February 24, 2013

David vs Goliath

The editors and at least one photojournalist at Al Jazeera English are to be commended for the composition of this photo and its selection for the front page:

An image of a young Palestinian with a loaded sling, surrounded by clouds of smoke

This is a textbook example of a picture being worth a thousand words, by way of referencing an assortment of cultural images. To start with, there's the surface-level understanding of the basic near-futility of slinging small stones at an enemy who has kevlar, tear gas, and assault weaponry. But more importantly, this one single image stakes out an entire narrative: this young David is going up against a Goliath of an enemy, armed only with his sling. The fact that in this case David is the Philistine going up against Goliath the Israelite is pure icing on the narrative cake.

"It's not a football game, Mark. People die due to bad policy. They have to watch their children succumb to treatable illness because they can't afford their care. They don't get jobs, they drink and they do things they never forgive themselves for. I understand that you enjoy the game aspect, but real life is very different." --Michael Kimmitt

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July 10, 2012

Summer projects

It's been a few years now since I had a summer where I had a stable position and reasonably certain future; two summers ago I was moving out of my Knox office, into Monmouth, and prepping classes for an unfamiliar audience and format, and then last summer I was moving cross-country as well as, again, prepping lots of classes from scratch. This summer, though, I'm keeping my same house and same job, and only teaching one new class in the fall. So I have projects!

School-wise, the big one is that we're redeveloping the CS curriculum here. This was on the table even when I was hired—one reason I taught so many different courses this year was so I'd have a good perspective during this revision process. The major needed a lot of work; it was developed in the mid-80s with reference to the then-current 1978 curriculum guidelines from the ACM, and although it'd been tweaked since then, it still was a huge, heavy, inflexible, antiquated clunk of a major. The revision process has been fun, because I was able to propose some fairly significant changes, new classes, shifts in emphasis, and generally design a curriculum that will be flexible and ready to stand up for another thirty years. :)

Around the house I have a few things I've been meaning to do for a while. I'm going through boxes that I've now moved more than once that contain stuff I don't need, and slowly shrinking that pile-o-stuff. I'm also about the best tenant ever, because I do a lot of little minor home improvements that leave the house better than I found it—today I moved the external screen from a window that never opens to the bathroom window, so now you can open it as wide as you want and don't have to worry about fussing with a manual screen. (No major renovations, obviously, since I'm only renting. :) I've been working through a backlog of reading, both plays and other books, some of which I've had for months or years now without getting around to them.

And I'm doing a real vacation! It's not a working vacation (like the AP readings every year) or a conference trip (which often get a few extra days tacked on for fun), but a good old fashioned road trip, adding something like 6,000 miles to my car, most of that with my sister along, to attend a wedding and explore the Pacific Northwest. Should be fun!

"The only way to simulate the state's byzantine school-financing law was to understand every inch of it, every historical curiosity and long-embedded political compromise, to the last dollar and cent. To write code about a thing, you have to know the thing itself, absolutely." --Kevin Carey

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January 23, 2012

A unique tax error?

This is truly astonishing. I seem to be the only person on the internet who has received a particular form letter from the State of Illinois, or at least, the only one to talk about it.

The situation itself was pretty astonishing to begin with. I filed my 2010 taxes on time, in April 2011, and two months later got a "Return Correction Notice" from the state of Illinois about how I'd claimed a bunch of estimated payments (line 25) that I'd never made, so they zeroed that out and now I owe them a bunch of money. Um, I said. Looking back at the form, which I had kept a scan of, I clearly wrote an amount of withholdings (on line 24). I called them up and explained this, but apparently nothing could be done over the phone despite the fact that they actually had the actual original form and could presumably see that this was a simple data entry error; I had to mail them a letter "with documentation". Fine.

They apparently didn't get around to reading it for three months, because I didn't actually get my refund until September (thank goodness I'd had them send a check instead of direct deposit... the USPS forwarded my check to Virginia, no telling what would have happened if the bank deposit bounced). Fine, whatever; I deposited it.

So then this week I get an "Erroneous Refund Letter"---note, four months after they mailed me my check---telling me they shouldn't have allowed the withholding because it included out-of-state withholdings, which I was supposed to file a Schedule CR for.

This is strange for at least three reasons. One, I did file a Schedule CR. Two, and more importantly, the amount on line 24 doesn't include my Ohio income; there is clearly no computer verification of this letter/error/process, because if you add my two Illinois W-2s, you get the amount that I claimed to have been withheld. Three, if you do an internet search for "Erroneous Refund Letter", which is the actual title of the letter, all that comes up is Federal stuff; if you add Illinois to the query, there's just one (spurious) link. Apparently either nobody's received this letter before, or else somehow nobody's ever talked about it online. Mind-boggling.

(Less mind-boggling, but somewhat entertaining, is the paragraph that begins, "Our records show this refund has been cashed." You think? Might that be because you mailed it to me four months ago?)

So now I get to send them a second correction letter, pointing out that my original return was correct as it stands, thank you very much. I mean, it's great that they're checking their records for fraud, I guess, although I'm not exactly a high-roller here (above the median income, though, so I suppose that's something). But they've clearly spent a bunch of person-hours on this case---and burned even more of my time---for issues that are nothing but a waste of everyone's time. Argh.

(Meanwhile I'm also playing telephone tag to track down a mortgage payment; Bank of America sold my mortgage to another bank, marvelous timing, and I got a helpful call from the new bank that my January payment was missing. Thank goodness for federal rules that mandate a 60-day ironing-out period where payments sent to the old bank on time can't be assessed late fees even if the old bank is slow about forwarding the payment, but still, more of my time burned. Just when I have so much time to deal with it.)

"I can see where it's heading: a service called Google Assault that doesn't even bother to guess what you want, and simply hurls random words and sounds and images at you until you dribble all the fluid out of your body." --Charlie Brooker

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December 18, 2011

Mmm, leftovers.

Cleaning out the fridge before a trip is always fun; it means having apple crisp for dinner. Yum. :)

"It's probably safe to say that if a principal was accused of overlooking a child molester in his classrooms or recycling him to other schools, nobody would compare his suffering to Christ's." --Katha Pollitt

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July 30, 2011

Silicone bakeware, part 2

As you might know, one of the most popular posts ever on this blog was on an unlikely topic—silicone bakeware. Indeed, six years later it continues to get new comments every couple months, and for most of that time it's been on the front page of Google hits for "silicone cookware" and related queries. Amazing.

Anyway, I have an update on yet another way in which silicone bakeware sucks. I'm cleaning out my kitchen, and way in the back of a cupboard I found the red silicone bundt pan that had been the proximate motivation for my prior negative review. I'm not sure why I didn't throw it out then (well, I am—I resist throwing out anything that might possibly be useful later) but I figured I'd toss it in a bag of stuff I'm bringing to the Salvation Army tomorrow.

Only... it was sticky. Really sticky. All over the entire thing. It wasn't I-missed-a-spot sticky, like a food remnant I hadn't quite washed off well enough. And it wasn't top-of-the-fridge sticky, where airborne stovetop grease has embarrassingly accumulated but can be wiped off with a bit of warm soapy water. This was existentially sticky, and no scrubbing could get it off. It was flypaper sticky, transferring the sticky to my hands and remaining even after washing them (with more soap and water). In point of fact, it was really gross.

I've certainly never had that problem with glass and metal bakeware.

"If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul." --Isaac Asimov

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December 24, 2010

Upgrade complete-ish

I decided the design was good enough to roll out, although it still requires a bit of tweaking. It currently looks lovely in OmniWeb and Safari (webkit) and not-ugly in Firefox, IE, and Safari Mobile. Fonts currently work in OmniWeb, Safari, and Firefox, but I've only got TTF so the others are backing off to a few standard fonts; and the rounded corners only work in the desktop webkit browsers and the gradients don't work on iPods. But in all these cases there is a good graceful degradation, so I'm happy enough to slide the CSS into place.

Some readers might be pleased to note that the background isn't quite white; it's just enough off-white to take the edge off, I think.

Enough fussing for now. Merry Christmas!

"Two approaches we could take here. The first is we just stick to the facts. Lotta fun that is. The second is we wave cheerily at the facts en route to a more entertaining sociopolitical perspective. This is the Fox News system, and you can see it works for them." --Cecil Adams

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November 09, 2010

Trading privacy, freedom, and health for... nothing

You might have heard me complain before about airports. I flew a lot when I was in grad school, several times a year, and I enjoy the flying itself. But since 2001 the whole airport experience has become increasingly unpleasant, with most of the changes designed to make us think we're safer without doing a whole lot to actually improve our security.

This trend has run completely off the rails in the last year with the introduction of the strip search scanners—showing naked pictures of you to someone at a terminal somewhere to verify that you're not carrying anything that they suspect might be a weapon. Backscatter X-ray scanning first made a splash a year or so ago and seems fast on its way to becoming standard equipment in US airports. A boon for Rapiscan (actually their name! I couldn't make this up!), but a huge loss for the travelling public.

Background

We're told that we shouldn't worry. Why? Well, partly because the images were too blurry to make out any detail of skin or genitalia, they said. But they lied about that. The genitalia might be sort of smooshed up depending on your undergarment preferences, but the machines take images in pret-ty fine detail.

Oh, but the machines aren't even capable of storing the images, they said. But they lied about that, too (see page 16). In fact the spec requires that the machine store things and even make them downloadable onto USB sticks. Ok, they said, they're capable but we would never do that, don't you trust us? I'm not entirely sure why we would, since they required the machines to have storage capability and are now going out of their way to claim that they don't. In a somewhat related case, US Marshals were caught lying about this too—they have a slightly different type of strip search scanner than they're bringing in to airports, but the images were, sure enough, stored away. TSA is trying to distance themselves, but it's unconvincing.

Another early concern was health-related: if these are X-ray machines, and we're supposed to limit our lifetime exposure to X-rays and other radiation (due to cancer risk among other things), don't they pose a health risk? But no, they said, the radiation is really weak, nothing to worry about. Well, they might have been lying again, both in underestimating the per-dose risk and particularly in downplaying the social risk: even if one pass through the scanner is low-risk, if millions of people go through these things, with some people repeating it frequently, it's near-certain that these machines will be responsible for increased risk in the population. Furthermore, among children and the perhaps 5% of adults that are more sensitive to radiation, the risk is, again, higher. TSA responds: nah.

New developments

But aside from all of that, TSA has long claimed that you could decline to be scanned by these machines, in which case you would be screened using traditional means. They've now upped the ante with a new policy that mandates that the TSA person actually grope your genitalia rather than the traditional pat-down. The apparent goal of this is to embarrass people into going through the strip search scanner instead. I've been seeing various reports that corroborate this idea.

There's currently a rumour spreading in the blogosphere that the APA, a major pilots' union, is calling a boycott of the backscatter X-ray scanners, which would be huge. One libertarian blog prints a (purported) copy of the letter to the union members. So far I only see it in one "real" news outlet, news.com.au, but possibly it just hasn't gotten traction yet. It's certainly good news for the anti-strip-search crowd, though.

Are they really so bad?

Yes.

As established above, these scanners take a pretty detailed picture of your naked body. They show the picture to someone (or several people, who knows), and save it to a hard drive that they claim they won't do anything with, where it will sit indefinitely. Furthermore, it definitely exposes you to some amount of X-ray radiation, which might or might not be generally safe, and might or might not be specially problematic for you personally, depending on your medical background and/or genetic makeup.

This is an incredibly invasive form of search. One might suppose that the Fourth Amendment would prevent the government doing such a search without probable cause, but in a particularly puzzling turn, the Supreme Court has ruled that "administrative" searches (like metal detectors) are acceptable specifically when they don't suspect you of anything. The strip search scanners haven't been constitutionally tested yet, but I wouldn't count on help from that quarter. Even if they turn out to be constitutional, that doesn't change the fact that your basic freedom of movement has a tollgate across it, and the toll is that you either have to flash a stranger or let him grope you. Under other circumstances, this would be a clear case of sexual assault.

Which brings me to one of the most important problems with this system. There is a significant proportion of our population who were subject either to child abuse or to some other form of sexual trauma. Requiring them to relive the trauma—again, you're given a choice between letting a stranger see or touch your genitalia—is truly a form of psychological assault. It's just a matter of time before someone goes into a full-scale panic attack over this at an airport, although the likelier result is that people who've suffered that sort of sexual trauma will simply not fly.

There are two other constituencies who are particularly affected by the policy: the young and the religious. Parents who don't particularly want naked pictures of their children floating around, or who are concerned about the radiation vulnerabilities, may choose to not let their children be scanned—which means they get groped instead. I dearly hope that there are no pedophiles on staff at the TSA, although at this point I have to assume that would be an attractive job option for them. As for religious people, there are a number of denominations that have fairly strict rules about modesty and physical contact (and not just for women). Such denominations are effectively barred from flying if these policies become fully mainstream.

And the worst part is, they aren't really improving security. You already couldn't get a gun through, or electronics, or various other things that set off the metal detector; the main thing that they weren't already able to catch was liquid or plastic bomb-making materials, and these are still hideable in various body cavities or through surgical implantation.

What can you do?

Of course, this is one of those dumb things that takes on an inertia of its own, propelled forward by uncritical people who will trade away anything for even the illusion of security, as well as—let's follow the money here—the purveyors of the scanners, who are making gobs of money right now. There are some things you can do to push back, though.

Don't fly. Drive or take the bus or train (or don't travel at all). This is a form of voting with your feet (as it were), but is most effective if you also write to any airlines of which you're a frequent flyer, explaining why you won't be using their services anymore, as well as to your local Congressional representation, explaining why you're not contributing to that sector of the economy anymore. Airlines and Congress are two groups that might actually have some influence on TSA policy.

Decline the scanner. If you do fly (unavoidable for some of us), and get selected, turn them down. Politely, of course, but firmly and in terms that make it clear to everyone around what you're doing; here's a suggested script:

"I'd prefer the pat-down (or 'groping') to the strip search, please."
If challenged on the term strip search, as seems semi-likely:
"It records a picture of my naked body, and sends it to a screen for someone to look at, right?"
Then, regardless whether the responds is "yes", "no", "yes, but...", silence, whatever, follow up with just:
"Pat-down, please."
You don't want to overly provoke anyone, but it's important to get the facts out there: this lets everyone else in the line what they're actually signing up for. As an added benefit, it may gum up the security lines—and the more they get gummed up, the more likely that policy gets modified.

File a report. If you feel the TSA has been abusive with a pat-down search, you might try filing a report with TSA but you should definitely report it to the ACLU, who is tracking these abuses and building a case. You should also report to EPIC even if you go through the scanner, as they're trying to build a case about those as well (and to see if any particular groups are being profiled by being selected disproportionately for scanning).

Be vocal! A lot of people still don't understand just what the problem is; talk about it and explain that the screenings (either the strip search scanner or the manual groping) are invasive and abusive; that they are not helping security; and that they certainly violate the spirit of the 4th Amendment and arguably its letter. Show nothing but the deepest of contempt for anyone who claims to either A) value freedom or B) hate big government but still supports this massive, expensive, invasive, overreaching waste of time and money.

In closing, I'll leave you with a clip that is probably familiar but looks rather different now than it did a couple years ago. It was funny in 1982 because it seemed so absurd. Now it just seems prescient:

"Gah, if TPTB want to shut down all airline travel, it'd be way easier to just come out and say it. ALL AIRPORTS CLOSED! Better than this long drawn-out charade where we all have to hate airplanes first." --Eva Sweeney

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October 24, 2010

Der Computer Nr 3

Ok, this is a random find, but it's hilarious. It's a song from 1968 about, of all things, computer dating. It is surprisingly topical even forty years later, and it reads like a Jonathan Coulton song.

Oh... did I mention it was in German? Here's the lyrics; I found a bunch of hits for the lyrics in German but no translations, so here's my best shot (it's very easy German, actually):

Der Computer Nr. 3
sucht für mich den richtigen Boy,
und die Liebe ist garantiert für beide dabei.
Der Computer weiß genau
für jeden Mann die richtige Frau,
und das Glück fällt im Augenblick
aus seiner Kartei.
Computer #3
finds for me the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both thereby.
The computer knows precisely
for every man the right woman,
and happiness emits in the blink of an eye
from its printouts.
Denn einer von vielen Millionen,
der wartet auf mich irgendwo.
For the one of many millions,
that waits for me somewhere
(Groß: 81-82, Kragen: 39, Schuhgröße: 46, stop!) (Weight: 180, neck: 15-1/2, shoe size: 12, stop!)
Der Computer Nr. 3
sucht für mich den richtigen Boy,
und die Liebe ist garantiert für beide dabei.
Computer #3
finds for me the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both thereby.
Lange war ich einsam, heut' bin ich verliebt,
und nur darum ist das so,
weil es die Technik und die Wissenschaft
und Elektronengehirne gibt.
Long was I lonely, today I'm in love,
and that's so only thanks to it,
because there's technology and science
and electronic brains.
Der Computer Nr. 3
sucht für mich den richtigen Boy,
und die Liebe ist garantiert für beide dabei.
Der Computer weiß genau,
für jeden Mann die richtige Frau,
und das Glück fällt im Augenblick
aus seiner Kartei.
Computer #3
finds for me the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both thereby.
The computer knows precisely
for every man the right woman,
and happiness emits in the blink of an eye
from its printouts.
Denn einer von vielen Millionen,
der wartet auf mich irgendwo.
For the one of many millions,
that waits for me somewhere
(Alt: 22 Jahre, schwarze Haare, von Beruf Vertreter, Kennzeichen: Geld wie Heu) (Age: 22, black hair, travelling salesman by trade, description: money to burn)
Der Computer Nr. 3
sucht für mich den richtigen Boy,
und die Liebe ist garantiert für beide dabei.
Computer #3
finds for me the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both thereby.

Fabulous, nicht wahr?

(Ok, being terribly unsatisfied with my translation, I had to go ahead and try to rework it to fit the rhythm and meter of the song. I'm not very good at this. But here's a stab:

Computer #3
finds for me the perfect boy,
a love match guaranteed for him and for me.
The computer is precise
what it prints is more than advice
it calculates your one true love to print on the screen

For someone is just out there waiting;
Of millions of people one's mine!

[In Talking Moose voice:] (Weight a hundred eighty five, inseam thirty, shoe size twelve, done)

Computer #3
finds for me the perfect boy,
a love match guaranteed for him and for me.

I used to be lonely, now I am in love;
I owe it all to #3,
'cause it's all science and technology,
and an electronic brain.

Computer #3
finds for me the perfect boy,
a love match guaranteed for him and for me.
The computer is precise
what it prints is more than advice
it calculates your one true love to print on the screen

For someone is just out there waiting;
Of millions of people one's mine!

[Talking Moose again:] (Age: twenty seven, blond, profession: CPA, description: loaded with dough)

Computer #3
finds for me the perfect boy,
a love match guaranteed for him and for me.

...adequate. I've already spent sooooo much more time on this than I should, though.)

"Most [liberals] believe that conservatives vote against their own interests. I think that's ridiculous; they just hate their fellow Americans a lot and vote their values." --Michael Kimmitt

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November 24, 2009

Cousin Michael

[Photo of Michael]

A couple weeks ago, I got another email out of the blue from Joe, a friend of my cousin Michael Blaheta. Three years ago Mike died, and I wrote an unfortunate angry post about the family not being contacted, followed by an apology a little later. Because he had so little net presence before, these are among the top google hits for his name, and people find him here.

Joe sent me a scan of a picture that Mike had given him once, and asked me to post it. Mike had something of a modelling career—I remember at least once gathering around the TV to see him on a talk show, and he'd gotten into magazines a few times—but the exact provenance of this photo is unknown.

As I was writing this post, I looked back and discovered that the original obituary page for him has been taken down, guest book and all (so much for a permanent record), and the obit site had blocked web crawlers so none of the internet archives have a copy. Legacy.com appears to have kept it but is now charging $3 for anyone who wants to read the guest book. Which is too bad, because a lot of people posted a lot of nice things about Mike there, and now anyone looking to find out what happened just finds the nasty batch of responses on my original angry post. :(

Anyone who wants to post guest-book-y things about Michael are perfectly welcome to do so here. I promise I won't ever charge anyone to see them.

"Above all else, I am a human being, just as you are." --Ingmar Bergman, "Nora" (Nora Helmer)

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November 03, 2009

Dishonest graphics

[infographic with other lines marked]

Today we have another installment in our occasional series, "infographics that really are just plain lying". I was looking at an article on climate planning, and stumbled across the graphic at right. Go ahead, look at it. See anything strange?

First of all, the lines are drawn across at the heights of the semicircles, but the semicircles themselves have area, so it's not clear whether we are meant to interpret this linearly or quadratically. That is, are the labelled values proportional to the height of the lines, or the area of the semicircles? If linearly, what on earth is the point of the semicircles? If quadratically, why are the heights of the circles labelled?

Don't you get the impression that developed economies are generating vastly more CO2 than the emerging ones?

In fact if you look at the spacing of the lines, you'll see that they must have meant them to be linear, because the spacing is close to even, as are the numbers. If you do interpret this as a funny-looking bar chart, it's only somewhat distorted: scaled to a maximum value of 54, it would be representing intermediate values of 40 and 24. So even by this (highly generous) interpretation, the graphic designer is fudging to make the developing economies look like less of a contributor.

But when we see area like that, our natural instinct is to interpret it as meaningful. And here we run completely off the rails. If you interpret the semicircles' area as meaningful, the represented numbers (again scaling to a max of 54) are 54, a little over 29, and less than 11. The largest and smallest values in fact differ by a factor of less than two, but are made to look like they differ by a factor of five. This right here is simply journalistic malpractice.

[infographic with other lines marked]

To the right you see an edited version of the graphic that highlights what the dimensions would have been if the designer hadn't been lazy or flat-out lying. The outer semicircle and all the words and light-grey lines are unchanged from the original. But on the left side is a bar scaled to the actual values (red lines mark the correct scaled heights); and in the rest, the two smaller semicircles are scaled so that their areas are proportional to the numeric values reported.

Story's a little different now, innit?

Speaking for many of us: "I tend to ramble when I think I'm saying something intelligent." --Robert Hoekman, Jr.

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August 05, 2009

Summer...

So I've been busy, although not that busy; I don't really have any good excuse as to why I haven't posted here in five months. I have a partial explanation: early in the summer I started actively using Facebook's status update as sort of a microblog (e.g. during my France trip). But, and this is both pro and con, those posts are both more ephemeral and more lightweight. Also, being geared to be written in the third person, there is a very different feel over there, and also a tendency to try to write a bit more cryptically. For instance, when my sister got the teaching job, I wrote

Don Blaheta would like to congratulate the newest member of the Barrington HS math faculty.
So that's fun and all, and I'll probably keep it up, but it really isn't amenable to more long-form stuff. But of course I'd already fallen out of the habit of posting regularly; in part because I'd delay posting until I could do a proper job of it, and then eventually I wouldn't want my first post after a long hiatus to be inane. With the inane stuff going to facebook, maybe I'll be able to pick it up again. :)

Since last I posted, I went to Chattanooga for SIGCSE in March, Cincinnati for the AP reading in June, and Paris for ITiCSE in July. Also, I taught two classes, one of which was as a substitute for David (who was on junior leave)—our class in operating systems, networks, and C, which was simply a blast, and at 9 people a lot larger than expected. Maybe we've got a good-size batch of majors this year.

What I haven't done is make much progress on my bathroom, at least until fairly recently. Way back in October, I finished the ceiling, and then got going with scraping the stupid glue off the walls, which was dreadful so I kept putting it off. I did lower the hole for the medicine cabinet, and I got the initial coat of paint on the tub, but other than that and the glue scraping, the first real progress was at the end of June, when I installed the moisture-resistant wallboard in the places with bad plaster, and painted the upper walls. The current work is actually getting the plumbing roughed in, which is partly done (tub done, toiled done except for pouring lead to seat the collar, sink remains but the pipes are cut and just need to be installed). From there I just need to cover the wall cavity where the sink work is being done, and then I can get on with the tiling. With a little luck, I'll be done by the end of the month (which would be a huge relief).

And the last piece of news of interest is that I'm still in limbo on tenure. The usual timeline is that I submit materials in December (which I did), and then a department committee, the faculty personnel committee, the dean, an outside examiner, and the president all think about it and make their recommendations, which the president aggregates into a final decision by late May, which he gives to the board of trustees to ratify at their June meeting. Apparently, though, the outside examiner flaked out, and so I didn't get tenure in June like the other professors up this year—but I also wasn't denied it, I just have to wait. They asked for an extension of the 1 July deadline to 1 September, which I granted (how could I not?), so now it's more waiting. We'll see.

Meanwhile, back to work. I'm teaching FP again this fall and I need to decide whether I can work The God Delusion into the schedule.

"Do the universities provide for society the intellectual leadership it needs or only the training it asks for?" --Edsger Dijkstra

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January 13, 2009

Crunch

The patio outside the Gizmo was built thirty or so years ago, a low wooden deck built immediately atop an older concrete patio that doubled as an outdoor ice rink. It's a bit of an unusual construction; unlike a typical wooden deck, it is so low over its substrate (the joists are laid on the concrete) that it reverberates, echoing a bit differently depending on just where you step. Like a typical wooden deck, it ages, and though individual boards are occasionally replaced, the overall structure has settled and popped and now creaks just enough to be charming.

In the last few days, we've had a bit of snow, just enough to provide a picturesque groundcover without requiring outrageous amounts of snow clearing. And now it's super cold, currently 2°F according to the bug in my menubar, so that even trodden snow doesn't do its usual melt-freeze thing, but rather just compacts and crunches with every step, as if thousands of pounds of cornstarch had been spread evenly across the ground to a depth of two inches..

So back to the Gizmo patio. The line diagonally across it, from the Gizmo door off in the direction of GDH, is a path that is low-traffic enough that nobody shovels or plows it, but high-traffic enough that it is reliably trod into a level walking surface. The cold weather has left all the crunch in the snow; and the percussive thunk of my walking step mixes with the fricative creak of the shifting boards, all three sounds reverberating in the echo chamber below. Walking across the Gizmo patio has become, for a brief little while at least, a rare and peculiarly musical experience.

"If we read the Koran as a totality rather than pulling out random verses or half a line, that opens all kinds of possibilities for sexual equality." --Asma Barlas

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January 09, 2009

Innumeracy in the media

It's such a little thing, but I get just completely infuriated when media use numbers to sound like they're saying something, without actually saying anything at all. For instance, these lines from BBC article:

While [the Juan Valdez icon] has ascended, winning various advertising awards, Colombia's coffee industry has declined.

In the 1950s, it made up 80% of the country's exports.

Today, Colombia produces less green coffee than Vietnam and only a quarter as much as Brazil.

They give three numbers in an effort to show the decline of the Colombian coffee industry, but in fact they are incomparable: the numbers they present for Vietnam and Brazil are entirely consistent with the possibility that coffee still make up 80% of Colombian exports. We just don't know. Similarly, given only these data it's entirely possible that 1950s Colombia produced less than Vietnam or Brazil.

I'm not sure which bothers me most: that the journalist might not understand that the numbers are not comparable, that the journalist might think his readers won't notice, or that he might be right in such an assumption.

"Chicago enjoys a myth about itself---tough, brawling, but also amiable---that's grounded in a certain amount of bad behavior. A lot of people here like the legend of corruption, if not the actual practice. Corruption makes good stories." --Mary Schmich

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October 31, 2008

Boo!

:{Happy Halloween!

"Sarah Palin is not a well-informed or particularly engaged or curious person. She has neither a creative nor nimble mind and her ideological views are based only on snappy sound bites and factoids that she's managed to memorize." --Eric Zorn

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October 19, 2008

Round 2: Other things I've been up to

Looking back on the term so far, I'm not sure why it seems like I've been so busy. It's not that different from other years, although my CS 141 class is as big as any I've taught (they were growing consistently through my previous run, up to 20 or so when I last taught it in fall '05; they continued to grow for a few terms after that, to 25, and then came back down to 21 this term).

Ballroom gets ever bigger, with a consistent crowd at the beginner class every week that squeaks in just under the room size limit of 50 people (which means that more than 4% of Knox students are current active members of the ballroom dance club). In that arena, we've expanded the offerings to three classes a week (beginner club, intermediate club, and team), although my teaching load has actually decreased, as when I split the club class, I switched to only teaching the beginners a few times a term, the rest being taught by advanced team members. It's also nice because I can now spend more time in team classes doing technique, since I can teach moves in intermediate club.

House work has slowed to a crawl during the term. I just today put a second coat of paint on some exterior windows, some of which I started way back in May. The bathroom proceeds very slowly; the tin ceiling is now basically done, nailed up and caulked and painted, awaiting only its final coat of paint, but nothing else has happened. The next step is the blue wall paint, and if work proceeds at the current pace I should get the fixtures installed... sometime next year.

I continue to sing, of course. I'm in the community chorus again, which is doing an earth/green/nature-themed concert next month—should be fun. I still sing at St. Pat's every Sunday, where we haven't had a regular organist for about a year and a half now, so it's certainly been good practice at picking starting notes and leading a capella! There's also a group over at Corpus that has been learning Latin chant, and I've gone a few times... not sure how long I'll be able to keep that up, but the leader is out of town a lot, so it's not really a regular commitment.

I don't write nearly enough anymore, though. That's not just a blog thing; I feel like I'm not writing much of anything. Part of that, I've decided, is that I've been walking more: the sort of thinking-out-loud that I used to do in essays and blogging, now I work through more quietly during my fifteen-minute commute. Unlike biking or driving, where I have to pay attention to the road, and the trip is short in any case, I can walk on autopilot, and so I tend to spend time hashing out arguments in my head. Still, I've long felt that nothing improves my writing like writing, and so I really should make the effort to do more of it.

"I see horizons wide as a man's must I be nothing till I'm some man's wife?" --Boublil & Schönberg, "The Pirate Queen" (Grania)

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July 15, 2008

Well, *someone* must know

The soda machine in the SMC loading dock has been a bit of a bête noire for me over the last few years, because once it has taken your money there is no way to get the money back, even if it is sold out of whatever you wanted—and there are no individual "sold out" lights. When I've complained about this broken behaviour, I've been told that it is unchangeable and that's just how the machine works. Stuff like that is ten times more infuriating for CS folks, who know perfectly well that it's just a matter of rewriting a program somewhere, but there's no getting through the bureaucracy.

At least, though, there was an out: if I remembered to do it, I could press the button before putting my money in, and it would flash the machine's single "sold out" light, and I'd know not to buy anything. This isn't enough to solve the problem (since you still have to remember to do it) but it's something. Unfortunately, even that is broken now; if you press the button of a sold-out item it'll just flash the price that the item would be if it had any.

Argh.

So I called the extension listed on a sheet taped to the machine—which connects to Facilities—for if you have any problems. As I've done before, to little effect (other than, at least, getting the machine restocked). This time, though, they said that vending isn't their thing—with a slight tone of "why would you be calling us?" So I'm not sure how long it hasn't been their thing, but the sign is certainly still up there (and it used to be their thing). They transferred me to Dining Services.

I explain that I'm just reporting a soda machine that's out of an item, and whoever's on the other end says, "Hm, I'll transfer you to Helmut, then." That's our Director of Dining Services. I know it can't be him personally overseeing campus vending, but fine. He picks up and I explain why I'm calling and ask if he's the person in charge of vending.

"No, not really, but I can pass it along."

Huh. Well, I give him the info about the machine, and then I ask who is in charge of vending. For future reference.

"I'm not really sure. Nobody seems to know who's in charge of that."

He's being pretty good-natured about it and sounds almost as exasperated as I feel about this, so I don't press the issue of the broken keep-your-dollar behaviour of the soda machine, but really? I'm totally baffled about this. Facilities says Dining Services is in charge of vending now, but Dining Services says they aren't and doesn't know who is. Despite, apparently, trying to find out. Someone must know! Knox isn't nearly big enough to have this level of bureaucratic disconnect.

"But you don't expect all television to be great do you? How would you choose what to watch, or get anything done? I submit that the mediocre taste of the American viewer is a good thing for you." --Aaron Hanford

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July 10, 2008

Less-bad cigarettes not really less bad; film at 11

I just read a news article about the FTC rethinking its nicotine regulation policy: "FTC considers backing off nicotine guidance". The gist of it is that the 'standard smoke' that their machine gives a cigarette to test its tar and nicotine output is unrealistic, because real smokers "often alter their behavior" and tend to compensate for low yield by dragging harder and taking deeper breaths.

Which is what my mom has been saying for years, with respect to filters anyway. I was pretty amused.

"The Jews got stone tablets and the Mormons arranged for an angel to bring them their holy text, but ours was hammered out through a long contentious political process, sort of like the tax code, and that's something you don't care to know more about." --Garrison Keillor

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May 02, 2008

What I've been up to, Part 1/N: NLP

For the last few weeks I've been on what Knox calls "junior leave", a sort of mini-sabbatical where I don't have to teach and I'm supposed to get stuff done in preparation for submitting a tenure application next year. I've been doing verious things; I'll try to write about some of them, but the series is openended so I don't know how many parts it'll have. ;)

In terms of NLP research, I'm not much less stuck than I've been. Having come off teaching NLP just last term, I did have a couple ideas of things I'd like to play with, one involving multi-lingual Wikipedia as a highly-linked aid to various tasks, and another involving transliteration that sounded neat. I worked on the Wikipedia one a very little bit before deciding it wouldn't give me quite the connections I wanted, not least because the dumps of WP content are not synched across languages. I may come back to that at some point. The transliteration I spent a bunch more time on.

But in the end, didn't come up with much. I could basically replicate the results in another paper, but as I started poking around with improving it, I found that the only things that worked were a little too specific to the exact task at hand, and therefore not very interesting (or, probably, publishable). The really clever parts of it. involving time series analysis of news corpora in different languages, were in the other guy's paper. In the end I found I didn't have a whole lot to add; a deadline passed, and I've basically dropped that, too.

My problem is, ultimately, that I'm not nearly as creative as a lot of people seem to think I am. The kind of creativity I'm good at tends to be more in small-scale cleverness, making highly derivative stuff that is tweaked and better in various small ways, or distilling a complex thing into its simpler core. That's great for teaching, but not so much for research. It's both funny and frustrating: when I read about experimental results (not just in CS), I almost always will come up with a list of additional things I'd like to know about the data, slightly different experiments that would flesh out the finding. But they're always so small that it might be worth the original authors doing them and folding them into their next publication, but not worth me trying to pick it up and do them myself.

I think, actually, that I'd be a pretty good research lab assistant, for roughly those reasons. What I want to do, though, is teach CS to smart college students, and that, paradoxically, means I need to be a good researcher. So there I sit, trying to come up with ideas.

There's a regional conference in the field being held at MSU next weekend, and I'd been planning to go to that, to chat with other NLP folks and to bounce ideas off people. I'm not even at the level of having ideas to bounce, and it seems like every time I take a couple days to go do something, I lose a whole precious week due to all the other stuff and the distraction. So I'd just about come to the conclusion that I'd be better off skipping it.

And as I looked over the site one last time and was preparing an email to send my regrets to its organiser (who I'd previously told I'd probably go), I discovered I didn't really want to send it, I really did want to go. I'm starting to get a little embarrassed to go to NLP conferences, not having any of my own work to show, now, for several years; and yet not going feels like I'm abandoning the field, which I also really don't want to do. I still find it all very interesting and understandable, and I've been mostly keeping up with my reading—which should make it easy enough to jump back in if only I can find the right topic.

Part of the topic problem, too, is that the main topic of my thesis is pretty dead-end-y. Looking back, that was already becoming true while I was still in grad school, and even if I had condensed it into a journal article right away I'm not sure it could've gotten published. There was a certain forest-for-the-trees aspect to it, since the sort of analysis my programs were doing (function tagging) was fairly surface level and required a lot of hand-tagged data (making it hard to apply outside English) and the hand-tagged data I was using was being superseded by a different set of data (making even the English applications a little iffy). The other corpora were using a much more detailed analytical form, which I still think might be overkill for a lot of applications (it certainly is harder to get good results on), but has now become quite standard. The reviewers of anything I write to extend my thesis work (if I were even interested in doing so) would be primarily chosen from among those people who had worked with the other corpus, who with some justification look at the linguistic model I was working under as too primitive and ad hoc, making it ever harder for this sort of thing to get accepted.

Which brings me back to finding a new topic. It needs to be something interesting, and it needs (for practical reasons) to be something I can do with the corpora I already have, because new corpora typically cost a $2K membership in the Linguistic Data Consortium, plus individual corpus costs, and I can't really justify that until I get something done with what I've already got. The topic needs (for other practical reasons) to be something I can make publishable inroads in by July, the deadline for an October conference, and the last conference deadline until next January or so (which is a little late for the tenure review).

So that's one of the things I've been up to for the last month and a half. I guess I'll go ahead and go to the conference next weekend and see if it triggers any ideas. And hope it doesn't stall me too much on getting any other work done.

"A wise and benevolent dictator in particular can still fall at the opposite far end of that spectrum. Because in general we're not able to find such leaders amongst humanity, I favor democracy and consensus building in politics. But because we're so easily able to IMAGINE a leader who outshines the self-centered compromises afforded by democracy, I favor deference to that ideal God as a framework for religion." --Jonathan Prykop

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March 17, 2008

Portland

When I told people that I'd be going to Portland for SIGCSE this year, they all said I'd like it, and I believed them. I just wasn't prepared for how much I'd fall in love with Portland. Especially given my reaction to Seattle---it was nice enough, but the downtown was kind of sterile and sprawly and pedestrian unfriendly---I was figuring that Portland would be ok but a little dreary, nice enough to visit but also nice enough to leave.

In fact, I could pretty much just stay here. I can't think of anyplace I've visited that was so clearly designed for me personally. Barcelona was close; as I mentioned when I visited there, it was a place that seemed like I'd have at least several months' worth of stuff to do just seeing the city. Providence I liked, but a lot of it was attached to Brown and anyway it took me living there to discover a lot about it. There's Chicago, of course, but that's its own mixed bag.

Portland made its initial good impression when the fast, clean light rail whisked me from the airport to my hotel. And since that initial trip, I've paid for my public transit exactly once, because the downtown (including my hotel) is in the fareless square---totally free transit. Not that I'd need it; I have never seen such a walkable city. The streets are surprisingly narrow (for this part of the country) and closely-spaced, and you'd be surprised what a difference that makes in terms of getting places. The downtown is quite dense, too, and so you don't have to walk too far to get to pretty much anything.

There appear to be things to get to, as well. The Saturday Market has a range of stuff for sale; some of it touristy kitsch but much of it fairly usable. And there are musicians playing and an array of food stands reminiscent of the Taste of Chicago (except without the insane crowds, and with the public transit running right down the middle of it). "Elephant ears": not to be missed. Elsewhere in the city one can find a lot of mid- to upscale shopping, including a vertically-built mall spread over four city blocks (with underground tunnel and skyway to connect). Powell's is everything people say: enormous and with every kind of book, at really good prices, and with the used books mixed right in where you can easily find them. I wandered through some great resale shops near there, and there's a six-screen "living room" theatre that plays indy and old films.

Right now I'm sitting in a café called "Backspace" that Matt recommended, trying to do all my grading (I just finished another round, which is why I'm writing this). It's everything you could want in boho exposed-brick chic, plus free wireless and a couple banks of desktop machines. As friendly as Galesburg is, I've had more random conversations with strangers just in this room than I can remember having in months. Something about the atmosphere here makes me chattier too---as gregarious as I tend to be when friends are around, I'm generally shy about talking to totally unknown strangers; I've been the one starting the conversation at least half the time here.

It may have something to do with a subconscious evaluation of whether my interlocutor is likely to have something in common with me, if only world outlook. Because all of Portland, or at least downtown Portland, seems to be vastly more tech-savvy, geeky, and/or environmentally conscious than all but the most radical residents of the Midwest or even New England. When a shopkeeper asks if you want a bag, and they all ask, the default is no. When I get a new cup of coffee, I'm asked if they can just quick-rinse the mug I had before. Matt went so far as to apologise for how bad the metro wi-fi was---as if the very existence of a metro wifi in the first place wasn't already screaming past just about every other city.

I could get used to this.

"Yeah, well I patented screwing your mom. But it got revoked for 'prior art'. --plunge

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Hurray for heritage

This isn't the post you've been expecting, if you know what I've been up to. That'll come a little later.

This morning, I was awakened by a phone call at 7:50am from the CIty of Galesburg. (To be fair, it was 9:50 back home.) They wanted to let me know about the check that my BillPay had sent for the water bill---the bill was $73.42 or so, but the check was for $7,432.00. This woke me up right quick. Ann, the clerk who called me, knew I wouldn't want her to cash it, but should they shred it or would I come pick it up, and by the way how was I actually paying the bill?

The paying part was easy, as I could do so by credit card, and as for the check, I certainly couldn't come by, so I told them to shred it. At this point I wasn't worried about that check anymore, but I wanted to make sure I hadn't done the same thing with anyone else's check! So I tried to log in to my bank's website, but the problem with storing passwords in a keychain is that when you go to use an unfamiliar computer you can't always remember the password. :( Before long it had locked me out.

So I called my bank, Heritage Credit Union, to check on things. By pure chance I got Cory, a teller who I had opened the account with and I'd dealt with several times before. So we chatted for a moment and I explained the problem, and she saw the $7K charge, but happily no others that were two orders of magnitude out of range. BUT, the problem turned out to be that BillPay checks are not like regular checks, and the money is actually withdrawn from the account first. So I really didn't want that check shredded. Let me call you right back, I told her.

But over at City Hall, Ann had already helpfully shredded the check. Which was exactly what I'd said to do, and she didn't want any chance of it accidentally being cashed (see, she thought it was like a regular check too), and I think she felt bad, but I told her I'd deal with it through the bank.

So back to Cory, who actually swore when I told her they'd already shredded the check---and let me say I really appreciated the heartfelt empathy in this reaction, because part of my brain was now wondering if $7K had just evaporated, even as the rest was sure that I couldn't be the only person who had done this and there must be a way to fix it. She gave me an 800 number for the BillPay folks, who would have to be the ones to help.

I got through to them right away, and their immediate reaction was that hey, they could just stop the check. I said yes, and by the way how much would that cost? Not that the fee would keep me from doing it, of course. :) He processed it, gave me a confirmation number, and then said my account would be credited in 2-3 days. Then, he gave me a number to call to ask what the fee was, because he didn't know.

At this point, the story becomes a little surreal, because when I called that number the people at Heritage corporate HQ were not sure what the fee was and didn't know why the BillPay guy had referred me there. After a few minutes of looking, she asked if she could call me back.

Like TWENTY MINUTES LATER, I get a call back saying that the stop-check order didn't cost anything. Still no word on why the BillPay guy didn't know that!

But at that point the saga ends. I called Cory back and left a message to tell her it had worked out ok, because I was sure she'd want to know. I suppose I'm supposed to wish that the whole stop-check thing should have operated as more of a well-oiled machine, but honestly, the way things played out just made the whole bank seem a lot more human, which was exactly what I needed. Yay Heritage!

On the Supreme Court decision about the 2000 election: "No, they just followed the principle of 'one person, one vote'. And Gore lost the election, 5-4." --Michael Kimmitt

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February 20, 2008

Warm and cold

Ok, so here's what I want: a small electric radiator that has just the form factor of a coffee mug. It would plug in and you could thermostat it to 85° or so, and use it to warm up your fingers when you're not typing. Because dammit, you can put on as many layers of clothes as you want, but the fingers still get cold, and you can't type with gloves on. This single device would probably let me lower my house thermostat by three or four degrees right there. Sigh.

"I'm just amazed that US history before the Depression is covered in anything but the most cursory of fashions. The Depression and WWII were such enormous reset buttons on the lives of most Americans." --Michael Kimmitt

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October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

pumpkin π
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August 30, 2007

Language in song

During Spring Break of 2003—my last at Brown—I went on a road trip to Québec with my friend Theresa. It was a great trip, but I remember being disappointed in one respect: she vetoed playing French stations on the radio, which I had actually sort of looked forward to. It might be a false feeling, but I like listening to audiostreams in other languages, even ones I don't speak well or at all, because I like the feeling of immersing myself in a different culture. (When I lived in Providence, I would occasionally switch the TV to RTP for the same reason.) If it's in music, it's even better, because you get all that feeling of foreignness while also getting some perfectly good music. Theresa didn't like not being able to understand the lyrics.

This was brought to mind just a few minutes ago when "Honey honey" started playing on my iTunes shuffle—in Swedish. Now, I don't speak a word of Swedish, and that song is even available in English, but somehow I like the foreign version better. Indeed, I have an awful lot of foreign-language stuff in my catalogue, probably more than most, including quite a few languages I don't speak at all.

Which inspired me to write a blog post listing all the languages represented in my iTunes library. :) Here they are, in approximately ascending order of frequency:

  1. Maori
  2. Catalan
  3. Kreyol
  4. Bulgarian
  5. Arabic (Maghreb)
  6. Romanian
  7. Welsh
  8. Hebrew
  9. Swedish
  10. Norwegian
  11. Hindi (?)
  12. One or more from sub-Saharan Africa
  13. Portuguese
  14. Irish
  15. Hawaiian
  16. German
  17. Italian
  18. Yiddish
  19. French
  20. Latin
  21. Spanish
  22. English
Oddly enough, only the first five are singletons. Conspicuous in its absence is the entirety of east and southeast Asia; I certainly have Europe and the Western Hemisphere covered, and at least a scattering from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Actually, it's also a little weird that there's no Russian or Greek. I think I'll have to remedy that. :)

On the Iowa straw poll: "It's an election with no Democrats, in one of the whitest states in the Union, where rich candidates pay you $35 for your vote. Or as the Republicans call it, 'our vision for the future'." --Jon Stewart

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August 11, 2007

More TV

I've found a new show that perfectly fills a niche: when I really want to just sit down and watch TV for a little bit, and want to be sure there's something on the Tivo waiting. It's called Cash Cab.

The premise is, there's this Manhattan cabbie who will give you an opportunity, instead of riding quietly and paying at your destination, to answer trivia questions and get paid for them. The catch? If you get more than three wrong, you immediately get kicked out and have to catch another cab.

It's a great little half-hour show. The questions aren't extremely hard, but they're enough to keep you thinking, and there definitely are some people who get three strikes. But there's a really authentic feel: these folks aren't particularly prepped for a game show, they're just New Yorkers getting around their city and sprung with a surprise game show appearance.

Coming twice daily to a Tivo near you!

"I believe it is against my religion to impose my religion on others." --John Ashcroft

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August 10, 2007

Hey google, are you listening?

What someone needs to write is a search engine that can search on basic melodies. Even short ones. Optionally with lyrics.

A little while ago, I somehow managed to get stuck in my head a little six-note riff. I couldn't place it, I couldn't have said what lyrics came before it, and actually, I mostly just wanted to know what the first word of the line was. The part I knew was: "___ is better than good." I could tell you the melody, in solfege: Sol mi fa mi re do. And the rhythm, in takadimi: Ta, mi ta ka di, ta. I could even hear the voice of the person singing it: a kind of brassy mid-range female voice. But try searching for any of that!

The lyric was the only searchable thing I had to go on. It turned up? Nothing. Then, I had a sudden brainstorm: this line was from one of the songs in "Into the woods". Aha! Should be easy now.

Except, still nothing, even with my mad google skillz. I was by this point quite certain that's where it was from, but nothing seemed to be turning up. Reflecting on the show also gave me the identity of the singer: this line, at least, was sung by Red Riding Hood.

