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Remembering My Best Friend, Jack Wright (1977-2011)

If you follow me on the various places I post online, you may remember I shared some sad news a couple of weeks ago. My best friend since school, Jack Wright, passed away unexpectedly. He just turned 34, and left behind his wife Alana, and their three wonderful kids. Jack was more than a friend to me – I called him my brother. I figured it was easier explain our relationship that way, than try to impress the depth of our relationship and love upon whomever I was speaking with. We lived together after high school, served LDS missions at the same time (him in Spokane, WA and me in Curitiba, Brazil). I was the best man at his wedding, and he was the best man at mine, As we started our own families, we stayed close. Even though we lived in different cities (us in Portland, and them in Seattle, L.A., and finally Texas), I still thought of him as my brother. His wife Alana became a sister to me and my wife Rachel, and we love their kids as nephews and a niece.

Jack came down with a leg infection about three years ago, while living in Seattle. It was so bad he was hospitalized, and we came to learn about a terrible antibiotic resistant strain of staphylococcus aureus called MRSA. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Most people have a benign form of staph bacteria living on their skin at any given time. It’s been humankind’s companion for ages. But in recent decades, strains have developed an almost malicious resistance to antibiotics, along with cruel new ways to cause damage. I’m in the middle of reading a terrifying but enlightening book about MRSA called Superbug, by Maryn McKenna. It’s scary stuff.

After three years, untold suffering, pain, nerve damage, expensive treatment, and hospitalizations, Jack passed away on the morning of March 1, 2011. After talking with the medical professionals involved in his care, it appears he died of fever-induced Brugada syndrome – sudden cardiac death.

It’s cliché to even say it, but the news was a terrible shock. We knew he was really sick, but no one ever expects the worst. The pain was magnified by my heart breaking for his sweet wife Alana, my sister, and the three kids. Almost immediately, I remembered a conversation during a nighttime drive around our hometown of Springville, UT when we were 17 or 18 (we had our best talks while driving). Amidst plans for building our future homes next to each other, so our kids could play together (we called it “the Castle”), we talked about what would happen if one of us died. We promised each other that if one of us died, the other would take care of his wife and children. So while I miss Jack terribly, and it hurts so much to let him go, I have tried to devote my energy and attention into taking care of Alana and the kids. Just like I promised.

Rachel and I made plans to fly to Texas for the funeral, and to stay a few extra days to help with anything we could. We wanted to be there for Alana, and the kids, and I’ll always remember those few days we spent in Texas as an emotional, solemn, sacred time. There was pain and loss, but there was also comfort and love.

Jack was a remarkable person, making strong friendships quickly, fiercely loyal, and inspiring love and dedication in those he met. I know there are many people in his life that would have done anything for him, because we knew he would have done anything for us. The week of the funeral, I heard so many stories and met so many people who Jack touched that I knew I had to find a way to document those relationships, and those memories. Not only for those of us who miss him, but for his children, so they can get to know a father they lost so early, as well as his grandchildren and the rest of his posterity.

Being the nerd that I am, of course my solution to that problem is to make a website. So that’s what I did. Remembering Kirk Jack Wright – http://kirkjackwright.com – is an online memorial to honor and remember him for as long as the Internet still has bits. I’ve already begun to collect stories and memories from people who knew him, and I’ll be the curator of those memories.

I’ve also set up PayPal donations on the site for those who would like to contribute. A memorial fund has been set up for them, and everything collected will go to cover funeral and medical expenses, as well as providing for Alana and the kids’ needs. I’ve already been touched by the great generosity that people have shown, and I really hope that there are enough people out there that can contribute, even a small amount, so that we can lighten the load on his family.

Jack, you will always be my brother, and my life has changed more than you’ll ever know for my having known you. I literally would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for you, and I’ll love you forever. I’m watching out for Alana and the kids, just like I promised, and just like I know you’d have done for me. Be good, and I’ll see you again someday.

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Blog, Video

Compare iPad 2 720p HD Video to iPhone 4 720p HD Video

Watch fullscreen and select “720p” to see it in HD.

