Home / 2008 / May

Random Alert! German Facts and How Do You Use the Internet?

There are lots of things I’ve been wondering about and don’t want to write a full post about. So I’m just going to put them here and call it a random day.

Random Facts about Germany

  • Almost every student brings a large (1.5L) bottle of water (sparkling or still) or Apfelschorle, or a regular size bottle of Coke or Mezzo Mix (a personal fave), or these little coffee drinks that come pre-packaged in a cardboard cup with a peel-off aluminum top, sort of like a yogurt cup has, to class (sorry, don’t remember what they’re called, so I can’t provide a link). I would estimate that the number is as high as 90%.
  • Almost every student brings a pencil case to class. Usually, they are cylindrical, like this one, but many have metal pencil boxes. Many are designed by famous brands like Roxy, Puma, and Stabilo. Students carry pens, pencils, white out pens, erasers, highlighters, and Tintenkiller in their pencil cases. Again, this is true of probably 90% of students.
  • Most plastic bottles and all beer bottles are recyclable for money (Pfand or “pfahnt”). In fact, you pay the amount when you buy the product, then you get it back when you return the empty bottle. Most 0.5L bottles are €0.15 cents, 1.5L bottles are usually €0.25, and beer bottles are usually €0.08. Most grocery stores have a machine that reads the barcode on all your bottles and give you a receipt with your refund amount that you can then use in the store.
  • All glass (other than those beer bottles) should be recycled in one of many weißgrünbraun glass recycling stations littered around town. And I mean literally all around town. There are two just on my way to school. There’s one around the corner from where we live. I think you’d be hard pressed to go half a mile without passing one.
  • Just as common are large bins in which you can place your Altkleider (“ahlt-kly-der”–the second syllable rhymes with “pie”–or “old clothes”). They are all beige, and in Hessen they seem to be sponsored by Die Johanniter. No driving across town to Goodwill; Just stop by one of the bins on your way to work, school, or the grocery store. It’s so easy!

Random Questions About the Internet

Password Security

I have two levels of passwords I use. For important sites that are either sensitive (Gmail, BoA, eBay, and PayPal) or susceptible to hacking (MySpace and Facebook), I use a password that earns a 100% score at PasswordMeter.com. It was specifically designed to earn that score and is relatively new, as I just learned about that site recently. I change it about every three months.

For all other sites (Wikipedia and whatever random site requires me to register–this week it’s 100Words.com), I use a weaker password I’ve been using for about a year. These get changed about once every two years it seems. My current weaker password earns a paltry 38% at PasswordMeter.com, and my previous one 48%.

Rob laughed when I showed him my current 100% password and bet I’d never be able to remember it (he was wrong!). And that made me curious: How secure do other people make their passwords? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Frequently Visited Sites

How do you access the sites you visit daily? Do you type the URLs? Do you use browser bookmarks? Long ago, probably when I was 19 or so, I made a link page. It was a table that had probably 40 cells that stayed open in my browser all the time. Here‘s my current iteration. Although I’m not 100% happy with it, it is ultra easy to add links to since it’s a Google Spreadsheet. I just read about Only2Clicks.com today on Lifehacker and haven’t even had the chance to check it out yet.

I’ve never seen anyone else with something like this, and I find it to be a huge convenience: no more remembering URLs when I’m away from my home computer. Easy to open a new window with the mouse, since you mostly browse teh Internets with your mouse. So how do you do it? Leave your methods in the comment section.

Hone Your Writing/Editing Skills: Another Reason to Give Twitter a Try

Web 2.Oh. . .really? author, Craig Stoltz, wrote a blog post about how, despite having edited “miles of copy in [his] day,” Twitter has won him over by constantly asking him to sharpen his editing skills.

After all, writing a rich story in only 140 characters is not for the faint of heart. It takes ruthless editing, careful attention to detail, semantics, reference, and punctuation.

If my Twitter guest post didn’t convince you to try Twitter, maybe a real, true writer and editor’s claim that it can help you be a better writer will convince you? If nothing else, it’s a way to keep your writing skills sharp. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping to keep you in touch with your friends and family.

What are you waiting for?

(Remember, when you join Twitter, be sure to follow me!)

There is no need to move, we are coming to you!: A Review of We Are Scientists’ Brain Thrust Mastery Album

We Are Scientists: Brain Thrust Mastery album Cover

We Are Scientists: Brain Thrust Mastery album Cover

This, my husband’s fourth guest post, reviews the new We Are Scientists album, Brain Thrust Mastery. Rob’s passion for music amuses even the cats.