Fortunately, I knew enough lines from other ITW songs that I was able to rustle up an ITW lyrics site. And reading through several, I finally happened on the line, and I immediately knew it was the line I was looking for, answering two questions: what was the damn word, and why was google not turning this up? The word: "nice". Why wasn't google turning it up? Because nice isn't better than good... just different.

And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.

Augh!

"Nobody likes us independents. All we do is swing elections." --Jack Mabley

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August 09, 2007

#*@&!%@ Annoia

We've all managed to get, say, a roll of tinfoil to pop up its lid and make the drawer hard to open. It's obnoxious, but you either force it or reach in and pop the lid down, and you're fine.

Well, I have a copper funnel, which happens to be just the height of the utensil drawer I keep it in. What I didn't notice when I set it in the drawer was that the back rim was resting on something, so that when I closed the drawer the narrow part of the funnel was just taller than the opening. As I closed the drawer, the top of the gap tipped the funnel this way, and as the drawer shut completely, the funnel cleared the crossboard and fell back into place. Perfectly locking the drawer shut.

And I mean perfectly. I couldn't open it at all. I tried jiggling the drawer up and down, but this helped not at all. In the end, the only way I could get it out was to completely remove the drawer above it (and thank goodness it wasn't the top drawer). I couldn't believe how perfectly all the different utensils had had to line up to get this perfect lock. Argh.

"I have been very displeased to find the term "diva" applied to every off-key warbler with a video and a vagina." --Johnny Atomic

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July 03, 2007

Oh! Duh.

So I'm getting ready to have a few people over for a barbecue tomorrow, and with all the food I bought, my fridge is full, and I have no convenient way to cool off soda and beer and such. I didn't really want to go buy a cooler (I just bought a grill, and am trying to limit my profligate spending here), so I was racking my brains trying to think of something I could effectively press into service as a cooler.

And then I thought, oh right, I have the perfect thing that would serve as a cooler: my other refrigerator. Der.

"When network administrators fail, we suffer the inconvenience of the email being down. When farming fails on a large scale---a disaster that has periodically visited humanity since agriculture's emergence 10,000 years ago---people starve. That's why farming is fundamentally different, and why it is still deserving of some form of public support." --Tom Philpott

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June 30, 2007

Back in Galesburg

After a brief vacation up in Palatine, I'm now back to work in Galesburg. I've decided to divide each day into four parts:

  1. House work
  2. Work work
  3. Social time
  4. TV and knitting
in that order, though possibly omitting one on a given day, with hopefully-not-too-distracting bouts of internet interspersed. I started to fall into that routine before the Palatine trip, and it worked really well. Today was not off to a great start, as I had set my alarm so I could go to the farmer's market, but accidentally left my phone on vibrate, so I missed the market and didn't get up until 12:30. But since then I've been trimming bushes and hacking at weeds in the yard, and now I'm going to mow the lawn. Then, despite the Saturday-ness of the day, I'll try to get some work done at the office. We'll see how long I can sustain this. :)

"The way the Bible is often used by Christians in this culture is scary, mean-spirited, and unlike the Jesus they know." --Kelly Fryer

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May 29, 2007

Vitamin D

Now, high school biology was a long time ago, but I'm pretty sure the only chlorophyll I have in my body is currently being digested from lunch. Which is why it's so astonishing and neat that it's at the very instant I step outdoors on a sunny day like today that I feel immediately and completely energised, no matter how bleah I was getting due to, say, a big pile of exam grading.

I guess it has something to do with vitamin D. Or maybe I'll just claim to have veins running with chlorophyll. Either way, this is a great time of year. :)

"Bagging correctly is actually quite an art; the stuff slides off the conveyer, and suddenly it's Grocery Tetris, and you have 5 seconds to get it all in there and done before the customer finishes swiping her debit card." --emjaybee

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May 17, 2007

Things I learned this week

  1. How to change a tire.
  2. That even at a tire shop, the source of a leak is found by the super-high-tech method of pouring soapy water on it and looking for the bubbles.
  3. That inflating a tire, deflating it, removing it, patching it, replacing it, and reinflating it takes about ten minutes, if you have the right equipment and know how to use it.
  4. That the people that own this equipment charge $12 to use it for you and remount the tire.

So, a big shout out to the super-competent dude at Jimmy Walker Tires on Main that fixed my tire. Seems to be holding up just fine.

"If there's an afterlife for language pedants, I think it must be something like wikipedia. I'm just not sure if it's the equivalent of heaven or hell." --Ben Gold

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May 13, 2007

Anonymous motherhood

I was reading today's funnies, and against my better judgement I actually read Family Circus this week. The actual content of it had Dolly musing about alternate mothers and Billy imagining a thought bubble with drawings of other funnies-pages moms. Which is a little odd, and I guess funny for some, but what annoyed me was that the little inset box explaining the joke captions the images as follows: "(clockwise starting at upper left) Blondie, Dennis the Menace's mom, Hagar's wife, and the moms in "Baby Blues", "Luann", "Zits", and "For Better or For Worse". (There is then a "happy mom's day to all mothers" balloon coming from the authors' signatures.)

Other than Blondie, who presumably got named because the comic strip is eponymous, all these characters have no identity of their own here. They can't really blame space considerations, because there would've been plenty of space to say e.g. "Blondie from 'Blondie'; Alice Mitchell from 'Dennis the Menace'; Helga from 'Hagar the Horrible'" and so on. And honestly, probably nothing would have even registered if they'd just gone the shorter route and said, "Moms from: 'Blondie', 'Dennis the Menace', ...". But the actual phrasing they used sort of made it sound like these fictional women have no character or relevance except in relationship to other people.

Thinking about it, the one that really started me off on this path was the "Hagar's wife". Hagar gets a first-name reference, and Helga is then identified only in relation to her man, not even by her motherhood (which might arguably be defensible given the message of the strip). Which highlighted the fact that none of the fictional women shown were actually named other than Blondie. And the fact that the actual body of the strip is pretty much devoid of content, except to say that mothers are basically interchangeable. And largely anonymous.

Which, in a lot of cases, I suppose they are. But rather than raising this as a troubling issue, the strip just follows along. I know I'm overreacting, but the whole thing bugs me. I guess that's what I get for reading Family Circus.

But, happy Mothers' Day, everyone!

"You have to be awfully desperate to leave your home behind, risk the crushing daytime heat and the cold nights of the desert, and set out for a country that wants your cheap labor but not the economic burden of educating your children and caring for your sick." --Carol Marin

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April 13, 2007

The burnout of overextension

Yikes.

I'm teaching two and a half credits this term; it's by my own choice, and because the extra one (my Scheme class) was meant as an adjunct to the AI class, I figured it wouldn't be that much more work. But it's still three classes, and there are a ton of people in the Scheme class, so it's a little more work than I bargained for.

Also, there's a philosophy class on minds, brains, and computers that I'm sitting in on. So that's work, too.

And I'm supervising an independent study that I'm trying to turn into a larger reading group.

Plus my usual round of extracurriculars and a stitch-n-bitch I'd like to add in so I can have some pure social time.

All of which adds up to not very much sleep and a sensation of being dangerously overextended. Really, I don't think I've had a schedule this full since at least early grad school. Fortunately, I don't need to sustain it for long—just another six weeks.

But they'll be long ones....

"Skeptics of evolution may have the bad luck of being on the wrong side of the data, but the problem lies in the authority they choose to accept—it doesn't make them stupid or fit for scorn. In fact, they are revealing a weakness in Western science that many on the other side have a hard time seeing." --Chris Tessone

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March 26, 2007

Astonishing, really

I think I mentioned last year that the College Board runs its AP readings like a well-oiled machine; they know exactly what to do, how to do it, and thousands upon thousands of booklets are graded consistently and efficiently. Which is why it's so completely amazing how badly organised they are in the run-up to the reading. It's like it's not even the same people.

For instance, today I received a letter that was printed onto ETS stationery and then photocopied; it appears to be a form letter to all 2007 AP readers. It instructs me to go to a website and type in a username and password—this is the same login for everyone, mind you—to get into their site, where I am to click "AP messages" (this is the only link on the page), and then print out the housing form, which I am to fill out and mail to them, in the business reply envelope they mailed to me.

Now, you might think this was to save them separately stuffing envelopes for each separate reading site (the form is site specific), but no: because also in the dead-tree mailing was a purple form asking me to respond "Yes, I PLAN TO ATTEND" or "No, I DO NOT PLAN TO ATTEND" for a baseball game that is specific to my reading site. So evidently all this was to, maybe, save them the cost of photocopying one sheet of paper per mailing.

And the form, which I had to print out, and which is specific to the The College of New Jersey reading site, not only makes me fill in things like which subject I'm reading for and what my position is, but also my date of arrival and date of departure. Which we've elsewhere been told is not at all optional: we must arrive on the night before the reading, and we must depart on the morning after. And yet, the actual dates of the reading? Nowhere on the form. Of course.

Some details do seem to be at least marginally better this year. For instance, the travel agent they outsource to has finally updated their https cert so that you don't have to override the failed security measure. But, their page still sucks, so that (for instance) there's no way for me to find out what kind of a train schedule they'd book me with (preferable, but not if there are long layovers) without first committing to travel by train. And heaven help you if you've got a complicated travel plan, like maybe only needing a one-way ticket since you're thinking of continuing from there to someplace else. *sigh*

"When heart disease remains such a menacing killer, focusing so much attention on relieving its symptoms seems a little like celebrating the victory over Darth Maul when you know that Palpatine's plan is still unfolding like clockwork." --Keith Winstein

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March 14, 2007

Happy π day!

We're on spring break right now, so all the things I need to get accomplished seem a lot less pressing. Instead, I figured I'd check in here and post three things I thought about on my walk (more of a wander, really) in to work today.

[A new shop in Galesburg]First was that I noticed a new shop in Galesburg. I was walking down Broad and observed that the recently-vacated tiny storefront on Ferris (formerly Barb's Hitchin Post, and vacant a long time before that) appeared to be occupied again. I wandered a little closer to check it out. Now, the fact that there's a new shop in town would certainly not be blogworthy (it wasn't even the only one I saw this morning—the old thrift shop on Cherry is now a hair salon), but I had to take a picture of this place for the sign.

[A self-refuting sign]You probably can't make it out in the above photo, so here's a blow-up of the sign. I ask: if you were someone that had something to advertise or sell or just show off, would you hire this place to do the graphic design? Hint: no. This is not the scruffy barber problem; this is the marketing interview problem. There are ways to incorporate a Ferris wheel into the logo without violating principles of graphic design, but evidently these folks don't know them.

Further on in my wander, I accidentally bit off a small corner of the napkin with which I was holding my breakfast. Obviously, I took it out of my mouth and discarded it; but a moment later, as I finished the danish, I crumpled the (rest of the) napkin and stuck it in my pocket, since there was no trash can handy. Why was one littering and the other not? On reflection, I'm fairly sure that even the most fastidious non-litterers would, in picking a stray hair off a sweater or brushing dandruff or such things, just let them fall, even indoors. Because it'd get vacuumed up later and in the meantime wouldn't be particularly visible. So then (think I) what about in truly enclosed environments? I suppose you could still vacuum there, though, since a vacuum is really just a powerful fan blowing through a filter. And this led to the real thought of the morning: you know what you never saw on Star Trek? Even with all the walking down their long, curving hallways, you never once saw staff (human or robotic) vacuuming or cleaning it.

(Welcome to my brain, folks. Enjoy your stay!)

After stopping at an ATM, I was wandering through Seymour, and next to the publications office I saw a sign that said something like this: "Meetings every Tuesday in this door —>" So of course, I thought, "Really? It seems kind of narrow to fit even one person. What is it, an inch and a half wide, maybe?" Not that the meaning wasn't clear, of course, but what could I do? It's like I was channeling my father.

"My biggest problem is that we are trying to shoehorn abundance into scarcity because our economics are utterly unsuited for coping with abundance. It doesn't matter if you are talking about 'movies' or 'television' or 'youtube' or 'music' or 'programs': it's all data. There is only negligible cost associated with making a copy of data and distributing it. And after distributing it you still have it." --Sam Walker

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March 01, 2007

Nope

Not going to get the Madwoman entry done tonight, either. I'm swamped with grading anyway, but whereas under other circumstances I might play it differently, I'm going to be gone all weekend at CBC; then I have to get a batch of grading done and finish writing exams for Monday; then, with the briefest of breaks, I head down to Cincinnati (well, Covington) for SIGCSE.

I don't think I've even touched my TV in two weeks, and there's been a lot of both-ends candle burning nearly every night. Yawn... well, back to homework grading.

"If you worked hard enough to earn your way into the womb of a woman living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it's your right to not have to suffer. Anything less would be communism, and those who say otherwise are jealous of the hard work that's gotten you to where you are now." --Greg Kaiser

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February 14, 2007

Comments fixed

Also, I fixed the blog comments. One of the files mysteriously got its permissions changed. Sorry about that.

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February 05, 2007

Superbowl commercials

Despite it being a home team game, I wasn't all that interested in watching the Superbowl this year (am I ever?), and although I thought about TiVoing it for the commercials, I figured, eh, they'll be on YouTube soon enough.

Evidently, I wasn't the only one who had that idea.

Right now, YouTube has a dedicated Superbowl commercial page with 51 (of the?) commercials that aired during the event. But here's the thing: not only is YouTube itself on board, so are the companies. If you look, the commercials aren't submitted by DarkHyena485 or the like; they're submitted by the companies themselves (and hence fairly high quality, lacking in TV station bugs, and legal). Honestly, it's about time; for years I've been wondering when companies would cotton on to the fact that—at least for the good commercials—there are people that actively want to look at them, and why should they have to go bootlegging them?

So anyway, if you missed 'em, there they are.

"If you're concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it's not really food, and food is what you want to eat." --Michael Pollan

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February 01, 2007

Hey, check it out!

Eric Zorn wrote a column today that totally makes use of a philosophical idea I gave him in a comment to an earlier blog post (search for "blahedo" to skip to it)---you can tell from his response to that comment that it set his mind perking on the topic.

Woo!

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." --Michael Pollan

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January 30, 2007

Pau Claris

[statue of Pau Claris] width=A few years ago, I went to Barcelona, and I wrote about it and posted pictures of it. And today I got an email from one Joan (i.e. John) de Sa Bardissa, whom I've never met but who found the pictures pages. In particular, a picture of a statue of Pau Claris, someone who was clearly important but I'd never heard of. Joan writes,

Pau Claris was the President of the Catalan Government (The "Generalitat") between 1940 till 1956 more or less, what means that we was the President of our country throught the "Guerra dels Segadors" (the reapers' War) which had a very definitive outcome for our people. Actually, the war was between the troops of Castilia (which would be the future original Spain) and Catalonia. Pau Claris was a very charismatic individual and had lot of power what means that the war was quite equal for the moment. The catalan government had also special and tight relationships with the French Empire which swore us to protect our lands, wether the catalan people would agree the French king instead of the Spanish king. Unfortunately, our president began to feel himself very ill and died suddenly in less than one week. As it was known for the moment, the reason was probably a heart-attack because of its very stressed life, but now, many investigacions tell us that we had been poisoned. As most sure thing to believe, the killer could be someone from the government of Castilia and its bigger responsable, some man called Count-Duke of Olivares. After his death, Catalonia became apart of the war, and many bad things happened to our country. Anyway, I just told you some of our history. I hope that this will help you in some way.
So then I'm thinking, 1940? Was this a Spanish Civil War thing? Was this a Jefferson Davis of a claimed-independent Catalunya? But no, Wikipedia enlightens, Pau Claris was president of the Generalitat from 1638–1641. The rest, I have no idea, so I'll assume the dates were just typoes. Thus concludes today's history lesson. :)

"It's obviously outrageous that tens of millions of the citizens of the wealthiest country to have ever existed in human history are one cluster of metastasizing cells away from bankruptcy." --Ted Rall

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January 17, 2007

Snow, again

I love the fact that it's finally been snowing over the last few days... but I really wish it would just snow a bunch, let us shovel, and then be done for a while. This thing it's doing with depositing about 1/8"–1/4" at a time twice a day is getting a smidge annoying.

In other news, the site Get Behind Jesus is hilarious. Not safe for work, though. But I'm still giggling about it.

"Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible; only then may non-violence be expressed in every direction, only then can we truly accept creation, and only then can we achieve true justice." --Pope Benedict XVI

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January 13, 2007

"Whiiiile you chew it..."

And by the way, I still have the Big Red theme song running through my head from when I watched all those '80s commercials a few days ago. Say goodbye a little longer, make it last a little longer...

It's really a great ad jingle: an Ohrwurm par excellence, and hooks right into the name of the product, and it reminds you of all the assorted (supposed) virtues of the product. Years later the jingle sounds familiar, and probably even calls up a few visuals. Your fresh breath goes on and on.... Few ad campaigns through the years can really claim that level of success. I wonder what ad campaigns from the mid-noughts (heh) we'll be remembering ten, twenty years from now?

"2000."
"That is so last year."
"You... ninny!" --Dave Gondek and Greg Seidman, 15 Jan 2001

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January 10, 2007

At *least* an hour

Do not follow this link unless you have an hour to spare. No! Do not!

50 '80s commercials

This is actually the second batch posted on that site; the first one was the 50 best '80s commercials that a couple of article authors could think of and track down on YouTube. Inevitably, this sparked a lot of discussion in the comments section, so they published a second batch (because, as they point out, "every great thing from the 80s gets a sequel"). Which is way better, because its the 50 best commercial that hundreds of people can think of (and track down on YouTube). Including such all-time hits as "Where's the beef?", "I've fallen and I can't get up", and the original Energizer bunny commercial. And lots and lots of ad jingles you'd thought you'd forgotten. Good times, good times.

"The '60s counter-culture revolution was deeply, deeply galvanizing for many people. Not so much for the hippies themselves, mind you---the Boomers transitioned fairly seamlessly into toothless feel-good bromides, middle management, and unrepentant consumerism. No, the real legacy of the 60s/early 70s was to freak out conservatives on a primal, lizard-brain level." --David Roberts

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December 29, 2006

Chillin' in the city

I'm hanging out in Ravenswood right now at my annual pilgrimage to Zachfest (recently relocated from central Urbana).

After a quiet Christmas Eve ending in a really awesome High Mass at midnight (aside from the bizarro train wreck of a Gloria), Kathy and I followed a longstanding family tradition and stayed up all night playing video games---in this case, Mario Kart Double Dash. It turns out this is way better when you're doing Mass on Christmas Eve and can sleep in in the morning. Go figure. Then, Christmas Day was spent hanging out with guests at the house, and the day after I found myself lacking in things to do; I had miscounted days and thought the 26th was the day to visit my cousins, but that would be the 27th.

So about 3 in the afternoon, I started playing the GameCube's Zelda game (Wind Waker). Kathy gave it a lukewarm rec, because the plot was good and play decent, but "you spend the whole damn time sailing." It's 'cause she was doing it wrong (selon moi): although previous Zeldas were equally amenable to the play-the-plot-through players and those that search for side quests, this one really only works for the latter group. When you are taking notes, a sail from the bottom of the map to the top (which might otherwise take fifteen minutes!) can become a zigzag up the map following various side tasks. Great fun, and only mild camera-angle problems. With only food and bathroom breaks, I played through to 11 the next morning!

After a nap, we headed over to my cousins' in the city. At one point the plan had been for me to go straight from there to Zach's, since it's only a couple miles away, but about 4 or 5am I decided that might not be a great idea. So instead? I went home and played more Zelda, from say 9pm to about 6am. (I had intended to just play a few hours and cut out after the next big dungeon crawl, but it took a while to get to a dungeon... and then I had to play it....)

And so it was on just twelve or so hours of sleep over the previous three days that I came to Zach's gaming party yesterday. No huge marathon games started, which was ok because I was able to play more of them; this went through 4:30am with a brief break to hit the Moroccan restaurant with the couscous and the fabulous tea. Today is movie day, although we got a late start; inertia and various technical issues meant we didn't start watching anything until 4, and then we had to wait for the movies to go be rented, so we watched the first two episodes of Buffy (which were fabulous, of course). Then Shaolin Soccer, which is hilarious but only if watched in a large group, and TransAmerica, which is a pretty awesome movie and, from what I hear, a very thoughtful and accurate depiction. They're watching Hotel Rwanda now, which I've seen before so I ducked out to check email, fix a snack, and post this, although I'll head in there for the second half. I wonder what will be next?

"That [virginity] pledgers who have sex are likely to be contraceptively unprepared is to be expected, for it is hard to imagine how one could both pledge to be a virgin until marriage and carry a condom while unmarried." --Federal study on virginity pledging

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December 17, 2006

Ugh, spam.

I'm trudging through 462 email messages right now. Some are legit, but an awful lot of it is spam. Ugh, spam. That's what I get for not checking my email for two weeks.

"There are just two kinds of languages: the ones everybody complains about and the ones nobody uses." --Bjarne Stroustrup

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November 30, 2006

Vacation blahs

It's not that I'm bored. It's that I have lots of things that I'm putting off.

I can think of at least four or five things I ought to be doing right now, but I've just sat in my office for three hours and not accomplished anything productive. (Well, nothing officially productive. I've had some good message-board conversations.)

Normally, I'd stay until I'd gotten some of it done. But it's 20° outside and scheduled to get colder, and the first snow is supposed to start falling in the next hour or so, getting progressively heavier until the wee hours, at which point 2" an hour will be coming down, leaving a total accumulation of 6–12" by morning (and more to come tomorrow).

In light of that fact, maybe I'd best get back home while the getting's good. I'll have a harder time buckling down and getting stuff done , though....

"If you're a sinful homosexual, being attracted to someone of your own sex could lead to a great relationship. If you're a disordered homosexual, it could lead to a divorce." --Ross M. Levine

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November 28, 2006

Aha! I KNEW IT.

"Leaning back to create a 135-degree angle between the thighs and trunk is much less straining on the spine and will not lead to the potentially chronic back pain associated with sitting in an upright position for extended periods of time."

"The statement that people are rational and we just can't figure out the function they use is something I would expect from someone who had made that assumption without actual study to back it up. It's the same failing economists have." --Eric Stuckey

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November 24, 2006

The perspective of a four-year-old

My cousins came to visit today, among them my little cousin K——. Aside from being totally adorable, she's pretty smart and comes up with clever statements often enough that sometimes you forget you're dealing with a four-year-old.

So it was that when she asked for more milk, I went to pour it for her and said, "say when."

"When."

And when she said this, my instant first thought was that she was teasing me; I interpreted it as her saying to stop even before I started pouring. Momentarily nonplussed, I paused, processing.

Meanwhile she wasn't understanding why I'm not actually pouring it, and evidently came to the conclusion that I was teasing her, or at least doing one of those obscure "what's the magic word" things that all those crazy adults seem to be obsessed with. Because then, she revised her response:

"Oh. Right now!"

I had just been realising that her "when" response was a "Goodnight, Dick" (or "Goodnight, Gracie") sort of response, and starting to laugh, so when she remisinterpreted the initial line, I just lost it (as did everyone else in the room). Poor K—— didn't understand why we were all laughing at her, and of course she still wanted her milk, but first I needed to stop laughing so I could explain to her how "say when" works. Then, of course, after I'd explained it, I was pouring the milk really slowly, and kept glancing sidewise at her, which was making everyone else crack up, but finally at about 2/3 full she said, "stop now." And so the episode came to an end.

"The inheritance we've received in our beliefs is like a priceless work of art that draws the masses wherever it appears. But if you throw it at someone or handle it improperly, it breaks." --Rocco Palmo

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November 23, 2006

Turkey!

And, crucially, sweet potatoes. Pumpkin pie, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

"When I pray to Him, I find I'm talking to Myself." --Peter Barnes, The ruling class (Jack)

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November 15, 2006

Takin it easy

After a long day of FP conferences yesterday, my active-teaching part of the term was officially over (nothing but grading now). I went to bed early last night and slept in this morning. Folded some laundry, did some dishes, walked the dog. Finally got around to calling the brickmason, as I've been meaning to for weeks now. I'll go in to the office in a little bit, but it's just amazing how suddenly the pace changes when the term ends. :)

"I've discovered new depths of personal fatigue and sleep deprivation in this first week of parenthood. I suspect the baby is controlling me with pheromone conditioning, because when I see him through my exhausted haze, I find myself wishing to do his bidding." --Scott Harris

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November 10, 2006

Nap?

So last night, I went to sleep at 10:30 because I was really tired, but I set my alarm for a "nap" because I had some stuff I needed to get done. Predictably, I turned off the alarm and didn't get up until after 8.

Now, I'm well-rested and sitting here thinking, hey, that stuff I didn't get done? Not that important. I'll manage. And now I think about all the times when I don't have time for a nap in the afternoon, or don't have time to get a full night's sleep... I really need to just reprioritise sleep a little bit higher on my list. Ah well.

"Why have I let myself be tempting into cutting another head off of the science-journalism hydra? This is the occupational disease of blogging, I guess." --Mark Liberman

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October 29, 2006

There oughtta be a site...

Hey Google! I have an idea for your next hegemonic expansion: song searching. With some regularity I'll get something stuck in my head, and once in a while it's either instrumental or I can't remember (enough of) the lyrics, and so there's nothing to google for. So it gets stuck. Sometimes for weeks.

There's one I've had in my head for two weeks now, and tonight another has taken up residence beside it. The new one does have lyrics, but I can't quite put my finger on it. To make it even worse, I can't summon the entire melody, just little characteristic snippets. Argh.

Maybe someone here can help: song number one is kind of a mellow jazzy sound (vaguely reminiscent of the Peanuts theme, as Kathy pointed out). Its rhythm is 1-&-a-3-4-1, that is, a triplet of eighth notes, then two quarter notes, then a whole note. The melody is simply mi-mi-mi-re-re-do, supported by a simple I-V-I harmony. Next line is do-do-do-ti-ti-la, same rhythm, with I think a I-V-vi deceptive cadence support. After that it gets a little fuzzy in my head. Song number two is more of a pop song, still mellow, and its sung melody overlaps just enough with another song that I can identify that it's running serious interference. But the characteristic riff just before the refrain is an instrumental mi-fa-sol-do-do, even rhythm (3-&-4-&-1). Both songs are played as American Rhumba at social dances and competitions, so they're probably around 32 measures per minute (or about 130 beats per minute).

You can perhaps tell from all the information I'm giving that I've thought about this a lot. You tend to do that when your mind gets invaded. Arghh.

"Sex is good too, but you can't do that in the car on the way to Peoria." --Natania Rosenfeld

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October 22, 2006

Gymshoes

Working out in the yard today I got my regular shoes all muddy, and didn't have time to clean them, so I grabbed my gymshoes (well, I bought them in New England, so I suppose they're sneakers) to wear to ballroom.

They feel so weird! I haven't worn anything with this kind of arch support in a long time, and they're snug and springy. Also, and this seems perfectly obvious in retrospect but surprised me at the time, when I wear these instead of my usual hiking-boot-style shoes, my ankles get cold!

"The best part about YouTube is that it gives me still more childhood to relive, after I've run out of childhood that's already been sold back to me." --Matt Stanislawski

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October 20, 2006

Yes, yes I did

Anyone who's known me at all in the last ten years has almost certainly seen me in the green jacket I wear for most of fall and spring, which I bought from the QU bookstore during my senior year. It has "Quincy University" embroidered in a little patch about where the right breast pocket would be. This doesn't particularly inspire comment.

Until this week. I'm almost positive I never got comments on it before, but in the last seven or so days I've had at least four or five people ask me, "oh, did you go to Quincy?" (alt: "Are you from Quincy?") The first time it happened, I actually responded, "Yes, how'd you know?", because I had forgotten about the embroidered name. The questions have come from a variety of people in a variety of places (e.g. the barista at the Strawberry Fields coffee bar last Sunday). What the heck?

"The world of programming is very just and very strictly ordered and a heck of a lot of people go into programming in the first place because they prefer to spend their time in a just, orderly place, a strict meritocracy where you can win any debate simply by being right." --Joel Spolsky

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October 18, 2006

Commercials: a reflection of modern America?

There's a commercial for one of the wireless providers that has a archetypal suburban family sitting on their porch, and the daughter asks why they can't get a good wireless network "like the Kumaraswamis", the family that lives next door.

There's a commercial for one of the Axe pheromone thingies that has a guy clicking a counter for every interested/suggestive glance he gets, and there's at least one guy's glance that he counts.

There's a Jimmy John's commercial for their delivery that is entirely in Spanish except for the tagline (though painted in broad enough strokes that you can understand what's going on anyway), with the family being Latino and the delivery guy being a white guy.

I saw these all within a day or two of each other, and I'm a little sorry they called themselves to my attention (i.e. it'd be neat if these examples weren't worthy of comment), but certainly pleased to see various minorities integrated in a way that the commercials themselves don't call attention to...

On modern America: "We have inherited something spectacular. We take it for granted, and that is a mistake." --Joan Lefkow

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October 02, 2006

Black vinyl

This weekend my mom brought up my grandparents' old record player, and a big box of records. I'm probably among the youngest people in the country to really remember records as more than a historical curiosity or a retro fad, and even at that, it's with the vagueness of any childhood memory. But I do get a certain nostalgic pleasure—no doubt partially external nostalgia, but with enough of my memory to be real—out of sliding the record out of its sleeve, balancing it on my hand and placing it on the turntable, switching the player on using an actual physical switch that engages a mechanical process involving gears and levers and a tiny piece of diamond to play music. If I switch off the speakers, I can still hear the music playing, tinny and soft, just from the stylus vibrating in the groove.

And then I run upstairs to blog about it. So, no luddite me. :)

"Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest." --Grigoriy Perelman

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September 29, 2006

BRAINS!

Ok, not really undead. But revenant! I have got to learn not to start post series. Pretty much every time, this happens: I get a few done, and then before the series is complete, I end up somewhat losing interest, but feeling like I ought to finish. Then, when some other blog post idea pops into my head, it's immediately followed by, "Ooh, but I should finish the series first". And this disinterests me and I go off and knit something instead.

So anyway, I'm around. I'm not even excessively busy—no more so than usual for during the term, anyway. Just distracted. I'll try to post a little more often, though. :)

"I'm not a country club golfer. I'm a municipal course golfer who is both unfamiliar and uneasy with the conventions of country-club golf in which the pampering is so obsequious and excessive that an unfamiliar observer could fairly conclude that all golfers are physically disabled and mentally challenged." --Eric Zorn

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August 22, 2006

Part 3: Hawaiʻi

Monday:

Afternoon:
Though I'm pleased that ATA now cross-lists with Southwest, they pretty much suck. Asked at the airport what food was served on the plane, answer: nothing, not so much as a peanut, unless you paid for it. Credit cards only, no cash. Also, they wouldn't give you have pillows or blankets unless you bought them. The staff was uniformly surly and passive-aggressive, one of them picking an argument with the woman in the seat next to me over the credit-no-cash thing (she hadn't heard the announcement). A passenger got stuck behind the drink cart on the way back from the bathroom---it happens---and both of the attendants on the *other* drink cart made a huge production of warning the attendant the passenger was behind. As if this is not something that occurs on every single flight ever. Echhh.
Evening:
When we touched down, I called and surprised Mike, who had checked the website, which said we were still over an hour away. It took forever and a day for my luggage to hit the baggage claim, but it did and we went back to his place, where I checked email and read up on bus schedules and tourism guides.

Tuesday:

Morning:
Called the local Catholic Church to ask about holy day Mass schedules. They said it wasn't an HDO; I thought that was set at the national level, not diocesan. Whatever. I decided to spend the day wandering downtown, ended up at the cathedral anyway and went to their noon Mass. Funky layout---it's long and narrow like all the old churches, but they've put the altar and lectern (and for that matter the cathedra) down the central axis, with all the pews parallel to the axis of the church and facing the middle. Fortunately, they appear to have preserved the pre-Vatican II altar in its entirety, along with the altar screen in front of it (which I had thought fell out of ecclesiastical architecture before the Reformation, but evidently not). Gorgeous. And this is the oldest active cathedral in the US, so I suppose that counts for something.
Afternoon:
Grabbed sushi from a take-out place not far from the cathedral, then walked around the Fort Street open-air market and then Chinatown. There are a surprising number of fresh-food markets down that way. Anyway, caught the bus back and relaxed a bit.
Evening:
Gaming! Finally got a chance to learn Cities and Knights. Good variant. Tried to get midnight sushi (cheaper after 10:30, otherwise they just have to throw it out anyway) but they were closed early on Tuesdays; ended up at Zippy's instead.

Wednesday:

Morning:
Went with Mike on an errand and discovered that Home Depots are pretty much the same everywhere. Prices not too much worse here, either.
Afternoon:
Thought it'd be nice to go on out to Makapuʻu Point to walk the trail, and there's a bus line that goes pretty much there. Guide book said to take the golf course stop, then walk along the road ahead 20 minutes; I missed the stop, but figured I'd just hike back instead. The problem being that the road between Makapuʻu Point and Sea Life Park (the next stop) is mountain on one side and cliff on the other, with not much space for walking. Ah well, didn't seem too dangerous except right after the curve, when I couldn't see the cars. Anyway, I walked the trail, and it's pretty neat to be at a place where you get about 240 degrees of nothing but ocean. You could even see Molokaʻi from there. Walking back, I figured I'd go back to the golf course stop---which actually turned out to be further away, and still no real place to walk---and then I ended up sitting there for nearly an hour. One bus schedule said the busses were supposed to be every 30 minutes; the guidebook said the last one was at 7:15. At 7:20 I sighed and called Mike and Tami... fortunately just then the bus showed up!

Thursday:

Morning and afternoon:
I spent all day at the Bishop Museum, which is a pretty neat place. First cut-stone building in the islands; with permanent exhibits on Hawaiʻi and Polynesia (though much of the Hawaiian stuff was closed for renovations, alas). Also, lauhala weaving and hula demonstrations. Also, a real melted lava demo. And a planetarium show on Polynesian navigation techniques. (Also, randomly, the travelling Grossology exhibit.) It's like three different kinds of museum rolled into one. Not to be missed.
Evening:
For dinner, wandered over to the strip mall restaurants, and tried the Korean place. They actually served a bi bim bap with raw meat and egg in a hot stone bowl: perfection. (And for the squeamish, after you mix everything together the meat and egg end up being lightly cooked by the bowl, actually.) Followed that up with a trip to Cold Stone Creamery, which I'd heard raves about but managed to never hear their gimmick, which is that they have a cold stone (as such) that they mix the ice cream on. All those nifty Ben and Jerry's inventions? You could get them here, except that they'll mix the ice cream and the stuff (cookie dough, banana, sprinkles, Heath bars, whatever) on the spot. Way cool.

Friday:

Morning:
Figured it was about time to hit the local yarn shop. Ursula's Needle Arts is on Kalākaua just a couple blocks from here, so I headed over there. The shop would pretty much fit into my bedroom, but it's neatly arranged and has a surprising amount of stuff. Ursula herself was clearly a German emigré, and the other women in the shop (occupying that common yarn-shop niche of customer-and-salesman) were a mix of Hawaiian-born and mainlanders. It was a great group. The $4-a-ball sale of a discontinued yarn was pretty great, too... fortunately, I had happened to bring my checkbook with me, though, because they didn't take credit cards. I literally can't remember the last time I wrote a check for a store purchase; weird.
Afternoon:
Wandered generally towards Ala Moana mall, got some excellent pho in a little Vietnamese hole in the wall on a little side street, then wandered the whole mall for a few hours.
Evening:
Mike's friend Torin took us (well, Mike drove, but you know) to a Bon dance, which is a traditional Buddhist thing where a central tower that's all decorated and has music loudspeakers, and a broad swathe of ground (well, parking lot) around it, where people dance in a repeating pattern that slowly advances counterclockwise. Sort of a line-dance, except circular. Each song has its own separate dance, though of course there are a lot of individual moves that show up throughout. The dance seems to be a sort of offering in honour of ancestors, at least originally, although many of the people were doing it as a strictly cultural event. They have a few of these every weekend all summer, hosted at various temples all over the islands. This particular one also featured a troupe of taiko drummers, most of them quite young, who were very good. I also got a chance to look at the inside of a Buddhist temple, and was slightly surprised to find that it looked more or less like any other church, except for what was on and over the altar. Some year I should really check out what a Buddhist service would be like. We ended the evening at Zippy's again, where Mike was denied twice before he picked a dessert they weren't out of.

"Puritans came frequently to Vagabond-camps bearing the information that at the time of the creation of the Universe---thousands of years ago!---certain of those present had been predestined by God to experience salvation. The rest of them were doomed to spend eternity burning in hellfire. This intelligence was called, by the Puritans, the Good News." --Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

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August 21, 2006

Stupid Tourist Tax

Ugh, I hate paying Stupid Tourist Tax. How on earth did I manage to miss the fact that if I went to a tropical rain forest there might be a few mosquitoes? (Yikes, make that a ton of mosquitoes.)

Though, I have to admit, as Stupid Tourist Taxes go, $4 isn't bad.

"Why did Daniel refuse to hate Roger? Not out of blindness to Roger's faults, for he saw Roger's moral cowardice as clearly as Hooke peering through a lens at a newt. Not out of Christian forgiveness, either. He refused to hate Roger because Roger saw moral cowardice in Daniel, had done so for years, and yet did not hate Daniel. Fair's fair." --Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

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August 20, 2006

Part 2: San Francisco

Sunday:

Morning:
Arrive at the downtown Caltrain station at 11:30. Begin hike towards hostel, up 4th. Passed a Filipino Days parade going the other direction; got to Mission Street a few minutes shy of noon and decided to hit St Pat's 12:15 instead of one of the afternoon Masses as planned.
Afternoon:
Brunch is two puff pastries from Beard Papa's, a little shop basically next to the church. I then continue towards the hostel. A few blocks along, I'm thinking, hey, pretty flat, I thought San Francisco was notoriously hilly? Then I turned a corner. San Francisco is pretty hilly. Found the Adelaide at the end of a short dead-end alley just off Taylor, checked in, and dropped off my stuff. Made connection with cousin Dan, a lifelong resident of the city, who offers not only to give me a driving tour but to feed me as well. The tour was a perfect mix of tourist stuff and stuff you'd never normally see, along with running commentary of the last several decades of city history. Dinner was a baked frittata made by Dan's wife Joan. MMmmmm.
Evening:
After I got back to the hostel, I really didn't feel like going out again. I read for a while in the common room, logged in to check email, and ended up in bed just before midnight.

Monday:

Morning:
I tried to get off to an early start, took a brief detour to complain about CNN after breakfast, but made it off relatively early anyway. Walked down to the Muni station, got sidetracked into checking out UN Plaza and the City Hall, then really did get on the Muni to head out to the Mission, the original mission of the Franciscans in the area, founded just a few days before the Declaration of Independence was signed (though of course this was in Spanish Mexico at the time, so that wasn't very relevant). The original adobe mission building still stands and is in active use, though the parish's regular Sunday Masses are in the adjacent basilica. Nifty place. After wandering around the Mission District for a bit, I took the J back downtown and connected to a bus up to the marina, where I meant to check out the wave organ, although the tide wasn't right to really show it off. Good view, though.
Afternoon:
At this point, I headed back to Chinatown for lunch, then walked to the Cable Car Museum, which is A) free, and B) actually the working hub of SF's cable car system. I spent not nearly enough time there before I had to dash back to the hostel to pick up my backpack and continue on down to the BART station. BART trains turn out to be very fast and surprisingly quiet, prompting one to use verbs like "whisked". In point of fact, the train whisked me through a tunnel under the bay, then past Port of Oakland and on to the Oakland Coliseum, where I transferred to the AirBART bus to the airport. Check-in was easy, security was easy, and before too terribly long I was on a plane to the 50th state.

"I'm just a cranky old alum out looking for trouble. Clearly I've found the right place." --Eric Stuckey

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August 18, 2006

Part 1: San Jose

Thursday: transit.

Planned:
Fly out of Midway around 1:15, brief non-plane-change layover in San Diego, arrive in San Jose around 5:30 local time.
Actual:
Fly out of Midway around 3:15, arrive in San Diego and first learn that we won't change planes, but then someone changed their minds and we did change planes (and didn't leave for another hour and half). Finally arrived in San Jose around 9:30, sans luggage and all things considered liquid, including lens solution, which is liquid, and toothpaste, which really isn't.

Friday:

Morning:
Competed. Took 5th in silver rhythm (from a semi), less well in other events. Ran into Mike and Jayne from Rhode Island.
Afternoon:
Ate at a little coffee-shop-and-bakery a few blocks away. Went back to watch early rounds of some pre-champ and champ competitions.
Evening:
Went for sushi at the place next to the coffee shop. When Bryan and Jill left to watch the evening events, Kathy and Ian and I walked to a bar. Then back to the hotel to get Kathy's ID, and then back to the bar again. Learned what bars smell like when they don't smell like smoke. Otherwise uneventful.

Saturday:

Morning:
Got up before the slowpokes and got a chance to wander around SJSU and downtown San Jose. A lovely little semiburban city. Got sucked into a Borders, but escaped with little damage: one book I'd been meaning to buy for a while, and just one clearance item.
Afternoon:
While Bryan and Jill watched Michael and Amelia, Kathy and Ian and I found some Indian fast food (naan wraps---the ultimate fusion food). While eating, Marissa and Michael and Dave (from BBDT) walked past. Chatted with them for a bit, before they headed back to the comp. Wandered over to The Tech to spend the afternoon.
Evening:
Walked to San Pedro Square to find food. Settled on one place that looked nice and posted decent prices, but after we'd asked for a table, the host asked whether we wanted the other restaurant that shared its front door. So we went to the other restaurant, but this appears to be its back door actually, and there's no host at this end, so we walk all the way through the place and end up seated on the patio on the other side. The food is adequate. We then go back to watch evening events, where we get to snark about the costumes and the embarrassingly low quality of the rhythm events. Took a BBDT reunion photo with Michael, Marissa, Dave, Angie, and Alex.

Sunday morning:
Took the trolley to San Jose Diridon station, where there is no marking as to how to get to the Caltrain area; fortunately someone else was headed the same way, or I would certainly not have thought I was supposed to open the gates onto the tracks to cross them. Purchased a ticket from a vending machine, which gave no indication that it only gave change in quarters, even if you give it a twenty. Proceeded through the tunnel, which gives no indication as to the correct platform for northbound trains; ran up the wrong ramp before running back down and up the right one. All this running about with full hiker backpack and satchel cause serious windedness, requiring eyes-closed slow-breathing rest before getting back to normal. Fortunately, the train seems to have deparated in the direction of San Francisco and I had a full ninety minutes to rest and get started on Quicksilver.

"Folks, the President needs a break. He's like a Black-and-Decker cordless Dirt Devil vacuum. If you don't recharge his batteries, he can't suck!" --Stephen Colbert

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July 03, 2006

Don't follow this link

The groove comes and the groove goes, but life's constant is that someone will post links to addictive timewasters.

On the relationship between the US and Cuba: "First of all, biology works. Someday Castro will be gone." --Madeleine Albright

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June 23, 2006

Just noticed...

I was watching some Tivoed stuff from earlier in the week, and this happened to catch my eye in the Colbert Report credits:

Executive producer
Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.

Nice.

"I had a slightly insane discussion the other day with a winger who wanted urgently for me to understand that the Haditha massacre is the kind of thing that happens in war. Whereas I was trying to point out to him that the Haditha massacre is the kind of thing that happens in war." --Molly Ivins

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June 19, 2006

Unconnected

Man oh man, I have never been in an inhabited place with such awful cell coverage. It's not just the buildings; even in relatively open areas right in the middle of campus, I'll get just one or two bars (and no reception at all inside most buildings). And even if I can get more than that, as soon as I try to do anything like, say, listen to the voicemail the phone told me about a day and a half ago, it loses signal and can't complete the call. Argh. I guess it'll have to wait until Wednesday....

"How You Can Tell That Being a Parent Is a Pain, Despite All Societal Propaganda Telling You Otherwise: Every new parent is repeatedly warned not to shake the baby too hard. I think that the need to spell this out explicitly kind of gives the game away." --Jeff Vogel

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June 17, 2006

Midweek checkin

I'm not sure what day it is, but I think a claim of it being "midweek" would be surprising; but in fact I'm on a completely different schedule right now. Each day is sufficiently identical to the next that it is next to impossible to keep track of which, er, "secular day" it is.

I'm in Clemson, South Carolina, and I'm grading AP exams. It actually is kind of fun! The pre-grading rubric development was especially interesting, but yesterday's afternoon sessions I was in full swing on the regular on-my-own grading, and really finding a groove. Hopefully today will be similar!

After grading ends for the day, we have a lot of time to wander around and/or be social. I've toured the mansion of John C. Calhoun, a VP, senator, and philosophical father of secessionism. I've been adding pictures to Wikipedia. And I've been playing a ton of bridge. Also something called "Cancellation hearts", which is a fantastically different game from regular Hearts that I should talk about here at some point. :)

"This phrase is usually used about second weddings, but the miracle of Catholicism is that it represents the triumph of hope over experience." --Rocco Palmo

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May 31, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like summer

10:00am: Woke to alarm. Turned it off.

11:30am: Got up, fed Nutmeg, drove to various stores to go bike shopping. Had some difficulty finding an actual cheapo bike, and in particular, one that had neither spring suspension nor quick-release wheel or seat. Eventually had success at K-Mart.

1:30pm: Returned home, took bike off car and started to adjust it, but got drawn into discussion with various locals about the house behind me. Eventually turns into a tour; turns out that the sons of the old lady who used to live there sold the house kit-and-caboodle, and it is full of stuff. New stuff, old stuff, some of it kitschy and some of it probably valuable. Dawn's an eBay aficionado, so it should all go to good homes.

2:30pm: Extricated myself from Dawn's new house but got talked into a tour of Sean and Susan's house a couple of houses over. Some really neat geeky stuff on display, both toys and artwork, and quite a lot of restoration work still to be done. Ended up sitting in the "game room" and talking for about an hour.

4:15pm: Finally got back home, fixed an early dinner and read the paper.

5:30pm: Fed the dog, then went out back to configure the new bike.

6pm: Walked the dog.

6:15pm: Checked email, futzed for a while.

7:45pm: Worked on the kitchen floor, sanding a moderate swath.

8:30pm: Sat down and finished The geographer's library, the audiobook that carried me through my last few roadtrips. (A decent book, though not without a few continuity errors. Forgiven in light of its spot-on depiction of the thinly-veiled "Wickenden University", with cameo appearances of the Chicago suburbs.) Also nearly finished lace knitwork I've been trying out of my Marianne Kinzel book.

11:15pm: Started a load of laundry, and sat down to check email.

And now I'll go swap the load into the dryer, and grade some CS 142 finals. But it was a simply delightful day, just taking everything as it came, not having to worry about deadlines at all. Ahhhhh.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." --Jaroslav Pelikan

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May 22, 2006

Citation quest

In my last post I dropped in the phrase "one non sequitur after catfish" because, well, it's a great turn of phrase, managing to illustrate the idea within the sentence in a sort of higher-level onomatopoeia. I had thought that the phrase, catfish and all, was a moderately well-known way of accomplishing this illustration (hence decreasing their mutual information entropy and thus actually making it less illustrative, but anyway).

It turns out that googling for the phrase turns up only that post (as observed by Lee, who also pointed that damn, but google spiders this blog frequently). So where could I have gotten this from? I certainly didn't come up with it myself, though I'd like to think I'm clever enough to have done so. I have it as an entry in my quotesfile, though unattributed; based on its location in the file, it appears to date from early grad school, so say 1997. It looks like it got added as part of a batch, as I did from time to time back when people forwarded around lists of jokes that were actually funny. That would explain the lack of attribution, as by then I was already being fairly careful to attribute quotes of people I actually recorded myself.