This is a video Brian and I shot yesterday while messing around with my new iPad 2. It’s just a short video, about 10 seconds shot on the iPad 2, then 10 seconds shot on the iPhone 4. It’s well known that the still photo capabilities of the iPad 2′s cameras are much lower than the (very nice) 5MP sensor in the iPhone 4. But for video, the specs are the same. They both shoot 720p (1280×720 pixels) HD video. We wanted to see if there was any noticeable difference.

The verdict? To my untrained eye, I can spot the difference in the two videos, but it’s hard to definitively say that one is better than the other. I’d give the edge to the iPad 2, but the iPhone 4 shoots good video, too. One thing we noticed: the live “viewfinder” view on the screen while recording video on the iPad 2 was really grainy, and honestly looked pretty bad. But the actual recorded video looks much better when played back.

Side note: I imported the iPhone video into the iPad using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, then used iMovie on the iPad to string the two videos together and add the titles/lower thirds. I then uploaded to YouTube from iMovie. The whole process was pretty slick, and only took about two minutes. I can’t wait to dig into iMovie on the iPad.

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Blog

Updated my “About” Page

I finally updated my “[About](http://www.tinyscreenfuls.com/about)” page here. It was blank for a long time, but now contains a bio and history – basically, a place for me to brag about some of the cool things I’ve done. :-) Check it out!

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Blog

Plugins I Used in the Feb. 2011 TinyScreenfuls.com Redesign

Since a couple of people have asked, and since I like to “narrate my work”, here are the WordPress plugins (and theme) that I used when I redesigned the site yesterday. I have to admin, I really like it. I can’t stop looking at it. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment on the redesign.

The site is running WordPress 3.1, which was released yesterday. I’ve been a big fan and WordPress user for years, and the latest update continues to impress. The auto-update functionality in recent versions is killer – it’s so painless to stay up to date (and avoid security holes).

The theme is Twenty Ten, which is the new “default” theme in WordPress 3. I’ve disabled the header image, and I’m using a couple of sidebar and footer widgets. I especially like the 4 separate footer widget areas.

##Plugins

* [Akismet][1] – Been using this one for ages, it’s essential for spam control. Although now that I’m using Disqus (which uses my Akismet API key), I could probably disable this plugin.
* [Clicky for WordPress][2] – I’m an experimentalist, so even though I use and love Google Analytics, I wanted to try out Clicky since they’re local (Portland), and have a cool iOS app. They also provide some interesting metrics that Google doesn’t.
* [Disqus Comment System][3] – The plugin to integrate Disqus, letting it handle all commenting duties on your WordPress site.
* [Feedburner FeedSmith][4] – Handles the redirects to send subscribers to your FeedBurner feed (so you can get metrics) while still letting the FB spider get your feed content.
* [Google Analytics][5] – An easy way to include the GA script in all of your pages, so they can be measured. Funny note: I apparently forgot to configure this plugin when I did something on the site about 8 months ago, and wasn’t gathering any metrics data (I was watching Clicky instead). Oops.
* [Google XML Sitemaps][6] – Generates an XML sitemap so crawlers like Google know what’s on your site, what’s changed, and can generally crawl the site better. Aids in search performance.
* [Markdown for WordPress and bbPress][7] – I’m a huge fan of the Markdown language, and use it everywhere I can (I’m writing this post using Markdown).
* [PuSHPress][8] – Supports the PubSubHubbub protocol, which makes published posts appear in people’s feed readers faster.
* [Readability Widget][9] – Provides the “Read Now/Later” button you see in the sidebar. I had been doing this manually, with a code snippet, but I want to move away from editing any of my theme files. I’m also signed up as a Readability Publisher, so if any of you are paying Readability subscribers, and read my posts in Readability, I get a cut of your donation. Which so far, has been nothing, but it’s just an experiment. :-)
* [Twitter Tools][10] – I had been using this to generate a daily tweet digest post. Yesterday, I discontinued that, and switched to just displaying my most recent tweets as a sidebar widget.
* [Wordpress Connect][11] – This does a whole lot of Facebook integration, but I’m only using it for one thing – the “Like” button on each post. Again, this is easy to do with a snippet of script code, but this way, I don’t have to modify theme files.
* [WordPress Database Backup][12] – Does regular backups of my WP database and emails them to me.
* [WP-DBManager][13] – Does a whole lot more than I really use it for, but this blog is over seven years old, any my database is larger than average. It can periodically optimize the database. Not sure if this has any real impact on performance, but it’s not hurting anything.
* [WP Greet Box][14] – Displays a greeting box to new site visitors based on a staggering array of referrer URLs. Will suggest actions to new visitors based on where they came from (e.g. upvotes if from Reddit, subscribe to the feed if from Google, etc.).
* [WPtouch][15] – Provides a Mobile theme for visitors on smartphones (iPhone, Android, etc.). Very customizable (enter your Google Analytics code and AdSense affiliate ID, and it will track visitors and insert mobile ads if desired). I see a lot of sites using this plugin (or something very like it) to provide a nice mobile view for smartphone visitors.

