Sunday, December 30, 2007

Grr. The left touch pad button on my personal laptop is acting up. And its battery life is more or less non-existent. Basically, it's becoming the laptop equivalent of my first car (a 1974 Super Beetle). And I can't even do something cool to fix the problems, like wiping the hard drive and installing Linux, because they're all hardware problems.

Given infinite resources, I'd replace it with something small and sexy. Yeah, that's not going to happen. At least not until the kid is out. And in school. And maybe done with college.

At some point, I may decide to take the damn thing apart to replace the touch pad assembly and invest the $100 bucks in a new battery. That's a bit more doable than a new laptop, but, admittedly, not nearly as exciting.

In the meantime, I'll be rocking it old school, with a mouse and a power cord. Jeez, at this point, I might as well get my data over wires, too! It's like I'm living in the dark ages here.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Christie made a puppet theater for Mara for Christmas this year (pattern from Bend the Rules Sewing), but they're designed to fit on tension rods in a doorway, and Kate and Jeff don't have a good doorway for that.

Building the frame was my job, and I turned to that great DIY crutch, PVC pipes.

Also, it's not particularly relevant, but Jewel insisted on being the picture.
So, it's, like, Christmas Eve and stuff, so I'm supposed to be writing a heartwarming post about family and love and that kind of thing, especially with Christie and I having our very own Fetus!, which is now the size of an apple and responds to stimulus (clearly gets that from her side of the family) and I think might not even have a tail anymore.

Honestly, though, it hasn't quite kicked in, yet. We've had so much going on this year with the new bathroom and the Fetus! and weather and our to-do list always seeming to have N+1 items, where N is equal to the number of things we're capable of accomplishing, that there's been a serious shortage of those quiet moments to sit and let the holidays soak in like rum into fruitcake or eggnog into the rug.

At least, that what it feels like right now, with the last minute rush to get things done in time for tonight and tomorrow, not to mention a few gifts that seem to have just disappeared in the rush of hand-me-down baby stuff into the garage, loaner maternity clothes, drywall tools, and rushed cleaning. Seriously. We haven't got a clue, which is sort of frustrating. Getting your shopping done only helps if you remember where you put the damn presents.

But there have been eddies in the current here and there. Christie and I had a two hour drive back from Kansas City yesterday to chat and sing carols and make happy small talk about the past and the future and what's it going to be like. And last night we lay in bed, she with her crossword and I with my magazine, tires spinning on the icy street outside and the wind in the trees, and it felt like things were just exactly the way they were supposed to be, and all was right in the world.

And then the cats starting fighting, and I had to throw a shoe.
I'm not suggesting that Missouri's concealed carry law is responsible for the recent increase in handgun violence in Missouri. Nor am I suggesting that the 16 year old girl who recently got mad and shot at her mother's house here in Columbia, the feuding would-be gang bangers shooting at each other's cars, or any of the other people letting loose around here are licensed carriers of concealed weapons.

But I do feel the need to quietly and respectfully point out that the proponents of concealed firearms who felt that more guns on the street would improve public safety might, just might, have been mistaken, and that I personally do not feel safer at the idea of them shooting back.

I'm sure that's just because I'm a knee jerk liberal, however. You know how we are.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Not to say the dollar is in trouble, but the gas station I stopped at on my way to work has a sign advertising 2 Krispy Kreme donuts for $2, which means that the all-important dollars to donuts exchange rate is now one to one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When we bought the house, there was a door in the upstairs room (it's sort of an attic den) that led to a stubbed-in bathroom. It was bare studs and insulation, with plumbing sticking out of the wall for a sink, toilet, and shower stall. But with a little one on the way, we decided we needed to get it finished. With no kid, guests generally stay in the guest room on the main floor, and there's a bathroom right there. With kid, Christie's parents will be here more often (we hope), and having to stay in the upstairs. And having stayed up there myself, let me just say that it is no fun at all going downstairs in the middle of the night to pee.

Here's the timeline of the project so far:

Mid-November: With Christie out of town, I wire the switch and install a light fixture in the evenings. It takes longer than it should, and I don't do as good a job as I might have liked, but it gets done, which means we don't need to drag a lamp in to do stuff.

December, Week One: The plumber having reviewed the situation and a plan of action having been designed, I build a few stud walls in the bathroom to contain the vent stack and plumbing for the toilet. Later that week, I order materials and move the HVAC vent a few feet (after the plumber has come and done his thing).