Googling on a slightly less constrained search turns up someone else's quotesfile, who has terrible spelling but includes this quote otherwise identically. And here, it's attributed—to one Brian Postow, apparently a CS prof at Union College in Schenectady. Hooray!

Following up this lead, I landed on Postow's own quotes page, which like mine (and probably the other guy's) has its origin in a fortune database, the list of sayings and quotes that you get one of every time you type fortune on older Unix systems. Postow explains this at the top of his page, along with the caveat "Everyone else who isn't otherwise specified was probably a cs major at Oberlin, or a friend of mine from somewhere else... Or, of course some famous type person...".

So, he might not be the source after all. And the really funny part: his own version of the quote does not involve catfish. "Life is just one non sequitur after fruit bat." That page (along with, soon, this one) are the only hits for that formulation. Back to square one.

Continued slogging through Google hits turns up something that may or may not be directly related, but seems promising. Poem CXC in the book 111 2.7.93-10.20.96 by Kenneth Goldsmith ends with the line

...and catfish is a non-sequitur;
It was published in 1997, though, and remains somewhat obscure (well, to me), so I'm not totally convinced it would've had time to first morph into the "life is a..." form and then make its way into the geeksphere in time for me to add it to the 'file. It's possible someone familiar with the poem read Postow's fruit bat verson of the line, perceived that catfish would be funnier, and thus modified it. It's possible they're independent.

Or, it could be that non sequiturs and catfish go back a long way. I'm tapped for now; anyone got anything else?

Life is just one non sequitur after catfish. --??

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May 14, 2006

Response

(UPDATE: much later a followup)

Last week, when I wrote an angry post about how upset I was that my extended family never got informed of my cousin's death, I knew it was not very tactful (but more or less in line with the other venting I do in this space to an open audience mostly of my friends and acquaintances). Although they had moved away from the Chicago area and we'd mostly lost touch, I thought we remained on good terms with them—a great-aunt stayed at their house every year when visiting Arizona, and my dad and his brother had enjoyed weekly breakfasts together up until they moved—and was surprised and, well, angry that they closed us out of this.

Since I was little, Blaheta and Fischer (and for that matter Lux) funerals have been a family time. A time for the family to come together, and celebrate the life of our deceased relatives, for the older generation to reminisce and pass the family lore on to the younger generation, and generally to lean on each other and be a family. Even if the relatives were distant ones; there were certainly a few funerals I was brought to where I barely knew the one who had died, but I was able to learn more about them and form closer ties to the living relatives. The whole weekend between finding out from Mike's coworker that he might have died, until reading the obituary, I was working under the assumption that there'd at least be a memorial service in Chicago and trying to figure out how I could take time off to get there. Even as late as when I posted the blog entry, I was confused as to how a family, even one that had fallen out of touch with their extended family, could forget to notify that extended family of the death of a relative. It seemed downright bizarre, hence the title of the post.

I certainly wasn't expecting the vitriolic, hateful barrage that was posted in the comments section of that entry. Of course, I now know (as do you) that it wasn't a matter of forgetting to tell us, but rather, that my aunt, uncle, and cousin had intentionally cut themselves off from the rest of the family, and had no interest in hearing our condolences, having our support, or indeed in ever contacting us again. They even seem to resent that we found out about Mike's death, for reasons that still aren't clear to me. But they're still family, and I still have positive memories from when they still lived in Palatine and we got along.

So here it is: I don't know what it was that I did that so deeply offended you, but whatever it was, I'm sorry it happened. I'm sorry for being tactless in my post about Mike—posting while upset is of course never a good idea. And I'm sorry that the other basenote incited such awful nastiness to be thrown around in Mike's name. I'd be pleased if you could find it in you to let us re-open the lines of communication.

Thanks.

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May 11, 2006

From memory

Pinwheel, pinwheel, spinning around
Look at my pinwheel and see what I found
Pinwheel, pinwheel, breezy and bright
Spin me good morning
and spin me good night.
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May 02, 2006

Bizarro family

(UPDATE: my response, and much later, a further followup)

Last Friday I got an email from a former coworker of my cousin Mike Blaheta. This guy had found me on the net, and wanted to offer condolences and learn more about this inspiring individual who was taken too soon, etc, etc.

What?

I called my mom and asked her if she'd heard anything, and neither she nor Dad had. We wanted to be careful on telling the family in case this was bogus, but there was enough detail in the email to convince us that this guy definitely knew Mike—the only question was whether he'd actually died. And the way this guy knew was that COBRA had faxed this company the notice that Mike had died, for insurance purposes.

Did we hear from Mike's brother or mother or father? No. We scoured the net for obituaries or mention of this. Eventually we did call other parts of the Chicago branch of the family, some of which were in better touch with them than we were, but none of them had heard anything, especially about Mike—I know I hadn't seen him in well over a decade, and I don't think most of them had either. Mike's brother I last saw a few years ago, and Mike's parents I saw just before they most recently moved to Arizona, maybe two Christmases ago.

Finally, this morning, my dad (who had been googling for obits daily) tracked down an obituary that confirmed the details, so it's true. But we never heard a single word from them. If this guy from Mike's former workplace hadn't emailed me, nobody in the family would know.

And yet, if you look at the guest book on that obituary, there are loads of people from the NW suburbs in there, although Mike died in Arizona (and a week ago at that). One of the posts, the one from Florida, was—get this—the widow of the owner of the tavern where Mike's dad and my dad (brothers) hung out thirty years ago. So his mom contacted a number of people back home, but didn't bother to contact her husband's brother about this. At all. We didn't even know he was sick, although apparently whatever it was had been going on for a while (the coworker mentioned doctor's visits). We still don't know how he died.

What the hell? I don't particularly miss him or anything, and I can barely even remember what he looks like, but it pisses me off that we had to find out accidentally through the grapevine.

UPDATE: a follow-up.

"The one thing we can say about George W. Bush is we will be forever in his debt...." --Rahm Emanuel

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April 24, 2006

General update

I haven't been feeling very bloggy lately, but I've actually been doing a few things worth writing about. Saturday I was in Indianapolis for part of a dance competition, where I didn't do very well, but really liked the downtown area. Vibrant and very well-integrated, you could tell it was active from the crack of dawn until past midnight, unlike say downtown Chicago or downtown Galesburg. It's big enough to have a decent nightlife (at least, so it appeared in one evening there) but small enough that the nightlife hasn't divorced itself from the business district, which is nice. Also, the architecture is great, at least in the half-mile square right around the city centre.

Then I had to rush back to Galesburg to practice for the chorus performance on Sunday. We did a Civil War-themed concert, with each song preceded by narration and readings (of the voiceover-on-A&E-specials variety) that really made the concert feel more like a play. (Or a revue, but that term makes it sound kitschy, which it wasn't.) Everybody was on, at least to the outside observer. The soloist that had woken up with no voice and the soloist and reader suffering from severe back spasms didn't let on, and you'd certainly never know. The world-premiere piece that we did really came together, and we actually finally liked it (after a couple of months of banging our heads on it—it's modern, so you need a while for it to grow on you). I can't wait to see the DVD.

And then I had to turn around and write a midterm exam for CS 142. Which, for some reason, was way harder than usual. I was having a devil of a time writing questions of the appropriate size. Although I prefer writing more smaller problems, so that blowing "part 1" doesn't screw you for part 2, I just kept devising these monolithic problems that I couldn't tease apart into pieces. It's also a very boring exam, largely due to the order I've had to follow in teaching things, which hasn't really let me devise any of my fun problems. (Maybe that's just as well? But I have heard students comment that they enjoy my exam problems.) And I couldn't use problems from last year's CS 142 midterm, because I haven't covered any of that material yet, although I'm close in a few cases.

Now I need to tidy up some loose ends and do laundry, and tomorrow I'm doing a fast round-trip to Chicago for an eye appointment and to get my car fixed. Fun fun fun....

"Giving 51% of the people 100% of the power is immoral. It's rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic to debate whether the 51% should be chosen randomly or by careful scheming." --Paul Hebble

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April 05, 2006

Bluchhh.

Yesterday, it was just a sore throat. Today, it's a sore throat, a stuffy nose, maybe a slight fever, but above all this general malaise that just makes me feel generally cruddy. Bleh. And yet, still not bad enough to override my pressing need to not fall (further) behind in classes, so here I am at work, teaching. Sigh.

"Large religions are not merely difficult to usefully generalize about because they're large; they're large because they're difficult to usefully generalize about." --Jonathan Prykop

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February 24, 2006

Further adventures in bad design

My car wouldn't start this morning.

Of course, it's my own fault, and I know exactly how it happened. But the incident has certainly highlighted a number of grave deficiencies in the design of the Mini.

The first, the proximate cause of the dead battery, has to do with the headlights. When you turn off the car, the headlights go off, and the running lights stay on; if you open the door, it will beep at you until you turn off the lights. The problem was, I wanted the headlights on so I could check something out (specifically, whether I had a flat tire). Remembering something I'd read about a different car, I tried turning them off and on again; no dice, still just the running lights. What I now realise in retrospect is that what did happen is that the warning signal stopped. And so when I'd finished looking at the tire, there was neither the bright lights of the headlights nor the warning beep from the dashboard to remind me to turn them off, and the car was left to slowly drain its battery out.

That was a few days ago. This morning, I was planning to drive because it was really windy, and I went to unlock the door remotely as usual, but nothing happened. I unlocked the door manually, knowing what I would find, and sure enough, nothing. But then, when I went to close the car, I couldn't press down the lock on the door—this is a "convenience" feature I've complained about before, ostensibly to prevent you locking your keys in the car. The problem was, the remote wouldn't work. It finally occurred to me to close the door and use the key to lock it, something I've never seen done anywhere before; I'm glad I thought of it or my car would still be unlocked.

This evening, I got home and went to investigate further. All was well until I tried to remember if I had jumper cables in the trunk. See, the trunk is unlocked either from the key fob or the power locks in front, but of course neither was working. And there is no keyhole on the hatch! There is also no way to flip down the back seats from the front, nor a way to pull out the ledge atop the trunk unless the hatch is open. Which means that if your battery is dead, there is no actual way to open the trunk to get at your jumper cables. Brilliant!

With a little work, I bent the black plastic ledge enough to get my hand between it and the seat to reach the seat levers (down in the middle of the back of the seat, of course), and so I was finally able to get into the trunk, where I discovered that even once I was into the trunk, there was no way to open it from the inside either. I thought that was a requirement on newer cars, that anyone trapped in the trunk could open it from the inside, but if it is it's one that Mini flouted. So, already perched in a funny position, I had to unload the stuff in the trunk through the rest of the car in order to get at the kit under the trunk floor.

No jumpers there, alas. So I'll have to buy some tomorrow, I guess; I'll just get whoever's giving me a jump to drive me to get cables first. :) It's a good thing one of the panes of the garage window is busted, because otherwise I'd have a devil of a time getting the other car close enough to the front of my car. Good thing the weather's nice and I can ride my bike, though.

"If we're going to do the Star Wars analogy, the Democrats are, at best, Ewoks." --Jon Stewart

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February 17, 2006

Hey, Johari me!

Everyone's doing it...

"He wants a patron saint. I think he should just whine to the Virgin Mary more." --Eric Stuckey

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February 06, 2006

That could have gone worse

How odd. About six this morning, I woke up with a slightly upset stomach, and as I lay there it got worse. I went over to the bathroom, because I was sure I'd have to throw up. But it was cold, so I grabbed a bucket and went back to bed. I coughed into the bucket a few times, and broke out into that sudden sweat that you get when you're throwing up. Then I felt slightly better and tried to go back a sleep. A few minutes later, I grabbed for the bucket again, and got to a dry heave or two, but then it passed and this time I was able to get back to sleep.

And now I feel fine. I wonder what that was all about.

"Unrelated anecdote: I was just washing my dishes and noticed with surprise that both my pots and my kettles are all silver. I wonder what they call each other and what they mean by it." --Zach Miller

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January 19, 2006

Thank goodness for spam blockers

Good heavens. This blog has been blessedly free of comment spam for a very long time, and I had mostly forgotten its existence. Aside from the only-slightly-annoying bot blocker question to post a comment. But I just checked the logs and there have been twenty attempts to post spam comments just since midnight. In the nearly ten months since the start of this logfile, there have been more than 12,250 attempts to post comments (a few of them legitimate, obviously, but most not).

Jiminy cricket, that's a lot of spam that's been blocked.

"FOR THE LOVE OF ST ISIDORE WHEN WILL TEMPLATES FINALLY WORK?" --Scott Swanson

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January 16, 2006

Plaid?

So I remembered to bring my computer today, since I was to be taking minutes at the faculty meeting. I get there at 4(ish), plug in, and when I open the laptop, it appears there are two screens superimposed over each other—as if alternate pixels belonged to two different screenshots. Also, it was completely hung.

After a reboot, all I saw was a lovely plaid. Shutting it down a few minutes and starting it again had no effect (still that crapped-out-LCD plaid pattern). So once again, I found myself taking minutes longhand. Sigh. I really need to learn shorthand.

This especially sucks because I'm in no position to buy a computer just now, and the laptop is it for me for home machines. I was just hoping that, if I was very lucky, the bad part was between the video board and the screen, such that VGA output would bypass the problem and I could hook up my old 15" CRT. I dug out the monitor and cables, hooked everything up, crossed my fingers, and powered up the laptop.

And, of course, it worked perfectly. The laptop screen and monitor both work just fine. The good that comes out of this is that I now have a dual-head system at home, which is pretty nifty. The bad is that I now will not close, sleep, or even really move my laptop at any time until I know I can line up another machine to replace it. (And let me tell you, I'm lusting after one of those 20" LCD iMacs that are going for just $1700 before discount. The fact that I'll have to wait until the first buggy batch is out is probably a good thing.) Maybe I can borrow someone else's laptop to take notes at the next fac meeting....

"Note that these probabilities encode some facts that we think of as strictly syntactic in nature, as well as facts that we think of as more culturally based (like the low probability of anyone asking for advice on finding British food)." --Jurafsky & Martin Ch. 6

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January 15, 2006

First time ever:

I bowled a 205 last night! Of course, I followed that with one absolutely awful game and then one that was thoroughly mediocre until I turkeyed in the last two frames. But, still.

My mom's here in Galesburg, since Thursday and until probably Tuesday, and it's quite motivational. Just in the last few days, I've installed a shower curtain ring upstairs, unclogged my laundry sink, unpacked or removed several boxes from the dining room, removed the duct tape gunk off my back door, and probably a few other things I'm not thinking of now. Now, though, I need to get to my grading....

"I will comment, however, that it seems that whoever is baking Jesus for mass these days is using more sugar. There was a distinctly sweet overtone on [Ash] Wednesday that I don't recall being there before." --Tori O'Neal

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December 21, 2005

Holidays now in force

My sister's all gradumacated, I'm back in Palatine, and the house is decorated with a modicum of Christmas cheer, so I guess the holidays are now in full force. I'm mostly just lazing about, although I have a bit of shopping yet to do, and I hope to do some baking in the next couple of days. In case I don't get back on the blog before then, let me wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

"You come in wearing ties sometimes. I think you need to go listen to some David Bowie or something." --Shriram Krishnamurthi (not to me)

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December 13, 2005

Back now

I didn't mean to take a weeks-long break from blogging. I can't even say I was really busy; a lot of it, I was just distracted. A quick rundown of what I saw and did:

Rent
I went home for Thanksgiving on Wednesday and we went to see the movie version of Rent. The music was great, but parts of it didn't totally make sense. Then someone pointed out that the characters are all supposed to be 17-20 years old. That made a lot of things clearer. Very angsty, but sort of immature, you know? Anyway, now I need to see La Bohème.
Harry Potter, take 1
Pretty much as soon as I got home I started reading book 4 in preparation for the movie. I quite liked it. Although I've heard everyone saying for years now how "dark" the series gets in book four, I don't think that's exactly true. Book 4 is really two books in one: a 500 page book, the "real" book 4, more or less like the first three; and a 75 page book that should be entitled "Book 4.5: Everything changes". The last couple chapters fundamentally shift several alliances and signal a sea change in how the series is going to go. A number of people have told me that I wouldn't be able to keep up my "eh, I'll read the next book before the next movie" pattern after book 4, and they're right. I have to read book 5 really soon now.
Thanksgiving
Mmm, sweet potatoes. Boy, are my cousins all getting tall.
Harry Potter, take 2
Day after Thanksgiving, we went to see the movie. It was fine, I guess, but not nearly as good as the third movie. While I'm not averse to changing things in order to fit the medium and time frame better, it just wasn't done as well this time. They partially left the reporter in, but didn't really do anything with her. They made Beauxbatons into an all-girls school full of flakes and weaklings, introducing a sexism that wasn't really in the book. They made Harry's motivations a lot more ambiguous than in the book, especially towards the end of the maze. Because they omitted all the "book 4.5" stuff, Dumbledore's speech at the end doesn't make much sense. Oh well, win some, lose some.
Visit
After the movie, we went to visit Loren and those taller people she lives with. She's so adorable! And those taller people make good cocktails, too.
Wicked
Saturday, then, we went to see the musical Wicked downtown. I read the book a couple years ago, and had heard a couple of the songs off the soundtrack, but I still wasn't sure if it would be any good. It was! They did a great adaptation, among other things fixing the ending, and it preserves all the counter-cultural flair of the original. Imagine turning the Wizard of Oz into a commentary on governmental control and the seeds of fascism—and with music!
The trial
The audiobook for the trip home was one of the mysteries I'm so fond of, except that in addition to drafting a whodunit, author Robert Whitlow was pamphleteering. We got to see how every character's life was better for being born again, or worse for not being. The rest of the book was fine, I guess, but by the end all the witnessing was getting pretty tiresome. (And the epilogue was glurgy beyond belief, oy.)
Grading
Also sleeping. But grading was most of what I did for that first week after Thanksgiving. The wages of procrastination is... a helluva lot to do right there at the end.
A Phule and his money
The third book in Robert Asprin's series. Fun as extremely light reading that you don't want to think about very much. I haven't done enough of that lately.
Concert
I joined the Galesburg Community Chorus this term, and our concert was the 3rd. We sang the Schubert Mass in G, the Vivaldi Gloria, and a few carols. It was the first big ensemble I'd been in since graduating Quincy; lots of fun, although I actually sang better in the dress rehearsal than in the concert itself. :P The CD sounds ok, though.
Civ III
I'd had a serious jones for a game of Civ since well before Thanksgiving (thanks to everybody talking about the release of Civ 4). I didn't dare install it until my grades were in, though. I sat down to install it on my laptop... only to discover that my DVD drive is busted. Won't spin up a disc. It worked as recently as the first week of November, but no longer. SO frustrating. I ended up going in to my office, installing, and playing there until six in the morning. Then, in a brainstorm after I got home, I realised that if I VPNed in I ought to be able to remotely mount my work machine's drives on my laptop, and the Civ3 CD was still in the CD drive, and sure enough, I was able to remotely mount it and install to my laptop. So over the course of three days I probably got forty hours of playing in, mostly sating me. :)
Lilypond
A while ago I discovered LilyPond, a music engraving package in much the same way that LaTeX is a text typesetting package. I have a lot of fun playing with it, understanding how it works, and contributing documentation. This is how geeks relax, folks.
Fac search
The CS department is doing a faculty search, so I get to go through all the applications and rank them. There's a Dilbert cartoon that keeps popping into my head during this process: "Hey! Dot matrix!" Not quite that bad, of course, and there are a few promising ones. But, boy, the middle and bottom of the application pool, yikes.
House walk
The Galesburg Civic Art Center has a neat fundraiser they run each year: they get five houses in town to let people wander through, and then they charge those people $12 to see all five houses. The houses on the tour range from grand to cozy, but there's something to see in all of them; the ones you expect to be plain are sometimes the most interesting ones to see inside. It's fun hearing people say "ooh, check out this bathroom!" or "what a great place to put an office!" The last house I went to was Steve Jones's, and it has a pump organ that he'd had restored, and the guy that restored it came to play for a while. Really cool.
Same time, next year
Sunday, I was following my usual routine, and sitting in Uncle Billy's reading the Zephyr, when I noticed that Coffee Bean is putting on a show next weekend. No wait, this weekend. Crap! No—I'm in luck, they have a Sunday matinee. Which starts in 25 minutes. Run! As it happens, I made it to the show (in the community room of the mall) with minutes to spare, and settled in. The premise is that each of six scenes take place in the same hotel room, five years apart, as discussions between a man and a woman in a deep long-term relationship. They're married—just not to each other. The two actors did a pretty good job with it; I think the guy overdid the guilt scenes a bit, but mostly they hit the full range of emotions right on. The rapport was excellent, and it was easy to believe that the two had been a couple for a long time; I found out later that the actors had been dating for several years. How did I find out? Well, at the end of the show, the guy signals to the sound tech to cut off the music, pulls out a speech from his pocket, and starts reading it. And he proposed! Right there in front of the audience! She was totally stunned. Most of the crew didn't even know about it, and of course the audience wasn't expecting anything of the sort, although his moms in the front row were well-prepared with cameras, so presumably he'd clued them in. :) He was heard to say afterwards, "That was what I was so damn nervous about all week." I bet.
Still no roof
But there are hints of progress. After the 30th—which was itself the first time I'd seen the roofers in two weeks—it snowed, and it's been snowing every few days since, which makes the roof too treacherous to work on, I guess. But today I was awakened by clomping on my roof, and it was the head roofer guy shovelling off snow. He promised that the crew'd be back tomorrow (today, now) to continue work, and that they would subsequently be tarping it each night, so they'd be able to clear any snow each day. Why they didn't do that in the first place, I have no idea, but at least they're doing it now. I again have hope that this thing will be done before March. Ideally, by the end of the week. Then I can actually start planning my budget again.

Now, this week, I need to get cracking on stuff for next term. Once I go home next Monday, there will be no work done (whether I want to or not) until at least the 2nd... and classes start the 3rd. Wish me luck!

Even now, in the nostalgic glow of nonpartisanship, I am tempted to point out that, in his otherwise carefully composed self-encomium, Clinton's "working together, America has done well" is a prime example of a dangling modifier. It could be corrected by changing the subject "America" to "Americans" or "the American people," which would be a plural subject that could be "working together." But in the father of our country's paraleiptic tradition, I will pass over this grammatical lapse in utter silence. --William Safire

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November 20, 2005

Like the good old days

Not being tired yet at 1:30 or so, I figured I'd maybe get a problem graded on the 141 exam before I went to bed. I got on a roll and just kept going. I just finished problem 4 (of 6), and now I'm thinking I might as well stay up, and maybe get another problem or two done. :)

I seem to be back to my good old "yeah, I had mono last week, why shouldn't I be playing bridge until 3am?" self again. I wonder what happened back there that zonked me out before midnight for a few weeks running.

"As soon as they tell me, I'll be on it like "uh" on a switchboard corpus." --Don Engel

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November 18, 2005

It oughtta be illegal

It should be a crime to create sites this mesmerising. I have now spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at it. And though I thought I was done a week or two ago, someone posted the site on a message board today and---strangely possessed to actually revisit the site---I discovered that they'd changed it. It's got some of the same elements as before, but a lot of new ones, and they're laid out differently.

Totally safe for work, but only if you mute your volume.

Incidentally, the music that plays is apparently the "breakfast machine" theme from Peewee's Playhouse. Which explains why it seemed so appropriate; the first time I heard it, I thought, "oh yes, this is truly Rube Goldberg music." Guaranteed to get stuck in your head for weeks at a time (and it loops, which makes it even worse, or perhaps better).

"It looks like a tiger, it quacks like a tiger, but it's actually a Martian robot." --Polly Jacobson

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November 16, 2005

At the end of the day

I have snow on my lawn, no shovel, and no roof.

I have a persistent sore throat and a nascent cough.

I have 33 papers, 20 projects, and 20 final exams to grade.

BUT: I have no more classes to teach, no more homeworks to write, no more meetings to attend, no deadlines for weeks.

So, generally, I'm in pretty good shape.

"The American Revolution was in large part a revolt against corporations, which are bodies formed to allow rich people to shirk responsibility for abuses. The Founding Fathers thought corporations immoral, and they were illegal here during the first 50 years of the Republic." --The Progressive Review

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November 15, 2005

More news

Oh, and I got a phone call today.

Me: Hey.
Kathy: Guess what I bought!
Me: A car.
K: Yeah!!
Me: ... wait, really?
K: Yeah! Guess what kind!
Me: A PT Cruiser?
K: No.
Me: A Mini?
K: No.
Me: A Beetle?
K: Yeah!
Me: ... wait, really?
K: Guess what colour!
Me: Blue.
K: Yeah!
Me: Ok, that part doesn't surprise me. You bought a car?

So, my sister bought a car. Crazy. Mine's still cuter, though. And I bet hers isn't even a stick shift.

"The purpose of Historical Jesus seminar is to place the Bible in context by understanding the events surrounding it. This is essentially inimical to Protestant Fundamentalists, as it requires them to actually analyze Biblical texts, a process to which their faith simply cannot stand up." --Michael Kimmitt

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November 14, 2005

It was the music!

Who knew that music would make such a difference? I'd been having increasing difficulty over the last few months, and especially the last few weeks, in staying awake even a tiny bit as late as I was accustomed to doing since, well, birth. Seriously, if I tried to sit at my desk and work, I was drifting off even before midnight. Which, since all my time management habits (such as they are) are based on being able to work undisturbed from midnight until 3, 4, 5 in the morning, was wreaking havoc on my ability to get anything done.

Tonight, I'm not sure why, but I decided to hook up the stereo that has been sitting in pieces on my desk. What a difference. I've had no trouble getting to 4 in the morning on just a can of soda, and I just made my first cup of coffee. The final I've written for my cs141 students is a masterpiece. (I hope they agree.) Now to finalise and record the grades for the last homework, and enter all my participation notes for the other class. I may or may not get to sleep tonight, but it doesn't seem to matter, actually.

YA VELIKOYE KORNHOLIO! YA TREBUYU T-P DLYA SVOYEVO BUNGHOLA. --Mike Peil

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October 24, 2005

Long weekend

My weekend started last Friday, with a party in honour of a few of our new faculty at Heather Hoffmann's house. It was the best sort of party: most of the time, most of the people were standing around the kitchen, talking. And the hosts were nanobrewers, with one beer on tap that had espresso in it. Fantastic.

Saturday, I meant to get up at ten, actually made it up and showered and dressed by noon, and had an hour to do tidying and cleaning for guests. One of whom showed up early, but whatever. I have had people over before, but those were explicitly in an "I haven't moved in yet" mode; this was the first time I had people over to a moved-in house. It went pretty well; Chris and Christopher and I played a few rounds of Rumis before moving on to Lunar Rails, a crayon rail game that ended up lasting nearly seven hours (the box said 3-4, but they lie a little and we were just learning the game). Chris won, I lost, a good time was had by all. Definitely an experience to be repeated.

Sunday, then, started out uneventful (although at coffee-and-donuts one of the parishioners was celebrating her hundredth birthday), but after the community chorus rehearsal I bustled over to the knitting club, where they had a guest speaker. Someone's friend's mom, I think, but she's a weaver. She brought a table loom, which was pretty cool; easy to understand when you watch it, and in particular, easy to understand how to get from your "basic weave" (over, under, over, under) to more complex designs. The best part was her computer program, which lets her assign warp threads to harnesses, optionally assign harnesses to treadles, and then lay out a treadle pattern and see how the weave would look. For someone who can pick up the notation fast (e.g. me), this permits a much faster demonstration of the relationship between thread, harness, treadle, and pattern than would be available from actually doing it. She also had some very interesting and impossible-seeming woven scarves; mind-blowing. I was so sad that I had to leave a few minutes early to go teach ballroom.

That went well, too, of course; it was the last team class before our competition Saturday (!), and I ran it as a mock comp, going through each dance in turn, doing a four or five minute practice period and then clearing the floor, making them walk on with their partner and dancing as if in competition for the 90-second window of time they'd have. Hopefully, this got them a little more comfortable with the format. We'll see Saturday, I guess. :)

Of course, all of this stuff meant that I didn't get very much grading done. Alas. That's what I should be doing right now, I suppose. Ah, procrastination, what would I do without you?

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." --James Nicoll

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October 07, 2005

What was that?

I wonder what I just saw. I got in to work maybe twenty minutes ago and on West St there was a state cop with his flashers on parked behind a beat-up old car. I assumed it was a speeding stop, although it was odd that it would be there and by a state cop.

After checking my email I went to get coffee, and the guy was still pulled over. The clerk at the store asked if I knew what happened, and mentioned that there were initially three cop cars with their flashers on, so this must have happened at least five, ten minutes before I arrived.

The cop only just left. As the guy drove off, I got a look at him; he looked to be just a smidge older than the average college student, but no Knox parking sticker, so I assume he was a local. He appeared to be Arab or Latino, but I don't think this was a simple case of Driving While Brown, since that doesn't usually draw more than one cop car. On the other hand, if they had been looking for him, why did two of the cops leave early? And then let him go after a stop that lasted a half an hour?

So, now I'm all curious. I'll have to remember to check the paper to see if there's any writeup.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE.
YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR JOBS. --Mike Peil

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September 22, 2005

On the passage and observation of time

This morning, my alarm went off and I snoozed it a couple times, as usual. And at one of the snoozes, I leapt out of bed: "holy crap it's twenty after already!"

I flew around my usual morning routine, feeding the dog, taking a shower, etc, glancing frequently at my watch and noticing the time bleed away: 25 after, half past, .... Finally, about the time I was looking for my shoes, I realised I was already officially late for an appointment at my office. Dammit, I need to get better about not snoozing the alarm.

When I hit the road with my bike, it was already a quarter till, and I think I made a physical grimace. Cruised into my office at about ten of, and was mildly surprised not to see the student I expected to be waiting there. Ok, whatever, check my email.

I send and receive a few, still no student, and I'm thinking about whether I can duck out for breakfast, and I look at my watch again. My first class isn't until noon and, wait, why do I have more than two hours? I should have less than that.

And it is only then, almost an hour after I got up and about twenty clock consultations later, that I noticed the hour---which was one less than I thought it was.

So, if ever you needed evidence that people reading clocks really only look at the minutes most of the time, and fill in the rest, there you go. In any case, now I have time to duck out and get breakfast. :)

"Verbs don't work! Verbs don't work!" --Andrew McClain

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September 21, 2005

More recordings...

Thumbs-down has definitely changed the sorts of things Tivo recorded for me during day 2. Today we have:

  • All in the family
  • The Andy Griffith show
  • King of the Hill
  • Grace under fire
  • Living single
  • MAD TV
  • The nanny
  • Happy days
  • ATHF

This is so fun.

"Republicans are as capable of great ideas and moving the country forward as anybody else. They just don't do it." --Alan Alda

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September 20, 2005

Tivo says...

One full day after hooking up my Tivo and telling it what I wanted it to record (The Daily Show, several Adult Swim series, and anything with the keyword "ballroom"), it has helpfully recorded all of the following as well:

  • The O'Reilly Factor
  • Caillou
  • King of the Hill
  • House of Mouse
  • Jimmy Neutrino
  • Kim Possible
  • Reno 911!
  • Foster's home for imaginary friends
  • Aqua Teen Hungerforce (not on my original list)

I guess it runs its algorithm by picking up on the "animated" part, not so much on the "other people who like this also like that" thing. Ah well.

"Fraternal twins develop from separate eggs and are no more closely related than ordinary siblings, except that they spend nine months sharing an extremely small bedroom." --Cecil Adams

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September 15, 2005

Holy crap!

Apparently, Proof got made into a movie, and Gwyneth Paltrow is playing the Jackie Dehne part. Out. Standing. Must go see it.

"I think that's how Chicago got started. A bunch of people in New York said, 'Gee, I'm enjoying the crime and the poverty, but it just isn't cold enough. Let's go west.'" --Richard Jeni

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August 25, 2005

Silicone cookware sucks

I don't really understand why so many people like silicone baking dishes so much. They totally change the characteristics of the baking process, and no matter how much you grease them (and you can't grease them with shortening, you have to use the spray stuff) they still don't let go of your cake or whatever it was you were baking, causing it to break up into several pieces. Lame.

UPDATE: more complaining about silicone bakeware.

"Pay no attention to Anand---he was born without taste. "Dancer in the Dark" is the best musical since "Singing In the Rain"." --Casey Westerman

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August 21, 2005

Holy bat, crapman!

So here I am, reading Wikipedia and generally minding my own business, when a bat swoops in and starts flying around my apartment living room! When this happened at my house in Providence, we could just close off the room and open the outside door, and shoo it on out. But here, that wasn't really an option. It must've taken a half hour or more to get it; while it was flying in circles, I tried tossing a sheet up in the air to foul its wings, so I could bundle it up and bring it outside. Then it got stuck behind my big bookcase (the one that isn't emptied yet, naturally), and I almost had it by flipping a box upside down on the top of the bookcase and pushing it up there with a broomhandle, but then at the last minute the box went cock-eyed and let the bat out the front. More swooping. Then it bumped the bookcase and fell behind my TV, eventually crawling under the stand. This time I was able to flip the box next to the stand and poke at it with a (knob end of a) knitting needle, and I finally had it under the box. Slid a bit of cardboard under it, and bungled flipping it over (the cardboard bent), but I was able to get the box back over it before it started flying again. Finally got the cardboard situated, carried it out, and it looked around a bit and took off.

Throughout this little exercise, Nutmeg was a saint. He noticed the bat a few seconds after I did, and growled and barked at it, but after that just watched it (although he did snap at it when it flew rather close to him). Thank goodness. It was hard enough without having to have him at my heels barking the whole time.

After which, I went through the whole apartment looking for how the sucker might've gotten in. I had left the door to the attic storage open when I was retrieving boxes a couple days ago, and so all I can think is that there are bats in the unfinished part of the attic. I guess I should tell my landlord.

"Here's all you need to know about the American Tobacco Trail: it starts at slaves and ends at cancer." --Jon Stewart

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August 19, 2005

Like fireworks!

There is an unbelievable amount of lightning activity going on somewhere almost straight south of Galesburg, maybe SSSE. It's up in the clouds, and it must be really far off, because you can't hear a thing. But, wow, I just stood outside with my dog for about ten minutes watching it. I even debated hopping in my car to get outside of the town's light pollution radius, but ended up just coming back in and writing about it instead. Really pretty, though.

"Can't someone take some human credit for a job well done?" --Jon Stewart

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August 12, 2005

Rain, rain, don't go away, take off your coat and stay awhile

After a year that was drier than any on record, ever, for over 150 years, yesterday morning Galesburg was hit with a thunderstorm that wet the ground and started the grass a-greening. Then, overnight, it started drizzling and wandering back and forth into a moderate rain, which continues even now.

And for all that it means I can't do some of the things I planned for today, and that I'll have to mow the lawn Monday (first time!), this is still an utterly unmitigatedly good thing. Even if we "catch up", the crop yields will be quite low, and it'll be some time before all the various retention ponds and reservoirs are replenished. But at least most of the crops and trees and grass won't die. And it's starting to feel and smell like a Midwestern summer again; it had gotten literally painful to walk barefoot on the sharp, desiccated grass, and despite frequent humidity it smelled more like a desert.

The "Drought of '05" (that'll surely have to be "aught-five" for the rhyming possibilities) will be something talked about for a long, long time, I'm sure.

The forecasts predict rain until Sunday, though. Thank God.

"I soon felt the astonishment that often comes to me during worship... it is the wonder that I should be there at all. My faith was non-existent, or at least deeply submerged, for so long a time, but liturgy pulled me back." --Kathleen Norris

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August 07, 2005

Adventures in Iowa

I had told Chris Sedlack that I'd help him move today---he's relocating to Burlington, and had lots of people to help at the Urbana end and not so many out here. Initially he'd told me he was shooting to be there around 3, but he'd call from his sister's place in Peoria.

At noon I call just to check in, and he has revised his estimate to "4, or probably closer to 5", and he'd call from Peoria. So I figure, he's maybe running even later than that; maybe he'll call around 3:30 or 4 or so.

So I head over to the house to get some work done (sanded all the baseboard shoes and started nailing the suckers in). Around 4:30 I start wondering if I missed the call or something, and decide to go back to the apartment and get ready to go. I take a shower, feed the dog, check my email and notesfiles, and by about 5:30 I'm thinking, did he lose my number? Running the numbers in my head, I'm increasingly certain that they must have at least left Peoria by now. And if they're already there, would there even be that much more to unload? Well, probably, but maybe I should get going. On my way out of Galesburg, I stop at Wendy's for a burger to go and hop on to 34 at Henderson. Just as I'm crossing Main, at a few minutes to 6, I get a call.

"Yeah, so we're just leaving Peoria now."

Ah. Well, now what? I'm now about 45 minutes ahead of them on the road. I could turn around and go back to my apartment, but I know that I would just schlump around and do nothing anyway. And I hadn't ever gone to Monmouth to explore, so what the hell. I kept on and drove around, which was pleasant. Monmouth College is a bizarre campus---it doesn't look 150 years old, and the look is a lot less congenial than Knox, and it just looks kind of... fake. If a bunch of people gave me lots of money and told me to build a bunch of buildings that looked like Ivy League college stuff, this is exactly what I would give them---if I didn't like them very much.

But anyway. After fifteen or so minutes of this, I decided it would be nice to sit outside for a while, so I pulled into the lot at the Warren County Courthouse and walked into the middle of the Public Square circle and started the Agatha Christie novel I'd brought. It's funny; the Monmouth Public Square circle and the Galesburg one are obviously poured from the exact same form, but Monmouth's is infinitely nicer.

Coming up on 7, then, I continued on towards Burlington, wondering if I'd run into Chris on the way. I didn't, and (of course) beat him there, so I sat on his front step and read a bit more. A few minutes later, I see a car I didn't recognise as Chris's being driven by someone I did recognise as Arun, and remembered that he'd agreed to drive Chris's car to Burlington. Tossing my book in the car, I saw that the car behind Arun was also part of the group; two people got out, and I was trying to figure out where I'd met the woman before, when it dawned on me that I hadn't---it's just that Chris's sister looks exactly like him. :)

A few minutes later, Chris pulled up in the truck and we commenced unloading it, pretty uneventfully. The rest of them cleared out at 9 (Arun had at least a three hour trip back to Urbana), and I stuck around and chatted for a while, then went with Chris to drop off the truck. The rental place was hilarious: they rent everything, from trucks to lawn mowers to---as far as I could tell---entire wedding sets, with candelabra and arches and lecterns. Wild.

And after dropping him off at his house, I headed back to Galesburg. I tried stopping at a Hardee's for coffee, but they didn't have any (!), so I did without, and honestly, it wasn't a problem. All this extra sleep I've been getting must be paying off.

"'Language is the only homeland,' says the poet Czeslaw Milosz, and here on the range, where there are many more antelope than people, if a discouraging word is ever heard, at least it isn't 'deconstructionism.'" --Kathleen Norris

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July 12, 2005

Here comes the rain again...

Thank goodness for this rain. I think it's a hurricane remnant, but whatever it is, it's most welcome. Amazing how fast the grass greens up. And this is exactly the best kind of rain for the local crops, too: drizzle ramping up to a medium-strength rain for about five to ten minutes, then trailing off and holding back for an hour or two. Long enough for the water to absorb into the soil, so that the next round of rain doesn't just run off (and erode all the topsoil in the bargain).

It's not even as gloomy as it might be; though completely overcast, it's actually pretty bright outside. This is scheduled to continue for three days or so, which might be long enough to actually let the plants come back to life and replenish their stock.

"Medical marijuana is a gateway drug, and many who use it go on to use even stronger stuff---even engaging in full-blown chemotherapy." --The Onion

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July 06, 2005

Science, Industry

You know, the Museum of Science and Industry isn't all it used to be. Today I joined Lee for a trip to MSI, and for the first few hours---when we were walking through the main museum---most of what was there was busted exhibits that don't work anymore. Really disappointing.

Body Worlds, on the other hand, was really cool. It's amazing what they can do with plastic these days. I appreciate the fact that a lot of the models were left with nothing but a Do Not Touch sign protecting them, so that I and other curious museumgoers were able to get up really close to look at the various flayed body parts. Strangely, it was not even as gross as I had expected it to be; by far the squickiest display was the sagittal cross-section slice of the woman with massive constipation. Heeeeuwww.

"My body hair provides me with a natural AC of 7." --Jonathan Prykop

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June 29, 2005

News from the front

For the last week I've been at the ACL conference, going to lots of talks and learning about stuff and seeing people I haven't seen since last year (or longer). I'm really psyched about getting back into things, and I hope I can sustain that and get some work done.

But today was the first day of workshops, the post-season if you will, and the conference is winding down. At lunch, I took a nap and then drove out to a nice little local yarn shop---Flying Sheep Yarns---which I'd been planning to do anyway but really needed to do since I unexpectedly finished the pair of socks I was working on. (My knitting speed has definitely increased in the last year; I was only about 2/3 done with one sock of the pair at the start of the conference, so I was knitting on the order of 4000 stitches a day, or---given that I was probably only knitting for four or five hours per day---a bit less than a thousand stitches an hour. Whew! Anyway, I bought some sockweight alpaca-wool blend in off-white and green that will make a nice pair of socks (not for in-meeting knitting; I'll have to pattern these to make them beautiful), and two skeins of a cotton-wool-nylon blend that I'm a little leery of but seems to be comfortable so far.

I went back to the workshops and continued drifting from one to the other, seeing a number of good talks and yet another one by a guy redoing exactly what I'd done without even citing me. After the last one, a bunch of us decided to walk over to the south campus for dinner, which we had at what was basically a sandwich shop, where we all ordered different varieties of reuben. The sandwichista nearly cut his finger off at one point, which was a bit exciting, but fortunately he turned out to be ok and after bandaging up his hand and putting on a fresh pair of gloves, he went back to making our various sandwiches.

After sitting around and chatting for a while, Eric, who grew up in Ann Arbor, suggested checking out a gaming store nearby. After some joking comments about how dangerous that was, we went to the little sidewalk mall it was in and discovered it was in a closeout sale, all stock must go, closing by the end of June---i.e. tomorrow. Uh oh. Going inside, we saw that most of their stock was already gone, which was a relief, but there was quite enough left in little piles labelled "20% off" and "40% off" and "60% off" to, um, keep us there for a while. Among five of us, I believe we purchased nine games and about fifty assorted dice, although there may have also been some five-cent Magic cards in the mix. I, of course, unconstrained by airline luggage regulations, was able to buy more than most, and after trying to decide which of four games to get, I just got all four of them: New England, Lunar Rails, Meridian, and Rumis.

We then came back to the dorm, and after sitting around in my-and-Sharon's room talking about what we'd go to tomorrow, we went downstairs to the lounge and played Rumis, a relatively new and really cool 3D block game that everyone in the world needs to go play right now.

And now, I'm going to bed. :)

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June 20, 2005

What a novel idea!

I just sent an email to someone I knew from Brown, congratulations about getting a book chapter published. The response reads as follows (identifying information removed):

Subject: Returned mail: see transcript for details

----- All mail to xxxxx is being AUTOMATICALLY DELETED -----
Your message bounced.
(reason: xxxxx needs a break)

----- Transcript of session follows -----

procmail: Refused to save
550 5.1.1 .... User exhausted

Daemons have decided to destroy xxxxx's mail so that she may rest without fear of returning to the dreaded INBOX. All messages sent to xxxxx from May 28-July 3 2005 will not be delivered. If it is still important, contact xxxxx again after July 3. Perhaps, if you feel so inclined, invite the Daemons to visit your server so that you too may rest without email.

----- Do not resend until after July 3 -----

Say bye-bye. Your message has just found a new home in /dev/null. ::wave:: bye bye cute message.... bye bye....

Maybe I'll have to try that sometime....

"There's only one person who cannot walk away from your problems." --Vernor Vinge

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June 17, 2005

I continue to love Galesburg

The scene: sandwich shop in downtown Galesburg, on East Main. Our protagonist enters and stands in the "line", looking at the menu whiteboards.

OWNER #1 (working cash register): Hey, how's it going?

PROTAGONIST: Pretty good, yourself?

O1: Doing fine.

OWNER #2 (making sandwiches): Hey, I'll buy your lunch if you run across to the bank for me.

PROT: Uh, okay... what did you need?

O2: Singles.

O1: Here you go. (hands PROTAGONIST two 20s and a 10)

PROT: Sure, um, be right back. (exits)

(minutes pass)

(PROTAGONIST returns)

PROT: Here you go. (Hands O1 two paperclipped stacks of 25 one-dollar bills.)

O1: Thanks so much. What are you gonna have?

"A simple antiphon sung or heard quietly and repeatedly is easier to learn, remember, and even apply to daily life, than a three-verse strophic hymn. Advertising agencies apply this lesson well. Parish music ministries ought to consider it---is not the "product" we "advertise" much more valuable than, say, cat food?" --Aristotle Esguirre

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June 13, 2005

A flute serenade

So here I am, sitting in my office, when all of a sudden this aethereal music starts playing around at the edge of my hearing. After a few moments of this, I had to go investigate; this isn't exactly an everyday occurrence. I go out in the hallway, turning this way and that, go down the stairs---listen for a moment because it's stopped, but then it begins again---and finally discover, in one of the side passageways in the psych wing, a Knox student sitting there on the floor with her music and her flute. Evidently she doesn't like CFA and spends all her time here anyway. (For me, that'd be a reason to go find someplace else, but hey, different strokes and all that.) She kept apologising, but I told her I didn't mind at all, but I think I've scared her away. No---there it is, she's started again. Bizarre (but cool!).

"Faith, if it takes its symbols literally, becomes idolatrous!" --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

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June 08, 2005

Well, *that* was interesting

I don't ever remember being actually alerted to a tornado warning by the air raid sirens before. In fact, I don't ever remember hearing them aside from at 10am on the first Tuesday of the month.

I was puttering around in the kitchen, when all of a sudden I felt a cool breeze from outside. Since it had been almost 90 just a little while earlier, this was surprising; and indeed the sky was black and the clouds were racing. I took Nutmeg outside real quick before the rain started, thinking, this'll be one helluva thunderstorm. The temperature had dropped close to 30 degrees in less than an hour.

Moments after I got back inside, then, I heard the air raid sirens. After a brief moment of shock, my raised-in-the-Midwest hindbrain kicked in, and I grabbed my phone, a book, and my dog, and went down into the basement. I then smacked my forehead and ran back up to grab a portable radio. After finding a station, I ascertained that the sirens were indeed for a tornado warning over western Knox County; an actual funnel had been sighted about three miles northwest of Galesburg.

So I sat out the warning down there. Apparently the extent of the damage within the city was a downed tree blocking North Prairie St; no funnel clouds here (thanks, St. Crescent). Now, it's just raining (and not even that hard, considering) and, occasionally, thundering.

UPDATE: It's St. Crescent who protects Galesburg from tornadoes. Silly me.

"Our present prisons ... find or make men guilty, ... enclose wretches for the commission of one crime, and return them, if returned alive, fitted for the perpetration of thousands...." --Oliver Goldsmith, "The Vicar of Wakefield" (1766)

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May 18, 2005

Movie recommendations

Yesterday Ben Schafer from UNI gave a talk here on the subject of "recommender systems". Based on the abstract, it sounded a little... fluffy, but I was very pleasantly surprised. He was using some well-grounded AI techniques to process the various preferences of a lot of people and collate them into a single recommendation for you (based on what the system knows you like).