Most of the widgets in the sidebar and footer of the site are either come from a plugin or are self explanatory. The exception to that would be the Facebook Activity Feed widget over there (called “Your Friends’ Activity). I could have used the WordPress Connect plugin to create a widget, but I wanted to experiment with creating my own directly from Facebook. It shows your friends’ activity on my site, without you having to log in (the data never hits my server – it’s all generated in your browser on your computer). I’ve also configured it to show recommended posts based on your Facebook friends. I think it’s pretty cool (and yes, it’s a little creepy. But only a little. :-)

Anything else I missed? Any questions about how I did anything? This isn’t super complicated, and like I said, I’m an experimentalist, so this is all subject to constant change and tinkering. I use this site as a place to get experience with all the tools and technologies out there, and I share what I do in case it’s helpful to my readers, or someone who stumbles across it in a search. Thanks for reading, and drop a comment with any feedback or suggestions you might have!

[1]: http://akismet.com/
[2]: http://getclicky.com/goodies/#wordpress
[3]: http://disqus.com/
[4]: http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/help/wordpress_quickstart
[5]: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/googleanalytics/
[6]: http://www.arnebrachhold.de/redir/sitemap-home/
[7]: http://mitcho.com/code/
[8]: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/pushpress/
[9]: http://nio2.com/resources/readability-buttons/
[10]: http://crowdfavorite.com/wordpress/plugins/twitter-tools/
[11]: http://www.scibuff.com/2010/06/07/wordpress-connect/
[12]: http://austinmatzko.com/wordpress-plugins/wp-db-backup/
[13]: http://lesterchan.net/portfolio/programming/php/
[14]: http://omninoggin.com/projects/wordpress-plugins/wp-greet-box-wordpress-plugin/
[15]: http://www.bravenewcode.com/wptouch

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Blog

TinyScreenfuls.com Redesign: Cleaner, Simpler, More Facebook

I started messing around with a couple of things on my blog this morning, and one thing led to another. I’ve ended up with a new theme, new design, and some features I’ve been wanting to play with for a while. I wanted something cleaner and more elegant, and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with the result. The page also weighs a *lot* less, and loads much faster than before.

New features includes Disqus unified comments, Facebook “Like” buttons and the Activity Feed (over there in the sidebar – it shows what your Facebook friends have been doing on the site), and a few more tweaks. Under the covers, I updated to WordPress 3.1 this morning, and I’m really liking the Admin bar (though viewers won’t see it).

Everything is based on the new Twenty Ten WordPress theme and plugins – I wanted to get away from doing custom code/modification of theme files. I ran into several occasions during the past few years where I had to modify my theme (K2) to get exactly what I wanted.

If you’re reading this via a feed or elsewhere, consider dropping by, and letting me know what you think. This concludes the navel gazing for the day. :-)

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Blog

Trying Disqus for Comments on TinyScreenfuls.com

I’m going through a phase. I have a bunch of stuff I want to experiment with, so of course, here on TinyScreenfuls.com is where I’m going to do it.

I had recently added Facebook Comments and “Like” buttons to my posts, but I didn’t like how fragmented it made everything look (one of the things on my list is a theme makeover that goes way back over on the side of simplicity and elegance). So I’m giving Disqus a try for comments.

If you’ve never heard of Disqus, I bet you’ve seen it. It’s a centralized comment system that lets you log in with your Facebook, Twitter, or other account (it supports a bunch of different logins) or no account at all. I like how it lets me track my comments across various sites (like RWW, people’s blogs, etc.), and I also really like how it nicely integrates stuff like “likes” and other sharing options right into the comment form. And it works with the WPTouch mobile theme I’m using, the 500 or so of you per month who come here on an iPhone will get to use it, too.