December, 2nd Weekend: The drywall, bathroom fixtures, and my parents all arrive at roughly the same time. I take Friday off from work while my dad and I drywall the bathroom and get a start on taping an mudding. Sunday night, they go home, but only after my dad expresses his disappointment that we didn't get more done. In our defense, we installed 12 sheets of drywall, and thanks to the peculiarities of the room, not a single sheet was installed uncut.

December, Week Two: Christie and I finish the taping and the mudding, and the sanding. Good God, that's a lot of work. And a lot of dust. Lorie (Michael's wife) also comes and helps with the penultimate sanding. I level the floor with portland cement and cut the sheet flooring to fit. First coat of primer goes up Sunday morning, last coat of paint goes on Sunday night.

Yesterday: First trip to Westlake's for plumbing supplies, then home to do the first round of work. Cut off valves are installed, and there are no leaks. Sink is installed on vanity top, and list made of needed parts. Second trip to Westlake's for plumbing supplies. Second round of work. Much cussing when I realize that one of the cut off valves is the wrong goddamn size. Still, I hold off hope that I'll someday do a plumbing job in under 4 trips to the hardware store. Since I can't do anymore tonight, and tomorrow is trash day, I clean up my mess and take out the detritus of the last few weeks work.

Today: Third trip to Westlake's over lunch. Third round of work, followed shortly by the sinking sensation that I'm going to need to make a fourth trip to Westlake's. Turning on the water confirms this. Damn. There goes the record. Fourth trip to Westlake's. Fourth round of work concludes with us now having a functioning toilet and functioning sink in the upstairs bathroom.

Still to be done: Molding. Trim on the knee wall behind the toilet. Cover hole for shower drain and pipes (we're not even thinking of putting in that shower until a few years from now). Hang mirror. Clean. Oh, and I probably ought to put some toilet paper up there. Maybe even a toilet paper hanger, if I'm feeling generous.

Two and a half weeks ago, we didn't have a bathroom in the attic room, and today we do. We didn't do a perfect job, but I'm not going to catalog the problems, as they're all aesthetic. It's safe, it's functional, and it's up to code. Better than code, really, as we used the best hardware we could, if not the highest end surfaces (the vanity is just particle board, for example).

Not bad for a computer geek and a teacher. Pictures to follow.
If I were a sales rep for Johnson and Johnson, and looking to expand my market, I'd spend a certain amount of time calling on hardware stores, trying to convince them to carry Band-aids. It seems like a natural fit, since almost every project I work on seems to require at least one Band-aid at some point.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I'm a database guy. And a web guy. So here's a question for every retailer out there that sells video games on their website: There is a field in your database for "number of players", right? So why not let me filter my search results to only show games that allow multiple players? I'd be very happy if you let me do that.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I know I've bashed religion now and again in this space, and I've probably specifically bashed Christianity here as well. And with good reason. If my relationship with the church was a romantic one, the church would be the ex that I kept changing myself for, trying to make it work, but she never changed for me. And, leaving out the metaphysics, there are some fundamental errors of thought, in my clearly not particularly humble opinion.

But this is the time of year when I like to meditate on the parts of Christianity that I love, because item number one on that list is the Christmas story. The King of Kings, the Son of God, Savior of the World, all that, is born into abject poverty. Well, okay, maybe not abject poverty. I mean, yeah, he's sleeping in a manger and all, but that was really just because he forgot to make reservations. But even if Mary and Joseph were just sort of middle class (he was, after all, a carpenter), it's still a revolutionary story.

Before Jesus came along, kings came from kings, not mangers. (Buddha was a silver-spooned rich kid.) Well, okay, David was a shepherd who became king, but he didn't handle it particularly well, and it's not like he saved the world.

Christianity really is, at its heart, a religion for the poor. Even as it's been adopted by the rich, the powerful, and warped into its own opposite, the actual message of Christ is there at its heart, undercutting the attempts of, say, every Republican presidential candidate to pretend that Jesus was anti-tax, pro-torture, and a big fan of war.

With the Messiah having been born in an animal trough, there was a little seed of thought planted that a poor person could grow up to exceed their expectations and do great things, and that God preferred peace to war. The Enlightenment grew out of those seeds, as did this country. That still doesn't mean we're a Christian nation. The point, actually, is that we're not. Jesus was first and foremost a critic of religion and religious institutions. He never went after the state.

