Friday, March 30, 2007

What light through yonder window breaks?

Today is going to be a different day. Today I vow to leave the confines of this little room, even—gasp!—the very house itself.

This is a day when e-mail may go unanswered, perhaps even unread. Podcasts will not be casted. Websites will not be sited. Files will not be filed. Bytes will not be bit.

Today the light of the sun will strike my brow and I will not cringe or look away. I will walk with head held high against the wind, probably to the safe confines of the coffee shop, protected from the elements. But I will walk there.

Today I will not spend the entire day toiling at an archaeological dig site known as Messius Officius.

Today is the day I will do something other than virtual.

... right after I get done blogging about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What can White do for you?

My plans for today? So glad you asked! I am going to spend some quality time with Nirvana. You read that right: with the thing Nirvana, not in the place Nirvana.

[Do you have that Schoolhouse Rock tune in your head now? A noun is a person, place or thing. Inserting little ditties in your conscious mind; just another service we offer.]

Nirvana is my G5 iMac, last mentioned when it lost its mind, due in no small part to me. We get along swimmingly. The reason for the extended together time today is because Nirvana is starting to look a little paunchy. Its mid section is starting to spill over its belt. Yes, Nirvana is morphing into a muffin-top.

Oh, there was plenty of room in that hard drive when I brought it home. Since settling in, Nirvana has done nothing but gorge on digital goodies via the internet. Of the 250 GB of space available, the thermometer bar of bytes reports only 6 GB remaining.

"What the hell have you got on that drive, Lee?" I hear you cry. That is a good question. In the interest of not distracting the lawyers who work for the digital book industry from whatever it is they do day-to-day, I won't get into the details other than to say I have gotten sucked into the spoken word, oral, written, and, er, lettered around action sequences in vibrant colors. But regardless of what the files are, today I endeavor to back them up and sift and prune and thin and trash and reclaim Nirvana's RAM waistline.
Considering that the external hard drive the files will be backed-up to also has only 250 GB, I sense some serious byte-cleansing coming up.

Stay tuned, I'll post any highlights along the way.....

Well, every person you can know (Mrs. Jones, a lady, or a brother)
And every place that you can go (Like a street or a corner)
And anything that you can show (Like a dog or a bone)
You know they're nouns - you know they're nouns.

tick tock tick tock tick tock

10:35 AM - Haven't backed any files up yet but I have reclaimed approximately 20 square feet of floor space and flat space by restacking piles, recycling, trashing and etcetering debris found in the office.

11:10 AM - Got the external hard drive hooked up. Why does the hard drive weigh almost as much as Nirvana? Downloaded Carbon Copy Cloner. Going to do some reading on how to/what to/when to back up then get to it.

1:15 PM - Suffering from terminology overload. Cloning vs incremental backup vs head spin.

1:30 PM - Plugged in Roomba to charge it. Might as well vacuum the floor space reclaimed this morning.

2:45 PM - Removed cat from ceiling following Roomba attack.

4:00 PM - Commence backup/cloning. Still not sure what's the best way to go here but I have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Musical Fruit Meets the Muter

Friends, I come to you today with a message of hope, with words of joy. Yea, though I have groped through the crisper drawer of fuzzy dampness, I fear no veggie.

My story begins with a simple bag of dry beans. Oh, we all have one of these secrets in our cupboards: the bag of bulk food we bought because it seemed like a good idea at the time. We were going to start eating healthier. We were going to learn how to cook something that required more directions than "just add water" or "heat and serve." The beans called to us from the dispenser at the co-op. Buy us, they crooned, for we are good and good for you. I fell for it and giddily added a bag of them to my groceries, verily I skipped down the aisle with my basket of nutritional nirvana.

When I arrived home, I tucked the beans into their new home, front and center in the food pantry. They sighed contently. I smiled warmly. We were happy to have found each other, even if our time together was going to be brief. For I was going to prepare some culinary treat that would make the heavens sing in exultation over the healthiness of it all. I closed the cabinet door and went off to find a recipe worthy of such ingredients as the beans.