Do me a favor and help me try it out? Post a comment, like, and otherwise exercise what you see down below in the comments area, and let me know what you think, or if anything breaks. Thanks! :-)

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Blog

Added a Readability Button to Posts on TinyScreenfuls.com

Just a quick note that I’ve added a Readability button to posts here on TinyScreenfuls.com. Right now, it only shows up when you’re looking at a single post (permalink page). It looks like this:

What is Readability, you ask? It’s a service that strips a page down to just the good stuff – the text (and images) you want to read. It’s extremely clever about what to display, and it’s one of my new favorite things. I’m signed up as a “contributor”, which means I pay them a few bucks a month, and distribute that among the sites that write the articles I like to read. It integrates with Instapaper, another of my favorite things. Besides being elegant and beautiful, I love that Readability gives me a way to pay for the writing that I read and enjoy. In the spirit of transparency, you can see what I’m reading/contributing to here.

As an experiment, I’m signing up as a Publisher with Readability, so that means (theoretically) if you are a paying Contributor, and you read any of my posts with Readability, I’ll get a small slice of what you contribute. I don’t expect to see much, if anything, by way of money this way, but like I said, it’s an experiment. I’m fascinated by the way writing and journalism are changing because of the web, and being the consummate early adopter, I just had to toss my hat in the ring for this one. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes!

Update 2011-03-30: I removed the Readability button, as almost no one was clicking on it. Was a fun experiment, and it remains an awesome service. Just one that none of my readers use, apparently. :-)

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Blog

Stuff I Want to Write About But Haven’t Made Time

The build process for our new ISN Studio, especially the 6-way Skypeasaurus, of which I’m particularly proud. Recent favorite app reviews. My new favorite podcast, Back to Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin. The MacBook Air (no, I don’t have one, but I really want one). Launchbar. Markdown. Writing itself. Google Voice. “Where’s the Gem?” Quora. Instagram/Picplz. Josh’s Theory of Social Gravity. What makes a technology successful. In defense of fanboyism. Email forwards. Worrying more about tools and gear than doing and creating. How Reeder and Instapaper changed my world. What I read before I even get out of bed in the morning.

Lots more. Putting some of it out there as a teaser and a motivator. If you have an opinion, what questions or topics would you have me write about? I find that answering questions is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Many times, a response I’ve written to a question in email or in a comment becomes a post on its own. So, let me have it. And thanks!

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Blog

Gran Turismo 5 Hides a Full Blown DSLR Photography Simulator

Gran Turismo 5 Hides a Full Blown DSLR Photography Simulator

I’m going to be writing a lot more about Gran Turismo 5, the racing/driving simulator for which we long suffering nerds have waited 7 years. It’s finally out, and I’ve been playing it for a couple of days, but I’ve not even scratched the surface of the level of intricate, obsessive, and gorgeous detail included. I can’t even call it a “game” – it’s so much more than that.

One small example: Last night, after staying up for “one more race” until WAY past my bedtime, I decided to play around with the “Photo/Travel” option. I had just purchased one of my dream cars, a 2010 Subaru WRX STi (I have an 02 WRX in real life). I’d driven it around a few of the arcade tracks, then taken it into the shop to give it some mods (high flow racing air filter, ECU tuning, high flow cats, etc.). I took it to the maintenance area and got the oil changed (no idea what this does in the game, but it’s fun) and took it to the car wash. Since it was shiny and clean, I decided to take some photos with in-game screenshot tool.

That’s when I discovered that the “screenshot tool” is SO much more than that. After choosing a location (Kyoto Gion) and positioning myself and the car, I found a complete array of DSLR-type camera controls at my fingertips. I fiddled with the lens aperture, exposure compensation, white balance, shutter speed, and ISO. I took a few snaps, including the one above (f/2.8, focused on the front of the car, +1EV). I then exported the image from GT5 to my PS3, and from there onto a USB stick.

Being a video game geek, a car geek, and a photography geek, I’m giddy that Polyphony went to the effort to put such a feature rich (yet easy to use) photo feature in a game that’s already packed with SO many other detailed types of simulation.

