50K: Some Passings

Happy Holidays, all.

So, I got my 50,000th saved email this week. It was from my friend Paul, and the subject was:
Singer Dan Fogelberg Dies of Cancer

That's too bad, I have always liked Dan's music. "Longer", in particular, is one of my favorites. I know, it's sappy. So sue me.

And a couple other notable entertainer passings in the past couple weeks. Closest to my heart is my favorite piano player, Mr. Oscar Peterson. He was, almost without argument, the most technically proficient pianist of our time, maybe even of all time. I loved his music so much growing up - pretty much every year, that's what I wanted for Christmas, one of his albums. It taught me both that jazz could be exciting and highly structured, and that I could never actually be an amazing technical pianist (a valuable lesson to learn BEFORE practicing a zillion hours a day for your entire young adult life). Don't believe me? Watch this.

This dude was way over the top. RIP, Oscar.

And of course, the third notable one is Ike Turner. This happened (or at least, we found out about it) while we were in the studio recording Gunpowder with Black Joe Lewis. Seemed fitting. My favorite part of the whole thing, though, is the headline from some inspired journalist: "Ike Turner beats Tina to death."



OK, I'm about 40 emails away from hitting 50,000 saved emails (I hit 40k last year). Any bets on who'll be # 50,000? (Not counting spam or bacn, or work emails ...)

Man, I know I must have something better to do than this.



For those of you who carefully monitor my media appearances (hi, mom!), I've been featured in a couple news videos this week demonstrating a new musical instrument that I've had the pleasure of trying out. The instrument is called the Thummer.

It's a performance controller that uses an isomorphic 2 dimensional button layout (not unlike a concertina) and expression controllers located under the thumbs. "Isomorphic" means that no matter where you start, the spatial relationships of buttons on the keyboard represents the same musical relationships. So, it's kind of like the guitar, where you can (mostly) play the same chord or lick anywhere on the neck and get the same sound; you can learn one set of patterns on the thummer and then travel all around to different keys. It's different from the guitar, though, in that the mathenical relationships between notes are much more directly expressed, and the spatial patterns are much more apparent.

And it's strange and futuristic looking, which is points in my book.

Anyway, on Friday, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal (link) which doesn't quote me directly, but does include me in the video:

Then, last night, a short segment aired on the Austin NBC affiliate, KXAN. Here's a transcript, and there's apparetnly video too (but since it's served in a way that doesn't support Firefox and wanted me to install some godawful drm-crippled windows malware, I didn't bother watching it). Anyway, here's a still:

The Thummer is cool and worth checking out; though, unless you're an investor, you'll probably have to wait a bit before getting your hands on one. Unless, you know, you want to come play with mine. I accept bribes in the form of burritos and / or beer.


Home Stretch

So, my finals for my first semester at UT are this Friday, and I'm in head-down mode. I've mostly cleared the decks on the day-job & music fronts for this week, so I can devote myself to studying.

... which means that my laundry is all clean and folded, the recycling is taken out, the floors are all swept, my email inbox is empty ... and basically every other thing I could possibly do to procrastinate has been done. As I've learned, GTD doesn't keep you from procrastinating; it just makes you procrastinate really efficiently.

Anyway, just 4 more days of studying, and I'll be home free.


By which I mean I'll play Nintendo until my fingers fall off.



OK, sorry. I hate posting twice in one day, but I couldn't help it. The video I posted earlier? No competition to this:

Please! They're jumping off mountains and flying! Bah.

Hat tip to Owen for the link.

Future Interfaces

Want to see what your future is going to look like? Check out this post from G-fav (husband of my good friend J-Fav). It's pretty mind blowing stuff.

No I'm not procrastinating! How rude.