All of which is just an intro to say, go check out this site: MovieLens has you rate 15 movies you've seen, and then gives you recommendations on others. It seems pretty prescient so far.

"Woe unto those who reject love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness because of what was written in a long-passed time, place and language. We know they do not know the Living God because they must submit themselves to a dead thing and give it the name of Jesus Christ." --Jonathan Prykop

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May 14, 2005

D'oh! A deer!

So I ran over a deer last night.

I was on my way back from a pastoral musician's meeting in Peoria, cruising along I-74 at about 70mph. It was a few minutes past ten, so there were a few cars, but not many; for a while there had been just one car visible ahead of me a half mile or so. I noticed the taillights not receding, and it was soon clear that it had pulled over; I switched to the left lane to give them room. All of a sudden, just before I was about to pass them, the pool of light ahead of me illuminated a hulking mound about eight feet high, right in the middle of the lane. Well, maybe only about a foot and a half.

THMP-THM-THP-THP

Holy CRAP I just ran over a deer. If it wasn't dead before, it is now. In the split second before I hit it I knew I wouldn't be able to steer around it, so I figured I'd best try and get the car centred over it---in retrospect this was probably wise, because if one wheel had hit it I could've flipped the car or broken an axle or something similarly dire. As it was, I immediately went to the shoulder and stopped, so distracted I stalled the car because I forgot to put in the clutch. I sat there for a minute. What the hell do I do now?

Well, I had that old emergency kit that had sat in my old car unused before being switched to this one, where it sat unused. I plugged it in and looked under the car. There was a piece of plastic hanging down and touching the ground. There were a lot of unsavoury deer bits. But all the metal car parts appeared intact. Not having any tape or any other way to reattach the plastic (which was just there to protect the undercarriage), I broke it the rest of the way off.

At this point, I was thinking about how to make sure the people in the car behind---clearly it had hit the deer too---were ok and had a phone and such. Could I just walk up? That'd be kind of sketchy... but about this time two people were walking up to my car. They were making sure I was ok and had a phone and such. :) They mentioned going to Knox---oh yeah, they did look sort of familiar---and they'd recognised me, or at least my car. And as it happens, my downstairs neighbour Margaret was the one driving the car! Talk about random.

Talking to them, I was able to reconstruct what happened: she was driving along in the right lane, and a deer ran out ahead of her. Although she hit the brakes, she still clipped it with her front left headlight, which it crunched. The impact knocked it into the left lane, which is where I hit it. I haven't checked with her since, but based on what I saw it looked like she'd just need to replace the headlight and maybe the front quarterpanel. All the people involved were totally fine.

I should probably get a mechanic to look at it just in case, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing wrong with my car, amazingly enough. Aside from the deer fur and bits everywhere. Ugh.

"For two millennia, despite the primary message of the Spirit being one of salvation, the Dark Lord's PR teams have been busy spinning it into a message of human degredation, making us feel dirty and unworthy of what Christ freely gave, until the very name of Christ has become synonymous with a view of humans as fundamentally fallen rather than fundamentally redeemed." --Jonathan Prykop

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May 11, 2005

Ghastly

And now, lest I jeopardise my position as a net provider of slack, a video with no redeeming qualities whatsoever: Apache. Remember, I warned you! Link shamelessly stolen from HeaneyLand!.

"I'll make it real simple. I'm a 36-C. In the game, she's a double-D. In the movie, she's a D. We split the difference." --Angelina Jolie, on her role as Lara Croft

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May 03, 2005

OW!

So there I am, getting coffee at the Gizmo as I so frequently do. They serve the coffee in the kind of big thermos where you push a button or lever on top to dispense the actual coffee, and I had nearly filled my cup. All of a sudden, the last of it sputters out---and not into the cup, onto my hand. It's still quite hot, but after an initial jerk of the hand that spills a little coffee (some onto my hand), I at least had the presence of mind to set down the cup before waving my hand wildly through the air to cool it off.

And just as I'm coming to my senses and processing what happened, I look at the still-mostly-full coffee cup and see that the foam dripcatcher it's sitting on is not perfectly level, and as I look at it, in incredibly slow motion (but still faster than me) it ever so gently tips itself over and bounces on the rack, sending coffee everywhere. And of course there are witnesses, so it's not even like I can quietly say "there's a mess" to the people behind the counter and sidle off. Besides which, I still need to wait for my food. So there I stand, as person after person comes through the line and says, "whoa, what happened here?" And I get to explain again what a klutz I was. (Maybe the worst part is, it really wasn't my fault, or anyone's fault, but it still feels like it was....)

"As for developers who are still using QuickDraw, well, they've had four years. They probably have another two at least before QuickDraw disappears completely, but honestly, at some point it's time to blit or get off the pot." --John Siracusa

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April 20, 2005

It's official

My sister is now an old woman. That is all.

"What is 'correct' usage? We have no king to establish the King's English; we only have the President's English, which we don't want." --Zinsser

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April 13, 2005

THANK you

A big shout out to Mary and Mrs. B of the IRS call centre in Kansas City. It seems I managed to forget to actually include my W-2 when I filed a couple weeks ago, and last night I got a call from Mary about it. Which I missed, but she tried back again this morning, explained the problem (asked if they had lost it but I said no, probably I'd just forgotten---I had), and told me I could fax it to them. I finally got a chance to get home to grab the forms and get back to the office to fax it around 4:30; about 6 I got another call from them, this time from the evening shift worker, concerned that it hadn't arrived. I said I'd faxed it, and she said she'd check for it and would I like her to call back to confirm it? Sure. And about a half hour later, she did call back, and it just hadn't been distributed from the fax to the desk yet, but now it was there and I was all set.

They didn't have to do any of this. This is just the sort of absentminded mistake that probably thousands of people make every year, and they could just drop it in the pipeline, send me a letter that I get weeks from now, make me file a formal amendment, gaahhh. But instead, they pay people to go through the probably more than a hundred million paper forms to make sure everything's in order, and actually make it easy to fix any problems that inevitably crop up.

So, good for them. And thanks to the two perfectly pleasant women at the call centre who handled my case!

"We attempted to make a legit run at (Barack) Obama with someone with the capacity and skills to make that legit run. Because that person chose not to run a campaign but rather a statewide Pentecostal revival, I regret it as much as anyone...." --Dan Proft, campaign manager

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April 12, 2005

Real postage rates

Stupid AP graphics strike again. This time I'm not even the only one to notice; their misuse of the word "real" with respect to time-adjusted costs is addressed on the Language Log.

It is kind of neat, though, that although we read none of the same papers, we were able to see the exact same graphic and complain about it in just the same way...

"If we have to pay off one welfare queen every month to make sure that five people are comfortable enough to pursue their interests and dreams rather than schlepp for Wal-Mart, I think we'll still come out ahead." --Jonathan Prykop

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April 05, 2005

Follow the thin semitransparent blue line

It's been bouncing around the net, but if you haven't seen it, you need to go check out Google Maps. I am, frankly, in awe of this software. Their user interface is incredible. You can switch back and forth between map view---which is already better than mapquest or any print media out there---and satellite view, which for major metro areas is of sufficiently high resolution that you'll be able to see your car in your driveway.

But, this user interface! First of all, it's drawn well and antialiased, which makes it a helluva lot easier to read. It includes neither too many roads and town names nor too few; zooming in will show you more. Movement can be accomplished by arrow keys or by dragging a location from where it is to where you want it; double-clicking puts it in the middle. All of this is as responsive as dragging a window around your desktop. Rather than a flat star to mark the location in question (and obscuring it), it draws a "pin" that only intrudes by a few pixels at the location, with its head further up (and casting a shadow). There is a little speech balloon also, which prints the address and has links to get directions for it. The directions dialog goes within this balloon, without jarring you out into a different page.

Then, it shows the path with a blue line on the map (which has no other blue features). The map remains zoomable, so you can move around and see the questionable areas. And even while you're in directions mode, you can switch to the satellite view, zoomed in as close as you want, to see what the actual roads look like, still with the blue line showing you the route. And you can click on either endpoint pin to get a speech bubble with a zoomed-in map of just that part, while the main map stays zoomed out. And the zoomed map in the speech bubble can switch between map and satellite view, and zoom in and out, independently of the main window.

Google is like a case study in what to do right. I hope they stay good.

"I am happy, and you should be as well. Let us pray together with joy." --Pope John Paul II, on his deathbed

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March 19, 2005

Roughing it

I drove back to Galesburg this morning via Galva, to pick up my dog. Nutmeg must have enjoyed his time at the Lucky Dog Lodge, because when I arrived he ran out to greet me, shaking with excitement, and then immediately tried to run back in. :) He got an A+ on his report card, and I'm quite happy with the service---I fully plan to use them again if I need to kennel Nutmeg for more than a day or two. (My vet's kennel is a lot more convenient for the shorter stays.)

The road to Galva was simply plastered with signs welcoming back the National Guard unit that (just this weekend, I gather) arrived back from Iraq. They started several miles away from town, and literally every changeable-letter sign along the way had some sort of "welcome back" message. That was pretty cool.

Back in Galesburg, I set about getting things back in order. It seemed a little chilly in my apartment; it often does when my downstairs neighbour isn't home for a couple days, since she controls the thermostat and without her coming and going, her apartment doesn't cool off as much. But I checked a thermometer and it was actually just 60°! And colder downstairs. I put a call in to the landlord, but until I get a response I do at least have a space heater. And just a few moments ago I thought of hanging a sheet across the doorway into the kitchen, which is already being surprisingly effective at keeping heat in. Then I made tea, and I'm just about to take a pizza out of the oven. I'll have to bake something tonight. It'll keep the kitchen livable at least. :)

The best case: Get salary from America, build a house in England, live with a Japanese wife, and eat Chinese food.
Pretty good case: Get salary from England, build a house in America, live with a Chinese wife, and eat Japanese food.
The worst case: Get salary from China, build a house in Japan, live with a British wife, and eat American food. --Bungei Shunju

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March 18, 2005

Après ski

Days two, three, and four of the ski trip proceeded in similar fashion: Mom got up about 8 and took a shower, then I got up and dressed and the two of us went out to the "tropical atrium" for breakfast. Dad follows about twenty minutes later, and then eventually Kathy gets dragged out of bed and we all head over to the ski mountain. There were some variations in the pattern---day three included a rousing (and loud) argument between Dad and me on the subject of Social Security, for instance---but generally Kathy and I were back on the mountain by a bit after 10.

Skiing itself is something that I continue to find surprisingly easy. I think part of it is because I'm so analytical, so I can ask very specific questions about what I'm supposed to be doing at any given time, but that's not all; the trick of parallel traversing is something I seem to have intuited on my own, and am now merely refining. I really wonder if that's not partially due to the ballroom dancing, as the particular way that you lean into a bent knee, weight over the inside ball of your foot, is quite similar to the American latin motion of, say, rhumba, as is the way you switch from one support leg to the other, although the timing is of course quite different. But I've only ever skied one day at Villa Olivia (near Chicago), two days at Killington, and the three and a half days of this trip, and something was letting me figure out how to handle black diamonds.

Kathy is something of a natural too, which might support my theory, although there it's also a matter of raw leg strength; the first time we went over into a blue intermediate area, she led off and Dad and I watched as she snowplowed straight down the middle. (There was also some minor screaming involved, as I recall.) She, too, was trying the black diamonds by the last day, although in her case there was a some reversion to snowplowing here and there, as she can only reliably parallel-traverse in one direction. (How many people can snowplow to a stop on a steep hill? I mean, really.)

Dad managed to throw out his knee on Day Two, so he was out for the rest of the trip, unfortunately. Meanwhile, Mom, who was worried about her back and reluctant to shell out big bucks to rent equipment she might not be able to use, discovered their Wednesday special: night lift tickets come with free ski rental. And since "night" starts at 4pm, she'd be able to try it all out for a cool $25, which is cheap enough to not induce money-guilt if it doesn't work out.

In the event, it worked out fine. She hasn't been skiing since before I was born (really!), so she felt a bit rusty... but once she got going, she looked like an old pro (which, really, is pretty much what she was). It was like watching an expert in some field go through each exercise in an introductory workbook. She started with a straight snowplow, which she did perfectly. Then she turned the page and started on left and right snowplow turns, which she did perfectly. And so on, until by the end, she was swish-swishing her traverses down the (shallow) slope with casual ease that made it look like she'd been skiing forever. Next trip she's definitely up for renting equipment for the full time.

So now we're trying to figure out when we can put together a ski trip out west. Taos keeps coming up as a possibility, which would be awesome. We're all pretty psyched about it. We'll see!

I kind of enjoy holding vociferous opinions, and people are only really allowed to hold vociferous opinions when they know what they're talking about. Morally, I mean---in practice, most people who do hold forth vociferously are painfully ignorant. --Michael Kimmitt

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March 14, 2005

Day One

I'm writing this from a Best Western in Wausau.

For the first time in nearly twelve years, my family is taking a vacation; Kathy's spring break and mine coincided, and my mom organised a ski trip at Granite Peak/Rib Mountain. We left Palatine this morning at 10:30 or so, stopped for a late lunch, and got to the motel at 4.

Kathy's ski trip nearly ended early, when in getting out of the car she wiped out and whanged her arm---briefly being scared that she broke it. That would have been a great story, eh? "Yeah, I broke my arm on a ski trip. No, no... no... not that... it was sort of when we were getting out of the car...."

After a lot of going round and round about what to do tonight, we decided to do night skiing, with Kathy snowboarding instead---just for today, and then she'd go ahead and skit tomorrow.

Funniest thing ever.

I was on regular skis, at which I'm moderately competent, and watching her was really funny. Wish I had a camera for some of the more spectacular ones. Getting off the lift the very first time, her heroic efforts at staying upright earned her the nickname "Grace" from the lift operator. About a half hour later, at the bottom of the hill, a teenage girl asked "Grace" if she was having fun. Happily, this girl did give Kathy some tips and helped her down the next run, to the point where it wasn't completely ridiculous and she had some things to practice.

Eventually, Kathy, Dad, and I got tired and we went to dinner. The place we went was "Hereford and Hops Brewhouse", and the food was fantastic; their headline menu item is steak that they bring out raw and you grill it yourself. Kathy and I exercised this option, she with a 7 lb filet that she requested be thick so she could make it rare; the waiter brought out a steak that was almost literally a cube. It may have even been taller than it was wide. She had no problems keeping it rare. :) My ribeye was incredibly tender and tasty as well---I cooked it more rare than I usually take my steak, but it was all for the good. Their in-house root beer was also good, and Dad quite approved the stout that he had.

And finally, we came back and hot-tubbed for a while. Kathy's still really sore from today's escapades, and claims great relief that she's going to be skiing instead for the next few days. Me, I can't wait to get going on the intermediate hills....

On Tomb Raider: "Nonetheless, the movie did have its moments. Especially when they strung Angelina Jolie up and had her kick ass on wires. Unlike Crouching Peter Hidden Pan, the wires were *supposed* to be there, and it kicked all the more butt because of this." --Jonathan Prykop

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March 12, 2005

It's so short now!

I finally took the plunge. Details forthcoming.

In other news, my 141 exam is about 2/3 graded, and I finished grading the 141 project yesterday. So I'm well on track to finishing up all that tonight. With a little luck, I can wrap up 262 before leaving tomorrow....

Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he'll be a mile away; and barefoot. --Ancient Chinese proverb

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March 11, 2005

A recipe

This guy clearly has an appreciation for the finer things in life.

Edit Feb 2016: I went looking for this post because, for real, I wanted to make oatmeal for the first time in a while and I wanted the oatmeal recipe. And it was gone! Alas the impermanent nature of the website. But the Internet Archive came to the rescue; and because this recipe for oatmeal is truly a work of art, I preserve it here:

How to Eat Oatmeal · 19 November 2001

When it comes to mornings I am a confident coffee-drinker, cigarette-smoker and pill-swallower; I am also a task-avoider, phone-ignorer and a staunch advocate of delayed rising. In negotiating the vast expanse of time that falls before noon I am also preoccupied with breakfast.

With the exception of kedgeree and white cake muffins, I like all known forms of breakfast, but I like oatmeal most.

There’s no point pretending that oatmeal is anything but a dour grain stigmatised by centuries of Scottish poverty and the feedbags of horses. But it must be eaten – for health and spiritual well-being – and it must be eaten right.

What you will need: a coffee cup, a clean cotton cloth, a bowl, a spoon, a heavy-bottomed pot (with lid) and a stove, water, salt, brown sugar, cream, and of course oatmeal: none of this ‘quick’ folderol in a cardboard tube or (for heaven’s sake!) instant nukable crap in foil packets with flavourings of fruit and spice. You will need oats. Rolled oats. You can buy them bulk, or in a bag, for not much money. You will need already to have consumed some of your morning coffee: this is careful work and you can’t make oatmeal in a haze.

Decide how many souls deserve your oatmeal this morning (it may only be you, it may only be you), and with the coffee cup measure out (cold!) water from the tap: two cupsful for each person, into the pot. When the water is measured out, dip your cup into the pot and steal some back. Onto the fire. Between your thumb and forefinger take a pinch from the ramekin of sea salt beside the stove and add to the water. (Should you not have a ramekin of sea salt beside the stove, you don’t deserve oatmeal.)

While the water heats, carefully dry out the coffee cup with the cloth, making sure not to leave a hint of moisture behind. Just as the water boils, add oatmeal, one cupful per person, in a gentle, rocking side-to-side pour (had you not dried the inside of the cup, there would be a sticky mess of oat crumbs inside, but because you did there’s only a dusting of oat flour, see? So much better).

With your spoon, stir. Turn the fire down to its weakest point, leave off the lid and go open the paper. Do not set a timer or consult the wall clock, because you are honing instinct. When all water has been absorbed, after, say, two front-page articles, turn off the fire, put on the lid, and read one more front-page article.

Note, as you scoop into the bowl, how the oat grains have puffed up to a lovely fat creamy consistency. Sprinkle brown sugar on, then pour cream (do it the other way around, you don’t deserve oatmeal).

--Dean Allen

"Well, it's a type A planet, so it should at least have Roddenberries." --Leela, _Futurama_

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February 27, 2005

Robot Chicken

This insanely clever little show is the best new show Adult Swim has put together in a long time, maybe ever. It's a little reminiscent of the way Monty Python did lots of random scenes and sometimes threw in short little throwaway scenes, but moreso. The format (stop-action animation using clay and assorted action figures) admits really short scenes, some just a few seconds long, enough to set up a sight gag and then move on. Unlike, say, Saturday Night Live, it lets them have an idea and run it just as long as it's funny, and then stop. Not all the scenes are fantastic, but many are, and none of them last long enough to really drag---the whole show is only about ten minutes long!

"I've never been to Sicily, but I cannot imagine how desolate and bleak the landscape must be for those poor starving people to look at an artichoke and say, hey, beats starving to death." --Joe Shidle

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February 15, 2005

Surreal article

Presented without further comment:

Tasmanian paper made from 'roo poo

"Dean's job as DNC chair is now to reattach the ass handed to them by the Republicans in the last election." --Jon Stewart

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Robot Chicken

Nice work, Adult Swim: the techno riff you have playing under the ads for Robot Chicken are officially the catchiest damn things I've heard all year.

On the Bush inauguration speech: "'Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies,' he said, apparently without understanding how he has achieved that precise objective." --Joe Conason

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February 03, 2005

Grooving

Despite a nasty headache that I've had since yesterday evening, I have been in an incredibly good mood all day today. I think it's because I walked to and from work. I should really do that more often.

"It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life. Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

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February 02, 2005

On trackbacks and spam

We saw it coming a long time ago; if comments were getting spammed by people trying to boost their PageRank, then trackbacks couldn't be far behind. The bayesian spam filter also handles trackbacks, even though there really hadn't been any trackback spam yet.

Well, the spammers just discovered trackback spam a few days ago. The bayesian filter (which I left in place though I turned off comment filtering since BotBlock was working so well) caught all of it, afaict. Unfortunately, this part of the filter must not have been well-tested, because the part that actually deletes the spam is broken. So the six hundred or so trackbacks aren't visible, but I can't delete them for a while.

And MT doesn't seem to allow turning off trackbacks as a whole; you can just turn them off on a per-entry basis, and change the default for new entries. So the spam is slowly accumulating. Maybe now would be a good time to upgrade to the new version of MT....

"To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

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February 01, 2005

Splurge

As many of you know, I've been sitting in on Knox's Music Theory class this term. I've wanted to take a music theory class at least since I was at Quincy, but various other things just kept getting in the way. It's a lot of fun, and I feel like I haven't let my brain expand so much in a new direction in a really long time.

But as much as I can do in my head and with humming intervals and such, occasionally I just need to hear a chord or something that I need an instrument for. Fortunately, I had long ago rescued a childhood toy from being thrown out; it was already old when I started playing with it well over twenty years ago. It's a little brown two-octave organ, with six builtin chords. You turn it on with an on/off knob on the side, wait for about thirty seconds for the tubes to warm up (!), and then you can play up to about three notes at a time. No volume control of any sort, of course. Here it is:

[my old brown organ]

Last Saturday I finally got around to walking to the music store two blocks away, and I looked at keyboards. Some of them were crazy expensive (like $2K expensive), and to be honest, I couldn't tell what made them different from keyboards a tenth the price, except for the expensive ones having poorer user interface design.

I mostly narrowed it down on Saturday, then thought about it for the next few days. And today, I picked up a keyboard that my keen sense of irony forces me to name "Parvus":

[my sleek new keyboard]

It has some wild features. Aside from lots of instruments, something I expected and didn't really care about, it has a lot of built-in rhythms as well (including a number of ballroom-appropriate ones, though that part's really more fun than useful). But tied into the rhythms is an auto-accompaniment feature: play a key in the bottom octave, and it will set the key for the accompaniment! Give it a minor third and/or a diminished or augmented fifth, and it'll fill in that chord too! Plus, of course, you can record a bunch of tracks and play them on top of each other, making it possible for a plunker like me to actually work out how part-writing will sound.

Whee!

"Intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

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January 23, 2005

Oh!

I have lived in this apartment for nearly a year and a half, and for that whole time, the shower has had in it a (fairly standard) hanging rack for putting shampoo and soap and stuff in. The upper shelf on this rack has two "holes" in the rack, where the wires bend out of the way. I had on occasion idly wondered why this would be; they appeared to be places you could set stuff on the lower rack and let them poke through the top one, but I couldn't think of anything like that that would belong in a shower.

This morning, I noticed my conditioner was nearly empty, and so I decided to turn it upside down and lean it against the side of the rack. And suddenly, it dawned on me: the hole in the rack was perfectly sized to admit the cap, but not the body, of a standard shampoo/conditioner bottle.

Oh!

In other news, a few links that have been accumulating:

On high school
I've raved about Paul Graham before. Another fantastic essay.
Doonesbury
Last week the theme involved training US agents on "interrogation techniques", i.e. torture. After several days of blackboards in the background involving word fragments like "humil" and "suffo", Thursday's included the following text:

Week I
------
-  soften
- environ
- sleep
   depriv

Week II
-------
-   Ashle
-  Backst

No Sweat
If you are even remotely personally interested in not exploiting poverty-stricken workers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere (regardless of your thoughts on what the government policy should be), you should check out this site. They sell a variety of clothing, some made in the US and some abroad, but all of which is guaranteed to be sweatshop-free. Some items are a bit pricy, but a lot of it is fairly reasonable. (When you're not paying a 30% surcharge for a brand name, I guess you can afford to actually pay the workers, eh?)

"You know sir, you're not as dumb as I am for starting this sentence." --Doonesbury

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January 14, 2005

Spanish music videos

My latest discovery is a TV station called MTV Español. I'm seeing some pretty freaky shit, yo. I mean, these videos are seriously bizarre. At the moment there's one called "Amateur" by Molotov that heavily samples that old 80s hit "Rock me Amadeus"; I wish I could understand all the lyrics, because the video appears to involve a tall blond Germanic type being trained to do something involving hot dogs. Like, catching them in his teeth, lifting large packages of sausage, and winning staring contests with them. Against a Japanese guy who seems to be the world champion and goes around autographing hot dogs. (Not to give it away, but the Germanic guy wins in the end when the Japanese guy is shown to have been eating hollowed-out hot dogs.)

I swear to God I'm not drunk.

"It's hard to say exactly what constitutes research in the computer world, but as a first approximation, it's software that doesn't have users." --Paul Graham

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January 12, 2005

Life in a video game

There is a fantastic fog outside right now. It started yesterday, and it's stuck around since then, although if anything it's thicker today---from my apartment I was unable to see the stoplight at Main (which is only a block and a half away, and the lights are the new super-bright LEDs, too). Alas, it's set to disperse in thunderstorms later today. (Before descending to zero degrees tomorrow... well, you know what they say about Midwestern weather.)

"There is something very American about Feynman breaking into safes during the Manhattan Project. It's hard to imagine the authorities having a sense of humor about such things over in Germany at that time. Maybe it's not a coincidence." --Paul Graham

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January 04, 2005

Spam update

Ok, since 23 Dec at a bit after 4pm---so, eleven days---I have gotten 677 attempted posts to my blog. Of these, nine were real posts, and of those, three were blocked by the old Bayesian filter until I went in and approved them. Since my BotBlock hasn't actually let through any spam, I'm just turning off the other filter. Let me know if anything gets through. (And, as always, let me know if you try to post something but my software blocks it!)

"Here's to the Texas Legislature, about to convene once more, depriving many a village of its idiot." --Molly Ivins

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My musical ear

My mother has what you might call a tin ear.

Nevertheless, when my sister and I were very young, our mom sang to us, and always encouraged us to sing along. This seems to have worked, as both of us have grown up to be fairly musical people. I can only assume that effectively instilling the desire to sing was the important thing; the actual tunes can be picked up elsewhere.

My formal musical training, I guess you could say, began along several different fronts around junior high. After a brief flirtation with drums in the school band (in which the group didn't move fast enough, so I got bored and left) I moved on to piano lessons and the school choir. Piano remains the only instrument I'm really trained on, though not very well; I dropped it after about two years, and although I picked it up again for two summers in college, I was never really able to give it the time I would need to get beyond the simple-chords-and-melody stage.

Vocal training was a different story. I've been in and out of various choirs ever since then. In high school, the choir teacher did a lot of solf\`ege drills, and I still chalk up my decent grasp of intervals to my time at IMSA. (The voice lessons at the same time didn't hurt, either.) My college choir professor was similarly good at training us to be good singers and musicians, rather than just working on the song of the moment.

My musical tastes have gotten progressively broader over time. Growing up and even in high school, the radio was dominated by the oldies (which at the time didn't yet include the 70s) that my parents enjoyed, and we were also fans of the musical theatre, with my sister and I both appearing in several community productions. Listening to all the cast albums and playing singing games with that crowd undoubtedly played a big influence on my early musical tastes.

It wasn't really until I got to college in 1993 that I listened much to the radio, but over the next several years I built my knowledge and enjoyment of not only then-contemporary alternative and pop music, but also of older stuff from the 80s and 70s. The 80s I found to be an enjoyably upbeat era; the 70s the home of a lot of bands with multiple singers that actually sang harmony with each other. Queen and ABBA remain two of my favourite bands, though I didn't really discover either one until the late 90s.

Grad school brought me a new set of musical challenges. After the initial class load lightened and I was mostly doing research, I joined two different amateur choirs. The Brown Renaissance Singers was a group of ten or so people, mostly grad students, that sang music primarily from the Renaissance, though we occasionally ventured into some J.S.~Bach pieces. Depending on the semester, I was one of just two or three basses, and usually the strongest and most confident of them, so for the first time I was singing without a safety net. And the music tended to be highly polyphonic, so I had to get really good at listening to the other parts, and finding a C from the altos or a G from the tenors, as well as more complicated tricks like ``if the sopranos' melodic line were to continue upward, the next note would be the F that I need''. Except when it would hang out for pages at my break point, I found polyphonic music really fun to sing, with each part going off and doing its own thing, occasionally returning to sync up with everyone else at the cadence.

At the same time, I got involved in the choir of Brown's Catholic community, singing every week at Mass. Serendipitously, during my tenure there we had enough good singers in the group that we could usually sing in three or four part harmony. The pieces were certainly a lot simpler than what I was singing in the Renaissance group, but the big difference was that here, the music changed every week! We had just one practice for most of the songs, many of which I knew only the melody of and quite a few of which I didn't know at all. Three years of this improved my sight singing considerably, to the point that I can now frequently sight read an unfamiliar bass part while everyone else is singing the melody. Sometimes, that even makes it easier.

The most recent developments in my musical repertoire have been the addition of country and an assortment of Latin styles. Disenchanted with the amusicality of a lot of the junk that has been playing on the alterna-pop stations lately, I discovered that music and harmony are alive and well in these other genres. Both have rather different harmonic profiles than the music I previously listened to---country seems particularly taken with the tight duet harmonies, for instance---and that has been a fun process of discovery. I'm also a fan of fusion music, where traditional instruments and styles are merged with a rock beat, though that sort of thing is bloody hard to find in this country.

So what kind of music do I like now? It might be easier to enumerate the kinds I don't. Most rap is too atonal for me, although there are some individual ones that people have played for me that I liked. Heavy metal is both usually played too loud and much too distorted to actually sound good; which is too bad, because the electric guitar has a really nice sound when you don't abuse it, and a lot of the metal guitarists are quite competent. Most of the weirdly-tonal experimental music from the early and mid-20th century is too hard to listen to. Outside of those exceptions, though, I like and listen to music that was popular in the West from about the 15th century onwards, and a fair amount from elsewhere too.

"Even the kindest of souls occasionally harbor unkind thoughts, but if they can plausibly deny them, no harm is done." --Miss Manners

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December 26, 2004

Recommended bookmarks

I recently purged my regular-reading bookmarks of stuff that I don't really care if I miss, and added a few that I have been occasionally checking by hand. To celebrate, I figured I'd post the list here, of course.

Daily comics

Little Dee
is a comic about a little girl being raised by a bear, with assistance from a dog and a vulture (who knits). By Chris Baldwin, who also writes Bruno, which remains fairly well written but has gotten so dreary and depressing that I just can't keep it in my list. Dee is much more lighthearted. (No Sundays)
Doonesbury
is Doonesbury. Classic.
For Better or For Worse
is also pretty classic. It always manages to stay pretty topical.
Get Fuzzy
is one of the cleverest, funniest new comics of the last ten years. Often sneaks in political humour under the radar.
Frazz
is a comic about a college-educated guy (obviously a liberal arts college, I think) who chooses to work as the janitor at an elementary school. He has a lock on what's important in life, and hasn't suppressed his inner child; this makes him an excellent role model for the kids, who for their part seem to think he's pretty cool.
Sluggy Freelance
is one of the oldest web comics, still going strong. Now is probably a good time to jump in if you've never read it before; it just came to the end of a months-long story arc, and will probably have a lot of recapping in the near future.

Comics Twice or Thrice Weekly

Venus Envy
is a well-written if not very well-drawn comic about a high-school-age transsexual named Zoë. (Supposedly MWF, though the updates are irregular.)
PhD
was a lot funnier when I was actually still a grad student, but it's still cute. (Irregularly updated.)
The Order of the Stick
is absolutely a must-read if you've ever played D&D. Start from the beginning; it won't take too long. (MTh.)
Penny Arcade
is for all the console gamers out there. The guys that write this spend all their time playing video games, except for the time they spend writing PA, which is good enough that it supports them, which frees them up to play video games. Nice life if you can get it. (MWF.)

Columns

Miss Manners
is much-maligned, but she's quite funny and clever, and very nearly always right. (Wednesdays and Sundays.)
Molly Ivins
is a liberal columnist that has her head screwed on right about a lot of things, including a lot of things high honcho Democrats are idiots about. (Irregular, but usually at least once a week.)
Burt Constable
is my connection to Chicago's northwest suburbs. Always a pleasant read. (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.)
Eric Zorn
writes an excellent column for the Tribune. (Tuesdays and Thursdays, usually.)
The Straight Dope
is written for the Reader by the all-knowing Cecil Adams. The message boards are good, too. (New columns on Fridays; classics and staff reports other weekdays.)

Blogs

Eric Zorn
, the aforementioned columnist for the Trib, writes a great blog with stuff that he doesn't have room for in his column, followups to old columns, and assorted other items of interest. (Weekdays.)
A Partially Examined Life
is by Mike Kimmitt, a grad student in econ at U Hawaiʻi and a friend of mine since my IMSA days. Politically oriented.
One Good Thing
is written by Leigh Anne Wilson, a denizen of Suburban Heck and mother of two who with her husband owns and operates a sex toy shop on Chicago's North Side. Her writing is incredible.
Kathy
is my sister. She doesn't post very often, and her blog is probably of less interest to the general public than the others I read.
Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director
includes a lot of listings of the exact musical content of various Masses this guy attends, but when he posts actual commentary it's pretty interesting.
Nathan's Notebook
is written by Nathan Bierma, who writes "On Language" for the Trib. Lots of assorted observations of interesting linguistic productions.
Language Log
is in the same vein, but with contributions from a dazzling assortment of linguistics professors from around the world.
Naked Translations
is a blog in French about the process of translation. When I'm too tired and want to cheat, I jump over to the English translation.

"Lack of confusion isn't one of the services offered by the CNS." --Kevin Price

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December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Frohe Weihnacht, Joyeux Noël, Mele Kalikimaka, etc, etc. Whether you're officially celebrating Christmas or not, I hope you're having fun and going to lots of seasonal parties. :)

"Now there is a VITAL need for parents to Raise Their Fucking Kids. GTA should NOT be used by kids unsupervised. Parents whose kids want to play GTA because all their friends do should have a talk with their kids about violence." --Zach Miller

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December 23, 2004

Oddments

I haven't been blogging much lately, so I suppose an update is in order.

First of all, I'm in Palatine now. I have been from last Friday night, and I'm heading out next Wednesday or Thursday. Not for Galesburg, but for the mega-party I go to in Urbana every New Year's. (Is it one big party or lots of little ones? A true philosophical conundrum.) Which will be made interesting this year by my attempt to bring my dog. We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile I'm schlumping around my parents' house, mostly. I still have some Christmas shopping to do; I haven't really done much at all, to be honest. I'm hoping to actually shop at stores in downtown Palatine or perhaps some of the other suburban downtowns; malls are for my shopping of last resort these days.

My blog has been blissfully spam-free for a week now. Ahhhhh. I'm so glad I had the brainstorm that made me write BotBlock. Once again, if you have any troubles, let me know.

I've been catching up on some of my net reading (not that I ever really fell behind). Once again I'm impressed with Joel Spolsky of Joel On Software; he's not always right, but he writes so well that it doesn't matter. If you have any connection to software, as a programmer, a manager, or just an interested observer, you really ought to read some of his stuff.

I finally finished Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, which I'd bought when I was in Providence and had been working on, on and off, ever since. It's a great book; the author plunked herself down in a city with about $1,000 startup money and determined to support herself through "unskilled" labour for a month. And then she did it again, and again, each time in a different city. If the book has a single thesis, it would be that the notion that poverty results from unemployment is pure myth; even working more than full time at quite a bit more than minimum wage, bare subsistence is an iffy prospect, and the existence is not one I'd gladly call human. Why do we let this happen? But I can't adequately summarise in a paragraph; y'all should go read the book and see for yourself.

Finally, somehow, tonight, I've managed to get some work done. I now have most of a syllabus for my smorgasbord class next term, which I'm seriously thinking of just renaming "Some Stuff Every Computer Scientist Should Know", which is both more accurate and less distasteful than the bland "Information and Knowledge Management". The current name makes it sound like some sort of business class. Uchhh. Anyway, at least I now have content!

"There's a real strong tendency to assume that experiments done on large populations of people should work out just like experiments done with chemicals in a high school lab, but everyone that has ever tried to do experiments on people knows that you get wildly variable results that just aren't repeatable and the only way you can be confident in your results is to carefully avoid ever doing the same experiment twice." --Joel Spolsky

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December 16, 2004

Darkness

I'm glad that sunset is getting later again. This darkness is positively hebridean; it's only 7:15 and it's already been dark for over two hours. It feels like about ten. Ugh.

"There are no stupid ideas. Well, there are; I don't know why people say that. But give it a whirl!" --Leo, West Wing

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December 11, 2004

Foul, evil spam

My spam count had gotten up to around two thousand per week (!), and I decided I needed to do something about it. Although the spam never made it to the outside world (well, usually), I still had to go through and scan it for false positives, which were frequent. For two thousand spam, this can take a while.

Several blogs (e.g. A Partially Examined Life) have taken the tactic of posting a (generated) graphic of numerals, which the user needs to type in. Which blocks bots, blind people, and lynx users. And the bots seem to be getting smarter. So I was reluctant to go that route, although I was ready to give in and install such a plugin anyway.

Then it occurred to me. Duh! What's one of the things that is most difficult for computers? Language understanding. As I should well know. What I needed to do was write something kind of like the graphical "only a human could do this" bot blockers, but instead take a random number and wrap it up into a question. Something easy for humans to process, like "adding one" or "even or odd", but couched in a textual question that would be tricky for bots to understand (and easy to rephrase if someone just hard-codes it).

Voilà BotBlock. It is currently installed on this blog and available for download. Let me know if you have any problems with it. (And especially let me know if you have trouble posting comments as a result of it!)

UPDATE: I changed the link to go to a page about BotBlock, rather than be a direct download.

And the Lord said unto them, "Thou shalt not exceed the speed of Light." And the people did leap and flap their arms, and did run about in circles, and did race though the desert in chariots, yea, even until the wheels did fall off. Yet none could move more swiftly than the Light, and so did the people obey the Lord's command.

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December 03, 2004

Momentous occasion

I have finally and at long last actually moved to Galesburg. You might think that I did that a year and a half ago, but no; that was just a sham. I was really still living in Providence, as was immediately obvious if only you looked at my phone number. That's why nobody believed me when I told them my number, since I appeared to live in Galesburg, a status that would be clearly impossible if my phone number actually began with area code 401.

But no longer. Having finally moved to Galesburg, I now have a Galesburg-local phone number: 335-6004. You know it's local because I don't write the area code, see?

"That's because you don't have the Sekrit Literally-True Internally-Consistent Bigotted Bible you can only buy at evangelical churches and bookstores. "Thou shalt not be gay" appears in place of "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," because that one was crampin' the fundies' style." --Chris Tessone

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December 02, 2004

Another day passes

I finished grading the cs141 exam, which is certainly a load off. And then tonight I finished decorating my tree and put up lights in the window. Let's hear it for Christmas decorations!

In other news, I read this article, which was somewhat reassuring after the latest video out of Iraq, and this article, which is a rather alarming example of the sort of corporate censorship we'll see more of as the communications industry further concentrates into just a few corporations. But the highlight of today's reading was this image of Google News picking up a satire site's article "Canadians Authorities Arrest US President Bush On War Charges" (!) before Google operators intervened to remove it. Whoops!

Oh, and if you haven't seen it, watch the Return of the King Extended Cut trailer. Pretty!

"I'm assuming you were just being pithy, and don't actually intend to attempt to back this up." --Mike Peil

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December 01, 2004

Christmas break begins

Since Nutmeg is vacationing at my parents' house, I decided to take the opportunity to jaunt on down to Urbana for the afternoon.

I left a little after two, which got me to Needleworks with a half hour to spare before closing. I browsed a bit, grabbed some sock yarn that I probably didn't really need, and then spotted the perfect yarn for my next sweater. I bought out the dye lot (six 100g skeins) in a great colour of greyish blue (slightly bluer than "my blue" for those of you who know what that means), plus a couple skeins of a complementary off-white in case I figure out a tasteful way to throw them in (and if not, they'll make a good something else, I'm sure!).

From there, I drove over to Strawberry Fields, Urbana's well-stocked natural foods store, partially to kill time but also to get some stuff that Cornucopia here in Galesburg doesn't sell. That brought me up to about a quarter to 6, which is when I had agreed to meet Jonathan for dinner.

Mmmm, sushi.

After a couple hours of great sushi and even better conversation, I dropped Jonathan back off at home, and drove to the Illini Union, where a bunch of the IMSA-UIUC crowd often meets to go bowling. (I had unsuccessfully tried to join them a few weeks ago, but this time I was almost on time.) After a bit of confusion on finding them, I hooked into the group, we got our lanes, and I bowled for the first time in perhaps three years, and maybe only the fourth or so since I graduated from Quincy. So rusty! It was so bad that on my first ball, I literally lost the ball on my backswing, causing it to crash onto the wood floor. No damage, but how embarrassing! I then threw a gutterball and followed it with a lot of open frames. Finally, in the last few frames I started recovering my swing and finding my spots, and I pulled out a 98 with some last-minute spares. The second game went even better, breaking my average even in my heyday: I got a 163. Woo!

Then I drove back to Galesburg in a nasty little snowstorm. No real accumulation, but the flakes were falling fast and heavy. Visibility wasn't too bad as long as the wipers were working, but I kept getting accumulations of icy crud on the wipers that made them completely useless. I actually had to pull over twice to clean them off. Finally, about thirty miles past Normal the weather cleared, and the rest was smooth sailing, bringing me into my driveway at about ten minutes past midnight.

"It becomes a faith, not an ideology, when it grows over a lifetime. Because there will be times when you disagree completely with the tenets of Christianity, doubting everything, and yet deep down, you'll still feel Christian. That wouldn't happen to a convert." --Jonathan Prykop

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November 24, 2004

Snow!

It's about time. And it's coming down fast, the thick, wet stuff I love so much. But did it have to come the day I was going to be driving back for Thanksgiving? So much for leaving before it started! I wonder if I can wait until it stops...?

Nutmeg is pretty weirded out by the whole thing, though. :)

"Congratulations, Christian Right: I'm Jewish, and you've even got me praying." --Lewis Black

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November 22, 2004

Wikipedia

I'd just like to say that Wikipedia rocks my little world. I checked it out a while back and at the time it was a neat idea, but not very full-fledged. Now, though? It has an incredible range of stuff.

When I was little, I remember many happy hours of reading the encyclopedia. Typically, they started with me looking up something for a school assignment. And then the next entry. And then the next one after that. And eventually, Mom would walk in to the room and yell at me to work on what I was supposed to be working on.

I don't remember using the encyclopedia much during college, and of course by late college and certainly by grad school, the encyclopedia was rapidly being eclipsed by the web. I mean, why bother with paper when you can just type a search term into Google?

Of course, the problem with Google is that it just finds what you're looking for. There's web surfing to be done from that starting point, but it's not the same as bouncing from encyclopedia entry to encyclopedia entry.

Wikipedia is highly hyperlinked, though, and very extensive. So you look up what you're looking for, read pages and pages about it, and then hop to any of dozens of tangentially-related entries. It's like old times again!

"Liberalism is about alleviating the inherent shortcomings of capitalism so that we can gain its benefits without having a society which totally blows." --Michael Feltes

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November 13, 2004

Cold days

The nice thing about it being cold outside is that I feel a lot less guilty when I spend the whole day indoors. :)

"We were sort of bored in Illinois, so we thought we'd head up to North Dakota." --from Security Blanket

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October 30, 2004

Lazy day

I haven't left the house today except to walk the dog.

I feel kinda bad, because the Knox County Dems were running a bunch of last-weekend-before-the-election stuff, and I was going to go help them out. But it's so hard to get myself motivated on that, when the fed elections are all pretty well set---Evans in the 17th, Obama in Illinois, and Kerry for IL's electoral votes. And the local ones, which are just as important and on which I could have even more influence, I can't bring myself to care about. *sigh*

Instead, I slept until noon and spent the rest of the day doing laundry, cleaning, and typing in a couple of knitting patterns. Now I'm going to sit here and watch three hours of animation. Time well spent. :)

"Wait, vegans won't eat honey!?!? I mean, for goodness sake, they're bees. There are trees that are higher on the evolutionary scale than bees." --Jonathan Prykop

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October 21, 2004

Still alive, well

I occasionally mentally compose blog entries, but then it never seems like I'm near a computer when I think of typing it in. And now my front page has gone blank from lack of posts and people are emailing me to check that I'm okay.

I'm okay! Just busy.

The middle of the term was last week, and in the lead-up to that I had midterm exams and projects to grade; and that was just enough extra work that I still haven't pulled myself up through the usual homework load (though I'm sort of close, I guess).

Fall is really really here. Monday I started wearing sweaters, and Blanket Guy has been wandering around campus for a week or two now. But the real indicator is that I've stopped lamenting the cold and started looking forward to the first snow.

Last Saturday, I was in Urbana for the UIUC ballroom competition. I wasn't competing, but Kathy was, and it was good to go to a comp again. I'm all psyched now to get a few couples to go to Iowa State's comp in March. One of my students, Andrew, actually came with on Saturday; and aside from a little bit of shyness about actually getting out there and dancing with people that were better than him (I promise that's the best, funnest way to improve!), he really seemed to be into it. I also made a convoluted connection with some Monmouth kids (one of Kathy's teammates's sister and her boyfriend, or was it brother and his girlfriend?) who might be joining us now or at the start of the next term, which is pretty exciting.

I haven't had any time to do any political stuff, which is a little frustrating but probably just as well, as I'd just get angry. Although, I did write a letter to the Zephyr last week, which got its own heading rather than being put with the other presidential debate responses, about this idiotic "culture of life" business the Republicans are yapping about now. (See, there I go again, getting angry.)

So anyway, here I am, plodding along. My next planned departure from Galesburg is the 6th, when I go back to Urbana for the ACM programming contest, and I might go visit Ames at some point. But other than that, I'll just be here. Grading.

"Programming is just another name for the lost art of thinking." --Aaron Hsu

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September 26, 2004

It worked!

My little plan that I hatched seems to have worked beyond my wildest imaginings. I figured, more people would sing in church if I made a specific point to ask them, and if we practiced. And if we worked the music in gradually. So this week I gave a short little speech before Mass, sang the Holy Holy, exhorted the congregation to sing it with me, and then went back to the choir.

Not only did the whole congregation sing it during the Mass, we also had much higher than usual participation in other songs, like offertory. It was amazing! I can't believe something so simple worked so well.

In other news, an odd juxtaposition: I got an envelope in the mail with three peelable stickers on the front: "Free lunch", "Free love", "Free issue". It was a typical mail offer---if I wanted to get a risk-free free issue, I affix the third sticker to the enclosed postcard and send it back. At the top of the blurb, it says, "Did you make the right choice?" All pretty standard fare, right? The text of the blurb begins: "If you like making up your own mind, Utne magazine is the magazine for you..." Nice. They let you make up your own mind, but only one choice is correct. :)

"He tried to kiss me. And he kissed like a PEZ DISPENSER! His head fell back 180 degrees, and his tongue popped out!! Like I'm s'posed to give him Communion!!" --Judy Tenuta

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September 22, 2004

Barbecue sauce, this time

Dammit, that's twice in two weeks that I've needed to make use of Emergency Pants. What do people who don't keep Emergency Pants around do? I know I'm not that much klutzier than the average person.

"If I ever do get a car it will be something to tinker with and be small, old, and British. Just like my mum." --Simon Jansen

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September 20, 2004

Fridge expedition

Well, I dredged my fridge for debris, and it wasn't as bad as it might have been. A few things out of date but not scandalously so (and therefore not too unpleasant to remove and throw out), and really only one horrible item: a hunk of finely aged tofu. Fortunately, it was sitting in one of those disposable ziploc tupperware things, so after draining it (which was quite smelly enough), I could just pitch the whole thing. Then I did dishes, and now my kitchen is actually moderately clean. If a tad untidy.

