We’ve Been Presurfed!

I sent Gerard Vlemmings over at The Presurfer some info about the Stonehenge replica that’s been built in Odessa on the University of Texas of the Permian Basin campus. Lo & behold, Gerard was kind enough to link back to 2Dolphins when he blogged about this earlier today. The Presurfer is an excellent and frequently-updated blog site that I visit several times a week, so you can imagine how excited I was to see our site listed there.

Okay, okay, I know this thing’s been up for over half a year now, but in case you haven’t seen it, you can click here for some cool aerial photos of the UTPB Stonehenge or here for a brief article from the Odessa American about the structure.

Odessa's Stonehenge on the U.T.P.B. Campus

Donate Blood

I’ve regularly donated whenever United Blood Services has held blood donation drives at Medical Center Hospital for several years now but I was anxious about donating blood after having had surgery. I finally decided to get back in the groove today.

blood donation logoToday the UBS staff employed a new-to-me technology called pheresis. During this process, whole blood is drawn and goes into a machine that separates the red blood cells (or platelets) from the other components in the whole blood. The remaining plasma is then returned to the donor. Since a unit of whole blood only contains about one tablespoon of platelets, the net result is that you can donate 16 times as much of the most vital blood component while actually losing less volume than you would during a traditional donation. Pheresis donation only takes about 10-15 minutes longer than the normal blood donation method and, aside from the initial needle sting, is just as painless. (Platelets are especially vital for patients undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplant and have weakened immune systems.)

Donating blood is, of course, a very charitable gesture and that’s certainly reason enough to do so. But what’s more, there’s some compelling evidence that donating blood helps, among other things, lower bad cholesterol and may play a part in preventing heart disease for the donor.

So, give blood—it’s good for your community and good for your health too!

Digital Music Project

I embarked upon a fairly ambitious project about three weeks ago and have just completed. I’ve ripped – or encoded – all of our audio CDs to MP3 format files. In all, our music collection of around 350 CDs ended up being about 7200 files using about 26GB of hard drive space. And I’ve still got a few hundred loose MP3 files scattered across a dozen or so backup disks that have yet to be imported.

Having all of our music available in MP3 format offers several advantages but primarily this was to make use of our TiVo’s ability to pull MP3 music from my PC thru our wireless network to the nice surround sound system in the living room. And this also makes it easy to scoop up fresh tunes for my old reliable NexII MP3 player that I take on walks or onto Dede’s Dell Axim PocketPC that’s always with her.

So, why MP3 format? There are other formats, like Windows Media Player’s WMA or the iPod’s AAC, that feature better compression (resulting in slightly smaller files with no decrease in audio quality) but they suffer from compatability issues. MP3 files can be played on nearly any kind of PC or handheld device (and even some cell phones!) whereas these other formats are far more limiting and selective. Those are the formats, by the way, that you’ll get if you join one of the digital music services that allow you to purchase music downloads, like Napster, MSN Music, Wal-Mart, or iTunes. I urge you to avoid those services due to one major drawback: DRM.

DRM, or “Digital Rights Management,” is a form of copy protection from the record labels. DRM-enabled music files feature restrictions that allow record companies to securely and legally sell you music without having to worry that you might freely share that music with others. DRM is designed to assure compensation for the copyright holders (writers, musicians, record labels, etc.) but really only straightjackets you, a well-meaning, law-abiding music fan by placing tight limits on how many times you can make a copy of a song (between different computers, mobile devices, or MP3 players) or burn music you’ve purchased to CD. This is important so let me state that again…

     You don’t buy music with those services – you rent it.

Given that, it starts to make sense why lots of people use illegal file sharing programs like KaZaa or LimeWire for downloading music files because these programs provide music in the convenient and ever-compatible MP3 format that contain none of the tight restrictions of purchased music downloads. So, why not just turn to file sharing sites to get all of your music? The biggest reason not to do so is the tremendous security risks – crippling spyware and malicious virus attacks – that are all too common side-effects of using these services on your PC. These security nightmares can grind your PC to a halt in a matter of minutes, causing problems typically only fully remedied by scrubbing and rebuilding the entire thing. Ugh!