Some interesting things I've learned from my Cryptography class:

  • PGP, or "Pretty Good Privacy", is a lot better than "Pretty Good" - it's extremely good. The inventor named it "pretty good" because he didn't want to oversell it. (Which is humble and all, but IMO, that's been a barrier for people to use it.) It's open, free, and good, so you should get it. (1) (2) (3) (4)
  • The basis of all communication security as we know it comes down to two darn hard math problems: discrete logarithms, and factoring large primes. Has anyone solved them without brute force? Not that we know of, but, well ... if you solved one, would you tell anyone? :)
  • Authentication (proving who you are) can be based on three things: what you know (passwords), what you have (keys, smart cards, etc.), or what you are (fingerprints, retinal scans, etc). Using two of these at once is called Second Factor authentication, and it's creepy and cool. (5)
  • If your wireless network uses WEP, it can be broken into in a few hours ... not because it uses poor encryption (RC4 is quite strong(6)) but because it's a poorly implemented protocol. Use WPA2 instead.(7)


1) Incidentally, over a year ago, I posted this entry about PGP, along with my public key block.

2) In that post, I said, "in 10 years time, a brute-force approach to our currently encrypted stuff will be trivial". That's not exactly true; as it turns out, advances in computer power favor the cryptographer (secret-writer), not the cryptanalyst (secret-cracker). Makes sense, if you think about it ... by simply adding one bit, I make it twice as hard to crack my code using brute force. Throw on an extra 64 bits, and the brute force problem is now 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 times harder. Get my drift? So as computers get faster, we can add bits much faster than crackers can brute-force them.

3 - Also incidentally, I happen to know the CEO of PGP Corporation, Dunk. He used to be the CEO at another company I worked at. At that time, I asked him to give me leeway to rewrite the entire asp application stack of the company in .NET, a job that would have taken 6 people 8 months to do. He said no ... and that company still has the same exact code base, 5 years later, and is NOW starting to rewrite the application stack in .NET. Ahem ... I TOLD YOU SO.

4 - Ze Frank (no, he's not back, he's just keeping us company during the writers' strike) posted a funny show today about the NSA and privacy.

5 - Remind me to tell you about my idea for a smell-based authentication device. I may be sitting on a million dollar idea here.

6 - And elegant, too. RC4 is implementable in just a few lines of code.

7 - Or just set up VPN tunneling into a trusted network. VPN tunneling uses IPSec, which is mind-numbingly boring but also important. Like many things in life. In a nutshell, what it does is hide all your packets inside other packets, so nobody knows who they are, or what they were doing. Kind of like druids.


How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Tags

For years, I've maintained a comprehensive to-do list tree. My entire life is organized into this tree; for example, the act of replacing the air filter in my house:

Improve Myself
Improve Home
Maintain House
Replace Filters
Replace air filter (every 3 months)
Buy air filters (every 6 months)

This is the backbone of my GTD sytstem. Counting both nodes and leaves, the entire tree has almost 1400 current items in it (3000+ if you count completed items). For the past couple years, I've been keeping it in an application called MyLifeOrganized, which also stores extra information (due dates, context, recurrence, etc.) and then shows me the whole list converted into a single flat to-do list, so I can see all my "next actions". Neato.

Recently, I've become less fond of MLO, mostly due to a variety of little annoyances and lack of any new development, but also because of the sheer weight of what I've got in there. It sometimes takes me a few minutes to add new stuff, just because the tree is so huge.

So, I decided that I'd like to go to a lighter app - maybe something web-based, like Remember The Milk or Nozbe. But, I've realized that beyond MLO, few of these programs offer hierarchical project setup. Instead, they give you tags - you can assign any number of tags to each item, and thereby view things along whatever dimensions you want.

I like tags. But the concept of converting such a huge, heavily used single-root tree to a tag-cloud makes me ... nervous. First off, how do you even do it? And how much of that tree information do I want to preserve in my tags?