"If there's a gender trend, I think it's, 'Human beings will often choose dishonesty over an irate woman.'" --Jonathan Prykop

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September 17, 2004

Speedy indeedy

So, I remembered, after I got in the shower and just after I got my hair wet, that I had said that Fridays 2nd hour (starts 9:20) were going to be one of my office hours. That was twenty minutes ago. I'm at work now. Whew. I even managed to walk my dog in there.

"We import 61% of our oil. There is no possible way to drill our way out of this mess. We have to invent our way out of it." --John Kerry

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September 14, 2004

Linking

By the way: if you want to link to a specific article, click on the [+] at the end of the post; this will take you to that post's page in the archives. The URL for that page will not change, so linking to it will actually work. (And for the record, I have no problem with deep linking. :)

"The great thing about ebay is that it was a huge success precisely because it seemed like a terrible idea at the time, and so nobody else tried it, until ebay locked in the network effects and first-mover advantage." --Joel Spolsky

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September 06, 2004

Brief check-in

Well, I'm back from my most recent sojourn to New England, once again to attend a wedding (and this time to be a groomsman in it). A big shout out to Greg and Carrie Seidman. I'll post more about the weekend eventually, hopefully. There's at least two posts of material there. ;)

Meanwhile, I'm incredibly glad I installed the bayesian blogspam filter when I did. It was only a week or two before I was regularly getting slammed with occasional batches of a couple dozen spams. This weekend, between Thursday afternoon and tonight, I got well over a hundred. Happily, none of them made it out to the public, although one nonspam was temporarily held until I approved it. If any of y'all run a blog and haven't got hit yet, you're lucky---but I don't advise waiting to install some sort of filter.

"Paperwork alone is not really an excuse to press someone into military service. "All-volunteer military" has some ethical weight to go along with its practical benefits; paperwork tricks like this diminish that ethical value." --Jonathan Prykop

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August 27, 2004

Rule-proving exception

The Olympic coverage has been pretty damn mediocre, including if not quite because of the commentary. Tonight, during the pole vault coverage, they had a little sidebar that wasn't a fluff piece on one of the athletes and it wasn't a discussion of who won the last time around and it actually wasn't anything I've seen before in this Olympics. It was a piece on how the pole vault worked. For those of us that weren't track and field stars in high school, it was nice for them to actually talk about some of the mechanics of the event, and the speeds involved.

It would have been even better (thought I) if it or a similar sidebar had talked about pole vault scoring, which I still don't get. And this got me thinking further: with all of the time they waste on inconsequential crap, and especially given that they have this five-to-ten-hour delay between recording and broadcast, why don't they insert a whole bunch of explanatory pieces on all the events? Explain how out of bounds or foul lines work, since it's different for every sport. What's that extra line down there for? How are these five scores and a difficulty combined to make the total score? How come they got away with that US-rules-illegal move? A lot of this stuff could be prepped well in advance of the Olympics, and then just inserted at an opportune moment. Some of it (the more schematic stuff) could even be done on the fly during the excessive time delay, if an exotic point of the rules comes up and turns out to be important.

But no, nothing like that. Oh well, maybe in Beijing.

"Update: Apparently, the secret of traffic is to dis economics professors. J. Bradford DeLong, your mom wears combat boots!" --Michael Kimmitt

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August 24, 2004

A memorable Olympic moment

As if there hadn't been enough weird-judging drama tonight already! The high bar competition was going along, some great routines were done, and then Alexei Nemov came up. He did the most spectacular bar routine ever, with something like six release moves, several of them in a row, and all executed beautifully; with only a small one-tenth hop on the landing. The score came in incredibly low, and---get this---the audience booed it. That's actually not that amazing; it happens with some regularity. But they booed, loudly, all of them, for eight minutes!

By about a minute in, it was starting to seem a little odd. Then, the judges started looking uncomfortable. The grand high poobah of the gymnastics meet walked over to the head judge (our friend Sawao Kato again) to discuss things; and then the Malaysian and Canadian judges were called over and questioned about the low scores they awarded. I don't know what was said, but they did modify the scores, which bumped up Nemov by a quarter-tenth. This barely put him into what was then third place, which of course he was bumped out of. I think he ended up finishing fifth or sixth of eight, and he really should have medalled. The audience kept booing, and eventually Nemov walked out on the floor and thanked the audience and motioned them to be quiet, and they cheered when he went out but then continued booing until Paul Hamm was actually into his routine.

Meanwhile Paul Hamm tied for gold (and was tiebroken down to silver) and Morgan Hamm tied for bronze (and was tiebroken out of a medal). I think that there is definitely a big shakeup ahead in men's gymnastics scoring....

'"OOPA!" is actually Greek for "watch out, don't light your hair on fire".' --Eva Sweeney

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August 23, 2004

More Olympic stupidity

The P-bar competition was totally out of control. I don't really blame the judges; it's the judges' job to, as objectively as possible, count bobbles and steps and violations, each of which takes off a certain number of points. Now that we saw a four-way tie for the bronze, the job of the international gymnastics federation is to re-point the P-bar rule book to make there be a wider spread. They'd also need to redistribute the points a bit so that the clearly cleaner and superior routines will get more points, which tonight they did not.

And the stupid commentator needs to SHUT UP. Seriously. He went on and on about how amazing it was that there would be a tie, especially since they measure scores into the thousandths of a point. If he were typing this he'd be using acronyms like OMG! and WTF!!1. And it's not even true: the precision only goes to eightieths of a point, that is, eighths of tenths. Every score ends in 00, 12, 25, 37, 50, 62, 75, or 87. And the judges themselves only have precision of halves of tenths; the rest comes from averaging. So it's not that astonishing. (This "false precision" problem is also the root of one of my big objections to how the metric system is used.)

I'm also a little sad that Mohini wasn't judged higher on her floor routine, but her start value was only a 9.7, so that's understandable. Ah well.

"I suspect jesus is 100% digestible. What you poop is just non-jesus substrate." --Zach Miller

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August 19, 2004

U-S-A! U-S-A!

If you missed the men's all-around gymnastics competition, go find someone who taped it. It was an incredible show.

After all the hype, it looked like Paul Hamm was out of his gold medal run when he made the most spectacular fall I've ever seen on the vault: he landed off-kilter, took a couple sidewise steps off the mat, still couldn't pull it out and fell right on his keister a few inches from the judges' table. With the gold so tightly contested, his 9.1 shoved him down into 12th place after four rotations, with just two rotations to go.

In the fifth rotation, the two remaining top medal contenders managed to make errors of their own, while Hamm gave a spot-on performance on P-bars that brought him into distant medal contention.

In the sixth rotation, he was to be the very last competitor, on the high bar. Going into the thing it was known that he needed at least a 9.6-something just to medal, with a minimum of 9.825 to get the gold everyone had once thought his due. And there had only been one or two 9.8+ scores awarded in all the qualifying, team, and all-around rounds so far, so that was pretty unlikely.

Paul Hamm jumped up there and did his high bar routine. It was perhaps not the most spectacular routine ever, but he just didn't do anything wrong. His legs were together, he was hitting his handstands, and his dismount was nearly a perfect stick. And he got a 9.837. I was sitting here in my apartment cheering out loud; he didn't even believe it when his teammates told him he got it.

Definitely the most dramatic gymnastics competition I remember seeing!

"I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to amek something beautiful and all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful." --Oscar Wilde

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August 18, 2004

More gymnastics

The Romanian girls are right-on with their routines; if only their routines were impressive. Their coach, Octavian Bellu, believes that it's better to take a less difficult routine and nail it than to try for the hard stuff. And it certainly paid off, in the event, but it's always nicer to see someone nail the hard routines, even if they don't always manage it. (At the same time, I believe strongly in the Law of Large Numbers and am always a little bothered by the one-shot approach to judging that is necessarily prevalent in the judged events, or for that matter any athletic competition.)

The Romanians did have some really great beam routines, though. The first one to go (Alexandra Eremia) did a lot of impressive acrobatics, and like in the qualifying rounds, came incredibly close to hitting her head on the dismount. Her teammate Catalina Ponor continued with the complicated combinations; I really like the ones where they jump or flip and include a ninety-degree twist---there's just no room for error there. The Russian Svetlana Khorkina took this to the next degree with some of the craziest moves I've ever seen on beam, including a flip around the beam as if it were a high bar and a dismount sequence where one foot dipped past the side of the beam. Wow.

I take back what I said the other day about the US women being unimpressive. They were a lot more "on" today, I thought. And unlike any of the meets I actually attended, nobody fell off the balance beam. In fact, I seem to recall beam falls being a fairly regular feature of even Olympic competition, but they pulled off some nice routines.

I've already raved about Mohini Bhardwaj, and I'm going to continue to do so now. She's like the rock that anchors the team, and tonight, when Courtney Kupets had a sore foot and pulled out of the balance beam competition, Bhardwaj got pressed into service on an event that's not her best and which she hadn't even practiced in a few days. And did great! I couldn't believe it when the commentators interviewed Kupets and Patterson but not Bhardwaj---she's the real hero here. In the event she competed one more apparatus than Kupets and averaged the same despite being a last-minute sub, but the commentators are all fawning over the "star of the team" Courtney Kupets. (Carly Patterson did, of course, actually compete all four and did slightly better.)

This follows on my previous analysis of the commentators being really irritating. While there was the occasional informative comment, mostly they just kept yapping to hear the sounds of their own voices, and then when it comes time to actually interact with the athletes, they ask lame questions that try to force people into the sensationalist boxes the media has created for them. This isn't limited to gymnastics; the folks over at the natatorium seem bound and determined to get Michael Phelps to utter some really rude and egotistical comment, but he's not biting. They're trying their level best, though. Bob Costas back in the studio isn't any better; after the 4x200 free relay team medalled, he started rattling off all the Olympic records that Phelps was set to tie or break (as if we hadn't heard them all about fifty times this week already). On the medals-in-one-event record (8), Costas was careful to point out that the record had been set by a Soviet gymnast in the 1980 Olympics, but---and these are his words here---"they were boycotted by the U.S. and much of the free world." He actually used the phrase "free world"! Not to mention, the US was the only country among the boycotters that posed serious competition in men's gymnastics, and even they were still pretty weak compared to the Soviets and Soviet satellite countries, so the 8 medals were certainly an accomplishment. But anything to make Michael Phelps more of a sensation, you know.

"I was reading the LotR series a while back and I was struck by how every damn sword, ring, hat, codpiece, and brandy snifter had some bad-ass name." --Joe Shidle

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August 16, 2004

Day Two Gymnastics

The NBC announcing crew are a bunch of uncultured cretins that need to learn the value of not talking. Why do they not shut up. I'm trying to listen to her floor music, here.

In the same vein, NBC has taken to announcing upcoming events with a "bug" in the lower-right corner of the screen that takes up fully 20% of the visual area of the screen. And then explodes into an NBC peacock that takes up closer to 50% before disappearing. Hello? I'm trying to watch here?

The US women's team this year is pretty good but just not very inspiring. The past few Olympics, they had a lot of energy, ranging from bubbly to elegant to quietly powerful. I'm just not getting that this time around, which is too bad. There's really not anything I've seen from the US team that would have looked unusually good at a level 10 meet; I guess that just means I'm spoiled. Maybe next time.

My favourite is definitely Mohini Bhardwaj. She's 25, and first of all it's nice to see an adult out there competing for a change. But more importantly, she goes out there and performs solid, good stuff. It's not the most spectacular stuff, but her variance seems low. She can be counted on to get a score that, under ideal conditions, will be surpassed by all her team members, but when (inevitably) something goes wrong for one of them, will be a perfectly respectable anchor.

At first I thought I really liked the US leotards, but now I'm not sure. I'm really not a fan of the shiny leo that seems to be all the fashion rage in international gymnastics. At least they don't have the raglan sleeve line like a lot of countries do---let's face it, guys, if you're built like a world-class gymnast, a raglan line just emphasises your broad shoulders and makes you look grotesque. :P

"If you're a Democrat, then you win when people think." --Bill Clinton

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August 15, 2004

Olympics, Day 1

Despite, or possibly because of, my general apathy towards sports, I always love watching the Olympics. I have a number of gripes about the coverage---particularly, the way they jump between three or four sports rather than just covering each one start to finish in a block---but it's generally fine.

My new favourite sport to watch is synchronised diving. Diving in general is generally not bad, sort of enh, but synchro---where two people time identical (well, usually mirror image) dives with each other---takes it to a whole new level. Really, really impressive.

Cycling isn't that interesting to watch, but it's neat when the announcers see a guy launch out ahead of the pack and don't really have any idea who he is. "He's from Portugal, and he's a total unknown..." A lot of who-the-hell-is-he before he finally took silver. I guess next time they'll know who he is. :)

Gymnastics, boy oh boy. I'm not sure who I'd less want to be, this Kato guy or the two American gymnasts he dicked over. Apparently the head judge, a Japanese guy named Kato, notified the American team two days before the start of competition that the rules had changed and their high bar routines were worth less difficulty points than before; this affected two guys' routines, and both of them changed some elements less than 48 hours before the competition. Blaine Wilson did this crazy hard release move, actually caught the bar afterwards but didn't get a good enough grip, and landed on his back. His head made an audible thud on the pad. He finished his routine (with a .5 deduction for the fall, of course). He went on to do a fantastic floor routine, but when he walked off the floor he said he felt dizzy (which makes his exquisite floor routine all the more impressive). He scratched pommel horse and gave an enh rings routine. I hope he's ok and there's no concussion or anything; I'd love to know whose fault it really was about the difficulty points. Did they really change the point values of certain elements just a few days before the Olympics? Did the US coach just miss a memo? I do know that if I were Blaine Wilson (or the other guy whose name I currently forget) I'd be hella pissed.

Massive team player points go to Guard Young, who was not planning to compete pommel horse and had not warmed up or even practiced it in the last few days, but was pressed into service due to Blaine's scratch and walked away with a respectable 9.4-something.

And come on guys, lose the pommel horse already. Every time I watch a men's gymnastics meet I'm once again struck by the awful-ness of this event. In every other event in men's or women's gymnastics, a good routine can be appreciated by the untrained eye as a clear demonstration of power or agility or grace in varying combinations. But you can see a very technically accurate, very difficult pommel horse routine, and it just clunks around up there. There are about three moves that actually look good on the pommel horse, and they look just as good on the floor and parallel bars, so we won't have to miss them when you burn all the pommel horses and throw their unlamented wreckage into the dumpster.

'"But that's bullshit!" Doug says. "Jesus! Haven't you guys spent any time at all around people like Comstock? Can't you recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?"' --Neal Stephenson, _Cryptonomicon_

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August 14, 2004

Corporate sponsorship gone insane

Apparently, people using, eating, or wearing things made by companies other than the official Olympics sponsors are getting a bit extra scrutiny in Athens right now, to the extent that in the midst of a hot Athenian summer, "spectators are also being asked to leave "unlicensed" water bottles."

As a society, we have gone completely, utterly mad. Good heavens.

"The single most important weapon we have against terrorists is international cooperation, and that's what we so stupidly blew in this case." --Molly Ivins

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August 04, 2004

Productivity update

I slept for sixteen and a half hours last night. Jet lag, or sleep debt payment? You make the call.

Anyway, having got up at 1:30pm, I never actually made it in to the office today, what with puttering around and feeding myself. I went on a cleaning blitz at one point, cleaning areas that I hadn't cleaned since I moved in (like my back stair). There was no tidying performed, but at least everything is basically dirt-free now. I really still need to tidy before the weekend, though, since my parents will be in town.

Elsewhere on the productivity front, I finally got sick enough of all the #%^&$# spam that I went and downloaded the Bayesian Spam Filter plugin for MT. It was easy to install, and now I have a convenient interface for flagging comments as spam. Once I've flagged a few, the software will be able to pick them out itself; I'll still have to deal with the spam to actually delete it, but at least it won't make it out to the front page, where it will lend Google karma to people, which is what really most cheesed me off about the whole thing. If ever you post a comment and it doesn't seem to be appearing, that just means the software has erroneously flagged it (but not deleted it)---drop me an email and I'll fix it.

"Root looks taken aback. 'If you're going to tell me that Finns are worse, pound for pound, than the Germans, then I agree with you. But the trouble with Germans is that they tend to be in communication with millions of other Germans.'" --Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

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August 03, 2004

Travelogue

Well, there it is, almost 11000 words and 300 pictures (does that therefore total to 311000 words?) about my trip to Barcelona. The kicker is, I'm not even done. I have further notes on three of my excursions: to the Palau, to Sagrada Família, and to the Picasso museum. I haven't typed them up yet, but they're each a full post in their own right.

For now, though, I've put up what I have. They're dated according to when I originally wrote them, not counting subsequent editing (most of which was insertion of pictures and confirmation of spelling).

On pictures: interspersed throughout the travelogue you will see a little text icon that looks like this: (·). If you click on them, they will pop up an image of whatever the text is talking about there. Leave this window open---all the images will be directed to the same window. You're welcome to use "Next" and "Previous" to go through the pics in chronological order, but they're all also linked from the travelogue text, if only in the "other pics from today" section. (Exception: the Sagrada Família pics are not in there, but they'll be linked from their own post eventually.)

On spelling: I've gone over all the foreign words and names to check their spelling (this includes accent marks), but it seems inevitable that I got some wrong. If you find mistakes, tell me---I know how irritating I find it when other people make such errors. :)

So, without further ado, a link to the beginning: Day One.

On politicians: "He can talk all he likes. I'm not listening. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, you're all fucking fired." --Joe Shidle

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July 29, 2004

Transit

I had read in the airport guide that the last bus for the airport left Sants-Estació at 11:15pm, so I figured it left Plaça Catalunya maybe five minutes earlier. All the same, I wanted to try to get there by 11 just in case (and to allow for lateness, etc). Having left the restaurant, I walked at a fairly brisk pace and got to the plaça right on time; which left the problem of how to find the bus. Plaça Catalunya is a huge area, and it was not immediately obvious where to find the bus I needed. I saw one bus stand, but on closer inspection it seemed to be for city and night busses, having no markings at all for the Aerobus. Just then, I looked up and saw the Aerobus at its stand on the next side of the plaça, maybe forty yards away. I ran across the street, and it started pulling away. Now, I can run pretty well, and I can run with a backpack pretty well, but running with two very full, very heavy backpacks is simply not recommended. I'm not sure why I kept running even as the bus kept going; maybe I thought it'd see me and stop. In fact, he did stop, and as I approached I saw two girls talking to him in rapid-fire Catalan (or maybe Spanish; I was too addled to really notice) through the door. This went back and forth a few times, and then he opened the door for me. I tried to summon a bit of Catalan: "Aquest bus, um..." He helpfully prompted: "a l'aeroport?" Si! Si, si. I pulled out my money and got change, and then took a seat towards the back.

At this point, I took the opportunity to redivide stuff between the big and small backpacks: it had been "stuff I need today" vs "stuff I don't need today", but I had to make it "stuff I need on the plane/ever" vs "stuff I don't need on the plane/may never see again". Happily, there were only, like, five people on the bus, so I was able to spread out a little as I unpacked and repacked various compartments. I did decide to leave the bottles of wine and olive oil in the checked luggage, carefully surrounded by an assortment of clothes, despite some worry about the rough baggage handling at Schiphol, because I really didn't want to be lugging all that stuff around.

I finished the repacking and then sat back and tried to calm down from my mad dash for the bus. We got to the airport about 11:40, and a sign said that check-in would start at 1:45, so I loaded my stuff onto a (free!) luggage cart and settled in to wait. I bought a can of Coke for the exhorbitant price of €1,60, the first soda I'd had in more than a week. They use a different formula there, but it still tasted like home.

The check-in process was pretty uneventful, as was passport control (the guard glanced at it) and security (where they don't make you take your laptop out, so it's a lot less of a pain). My 3:55 flight was the only one between midnight and 7am, so we were really the only people there. I sat in the waiting area for another hour, reading, until they announced the start of boarding. Initially, they said "business class only", so I sat back down and waited; as more and more people went through, I kept wondering why they hadn't announced general boarding. They never did. The line got down to the last few people, the screen actually said "last call", and they still had made no general announcement. Whatever. It's not like it changed which seat I got. On the plane, I read for a little while and then went to sleep.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, it was somewhere in terminal B, I think, and on our way to our next gate, we had to go through passport control. I'm totally baffled as to the logistics of this airport. Anyway, I had checked the monitors and they said to go to F7, which I did (after calling home and getting a bite to eat). The monitor there did indeed include KLM611 as the next flight, so I sat down to read.

After about an hour, I glanced up and my flight was no longer on the listing. There were no general departures boards anywhere nearby, so I went in a bit, only to discover that the flight was now listed for gate E25, all the way at the end of a different arm radiating out from the main concourse. This was a solid ten-minute brisk walk, including walking on the moving walkways that covered about half the distance, so this other gate must have been at least a mile away. Sort of irritating. Anyway, I got to the gate, read for a while, realised I was falling asleep, and set my alarm for 9:00. This really freaked out a lot of the people in the area, until I groggily showed them that it was an alarm clock I was turning off; did they think it was a bomb or something?

Boarding was purportedly starting at 9:10 for the 10:50 flight, but there didn't seem to be a line and they hadn't made any announcements. I milled around in the general area (·) and noticed one person go into the gate area, and apparently through security. I asked if boarding had started, and they said yes, so I pulled out my passport and ticket and went through; I'm not sure why they didn't announce it, or why they didn't get the business class folks in first. I'm also not clear on when exactly they do at-the-gate security, whether it's for US flights or what, but in any case after getting felt up by a Dutch security guard I got onto the jetway and boarded the plane.

I've never been on a 747 before, so it was cool to see stairs in the plane going up to the business class section, but since we couldn't actually see anything up there, it was less cool than it might have been. When I got to my seat, though, I was scheduled for the window seat, but a man and his son were occupying the window and middle seats. I was disappointed, but didn't feel like making a big deal out of it, so I just took the aisle seat. This turned out to be a mistake, as the kid had to get up and go to the bathroom about every forty minutes. (I guess this probably had something to do with trying out the nifty airplane lavs, but it was still irritating.) About halfway through the flight, when he went I asked the guy if I could just take the window seat, since I was going to be sleeping the rest of the way. He agreed, and I got my window seat.

I didn't sleep the whole rest of the way, though. I slept a bunch, but then I got into half-watching the airline movie, which was the one where Julia Stiles falls in love with a guy that turns out to be the crown Prince of Denmark. The fascinating thing was that I didn't have headphones on, and it was subtitled in Dutch, which it turns out I can read more of than I would have expected. (On the other hand, this was an extremely low-entropy string of text, so maybe it's not so indicative. I'm sure I couldn't read a Dutch newspaper, for instance.)

On the plane we got our customs forms to fill out. The guy with the kid said he didn't have his glasses and asked if I'd help him fill it out. I kind of wonder if he was actually illiterate, because even after I explained what each blank was for, he appeared to be copying out of his passport and state ID, even for things like his name, which you might expect he'd already know how to spell, and his birthday, and country of origin. His English was really good, so I don't think it was just a language barrier. And he had clearly found ways to compensate. Still, it was interesting to see.

It turns out, by the way, that eight-hour flights are qualitatively longer than six-hour flights, in much the same way that four- to six-hour flights are qualitatively longer than two-hour flights. I don't know where the break is, but it's definitely there somewhere.

Finally, we landed around 11:50, and after about twenty minutes I was able to actually exit the plane. The line at immigration was long, but went fast (at least for the U.S. citizens). Then we had to sit and wait for our checked luggage to come out before we could process through customs; this took almost an hour. Actually waiting in line at customs only took about five or ten minutes, and the actual processing was pretty perfunctory. The only observation of note was that no photography was allowed in the customs area, and you're not allowed to use your cell phones either. Why not, I wonder? I can't think of any legitimate reason to ban them.

Anyway, having passed customs, I got to a bank of phones, dropped in a couple of quarters, and called home for my pickup. At 1:30 I was picked up, and I got home a few minutes before 2, having been in transit for a little over 22 hours. Whew!

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Last day in Barcelona

I got up relatively early and packed everything up, meeting Marcus down at the street so that he could take me up to his room where I could leave my big backpack all day. It's too bad his hostel was full, because it looks like it would've been a really cool place to stay---it was originally a convent, and all the rooms are arrayed about an internal courtyard with hanging plants and such. Ah well, at least I got to see it. (·)

As arranged, we got to the Museu Picasso just before 10. There was a line, but they hadn't even started letting people in yet, so we figured it would move fairly fast. We got in line, figuring we'd wave Noah and Karen in once they got there. The museum opened, and the line started moving, but still no Noah and Karen. Eventually we got to the front of the line, at which point we had to get out of line since we still hadn't seen them. I was just going to wait in the street, but Marcus thought to get back at the end of the line; I suppose that at least randomises the wait time from a guaranteed ten minutes down to somewhere between zero and ten.

The wait was pretty enjoyable, actually, because a pair of violinists had set up shop right next to the head of the line. They opened with the "Ave Maria", played beautifully. Their second piece was "Yesterday" (as in, "all my troubles seemed so far away..."); like one or two other Beatles songs, I think the harmonies and discords are brought out even better instrumentally than vocally, so this worked better than you might think. Then they played a jazzy number that sounded desperately familiar but for which I simply couldn't come up with a name. (Later, Noah would identify it as "Summertime", based on me humming just a few bars, thank goodness.) Then they leapt all the way back to the baroque era with something that sounded like Bach. I gave them a euro, because they were really quite good.

In the end, they showed up about 10:20, having been held up in the usual comedy-of-errors sort of combined hangups that usually happen in these cases. As it happened, the line was actually moving pretty quickly, so we were inside by 10:30. We had to check our bags, and again, no pictures were allowed, more's the pity. It was really cool to see some of Picasso's earlier and less-well-known work. True to form, I found that I preferred a lot of it to his famous stuff, actually.

After a few hours there, we decided to walk beachwards and look for lunch food along the way. We actually found a bureau de tabac first, which enabled me to buy a few more postcards and them to buy postcard stamps---they don't have post offices there, I guess, because you get your stamps at the tobacco shops---although I enjoyed going inside and seeing the other stuff for sale. Essentially all the tobacco derives from Habana or somewhere else in Cuba, unsurprisingly. I was amused that all the cigar boxes had (presumably legally required) big warning labels about the dangers of smoking---that sort of thing would never manage to get passed in the States. (·) (·)

A block or two later we found a tapes bar that seemed to have some vegetarian fare, so we sat down to eat. Aside from a slightly surly waiter, it was good; we had apparently stumbled into ordering a number of classic tapa dishes, including pa amb tomáquet (tomato bread), patates braves (fried potatos with spicy sauce), patates amb alioli (fried potatos with garlic mayonnaise), and truita de patates (potato omelet). All vegetarian, and all really good.

While we were eating, a pair of clarinetists and a drummer started playing a decent rendition of Hava Nagila, which we found somewhat amusing. When one came to us with tambourine in hand, I gave him a load of five-cent coins, as I had nothing else smaller than a euro. And he rejected it! He looked at it, shook his head, and handed it back to me. I was completely stunned. I've never heard of buskers rejecting money before.

Anyway, at this point we walked down to Platja de Barceloneta. (·) (·) (·) (·) Oddly enough, it was just a couple minutes' walk from where I'd been staying during the conference, but I never made it down there then, except for a brief sojourn just before I checked out. This day, though, we were dressed for it and had brought towels and sunscreen. The Mediterranean is very salty and rather warm, although less warm than I'd been led to believe. We stayed there for about two hours, and I did my best to avoid getting burnt; my sunblock was SPF 50 and it got applied twice (not counting the round I'd put on in the morning). As far as I can tell, my nose and cheeks got slightly pinked, and everything else got, maybe, imperceptibly, slightly tanned. So it was a success. :)

Marcus wanted to go to the modern art museum, so we split up at that point; Noah and Karen and I went back to their hotel room and took showers. We were going to go try the chocolate museum, but we didn't get there until 6:30, and since it closed at 7 they had already stopped selling tickets. Alas. However, Karen remembered a little gelat and sweets shop near the Palau de Música, and we went over there and I went overboard buying a bunch of assorted chocolates to bring home.

We met back up with Marcus at Plaça Catalunya at 8:30 and went to a restaurant not far from there. The kitchen didn't open until 9, so Marcus and I went back to his hostel to get my bag, which I brought back to the restaurant with me. We ordered right at 9, and so I knew I wouldn't make the 10:00 train, but the 11:00 bus seemed within reach. I ordered the "crunchy ravioli", which I didn't like, and the "side of ox", which was simply fantastic. For dessert there was a sweet curry bread, that was I think the most unusual flavour combination I've ever tasted. After a quick cup of café con leche, I said goodbye to everyone, put my big backpack on my back and my small backpack on my front, and as of 10:46 CEST I was In Transit.

Other pictures: (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

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Postconventional observation

Tuesday, the day after the conference, I was able to sleep in a bit, getting up at 9 or so to pack up my stuff and take some pictures of the area near the dorm, most of which I had explored earlier in the week: the beach (·) (·) (·) (·) , the parks (·) (·) (·) (·) , and the neighbourhood itself. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) I also took some pictures of the dorm room for comparison purposes. (·) (·) (·) Finally, I checked out, checked my email, and headed into the city. Marcus was staying at the Hostal Peninsular on C/ Sant Pau near Liceu stop, so I tried there first, but all they had were doubles. Across the street, the Hostal River had an open room, which I jumped on; it was rather similar to the hostel I'd stayed in before, actually. (·) (·) (·) (·)

I arranged to meet Noah and Karen and Marcus to hang out and see the sights. There had been some discussion as to where to meet, and when at 1:00 they weren't at the Liceu station, and then 1:05, I suddenly remembered that we had settled on the cathedral. Embarrassingly, it was actually me that suggested the specific location: the reconstructed aqueduct and the "Barcino" sign. So I hoofed it over there and was only ten minutes late. :)

Since Karen is vegetarian (and Noah is too, more or less, although he eats some fish), she had consulted her guidebook to find veg-friendly places. We picked two that weren't too far away; the first had moved, but the second was there and open. Unfortunately, in the event, the only vegetarian thing they had was a green salad for the entrée and nothing for the main dish, so the rest of us felt bad. I had some bisteca, i.e. beefsteak, which was actually a very thin slice of beef that was actually quite good.

From there, we wandered over to the Picasso museum, but the line looked really long, so we continued on to the Museu d'Historia del Ciutat, which runs underneath a few government buildings and several streets, and actually is an active archeological excavation of the old city buildings and streets, from various eras in the city's history. The oldest portions have a laundry and cloth-dyer's from the first and second centuries AD, moving on through a variety of episcopal buildings to a major regional winery active in the sixth century. Really cool. No pictures, unfortunately. (I suspect it's more because they don't want flash than that they don't want pictures taken---and tourists are assumed to be too stupid to know how to turn off their flash. Yet another instance of stupid people making my life worse.)

We tried the Picasso museum again after that, but again, the line was lengthy, so we went on up to the Sagrada Família. (·) This is a church that has been under construction since 1882 and may be completed as early as 2035. It is probably the most famous monument in Barcelona, an icon of the modernista movement, and the life's work of Antoni Gaudí. The only really "done" part is the crypt, which has chairs crammed in every which way to house what must be a sizable parochial congregation---they'll fit just fine when the church is done, but until then, they're a bit cramped.

For dinner, we wanted to go to a part of the city we hadn't seen yet, and we selected the Grácia neighbourhood. (·) It's actually an old outlying village that got annexed to the city in the late 19th century (as is obvious if you look at a map). For perhaps the first time, I felt like the vast majority of the people were actually there because they lived there, rather than as tourists or locals from some other part of the town. We found a tapes (singular tapa) place called Sol Soler that sort of catered to vegetarian tastes, with five of the eight dishes being totally meat free. It wasn't bad as such, but it was certainly not the most thrilling meal I'd had. We decided to go elsewhere for dessert, and wandered a bit looking for an outdoor café.

The place we found was indeed on a plaça, the one where the church of Sant Joan (that's John, not Joan) is. (·) We found a seat and I expressed our interest in postres---i.e. dessert---but apparently they didn't serve any, so I asked for cava instead. There was some confusion as to what the price was going to be, but we figured it couldn't be too expensive; it wasn't, coming in at €13,50 for a whole bottle. It was excellent cava, too.

Finally, we wandered back to the metro, from which we dispersed after making plans for how to meet the next morning.

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July 28, 2004

Eating

The food here is fairly good, but you have to know where to look---and when to look for it.

During the conference, the main problem with finding food was that our schedules were off. Our morning sessions typically started before 9am, and there is simply nothing to be found before then. Our lunch breaks started around noon, and ended at 1 or 1:30, at which time the locals are just beginning to think about lunch, and the eateries are just beginning to open. Operating on this American eating schedule, we're getting pretty hungry by 7 or so, but dinner isn't really served until 9 or 10 at night. Really, things would've been a lot better if they'd just added one and a half or two hours to every time on the conference schedule.

Due largely to our messed up scheduling, it took a while to get the hang of getting good food around here. We were also confounded by the location of the Forum. This thing is in the back of beyond, relatively speaking, and there is very little around. After the opening reception, we got "dinner" at a little sidewalk cafe that really was not geared to dinner; I ended up with something that resembled an American country breakfast, with eggs and bacon. For the first several days of the conference, we were under the impression that the only available lunch food was on the Forum grounds, in kiosks that were overpriced and had much too small portions. It wasn't until Sunday that I discovered the food court of the mall across the street, which has at least one excellent sandwich shop---a chain, but at least a local one.

For dinner, we got the hang of it faster. The first actual night of the conference, a bunch of us arranged to meet at the Jaume I metro stop, from which we wandered and eventually found a place that served fantastic paella. The second night was the banquet, where the food was basically adequate, if not especially impressive. (The location, the Llótja, was much moreso. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·))

The closing night of the main conference, Saturday, we went to a place in Eixample that we accidentally discovered when I was reading my guidebook and asked, "what could they possibly mean by a 'distinctively gay restaurant'?" At which point someone looked over my shoulder and said "Well, presumably the drag queens and trapezes have something to do with it." Someone else pipes up: "They have trapezes?? We have to go there." And so we did. We got a table at La Miranda right as it opened, at 9 (see? I told you), and ordered our food. Most of the options for the main dish were, in fact, raw, but that didn't really bother most of us. (My veal carpaccio was, in fact, quite good.) What made it distinctively gay? Well, the waitstaff seemed to entirely consist of skinny guys wearing tight t-shirts and jeans, but the main tipoff was, in fact, the drag queens (and attendant trapeze). A little after ten, the lights went out, disco-ish music starts playing, and at either end of the aisle was a waiter waving a big flashlight. Onto the runway steps a really impressive drag queen who proceeds to lipsynch to the song, dancing up and down the aisle and slowly stripping to her lingerie. This engendered a lively debate as to whether she was, in fact, "just" a drag queen or an actual woman (this latter category including both post-op transsexuals and born women). About a half hour later the waiters came and asked one of us to move so they could lower the trapeze (and by this they mean a metre-diameter ring hanging by a chain from the ceiling); again, the lights went down, music started, and a different performer comes out and does this elabourate trapeze act involving balancing in this ring and hanging from feet and hands. Again, a debate started, this time with different people coming down on each side. Finally, the original dancer came out for a third number, where she lip-synched to a song "Spanish Rose", in English, badly, wearing a big red wig and a floral print dress. More people agreed this time that she was, in fact, a drag queen, although there were still holdouts. In any case, regardless, the entertainment along with the excellent food made this quite the memorable experience.

Sunday, the quest was a little trickier because a lot of places are closed Sunday evenings. Nevertheless, we found a perfectly good little restaurant off a plaça in La Ribera that served Basque cuisine; I got to eat another new thing here, as they served, of all things, pigeon. It was pretty good, actually, although the legs have so little meat that it's rather more work than it's worth. The brest meat was surprisingly tender, which leads me to believe that these were probably farm-raised in a small cage, but I'm at least happy I got to try it. The other notable thing about our trip to this restaurant was the prevalence of apples: nearly everything came with something apple-related, at least as a garnish. (The pigeon had an apple-flavoured chestnut sauce that was a lot like really thick, really tasty apple butter.) Must be a, you know, thing. For dessert I had the arroz con leche, which was a bit runnier than I expected, but John Hale really was the winner when he took a shot of some liqueur (and gave us a taste)---powerful stuff, with a heavy kick and just a hint of apple to it. I thought about ordering one myself after that.

Monday night we sought a tapas bar, figuring we ought to before we left, but we were unsuccessful given that we were in Barceloneta near the beach---they were all seafood restaurants. It was apparently very good seafood, although as a Midwesterner I really don't have the taste for it. I had the bream, and it was fine. I was amused that others at the table seemed rather more bothered than I that the fish was served with the head, tail, and eyes intact. I mean, seriously, you just work around them. I can't end this paragraph without mentioning the sangría, though: it was incredibly good, both the regular (red wine) sangría and the sangría de cava, made from the locally made sparkling white.

So basically, I've had some pretty good food experiences here. I definitely recommend not trying to skimp on the food if you visit; try a variety of restaurants. On the other hand, the food is probably not so special that it's worth scheduling a trip for. With apologies to Baker's Square: come for the architecture, stay for the food.

Posted by blahedo at 12:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2004

Forum

It's hard to describe the Forum adequately, but I'll start by saying that it's really, really, really big. Everywhere else in Barcelona they seem to understand that size isn't everything, and keeping things close together brings a synergy, both in terms of working together and bringing people in. The Forum totally misses this point. Everything about it is big and spread out; they clearly spent a lot of money on it, and hired a lot of people to staff it, and they just aren't bringing in the numbers.

It's also got this crazy overdone security system that can't be helping matters any. Before we could go in to the conference reception, we had to check in at the accreditation centre across the street (and by "across the street" I mean "a couple hundred yards away"), show them our passports, and get little plastic cards that we were supposed to wear, in addition to the usual conference nametags. These plastic cards had barcodes that we could wave in front of scanners to get into the Forum grounds, after which our bags were X-rayed, we walked another eighty yards or so, had to card in and get our bags X-rayed again, and this time we had to go through metal detectors as well. What an incredible pain.

The reception was held on the ground floor, in a big room. Like, the sort of room you'd hold a huge convention with booths and stalls and vendors. Except that it was empty, exposing broad expanses of concrete and, way at the far end of the room, six tables with assorted hors d'oeuvres on them and two with drinks. People milled about uncertainly, not willing to be the first to cross this vast gulf to get to the food. (I know you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not.)

Later on, as we started attending the conference proper, we saw more evidence of poor planning. The coffee breaks were held in a hallway whose walls and carpet were blue and yellow. (Not IKEA colours, but close.) The problem with yellow carpets, though, is that when you hold coffee breaks atop them, they stain horribly. This place has been open for three months, and this whole hallway looks completely nasty.

The paper sessions of the conference were held in rooms 115, 116, and 117. Now, I'm sure it sounded good on paper to paint the room numbers in huge five-foot-high letters on the paired doors; but they were on the left side of the hallway, and when the left door of the pair was open, all we could see was "11". Furthermore, they did not have a central post that they closed against (the better to blend with the paneling on the wall---another bad choice), so the edge of the doors were bevelled so that you had to open the left hand door first. Which was fine on the outside, since that was the only one with a handle. But on the inside, both halves of the door had push bars on them---but if you pushed on the wrong one, you'd have to push two heavy doors open. There was no indication which one was the correct one to open.

Out in the main area of the Forum, there were some interesting exhibits. But the nearest of them was a full five-minute walk away, and I think the furthest would have been twenty or more. So we didn't get to see many of them. What was there was good (if rather bizarre), but there just weren't very many people who would come all the way out to the edge of the city, process a security clearance, go through security (and pay for entrance---those not with the conference had to pay €20 to enter!), and then walk across huge expanses, just to see an installation about biodiversity, or about fair trade. Ultimately, I think the Forum was a decent idea, executed really, really badly. Hopefully, they will be able to find some way to recoup at least some portion of their investment. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

Posted by blahedo at 12:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cathedral etc.

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a power plug adapter in this city. And yet, the hostels seem to have these dual US/Europe plugs (UK must feel left out). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Wednesday morning I got up and packed up my stuff; I had thought I'd go get breakfast and then come back to check out, but it got to be about 9 and I decided I'd just check out then. A good choice, as it turns out, because nothing was open yet. Seriously. A bunch of places had their security doors half open to let workers in, as they prepared to open, but they really weren't open yet. So I wandered over to the cathedral.

The cathedral is gorgeous, as most are, and put together in a mishmash of styles reflecting its multi-stage construction. (·) The main part of the church is dominated by the choir, this vast expanse of woodwork right in the middle of the sanctuary that seems to be present in a lot of European churches---it has seats two deep on either side of the main aisle, and the whole thing is enclosed with walls on three sides (it is open to the altar). (·) In front of this are some pews, (·) then a broad staircase down to the tomb of Santa Eulàlia, which is beneath the major altar. (·) (·) Ringing the altar are a series of small chapels to a great variety of saints, each with its own little altar and about four chairs. (·) (·) I suppose that priests can say their daily masses in these, or perhaps they are just for the feast days. On the side of the sanctuary, then, is the cloister, (·) (·) (·) an open courtyard itself ringed by small chapels to various things. (·) (·) In the corner of this is a different sort of chapel, actually in its own room, to Santa Llúcia, patron saint of the blind, in which (reportedly) a huge number of blind people show up every year on her feast day, to attend mass. (·) The walls of the chapels, the cloister, and the sanctuary itself are fairly littered with dead people. Well, they're put away in little boxes (called "sepulchres"), but still. There are an awful lot of them. (·) (·) (·) (·)

Having finished my circuit of the cathedral, I had killed enough time that cafés were open, so I got a desayuno continental on a little terrace about a half-block from the church. (·) I still needed to kill some time before going to meet Sharon, so I went to the Palau de la Música Catalana.

This place was completely amazing. It's practically a shrine to the modernista movement, built right at its peak to house the Orfeó Català, a major symphony orchestra based here in Barcelona. (·) (·) (·) (·) I took a picture in the lobby (·), but apparently they don't want me to advertise for them, and they wouldn't let me take any pictures inside. (Trust me, if I posted pictures, it'd be an advertisement for them!)

My tour ended just before 1:00, so I needed to hustle to meet Sharon a few stops away at 1:15. Fortunately, it was on the same subway line as the stop near the Palau, so I wasn't too late. The place appears to be a dorm during the schoolyear, which they run as a hostel during the summer. It has laundry and a computer room with internet, and each room has a bathroom, a small kitchenette, a TV, A/C (well, some of the rooms did; ours, for instance), and a telephone. All of which basically means that we paid about half as much for our room as a lot of the hotel-residing attendees, and we got a lot better accommodations.

It's in the middle of a residential neighborhood, like and yet unlike those of the Barri Gòtic. Like, because the streets are somewhat narrow, often pedestrian-only, and have four- and five-storey walk-ups on either side with stuff hanging off the balconies. Unlike, because this area was highly planned, and the streets are all on a perfect grid, with each building being not much wider than the street, such that each building is only about one apartment wide, giving all the living spaces windows on two or three sides.

Being residential, it had a "supermarket", by which they mean something only slightly smaller than the Thayer Street Store 24, although considerably better-stocked. Since we had a fridge, we went out and got things for breakfast, like cereal, milk, orange juice, and bananas. We also got some snacks, namely yogurt and flan-in-a-cup. Despite the poor exchange rate, food was very inexpensive here. One purchase, of laundry detergent and bananas, was just €3, and the other, of all the rest of the stuff, rang in at only €5. Not bad, for breakfast and snacks for a week.

Eventually, we got ready to head in for the opening reception, and the Fórum.

Other pix: Of the Cathedral: (·) (·) Others: (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

Posted by blahedo at 12:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2004

a-HA!

Crème brûlée!!

Posted by blahedo at 07:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2004

Dinner

On my way to find dinner, I wandered into the Mercat de Sant Josep just off La Rambla. It's an open-air market, but probably not quite what you're thinking: each vendor has a stall that can be locked up, and there is a big canopy over the whole thing. (·) (·) At each vendor, then, there is a big stack of whatever they sell, from individual fruits and vegetables to identifiable pieces of dead animals. The prices seemed fairly reasonable, too, which probably has something to do with cutting out a number of middlemen.

I ended up getting dinner at a restaurant/tapas place named "Egipte", where I got the fixed menu for €15 (plus tax, a fact which made me actually grit my teeth as I realised we had exported that idiotic practice). The first course was this amazing mix of assorted shellfish into what would be a really good dip, served on a canonical shell (that is, shaped exactly like the Shell gas station logo) and with a few pieces of lettuce strewn across the plate. It came with a fourth (of a litre) of beer. Which, by the way, no longer is distasteful to me like it used to be; not sure when that happened, really.

The main course was turkey with plums (and potatoes and some sort of bean, but the title of it was "turkey with plums"). What I was not expecting was a leg of turkey on the bone, which I had to extract. (I also had to extract the plums from their pits, which was marginally easier.) It was a little tricky not to send things flying off my plate, but I managed.

I was presented with a dessert menu, and they all sounded plausible, but I figured I would try the "crèma catalana" as being local. It was exactly like that French dessert whose name I have been trying to remember for the last hour, a custard with a hard, caramelised layer on top, except served in a broad tart dish to give the custard a much larger surface area to torch. The French name is still not coming to me, and this is driving me nuts. Augghhh.

On the way into the hostel, I saw the garbage truck they use to serve the Barri Gòtic with its six-foot-wide streets: it's about the size of my mom's minivan. Smaller, actually. (·)

Posted by blahedo at 08:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Onwards

Well, I'm glad that I always am careful to pack yucky things (or, as Lee puts it, "things that don't taste good") instide plastic bags. I went to put on my sunblock this morning, and it was all over the inside of the bag it was in. Completely contained by the bag, which all works out for the best since it's something I won't mind jettisoning on the trip home, leaving me room for more stuff. But still, whew. Up til now I'd been doing it as a precaution against something that had never actually occurred. Vindicating, it is.

Anyway, I ended up leaving the hostel around 11. Today I wandered more southward, into the mazy oldtown area that wasn't marked "pedestrians only" on the map. I'm not sure what the actual differences with the roads are, because they all still are about seven or eight feet wide. It's just that here, there are wrong way, one way, no parking, and you-must-turn-here signs all over the place---mounted to the buildings, of course, because there's certainly no room for a signpost. Even in the places there are no road markings, so it's pretty free-for-all. (·) (·) (·) I now understand the enamel "entrada" and "salida" ("enter", "exit") signs that were on random corners---these mark the direction of that particular road, or did before various roads were barred to street traffic, and before the more modern symbolic signage came into use. (That's another thing---no words on almost any of the signs. It's all about shape and colour, although I think the colour is always redundant.)

On one street, I saw a sign "Urbá" and the much more important "Lliure" ("free"), so I went in. It appeared to be some sort of museum, although on closer inspection it appeared to be more of a showcase of the city (·) (·) and the current city planning projects. (·) I am deeply envious of the residents of this city and region; they understand quite well that designing a city is not solely about maximising revenue for someone or maximising space efficiency. Equally important are things like livability, and sustainability. (·) Integrating different sectors of the society is a priority---they have recently been building "10hj" subsidised housing, with some units set aside for young families that don't make enough to live in the city otherwise, and some units set aside for seniors on pension. (·) Even though this city this size of Chicago already has a better public transit system than anything in North America, they have several more metro lines planned, a few extensions to their existing metro and light rail lines, and a whole new streetcar system of which the first segments are just opening. (·) How can we get Americans to take this attitude?