With their explosive debut record, With Love and Squalor, We Are Scientists took the world by storm in 2005. The debut was bristling with creativity and confidence that went right down into your feet. Even introverted people started singing along out loud while listening to it on their MP3 players on the subway.

Three years later, the Scientists are ready to prove to the world that they can do it again. Having gone through a lineup change, replacing drummer Michael Tapper with Adam Aaronson and adding keyboardist Max Hart, I was curious if and how that would affect the quality of the new record.

Brain Thrust Mastery starts off with “Ghouls”, a song that builds and builds with every second. Keith Murray‘s vocals follow spacy guitars and then a pumping bass and electronic drum beats join in. Murray sticks to his usual driving vocals. When the song reaches its climax, all instruments explode right in your ear.

This is NEW! This is FRESH! This keeps me LISTENING.

From this song, the record keeps up an unbelievable pace, passion, and energy. Every song makes you sing along instantaneously and has your foot shaking like you are having a seizure.

Let’s See It” is no exception to that and only two songs into this record, it makes very clear that this is going to hold up with the success of the debut.

In the first single, “After Hours“, We are Scientists apply their proven, unique style, add even more energy and passion, and finish the creation off with a few sprinkles of new ideas to create a song that catches you off guard while you rock out and sing along right away.

“Lethal Enforcer” reminds me of The Cure and might well be an homage to them. This song offers great lyrics with Murray telling us “I’d say, do not throw away if it’s not working anymore!” So true, and something everyone can relate to.

Just when I thought that surely this record could not get any more energetic, the Scientists hit me with “Impatience“, a great rock tune that kicks you in the shins and yells at you to get back up. There is no doubt in my mind that it will be a future live anthem for them and one that should get any crowd going. When you listen to it, be sure to appreciate the little bass riff in the chorus that only comes up on the first part of each chorus, a little ditty which makes me come back to the song just to hear that bass again.

Keeping up the humor which the Scientists have shown over the past, Murray plays on an awkward situation between him and a lady friend that is not his girlfriend by telling her that he is “Spoken For” in the song that is titled exactly that.

“Altered Beast” and “Chick Lit” are your typical Scientists songs: witty lyrics, energetic sound, and sing-along choruses. “I’m sure by now you have noticed that there is no need to move. We are coming to you!” is a great way of summing up how excited the Scientists are to get to play these fresh tracks to everyone, be it on the CD itself or at one of their many live shows and that you can feel on this CD so vividly. They did a great job of translating that desire into the record and producing it just right so that you feel the energy like you are at a live show.

It all gets wrapped up with “Dinosaurs,” which is a great pseudo-punk song, We-Are-Scientists style and is one of my favorites on this record. Its forceful and energetic ending is an elbow in your ribs by the fat guy right next to you at the show, but you just don’t care because that’s what it’s all about.

Licking my wounds and happy that I got out of this crazy and exciting ride alive, the Scientists give me a chance to do so with the last song of the record. “That’s What Counts” is a great pop song that once again invites me to sing along shamelessly even though it might be late at night and my neighbors have complained about my singing several times before.

This record should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Scientists are one of the greatest alternative-rock-pop-whatever-category-you-want-to-stick-them-in bands of this time and will hopefully continue to be for many years to come. It didn’t leave me disappointed, but ecstatic and excited. Excited to listen to it again. So let’s do it together! Come on!!

-C.W.K.

Pre-marathon Training in Stadtwald Giessen: 2 Weeks Left

Two weeks out from official training, and I’m getting excited. I put my training plan into a Google Calendar today, and while it isn’t 100% set in stone (we have a few trips/visitors to plan around), it’s my plan, and it’s going to be my life for the 17 weeks before the big day. If you want to take a look, click here. Feel free to leave me a comment if you have advice or suggestions for my training!

This week was a good week: 9’11” tempo run and 55 Nacktschneke (pictures included!). We bought a bike-mounted computer thingy and used the holiday on Thursday (Fronleichnam) to start determining distances in Stadtwald Giessen. It’s nice knowing how far you’ve been running, and it will make me sleep easier about the marathon training, too.