All of that because Joseph didn't have access to Expedia. Pretty cool.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Evil Business Model of the Day

A gas station that charges a random amount for gas, ranging from 50 cents below the market price to 70 cents above. So in Columbia, where gas is currently $2.79, prices would range from $2.29 to $3.49. On average, the station would make more money, but people would line up, hoping to get the lower price. You could even put a slot machine style lever on the side of the pump.

I know, I know. There are problems with it. People would buy less gas if they pulled the lever and got a higher price. There could be violence. And it's probably illegal. And definitely evil.

But I think there are important business lessons to be learned from the casinos. With that in mind, you could also make it really hard to find the exit of the gas station, so that people have to drive around so much looking for it that they need to buy more gas. Or is that taking it too far?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

According to the LA Times, the studios are stonewalling the writers again, trying to get them to back down. But the story raises an interesting specter: What if the months of no new storytelling drive the final nail in the coffin of TV, while the writers go to companies like Google to reach an entirely new audience?

Oddly enough, this could be a real boon to Tivo. Christie's current favorite TV show is Threadbanger, which is actually a video podcast with a distribution deal through Tivo. And for months I've wished that the Weather Channel would tag their shows so that I could record the local forecast whenever there's nothing else good on, and only keep the latest copy. I still can't do that, but I just signed up my Tivo to download the regional forecast every day, which is just about as good. (And I did all this on my lunch break at work, over the net.)

Tivo, I am asking you for a favor. Or Google. Or maybe I should be asking Jon Stewart. Anybody, really (I'm a results guy, not a process guy). Anyway, Powers That Be, please hire Jon Stewart and the Daily Show writers to produce a daily video news podcast and put it up on iTunes, Amazon, and Tivo.

Pretty please?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Recipes - Google Search

This looks seriously cool.
Calvin & Hobbes on Santa.
The thing about getting sick in the middle of hanging drywall is that you don't so much notice the congestion and sore throat (must be the drywall dust), or the sore muscles and exhaustion (if you've been carrying drywall up two flights of stairs) until it's Sunday night, and you're done working, and you're suddenly having dizzy spells and falling asleep in front of Christmas movies at 7 pm.

But I am feeling much better today. Thanks for asking. And the bathroom looks pretty darn good. Now I just need to finish mudding the joints, skim coat the walls, prime and paint, install the flooring, and get the fixtures in. Piece of cake, right?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Another brief thought: I keep reading reviews of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series that get a very basic plot point wrong. Yes, they are a sort of atheist's answer to Narnia. Yes, there is a main character who is more or less out to "kill" "God".

But that character is not portrayed in a particularly positive manner. And while many reviewers are correct to include the caveat that the "God" that is killed is not the actual creator, but merely a pretender who has claimed credit. But they often leave out the fact that the "God" of the books is not immortal, and has been held at the brink of death for eons by his regent, and that this regent is quite unambiguously evil. And the event these reviewers call his death could just as easily be considered a liberation from prison.

Also, and this isn't really all that big a deal, the church in the first book isn't the Roman Catholic church. "The Magisterium" is a possible worlds version of the church in which the reformation never happened, and it combines the worst elements of Calvinism and Catholicism into a perfect storm of joylessness and repression. Personally, I found this to be the most fascinating part of the books, as the Magisterium, like all great villains, is a fully realized and complex character.

But I've talked to many others who've read the books, and I'm not sure everybody else thought it was an interesting as I did.
As far as I can tell, these were the main points of Mitt Romney's Big Speech about being a Mormon candidate for president:

1. I will not talk about the tenets of Mormonism. Except for those tenets which closely resemble fundamentalist Christianity.

2. The President swears an oath to support the Constitution, not the Bible. But he swears that oath on the Bible.

3. Religious tolerance is key to the American character. And secularists are attempting to ruin everything by establishing a "new religion" in America, and this must not be tolerated.

4. The Constitution expressly forbids a religious test as a condition of holding office, which is part of what keeps us free. And you can't have freedom without religion, which is why atheists are not fit for public office.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Even more to-dos for tonight:

1. Move vent to new knee wall (this could be a real pain in the ass, but I'm hoping not).

2. Um, I think that's it. But isn't that enough?

Update: Done. And ugh. The attic work was in some ways the worst part, but the joint is nice and tight, and I'm not worried about leaking conditioned air into the non-conditioned attic.