So this little wander dumped me out into the Port Vell ("old port"). I poked around a little there, (·) (·) but decided to head up further north. I decided to go to the university, since the guidebook seemed to indicate a place nearby there to eat, and I was intending to head on further north from there. I popped into the university building (·) briefly, which was cool (they have a gorgeous courtyard (·)), but I was getting hungry so I left soon.

Then, I couldn't find the page in the guidebook I'd been looking at last night, but I ended up finding another place on the Ronda de la Universitat called "Le table de pain" (which I think should've been "du pain" but whatever), where I had a decent crêpe de salmon and a fantastic café con leche (con azúcar too, of course). I conducted the whole thing in Spanish, which as I've said, I don't speak.

From there, I was nearly at the Pça. Catalunya again, but this time I wanted to get a real look at the place, fountains and all. (·) Then I proceeded up the Passeig de Grácia, which is a lot more like the sorts of major roads I've seen before, albeit with somewhat different traffic patterns. (·) (·) (·) The sidewalks were huge, of course, and the main road was divided into ten (!) lanes. Two on each side were the "frontage road" lanes in the style of Palatine Road east of Rand: if you wanted to make a turn (in either direction), you had to be on these side roads (of which one lane was a parking lane). The remaining six lanes were in the middle, and the outside two of those were dedicated to bus and taxi traffic only. Somewhat oddly, the middle four "express" lanes were not evenly split, but had three lanes northbound and only one headed south. I suppose there's some other road with the reverse arrangement, and it no doubt makes a great deal of sense, actually.

This took me past the Casa Batlló, (·) (·) but I went straight on up to La Pedrera, (·) an apartment block designed by Antoni Gaudí. This guy was a machine. But before I went up to the "permanent collection" on the top floors, I checked out the free exhibition on the first (second) floor, which was on Mesoamerican cultures. Honestly, there's only so many Aztec figurines one can look at. Although, the curators may have realised this, and about two thirds of the way through they have the fertility-themed items, which included four items labelled "Fal·lus"---they were enormous stone penises, and none of this crude it-can-be-interpreted-as stuff either, as they were sculpted in loving detail and completely unmistakable for anything else. Also of note was a little sculpture innocuously named "Escultura masculina i femenina" that I mentally subtitled ": before the missionaries". Near the end of the exhibit was a bas-relief from the Mayan classical period of a captive. I didn't know they did bas-reliefs over there, but evidently they did. I'm not sure what caught my eye, but the thing was pretty intense.

So then I took my leave of the visiting exhibition to go upstairs, where for €7 I got to wander around a restored apartment from the modernista era, the "attic" which now holds the Espai Gaudí, a permanent exhibition of models and explanations of his work, and finally up to the roof, which was an Escheresque maze of staircases and chimneys and ventilation shafts, all decorated in the sinuous modernist style.

The apartment was pretty sinuous itself, actually. There wasn't a rectangular room in the place, and most rooms didn't even contain any right angles. The living and dining room had a hardwood floor in an awesome pattern that involved triangles of alternating colour (light and dark wood) that could be viewed either as arranged hexagonally or on a rectangular grid. (·) The bathroom had an old-fashioned elevated-tank toilet, but the tank was not directly over the toilet, rather on an adjacent wall that required the pipe to swerve on its way down. The kitchen had a pre-appliance arrangement from back when kitchens just had counters and a stove, and even running water was a relatively new development. Over the stove, though, was what could only have been a hot water tank; I'm not sure where the output for it was (it may have run through the walls), but it was designed such that without any pumps or for that matter any other interference, it would be full of hot water any time the stove was on (presumably more often than not). (·)

After the apartment, we went up to the "attic". (·) The majority of the building had been designed with the then-new-ish steel girder technology that obviated the need for load-bearing walls. Gaudí apparently wanted an attic as a matter of insulation, but didn't want to add to the weight carried down the interior of the building, so this floor supports the roof by means of a dense network of arches constructed out of flat brick. The effect is pretty attention-grabbing.

(Sidebar: when I went to see Sta. María del Pi the other day, I knew it was relatively close to my hostel; last night I was thinking that based on the volume of the bells ringing it must be closer than I thought. I was deceived by the maziness of the barri I'm staying in: I just poked my head out my window, and its bell tower literally forms the back wall of the other half of the hostel.) (·)

In the Espai Gaudí I learned just how cool this guy was. Without really having a math background in the conventional sense, he had an immense intuitive understanding of the mathematics required to engineer his architectural dreams. He discovered a way to operationally calculate an optimal load-bearing arch by hanging weights proportional to the load to lengths of string that were topologically laid out according to his design. (·) He understood minimal surfaces in a way that few do today. Furthermore, he also had a good grasp of the relationship between form and function, and the importance of colour, texture, and light in any space that humans are going to be spending any significant amount of time.

The roof was, as I mentioned, almost Escheresque, except for the fact that it is actually implementable in 3D. (·) The whole thing is rather whimsical rather than practical for anything I could think of, although points of it gave quite good views of the city. In particular, from this vantage point it was easy to see the brilliance of the city planners who designed the Eixample---the city region where La Pedrera is situated. The street is a strict square grid at ten blocks to the mile, except for where one or two angle streets cut through. One block (really more of a rounded square, as the corners are cut off to make every intersection more friendly to pedestrians and motorists both) has buildings all around its exterior. But these blocks are pretty big, so there's a big open area in the middle, with terraces and green areas for the people who live and work around the outside. (·) (Reminds me of some designs I saw at the carfree site.) Apparently, a number of these are being reclaimed as public green spaces. (Also reminds me of something I saw at the carfree site.) Even in this turn-of-the-century part of the city, whose façades show that it was quite well influenced by the French style, livability and communality were not dismissed.

On my way out, I browsed the gift shop and found myself wishing I knew somebody with a kid of, oh, about ten years old, who was into building models and stuff. There was one of those card-stock books with cut-out (with an exacto knife, that is) pieces for La Pedrera. There were a few different "Gaudí kits" to assemble to understand hyperboloids, paraboloids, and catenaries. Just the sort of thing I would've gone crazy for about fifteen years ago. :)

At that point my feet were getting really tired, so I hopped back on the metro to my hostel. Now I'm starving, so I'm going to head out for an early dinner.

More pix: Of La Pedrera: (·) (·) (·) Other pix: (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

Posted by blahedo at 07:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

Barcelona: day 1

Well, I'm in Barcelona.

The adventure started yesterday at about 3:30 Boston time, which was when Evan generously drove me to Logan airport. There was no traffic and checkin was almost painfully easy---I swiped my credit card at one of the auto-checkin places, typed in my passport number, and it printed my boarding passes. There was no line at security, so I just had to dig out my computer and kick off my shoes, and that was done. (Well, almost; they swabbed my computer, to test for drugs or something I guess. Whatever it was, it was negative.) I bought a copy of Rolling Stone for the interviews with Gary Trudeau and Bill Clinton. The flight boarded uneventfully and took off on time. After finishing the Rolling Stone and leaving it for the next person, I returned to Necronomicon and about this time the drinks service came through, and shortly after that, the dinner. By the time they got back to row 35 they had run out of the regular entree and apologetically handed me their "Indian vegetarian" option which, frankly, I'm considering ordering intentionally in the future.

Then it was nap time. We were a bit less than halfway through the flight, so it was either 9pm, midnight, or 3am, depending on how you looked at it---it was dark, at any rate. I slept decently until shortly before landing. Unfortunately, it was relatively cloudy, so I didn't get much of a view. :P

Amsterdam-Schiphol International Airport is fascinating. I'm still not sure I've figured it out. When we disembarked off the plane, we were dumped off into a relatively empty corridor, which I figured was to keep us in the "international" part of the airport, but evidently not, because it dumped out onto the main concourse from which one could enter any of the gate lounges without any barriers. I followed signs to my gate (which was different depending on whether I believed my boarding pass or the departures monitors, but fortunately the signage had both gates in the same direction). This sent me through passport control and customs, which I thought was a bit odd since I wasn't actually doing anything in the Netherlands, but I suppose that all the Schengen signatories can do passport control for each other, so they can put intra-EU flights behind the inside-the-EU passport control area, saving someone some hassle.

Inside the area, I decided to scout out my gate before finding breakfast. It directed me up an escalator, which seemed odd since we were already on the second floor, but then at the actual gate I was to go down the stairs to the glassed-in waiting area. The gate itself actually has a different number, which corresponds to the waiting area outside the glass, but which has access to the same gate. But to get to the downstairs waiting area (i.e. if I hadn't been directed up that escalator earlier), I would have had to go through a different passport control area. So my best guess is that the main inside-the-security area is ambiguously either an international area or inside the EU (Schengen signatory region), and that they use the gate number of your flight to carry some state as to which it is. Except that the gate number isn't a per-person thing---the flight didn't have a mix of people from the two different gates---so I'm still not sure exactly what's going on there.

It's easy to find your way around, though, as all the signs are in English. In fact, there are only a very few signs that are even translated into Dutch, and I don't think Dutch is ever the top-listed language.

Anyway, they checked us in and boarded us and the second flight was similarly uneventful. And then I was in Barcelona! The train to the city was oddly difficult to find, but eventually I did see the sign with the train logo on it, and headed on over. I was glad I had gotten money in Amsterdam, as that made buying my train ticket easy. The train to Plaça Catalunya was smooth and fast. I came out on the surface and decided to walk down La Rambla to the hostel I was hoping to stay at, just to orient myself. Naturally, I went the wrong way (down Rambla de Catalunya, which is not the same thing). After I'd walked further than I thought I had to, and got to a different Metro stop than I was expecting, I broke down and pulled out my map. (I hate to do that; I feel like such a target.)

The remedy was easy: take the Metro L3 down to the stop I was looking for. Of course, I got on L5, but rather than try to reverse it I just took it three more stops (to Sants-Estació) to where the L5 and L3 cross again. It was the long way around, but I chalked it up as a learning experience. :)

From Liceu station, I was looking to find the HI youth hostel Barcelona-Ramblas. I found it; it was full. Fortunately, in one of the Metro stations I noticed an ad for another hostel not far from there. It was also full. Fortunately, on the way to that hostel, I noticed another one. It was not full, so I took a bed for two nights. Oddly enough, it's less what I usually think of as a hostel and more like a really budget hotel: I have my own room with a sink and a mini-balcony. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) Cheap sheets, but that's never bothered me before. I don't have my own bathroom, but the bathroom is right across the hall and is just a one-person bathroom, so really it's not a problem. I took the opportunity to change clothes and divest myself of the monster backpack, keeping only the little one, and I went back out.

I basically just wandered around the old city and started taking lots of pictures. I was getting hungry, so I had a panini and coffee at what was probably a chain, but a local one so I didn't mind. The menu was in both Catalan and Spanish, so I tried Catalan ("Un entrepan pernil serrà i formatge"), but the worker taking my order clarified in Spanish ("¿serrano y queso?"), so I just ordered the coffee in Spanish ("Café con leche") instead of Catalan ("Cafè amb llet"). It was €4,40, which is not bad. (The coffee was excellent. The sandwich, enh.) While I ate I perused my guidebook and figured out where to go next.

Park Guëll had been recommended to me, so I figured I'd make my way up there. First I had to figure out where exactly I was, and I realised I was close to a church (Santa Maria del Pi), so I had to go check it out. There were less pine trees than advertised (I saw one), but the façade still looked nice, if a tad run-down. (·) My way out of there took me past a string quartet out busking (now there's something you don't see every day), so I had to listen to them. (·) (·) Their second number made me laugh out loud, because it was the "Minuet in G" of Music Man fame. Anyway, then I walked past the cathedral. (·) (·) I was going to not pass that up, but they seemed to be charging admission, oddly enough, so I figured I'd skip it until I figured out when their free hours were.

On the way out, though, I noticed the diocesan museum, which also charged money, but (inconsistently enough) this didn't bother me. I paid my €3, and after surrendering my camera and bag I wandered around in there for a good hour. (·) (·) There were a couple pieces that really caught my eye, for reasons I can't really even explain. That seems to happen at every museum, and it's almost always the pieces that nobody else seems to like, and that aren't highlighted.

After leaving there, I finally made it to a metro stop to head up to the Park Guëll. Immediately after leaving the station, I started seeing signs for it (always nice), and I followed them; they led me to turn on the longest, steepest street I can remember seeing. (·) I went on and on, and just as it seemed to not be going anywhere, there was to my right a "street" with steps on either side and a series of escalators up the middle---that weren't running, alas. (·) (·) About two-thirds of the way up, there was a random pay phone, so I took the opportunity to call home, it being around 10am there by now. At the top of all these stairs, I realised that the entrance to the park involved another several flights of stairs, metal ones up the side of a hill. And from there the climb was taken over by winding, switchbacked footpaths. The view, though, was absolutely incredible. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

At the top was an art installation by Antoni Gaudí involving three crosses made of stone atop a big tower of stone on top of the already-quite-high hill (some would undoubtedly call it a mountain). (·) One can climb this, and I realised that the views I had gotten on the way up were mere appetizers for this main course.

(·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

After I stared out at that for a while, I tried to go down a different route. The terrain is decently varied, and various paths are gravel-paved, stone stairs, or just dirt paths through the woods. (·) (·) (·) Eventually, I came upon a bit of path work that was edged by stones that had clearly been arranged by humans, although you might miss it until after the double-take. (·) This is the upper end of the Portíc de la Begruda(sp?), which is a bizarre path of stone archways not quite like anything you've seen before. (·) (·) (·) (·) The other end is what I guess you'd call the main part of the Park; there is a wide plaza that sits atop a vaulted gallery with 80-some Doric columns that was originally intended to house a weekly open-air market. (·) (·) (·) Flowing down from this are a series of three fountains, each in its own unique pattern. (·) (·) (·) The whole place---the whole modernista style, really---is a bit bizarre, but really cool, and it's all over Barcelona, if you look for it.

At this point I bought a water so as not to die of dehydration, and commenced to walk back down the hill. I'd actually lost a lot of altitude just getting to the main entrance, but there was still a ways to go. I made it back to the metro in one piece, and came back to my room. Then I did the most daring thing: I plugged in my computer. The one power outlet in the room, I noticed, took both the continental round-prongs plugs and the US-style flat-parallel-prongs plugs. (I still haven't gotten around to buying an adapter.) Now, I knew that just because the plug fits doesn't mean it's supplying the right power, but my power supply says it can take input anywhere from 120--220V, and 50--60Hz; that's why I was going to be able to just use an adapter without a transformer. Still, I'd never actually tested the theory before, and this was my computer I was testing it on. And indeed, it seems to have worked: I've been typing this post for the last hour and a half with no ill effects. Now I need to see if I can summon the energy to go get dinner, or whether I'll just conk out for the night.

Other related pictures: (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

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July 18, 2004

Emergency shoes

Forget emergency pants, on this trip I needed emergency shoes.

After a great deal of deliberation on what kind of shoes to bring on this minimal-luggage three-week trip, I settled on my sandals as being good summer shoes, acceptable up through business casual (barely), and comfy to walk around in. All of these things are true, but I neglected to notice that the sideseam on the sole was a little loose.

So Thursday evening as I was walking back from Central Square, something popped and my right foot felt odd when I walked. I looked down and the back right join between the top and bottom of the sandal had completely pulled free of the sole. So it was sort of like a half-flip-flop; the right half. Not being designed for this, it was really uncomfortable and guaranteed to cause blisters. I was close to home, so I just finished walking and figured out what I'd do.

Clearly, I needed to buy shoes. I looked through the yellow pages, and ran into the usual not-in-a-planned-city problem: street numbers are totally meaningless in figuring out where on a map an address falls. Fortunately, mapquest came to the rescue and I found a couple shoe stores in Central Square. Didn't have time Friday morning (so the commute was fun), but on the way back I stopped at Payless. I think I spent nearly an hour trying on sandals, because I'm going to be walking a lot in the next week, and I'm not going to have a chance to break them in.

So anyway, I have new sandals now. They are perhaps 95% comfortable, although there's a bit of stitching that rubs my big toe funny. Hopefully no blisters will be generated, though.

"If I ever do get a car it will be something to tinker with and be small, old, and British. Just like my mum." --Simon Jansen

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A blog by any other name

As promised, I finally got around to changing the name of the blog. I selected the catchier and much more wieldy Digital Analogue. Despite the change in name, our audiences can expect the same high-quality programming they have grown to... er, nevermind.

Incidentally, I'm so sure that my little plan to lend some Google karma to Ryan's band Suburban Funk has only succeeded in making my blog post about them the #3 Google item about them. In the second page of hits are the (empty) trackback page from that entry, and an old listing of events at the Palatine Park District where they were playing. They weren't even in the top 100 hits. I wonder if there's something blocking Google from spidering them, somehow.

"The war on drugs is over. We lost. You cannot curtail the supply. You can decrease the demand. Change your priorities now." --Charles Lindner

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July 12, 2004

Follows-up

To my last post: I just tracked down the website for St Malachy, and I was not imagining the preponderance of parabolae, as see this page.

To Two Conversations: yup, they did go to school together. My mom does, in fact, know everyone.

To Taste: clearly, I stole my sister's good-train-ride karma for that night, because she had an awful time.

"No. There is no null. null is a four-letter word." --Viera Proulx

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Mazel Tov!

So, this weekend I attended Sam and Claudia's wedding. It was, of course, awesome!

Due to a slight communications mishap I couldn't go to the shabbat service that started off the weekend, but after arriving in Boston and renting a car I did get there in time for most of the subsequent dinner. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to the Thirsty Scholar in Cambridge (not my first time there) for a little while en route to dropping off Coree and Mike at the place they were staying. Heading back to the hotel (after picking up my car at the temple), we took 128 to the Middlesex Turnpike and went north. And we drove. And drove. And after what seemed like much too far, I pulled over and asked Rob and Angela if we had gone too far, but we thought not and resolved to go at least to the next major intersection. It was about a half mile further down the road. :)

The following day, we all went in to Cambridge again, and we walked to Harvard Square where we had an excellent lunch at the Finagle a Bagel, and then browsed at the Coop for a while. We went back to the hotel fairly early because we (or at least, the wedding party) didn't want there to be any chance of rushing and being late for the pictures at 5:30. After they left, Mike and I finished watching Clash of the Titans (ha!) and then went to the cathedral of reading---that is, the ginormous two-story Barnes and Noble's just off of 128 in Lexington---before going back to the hotel to pick up my forgotten camera and then proceeding on to the temple.

We were still pretty early, so we stuck around outside and chatted with the non-occupied members of the wedding party and the few other people that were there at that point. Eventually, people started arriving for the pre-wedding reception; we helped direct people for a while until it became very obvious where the party was, and then went in. The hors d'œuvres were fantastic (of course), and I met several members of Sam and Claudia's family that I hadn't previously. Eventually, we were directed to enter the sanctuary.

The ceremony itself was relatively short, and since it was bracketed by a reception and a dinner it almost felt like it was just the middle part of the larger event. At the same time, there was not at all a rushed feeling of "hurry up so we can get to the reception" that some weddings seem to have. The whole ritual was entrancing, with the rabbi switching fluently back and forth between Hebrew and English, and the cantor singing beautifully in Hebrew. When they got to the "Do you?", Sam and Claudia both responded more loudly and clearly than I remember hearing at any other wedding, he with an "Absolutely!" and she with a "Yes I do!". The ceremony closed with a really catchy song and then we went back out to eat dinner.

Dinner, too, was excellent. There were no less than eight speakers (best man, all four parents, the maid of honour, and then Sam and Claudia themselves), but while this might have been a cause for dread in some places, here it certainly was not. Many of them ran long, but they were all witty and clever and made some really nice speeches. Two of them brought out emails that Sam had sent them just after meeting Claudia, and it was really sweet. Eventually they got everyone out on the dance floor to dance the hora, a circle dance not entirely unlike one I learned at a Greek (meaning Hellenic) party once, except for the lifting people up on chairs part. Anyway, the band kept playing until 12:30, and then the party broke up for the night.

It reconvened the next morning at 10 or 10:30, depending on who you talked to, and Rob needed to go pick up Coree and Mike in Cambridge, so Angela and I drove. Except, we left the hotel at 9:20, so we got to Sam's house ridiculously early and decided to drive to downtown Lexington and walk around a little before returning right about at 10. It was at this brunch that I finally met Sam's sister and her husband, who everyone assumed I already had met and so never bothered to introduce. The food served, catered by the same group as the other three food events, was again great, featuring omelets, blintzes, and some really good lox and bagels. After a long stretch of hanging out at this party, I finally departed with the last of the non-family-members around 1:30. I dropped off Rob's tux at the pizza place (which was next door to the rental place, which was closed on Sundays) and proceeded to Cambridge, where I dropped off my stuff and drove my car back to Back Bay, drove around for about twenty minutes looking for a gas station, and finally returned it.

"The closest I get is the first 10-42 seconds of the universe. You want to call that 'god', fine." --Mike Attisha

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July 08, 2004

Renting a car

How to best spend my last night in Chicago? With an all-night Quantum Leap marathon, of course. The first five episodes. It was Kathy's idea, mostly... it's been ages since I've pulled an all-nighter just for the hell of it.

Now I am doing battle with online reservation forms, and I weep at the difficulty of attempting to actually rent a car. Find the nearest location to a specific address? Nope. Filter out locations that aren't open at the right times? Can't be done. In fact, almost all of the car rental places will let you get all the way through the rental before telling you that the location isn't open at the right times, without telling you which times are the invalid ones, what the actual hours of the location are, or what locations nearby might have hours that would be useful to you. And for all that renting from airport locations has massive surcharges on top of it, in a lot of cases for even just a two-day rental it would be cheaper to take a cab all the way out to the airport just to rent the car there. Not one of the car rental companies has what I would classify as a "useful" website; one or two manage to not be openly hostile. How on earth do these people make money?

"I'll take the pig. You keep the girl." --Sam Beckett, Quantum Leap

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July 07, 2004

Two conversations

Conversation the first:

MOM: I have some numbers and I want to verify addresses.

DAD: Type "phone book" into google, or "reverse phone book". Well, try "phone book" first.

ME, FROM OTHER ROOM: Just type in the number!

KATHY: Yeah, pretty much anything not a cell, if you type in the phone number it'll find the address for you.

MOM: Hey, neat.


Conversation the second:

MOM: Hey, Don, there's one in Galesburg! Mike Mannino?

ME: Why are you looking up Mike and Molly Mannino?

MOM: You know her??

ME: Yeah, she's the advisor for the Newman Club at Knox. Do you know her?

MOM: I went to school with her!


We're still working on verifying this, but apparently they were just a couple of classes apart at a tiny Catholic grade school in Chicago. Molly's older sister was one of my mom's classmates. The alum list my mom had only had Molly's maiden name, and had the street address misspelled, and the reverse lookup on the phone number had her husband's name, but I've been to her house and the street number was correct. So, the world is really really tiny and my mom knows EVERYBODY.

"Edwards' central message of fairness and economic justice puts the question in play: Which is the true political morality? Opposing gay rights and abortion or heeding the biblical admonition "We shall be judged by what we do for the least among us"?" --Arianna Huffington

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July 06, 2004

Yarn shop!

Today I taught Kathy how to drive stick. We drove over to the parking lot at St Thomas, and she practiced starting and stopping, and eventually, shifting into second. After about a half hour of this, I pronounced her ready to drive and told her to drive to Barrington. That went pretty well until the very end, when she stalled repeatedly on the railroad tracks, but that was just her getting flustered. The real destination was, of course, a yarn shop on east Station Street.

Gene Ann's of Barrington is a pretty well-appointed yarn shop (not quite in the league of Sakonnet Purls or Needleworks, but good nonetheless), and the proprietor certainly knows her stuff. I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of money there, mostly on yarn. Oddly enough, the most expensive yarn wasn't the all-wool skeins, but the acrylic-cotton-wool mix that I got talked into. Had I realised its cost, I might not have been; the prices weren't marked and I just assumed that the acrylic would make it cheaper. Ah well, live and learn. We'll see if the cotton and wool are enough to mitigate the unpleasantness of working with the acrylic. I also picked up some sock-length Brittany wooden double-pointed needles, one set each of 0s and 1s, which have been discontinued. I decided to try a set of "Pry-Flex" dpns, which are super-flexible plastic needles, which do come in sock-length needles but only down to size 2.

Finally, I got a great book of pattern patterns; that is, not patterns for whole garments, but patterns for little repeated patches. Ribs, slip-stitching, cabling; the simple stuff is in there, but quite a bit of more complicated stuff, too. Once I'm back in Galesburg, I need to start putting together a book of swatches of these, both for practice and to actually be able to see them. (The pictures are good, but of course, they're just pictures.)

"We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules and preserve our open society as if there were no terrorists." --Thomas Friedman

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July 05, 2004

Domain issues

Due to an unfortunate chain of events, the blahedo.org domain expired a couple weeks ago and went offline sometime over the weekend. I submitted the renewal this morning, and it should process soon. Oops.

"They don't like you because you make them do what they're supposed to do anyway?"
"No, because I want to eviscerate them." --names withheld

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July 04, 2004

Taste

Today, after bidding adieu to the Kimmitts, Kathy and I headed down to Grant Park. We took the Metra and walked to the Taste, where we were just in time for the Old 97s. I called Paul's cell and we managed to find him right away; we stood on the sidewalk and talked for a while. Gradually, the group accumulated people, each with one degree of separation from the next, making a rather odd conglomeration. At one point there was a guy Charlie, who I knew from IMSA alumni stuff, and his friend Aaron from college, all the way over to my cousin and his friend Henry from work. Fascinating.

After that we wandered a bit to get drinks, then headed back to the TMBG concert. I spotted Maura walking about ten feet ahead of us, and we chatted for a minute before she went off to find her friend from work, but we agreed to meet back where Paul was. There we sat just off the second sidewalk slightly into "left field" to listen to the TMBG concert, which was good. Charlie and I talked about the pros and cons of replacing a property tax with a land tax. Maura and I caught up on recent events, such as the house she just bought and is now fixing up.

Eventually that group dispersed and I wandered off to get food. Originally I intended to get some stuff and bring it back to eat it, but it turned out to be more efficient just to eat as I walked, maintaining a short queue of food items. At the Taste, (almost?) all of the food vendors have one item called their "taste portion", for a buck fifty, to let you try a little bit of everything. I had a half a breaded steak sandwich from Ricobene's, two pieces of crab rangoon from Quang Noodle, a garlic cheesebread from Lou Malnati's, and a small fried dough from Harry Caray's. All pretty good, although I don't think crab rangoon is really my thing.

Back at the Petrillo Shell, I walked over by where we had been, but didn't see Maura or Paul, so I stood there listening to the Counting Crows concert and watching random portions of humanity walk by. There was the middle-aged guy with leathery-brown skin wearing only a pair of sweatpants shorts who was, I can only describe it as "cavorting", down the path. There was the long-haired goateed Latino fellow in long white robe carrying a miniature cross over his shoulder. At one point a guy from British Columbia who was stranded in Chicago due to an airline snafu struck up a conversation with me about a variety of things, including the amazing climate of western Canada and his relief at finally completing his divorce. (No joke.) After I went back to wandering, I spotted a whole group of people, mostly guys, who were charcoal-black from head to toe with mud, presumably from a big pit up by the fence.

Eventually, I left the concert just before it ended, to beat the rush. I gave my remaining two tickets to some homeless guy near the exit, then dropped a couple quarters on a busker who was packing up his saxophone---while he was playing on the corner, this other guy wandered up about fifteen feet away and launched into a poor a capella rendition of "This Little Light of Mine", to which he only knew one verse, sung repeatedly. I hope the kid found a better place, because his saxophone playing was really pretty good.

At this point I started thinking about what I was going to read on the train. I had the triple-whammy of it being past 7pm, on Sunday, and a national holiday, so none of the bookstores were open. I couldn't even buy a paper, because all the newsstands were closed and apparently they didn't bother to put papers in the vending boxes last night. I could see stacks of the Sunday Trib in the newsstand in Northwest Station, but they weren't to be had for love nor money.

So I just got on the train. I followed a group of guys on and sat on the opposite side of the upper level of the train from them; eventually the car filled up, and a group of girls sat next to me. I overheard that they were going to the Palatine station, which was nice because it meant I could go to sleep, since they'd have to wake me to leave.

I don't think I ever really got to sleep, but I looked like I was sleeping, which was a great position to eavesdrop from. I found out that both groups had gone to Palatine High School, and the guys were sitting next to some girls who'd gone to Cary-Grove, so they were comparing notes about Palatine and talking about places I knew about, which was fun. I decided not to mention that I was from Palatine too, because that would first of all entail admitting I'd been eavesdropping, but more importantly it seemed like it'd be awkward, since we were unlikely to have any other shared experience. The conversation started out about the Counting Crows concert, but meandered around and was entertainingly post-adolescent.

After I'd given up on sleeping, I glanced down and thought I recognised someone sitting on the lower level across from me. Indeed, it was Miranda, one of the three dedicated students in my ballroom dance group at Knox! Turns out she's from Lake Zurich. In the course of that conversation, I mentioned that my parents live in Palatine, and when she inquired further, I pinpointed it as right by St. Thomas, and between Jane Addams and Winston Park, if that meant anything to her.

I never found out whether it did or not, because the upper-level Palatine folks caught wind of this and started making a lot of noise. Whoa, where did I live? Had I gone to Palatine? They booed the fact I'd gone to Viator ;), but not only were the girls next to me PHS alums, they had in fact gone to St. Thomas and all lived within a few blocks of me. None of them knew my sister, alas, although I suspect if I'd gone through the whole list of Kathy's friends that I knew, I probably would've found something there. I had overheard that a couple of the guys were going to Miami University of Ohio next year, which is where my cousin Emily will be, but I figured I wouldn't push that one either. Probably should've, oh well. Still, best train ride ever.

And then we got back just in time to catch the fireworks finale here in Palatine. Great day!

"I give you my blessing... AND my permission!" --Tevye

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July 02, 2004

Hmph.

I'm sort of nebulously annoyed. Earlier this week I'd told Mike he could stay over here at any point, including Friday night, but the plan had not actually been made yet. This morning, Mom got an email about good tickets to The Fantasticks at the Metropolis, and asked if I wanted to go. I have a personal policy of not holding out on one actual offer of something to do in favour of a potential something to do (been burned by that before), so I said okay; I'd feel dumb if Mike didn't come over and I didn't go to the show, and I sat around twiddling my thumbs.

Of course, predictably, Mike called and asked if they could come over. They were still welcome, naturally, but we wouldn't actually be here until 10:30 or so, so they took a pass. Oracular information would have been so helpful in planning this.

"Drag God into politics, and you'll ruin his reputation in no time." --Molly Ivins

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July 01, 2004

Happy Canada Day!

For our friends up north.

Canada flag-->[ |*| ]<--drapeau du Canada

"The major problem today is, `You're gay... what then?' So many people take it as their identity, their body, their psyche. I just don't find it that interesting." --Rufus Wainwright

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Suburban Funk

My sister's boyfriend Ryan has a band called Suburban Funk. It's not really a funk band; they do a little bit of everything, actually. Google hasn't found their site, apparently, so hopefully this post can send a bit of my google karma their way. ;)

"I love you all, but I am too busy to go to jail for you." --Leigh Anne Wilson

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June 30, 2004

Gremlins

There was a power outage on campus yesterday, so when I arrived today my computer was off and my monitor in power-save. I turned on the computer, and the monitor... did nothing. Switched it off and on, nothing. Tried logging in blind, and the computer clearly responded, but the monitor remained in power-save mode. Powered off the computer and back on again, nothing.

Auggghhh.

I got the help desk person up here, who tried a couple things, and nothing worked. Including a different monitor. Which is really bad because it means it's the computer itself, or at least the video card. Ugh. He goes off downstairs to file a help ticket on the thing; I was thinking that at least it happened just as I was leaving for a month.

Just as I was getting ready to leave the office, I don't even know why, I tried powering it off and on again. Works perfectly. *sigh*

"As to things which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think." --John Wesley

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June 28, 2004

Didja feel it?

I felt my first earthquake about an hour ago! It was weak here---there was a brief creak and then the whole building shook for, like, two seconds. Just long enough to make me pretty sure I hadn't imagined it. Naturally, my first instinct was to post to imsasun, which I did, and about ten minutes later someone confirmed that they'd felt it in Wisconsin, and then a few more from the Chicago area. Meanwhile, the usgs site was not listing anything, even on its "realtime" maps, so about twenty minutes after the quake I filed an "I felt it" form for an "unknown" quake.

About 1:45 the quake went up on the site; apparently it was a 4.5 just outside Ottawa, IL, and the "I felt it" responses are plotted on a map, which is cool.

"My unofficial title is President of the Matt Zanon groupie fan club." --Cathy Veal

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June 25, 2004

Winnowing

The short list (which includes a few things not on the long list, and may not include the final one, but hey):

  • Don in the Parlour with the Candlestick
  • Don in the Parlour with the CAT-5 Cable
  • Don in the Parlour with the Knitting Needle
  • Principle of Laziness
  • Ich bin ein Galesburger
  • Blue-Green State
  • No A/C
  • Hand Wash Only (Do Not Tumble Dry)
  • Armchair Activist
  • Digital Analogue
  • (as in Speech)

I should probably google and make sure none of these are taken.

"MORNINGS ARE NOT MY CUP OF TEA. I prefer lipton." --Kathy Blaheta

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June 24, 2004

The name game

Some brainstorming on the name thing yielded the following list (including a few from my faithful readership):

  • Being Socially Responsible, Environmentally Concerned, and Politically Informed is Depressing
  • Has the advantage of being true. Rather unwieldy, though.

  • Don in the Parlour with the Candlestick
  • Fred
  • Principle of Laziness
  • Alternately, Principal of Laziness.

  • Procrastination Central
  • Head of the Class
  • Le __ c'est moi
  • I never did figure out how to fill in the blank, but it would have been cute if I could find some word in French or English that started with T or rhymed with "ta" or "tot".

  • Ich bin ein Galesburger
  • Delicious.

  • Public Square Circle
  • Seems like some obscure Java programming reference, but it's actually an obscure Galesburg reference.

  • Blue-Green State
  • Yay ambiguities

  • Anything But "Anyone But"
  • , dammit.

  • Lebvergnügen
  • Volkswagen has for my entire life had the catchiest damn advertising.

  • Vivrevergnügen
  • Say that ten times fast. Heck, say it once.

  • No A/C
  • True on the face of it. Seems to have a deeper meaning, but I'm not sure what.

  • Sweater Sampler
  • Hand Wash Only (Do Not Tumble Dry)
  • Doesn't quite mean anything, but it almost means like four different things.

  • Bread and Cheese
  • Wine and Moses
  • I won't go with this one, but I just wanted to say this would be a great name for a Jewish dinner club.

  • Diamond in the Ruff
  • If only I played bridge more.

  • Purls before spline
  • I don't really do enough graphics work for this one.

  • Not Hawai`i
  • Feuille
  • It means "leaf". It's just a cool word.

  • ...right here in River City
  • With a capital T.

  • El Procrastinador
  • It's a theme in my life. Perhaps you've noticed.

  • Paper House
  • Armchair Activist
  • More true than I'd like, really.

  • My Car is Cuter Than Yours
  • My Dog is Cuter Than Yours
  • Where are the spaceships?
  • Seriously.

  • Who eats anchovies, anyway?
  • Important: Tax Document Enclosed
  • Also would be a great band name.

  • Return Receipt Requested
  • Analog Dinosaur
  • Digital Analogue
  • No Caffeine • Low Sodium
  • Like root beer.

  • Hi Mom
  • That was the original point of the blog, after all.

  • Most Gerrymandered District in the Country
  • Illinois 17th. Check it out.

  • Land of the Free
  • ...sort of.

  • Land of the Free (as in Speech)
  • ... not beer.

  • One Nation Indivisible
  • Think a second, you'll get it.

And I'll probably end up with something not on this list anyway.

"WinFS, advertised as a way to make searching work by making the file system be a relational database, ignores the fact that the real way to make searching work is by making searching work." --Joel Spolsky

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June 23, 2004

Time for a name change?

The name of my blog is long and unwieldy, and isn't really all that directly related to what I tend to talk about. While still a big part of my life, I rarely blog about either linguistics or dancing. There are a fair number of books (and movies and concerts and such), but that alone doesn't really reflect the main thrust of the thing.

What is the main thrust? Well, in the last 75 entries I've had 11 about politics, 7 about my dog, 13 about school, 12 reviews of stuff I'd read or seen, and just one each about knitting and linguistics. Plus a bunch of other random miscellaneous stuff. I guess I could go the "Politics, School, and..." route, but that doesn't address the "long and unwieldy" problem.

So anyway, right now I'm thinking about what to rename it to. Either something short and relevant, or something short and it's-just-a-name meaningless. (In that last category, by the way, "Bloghedo" has already been considered and rejected, ucchhhh.) The URL will stay the same, of course.

"I really can't trade the hope of liberty for security, sorry. Unfortunately, I get the feeling much of the rest of liberal America is willing to trade my liberty for their security. It's depressing." --Jonathan Prykop

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June 15, 2004

More accomplishments

Last night I rewrote my handin script (it's not perfect, but it's a lot better). Today, I responded to a really obnoxious chain-letter, cleaned off my desk, and rearranged my office, as I've been itching to do for months now. Now, I can still see out my door, but I can also see out my window. Even in the winter months when the foliage is thin, I will not have glare on my monitor. And when students come to see me, I don't have to trip over them to get to my whiteboard. Excellent.

"Urban areas belong to all of us---whether we live there or not." --Dr Mary MacDonald

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June 14, 2004

Check!

Today's accomplishments: I set up spamassassin, collated and filed all my students' projects and exams, and put away all the handouts from the last two terms, preliminary to actually organising my office. On the home front, I'm caught up with all my reading (newspapers and magazines) and have tidied a little bit. My dog is shedding like crazy, but hourly brushing (!) is preventing it from getting all over the apartment.

"The problem with nominating a weak vacillator who puts politics before principle as our standard bearer is that he vacillates and puts politics before principle, and makes us look weak." --Michael Kimmitt

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June 06, 2004

Restful procrastination

I did it again last night---having gone to bed (well, flopped on the couch) at about 3pm after Commencement, I didn't move except to get up and take Nutmeg out back and immediately return to the couch, until 9:30am this morning. Even then, my body resisted actually getting up, as I'd apparently slipped into catch-up/hibernation mode.

Anyway, I caught up on the last week of local newspapers, and then I've been bouncing along creating a procrastination stack for the first time in ages. You know how it goes---I'm going to work on this now. Oh, but in order to do this more efficiently, I should work on that first. Ah, and that would go easier if...

I've actually accomplished something (changing the bulb on my halogen torchiere lamp), and gotten a healthy list of projects on tap. Still no grading, but hey, I've got til Wednesday, right? (I should probably check on that, actually.) I'm actually rather enjoying this.

"A motherless child is helpless and adrift; even a poor choice is better if it's the mother's." --Eva Schillace

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June 04, 2004

Booked

I don't know why I always procrastinate this sort of thing so much, given that I feel so much better after I get it done. Anyway, I finally booked my Great World Tour for July---I'm taking the train from Chicago to Boston on the 8th-9th, then hanging out there for a week, flying from Boston to Barcelona via Amsterdam (yay KLM!) on the 18th-19th, and then flying from Barcelona to Chicago (again via Amsterdam) on the 29th. KLM is totally my hero: the other airlines were quoting me prices in the thousands for every possible configuration involving Chicago and/or Boston and Madrid and/or Barcelona, and significantly more if those configurations were not a straight-up round trip. Not KLM though! My BOS-BCN-ORD trip came in under $900 including tax. And the train trip is only $85, too.

I still have to reserve the car rental I plan to do in Boston, but that's less vital. I also need to actually register for the conference, but that's totally not time sensitive as long as it's done in the next week---the prices aren't randomly fluctuating and there's no worry of being closed out.

It's also an incredibly good thing I idly mentioned to my mom that I needed to find my passport. She suggested I check my safety deposit box, which was of course exactly where it was (and remains), but I had totally forgotten about that. I would have torn the apartment completely apart looking for the damn thing.

Anyway, so anyone who will be in Barcelona or some plausibly nearby locale in Spain or France around that time should let me know. My conference is the 22nd--26th, and the rest of the time I'm bumming around looking at churches and museums and stuff, but I'd love to actually hang out with someone if possible.

"What's going to be awesome is what (if any) culture emerges on Mars. The combination of "you must be this familiar with the utility of educated action to enter" and "the environment is seriously trying to kill you" will weed out a lot of the libertarian and fundie bullshit that's holding us back right now." --Michael Kimmitt

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June 03, 2004

Catching up

I slept upwards of fourteen hours last night (not counting two hours on the train yesterday), and then I spent the day catching up on various things (though not, yet, the blog). I'll catch this thing up at some point. Maybe tomorrow.

"My head was exploding right and left during that story. At the end all I was left with was a stubby brain stem weakly throbbing out waves of judgmental astonishment at the whole durned story." --Tori Bryan

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May 28, 2004

Back in the big city

Providence is, unsurprisingly, much as I remember it. Last night I went to a CS department event (their 25th anniversary as a department is this year), and at the banquet they served haricots verts and lamb (or swordfish), with lemon charlotte for dessert. Meanwhile, Eugene showed old pictures of people and made funny comments about them. It was neat; I should've been schmoozing, but I wasn't really up to it, so I just caught up with some people I knew but hadn't seen in a while. We ended up standing outside and talking for about an hour until we were too cold to stay. ;)

Today I'm bouncing around seeing various people, and currently borrowing a spare computer in my old office in the CIT. Fun, fun, fun. :)

On the Afghan King in exile: "I don't see why you people care about someone running a country who didn't win an election. It's not like that doesn't happen in other places." --Kevin Price

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May 23, 2004

Ancillary events

Last night's performance was bracketted by two weird little events that happened to me.

After I took my seat, about three in from the aisle but not right next to anyone, a girl who looked vaguely familiar, like I'd seen her around the Knox campus or something, appeared to be looking for a seat, and I turned my knees so she could get past; she declined and sat on the aisle, so I smiled and went back to reading my program.

A minute or so she commented on how cold it was in there, and I politely agreed (it was) and said something about how I often remember to bring a sweatshirt with me to theatre shows. And went back to reading my program.

Her next comment after another brief silence was, "Not much going on tonight, huh?" I guess she assumed I was a student or something---that's not the kind of comment a student usually makes to a prof---but I shrugged and said, "Well, there's this." She mumbled something about having to find something later, and when I went back to my program, she stood up and left.

It's that last thing that makes the whole situation sort of baffling. Small talk, sure, but then getting up and leaving? I suspect she was trying to pick me up, but it's not like she made any great effort before giving up and leaving. I wonder if she sat down somewhere else and tried the same routine on someone else.


The second event, then, came after the show. As I was mingling with various folks in the lobby, one of the choreographers for one of the pieces came up and joined the conversation, and she immediately started gushing about how cool I was because I actually came to everything (not quite true, but I do go to a lot of events). Of course, my coolness didn't extend to her finding out who I was, because she then said how seeing me at all these Theatre & Dance events made her say, "oh look! It's that guy!"

Great! My life's ambition: now I'm that guy. Surely I can make use of this somehow.

"I'm going to appreciate this two-weeks-straight-of-68-degrees thing as much as I can, and look back on it fondly when the entire state is on fire in August." --Pete McFerrin

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May 20, 2004

Random highlight

Last Wednesday, I was pleased to actually receive my first dollar coin in change from a person. I'd gotten them from vending machines (USPS and mass transit) but never from an actual cashier. It was at the Econofoods on East Main, where I had run in real quick to pick up a blank videotape. I don't know if anyone else in the whole world would care, but I was pleased. :)

"I kind of thought that the point of the Nicene Creed was to lay out the stuff that Absolutely Had To Be Believed and imply that the rest of it was stuff that To A Greater Or Lesser Extent Really Ought To Be Believed." --Michael Kimmitt

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May 19, 2004

Right now

My dog is methodically licking every square millimetre of the side of my desk chair. I have no idea what is so appealing about it, but he's not easily distracted from the task.

Been busy for the last week, but I do remain alive. (Ah, ha, ha, ha...) Hopefully I'll get around to posting more soon.

"Bush may not have been born stupid, but he has achieved stupidity, and now he wears it as a badge of honor." --Jacob Weisberg

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May 02, 2004

Je suis environmentaliste

I'm such a bad environmentalist. There was an article in the paper today about a bunch of other professors that ride their bike to work nearly every day, and lately I've been driving almost half the time. At first when I got the dog, that was my justification, but now I'm just being lazy (and running late).

On the other hand, yesterday I put a load of laundry out to dry on a clothesline, for the first time ever. Then, naturally, it rained. So I had to leave them out overnight to re-dry, and this afternoon all but the jeans were done, so I took them in. And then about twenty minutes later there was a huge thunderclap and I dashed outside before it could rain again, and I took the mostly-dry jeans and hung them on my shower curtain rod to finish. Anyway, so I saved the environment (and my landlord) one load of electric/gas powered drying. It was so easy, I'll probably do it again!

"I could characterize myself as Mother Theresa but that doesn't make me any less of a hothead." --Joe Shidle

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May 01, 2004

SLEEP

The last few weeks, I feel like I've just always been tired. Even when averaging over seven hours a night. Yesterday, after having gotten almost seven hours of sleep the night before, I got home at 2-ish to let Nutmeg out, and when I came back in, I sat down on the floor to play with him, and ended just laying down right there and falling asleep. Until, get this, 6pm. Which was when my dog woke me up; I took him for a quick trip outside and came back in, where I took off my shoes and figured I'd lay down in my bed for a few hours. I woke up at midnight, thought, "huh, never fed the dog, well, he's not complaining", and went back to sleep. Same again a few hours later. He finally got me up at 8am, for which I can hardly blame him. That was, let's see, about 18 hours of sleep. I must have needed it, but it's not like I've been particularly sleep deprived lately. Certainly nowhere near the levels I sustained for over a decade through high school, college, and most of grad school.

Anyway, I went to the vet this morning to wrap up Nutmeg's roundworm treatment and pick up his tapeworm treatment (ah, pound puppies), and also picked up a flea preventative. The tapeworm stuff goes in his food, so he'll get it tonight, but the flea stuff is a little bit of liquid that gets put on the scruff of his neck. He's now spent the last ten minutes freaking out about it; he didn't mind the application, but almost immediately afterward started rolling around and flipping over and growling. I can only assume a causal relationship. Perhaps next month I'll try the other kind of flea stuff.

"Yes [I swing that way], but whereas many of our gay friends prefer to swing for the fences, I prefer to bunt." --insafemode

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April 24, 2004

Recycling!

This morning I drove out to Galva to take a tour of the recycling plant there (Eagle Enterprises)---they were running an open house today, and it seemed pretty cool. It was!

The basic plan of the thing is that they have trucks to pick up recyclables from a few local towns, and a few others (e.g. Galesburg) have their own recycling trucks but drop off their stuff there. They even get some stuff from as far away as Chicago! Generally, they are paid for the task of sifting through the stuff, although if people show up with loads of specific pre-sorted things ("this is all aluminum cans", etc), they can get paid for them.