One way to do it would be to just keep the same structure, but encode the hierarchy into the tags themselves using some character, like a dot ("."). So the above air-filter stuff would be tagged as:


Ugh ... that's terrible. I'd never keep that up. Another approach, since tags are many-to-many, would be to tag something with all the appropriate tags in the tree structure. So, in this example, I get:

"Self", "Home", "Maintenance", "Restocking", "Filters"

Now I can find it based on any of these tags. Some of the tags are more useful than others, though; from a utility point of view, the right tags for these two items (i.e. the ones I'd ever really want to filter on) are:

"Maintenance", "Restocking"

Other stuff with those tags would be "Restock toilet paper", "Change light bulbs", etc. Other stuff with just the "Maintenance" tag (but not the "Restocking") tag would be stuff like fixing the water heater, painting the kitchen, etc.

Will I need to maintain a list of all the tags I use? I don't know. Will I tag for @context, too? I don't know. Will this work? I hope so ... as of this week, I'm starting the process of converting my 1400-item tree into a tag cloud, using the aforementioned Tudumo, with a little help from Sciral Consistency for the recurring stuff. Wish me luck!


Brain Dump

I'm still feeling the tumblog thing. Not coherent posts, just a bunch of stuff.

A year ago today, I got my 40,000th saved email. As of today, I'm nearly at 49,000. Today is the 313th day of 2007, which = ~10,400 saved emails this year. At this rate, I'll have on the order of a million saved emails in my lifetime (assuming, as I do, that I'll live to at least 100).

Had a very exciting East Coast / Midwest tour with the spaceshorp jazz fellas. Pics are here.

Classes are going well - this weekend is session 4/5. I finally understand Kerberos! That's been a dream of mine. Yours, too, right?

The Mueller neighborhood is really springing up. Check out our latest photos (not of our house, but of the same floor plan) and read more at our Mueller blog.

Emmet had his 2nd birthday this weekend. He celebrated by being awesome.

Found a new lightweight GTD program, Tudumo, which I am totally in love with. More to come on that, including a forthcoming post about task hierarchies vs tag clouds. Whee.

This is funny beyond words, in the vein of Marmaduke Explained: Garfield Silenced

C'est ca.



Sorry for the lack of meaningful posts lately; time has gotten the best of me. Some random items:

I had fun on my tour with Black Joe Lewis & Spoon. Here are some pics.

The Man

About to head back out on the road with DT. If you're in DC, NYC, Upstate NY, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago or Madison, come see us!


I've had two months of classes towards my Software Engineering masters at UT now, and I can say with certainty that math is hard. But I like reading God Plays Dice, even if I only grok about 5% of it.

I installed Ubuntu on my laptop and I'm working on getting up to full speed. Longer post on that soon. Er, soon-ish. In the mean time, I'm on the lookout for a competent web-based GTD system that supports hierarchical project layouts, so I can dump windoze-only MLO.

I got a Treo. It is poop. I want an iPhone.

Here's a fantastic article about rebooting Philosophy by Paul Graham.

Here's a cool idea about doing Personal Unit Tests.

Both of the preceding links came to me via Anarchaia, which, if you get XKCD, and enjoy being subjected to bleeding edge technical stuff you've never heard of, you will dig.

That is all for now. Thanks for your time.


Take To The Sky

I've lately been re-watching episodes of my all-time favorite documentary: Cosmos. (Thanks for the extended DVD loan, JPM.) It's as good now as I remember it being back then; better, perhaps, because as an adult, I have more perspective on how nuanced and bittersweet Carl Sagan's exposition and analysis really way. What a brave, visionary man.

As such, it really made my morning today when I read about Google Sky on Boing Boing. Naturally, I downloaded the new version and booted it right up, and ... well, the feeling is indescribable. I could almost hear the Vangelis soundtrack to Cosmos* playing in my head as I zoomed deeper and deeper into space on my laptop. These are magical times we live in.

Off to watch some Cosmos.

* - which I have on vinyl, btw. how cool is that? thanks mom.

(Photo by Flickr user Computer Science Geek. Three cheers for Creative Commons.)


Hook 'Em

Happy news: I'm now officially a Longhorn! I've been accepted to UT Austin's Masters Program in Software Engineering.