Gran Turismo 5 is a masterpiece – a true love letter to people who love cars (and games, and photography, and who knows what else I’ll find). I sense a lot more late nights in my future. :-)

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Blog

Rock Band 3 Review

Update: I’m really taking to the keyboard. For some reason, it’s just easier for me to play than the guitar or drums. Might have something to do with the fact that my fingers have spent the better part of every day on a (computer) keyboard for the last 28 years, since I was 5. :-) I’ve never really developed the muscle coordination/memory for guitar or drums (not to mention having to use the bass pedal!).

However, I’m finding that I while I’m still at the medium/hard comfort level on guitar, I can dive right in to Expert on keys and do OK. Haven’t failed a song yet. I’ve even taken to playing Expert guitar parts (which I’ve never been up to before) with the keyboard during the road challenges/while I’m grinding to earn fans and unlock stuff. It just flows, and it feels pretty cool.

I picked up Rock Band 3 for the PS3 on launch day (10/26/10), along with the new wireless keyboard instrument. I’m not a hardcore player, but we love to play as a family and with friends, and have amassed the whole collection of instruments (two guitars, drums, mic, etc.) and a whole bunch of songs. The track list, along with the new keyboard, made Rock Band 3 a must buy for me. Here are my initial thoughts after a couple days of play.

Rock Band 3 Wireless Keyboard PS3

The keyboard is great – feels good, easy to pick up and play. Of course, it’s a whole new set of finger memories to learn, and since I mostly play guitar, that trips me up sometimes. But I’ve only been playing a couple of hours. Mostly experimenting, customizing characters and our band (“The Rockin’ Out Band-crofts”), etc. Most (but not all) of the songs in RB3 have a keyboard part, but none of the songs from earlier iterations will. Fortunately, you can choose to play the Guitar or Bass part with the keyboard, which on most songs, is just fine. And on songs like Freezepop’s “Less Talk More Rokk”, where the original part was a “keytar” anyway, it’s downright perfect.

Besides the 80+ songs on the disc, RB3 will automatically pick up anll the songs you have on your hard drive. In my case, all the songs from Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and a all my DLC. I also did the Rock Band 2 “export” – it’s actually a 2GB download, using the unique code on the back of the RB2 manual – the disc never has to be inserted. The export costs $9.99, and not all songs come over (70 of the 80+ in RB2).

The graphics and band activity in the background are awesome. Your band is always hanging out, doing things appropriate to where you’re at in thr game (playing in basement and bars to begin with, etc.). The graphics are crisp and gorgeous. Text looks very nice, and while I’m not enough of a typenerd to know what font they use, I do appreciate that it looks great. Sound is excellent, too, though I had to manually switch to Dolby Digital output. You’ll have to recalibrate your setup for lag, which is a snap of you have one of the Rock Band 2 guitars with a calibration sensor on the front.

The song list, where you’ll probably spend most of your time besides playing songs, has a ton of controls, filters, and ways to look at your library, which is a very good thing, because if you’re anything like me, you have a ton of songs to manage. I’m at 320 or so, from RB1, RB2, RB3, and DLC. You can filter by source, parts, ratings (including new “Family Friendly” and “Supervision Recommended” ratings), and a bunch more criteria.

I’m not very far in the “career” mode, but it’s mostly focused around number of fans, completion of Road Challenges, and other Goals. You ant progress without dabbling in all the various goals – for example, I’ve done the first couple sets of road challenges, but even though I’ve got gold medals in all of them, I can’t unlock the next set until I “level up” my band by gaining more fans, by completing other goals. It feels like a nice balance, and if you don’t want to worry about career progression and unlocking songs, you don’t have to. All 80+ songs are playable from the start.

Speaking of goals, there’s an astounding number of them to complete, ranging from the traditional (“get 5 stars on these songs”) to the humorous to the insane (Endless Setlists, and the “Obsessive Compulsive” – play every note in every song perfectly). You will never complete all of them. I wonder if anyone at Harmonix has even done that.

Stuff I haven’t tried yet: harmony vocals, drums, online play, deep logo/outfit/tattoo customization.

Overall, I love the game. It’s the best rhythm or music game out there. Leave a comment or hit me up on email or Twitter if you have any questions about something I missed.

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