The photos we don't take, and their tags. | Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been shooting many photos lately. This is not due to a lack of inspiration, motivation or time. The digital age has brought photography into the mainstream, and suddenly everyone on Flickr is either a photo critic or a photographer groupie. Kids just set their aperture wide open and shoot something with shallow depth-of-field and suddenly they're creative geniuses (genii?). Sure, maybe the art of photography has become irreversibly compromised and cheapened, but I don't necessarily have a problem with that.

World's best MP3 player | Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

This is my Samsung YP-2J. It has:

  • One gigabyte (1,073,741,824 bytes) of flash memory.
  • An FM Tuner.
  • A voice recorder.
  • The ability to play both mp3 and ogg files.
  • No interface or software to speak of - I plug it in, it's detected as a USB drive, and I drag and drop music to it like any other folder.
  • Linux support.
  • A bare-bones, no-frills interface.
  • Buttons you click, not a flimsy touch-screen.
  • A battery that lasts for days.
  • A tiny tiny footprint.

I've carried it with me across countless borders, states and provinces. It's been with me on my runs, hundreds of visits to the gym, cycling for hours, and lying in bed. I bought it refurbished at Tiger Direct for $19.95 plus shipping and handling several years ago.

It is, without a doubt, the best MP3 player in the world.

However, after one too many falls, drops, knocks, or accidental immersions into liquids of varying degrees of alcohol content, it is seemingly on its last legs. The "hold" switch which keeps you from accidentally pressing a button has broken off, the headphone jack is loose and so once in a while the left earpiece will fade in and out, and during especially severe activity like running away from chasing people down, it'll shut itself off. I really don't want to replace this player because it's ideal for me, but I think it's time I move on. Time will heal. Until then, though, I need to find a new player that matches my lifestyle - spastic and disheveled. I basically copy a bunch of songs to my player, set it to random, and go. No playlists, no albums, no sorting. Live fast.

Entre Disfrutar Y Compartir | Monday, February 23rd, 2009

(reposted from my Cuba blog).

Slightly over a year ago, I was sitting at a restaurant next to a busy, noisy intersection with David, near El Poblado Metro station in Medellín, Colombia. As we were ordering food, I was debating whether or not to get the Bandeja Paisa, a large, gluttonous dish that includes such light fare as grilled steak, chicharrón (fried pork rind), red beans, rice, chorizo, eggs, an arepa, sweet fried plantains and a slice of avocado. It had been a long day with lots of walking, so I felt like I could probably handle it. On the other hand, I had had a fairly large breakfast (I had made breakfast burritos), and started doubting whether I could finish it - I don't like leaving any food on my plate. In certain cultures, it is a sign of weakness / disrespect / not being hungry. Nevertheless, when the pleasant-but-slightly-neurotic waitress came along, I went ahead and ordered it.

- Her: "Listo?"
- David: "Si, el _______." (I forgot what he ordered, though in all likelihood it was probably something girlish and frilly).
- Her: "Y por usted?"
- Me: "Si, la bandeja paisa, por favor - qué incluye?"
- Her: "[Long list of food items]. Es muchissimo!"
- Me: "No hay problema - podemos disfrutarlo."

She makes a strange quizzical smile, and then her giggly persona becomes even gigglier, as she smiles even wider and goes to the kitchen.

Facebook, privacy, control, and creepiness | Friday, January 23rd, 2009

So, some anonymous dude (who is actually not quite as anonymous as he'd like to believe) left some comments on my nearly 2-year-old post about closing my Facebook account, then decided to try and prove a point about his views on privacy by cleverly looking up my cell number (which is public) and doing a Google search to find a photo of me (which is also public).

The point he ended up proving, of course, is that he's a slightly creepy person who calls up random people about an old blog post they wrote when he disagrees with them. Also, he knows how to perform the shit out of a Google search.

I was driving Mir - much more stalker-worthy material than I, if you ask me - to pick up some food for her dog, when my cell rings:

  • Is this Steven Mansour, from, about the facebook post?
  • Yup, who's this?
  • Just wanted to tell you that nothing is private, case in point I found your phone number, I'm not trying to stalk you or anything but you know how easy it is to find information about people on the internet.
  • Ok...
  • Ok.
  • Goodnight!
  • *click*

Followed by Mir and I looking at each other with a quizzical "WTF?".

So yes - it's true! You can find lots of information about people on the Internet, off and on Facebook. Especially if that information is, you know, supposed to be public in the first place. I don't hide my contact information from the world, and even if I did, a simple whois lookup on anyone (including Mr. "Anonymous") would be more than enough to get any more information about anyone else. That's why closed networks like Facebook are so insidious - people put more information on there than they would on an obviously public page such as this one, with the misconception that only their friends and family can access it. They - especially young people - are duped into jumping into bed with Facebook with the idea that they can retain control over who gets to access what.

They can't.

So what can we keep private? Lots. I'm pretty open - I make a point to use my real, full name in online games or on the handful social networks left that are genuinely useful to me; it makes it easier for me to keep track of and aggregate everything I'm doing. On others - ones where I prefer remaining private - I always use a pseudonym, encryption and TOR. There is data (music, videos, games) on my home PC that you'd probably be able to access without much difficulty if you really wanted to get at my Lionel Ritchie Paris Hilton Audioslave high-fidelity OGG files. Then there is other data and information that anyone would have a bitch of a time trying to find, decipher, crack and decrypt.

So, what's the point? Well, that problems with privacy control and things like identity theft have been around long before the Internet ever came to be, and will stick around long after the Internet has withered to dust copper flakes. That it's about corporate responsibility, education, and governance - not paranoia. That anyone with a phone book and fingers can find whoever they're looking for. And finally, whether you live down the street or in Florida, that you shouldn't look up my number and call me unless you've got something to say.

Or unless you're a blond-haired blue-eyed college cheerleader from the south. Then, you can just ask.


Breakfast In America | Friday, August 15th, 2008

I like trains. Well, not the trains themselves, maybe - but the idea of trains. Things on rails don't really ever get lost. And it's not that I'm worried about getting lost; some of my best memories are from places I'd never thought I'd find myself in. Rather, I'm fascinated by the idea of the tracks themselves - they are unidimensional. They have a start and an end, and everything in between is unyielding. Someone long ago decided that "this is where the first station will be, and the last will be over there." Entire nations have been built on this concept, trading posts and villages sprouting up like daisies along where the tracks briefly slide into a train station, only to disappear again into the distance. The rails are a work of art, like a sculpture designed long ago by some artist who would never have guessed that thousands upon thousands of people would one day be sliding back and forth in air-conditioned, web-enabled little cars. In my case, I was sliding towards the Hudson valley, across northern New York State, in this, the first part of a multi-leg trip across the United States.

Veggies - they're what's for lunch | Monday, June 16th, 2008

Today, I eased my way back into my regular diet after spending 3 weeks in the U.S. eating, well, well... Ethiopian in Washington DC (obviously), and Mexifornian in SF. Not to mention all the munchies you get when, you know, you're in California. ;)

Dude, did you know that Mike and Ikes cost, like less than a buck a box over there? They're like $3+ here! They are the food of the Gods, who must be benevolent, all-knowing, gentle Gods if they share their Mike and Ike - Bursting with Fruit Juice Flavor® - with us.

There were other memorable moments, like when I had a craving for In-N-Out Burger, Carl's Jr and Jack-In-The-Box - all at the same time, which was fortunate since they are all on the same street corner down from my cousin's house. In between that and my family's incomparable Iraqi food, I got a little sluggish.

Fast Food
Fast Food