Also, with these illegal music downloads, you have no assurances of the quality of the music or that the file even contains the song that the filename suggests. Often, downloading from file sharing sites is like Forrest Gump’s box of choc’lates – “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Lastly, downloading from these sites is essentially stealing music. Though it may be unlikely, there’s a certainly very real potential for legal fallout when engaging in this sort of shady stuff. Legally purchasing music avoids potential legal pitfalls and, perhaps most importantly, it helps to support your favorite musicians so they can keep making tunes that you enjoy.

With that in mind, I urge you to continue buying your music on traditional CDs. Then you can make backup copies of those CDs for the car or rip ’em to MP3 format to use on your PC and mobile gadgets. This way, you’re protecting your music investment while “doing the right thing.”

By the way, you can head over to CNet’s Music Center Glossary to learn more. Relax, the confusing tangle of digital music terminology can confound even the best of us.

So what are your thoughts on the whole digital music thing? Leave us a comment!

TiVo = TV Survival

TiVo logoWhat more appropriate time could there be for buying a TiVo than right now so you’ll be able to record those upcoming Survivor:Palau episodes? You can get the 40-hour Series 2 model for an additional $30 off of the normal $99 at Goodguys.com. Add a network adapter to your new TiVo and you can view photos and even stream MP3 music files off of your home PC and play them thru your living room sound system. Just doesn’t get much more cool than that! Don’t forget to give us a referral if you sign up for the TiVo service! We’d sure appreciate it!

Already have a TiVo and just can’t get enough of those funky sounds? Thanks to Sean Burke, you can download the TiVo Sounds and use them on your PC.

Survivor: Palau – Premieres 2/17

Survivor: Palau

The ever-popular series 10th season kicks off with Survivor: Palau next week and we can’t wait! This time there are 20 survivors (instead of the usual 18) to start. The previews that we have seen say that 3 of them will go home the first night. I’m not sure where Palau is located but it looks like there are dolphins there so I am happy! Check out the CBS Survivor website for bios of the 10th season’s survivors.

Survivor: Palau

Our Belated New Year’s Resolution

Those of you who know us well know that we’ve developed a keen interest and real respect for Tibetan people and culture over the past couple of years. I think our interest in this began with the movie “Seven Years in Tibet”. This movie led us to want to know more about the Dalai Lama and Tibet, so we also rented Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun” and the documentary “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion”. Another very interesting DVD we rented was “Robert Thurman on Tibet”, which is really more of a lecture than an actual movie.

(Robert Thurman, father of actress Uma Thurman, is a former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Director of the Tibet House in New York City, and a personal friend of the Dalai Lama.)

At any rate, we were completely unfamiliar with what the Buddhist religion is about, the reasoning behind the Chinese takeover of Tibet, and the story of the Dalai Lama’s exile to India. So these films were real eye openers for us. “Snow Lion” paints a vivid picture of Tibetan culture and the devastating genocidal affects of the Chinese occupation. The imprisonment and torturous treatment of the Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns is particularly shocking and reminded me of the unthinkable treatment of Jews by Hitler’s Nazis back during WWII. Robert Thurman’s accounts of Tibet and it’s people is very fascinating and thought-provoking stuff!

For more information about His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and the Tibet effort, visit the official website of the Central Tibetan Administration or consider reading The Dalai Lama’s “An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life”. This book gives an overview of the fundamental Buddhist principles and aims to show how Buddhist practices can lead to a more compassionate and happier life. The concepts presented lend themselves to being applied by anyone, regardless of religious beliefs. I’m impressed by how the Dalai Lama isn’t on a mission to convert people’s religion, but rather turn their hearts and enrich their lives through compassion for others.

So this all brings me around to our belated New year’s Resolution. There is a compelling argument about how to force China to abandon it’s Tibetan occupation made in more than one of the films I mentioned above. And that argument is that the Chinese government will leave Tibet when it finally becomes too much of an economical burden, which could be brought about by a widespread boycott on the purchase of Chinese-made goods.

So, it seemed like the conscionable thing to do is join in this effort. So, we’ve made a serious effort to avoid buying anything that has a “Made in China” label over the past couple of months. And while this is not necessary an easy feat, it makes sense to us to our little part in casting a vote with our dollars. Will this work? Can a collective effort to cause a lapse in consumer demand in Chinese goods really cause Tibet to be free again? Hard to say, but you can read more about this activism campaign effort at Boycott Made In China.

What do you think?