Monday, 19 May 2008

run type: tempo run
route: After a 6-minute warm up, we started the tempo run on the far side of the railroad and made a large loop around Justus-Liebig.



feeling: :)
time: 20’22”
distance: 2.22 for a pace of 9’11”!
additional notes: Man, I cannot believe how not hard this was. I don’t want to say that it was “easy,” because it wasn’t, but it wasn’t killer either. I think I’m getting faster. Which reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw on a car everyday when I parked in lot 24 at Missouri State:

It doesn’t get easier. You get faster.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

run type: Training run
route: All the way to the end of Stadtwald Giessen and back, just like last Monday.
feeling: :D
time: 48’46”
distance: 4.4 miles
additional notes: Awesome run! We made it to the turn-around point in 26’22” and then back in 22’24”! We really hoofed it on the return trip, and even though I was exhausted when it was over, I did it. Shortly after we turned around, I really felt like I was in The Zone. It lasted for quite a while, and it was amazing. Then something happened. Read about it here, in my Twiterature.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

run type:10k Training run
route: Out to the 2-mile marker, back to the 1-mile marker, back to 2, then to start, turn around and run the 0.25 miles to the bridge.feeling: :)
time: 1h10m06s
distance: 10k/6.2 miles
additional notes: Good run! The hills are still killer, but the run was good. We biked 8 to 10 miles as we tried to fill in our map of the Stadtwald. As soon as we’ve got it finished, I’ll post it.

Nacktschneke/slug

Nacktschneke/slug

Sunday, 25 May 2008

run type:Recovery run
route: Out to the 2-mile marker and back
feeling: :)
time: 48’56”
distance: 4 miles
additional notes: I took it nice and slow. I pushed three times, but over all, I just focused on running and… counting rust-colored Nacktschnecke (“nahkt-shnehkuh,” or slugs; the German literally means “naked snails”)! I saw 55 of them today, plus three snail. A little distracted? Maybe. Was that a problem? Not on a recovery run. :)

Total Weekly Time: 3h8m
Total Weekly Distance: 16.86 miles (according to LogYourRun

Twitter in the News: The Gettysburg Address, Twitpitches, and Twitstories

A couple weeks ago, I published a guest post on A Fool of Myself about Twitter, the micro-blogging site that is sweeping the web. Today, I came across several articles presenting unique uses of Twitter that I enjoyed reading about, and I hope you will too.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Twitterized

Carter F. Smith at Kicking and Screaming asks if Lincoln could have delivered the Gettysburg Address (which is 271 words) on Twitter (which limits posts to 140 characters), what would it look like, an interesting, if not a bit silly, proposal. And so, Smith proposes Lincoln’s 140-character Gettysburg Address. Read the article, but if you just want to read the famous speech in concentrated form, just skip to the bottom.

Twitpitches

Another innovative use of Twitter is “Twitpitches,” fathered by Stowe Boyd. In a blog post, he announced that start-ups wishing to meeting with Boyd during the Web 2.0 Expo needed to send him a pitch in a Twitter message. Citing the mess of dealing with a variety of pitches via email (large attachments, wordy press releases), Boyd argues that Twitpitches will simplify matters.

Boyd is definitely thinking outside the box: He’s thinking short, concise, concentrated. But were I in Boyd’s position, I doubt my ability to manage the messages in Twitter. It doesn’t seem built for that. I love the power of Gmail: searching, connection to Google Calendar, mobile access (even though I’m not using it, it is available that way). Regardless of my qualms about the technique, it’s an innovative approach to an all-too-common problem: information overload.

Twitstories

Brian Clark at Copyblogger recently announced a creative writing contest with a sweet prize: Write the best 140-character story and win an iPod nano. Have you written a six-word memoir? Then you should definitely give Copyblogger’s contest a try. No Twitter account yet? Well, what are you waiting for? (And be sure to follow me once you’ve signed up!) Feel free to leave a comment here with a link to your Twitstory–I’d love to read it! Here’s mine.

Want to read all of the Twitstories? So did Daniel Smith at Smithereen’s blog. And in order to get around Twitter’s lack of infrastructure, he used Diigo (on my recommendation, even!) to organize all the Twitstories into one WebSlides show (Unfortunately, the WebSlide is not currently 100% functional: You can view the first 20 Twitstories, but then the slide show ends. Smith reports that the Diigo team is working to solve the problem. Either way, Copyblogger should be grateful to Smith!)

On a side note, Smith calls them “CopyTwitters” in his post, but I must argue for the title “Twitstories,” which nicely parallels the more famous and previously coined “Twitpitches.” What do you think? :)

Bonus: How to Make Facebook Useful Again

If you like Twitter, you probably use Facebook. Due to my attempt to be more productive (look for an explanation in the next New Year’s Resolutions Update), I have stopped visiting Facebook every day (or twelve times a day, which would be closer to the truth). But ReadWriteWeb’s article “How to Make Facebook Useful Again” caught my eye. I don’t know that I’ll ever use Facebook as my one-stop web shop, but I did add the business card application.

Pre-marathon Training in Stadtwald Giessen: 3 Weeks Left

I am planning on blogging about each week of my marathon training, and to get in the habit, I’m starting with three weeks left in my pre-marathon training. Just for future reference, my running weeks begin on Monday and end on Sunday.