DJ Mit'ten

And this despite never having taken any CS classes in my undergraduate career. Guess all those years in the coding trenches count for something after all. It's a program geared towards working professionals, so I'll still be working full time and going to classes one weekend a month.

Hopefully the first class will be on how to be awake for 34 hours a day.


Gig 'Em

Been playing a lot lately.

Tonight I played with a funk band called Uncle Bruno. We're playing on Saturday afternoon at La Zona Rosa for the Austin Funk Fest. Tonight at Fado, one audience member declared that I was an "animal". I asked if they meant a 3-toed sloth. They can be pretty vicious, you know. (Photo by Ed Verosky)

Anyway, there was an article in the Austin Chronicle about the band today. (Damon tells me that "futbolista" is actually the word for a female soccer player. I think that's funny.)

Another band I've been playing with that's gained a little notoriety lately is Black Joe Lewis. Did a CD release gig at Emo's last week, followed up by a surprise opening set for a (secret) Spoon show at the Mohawk. Talk about a quick ramp-up.

My favorite song title of his is "Bitch, I Love You" (pardon the profanity, but it just "works" when you hear him scream it like James Brown). He's a really engaging performer, and we're (allegedly) hitting up some Continental Club dates soon, too.

I've also been doing a bit of "sitting in" on the jazz end of the spectrum. I've played 3 or 4 times with About:Blank, a rad group of guys with a Thursday-night residency at The Belmont. That's always a blast.

This week, I also got a call to sit in with Paul Klemperer at the Elephant Room, which was fun. It did, however, take me down a notch (or two) because I was sharing the stage with prodigy fusion guitar player Carter Arrington, who, every time he played a solo, melted my face off and left me stammering for anything non-boring to play. But, it's playing with guys like that that really makes you better, right? Riiiight.

I've also been doing a little gigging around town with my eponymous, amorphous, original jazz project (that's EAOJP for short ... guess I should come up with a catcher name?). Just playing standards and a few of my own tunes that I honed under Joe LoCascio's tutelage. My aim is to play with a zillion different players in town. So far, I've hit up Charlie Fountain, Kyle Clayton, Jon Jordan, Pat Harris and Steven Bidwell. Many more to come.

And for all that, my "touring band" (as I like to refer to Drop Trio) is still keeping up a good schedule between tours. We're playing twice in Houston this weekend - opening for O2'L at Fitzgerald's on Friday in what is sure to be a smooth-jazz massacre, and then playing the Houston Press Music Awards Showcase on Sunday at the Red Cat Jazz Cafe. Give us a vote, eh? Though, we've won 3 years in a row, so maybe it's time to share the love a little bit.

(photo by Groovehouse)

Anyway, that's a roundup of my music performance adventures lately. I'm also (in my spare time) composing analog electronic music on my dad's ARP 2600, continuing a daily venture into writing strange video game music, and learning to play Thummer.

And all the while, I can't get this song out of my head. I think I need a vacation.


Happy Birthday, Fujifilm Finepix E900

I love my camera:

Hard to believe it's been a year; here's my first post with the new camera - photos from a show at Rudz in Houston.

This year has been, without a doubt, the most well documented of my life. For the previous 30-some years, I've barely got a handful to show for myself; yet, for the past 1 year, I've got no fewer than 4000 (and that's just what I kept; I trash 3-5 for every one I keep!) What's particularly amazing to me is that, unlike the rest of my life, the visual cues in these photos actually help me remember what I've done, where I've been, what I was thinking, etc. I wish I started sooner.

And, let it be said, Flickr also rocks pretty hard. But it's not my Flickr anniversary, so I'll save getting mushy about Flickr for another time.


Welcome, Summer

Summer has now officially arrived here in Austin. You can tell by the crushing heat ... but there are a few other signs, too.

Deep Eddy

We went swimming at Deep Eddy for the first time this weekend. Fantastic cure for whatever ails you, be it too much wine or too little.


