Archive for June, 2010

The System: How to choose a movie to watch, democratically

27 Jun

DVD library

In theory, getting a group of friends to agree on a movie to watch should be easy. After all, you and your friends probably have similar tastes and interests or you wouldn’t be friends in the first place. So why is it so hard to choose a movie?

Perhaps it’s because we have so many choices these days. If you have only five movies to choose from, it’s a lot easier to express a preference confidently than if you have 1,000 to choose from. With on-demand streaming services like Instant Watch (from Netflix), your choices often aren’t restricted to the DVDs in front of you, either. With more choices comes more headaches. Reaching a consensus rarely works; all it takes is for one person to disagree and you end up with a stalemate (or else that one friend is sitting in the corner wishing he had stayed home and balanced his checkbook instead). Regardless of the cause, it’s a problem that all sociable people have to deal with.

Fret no more. I am here to teach you The System, the time-honored democratic method my friends and I have developed to choose a movie to watch. It works best with at least four people, and all you need are pens, paper, and movies to choose from. Once you’ve learned it, you can use The System to settle all kinds of choice-based disagreements. Read the rest of this entry »


The last set of speaker cables you’ll ever need

24 Jun

Banana plugs on audio cableNo price is too high for premium audio equipment if you’re an audiophile (pronounced “crazy person”). I appreciate expensive equipment but have no interest in spending lots of money for minimal improvements in sound quality. After a while, the features these folks lust after sound like ad executives playing Mad Libs. Gold-plated speaker connections? Vibration-proof turntables? Wooden, “tone-enhancing” volume knobs?

I once visited a man who had built an addition to his house solely for his stereo system. His speakers were taller than he was. From the floorboards to the ceiling, he had chosen all the structural materials based on their acoustic properties. He even had a separate electrical feed in order to isolate his power supply from any fluctuations caused by home appliances. All this overkill struck me as a bizarre fetish, but he loved his work. And overkill or not, I’ve never heard music sound better than it did at his house.

I doubt I’ll ever take my stereo that far, but I’ll keep upgrading my equipment on the cheap as opportunities arise. I stumbled across a tutorial at DIY Audio Projects on building audiophile-grade speaker cables and decided to try it out. The result: much better speaker cables than the thin RadioShack wires I’d been using since high school. These things are handsome and heavy-duty; you’ll never wish for a new set of speaker cables again (assuming that’s the sort of thing you wish for).

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Cider Recipe – Mega Man Milk Stout

20 Jun

Mega Man capsThe Holy Grail I’m seeking is an easy, gluten-free homebrew recipe that tastes like actual beer. Someday, I may make a beer with gluten-free grains like sorghum or rice. However, cider is so much easier to make (fewer variables, readily-available ingredients, no cooking involved) that I’d rather make a cider that tastes like beer than start over with a new, more complicated process.

The Mega Man Milk Stout is roughly 7.5% alcohol and shows some real progress towards faking beer. With a blend of coffee, honey, and vanilla, it lands somewhere on the taste spectrum between a traditional milk stout and an espresso porter. The coffee flavor jumps out at you, and the addition of lactose and maltodextrin give it some sweetness and extra body. If not for the light color of the finished product, most people would never realize this was apple cider at all.

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How to build lightsabers

18 Jun

Sometimes I’ll find directions so good that they don’t need improving. The curator of The Big Yellow Box provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for building eight different types of lightsabers that look just like the “real” thing (minus the blade). I’ve made four different models. Any Star Wars fan who picks one up immediately starts making lightsaber noises and swinging them around the room.

They make great props for Halloween costumes as well as excellent mantle decorations. When given in pairs, they also make the nerdiest wedding presents anyone could ask for. Of course, since few people actually ask for lightsabers, even if they’re Star Wars fans, you might as well just surprise some happy couple and enjoy their looks of bewilderment. Read the rest of this entry »

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Convincing your parents to get a TiVo Premiere and explaining how to set it up

06 Jun

TiVo logoIf your friends or relatives ask for your advice on their new HDTV, you can just send them here. I already wrote out the directions, so you might as well use them.

Friends don’t let friends watch nothing but standard-definition on an HDTV. I owed my parents no less, I thought. Forget that they have always resisted my campaigns to have them buy new gadgets that I thought they would enjoy. As always, this was for their own good.

They took to the DVR revolution rather well. It didn’t take them long to fall in love with their original TiVo (Series 2) and fill it with episodes of NCIS and WWII specials. Getting them to transition to a larger TV took longer, but now they’re equally thrilled with that, too.

It follows that I, never content to let them remain happy with what they have, pointed out that they still needed a new cable box or TiVo to actually watch anything in HD. I saw no point suggesting a Blu-ray player (DVDs are plenty) or a mere antenna (no going back once you’ve had a DVR). I figured their brand loyalty would make TiVo the best option, since cable-company DVRs never work as smoothly. I left out BluRay, media computers, and the old-fashioned antenna actual insisted that they needed an HD TiVo. Read the rest of this entry »


Cider Recipe – Mr. Pink, a hard cranberry-raspberry cider

05 Jun

Glass of red/pink ciderThis cider came out sweet, fruity, and full of bubbles, earning it the name Mr. Pink. With both cranberry and raspberry flavors plus some extra sweetness, it works great as a replacement for your hard lemonades and the like (can I use the charming Britishy term alcopops?).

You could use almost any juice or fruit combination for different flavors. In this case, the red juice gives it a dramatic look. Read the rest of this entry »


‘Will Return’ clock for endless absences

04 Jun

ClockThe classic “Will Return” clock takes on a new meaning when it’s a working clock ticking away on your desk. Set it 30 minutes ahead and anyone looking for you will see that you’ll be back in half an hour. When they come back — oops! Must have missed me! All day, it will insist that you’ll be back in just 30 more minutes. If your coworkers aren’t very observant, you can probably keep this up for a while before getting canned. I guess you could keep it turned to the correct time instead.

I know ThinkGeek used to sell them, but this is so simple that it was begging for a remake. All you need is a clock mechanism (easily found in cheap clocks or craft stores) and the appropriate sign (easily found at office and hardware stores). Read the rest of this entry »