Well, that was six months ago and I just used the beans two days ago. And the only reason I finally used 'em in a dish was because I was tired of moving the bag out of the way every time I reached into the pantry for the bag of Fritos. Now there's some goodness for you!

I made some turkey chili on Sunday. I was motivated both by my need to get these beans out of the pantry and to make a pot of something I could nosh on all week. I had the chili recipe but had no idea how to adapt real honest to goodness dry beans to the directions that called for cans of this and cans of that. These are canless creatures, these beans o' mine! How many of them would fit into a can? I wondered. Off to the internet I went.

Amid the plethora of websites all eager to help me in my conversion confusion, I found one site that suggested I throw a carrot into the pot of re-hydrating beans and the ... uh ... tooting quality of the musical fruit would be muted. Oh, really. Do I look like I just bought these beans yesterday, chum?

Well, I gave it a shot. What did I have to lose, really? This was one more way for me to get a slowly softening veggie out of the crisper drawer of doom and actually do something with it before I lobbed it onto the compost pile. I found two perfect candidates for toot-absorption duty, cut 'em up into 2-3 inch chunks and dropped them into the pot with my 2 cups of dry beans that would yield 1 pound of beans that is equivalent to 1 can of beans. The carrots stared up at me with their one good eye (did they have that eye when I threw them into the veggie drawer?), blinked disconsolately, and then rolled over in the murky broth.

And do you know what? It worked! I kid you not. I have been eating chili for two days now and have not needed to open any windows or step out of the room to go "check on the cats." Whatever the carrots did, they did it well. This might as well be beanless chili for all the impact the little legumes have had on my intestinal tract. I'm a believer.

I can't wait to go buy more beans.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Where are we going and why are we in this basket?

Wow, the sun is out and it has done nothing to improve my mood. Here's what set me off today, with all the history you need to know thrown in for good measure.

Popcorn is its own food group. Let's call it the butter-fibre-salt food group. It's the best snack/meal out there. When I started my current job a few years ago and was too busy too think about anything not related to getting ready for the next day, popcorn was dinner four out of five weekdays. The fifth day was spent in a restaurant.

Even before I started this job, I ate popcorn five days out of every seven. I think I like popcorn. My father bought a Felknor's Theater popcorn popper when he saw the ad in Time magazine. He rarely jumped at stuff like that and his gadget gene is not as apparent in him as it is in me (recessive versus dominant gene perhaps?) but this popper is hands-down one of the best things he has ever bought. I don't know what motivated him (it's gadgeti-ness? it's shininess? it's presence in Time back when Time was respectable?) to buy it but I'm glad he did. As I type this, I am also very happy to know that the very popper I speak of is sitting down on my stovetop at this very moment. I estimate I have made 2600 batches of popcorn in that popper over the past 10 years.

I rave about that popper. I tell all my popcorn-eatin' friends to get one. I proselytize the Felknor popper name. My biggest regret is giving a second one away that someone had given me. Why did I need two? I had one and it's so good I was sure I'd be able to get one in the future.

I couldn't be more wrong. A friend of mine just bought a Whirley Pop stovetop popper. It is the same theory as Felknor's Theatre popper but I see flaws in the design. Mainly, it falls apart when you tip it over to pour the popcorn out. Yes, falling apart is a design flaw. Rather than the top being held on to the pot in a tongue-in-groove way, the top is "theoretically" held on by bent tabs gripping the sides of the pot. Hey kids! Who remembers high school geometry? The diameter is the widest part of the circle, right? If those tabs try to grip the pot anywhere else, the grip won't be as tight and the top is going to come off and the popcorn is going all over the floor. And the pot is just heavy enough that it will slide forward when you tip to pour. I see disaster ahead unless you get creative with hands in oven mitts balancing and pouring.