On the other hand, removing the vent left a good-sized gap in the insulation that I tried to fill with Great Stuff, and that might not have been the best choice. For one thing, I have a jaundiced looking swath of yellow on the back of my right hand that may well be there for a couple of weeks until I get enough new skin for the gunk to flake off. Man, that shit is sticky.
A playhouse made from big wooden spools. Wow. Just wow.
Toolmonger - Save Space With Hawk’s Vertical Clamping System.
Seems pretty easy to build, especially considering the price. And I actually have more floor space than wall space in the garage, so this wouldn't really work for me.

Still a cool idea, though.
Did you know the Wachowski brothers are doing 'Speed Racer'?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Exercise-wise, I'm a big fan of functional strength training. Basically, I go to the gym in order to be able to climb trees with kids, lug around sheets of plywood, etc. And I think I saw some real benefits when Christie and I were going regularly. But we've been taking a break since I sprained my foot and Christie's in the first trimester (the suckiest one).

And nothing says "you haven't been going to the gym" like carrying 8-foot studs from the basement to a second floor bathroom.

I am so sore today.

Friday, November 30, 2007

My weekend to-do list regarding the upstairs bathroom:

1. Clean it up and make room to work.

2. Buy toilet. Toilet should be a 12" standard model with the narrowest possible tank and the smallest overall dimensions.

3. Buy studs and, possibly, extension for duct.

4. Frame in half-wall for toilet and knee wall to conceal vent stack. In doing so, be sure to leave room for future tub and/or shower insert.

5. Call Skip to come back out and connect vent stack and install shutoff valves, etc.

Update: New To-Dos:

1. Clean it up again.

2. Order Drywall for delivery by Thursday.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Since it's still technically Thanksgiving, and I'm sitting here in bed wide awake, with Christie snoozing peacefully across the room (twin beds suck), I guess a gratefullness post is a good way to usher myself off to sleep.

I could do a pretty long list. There's the job, which continues to be interesting, mostly in a good way, and with a minimum of drama, and a maximum of learning opportunities. Both my parents, who seem to have started me off right, and continue to support me in all the best ways. My friends. My car, even, that runs better and longer than I expected.

But mainly it's about Christie. When I'm with her, I feel like the best possible version of myself. I was cleaning up my hard drive the other day, making room for new files by deleting old pictures that I'd already backed up, culling the not-so-good shots in favor of good ones, and she was laughing in almost every single picture I have of her. Her joy at life is palpable and infectious, even when she's not feeling her best (morning sickness sucks).

I married her three years ago tomorrow, and every year has been better than the one before. I never thought I could be this happy, and I hope I never stop being grateful.

Christie, thank you for wrapping up my life for me so I could see if for the gift it really is.

Internets, if I ever stop being thankful for Christie, please slap me upside the head and set me straight.
I'm reading Charles Stross' Accelerando right now, and that, combined with travel, is creating an odd sort of disorientation. It's funny, though, because the disorientation in the section of the book I just closed is mostly about the loss of network, the dissociation from virtual self, in my case it's much more about home. Real, physical home. I want to know the cats are okay. I want to know the house is still there, touch wood my my actual hands, smell the decaying leaves in the back yard, step out on the front steps to watch the sun set. And I want to plug back in to work, be able to read my boss's face and body language, know from the timbre of his voice if "no big hurry" means next week or next month.

It's funny. I'm a pretty plugged in guy, and I use the web a lot to catch up with friends and family, but, really, you can't beat the bandwidth of real life. Yeah, I can tell how Christie's feeling by the tenor of her IMs, and I can generally read a lot into an email from my brother, but there's more information in a stranger's smile than in every email Christie has ever sent me.

Real life has a pretty unbeatable interface.
I'm very full, New Orleans is still a mess, and Christie's family is still great.

Oh, and yesterday I saw a nicely stenciled sign in the Ninth Ward with a list of rules posted outside a small convenience store. I didn't have time to read them all, but the first two were "No Loitering" and "No Crack Dealing".

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

As you might have guessed from the previous entry, I loved thinking about weird stuff when I was a kid. Which is why I think it's awesome that we're closer to understanding what happened 99 years ago in Tunguska, Siberia.
Writer John Scalzi went to the Creation Science Museum so that you don't have to.

Wow, flashback city. Growing up, my folks sent me to a fundamentalist Lutheran school, largely, I like to think, because it was better than the Kansas City public schools. And there really wasn't a single piece of crazy in this piece that I didn't hear growing up. From teachers. Poison ivy was caused by eating from the tree of knowledge? Yep. Dinosaurs on the ark? Yeah, we debated that.