Monday, 12 May 2008

route: All the way to the end of Stadtwald Giessen and back
feeling*: :|
time: 53’22”
estimated** distance: 4.2 miles
additional notes: Really hard time breathing on the uphill part. Dehydrated later in the evening.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

route: All the way to the end of Stadtwald Giessen and back, with a loop at Abt. 36/37
feeling*: :)
time: 64’02”
estimated distance: 4.8 to 5 miles
additional notes: Still having breathing trouble. I need to make an appointment to see my doctor and get an inhaler. Gotta love allergy season athletically induced asthma. I drank 2L of water before running, 0.5L within 10 minutes of finishing, and another 0.5L during dinner (pasta!). A little under-arm and thigh chafing; Time to break out the BodyGlide.

We were supposed to bike around the Stadtwald Giessen yesterday to fill in our map of the place and then a 10k round trip to Lützelinden today, which was going to fill out my week, cross-trainingwise, but we ended up having to take my bike to the shop. I managed to break yet another bike. Won’t have it back until Tuesday. So this weeks time, distance, and total sweating time is sadly disappointing.

Total Weekly Time: 117’24”
Total Estimated Weekly Distance: 9 miles

*feeling: Sarah told me during our first running season that about a method she read about to keep track of how your runs feel. If you track three frowny faces (sorry, Despair, Inc.) in a row, you need to take a couple days off to recoup.
**estimated distance: Until we get a Garmin (not looking too hot on that front) or distance measuring device for our bikes, it will be hard to know exactly how far we are running in the Stadtwald Giessen, as it is very difficult to track on LogYourRun.

Diigo: Paper-and-pen Mark-up Meets Web 2.0

Delicious logo & Diigo logo

Move over browser-based bookmarks! Make way, Del.icio.us! Diigo is here, and it’s changing the way people use and, in true Web 2.0 fashion, interact with the Internet.

Let’s start with a little history lesson.

Waay back in 1996, when Beth and I laughed to tears while trolling in chatrooms, when I created the “xgravity23” nickname I still use today, the Internet was just gaining popularity. Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator both offered users the ability to keep track of favorite sites via bookmarks. Unfortunately, bookmarks are only accessible from the computer you saved them on.

Along came del.icio.us: Suddenly, your favorite sites are with you wherever you go. In the end, unfortunately, del.icio.us is just a bookmarking site. You can tag and write a short note for each bookmark, but that is about the limit of interactivity between you and the sites you save.

Then there was Diigo

First, a quote from the Diigo help center What’s New? page to clear up what was one of my first questions: How do you say it? And where does it come from?

Diigo is pronounced as Dee’go. The name “Diigo” is an abbreviation for Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.”, an intentional open mandate for Diigo to relentlessly innovate to make Diigo the best knowledge sharing and management platform for individuals, work groups, and companies.

Now that you can say it right in your head, know what it stands for, and see the Diigo crew’s lofty goals, let me try to convince you to give it a try.

If you like del.icio.us, you will love Diigo.

I will not be the first to say it, but Diigo is like del.icio.us on steriods. Diigo bookmarks your favorite sites, uses tags to classify your bookmarks, allows you to make bookmarks private or public. It can even automatically post your latest saves to your blog.

But Diigo provides innovative ways to interact with web sites.

Diigo lets you highlight text on a page and annotate it with sticky notes. As a PhD student in the 21st century, this innovation frees me from downloading and re-reading sites I use for my research on the internet. I use less paper and I save time. Still want to use del.icio.us? That’s fine: set Diigo to post to your del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia, or Simpy) simultaneously.

Diigo also makes it more-than-easy to email a web site to a friend. I like Google Reader for the same reason, but Diigo out-shines even Google Reader. Highlight the text on a page that you want your friend to see and that text will be included when you email the page to them. Eliminates the “Huh? Why did she send me this link?” problem.

I generally shy away from using any service that requires me to download a tool bar, but the Diigo tool bar earned its keep quickly. The tool bar not only provides quick access to your Diigo dashboard, bookmarks, lists, groups, and contacts, but also makes for easy bookmarking, highlighting, commenting, and sending.

When you install the tool bar, you also get the same functionality from your right-click menu. Whichever format you are most comfortable with, you’ve got it.

Hands-down best feature?

Diigo caches the pages you bookmark so you’ll always be able to view the page, even if the original site goes down. Haven’t had to use it yet, but I know I’ll be relieved when I do!

Give it a try!

It’s been called a supercharged social networking tool, a cut above del.icio.us, and “Diigo” has even been used as a verb. Even though I know I haven’t discovered all the features, it’s changed the way I interact with web pages.