Uberjam and I also got new bikes (we've been without since ours got ganked a few years back), and I've been riding around town like crazy. Austin is a pretty bike-friendly town, with all the trails & such, and I've been riding at least an hour a day.


Three cheers for summer. More shots, as usual, on Flickr.



Today is the 150th day of the year. In honor of that, here's a random assortment of stuff.

LOLCode - A programming language based on LOLCats. O HAI, IM IN UR SYNTAX!! KTHXBYE.

While I'm at it, have I mentioned how much I love XKCD? It's the best comic, um, ever. Even better than Marmaduke Explained.

Microsoft Surface - Did MS beat Apple to the punch on commercial multi-touch? All the cool kids are doing it, I guess.

I think I got my first Wikipedia mention, via the Vineyard Sound. Nifty.

Also, I went on tour. Did you see the photos?

What do you think of this for a 2 week tour route out east in the fall?

OK, promise to think about blogging more often. Until then, there's always Twitter ...


About Me

I read recently that it's good to post a "bio" to your blog every so often, so new readers can get their bearings. Thus:

Howdy. My name is Ian Varley. Thanks for reading my blog. I'm a musician and computer programmer living in Austin, TX. I'm originally from upstate New York (map), where I went to Skidmore College. My wife of 7 years (aka "Uberjam") is a writer, originally from Beaumont, TX. We have no kids, save a dog named Emmet (which is close enough for us).

I'm into tons of stuff, including playing music (my band, Drop Trio, is about to go on a West Coast Tour), programming (it's what I do for a living, and one of my great intellectual loves), futurism (I'm a fan of Ray Kurzweil's books, though not without reservations), GTD (aka "Getting Things Done", a personal productivity system that doesn't suck), and cognitive science (dying to read the new Hofstadter book "I Am A Strange Loop").

You can find more on me around the web:

  • My photos on Flickr. Got a prosumer camera last summer and have finally been able to take decent pictures of my life.
  • Me on myspace. No, I am not a 14 year old girl. Yes, I have a myspace page. Deal with it. There are lots of people I deal with where that's the only way to reach 'em.
  • Me on twitter. This is a new one, and I may not stick with it, but it's been fun so far. What am I doing right now?
  • A google search on me turns up lots of dirt. Well, not "dirt", exactly, but mildly amusing information. The first 4 pages are all actually me (up to the part about how I'm a Wing Chun martial arts master ... that's not me. Or is it?)

I've got a new non-personal blog in the works, but that won't come around until at least the summer, so for now, if you'd like to keep up with what I'm doing, here's my RSS feed.

Photo by Jeff Balke.


Beat Zelda: Check

Wow, I finally figured out what myspace is good for: getting a ton of birthday wishes! Check out all the comments I got. People are nice.

What did I do for my birthday? I finally beat The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess, that's what. What's particularly funny about that (according to Uberjam) is that I actually put it on my todo list, to beat that Nintendo game. And today I checked it off. So there.

Like To Join Us For Brunch?

Now I'm listening to one of my birthday presents. Rules.



So, I did it. I unplugged from all my computational resources for 24 hours this weekend as part of International Shutdown Day. What was it like? Peaceful.


I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that henceforth I am adopting a new email strategy: I'm only going to check email twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I'll process all the messages, clear out my inbox, and then shut down my mail client until the next schedule check. This is an experiment and may not last the week, but the freedom I felt while "unplugged" this weekend was really remarkable, so it's worth a try.

Note to those who would send me emails: if it takes me up to, say, 12 hours to reply, don't fear for my safety. I'm fine - I'm just actually something productive with my time.


Shut Down

Sorry about the lack of blogging ... just recovering from SxSW 2007 (which was fun, btw ... check out my pics.) Not much to report this week, except:

This Saturday, join me in celebrating International Shutdown Day. I'm going to shut down my computers (all 4 of them, at present) and leave them off for a full 24 hour period. I haven't done that in ... well, probably ever. I think it's a great idea for a global experiment, and I think you should give it a shot.


