Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Web Secret #368: private internet access

Are you a fan of British TV series like Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, and the like?

Then you know that by the time you are watching the show in the US, it was already aired months earlier in the UK.

This pisses me off.

I have tried to subvert this by logging on to and sneaking onto the British ITV player.

Does not work. They know I come from the US. And I am refused access.

No more, thanks to

Now to be honest, most people who subscribe to PIA do so out of concerns about Internet privacy and cybercrime. That has never been a sufficient incentive for me to shell out the $40 per year it takes to get the service.

Watching British telly at the same time as my friends from across the ocean? Sign me up.

But don't listen to me, watch the video.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Web Secret #367: the search for excellence

The Wizard of Oz is the best movie ever made.

The reasons for this belong in another post, probably another blog.

When I was a child, the Wizard of Oz was aired on television once a year. It was event television.

You and your family gathered around the single TV set your family owned, and someone wrapped some aluminum foil around the antennas in the vain hope of improving the grainy, staticky reception. Then you watched, transfixed, desperately trying to memorize every moment, every song, every line of dialogue. Because, poof! it would be gone - not to be seen again for another year.

Those days are long gone, along with nightly family dinners, and other such ephemera.

To make up for those losses, the gods of media gave us excellence.

Courtesy of the Internet. Anytime. At the click of the mouse.

In the 21st century, I can watch the Wizard of Oz whenever I want to. In fact I can watch it deconstructed into hundreds of HD clips, with better quality sound and visuals than I could have ever dreamed about in my youth. I won't even embed one in this post. You know those clips. I know them. We all know them.

The word in French for Internet user is "internaute." It literally means "astronaut exploring the Internet."

Accompany me, an internaute on an idiosyncratic expedition.

Arthur Rubinstein famously described the adagio from Schubert's String Quintet in C Major as "the entrance to heaven." I am not restricted to listening to a contemporary performance of this work. I can access any rendition ever publicly recorded. So for me, it's the 1941 performance by the legendary Budapest String Quartet, accompanied by Jascha Heifetz, arguable the greatest violinist who ever lived.

The adagio can be heard at minute 14.01. It is a sublime performance, made more poignant by the fact that it was recorded during one of the darkest periods of human history.

It is mine to experience. Anytime.

Sporting glory? I can watch Torville and Dean ice dancing to Ravel's "Bolero" on their way to the 1984 Olympic gold medal. To this day, it is widely considered to be the greatest ice dance ever performed.

Missed Laurence Olivier performing the lead in Shakespeare's Richard III on the stage of the Old Vic in 1946? No problem, catch him sneering his way through "Now is the winter of our discontent" in the 1955 movie:

You can find surprising pockets of perfectionism. In the UK, Magnus Macdonald machine tools impeccably crafted items out of Titanium. Pens, pill pots, and the like.

Excellence is not only the search for athletic, artistic, scientific and cultural achievement. It is also embodied by the human spirit.

When I feel like the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I watch the youth of the world dancing to Pharrell's Happy:

You too can become an "internaute" and launch your own expedition.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Web Secret #366: Microsoft Office Lens

I just came back from a business trip.

Time to submit an expense report.

I extract a number of taxi and meal receipts from my handbag. Printed on thermal paper, they are curled up and hard to flatten. I am irritated in 5 seconds flat.

I could have had Office Lens.

Microsoft Office Lens (free on iOS and Android) is a handy app that acts as a pocket scanner for receipts, notes, business cards, menus, and more.

The app then crops and enhances the image so it looks tidy, and uses optical character recognition (OCR) so that later on, you can go back and search the text in your images — no more digging through mounds of receipts or sticky notes. It can automatically generate a contact card you can add to your phone, and it converts other images into Word docs, PDFs, and PowerPoints, which you can save or share with contacts.

Cue the video:

Now download it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Web Secret #365 : Commodity Goods

When I encounter a company that combines bespoke service with a modern approach - I feel the need to share.

I hate buying perfume from a department store or Sephora (and not because I don't love you, Sephora.)

This is what I hate:

1. pressure from salespeople - many of whom know nothing about fragrance.
2. the gagging smell of dozens of airborne scents mingled together.
3. olfactory overload - after I have tried two scents I can't try any others.
4. I want to wear a scent for at least an hour so that I can appreciate the dry down, the sillage, and other sensory experiences.

Commodity Goods, where have you been all my life?

This is their approach to selecting a perfume:

1. Go online and pay $24 for a scent Fitting Kit.
2. They mail you 10 different vials of perfume to try in the comfort of your home.
3. Take your time, take days to test them out.
4. Once you have a favorite, go online and select it. They will send you a 10ml spray of your choice (perfect for travel) for free, shipping included.

In case you're interested, I opted for Whiskey.

Love it.