And the recourse we consumer's have to practice a little market correction and send this poor design back to the drawing board is -- absolutely no options whatsoever. It turns out that Whirley Pop bought out Felknor years ago and the better design is no longer available. VHS versus Beta anyone? Blue-Ray versus HD? This totally sucks. The better pot was bought out and sent to the showers. Now if my pot poops out, it can't be replaced with a similar item or an item of similar quality.

I hate built in obsolesence and I hate it when this type of phony competition helps schlocky stuff rise to the top of the heap. You're better than me? How about I give you some money so you'll go away? I'll own the rights to your name so you can't be manufactured ever again and people can't compare my poor design to your way better design because you don't exist anymore.

I'm going to make some popcorn and really, really enjoy it. Now more than ever before.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Steve Rogers is dead, Long live Captain America

Steve Rogers was shot twice on the steps of a federal courthouse and declared dead not long after. His creator, Joe Simon, was sitting shiva for him. Stan Lee gave a eulogy of sorts on NPR so it must be true.

I've been reading the Civil War series and can't say I'm surprised at this turn of events. What really frosts my chickens, however, is the way the story was reported on NPR. They said nothing of the story surrounding the assassination of this icon. He was being led up the steps in handcuffs, through a hostile crowd that taunted and jeered at him and called him a traitor (Captain America, a traitor! Oh, that's rich!) because he chose to disagree with a piece of legislation that was rammed through Congress, fed by the fuel of people's fears without any discussion about the loss of civil liberties said legislation would result in.

Sound familiar?!? Hello?!? Anybody?!?

I was quite upset as I headed up the hill to campus today. I'm OK that NPR ruined the series ending for me (I read comic books for the journey, 'k?) but I'm not OK they let this chance to talk about the similarities in the fictional world and our own regarding the erosion of rights, fear mongering and sheep led by idiots.

Do I dare go on about the billionaire weapons tycoon who struts around in an iron clad jock strap and who came out in favor of the legislation and on top in the civil war? Aaah, go read it yourself. I'm going to sit here and mope.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

People smarter than us

OK, I'm back. Sorry about the hiatus. Got busy and then I got sick and then I ... lost my password? ... got a cramp? ... got trapped in a litterbox inexplicably filled with quicksand rather than litter?

Sorry, I drifted there for a moment. I'm back now. School's been fun. I've been working with a student who is very, very close to sounding like that old joke about x: What do you mean x equals 25? Yesterday you told us it was 12!" This student—who is an absolute joy to work with and my tongue is nowhere near my cheek when I say that—really works hard and has no problem asking questions. The issue of note recently involves x and y and the issue of independence and dependence. Think back to a (stereo-)typical math problem. In such a problem, you would choose an x-value, plug it in, do the arithmetic to find the corresponding y-value. In that case, y is dependent upon x because we had no idea what y was going to be until we plugged in an x.

Well, my student is so fixated on the fact that we "usually" choose x first and find y second that when the variables change roles, it is a brand spanking new world for her. Even when the variables are given a context but remain as x and y she struggles. Here's the example from class:

Variables: Number of gallons of paint and Area to be painted

Scenario One: I want to paint my room. When I go to the store, I first need to know how much area I want to paint. Then I know how many gallons to buy.

Scenario Two: I happen upon a pyramid of stacked cans of paint in my garage. I wonder to myself, "How much area can I cover with this paint?"

The variables are the same in both cases yet in the first scenario Gallons is dependent upon how much Area and in the second scenario Area is dependent upon the number of Gallons. Make sense? To my student it made sense too. She was fine and cruising along until we substituted an x for gallons and a y for area and ran through the second scenario where where Gallons (x) is dependent. She could not see how that could be the case. How could we choose y first?

Some days I'm glad classes are only 50 minutes long.

Here's a code that could give Eniac a run for its money. This is how the wise folks at Waffle House code your order using condiments on a plate. For example, a sausage omelot is jelly at 3-o-clock where as a plain omelot is jelly at 9-o-clock.

Click for a fuller, deeper explanation that does not involve either x or y.

How many of you are still wondering what I was doing in the quicksand-filled litterbox in the first place?