdgt - @peterrojas

MG Siegler - TechCrunch Columnist - @parislemon

Joshua Topolsky - Editor in Chief at Engadget - @joshuatopolsky

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

This train takes you on a 3 hour round trip to the top of Pikes Peak.  I was noticeably dizzy once we made it to the top of the mountain.

Thirsty Thursday - Saint Arnold Oktoberfest

I enjoyed my first Saint Arnold Oktoberfest in the fall of 2007.  Since that time, it's become synonymous with the start of football season in the Western household and a bit of a tradition to keep it stocked in our fridge until the holidays.

From a taste perspective, Oktoberfest is perhaps the smoothest, easiest to drink of all the Saint Arnold seasonals, and second only in their entire brew lineup to Lawnmower in that regard.  The hint of sweetness in the beer definitely contributes to that ease of consumption rating.  Taking a swig of Oktoberfest is akin to drinking your favorite soft drink with a cheeseburger: it just feels natural and right.

Photographs of the bottle enjoyed this evening are illustrated below.

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest Carton

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest Six Pack

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest Front

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest Longneck Label

Saint Arnold Oktoberfest Bottle Cap

Hard Drives

Hard Drives
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

My buddy Tydingco makes my hard drive collection look like child's play by comparison.

Notre Denver

Notre Denver
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

Gargoyle in a suitcase in DIA to ensure safe passage of luggage into Denver.

Modern Air Travel

Modern Air Travel
Originally uploaded by Juston Western

A double Jack Daniels, trail mix, & "The Shining" on the iPad.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing Wednesday - "Rework" Review

In a rather unconventional manner, I first learned about this book by picking up a virtual copy as an item in Gowalla.  After reading some glowing reviews online & watching this lecture from David Heineimeier Hansson at Stanford, I decided $12 was worth the price of admission to hear the authors' ideas fleshed out.

Rework contains some fairly radical concepts by traditional business book standards.  Chapter titles such as "Ignore the real world", "Outside money is Plan Z", "Meetings are toxic", "Good enough is fine", and "Say no by default" are intentionally provocative, which is kind of the book's schtick.  However, that's not to say the premises are any less valid once the authors provide context.

Coming in just shy of 300 pages, you might think the book would take a while to navigate cover to cover.  I found I was able to plow through the entire thing over the course of 3 lunch breaks, though.  There are lots of hand-drawn illustrations to achieve idea impact, and creative use of white space throughout the book to ensure each concept can soak in.

Although I considered most of the book to represent solid business advice, there were five concepts that really resonated with me.

Make A Dent In The Universe:  This is what we all want, right?  Since our professional lives are finite, you need to be driven and passionate if you want to truly leave a legacy.

Ignore The Details Early On: It sounds counter-intuitive, but I think the authors are on to something.  If you become overwhelmed by the gravity of a project early on when trying to digest the details, you're more likely to lose motivation.

Interruption Is The Enemy Of Productivity: Getting into "the zone" is so important when you want to do great work.  The authors suggest cutting yourself off from the possibility of interruptions by not answering calls, IMs, or e-mails during set times of the day, and implementing No Talk periods.

Out-Teach Your Competition: When it comes to promoting your product, try teaching customers about how to use it, or about concepts related to it.  Teaching can prove to be "stickier" than advertising when it comes to customer loyalty.

Hire Great Writers: The book purports that "Writing is today's currency for good ideas."  In other words, if you're writing clearly, you're thinking clearly.  I completely agree with this, and it's one of the reasons I've started writing blog posts on a regular basis.  Writing forces you to add structure to thoughts that are bouncing around in your mind.  Once you have that structure in place, you can communicate your idea, and that's really the most important part.

Upon completing the book, I tweeted out that I thought Rework should be required reading on both the first & last day of business school.  I couldn't recommend this book as a substitute for a formal business education, but would whole-heartedly endorse it as a supplement to the curriculum.  I think it's important to get varying viewpoints of business methodology, and Rework is definitely skewed towards a smaller business.  Most of the case studies in a graduate-level business program deal with giant organizations, like Wal-Mart, FedEx, and Kodak.  If you can understand both view points, you can adopt the best strategies from each.

You can purchase a copy of the book via the link below:

"Rework" on Amazon