All the unsorted recycling goes in a humongous pile on one end of the warehouse. Once the conveyor line is running, a bobcat lifts loads from the pile over to the base of the belt, where it is carried up an incline to a flat portion where people start sifting. The first few open any bags and pull out the cardboard, then various other paper products are pulled, and then people to grab the various forms of plastic and glass. Steel is pulled out by magnets, and then there is some sort of machine that pulls out the aluminum cans from what's left (i.e. trash); this is called an "eddy current separator", and one guy said it involved moving magnets to repel the aluminum while another said it had something to do with "polarity" that got the aluminum spinning real fast and shooting off the edge of the belt (while the other trash just falls off the end). Only about 5% of the output ends up in the trash bin---people are pretty good about only putting recyclables in there.

The lines are all elevated so that the various sorters can just drop their items straight down into bins. For things like paper, the bins are really just walled-in sections of floor; when they fill up, they open up one wall and start forklifting stuff over to the baler. For more airy things like bottles, they use wagons that can be rolled in and out from under the belt, because it takes multiple wagonsful to make up a full bale of recycled material. Everything except the glass is fed into another machine that carries the material up high and drops it into a pile; and when a laser detects that the pile is high enough, a ram comes in and compacts it into the bale. The bale is then tied off and awaits purchase by one of the companies that uses the materials.

Who buys it? Lots of people. The glass gets sold to a company up in Chicago that removes the label and grinds it up into kiln-ready glass gravel; some of it gets reused into glass containers, some into a mix called "glassphalt" which is apparently a superior paving material, some into plain old fiberglass. The aluminum gets remade into more aluminum cans, mostly. Cardboard goes all over the place, to be made into more cardboard---they've even had inquiries from places in China. The plastic can't be reused for food containers, but it can sometimes be used in detergent bottles, or motor oil containers.

Myths debunked (or at least, things no longer true, at least not of all recycling plants): you do not need to remove the labels from your cans and bottles. You don't even need to remove the cap. You don't need to remove staples or plastic windows from the paper stuff; it's all done automatically. You don't need to get them perfectly clean, either, although a quick rinse is only polite for the workers on the line.

Cool tidbit: the truck they do pickups in is an old NYC garbage truck; and it's "dual-drive", meaning that it can be operated by one driver (on the left) and one loader (on the right); or by one guy that both drives (on the right) and loads. Much safer than making the driver keep getting in and out on the left side in order to do loading!

Anyway, that's all for now. I have a bunch of pictures, which I may or may not ever get around to posting, as usual.

"Oral sex is sex. Did we learn nothing from the Clinton impeachment?" --Dan Savage

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April 21, 2004

In other news...

Midterm grades are due tomorrow, so I really need to pull myself out of this backlog of grading today. No time for other stuff. Clearly, that's why I'm posting to my blog right now.

And the Dan Savage quotes just keep on rolling out.... Did I mention he's really quotable?

"Blah, blah, blah, who put a nickel in me?" --Dan Savage

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April 20, 2004

Announcement

Happy birthday to Kathy. (Backdated to actually be on the right day, even though I'm posting this late, although I did call on the actual date, even if she wasn't answering her phone. Perhaps it was more rioting.)

"If you do really crazy kinky things with Doris Day playing, you just feel so dirty!" --Dan Savage

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April 13, 2004

The cathartic effect of bills

This morning I sat down and paid bills. Bills are not relaxing for most people, nor are they really for me. But when you've been putting them off for a long time, and you can sit down and pay, like, five of them at once... boy, is that a great feeling. Yay! No more bills!

"Rick Santorum is the enemy of your blowjobs!" --Dan Savage

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April 10, 2004

Pictures!

No clue how long I'll manage to keep it up, but I've semi-automated my picture-posting process, which means I might actually post pictures once in a while. They're posted at my pictures page, and currently include one shot of Dan Savage from Wednesday, and three of Nutmeg that I took last week. Cheers!

"Yes, I did get a pre-nup. It's about as thick as a phone book. 'Cause my boyfriend was really upset about all this." --Dan Savage

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Still the prettiest...

...but now there's competition. For my car, that is. I no longer own the only Mini in Galesburg! I was walking my dog just now, and parked on Seminary was a brand-new red and white Cooper S. It was purchased in Indianapolis (according to the plate holder), and the temp plate is a 31-day plate that expires on 10 May, so this thing must've been purchased yesterday. It was no longer there when I came back out after bringing my dog in, so I couldn't ask the owner about it... I'm guessing it's a Knox student, though. I hope it wasn't somebody just passing through, but such people are unlikely to be parked on Seminary. ;)

"Puritans... were the original Moral Majority types. They didn't come here for religious freedom, they came here for the right to religiously persecute anyone they could get their hands on." --Dan Savage

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April 07, 2004

Evening trip to Peoria

I went to Peoria tonight to see Dan Savage (of "Savage Love") speak at the Bradley student union. It was awesome. He spoke for maybe twenty minutes and then opened it up to audience questions, both vocally and anonymously via note cards that people would fill out. It's a format that works well for him, and lets him answer the questions and make interesting digressions.

The major news of the thing is that he's getting married tomorrow. What, you say? What about his boyfriend? Well, it turns out he is friends with this lesbian couple, who (during the whole San Francisco deal) applied for a marriage licence in Seattle, and were turned down. But he went with one of them back to the licensing bureau and explained that he was a gay man, she a lesbian, no attraction to each other whatsoever, would never have sex, have kids, anything else, were they able to get a licence? Of course! The sanctity of marriage is clearly much better preserved by this sort of joke marriage than by letting either of them marry the committed partner they'd been with for years and years. So he's going to do it, presided by a preacher, hosted in a gay bar, and armed with a phone-book-size pre-nup agreement. And then get divorced 55 hours and 10 minutes later (ten minutes longer than Britney!). He'll write it up in Salon in a few days, but hey, you heard it here first. :)

On ordering food in foreign countries: "It is all about sign language and gesturing. Of course it helps if you can make out some of it, but I alway consider it a sign of success if I can get the waiter to physically try to imitate the type of animal to help explain what type of food you are ordering." --Matt Wicks

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April 05, 2004

So... tired...

Well, that's a slight exaggeration. But I've been taking a lot of afternoon naps. Rare is the night that I get less than six hours of sleep (maybe two or three times a month), and more often than not I get seven and a half. That's in addition to the naps. *sigh*

Tomorrow is my day off teaching. Will I manage to get a little ahead on lectures and writing homeworks? Will I manage to sit down and make the assorted phone calls I need to make? Both of these things seem unlikely, but I guess I'll give it a shot.

"How do the Talibanies feel about homosexuality? I thought they were against it, but when I hear about their anti-women rules, I have to wonder what they're actually up to." --Mark Hardwidge

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April 02, 2004

How irritating

I had been planning to go to this month's movie at the Orpheum, which is Sunset Boulevard, and so I was eating my dinner and reading the paper, planning to leave shortly to get to the 7:30 show. And I noticed, at exactly 7:03, that there was an ad in the paper for it---starting at 7:00. Argh. Just late enough that I wouldn't go. If it were something I was dying to see, I'd probably run over there and just miss the first ten minutes, but I was just planning to go because I've heard it's a good movie and hey, it's at the Orpheum. Ah well.

"Back in 2000 a Republican friend warned me that if I voted for Al Gore and he won, the stock market would tank, we'd lose millions of jobs, and our military would be totally overstretched. You know what? I did vote for Gore, he did win, and I'll be damned if all those things didn't come true!" --James Carville

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March 28, 2004

Partying with the junior faculty

My parents swung by today on their way through to Iowa, staying for about four hours to meet Nutmeg and get lunch, and chat a bit. After they left, I ended up just taking a four-hour nap! I got up around 7:30, made myself a sandwich, fed the dog and took him for a walk, and then headed over to the party.

The turnout was pretty good, and I got to meet a bunch of the faculty that I didn't really know. The sangrea was excellent. By about 11:30 or so the group had thinned a bit, as people with bedtimes and/or kids left. We rang in my birthday with a bunch of Manu Chao songs (not that anyone else realised we were ringing in my birthday) as the dancing got started; we then cycled through about four decades of dance music. When the hiphop got started I drifted over to one of the conversation groups, and we kept talking until the party broke up around 3:15. The whole affair bore a striking resemblance to a lot of the better grad student parties I went to in Providence. :)

"Wait. Stop right there. That's all you need to say. You don't have a point beyond this. Your argument is stupid, vacuous and based on assumptions you don't have the language or ability to back up. On top of that, it's unwarranted here. This is where you need to shut up." --Theo O'Neal

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March 26, 2004

OK!

Galesburg HS put on Oklahoma! this weekend, and I went tonight. What a fun show. The production was a decent high school job; the vocal quality of several of the performers was unfortunately marred by a lot of problems with the sound system, though. At times, it almost seemed like it would be better if they just ran it without mikes. On the other hand, there were a few solo lines by members of the ensemble that the mikes didn't catch, making the words difficult to discern if you didn't already know them.

In any case, I was really impressed with the voice quality of the leads, Laurey and Curly. Both had clear singing voices with excellent range, and they easily carried through the gi-normous auditorium (which probably could seat 2000 or more, though only about 200 or so were in attendance).

I'm still trying to figure out why Will Parker was played by a community member I've seen in local PPCT productions. Maybe the high school couldn't field enough vocal talent? I mean, he did a good job, but it was too bad the whole thing wasn't all high schoolers.

Further evidence for the "small town != backwards/backwoods" file: Curly was played by a black kid. Yay Galesburg!

One thing I have to ask, though: is it now standard to keep talking through the entr'acte? They did that during Phantom, too. It's really annoying.

"It would be better to teach creationism in the context of a high school class on world religions or human origins, but not if science continues to be taught as Truth and religion as Something Gullible People Believe In." --Chris Tessone

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March 25, 2004

More about Nutmeg

Now that something on the order of two or three hours has been sucked out of my day, I am a lot busier. :P Despite getting a full night's sleep (7-1/2 hours or so) each night this week, I'm really tired, and my schedule's been thrown all out of whack. The dog's still really cute, though. :) Cute, house-trained, and incredibly well-behaved; I can't even begin to imagine why someone would've gotten rid of him. I walked him over to the campus the other day and let a bunch of students play with him---everyone loves him, and he loves them right back.

Oh, and yes, I've named him Nutmeg. I had been thinking nutmeg was more of a brownish colour, but in fact it's exactly the same colour of reddish-brown as the fur on top of his head. So there you go.

"Sometimes I think the greatest hindrance to our cause is the sheer force of the American legend. So strongly do people believe this country stands for freedom that they can't fathom it's ever otherwise." --Laura Conaway

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March 18, 2004

Yeah, that's what I thought

It started out as me being lazy and not getting out of the apartment much. And then, I became curious: just how much facial hair could I grow out in a week?

The verdict: not much. After a week of growth, at six feet you can just make out a greyness where a mustache would go, and the occasional light glinting off a light hair in what would be a goatee. This all has to do with me having A) very fine hair and B) very thin hair. Also, I'm only 25.

So all the people that have been telling the CS faculty that either John should grow his hair long or I should grow a goatee? It's all on John, folks. I'm already becoming the eccentric professor, I don't have to look scruffy, too. :)

"But, but wonky makes me happy. I'm into wonky. It's a thing." --Greg Seidman

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March 15, 2004

Finding my money

Merrill Lynch is trying to find my money.

When I moved from Providence, I figured I'd leave my account there, since it's not as though I ever visited in person anyway, and I didn't want to have to switch to a different person. But last, oh, October or so, I called and found out my financial adviser had left a few months previously (thanks for telling me, guys), and so I figured I might as well switch branches if I had to switch advisers. But then I dropped the ball and forgot about it.

As I was gearing up to do my taxes last week, I had a few questions about my account, so I decided now was as good a time as any to process the switch. I called the office in Peoria (Moline and Burlington are technically closer, but only by a little bit, and a trip to Peoria can turn into a pit stop on a trip to Urbana ;). I called them up, left my name and the fact that my account was in Providence, and was told they'd get back to me.

They just did; they were asking for my account number because they couldn't find my account, and Providence was claiming they didn't have it. Of course, I'm still getting statements and announcements and a few old-growth trees' worth of fund summaries and status reports; these all list my account as still being in Providence, though with no financial adviser. I was just logged in to their online site a couple days ago. So I'm not worried that it is there, but it is pretty funny that they "lost" it. Armed with the actual account number and my SSN, she was going to make another go at it, and should get back to me soon. And then, my account will move to Peoria.

Slowly but surely, I'm completing the move to Galesburg. I'm already starting to feel like an actual permanent resident. Which is funny not only because it's Galesburg, but because I haven't really felt like a permanent resident of anywhere since I was little---Providence came close, and that was where I spent more years than anywhere else and essentially my entire adult life to that point, but I always knew it was only temporary, until I got my PhD. Now, though, I'm here for the long haul.

On implementing perl on top of scheme: "You say this as if it were a gentle afternoon's exercise, rather than a lifetime of quiet torture." --Simon Cozens

PS: Illinoisans, remember to go vote tomorrow!

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March 12, 2004

&^$&^(* Secretary of State

Just got off the phone with the Secretary of State's office. They're now claiming that my plates will arrive around the last week of this month, or perhaps the first week of April. I asked him why it was taking so long. "Well, sir, they have to be made, and that takes time." Why does the website say six weeks then? "I don't know why the website would say that, it takes about two months." Nevermind that it's already been three months since I sent them my money.

To recap. The illiterate cretin at the BMW dealership made me get a random-number plate for my Mini because he was either too lazy to fill out the form for a personalised plate or too incompetent to know how. So, I had to wait until I'd gotten my numbered plates to file for new personalised plates. This I did in early November. Early December I received an application for personalised plates (that previous month was what it took them to check and see that my requested number was available). This I filled out and sent in my money, on 16th December.

On 23rd January, my check cleared.

On 29th January, my order "processed".

The first week of February, I called the SoS, and they said that the order processed on the 29th and that my plates would arrive in two weeks---whether from the 29th or from the day I called, it wasn't clear, but it was false in any case.

The last week of February, I called back. This time I got an incredibly long story about some warehouse fire, and there were shipping delays, and something something, but that in any case my plates should be arriving in a few more days, or a week at the outside.

So, I called back today, with the results I describe above. Oddly enough, in rereading the form I notice that it says a minimum of six weeks. In which case, I wonder why nobody pointed that out? And where were they getting their numbers? Thin air? It seems like an odd policy---if someone had said right off the bat that it would take until April, I would've grumbled, but I wouldn't have kept pestering them every couple weeks....

As the sign in my Women's Clinic puts it: "Never put anything into your vagina that you wouldn't put in your mouth". (OK, I know you wouldn't put a tampon in your mouth either. You know what I mean.) --ruadh

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March 06, 2004

Book readers

I've now listened to enough books on tape that I'm starting to recognise some of the readers. The current one, one Scott Brick, is great for Russian spy novels, but apparently the only accent he can do is Russian. This works less well in a novel with Spanish, Basque, German and Danish.... For the Danish guys, he can't seem to decide between Russian and bad Swedish, bad Scottish, and bad English accents. Gauuugghh.

Folks, He Isn't Kidding: "I need to keep up on all sorts of interests that might make me want to discriminate against people! It's a lot of work, but someone needs to do it, or else we'd have peace, love, and fellowship for all mankind." --Mark Hardwidge

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March 05, 2004

TKS Rep term reviews

I just read the reviews of the two rep term plays in TKS, and both were panned by reviewers that missed the point and had no idea what they were talking about.

Lysistrata's reviewer complains that the play was over the top, and that the jokes were too bawdy. Um. There is actually a valid complaint there---the script itself is so over the top that the actors don't really need to be, and playing it straight will actually come off much funnier (the three actors I highlighted seem to have realised this). A few of the actors were more over-the-top than they needed to be. But the reviewer seems to take objection with the script itself, wanting the production to focus more on its anti-war message, and losing the slapstick. The message is perfectly easy to find, though, and even if she didn't understand it when she read her three different translations of the play, the play is meant to be performed as a slapstick comedy. It is not about clonking the audience over the head with its message---it's about slipping the message in there without the audience noticing. And it succeeds!

The reviewer of Trojan Women was disappointed that the play didn't have more action in it. Um. It's a lament about the war that just ended; what kind of action are you looking for, exactly? He also complains about the excessive "crying", which is odd, because there is really very little boo-hoo weeping. The characters are much too grief-stricken for that. Finally, the reviewer takes issue with the play as being "overdramatic"; he just doesn't know what he's talking about. He also manages to misspell both a character's name and an actor's name, but perhaps now I'm just being picky.

"The Supreme Court would have been irrelevant if Gore's campaign hadn't been run like an eighth grade class council effort." --Pete McFerrin

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March 04, 2004

Skip to my Ly

I saw Lysistrata tonight---the Knox rep term folks put it on. What a howler. First of all, when they say "explicit sexual content", your first inclination may be "yeah, yeah", but boy howdy, they ain't kidding! Anyway, Lysistrata herself was really well played, but three other actors stole scenes. The Spartans were played as having Russian accents (and Sparta itself being run as a Soviet commune, five year plans and all), and Lampito and the Spartan Herald really pulled it off. The real scene stealer, though, was the leader of the old women. She had a bunch of awesome lines, and her accent, tone, and delivery were perfect.

The whole thing was just really funny, though. And topical social commentary, too!

'It should be a movie. A movie musical, in fact. That entire first book of Samuel screams out, "MAKE ME INTO AN EPIC. INCLUDE AN INTROSPECTIVE BALLAD."' --Jonathan Prykop

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March 03, 2004

Food fair!

What a cool idea. Today Knox invited a bunch of potential vendors to come to the Oak Room and serve bite-size portions of their food products to the Knox community. The Knox community, in turn, was given checklists of all these items to say if they liked or disliked them, and to give comments on them. A free lunch for everyone, and we actually get good food that passed our taste tests in the C-Store, the Gizmo, and in the Caf (not that I really eat in the Caf ever, but the students certainly do!)

"Why do I get the feeling that, though these are on the list of things which, like humping the wall, the window, or your wife in public when shnockered, endear you to your friends, your wife may not necessarily appreciate them on a day-to-day basis?" --Liz Chilton

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March 01, 2004

Great site

I just discovered WavSource, which has little audio clips from all over 20th century American pop culture. It's great. I wish I could think of some way to make use of it!

"To the Democratic party: I don't work for you. You work for me. I've got something /you/ want. You want my vote, you fucking woo me. You explain what you're going to do that I want you to do if I help put you in power. Don't even try to guilt-trip me by calling a candidate that deals with issues that I care about a "spoiler," because I'll be out the door faster than you can say "four more years," assholes." --Neal Groothuis

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February 22, 2004

Product watch

In today's paper, I read articles on two new products that got me excited. Two new types of product, really.

The first was a little handheld Wheel of Fortune game. No great shakes, right? What makes it awesome is that if you turn it on during a WoF broadcast, subtle variations in the brightness signal transmit information to the handheld unit, and let you play along. This toy is at the vanguard of a whole bunch of new units that will receive information from the TV to control their behaviour. Most of the others listed were children's show tie-ins of various sorts. Let me know when they have one for Jeopardy (not that I watch it that often anyway...). Of course, why I should get so excited over a handheld device that offers less than a website can, I don't know, but it's still cool.

The second major type of product is more of a style of marketing that's on the rise. A lot of smaller, family-owned farms, trying to compete with Big Agribusiness, are starting to market direct to consumers and to independent supermarkets. If I buy Tolley Farms Pork (soon Beef too), I know that it was raised on a farm just east of Galesburg; if I'm curious I can talk to the farmers and visit to see the conditions. If you buy Illinois Crown Beef at various small supermarkets in the Chicago area, you'll know that that animal was raised at one of eight farms here in western Illinois. It's really a neat way to do business and eat meat responsibly. Depending on the specific arrangement, it can even be cheaper than the meat you buy now, that's gone through several middlemen (and how long did that take...?) before getting to your freezer.

"Each person is responsible for carrying his or her own shielding and mopping device. It is called a handkerchief. (Miss Manners has heard tell that there is an ersatz version of this in paper, which she reluctantly supposes would also accomplish the job.)" --Miss Manners

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January 29, 2004

Biking through the frigid snow

Man oh man. I got so many environmentalist points today---biking in the cold is one thing, and biking in the snow is one thing, but biking in the cold snow is something else entirely. You have to go slow (because of the snow) and so the cold has much longer to act.

I've said before that when I lived in Providence, I biked every day, cold, snow, whatever. Today it occurred to me that it doesn't actually get this cold in Providence. Quite the revelation, really.

"This is exactly why I have a hunting dog. He is all over alerting me to any animals in the house, especially the ones on tv." --Jonathan Wagner

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January 24, 2004

Weekend in progress

Well, I saw My Fair Lady last night. And it has some hilarious scenes, especially for someone who's a linguist. But I was surprised to find that, deep down, it really isn't a very good movie. Like, at all. It's a musical, but one of the leads and a major supporting role can't sing and end up speaking their songs---which is a trick you can get away with for a line or two, but it becomes painfully obvious when it is used and re-used for song after song. Even within the "break randomly into song" context of musicals everywhere, a lot of the numbers make no sense; either they are tossed in with minimal setup to a scene where they are barely relevant, or they make no sense at all. ("I could have danced all night"---eh? But you weren't dancing. Or at a party. Nor are you talking about the past, but the present.) There is some interesting commentary on the role of language in class distinction. But then the promising discussion on the role of women in society seems to be resolved in favour of the "she shouldn't work; she'll only be truly happy if she's at home, fetching her man's slippers". Pretty awful stuff, really.

Today my job is working on catching up with my classes. Unfortunately, I've spent the afternoon rearranging and cleaning my living room. Which is, to be sure, a productive use of my time, just not what I'm supposed to be doing. I actually broke down three boxes from the move (you know, last September?), giving me significant space. The new arrangement reminds me of my apartment in Providence, not because the layout is the same, but because my couch is now in front of a window. Really gives the room a different feel.

"I appreciate the irony of this rich, pampered, oft-rescued son of a president admonishing athletes that there are no "shortcuts to accomplishments." I marvel at how Bush devoted more time to homosexuals than he did to the environment." --Burt Constable

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January 06, 2004

Sleepy day

Apparently, today was the day for my body to inform my brain, "Enough with the sleep deprivation already!" I got up at a moderate 11am, took my shower, checked my email, and was going to be at work by noon. But sitting there on the couch I fell asleep. And drifted in and out of sleep all day, finally rousing at about 7. It's not even that I was all that sleep deprived, but I suppose that all those 4.5 and 6-hour nights finally caught up with me. :P

Fortunately, this was my day off from classes. I still need to write my lectures for tomorrow, though...

"Watching Elmo be joined by the Backstreet Boys is like having the person who is repeatedly kicking you in the balls suddenly say, 'Oh. I'm sorry. I forgot to set you on fire first.'" --Jeff Vogel

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January 03, 2004

Happy new year

Happy New Year!

I seem to have lost a post I made a couple days ago. Damn. Anyway, the music party was fun; there were three groups, including Theory of Everything whose CD I bought and am well pleased with. Then there was a sing-a-long, which was ok but dominated by songs that didn't have much in the way of melody; ah well.

Kim and Al's party was excellent as always. It's one of the very few parties all year where I sit in one conversation and can hear one or two others that I'd actively really like to participate in. Such fun. :) I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen since last year, and got to meet a few people I didn't know or didn't know well; like Mike's sister Kristi, who is way cool. She spent a lot of time mentioning relevant legal facts, presumably due to being halfway through law school. (It reminded me of Theresa's ability to inject random medical facts into a conversation and pitch them at exactly the right level that they remain comprehensible and interesting to the lay person.)

Yesterday we sat around and talked for a while, then went on a sushi run to finish off the week. I left right from there rather than get sucked in for the whole evening.

Political thought of the day (courtesy Mike): you probably were aware that in Nazi Germany you needed to be a member of the Nazi Party in order to get government funding for your business. You've seen it in non-fiction and novels about the era; if nowhere else, you saw it in Schindler's List or some similar movie. Likewise, in Soviet Russia you needed to be a member of the Communist Party in order to get anything accomplished. Again, you'll probably have seen this in some Cold War spy novel or movie; I actually had it personally confirmed by someone who lived there---it was true at least up into the early 90s.

Well, Congressman Hall (D-TX), long known as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, having the stated goal of remaining Democrat in order to shift the party rightward, has just announced that he's turning Republican. Why now? Because his district had been denied funding solely due to him being a Democrat.

This is a relatively new feature on the American political landscape, and it's not a pretty one. I think we're still a ways off from anything like a totalitarian regime; but it's becoming ever harder to answer the five-year-old's question "why were those countries bad?" with something that doesn't also apply to our own country. The differences are becoming ones of degree rather than qualitative, and it's disturbing.

"This shirt is for *your* protection." --Scott Harris

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December 18, 2003

TV

I sit here and knit and watch TV. It's quite a routine, and quite far from where I was just four months ago, when I watched exactly one hour of TV a week (West Wing). I found myself flipping channels earlier; the Game Show Network has a nifty one called "Lingo", which is essentially Word Mastermind with a tiny admixture of Bingo for a random element. Today one of the teams was a guy who knits and a girl who plays croquet. In commenting on this, the host (is that Chuck Woolery?) commented that his son knits too. I'm telling you, it's the new thing.

Props to fellow CS prof Chris Andrews, whose pickup truck came to my ResQ on picking up my new coffeetable (and who then helped lug it up to my apartment). It came in a box---I asked at least three or four times whether it was fully assembled, with answers ranging from "yes" to "almost", but it totally wasn't. In fact, the pieces didn't even fit together all that well, and from a standpoint of assembly it was incredibly poorly designed: the instructions say to put it together upside down, but the shelf only has real supports when it's right-side-up. And you can't just assemble the top to the legs and then flip it over, because once the legs are screwed in the shelf won't fit right. It required a hammer to get the shelf to fit right.

Done now, though. Really cool. I have pictures, which I may post at some point. For now, back to wondering how my gauge changed so much between sock #1 and sock #2, and how I can compensate.

"Making sure that kids have health insurance is the right thing. Pissing away time in a quixotic quest for ideological purity is not." --Michael Kimmitt

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Enough with the snow already

I'm a huge fan of snow, and I like a lot of snow, but it's a little freaky that the snowstorms keep coming a day after I arrive someplace.

"You know how it goes: stood up, cussed her something fierce, received applause from entire airplane, cut to reality, oops, it was all my passive-agressive imagination, put headphones back on." --Matt Stanislawski

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December 09, 2003

Another day

Still not entirely sure if I'm sick. I'm sort of skating the edge. I woke up with a froggy throat but drinking lots of water made that go away; I've been drinking so much water and fruit juice that I've been drinking less caffeine, so now I've also got a withdrawal headache. Also, I feel a general malaise. I'm trying to get lots of sleep and take naps, though, because I really really don't need to get sick this week.

Today I went in and talked to Eugene about life as a professor and got a little caught up on what he's been working on (though I'll get more of that tomorrow at the BLLIP meeting). I wandered around the dept and said hi to a lot of people, and then got lunch with Greg Cooper at Geoff's. Went back to the dept and checked email and such, then headed back to 166 where I took an hour-and-a-half nap. I got up not particularly refreshed but at least more rested, and went to ballroom dance class in the awesome new dance studio at T.F.Green Hall. And then got dinner with Greg and Amy. Now I'm exhausted and will go to bed shortly.

"If you sealed your status as a social outcast every time you had sex, you'd be pretty angry, too." --Jonathan Prykop

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December 08, 2003

Food

Got up around 10 and got a ride in to Brown, arriving about 10:45. I wanted to go to Mass at noon and didn't envision myself extricating myself from the department that quickly, so I just grabbed breakfast at Au Bon Pain for a while, then headed over to Faunce and killed time by reading Friday's BDH.

After Mass, I ended up going to Taste of India with Fr Bodah and Theresa, where we chatted for about an hour and a half. Back at school, I went to Health Services and got my records transferred, and then headed back to 166 Cushing, where I chilled with Sam and Claudia for a little while before heading to the Department Tea at 5, where I managed to walk in in the middle of a story being told about me. So I was standing in there talking about my first term teaching and Eugene walks by (on his way out, with his coat on); I noticed him go, and Sharon and a couple other people laughed that he'd sort of obliviously walked past, and about ten seconds later he popped back into the doorway as it clicked that however normal my voice was around the department, it'd been a while since it had been there... I promised to stop by tomorrow to talk to him. After tea, I checked my email and deleted over 4000 pieces of spam that had accumulated in my CS account in the last month, then got dinner at Asian Paradise with Tomer and Will (a first-year grad student).

After dinner I met a bunch of people at Meeting Street and then headed back to 166 where we popped popcorn and watched the finale of Average Joe (no lie). I remain bewildered as to the point of that particular reality show---a twist a few weeks ago was that they introduced four "hunks" to compete with the remaining four "joes", but there was apparently no disincentive whatsoever against just picking the hunks. Odd.

And now although it's only 11:45, I'm exhausted and going to bed. I hope I'm not coming down with what everyone else has. If it is, I hope it's a cold and not a fever, because I've sure been feeding it.

"I've got nothing against the people of America, but when they put their collective power and opinions together into a single entity, they become one giant greedy self-righteous asshole." --Jonathan Prykop

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December 04, 2003

Bleh

Got a slow start on the day today, and I've about given up on getting serious work done this week. My faculty web page is finally up, though not all the links are good yet. I burned five CDs of music for the Brown ballroom team, something I've been meaning to do for years now. That's not even including the stuff that I think is fine but that other people complained about.

I'm also making some level of plans for next week when I'm in Providence. BRS isn't having a concert this term :(, but hopefully I'll be able to see most everything/everyone else I was hoping to.

The last ep of Reign is on tonight. This one is as weird as most of the previous ones put together, which is saying a considerable amount. I wonder what they'll start on tomorrow.

"I have never even pretended to be as cool as you think you are, Jonathan." --Liz Chilton

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November 25, 2003

Progress

I've got two problems graded.

...and one load of laundry done, two in the pipeline, my socks washed, the dishes done, and notesfiles sequenced. Back to work!

"People are out there screwing with your realities every day. You can say that if we just "abide by the law" no one will bother us. But one day you might wake up and find that someone out there wrote a lot of laws you don't want to abide by." --Brian Thurber

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2-4-6-8

How can I procrastinate?

Well, discovering Adult Swim was an excellent start. Scott Harris commented that it was good to see animation finally come into its own; he's exactly right. This stuff is great. It's a mix in equal parts of dubbed anime, rerun American animation, and original projects.

On a related note, although I disapprove of SUVs on general principle (except in those exceedingly rare cases where they actually are the right tool for the job), I have to say that I enjoy the Dodge Durango commercials immensely.

"Men don't automatically get homemakers who tend to their kids' every need when their sperm finds fertile women. I don't think that women should get fat paychecks for their children simply because a sperm fertilizes their egg." --Christie Babinski

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November 20, 2003

On the telephone

Just as I was typing that title, I got this thought of those words being sung to "On the road again". I'll have to work on that one.

Anyway, I discovered that once I've overcome my aversion to making phone calls once, it's easier, so I just got a batch of them done. Among other things, I've arranged renter's insurance (finally!) and scheduled a doctor's appointment for right after Thanksgiving. Whew.

"Americans were sold on a short, sharp war with a short, cheap occupation based on a massive threat to US security. They got one of the three, and they may demand that they get the second due to the lack of the third." --Michael Kimmitt

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November 08, 2003

Most dishonest graphic ever

I was just reading the Register-Mail and happened across what I believe to be the most dishonest statistical graph that I've ever seen. The article was an AP feed on the abortion ban, and the graphic was also from the AP, showing what percentage of abortions occur in various weeks of the pregnancy.

To represent these percentages, it has a black bar at the y-value corresponding to the percent, and the black bar extends horizontally over the weeks it's covering. The problem is, different bars have different widths, so that the first six weeks are taken in aggregate (21.7%), then week 7 has about 17% by itself, week 8 about 19% by itself, week 9 and 10 taken together about 20%, 11 and 12 10%, 13-15 6%, 16-21 just under 5%, and weeks 22 on about 1.5% total. I'm not actually sure which bias it represents, either, since it makes it look like more abortions happen in the first couple of weeks than actually do, but also that more happen in the last trimester than actually do. But in any case, it simply took my breath away how awful this graphic was.

"For the record, I question the logic of [anonymity] merged with "hey, let's tell all our IMSA friends on the notesfiles". The IMSA community's secret-keeping prowess is best likened to the 'Rizzo's pregnant' scene from "Grease"." --Joe Shidle

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November 06, 2003

Goodbye, Earl!

Man, the video for the Dixie Chicks' song Goodbye, Earl is just so great. I feel a little bad liking the song so much, considering it's all about killing a guy (...who was a serious abuser, though, so arguably had it coming). Probably it's appealing to my "total disconnect between song topic and song style" aesthetic, to which I also attribute much of my interest in TMBG.

On the topic of music videos, though, there are maybe five that get vastly more play on VH1 Country than any others; much like any radio station, I suppose. If you count Dixie Chicks songs together, they'd certainly be a sixth. Thing is, there must be about ten or fifteen of their songs in the regular rotation, more than anybody else. And they're all good. I'm still seeing "new" ones (to me) regularly, several months after I started watching country videos. These guys are awesome.

"He was not especially persecuted, Sweden is a tolerant country, and Jansson not a serious symptom, but he determined to make the time-honored gesture of emigrating to a country where 'he could worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience'; his followers, of course, being expected to permit their leader's conscience to do all the dictating, also according to formula." --Earnest Elmo Calkins, They Broke the Prairie (1937)

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October 17, 2003

India stories

I just heard from Kim Plofker (hi Kim!), another former Brown Renaissance Singer, currently in India as a travelling scholar studying the history of math. Apparently my blog has inspired her to start one too---and Kim-in-India is much more interesting than mine, so go read it.

"Because daydreaming required people to think up their own plots, as opposed to simply downloading them, it seems as quaint as paying personal visits instead of instant-messaging. But it does serve to illustrate the etiquette of multitasking. The rule is that you must not get caught." --Miss Manners

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October 11, 2003

Manual transmission pro

...not quite. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After I got to Chicago, I walked over and caught the El out to Harlem, where Lee and Kelly (and Loren!) picked me up and drove me out to Schaumburg. My agent met me at the door and sat me down and first off insisted on trying to get me a lower rate loan. Whatever; it seemed easier at that point to just let them run the check. In retrospect, I would've gotten out of there a lot faster otherwise....

Chuck ran over to the BMW dealer next door (same owner, and where they handle all the financing and title transfer stuff), then came back and showed me the car. So many neat features. The volume control on the stereo? On the back of the steering wheel. Also buttons to switch input types and cycle through presets (or skip tracks on CDs). The cup holders? Two for coffee cups and cans, and one big honkin' one for the mad huge 32oz cups you sometimes get.

Then we head over to the BMW dealer to wrap stuff up. I waited forever and a day (meanwhile Lee et al are still hanging out at the Mini dealer), and this greasy fellow comes out who I take an instant dislike to. But I smile and remain polite, as he tries to get me to use their financing. Which was, to be sure, cheaper; but by about $7 a month, or a few hundred across the term of the loan. I hemmed and hawed, and decided that it was worth that much to me to keep my money in Galesburg on this one (and to not have to go back and undo the loan---by paying it off right away, of course, but still, bleh). I also pointed out that this didn't account for the $75 service fee that was essentially an early payoff penalty. This guy dissed on my bank: "you're paying them money to loan you money? Some setup." Which came within a hairsbreadth of making fun of me, not to mention, that's how loans work. He continued: "Must be some bank, if you're willing to pay them $400 extra." Yeah, or maybe there are factors other than saving a buck at work here. Jerk. Anyway, at this point he says, "Oh, I made a mistake, I can save you $600 over the term of the loan." I wonder just how low I could've driven the rate, but at this point, I wasn't giving this guy a penny more than the cost of the car.

And yet he launches in on a new tack. Now he's trying to sell me extended warranty, extended maintenance, and dings and dents service. Had these been offered earlier, I might've considered them. I asked if I could add the extended warranty later---yes---and if it would cost more---yes---and how much? "I can't tell you." Yeah, I bet. So I have no idea if an extra two years on my warranty is worth what they're charging ($1800), and of course this is a hard sell to get me to spend it. Not only did I want more time to think about it, but I simply couldn't have; I had a loan for the cost of the car, and don't at the moment have the cash to pay more than that. I didn't bother to point this out to him, because it would've just launched him into another pitch for a loan.

Finally, I was able to get out of there. I got my keys, I got the registration, I'm all set. And I'm starving. We decide to get Indian food, and I try to learn to drive stick shift.

Now, the theory's fine, and I've even managed to drive sticks before on three occasions. But I must've stalled about ten times getting out of that parking spot. (I was letting out the clutch too fast.) Once I got the hang of gassing up and slowly letting off the clutch, I was golden. Well, sort of. At one point, while turning around (we'd missed a turn), I tried to U-turn in a subdivision intersection, needed to 3-point instead, and just as I went to back up, 1) I stalled, and 2) a guy drives up wanting to come through. Naturally, I'm perpendicular to traffic at this point... he starts yelling and this does not help. With I think just two tries I managed to get going, and made it to the Indian restaurant with some near-stalls but no further incident.

After we ate, I decided it was much too late to go down to Urbana (sorry Kathy), so I drove home. I made it all the way from the Woodfield area to my parents' house with just one stall. (In the middle of a major intersection, while leading up to a left turn, but what's life without drama?) And later on, when I drove to Lee and Vern and Kelly's place in Niles, entirely via surface roads (lots of stops and turns), I didn't stall even once. Coming back, I took 90, toll booth and all, again with complete success. So I'm not a pro just yet, but I'm getting there. :)

'If you assemble 100 gay and lesbian people in a room and ask them, "What's the worst experience you've ever had as a gay man or lesbian?" 95 of them will answer, "Coming out to my parents." (The other 5 will respond, "Being courtmartialed.")' --The Plaid Adder, "The Fine Art of Being Come Out To" (which, though selected according to the sequence I've been using for ages now, is topical---today is National Coming Out Day! Be cool, be tolerant.)

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All aboard!

Given a choice between planes and trains, why on earth do they take planes? I'm riding on a train from Galesburg to Chicago right now, and I have a huge window next to me, I can lean back without hitting the person behind me, and I can stretch out my legs as much as I want. The overhead bins could've held two huge suitcases easily. I can walk around and even pass people in the aisle without sitting on someone's lap. The cafe car serves a whole menu of stuff at, shockingly enough, reasonable prices---$3.50 for a cinnamon roll and a coffee is only slightly higher than Galesburg prices, and considerably lower than what I'd expect to pay in Chicago.

And I've got my laptop plugged in to the electrical outlet mounted next to my seat. Try that on a plane.

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October 10, 2003

Fog

Good heavens, there's some hard-core fog out there right now. Between that and the empty streets, I feel like I'm in some old early-90s video game, where the maximum rendered distance is too low. It's really cool, though. I don't even remember fog this thick in Providence.

"To all the West Coasties (IMSAn, ISUn or otherwise), who've ever made snide remarks about Midwestern conservatism in my presence, I have a brief message: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER WAS JUST ELECTED GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. SUCK IT." --Fred Iutzi

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September 17, 2003

Digital Cable

The cable guy finally came back yesterday to actually install the cable for my living room, and the digital cable box. (Getting through the brick façade required two calls back to the main office and a hammer drill; once that arrived on the scene, the job was easy and it went through like a hot knife through butter. Cool piece of machinery.) Anyway, so now I have cable.

I've been watching a lot of country music videos. The way I always used to leave the radio on, now I've been leaving the TV on music video stations and glancing up occasionally. Already I've seen a bunch of repeats (sigh).

Country music videos, by and large, haven't given in to the lure of more skin that is seen these days on pop and hip-hop videos. Unfortunately, a lot of them end up being sort of boring. Some are great, though.

...Holy cow, the one on right now is disturbingly bitter: Chris Isaak / Don't Go Walking Down There looks like the singer is praying the rosary over his (dead? dying?) wife and bitterly complaining about all the happy people out there and how he can't join them (they being represented by a bunch of 70s-style go-go dancers, incongruously enough). Disturbing.

Anyway, I was going to say: I like the one for "What was I thinking"---very well constructed video, and the singer's facial expressions are awesome. "I love this bar" never really did it for me as a song, but the video is really well-shot and compelling. Shania's "Forever and for always" is incredibly cute, and I'm still baffled as to how exactly her... garment... is constructed, not to mention how it actually stays up. It looks really cool, though.

On the other side of the coin, I've seen a bunch of videos that are essentially recordings of live performances or, even worse, of recording sessions. Gee, let's take the worst of both worlds and put them together!

Interesting how the song distribution differs, though, from what's on the radio. I assume that has to do with the relative release time of videos, not to mention the fact that an enh song can make a great video and vice versa.

Huh, they just showed one of a band I've never heard of before, that has the look of an alternative band but the sound of... a pop-ified country band, I guess. One of the guys is playing a miniature guitar, and the girl's on electric fiddle. Great sound, though (nifty video, too): Nickel Creek, they're called. Have to check them out.

'Well, god forbid we require people to actually have a decent vocabulary in order to play well, let alone make the game challenging, so it has been twisted into, "Who can memorize more stupid two-letter combinations that, though not actually words, we slipped into the 'standard' dictionary for this one game."' --Kevin Colby

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September 09, 2003

WE HAVE INTERNET

The path was rocky, but Insight came through for me. Web and ssh work, and I have an internet connection from my apartment.

I may, and don't hold me to this, shout "woo".

On where to turn for usage information: "Style manuals. Good ones. Specifically, ones that agree with me." --Annemarie Peil

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September 05, 2003

Cable, or DSL?

I've been researching it on and off for a week now, and finally got around to calling today. In both cases, the price of broadband was on the web, but the ancillary stuff (landline, cable) wasn't priced. So I called the cable folks, and immediately got a nice lady named Shirley who told me about deals that were cheaper than what was listed on the web and was generally very helpful. Then I called the phone guys, and was on hold for about ten minutes before giving up. So I've called Shirley back and am hooking up cable and internet now. At this rate, I may never get a land line....

"Bitching about it on notesfiles, on the other hand, is probably not very productive. It's definitely something you should save until you're a graduate student and have nothing better to do." --Keith Winstein

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August 19, 2003

Back in Providence

I flew in yesterday, and stayed at Sam and Coree's (and Rob's, but he's chilling in LA this week) last night. Today I went in and got a marginal amount of thesis work done, and am now going to head over to hang out with Theresa and Seth.

Or at least, I was going to, but my car seems to be gone. Dave may not realise I'm back in Providence (seeing as I haven't told him), so he's probably taken it to go play golf. Hmm. Rather puts a crimp in my plans, but I expect I'll figure out something.

Anyway, I just posted three entries I made while in Galesburg when I didn't have net access, and backdated them to when I actually wrote them. Movable Type is so nice. :)

"It is essential to the free exercise of a religion, that its ordinances should be administered---that its ceremonies as well as its essentials should be protected.... The sinner will not confess, nor will the priest receive his confession, if the veil of secrecy is removed." --DeWitt Clinton

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August 17, 2003

More about the Dollar General

What a great place. They have a little bit of everything there, and it's all just so cheap. Even their book rack---they must get them as leftovers from somewhere, because the paperbacks are a buck each, and include some (unknown-author) fantasy, even. Did, anyway.

Also, I saw a little old lady with honest-to-God blue hair there.

"The problem is, Peil's guardian angle is obtuse." --Joe Shidle

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August 13, 2003

Almost there

The truck is mostly loaded, a process that took just one hour due to the impressive amount of help I was able to summon up---a big shout out to Theresa, Sam, Rob, Will, Kim, Greg, and Greg for their assistance. Moving should always be this easy.

I still need to sift through the debris field that was my room---probably another two or three small boxes of stuff in there, plus oddments like the window and floor fans (you think I would pack those before I had to?).

First though, I think I need a nap. I'm definitely not at my cognitive best, here.

"Some things I do because I loathe the process but enjoy the outcome. I call these 'laundry.' Other things I do because I enjoy the process so much the outcome is secondary. These often have something to do with Will Wright." --Gel Thelen

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Driving a fifteen footer's not so bad...

...I cut my teeth on a full-size station wagon (may it rest in peace). Well, I've rented the truck, and it took only a very slight amount of getting used to. I was expecting it to be much worse---not knowing how wide I was and all---but it turns out that it's really not as wide as you think. (At least, if you've driven a station wagon and are expecting it to be significantly wider.)

Now to do some last minute packing before the, ah, guests arrive.

"This experiment isn't going to be valid, but then, I don't think any of them ever are." --Sharon Goldwater

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It's the artwork

It's definitely the artwork that does it. I took down the artwork and now my room now looks less like "my room" and more like "room someone is moving out of". My back hurts and my feet hurt but I finally feel like I have a handle on the thing. We'll see.

"We arbitrarily named the three versions TOP, MIDDLE, and BOTTOM (the names reflect the order that we wrote them on a white board.)" --McNamara & Smaragdakis, "Functional Programming with the FC++ Library"

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August 02, 2003

Cold? In August?

It's 80 degrees outside, and I'm sitting here in socks, jeans, and a sweatshirt. Why? My officemate's back from SIGGRAPH. I suppose I can't really blame him for keeping the office cold when he's around; he grew up in a colder climate than I did. I just grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but he's from southern Florida.

Anyway, in between starting runs of experiments for my thesis, I've been fiddling with the site, and it should now render acceptably in all the major browsers, although each seems to have some little quirk. I've also activated the "recent comments" feature---the last five are in the sidebar, and the last 25 are listed on the recent comments index.

Hm, no wonder I'm hungry, it's already 8pm. The question is, should I go home and consume some of the food I need to get rid of before moving out---which means probably an hour at least---or should I get cheap pizza from Antonio's again? I've been eating there an awful lot... but then, getting a good, fast dinner for less than $4 is not to be underestimated....

I had some mint-scented odor eaters once. They gave me tic-tac toe. --Peter Morris

Posted by blahedo at 08:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

More wonkiness

I finally found someone who has IE6 installed, so I can fix the CSS stuff to work on that as well. So there is to be a bit more wonky arrangement for a while as I try and sort out a layout that all the browsers like.

[under construction]Remember when every third site had an "under construction" sign on it? Well, this one won't stay under construction forever, but I was feeling nostalgic, so I put the sign up for old times' sake. :)

"Sure he was a total flake but he seemed like such a nice total flake." --Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 04:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 24, 2003

I just bought a car

That's not quite true (but I got your attention, huh?). In fact, I just ordered it and put down my deposit. It will look something like this:

[Indi Blue MINI Cooper]
Like the one in the picture, mine will be an Indi Blue MINI Cooper with white roof and mirrors, a sunroof, and silver "hole"-style wheels. Mine will have black bumpers and no fog lamps, though. And it'll be SO CUTE! It's due sometime in early October. I can't wait.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to engage you in a discussion. Backing off now." --Mike Peil

Posted by blahedo at 04:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

All set

Ok, I think I'm done with stylesheeting this thing; all the pages should look nice and uniform now. In theory, it should look good on all modern browsers, and tolerable on older ones. Let me know if you find otherwise....

"While Casey is, in fact, a Chick Magnet as such, I feel obliged to point out that I am, in fact, married, as such." --Michael Kimmitt

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July 21, 2003

Second weekend at home

Saturday I went to the IAA meeting and hung out there at IMSA all day, then drove into the city to hit my tenth year reunion. Fun stuff. I enjoyed walking up to people and saying "hi!" as if they should recognise me---which if they hadn't seen me in ten-plus years, they were pretty unlikely to do. :)

Sunday was a family gathering where we had over as many of our relatives (on both sides) as could come. The nice thing was, none of the various branches had enough folks here that they could just hang out amongst themselves, so they were all talking to each other. Which was cool.