Wii Are The Champions

So, after many attempts, I finally got my Wii today.

I got up at 5:30am and went to Target. Jason & Jodi, a couple friends who'd also been looking, joined me in line and got a couple of their own:

Brought it home and played a few games with Uberjam. She kicks butt at boxing:

More to come soon - can't talk, playing ...


Mac-ify Yourself

As you may know, the fact of having to choose one operating system and stick with it full-time is slowly (but surely) fading into the past. Now that Macs run Intel chips, the good folks at Parallels have been doing some amazing work with running Windows on Mac hardware, at the same time as Mac OS. That's great for someone like me, who prefers the elegance of Mac OS, but has to use Windows for "work" reasons.

Since my next major computer purchase is still a ways off, I can't take advantage of this cool development just yet. However, 2 downloads highlighted on Lifehacker today put me a little bit closer to the holy grail of integration (at least, visually) right now. First, the Mail.app theme for Thunderbird makes it look just like Mail.app, the beautiful Mac OS mail application. Second, Rocket Dock is a free windows version of the awesome Mac OS dock.


I just hid the windows taskbar off to the right, cleared off my desktop icons, and voila. Now I just need a top-sitting menu bar that looks like Mac OS, and I'll be even closer. :)

What a beautiful world ...


Wii Statesman

So I haven't bought a Wii yet. But I did get interviewed for a story in the Austin-American Statesman about wanting a Wii. Does that count?

Varley, 31, even bought a Wiimote at a Toys 'R Us store for a system he doesn't yet own.


That's Mii

Update: apparently the version I linked to above wasn't the final version of the story, and was accidentally linked on their Austin360 site. Here's the real version.

In other news, Uberjam and I spent the weekend in Beaumont with her folks, and had a great time. We brought Emmet the Dragon:

A Lotta Love

And met our new dog-in-law, Ranger:

Hello, Ranger

Good times were had by all. (Except for the squirrels the Emmet treed ... but I guess they have to fend for themselves.)


Testing, 1 2 3

So, I recently tried to upgrade to Wordpress for this blog. Lo and behold, Wordpress doesn't yet support directly migrating from the new Blogger. Doh. I tried some crazy workaround, but it didn't work (partly because I had older posts, going back to 2003 even, that didn't have titles). So anyway, I had to go back and unkludge the templates so I can continue to publish until it gets worked out. I.e. I'm stuck here on Blogger until WP decides to fix this. Hopefully that'll happen tomorrow with version 2.1.


Drool, drool ....

Have you ever heard the phrase "game changing"? That's what TechCrunch said about the new iPhone that was announced this morning. And they are so right. GPF and I sat around the kitchen table watching it unfold in stilted real-time text messages & photos from the convention center.

It's everything the blackberry is, plus a super-intuitive and slick input method (multi-touch), plus GPS (instant maps if you're lost!) AND an iPod (oh yeah, that old thing?) AND a cell phone. The holy grail of integration, done right like only Apple could. Just watch the videos.

It's also brilliant how they announced it - not available till June, but announced now because the FCC needs time to approve it, and they'd rather it come out this way than in an FCC filing (though I'm sure those are a barrel of laughs). What they didn't mention is that that also gives 6 months to a) work out the bugs & glitches, and b) get 3rd parties to develop iPhone-targeted apps (which they can start doing immediately because the thing runs full fledged OSX!)

As Slashdot said, this is basically a printing press for cash for Apple.

Will the money equation work out for consumers? $499 / $599 isn't cheap for a phone. But - it's also an iPod, and a GPS, and a blackberry, and a 2-year phone contract is included in that price (though presumably you'll need to "upgrade" that to get a decent amount of talk-time). I'm thinking the answer for me will be a "yes" because I already pay for SMS and a bunch of minutes via Sprint (whose customer service really stinks), AND I'll be due for a new phone this summer anyway. I guess the devil's in the details. But even if it's more money than we're currently paying ... it's so cool, I may get one anyway.

After I get my Wii, of course. :)