Are you already using Diigo? What do you think? If you’re not, will you take it for a spin? What feature(s) are you most interested in trying out?

Let’s Spend Some Time, Love: A Review of Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs

This, my husband’s third guest post, reviews the new Death Cab for Cutie album, Narrow Stairs. Rob’s passion for music stems from the many concerts he attended as a teenager living in a metropolis and his stint as a drummer in a alternative rock band.

The long awaited follow-up to Death Cab for Cutie’s great album Plans is finally here: Narrow Stairs hit the shelves this past Tuesday. Armed with high expectations and the patience a record like this deserves, I am more than ready to give Narrow Stairs a good listen.

“Bixby Canyon Bridge” opens the record and gives you what you know DCFC does best. Ben Gibbard serenades us with his soft voice over atmospheric guitars and scarce drums.

Ah: Death Cab for Cutie. This is what I put the money on the counter for.

Pretty quickly into this beautiful song, though, Death Cab takes us for a different spin and rocks out until the end. Unexpectedly heavy for Death Cab but yet refreshing this opening song hits you right in the face with all your own expectations and tells you to throw them overboard. The sooner the better. This sets the bar high, but “didn’t play like it did in my mind.” What a great opener.

The first single, “I Will Posses Your Heart,” might be the best example of the new and improved Death Cab. A thumbing bass pulls us in to this mesmerizing 8 1/2-minute epic. Then, sporadic piano and waves of guitar noises. About 4 1/2 minutes into this jam session, Gibbard joins in with one of the greatest lyrics on this record.

How I wish you could see the potential
The potential of you and me.
It’s like a book elegantly bound
but in a language you can’t read just yet.

An almost 9-minute song never felt so short. At the end of this track, I want to skip back to the beginning for another listen. Only rare talent produces a song at that length, while still keeping it interesting enough to make you want to listen again.

“Your New Twin-sized Bed” and especially “Talking Bird” showcase Gibbard’s ability to write beautiful poetry into a great song. “Talking Bird” describes a relationship using the metaphor of a pet bird, and while each image undoubtedly holds specific meaning for Gibbard, every listener can see their own story in it.

“No Sunlight,” “Long Division”, and “Grapevine Fires” deserve to be released as singles and give listeners what we know and want from Death Cab. While they tread on familiar territory at all times, they manage to venture into new lands as well: the record is much harsher, rockier, and more adventurous than any of its predecessors. “Pity and Fear” turns into a Radiohead-esque song that you would not expect from Death Cab, who doesn’t copy Radiohead shamelessly, but rather pays homage to another great band of our time. The synth-punk influence from Brainiac, who the band admitted to listening to quite a bit while writing Narrow Stairs, also shines through.

The record ends with the quiet ballad “The Ice is Getting Thinner,” again showcasing Gibbard’s great vocals and lyrics and ending the record on a melancholic note.

Confirming all high expectations, Death Cab proves once again that they are one of the greatest pop-rock bands of this time and I believe their records will hold up even 10, 20 or 30 years from now. The record starts where Plans left off and gives us more than we bargained for.

On top of great lyrics, melodies, and innovation, the production of the record is solid and expertly balances every instrument just enough to emphasize its beauty without covering up the other voices.

Do yourself a favor and add this record to the soundtrack of your life. It needs a little patience, especially if you are expecting the same ol’ Death Cab. After a few listens though, you’ll find it so rewarding and could easily be the best record of 2008. Not that I’m deciding that award this early in the year; There a few contenders for that title already, and next time I will tell you about another one.

-C.W.K.

Doodle 4 Google

It is no surprise to readers of this blog that I love all things Google, so I really enjoyed reading about Google’s Doodle 4 Google competition on Lifestudent’s A Marathon Leap today. Take a few minutes to look at the creative entries, and be sure to read each artist’s brief written response to Google’s prompt, “What if…”, before voting.

A Question for Runners: Dehydration?

I drink only water 95% of the time (the other 5%: Beering with my colleagues on Friday nights, and one Dr. Pepper a week as a special treat), so I don’t need to drink more water, or so I thought.

But the last couple times I have run, I have felt dehydrated later in the evening. Obviously I need to make sure I am drinking more before, during, and after my runs since I’ve been feeling dehydrated, so that is not my question.

I try not to drink after 9:00 because I want to avoid waking up in the middle of the night to relieve myself, but tonight, I’ve given that up because I hate the dehydration headache, and I hate taking a pill for it when more water will make it go away.

So the question: Should I trust the pee test (it’s pretty clear, but I still feel icky)? Or should I trust the “once you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated” test (I definitely feel thirsty still)?