And today (not properly part of the weekend, I know), I've been setting up the new blog site. Welcome! It's still a little rough around the edges, but it should all be there and somewhat more fully-featured than the old one. I have comments now---just click on the link below each post. I'd love to hear from you!

"When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." --Buckminster Fuller

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June 28, 2003

Cell phones and yarn

I am now the proud owner of an LG-4400 phone from Verizon. So all y'all that I've told that my cell phone is flaky, well, it's not anymore. It's pretty cool actually. (Although, it does have the annoying sounds-like-a-gameboy polyphonic ring, but there wasn't much I could do about that. I expect I'll get used to it eventually.) The best part is, it was free. I went in thinking I'd *probably* stick with Verizon, just from inertia, but sort of openminded; but it turns out if you're a longstanding customer (three years for me; I assume it's anything over two), they knock $100 off the price of your phone. So, couple that with the $50 mail-in rebated, and I have this schmancy new phone, free. So I splurged and got a headset and a car charger too (though to be honest, I'd been considering that anyway).

Then I went down to Tiverton, to Sakonnet Purls, a really great yarn shop. It's still the biggest yarn shop I've ever been in (ok, so I've only been in six), and the people there are really nice. Also, the drive down there is absolutely gorgeous. On this trip I learned of the existence of "the shed", where every skein and ball is $3. I pretty much went into ferret shock, although I managed to pry myself out of there without buying anything. The inside of the store was another story. I bought a book on making sweaters (not just sweater patterns, and this thing is really analytical about the whole thing), and a bunch of skeins of yarn with which I will commence my first sweater one of these days. Also needles and yarn for a few more projects I'm thinking of, and a tapestry needle, and some finishing-off bits for existing projects, and wool shampoo. (Wool shampoo? Eh? Well, wool is basically hair, and if you're going to be washing it by hand....)

"Symptoms of cyanide poisoning are excitement, convulsions, respiratory distress, and spasms. Another warning sign is death, which can occur without any of the other symptoms." --Cecil Adams

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June 12, 2003

BIEN VENU

The blogosphere admits another member.

WELL COME.

"I'd rather live next to a wind farm than a coal plant. If ugliness were justification enough for stopping human structures from being built, there would be no Wal-marts or trailer parks or Modesto, CA." --Gel Thelen

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May 23, 2003

Strikers

The Brown library workers are striking; it's pretty cool. They're standing at the corner of two fairly major streets (just outside one of the libraries) and getting people to honk for them. A *lot* of people are honking. It's a nice pick-me-up on such a dreary day.

I was waiting for the elevator at the first floor; it arrived and there were about eight confused-looking people inside. Who made no move to leave, but I was pretty sure this was their floor. "Are you...?" "Yeah, the door didn't open." Meaning the back door of the elevator---I suggested they hit 1R. The door opened, and they left. Obviously never been in the building before, but it was still funny. :)

"As long as she kept her mouth shut, I'd give serious thought to refraining from kicking Ann Coulter out of bed for eating crackers." --Michael Kimmitt

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May 15, 2003

Stupid bank

After all the stupid overdraft problems I've been having, yesterday I just cashed my paycheck at the Citizen's branch, then walked the money over to Sovereign, where I deposited it. I also confirmed when the money would be available, and was explicitly told "as soon as you leave this window"---and the guy at the next window joked about it ('what if he stands there all day?') so there were even witnesses. There is an automatic payment scheduled for today, and if I get socked with an overdraft on it, so help me, I'm going to walk in there and close my account on the spot.

The whole thing is completely idiotic. The entire time between entering the Citizen's branch and leaving the Sovereign branch was perhaps twenty minutes, and that included clearing the check, counting out the money, walking a few blocks, and processing the deposit. Twenty minutes. WHY IN GOD'S NAME DOES IT TAKE THREE DAYS TO DO THIS ELECTRONICALLY???

Other news: our government is lying again.

"What you learn about programming in college is much like what you learn about books or clothes or dating: what bad taste you had in high school." --Paul Graham

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May 13, 2003

Some commercials

I'm sitting here knitting, and listening to the radio, and two bizarre little commercials just beg to be recounted here.

One is for, believe it or not, spam. The meat product from Hormel. Cube it and add it to mac and cheese! Delicious! Can't keep it on the table because people eat it so fast! MMmmm, spam! We're out? MORE SPAM! *crash* Did someone ask for spam? Tasty! [Gah.]

The other one is advertising for a singles listing service run by this radio station. The best part is a little testimonial from one of its users: it was an easy decision to try it, because *I* listen to the radio station, and I thought it'd be great to find someone who listens to the same radio station as I do, and maybe that would mean we like to do the same things! [Buh? Had me through that last part there...]

"Scientists start out... trying to reproduce work someone else has already done for them. Eventually, they get to the point where they can do original work. Whereas hackers, from the start, are doing original work; it's just very bad. So hackers start original, and get good, and scientists start good, and get original." --Paul Graham

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May 12, 2003

This is just about the

This is just about the funniest thing I've read in a while. Those crazy Oregonians.

"When you damp oscillations, you lose the high points as well as the low. This is not a problem for big companies, because they don't win by making great products. Big companies win by sucking less than other big companies." --Paul Graham

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May 08, 2003

Paul Graham is so quotable.

Paul Graham is so quotable. His new essay, Hackers and Painters is again good---some stuff I disagree with, but very well written.

You know how hard it is to get into a project? And how it's even harder to get back into a project after you've set it aside for a month or two? Thus it was with my PhD thesis. But Tuesday afternoon, I made my way over the hump, and I'm moving again. Hopefully I can be ready to defend in a month and a half.

(Oh, and the concert last night went really well. I got assigned a solo just two days before the concert, but I was in excellent voice and it went off great. :)

"Computer science is a grab bag of tenuously related areas thrown together by an accident of history, like Yugoslavia." --Paul Graham

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April 29, 2003

I just downloaded iTunes 4

I just downloaded iTunes 4 for my Mac. It includes access to the Apple Music Store, which is a service that lets you buy tracks for $1 each. Similar services have existed for a while, but never with very many tracks from well-known artists. Apple has changed that. I don't think I can stress this enough:

THIS IS BIG.

I have to assume I'm not the only one out there going through my music collection and buying songs that I've been meaning to buy for a while now. The vast majority of my 1,913 songs are in fact legal---ripped off of CDs I bought and that are sitting on my desk at home---but there's a bunch that I heard on the radio and downloaded, or that I ripped off a friend's CD to check out a new band. For instance, until a few hours ago my entire collection of country music was illegal, mostly because I haven't had a chance to get to the music store this semester.

But I just spent $30 picking up most of the country music I had. It's now legal, and includes liner art (!), and I bought it from my own computer, using an interface that is essentially an extension of the same software I've been using to manage my music for over a year now. It'll probably take a while to work through and buy all the tracks I don't own (not to mention that even at $1 each, tracks do add up---then again, I just got thirty songs I *like* for somewhat less than I'd pay for two CDs), but I'll get there. Apple certainly seems to have damn near all of them in its store.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: every one of the tracks in the Apple music store has a 15-25 second preview that you can play; so among those thirty tracks were at least five or six songs that I had never heard before, and some that I'd never even heard *of* before, but sounded neat. The preview interface is just a matter of double-clicking on the title---remember, this is the same interface as the music library---and if you like it, you click the "BUY SONG" button. This has the strong potential to be one of the most societally-important technological developments of the year.

If not the decade.

NICE BRIDGE. WATCH OUT FOR THE TROLL. --Eva Schillace

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April 28, 2003

MCI? Ugh.

If you hold any stock in MCI, I'd ditch it. They're resorting to sketchy underhanded tactics to make money---they switched me from 5c nights and weekends to 9c all the time, and still made me pay $4 a month for the privilege; they claim that I was notified on my February statement, but the statement itself says nothing and oddly enough February is the only email notification I'm missing for the last year and a half. Hmm. Anyway, it wasn't enough that they switched me to the expensive plan---they couldn't even do it right. One of the calls I made after the plan switched over was billed at the old rate. Nobody at MCI could figure out why. And even after I told them, "ok, I *had* been pretty happy with MCI, but you don't have any publically available plan that's even half as cheap as any of the competition"---thinking maybe they'd hand me one of the promotions they always have sitting around---they actually responded to me, "well sir, you are on a very old plan." As if that matters. As if the plan I was on wasn't the standard plan to have.

So anyway, I cancelled my MCI service and should be hooked up to Verizon long distance sometime this afternoon. AT&T may have been cheaper than Verizon in the long run, but this way I have some hope of consolidating my telecom bills.

Also, people are stupid. Consider the following calling plan, available from Verizon:

TimelessSM Plan $3.00
Keep things simple with the Timeless Plan. For just $3 a month, you get 30 minutes of domestic, direct-dialed calls to anywhere in the U.S. and its territories. And, it's just 10¢ for each additional minute of state-to-state long distance calling. In-state rates may vary.
Notice anything funny? For comparison, here's their basic plan:
e-ValuesSM Plan $0.00
Simple and convenient, the e-Values calling plan rewards those who sign up online. Get low, flat rates with 5¢ per minute weekends and 10¢ per minute weekdays and no monthly fees.
But really, more power to Verizon. I'm glad that plans like the "TimelessSM" plan exist---the people that pick them are subsidising my low rates. I just get pissed off when I get slammed with them against my choice.

"I still contend that the love dialogue was so bad that it was frighteningly realistic. I could so empathize with Anakin's "I gotta pull shit out of my ass to win her over because I'm such a yutz" approach." --John McFerrin

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HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, did our car ever get totalled.

Whether you believe in God, karma, or just luck, my family must be in the good graces of all three on this one. Wow.

"Upon reflection, it's just as bad as I thought." --Julia Flanders

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April 27, 2003

My face is red

My mom is fond of saying to me, "you need to get some colour in your face." She'd be proud of me now. Unfortunately, the colour of the moment is... red. I've aloed the heck out of it, but even after two and a half days it's still pretty lobstery.

Have you ever gotten in a really good conversation, then gotten the feeling that any temporary break in it (e.g. a bathroom break) will cause the whole thing to end ("oh, I have work to do, I should go anyway"), so you avoided even such a temporary pause? Well, my advice to you is, if such a conversation seems likely, avoid open sunlight for your lieu-de-conversation; or wear lots of sunscreen....

"Finally, now, the baby Jesus!" --Clemency Williams
"Actually... it's the animals." --Kim Plofker

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April 25, 2003

Bank lameness

So I have this checking account, right? And around April 15th there was a lot of activity on the account (not taxes this year, but Roth IRA contribution). In particular, I deposited a paycheck on the morning of the 14th, then mailed off a check to Merrill Lynch later that day---I figure, the time it takes the paycheck to clear should be less than the time it takes my check to go through the mail, be opened, and then clear, right?

Apparently not. The ML check cleared on the 16th, and apparently my paycheck hadn't yet. The guys at the bank couldn't explain why, nor could they call up any information whatsoever on when exactly my paycheck *did* clear; the only listing we could get out of the system had me only with a positive balance. But this, you see is the ledger balance, which is actually entirely irrelevant for any computation whatsoever. The available balance history is not available anywhere. The current available balance is available online or from the 1-800 number, though not at ATMs, apparently.

Aren't these people supposed to keep records? Here's an abridged version of the transaction history around then---I'm not posting numbers, of course, but I assure you the balance column was positive at all times:

4/14 DEPOSIT
4/15 Discover payment
Merrill Lynch funds transfer
4/16 Merrill Lynch check
Citi payment
4/17 Overdraft fee
Overdraft fee
I do understand that checks sometimes take awhile to clear. But I'd really like to know how ML got my check to clear so fast. I mailed it on Monday, so it couldn't have arrived before Tuesday at the earliest; and then it clears in one day, but my paycheck took more than two? It was from an in-state bank, too... had I known it would be a problem, I would have cashed the damn thing at Citizen's and walked it over to Sovereign myself.

For that matter, why IN GOD'S NAME does it take three days for any of this stuff to happen? So much for the info age.

"I regard the construction of a theory of truth as the basic goal of serious syntax and semantics; and the developments emanating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer little promise towards that end." --Richard Montague

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April 24, 2003

Web Commandments

I recently happened across a page of Web Commandments on the Brown site; I agree with most of their points. In fact, with all but one I agree 100%. I sent them the following letter:

I really like your guidelines page (commandments.html :), and agree with almost everything you've said. But one comment puzzled me:

Tables are good. Use them to format the page, and use specific dimensions-this will decrease load-time.

They can actually considerably increase load-time, especially when they are used for really fine-grained page layout. On old browsers---netscape 4 and earlier---they could sometimes decrease *render* time, but that's not really true of IE6, Mozilla, OmniWeb, or any of the other modern browsers. And they're really bad for people who try to view the page in a non-standard way, as from a text browser, a voice browser for the blind, or a magnifying browser for the visually impaired; or anything else that needs to view content without visual structure. They also can make a page very hard to maintain, especially if the page layout is part of a larger scheme that applies to several pages.

Much better would be to use CSS (and CSS2!) to do the layout commands, leaving just the content and structure in the main html file; it's the best of all worlds, really, letting you have tight control over the look of the thing in a modern browser, but older browsers can at least view it, and nonstandard browsers can too. I noticed that you were aware of the merits of CSS with respect to font specification, so I was surprised to see you advocate tables; I'm writing this letter because you obviously do Care About These Things, so I thought you might have just missed the memo on style sheets for layout. :)

Think that was reasonable? We'll see if they respond.

"This vessel, the accumulated canon of copyright and patent law, was developed to convey forms and methods of expression entirely different from the vaporous cargo it is now being asked to carry. It is leaking as much from within as from without. Legal efforts to keep the old boat floating are taking three forms: a frenzy of deck chair rearrangement, stern warnings to the passengers that if she goes down, they will face harsh criminal penalties, and serene, glassy-eyed denial." --John Perry Barlow

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ATMs and Iraq

Discovery: apparently, an ATM will let you overdraw your account, even when it knows your balance. I went right inside and they let me put the money back in (and said I therefore wouldn't be charged an overdraft fee), but it was still annoying. They claimed it was so if you were at a restaurant or something, and paying, they wouldn't have to block the payment and embarrass you or something; but we all know it is really because they want to get the overdraft fees.

In other news, we are now threatening France, Germany , and Iran with various consequences for their lack of support for our war, in addition to our bluster about WMD in Syria.

Juxtaposition of the incongruous:

"The pilgrims...engaged in religious rituals that were banned for a quarter of a century under Saddam Hussein. This included self-flagellation and the cutting of heads with swords, to mark the death in the 7th century of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Mr Fleischer said President George W Bush had been delighted to see the people given a chance to express their religious fervour."

And some lovely news about Iraq:

"A US army commander in Iraq says the fighting there is not over and there are now more American troops in the country than ever."
Looks like the armband's staying on for a while longer. Just this afternoon I saw a car flying a black flag from a mount on its back window, which is such a great co-opt of the whole flag-on-car movement that I wish I'd thought of it---too bad I don't drive my car very often, or I'd do that too.

Well, back to my thesis.

"Bush made it clear a month ago that this was all about finding weapons of mass destruction... no, wait a minute, last week he made it clear this was all about liberating the Iraqi people... hold on, this morning he made it clear this was about cutting off the flow of oil to Syria, a known haven for terrorists... well, in any event, it has NOTHING to do with American oil interests: that much has been made clear." --Bill Swift

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April 22, 2003

OH MY GOD, my mom

OH MY GOD, my mom just totalled our car. Everyone's okay---she and all three passengers walked away without a scratch... after climbing out the passenger side. Apparently she swerved slightly, or microsleep-ed, or something (she doesn't remember), and the concrete barrier leading up to a bridge caught the car and mauled its left side. Admittedly, on an eleven-year-old car it doesn't take much to total it, but the front bumper, quarter-panel, both left-side doors, and the tire and wheel would've needed to be replaced. Maybe the axle too---they didn't even check, because the car was obviously totalled. I can't believe it. Thank God it happened just exactly when it did---scraping up the side of the car is nothing for the passengers (the airbag didn't even go off), but elsewhere that same swerve might've caught a barrier head-on, or for that matter another *car* head-on. Yikes.

And my folks were kind of thinking of getting a new car soon anyway, so ultimately the damage was about as low as it could be. Still frightening, though. (And this happened on Sunday night, and I just found out this morning. I had already exchanged email with my mom last night, and she guessed (correctly) that giving me just part of the story then would make me freak out---but she could've called me! Still, no harm, no foul, I guess.)

Now back to my thesis. Whew. (By the way, I had a great Easter weekend---marathon online gaming session on Saturday, Mass and then two Easter dinners on Sunday leading into three-in-the-morning deep philosophical conversation. Now. Back to the thesis. *sigh*)

"This is the statistical anomaly that will never happen again. M$ used their one "get to be right for free" card on knocking down RealNames, so it's safe to assume they'll *never* *ever* be right again. Satisfying, in a way." --NoMoreNicksLeft

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April 16, 2003

88°

It is 88° here in Providence right now.

That's all.

"Built in 1874, the historic Knox County Jail was acquired by Knox in 1996 and converted into classrooms and office space. The 19th century cellblock was restored it its original condition as well, making it a popular attraction for campus visitors." --www.knox.edu

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Death penalty and soccer

Yesterday, I went to a talk by former Illinois governor George Ryan and Northwestern law professor Lawrence Marshall, about capital punishment. Verdict: Ryan is a terrible speaker (he repeats himself and he rambles), but whatever else you may say about him, he sincerely and honestly believes that the death penalty is Just Wrong. Larry Marshall (whose daughter is a Brown undergrad) is a pretty good speaker, though. Together, they presented so many arguments why we shouldn't have the death penalty: aside from being racist and classist in practice, and in violation of norms of human rights even in theory, in the last decade we have demonstrated that even for murder convictions, even with all of the safeguards in the system, we actually convict innocent people with some regularity. Bad enough to send them to prison, but how can we even think about killing them? And finally, about the only real reason to carry out the death penalty is to make the victims' families feel better. And it doesn't even really do that.

Later on, I saw the movie Bend It Like Beckham, which was fantastic. It's a funny, witty film about an Indian Briton who really just wants to play football (er, soccer). But her orthodox Sikh parents don't want her to become a footballer, now that she's a grown woman and should be learning things like how to prepare a full dinner (aloo gobhi et cetera); and she should be helping out with the preparations for her sister's upcoming wedding. It actually came out last year, but is just hitting its American release---probably won't hit the main theatres, I'm guessing, but worth seeking out in the smaller ones.

"Hell, yes, I support our troops! I support them so much that I want them safe at home. I support them so much that, if it were up to me, they would never have been put into danger in Iraq in the first place." --Chronos

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April 15, 2003

Mini website coolness

If you stay at the Mini website longer than a half hour, a little dialog pops up saying

Sorry to interrupt, but haven't you been in front of this computer long enough? We here at MINI are worried you're not getting enough exposure to the sun and stars. Don't worry, we'll be here all week. So, get going. Save your retinas for the road.
These guys are so cool. I'm so getting a Mini this fall.

"Wouldn't it be easier if we just let one or two people steal? But that's not our way. We're Puritans---we audit everybody." --Uwe Reinhardt

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April 14, 2003

This weekend was Spring Weekend

This weekend was Spring Weekend here at Brown---an excuse for a lot of drunken revelry, with more parties than you can shake a stick at.... The picture on the front of today's BDH is absolutely priceless. I caption it, ``whuh? have I been here all night?''

Also, I wrote a letter.

"Americans: they even want choice when it's all the same stuff." --Uwe Reinhardt

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You know, sometimes the whole

You know, sometimes the whole windows-desktop metaphor is just a little too strong. I just had some papers with notes written on them propped up against the right side of my laptop screen, and was typing into a window on the left side of the screen. I wanted to do something briefly in a window that was mostly covered by the papers, and I clicked not once but three times in an effort to bring the window to the foreground.

It may also have had something to do with it being 3:30 in the morning, I suppose.

"'Charges' is what the uninsured are required to pay for medical attention, and it's defined as what a drunken sheik from the Middle East could pay, if his wife weren't around to care." --Uwe Reinhardt

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April 13, 2003

Just had the strangest experience.

Just had the strangest experience. Walking home from a party, I saw a car driving down Angell Street. The wrong way. With its lights off. And he'd drive for ten or so yards, then stop, then start again. And he had at least one flat tire. He was swerving a bit, too. After he turned onto Brook, he careened into the curb and created a shower of sparks. Perhaps the strangest thing was that with all of this odd behaviour (and me standing there staring), he was still ignored by a Providence cop driving the other way up Brook.

"The National Rifle Association loves the AMA---they never miss their target, which is their own foot." --Uwe Reinhardt

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April 03, 2003

Another cheery day dawns. Civilian

Another cheery day dawns. Civilian casualties due to cluster bombs in Iraq... *sigh*

On a somewhat lighter note, John Siracusa wrote a great analysis of what used to be great about the Mac interface, how they've gone wrong recently, and how they could fix things. I'd love to see even a few of his ideas make their way into the Finder.

And finally, when I decided to give up notesfiles for Lent, I think perhaps I should have been a little more general. Over the last three or four days since Lee pointed me to a specific post on the SDMB, they've sucked me in and taken over the old role of notesfiles. I think maybe I should cut back. :P

"Those marathon knitting sessions are bad not only for your hands, but hard on your love life. (Yes, we not only want you to be a healthy knitter, we want you to be a slyly smiling, happy knitter.)" --Bonne Marie Burns, knitty.com

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April 01, 2003

Ah, yes. Yesterday was just

Ah, yes. Yesterday was just practice for today's big joke. It's snowing, thickly and heavily, right now in Providence. April Fool's! You just thought it was spring.

"A Police State needs for everyone to be a criminal on paper, to have that potential, to be able to use that against them." --zogger

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March 31, 2003

It's snowing outside. Surely the

It's snowing outside. Surely the calendar is off by a day.

"If I were him and somebody gave me a chance to be me, I'd be a lot more excited than *that*." --Lincoln Pierce, 'Big Nate'

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March 28, 2003

I have three thoughts for

I have three thoughts for the day. First of all, it's official: I just signed my contract with Knox College, and am an employee thereof as of 1 September this year.

Second, Richard Stallman is an interesting person with interesting ideas, but a terrible public speaker. He has a hard time staying on topic and keeping his talk to a reasonable time, rambling off on semi-relevant topics. He does speak without aids or notes, though, which is kind of impressive.

Finally, I have said for a while that 21 is the last relevant birthday before 30; to the extent that I often had to stop and think for a second when asked how old I was. It's just that the difference between 22 and 23 is so minimal as to be unnoticeable. But I was wrong about it being the last before 30: 25 is also a relevant and rememberable one, because at that age you can rent a car, and on another level, it puts you more than halfway through your twenties. Odd.

"Dictators have an uncanny habit of not dying from natural causes." --Adam Hirsch

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March 27, 2003

Ugh. The Palatine High School

Ugh. The Palatine High School choirs and bands were planning a senior trip this year to New York around Memorial Day; students had been saving up for years for this thing. And they had paid their money in, gotten their itineraries and everything.

When the war started, the school decided to forbid the groups to fly. And they wouldn't give them an extra day off school to take the train. In fact, they're probably just going to cancel the trip.

And keep the money.

Some things they can get refunds on, like the plane tickets. That money they're just keeping outright. Other things they can't, like the $80-a-head tickets to see Lion King on Broadway, and they're going to donate them to the Make-a-Wish Foundation to get a tax writeoff.

I'm hearing this via my sister Kathy, whose boyfriend Ryan is getting jacked on this along with a bunch of her other friends; last year they did the same thing (cancelled a trip to New York), but they did it right after 9/11, so the money hadn't been paid up yet and they had time to plan a trip to St Louis. It's not clear whether this year's seniors will get any trip at all, but they've made it pretty clear that they aren't getting their money back in any case.

I can just barely understand that the school is able to do this---although the students are contributing all their own funds, they're technically travelling in the school's name---but it's difficult to see why they would, and it's unfathomable to me that they have the right to keep the money anyway, or to unilaterally donate all the Lion King tickets and keep the tax writeoff. I think the kids should contact a lawyer. How completely obnoxious.

"It's not so difficult---[Bush] does what rich people want, and he does what ignorant, violent people want. So he has lots of money and a huge constituency." --Michael Kimmitt

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Québec notes

To all those people who thought we'd go sweep through Iraq, shoot Saddam, and bring democracy to this poor beleaguered nation, I have to say We Told You So... and it still sickens us to be right.

Anyway, about my trip. I've spent the last few days up in Québec. In fact, I'm typing this on Tuesday night in a youth hostel in Québec City, although I won't be able to post it until I get back. That's because I have no internet access, which is a little weird for me, along with no phone access, which is weirder. Nice, though.

Theresa and I arranged to leave on Saturday at about noon, which we hit pretty well---we left my house at 12:10, stopped at the biomed center to pick up her hat, and then hopped onto I-95 north. Amazingly, despite not starting packing until 11 that morning, I managed to forget nothing more crucial than a belt. Anyway, we cruised up to the New Hampshire border, stopped for lunch at a lovely little Italian diner called Luisa's in, I think, Londonderry (and also stopped at the Ben Franklin next door). I took over driving and continued north.

Driving a Volvo is pretty neat; a big change from my little Prizm. See, Volvos are sturdy cars, with heavy steel frames and solid construction. You have much more of a feel of piloting the thing down the highway than in other cars, and where they have good pickup you get this sense that it's entirely due to having a huge engine under the hood, rather than being a small, zippy little car. It's pretty cool.

(I'm sitting here in the lounge of the hostel, and a guy just walked in with an iPod he plugged in to recharge. I actually saw the charger first, and recognised it and laughed, then saw the iPod itself. Theresa noticed and asked me a question about my iPod, which brought the guy into the conversation. His name is Hervé, and he's from Strasbourg. He's teaching French at Oberlin for a few years before going back to France to teach high school. He has an iBook, and I think I just talked him into getting a wireless card for it.)

A little after Burlington, VT, we stopped again to put some gas in the car and feed Theresa's caffeine habit, then continued on. We crossed the border with no fuss (we had our passports out and didn't even need them; the border guard did ask if we had alcohol, which was ok to bring in but apparently we weren't supposed to tell him it was a gift), and continued on to Montreal.

Now, let me explain the situation. We had an address in Montreal, and we had one of those little four-inch inset city maps that are around the edge of a larger map (in this case of Québec and the Atlantic Provinces). We also knew that the address was somewhere near McGill University. How hard could that be? Theresa seemed confident in my ability to remember the city I'd last visited in 1998, to go to a conference. Ack! Oddly enough, I actually put us on exactly the right road---Rue Sherbrooke---as stopping at a gas station confirmed, and we found the apartment with no further event.

The apartment wasn't locked (you've seen Bowling for Columbine, right?), and we went up. Our host wasn't there, but one of her housemates was, and he'd been told to entertain us until we got back. So he showed us around and took us up to the kitchen, where he did his laundry and chatted with us. Now, let me explain that I was there because I was Theresa's friend, and Colleen is one of Theresa's best friends from home, and Shannon is Colleen's sister who goes to McGill. All of Shannon's housemates were nice and welcoming and everything; how much better does it get?

That night, we went out to the Shed Cafe for dinner, which was excellent; we took a cab back to the apt and were going to go out again, but we had inertia and basically just sat around talking, and doing a crossword puzzle, until two in the morning, when we got out our stuff and went to bed.

In the morning, Theresa and I got up and went to Mary Queen of the World church---rather, to Marie, Reine de la Monde; it was in French. I love that stuff. I followed a surprising amount of it, and occasionally leaned over to fill Theresa in. I'm a little mad that I neglected to pick up a little booklet with the mass music in it---I'd actually looked for it, didn't see it, and assumed that the music would be in the books in the pews---but at least the books in the pews had the order of the mass, with all the prayers and responses and stuff. Fantastic.

Afterwards, Colleen met us and we went across the street to this weird mall-tunnel thing (most of the stores had storefronts on the street, but were connected inside; it was kind of like a one-storey mall, but not exactly), where we went to a restaurant called Marché Mövenpick... it was so cool. You get a card they call your "passport", then you go around to all these stations where you get food and they stamp the passport with what you got. You can eat for a while, then go get more, and at the end you pay for all the things that got stamped. There is a whole station for coffee, one for crepes and waffles, another for pastries, one for salady sorts of things, and a bunch more for all sorts of different things. Not cheap, but not terribly expensive, either, and I highly recommend it.

After that, we wandered down to the Vieux Port, where we did a little window shopping and just admired the architecture and the cobblestone streets and such. Then we turned up Rue Bonsecours, which turns into Rue St Denis, a great little street where we got coffee (which I ordered in French, go me) and did more rubbernecking before returning to the apartment. We had originally intended to continue on to Québec that night, but Shannon asked us if we wanted to stay; we considered it, and ultimately I realised that I'd much rather drive to and arrive in Québec while it was light out (this, in retrospect, was an excellent idea). So we stayed.

Theresa and I went to an Afghan restaurant about a mile east of there, which was excellent. It's a lot like Indian food, with similar names and similar dishes; a little less spicy, and just plain different in some ways, but good. The sauce they served with the appetisers was amazing, so much so that we asked after it and bought a whole jar of it (they don't normally do that, but for just C$15 a jar they could just about create an export market for the stuff). I gather that it's relatively new, but it was shockingly empty; if you go to Montreal, I highly recommend tracking down this place and going there.

After we got back, we sat down with everyone and watched the Oscars. Not as political as I expected, but still worth watching (boy, did Michael Moore ever get them riled up). Steve Martin had just the right level of funny, and the organisers kept things moving. Interesting that there were five awards to people who weren't there to accept them. To be fair, one had died---and his son definitely gave the best speech of the evening, though Peter O'Toole's was pretty good too. Nicole Kidman looked uncharacteristically terrible---her hair was too light and in a bad-for-her do, the dress was unflattering, and her arms looked downright skinny. Her incoherence on getting the award didn't help things, though of course I can't blame her for that part. And I'm pleased that she got an award, though I haven't yet seen The Hours. (I will now, eh). I do think Queen Latifah should've gotten Best Supporting over Catherine Zeta-Jones, though. After the Oscars, I stuck around for awhile and tasted a bit of the fast food the guys had ordered---called 'poutine', this is essentially french fries baked in gravy with a layer of cheese on top, quite good; did I mention these friends-of-the-sister-of-my-friend's-friend were nice?---and went to bed.

In the morning, we got up, packed up, and left. I drove us out of Montreal (making a coffee stop on the way) and onto Autoroute 40 to Québec. My iPod's car adapter celebrated its inaugural trip with first a mix of country music and then a Paul Simon mix that carried us into Québec. We had better maps this time, so despite having some one-way issues we found the youth hostel with no great incident. It's right up in the old city, inside the walls, close to everything. We got a two-bed room for C$50 a night, so that's about US$16 per person per night, not bad at all. We headed back out to wander around the city for a while, in a sort of adirectional way, vaguely looking for food. A few hours later we decided that we'd start seriously looking for food and eventually that we'd take the next food place we found even if it was more expensive or not exactly what we were looking for, and it turned out to be both cheap and exactly what we were looking for: the Casse-Crêpe Breton served up savoury crepes for about four dollars each.

After we ate, we headed back up the hill to the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, which was in a completely different style from the Montreal cathedral---much more gold leaf and such. There was an exhibit on Monseigneur de Montmorency-Laval, the first bishop of New France, who was beatified in 1980 and is awaiting canonisation. Between his two names, he contributed the names for about fifty or sixty things throughout the province, including a town, a university, and a bunch of streets, rivers, and lakes.

At this point, we headed back to the hostel and signed up for the tour that was starting later, and then went out to get coffee. At about 7 we realised that we hadn't eaten dinner, so we each bought a muffin (I ordered in French again, go me) and went back.

(CNN's reporting just included a summary of recent political cartoons, one of which was apparently captioned "Boy, I hope they don't come to liberate us!" I laughed.)

The tour was given by a German woman named Sieglinde, in both French and English, a linguistic feat that rather impressed me. The tour itself took us all around both the Haute-Ville and the Basse-Ville, the former being the walled portion atop the cliff and the latter being the even older original settlement at its base. We took the ferry across the Fleuve St Laurent and back, and then walked up the hill and finally back to the hostel. Theresa and I both pretty much collapsed in bed at the late, late hour of 10pm.

This morning we got up at 8 and had breakfast at the hostel while deciding how to plot out the day. First, we hit the Musée de la Civilisation, which was free because it was a Tuesday, and had a few nifty exhibits; the one about the Amerindians was good, as was the one that was everything you ever wanted to know about skin, and the really big one about the history of Québec. The strangest part was an apparently well-established local art form that has very blocky ceramic human figures; at first it seemed like clumsy children's art, but it soon became clear that it was old and consistent.

We stopped briefly in the church of Notre-Dame-le-something on the Place Royale; it was apparently the oldest church in Québec, and among the oldest in North America. Very small and cosy, more of a parish church than any of the others we'd seen. We continued down the rue to a little shop where we bought lunch---soup and (for me) a ham croissant, plus of course coffee---and then some sweets, which were expensive but good.

(More "friendly fire". If I haven't lost count, the ratio of US-UK forces killed by other US-UK forces to those killed by Iraqi forces is something like 15:1. Lovely.)

We took the funiculaire up the cliff and then walked around the fortress walls, getting some nice views but mostly wet feet---you'd think they'd shovel the walk, no?---before proceeding down to the Musée des Urulines, a museum attached to the cloister of Ursuline nuns right in the heart of the old city. Interesting place, and they had a whole room on the sacred art created by the Ursulines; when you are a member of a semi-contemplative order, you have a lot of time for stuff like that, and the artwork is beautiful in addition to being very technically demanding. Interesting history, too; despite being a cloistered order, they have an educational mission, taking in girls and giving them both a religious and a secular education. The first religious order of women to be "implanted" in the province, they started teaching French boarders and day students as well as a number of native girls, starting in the early 17th century. Wow!

Having done everything planned for the day, we decided to head back to the hostel to chill for a while. And here I am! More later.

"I think I can see some senators out there; I think I see some members of Congress, and I think I see a President of the United States of America. Pursue public service---it makes all the difference." --Janet Reno

After I wrote that, we stayed at the hostel a while and then went out to get dinner; there's a Lebanese place on Rue d'Auteuil that serves wraps of high quality for cheap, a lot like East Side Pockets in Providence. Afterwards we read for a while and then went to bed.

This morning, we got up, checked out, and went on a quest for yarn shops that Theresa had tracked down via her knitting mailing list. One had closed down, but the second one we tried was a cute little shop called La Dauphine at the west end of Québec just before Sainte-Foy. The shopkeeper spoke a bit of English but was vastly more comfortable in French, so I did a fair bit of translating for Theresa, and held a great conversation about why we were there, where we were from, relative merits of the vacation systems at Brown and at Université Laval, and various other things, all of which I did in French, which she complimented. Best Canada experience ever.

On our way out of the Québec City area, we looked at the map and realised that since it was basically straight north of Boston, the route through Maine was probably more direct and in any case vastly more scenic (boy howdy), not to mention that I'd never been to Maine before. So we went that way. The border crossing was tiny, but enough to have a duty-free shop at which to spend the rest of our Canadian money and our tax refunds (I got a keychain and a shotglass). And then we were on an amazingly scenic road in Maine that paralleled a partially frozen river. Absolutely stunning.

Round about Augusta, there was a split in the road---we could turnpike our way down to Portland, or take 95, which had the benefit of being more direct as well as cheaper. And it went through Brunswick. Brunswick, ME is the home of Bowdoin College, and not incidentally of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain; he was the president of the college when the Civil War broke out, and he left to lead Maine's volunteers for the war, eventually commanding the left flank at Gettysburg and distinguishing himself there. Theresa had been there before, but it was basically on our way, so we stopped there. We found a really cute little bookstore named Gulf of Maine, which tragically has no internet presence, but check it out if you're in the area; and then we ate at a restaurant called The Great Impasta, where I had a really tasty seafood lasagna.

And with that, we headed finally home. Where I discovered that I had not only neglected to mention the upcoming trip to Canada on the blog, but also sort of forgot to tell my mom or anyone back home that I was leaving for five days, totally incommunicado. If I'd realised that, I would've been a lot more concerned with calling home from Canada! Oops.

"We cannot continue to be a strong, vital, vigorous nation when only 20-30% of our people go to the polls." --Janet Reno

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March 20, 2003

My laptop is on its

My laptop is on its way to Boston right now, to assist Dave in giving his presentation. Apparently Shriram's is on the blink, crashing randomly, and we don't have any department laptops for this sort of thing. So I set him up on mine and sent him off. Being away from my laptop for so long is scaaaaaary!

"Ladies and gentlemen, we can protect our security at the same time as we protect our great blessings of freedom for posterity, and it doesn't have to be either-or if we do it right." --Janet Reno

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March 14, 2003

I am now the proud

I am now the proud owner of a brand new 10G iPod. Words simply cannot describe my coolness.

"I was under the impression [Bush] was fairly up front about his advisor-happy leadership style. If I didn't horribly disagree with his basic goals, I'd probably find it commendable." --Jonathan Prykop

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November 21, 2002

Good heavens.

Good heavens. At around 11 I started upgrading my fink installation to really work with System 10.2. It's still running. Compiling things, downloading things, copying them in place... I had no idea it'd take so long.

"If Apple really wanted to sell more Macs, they should just show people how it looks when you minimize shit in OS X. I thought I was going to pee my pants." --Tycho

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Note to self

Note to self: when fixing the template on someone else's blog, don't leave the window open, as it is easily mistaken for one's own blog, possibly nearly leading to embarrassing incidents like posting in the wrong blog. :P

The reason for posting: it's 4 in the morning. I did touch on the applications, but what did I spend the last hour doing? Marking and cutting fabric for the skirt I promised Amy I'd make. Fun, to be sure, but not exactly what I ought to be doing.

"It is my opinion that, under the social contract, a person is entitled to a set of political freedoms (freedoms to, if you will) and economic freedoms (freedoms from)." --Michael Kimmitt

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November 09, 2002

Kevin's recovery

Kevin seems to have come through the surgery fine (and boy oh boy, Kevin on morphine is a sight to see, or rather an event to behold)---still hurts, but at least with the promise of getting better.

Also, I put up a page with some details of and pictures of me in my Halloween costume.

"Man, what are New Mexicans doing in New York anyway? Isn't the INS doing its job?" --Sendhil Revuluri

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November 01, 2002

The costume was a success,

The costume was a success, although the Halloween party as a whole was sort of a drag. I was Legolas, the elf from The Lord of the Rings. I'll post pictures eventually. :)

"Iraq's actions right now demonstrate a new grasp by Saddam of a concept Americans seem to have a firm understanding of---actual imprisonment is totally unnecessary if one maintains a credible threat of imprisonment, and leniency towards the dissidents who don't matter can buy you a lot of popular support & trust when dealing with the dissidents who might make a difference." --Jonathan Prykop

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October 31, 2002

On the way to dance

On the way to dance practice this morning, I passed the Brown-RISD Hillel building. It's under renovation right now; boy howdy. Gives new meaning to the term "gutting": there are some of those supports like they use to move houses, to hold up the second floor---and nothing else! All of the original supports holding up the second floor are gone, along with the top few feet of the first floor wall. As in, you can see right through the building and the only thing connecting the ground to the second floor is the house-lifting supports. Quite a sight.

"Those who ignore the dictates of domestic etiquette will have ample opportunity to try the full range of legal and psychiatric solutions, as home life is bound to get worse." --Miss Manners

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October 25, 2002

Blogger hacked?

Hmm. Slashdot is saying that blogger has been hacked, but it still seems to work for me....

A man wakes up in Hell and gets the grand tour by the Devil. He says Hell isn't so bad, just not as cushy as Heaven. Heaven has a five-star hotel, Hell has a decent motel; Heaven has an 18-hole golf course, Hell has a 9-hole course. Just then they drive past a fiery pit where several naked people are torturing themselves. 'What about that?' asks the man. 'Oh, that's for the Catholics,' replies the Devil. 'They insisted.'

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August 27, 2002

The saga continues: I called

The saga continues: I called Apple's tech support late Friday, and they seemed pretty appalled at the treatment I'd gotten. They overnighted (I keep wanting to say and write something like "overnote" there... ah English) me a box to put the computer in, along with a packing label to overnight it back; then they fix it and overnight it back to me. I can only assume this fast-track assistance is due to the shaft I got from the supposed "licensed Apple service center". Anyway, over the weekend I also discovered that even without the extra memory in it (yes, the Brown guy actually took out the memory and taped it to the side of the computer---Apple guy said I might as well leave it out) it still had the wake-up-while-closed problem (in spades), and at least once it did the screen-won't-come-on thing, so it can't have been the memory's fault totally, and Apple has something to fix.

In other news, Hilary encouraged me to play CivIII on her computer since mine was broken, and last night I caved in. After making sure everything else was done (i.e. I was fed and my laundry had been started), I sat down at her computer and started playing. That was about 8:30 or 9. When she got home, at 1:30 (AD 400), I looked up, blinked, and said, "Hi! I think I'd better stop this now." She laughed. Boy howdy, is that game ever addictive. Whatever Michael may say about Civ3 being not as good as Civ2, it's certainly right up there on the addictiveness scale.

Finally, the first-years are here this week, getting orientated; I have shunned all responsibility for this, since I (probably) won't be here next year, and other people should know how to run stuff. I still end up at most of the things and helping out, though. :)

Exercises for the Republican reader #2: Write a homily, suitable for use in Sunday school, explaining why Jesus should have condemned the sheep who demeaned the poor by feeding and clothing them, and blessed the rich man for living in splendor while Lazarus suffered. --Mark Rosenfelder

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August 23, 2002

Apple tech support loathing

I am currently seething at Apple tech support.

When I sent in my computer last Tuesday, it had three things wrong with it: one, it had a tendency to come awake even when the lid was closed. This has been going on the longest---a couple times back in April, then more recently (and consistently) since mid-July. It caused the computer to get real hot, which may have caused the other problems. Two, it started simply freezing up solid. The keyboard and trackpad did nothing, all I could do was turn it off. Three, the screen would sometimes fail to come on when booting or waking up from sleep. I think this was accompanied by keyboard-and-trackpad lockup, but I'm not sure. So anyway, I sent it in.

Today, I get a call from the local computer store where I dropped it off. Apparently, Apple's entire response to this is: "It looks like you installed your own memory. Also, we think you probably dropped it. So we're not going to do any warranty work on it." See, there's these two plastic pins that hold in the memory; Apple claims that they are "broken" (they look more worn down than broken), and that they would therefore need to do a $420 repair on the thing in order to fix my problem. Now, those pins were like that since October, so I'm thinking that they weren't the cause of these problems that didn't start for another six to nine months. Furthermore, I have a hard time believing that plastic pins cost $420 to replace, so I don't know what the hell they think costs that much. And finally, do you really think that "the machine sometimes comes awake while the lid is closed" has anything to do with this??

The thing that really really pisses me off, though, is that the tech in the Brown computer store said that this was SOP for Apple---another Powerbook, that had a big line running down the LCD screen, had just come back from them. Like mine, it showed no evidence whatsoever of being dropped, but Apple claimed that they thought it was, and were refusing to cover it under warranty.

Is it really so easy to get out of honouring your warranty? "We think you probably dropped it"?? I am going to call Apple about this (later today, after my proposal---great timing, sheesh), but in the meantime: does anyone know any good tech-savvy lawyers?

"English has more phonemes than the alphabet has available symbols; the usual expedient of the orthography for solving this problem is to use digraphs. Both the problem and the solution are inherited from Latin, which had hardly finished tossing out the Greek letters it didn't think it needed when it started to borrow Greek words that needed them." --Mark Rosenfelder

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August 16, 2002

My main reader checked in

My main reader checked in with me today. Hi Mom! :) At some point other people may read this (from =shiggy, for instance, or perhaps from the link on Mike Kimmitt's blog), but I at least know that this isn't a wasted effort, because Mom will be delighted at hearing this much about my life. I never write email this often.

“Sigh. Once again, [you're] conflating ‘rich and powerful’ with ‘white male’. One is a very very small sub set of the other.” --Sam Walker

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August 14, 2002

I just had the weirdest

I just had the weirdest thing happen. As I was walking down Thayer Street to get my lunch (yes I'm eating lunch at 3:30, something wrong?), I was stopped by a nice lady who invited me to an open call at some modelling agency. She gave me her card and told me when and where to show up and stuff.

Now, I'm sure it would turn out that she just needed to meet a quota, or needed some random 5'9" guy to fill out a lineup, but it still made my day. I don't think I'll go, but who knows? I might get bored.

"It's all horribly reminiscent of a previous president who had record poll ratings and fought a successful foreign war but couldn't win a second term because he made a mess of the economy. George Bush, prepare to meet your father." --Justin Webb, BBC

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August 13, 2002

Computerless for the nonce

Well, I dropped off my computer today. The people in the Apple service center at the Brown bookstore seemed to concur with the guy at the Apple store at Woodfield, i.e. "dude, this is messed up, we're sending it to Texas." They estimate that it'll be back in 7-15 business days. Hopefully it'll be back in time for my thesis proposal, which may or may not be on the 23rd. If nothing else, this will make it easier for me to resist opening Civ III before I get my proposal done.

"Why would I want to be a middle-of-the-road politician? Ain't nothin' in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadilloes." --Jim Hightower, Texas Ag Commisioner

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August 12, 2002

So I was getting ready

So I was getting ready for bed last night, and I identified my vague malaise as that itchy-under-skin feeling that I associate with having a fever. I take my temp, and sure enough, 99.2. Went to bed around 2, set my alarm for 10. Boy did I feel awful when I got up; took it again and it was 99.4. :P So I took two tylenol, skipped church, and went back to bed. Got up at 3 feeling, if not great, at least not feverish. My cough has turned into a phlegmy mess, which is at least vastly preferable to the hacky business that it had been. Also, my nose has taken to running, which is less preferable.

Anyway, I've (re)met my new housemate Matt and his mom and dad---they arrived Friday at 4, moved him in, and are now seeing Providence and environs. He has a queen-size bed, so his parents are sleeping in his room while he sleeps in the guest bedroom, which is kind of funny. Even better, he's leaving on Wednesday for a trip to Switzerland, but they're staying another couple of days (after oking it with us, of course). I think it's a stitch.

I was ok with him moving in based on having met him recruiting weekend, but this may turn out better than I thought. I discovered today he's a board gamer ("Is this a board game??" "Yes, well, more like Axis and Allies than like Monopoly." "EXCELLENT. I have Civilisation over there and Diplomacy upstairs." "Neat, I've always had a hard time finding players, but I'm sensing that won't be such a problem here.") Also, his family seems to get along unusually well, inasmuch as they just drove 3200 miles together---six days---and don't seem to noticeably ready to kill one another. Crazy. They're pretty cool, and I intend to rope them into a game of Boggle or Scrabble before they leave.

I've checked around, and the best fare from Chicago to Honolulu is $630, from American, which has the added benefit of being non-stop and not even part of a special deal. United doesn't seem to fly a non-stop on that route, so asking Maura for buddy passes would be not very useful, since I'd use up 4, have no guaranteed flight time, and still be paying $500 for the round trip (at 5000 mi each way, a nickel per mile, which are both just ballpark guesses but seem reasonable).

"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets and then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again." --Marin County newspaper's TV listing for The Wizard of Oz

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