It was the 70s, the era of In Search Of..., so there was also some debate about whether or not Bigfoot was on the ark (remember, the Bible does mention "giants"). And general consensus among my very geeky peers was that the flood caused some sea animals to be stranded inland, which explains how a plesiosaur ended up in Loch Ness.

It's not hard to imagine why I'm thinking about religion a lot lately. For one thing, there's the fact that Christie got pregnant at all. But that wasn't exactly a miracle. Just fairly unlikely. According to one doctor, based on one test. I'm ecstatic about us reproducing, but I'm not going to reconsider 25 years of skepticism because of it.

And then there's the baptism question. That's probably a blog post entirely to itself, and I'm not going to get into it until Christie and I have talked about it, which we haven't.

I will, however, say this, because Christie and I have talked about it many times: Everything I know and believe about what is good and right behavior came from my parents, who are devout but rational people. None of it came from the church. What did come from the church was a boatload of misinformation, twisted logic, guilt, and bad emotional baggage. Nuff said.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dilbert is my new financial planner. Seriously, this is decent advice. This is it:

1. Make a will
2. Pay off your credit cards
3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support
4. Fund your 401k to the maximum
5. Fund your IRA to the maximum
6. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it
7. Put six months worth of expenses in a money-market account
8. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker and never touch it until retirement
9. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio.

That's not a summary. That's the whole plan.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Lectures to a Developing Fetus #1: Sometimes the group will pressure you to do things you'll regret, and the urge to give in will be very strong. But even if it's something that feels good now, the regret you feel will likely last longer.

For instance, last night your Aunt Kate and Uncle Jeff suggested Indian food, and I'm really regretting it this morning. Especially the spicy stuff.

Friday, November 02, 2007

This whole impending parenthood thing is giving me the opportunity to restart my mindfulness practice. Or, more accurately, it's creating a need for me to do so.

See, whenever there's a big life change, my mind kicks up fear the way a gravel road kicks up dust. New house, new fears. New guy at work, new fears. Etc. It's an undeniable pattern, and a total pain in the ass.

So when my brain tells me we have to put the baby's room upstairs because the downstairs bedroom isn't dingo-proof, and that means we'll need to move our bedroom to be closer to the stairs, and we'll need a tub in the upstairs bathroom, and grip tape on the stair treads and a better railing, and maybe it's be just cheaper to put bars on the window, but then the windows won't open, so we'll need to switch from casement windows to doublehung, and that won't go with the rest of the house, so we'll have to change the rest of them, too, and now we're back to just putting in a tub upstairs, and maybe a nicer closet and do something about the carpeting. But then how do we pay for college if we're rebuilding the house? Oh, sweet jesus, what about college? Will they get a scholarship? Will they slack off in high school as much as I did, and what sort of weird 21st century drugs will there be that they need to stay off of and how will I be able to talk to them about that, and what if they want a cell phone implanted in their head, and then it gets a virus and they get turned into a zombie mall-walker, and what if they're a zombie mall walker even without getting a cell phone in their head, and what if they're as mean to Christie and I as I was to my parents when I was that age, and am I really ready for all that?

Now, yes, I could log on to Wikipedia and figure out that the rates of wild dingo attacks in this part of Missouri are minimal, but that's not really going to work. The beast just grows another head, and sooner or later, one of those fears is going to be something real, something I can't refute. Actually, I can think of a dozen or so real fears without even really thinking, just by letting my monkey mind off its leash for a bit.

The point is not whether a particular fear is real or bullshit, the point is the fear itself: my mind working itself up into a lather, brainstorming potential problems because that's what it thinks it's supposed to do. It's a useful skill, but only if I can turn it off (or tune it out). Luckily, I've had some good teachers on how to do that.
I'm as grateful for an extra hour of sleep as anyone, but Slate points out that the time change probably messes with your circadian rhythms, causing an increase in car accidents, if no other problems. And then there's Christie's take on the matter:

"It's more daylight while I'm at work. Why do I care about that? I don't even have any fucking windows!"

Amen, Sister Preacher.
Disturbingly familiar xkcd. More disturbing to my friends and family than to me, I'd guess.
A fantastic way to do a Murphy bed.
This is actually a pretty cool use of Google Maps: Watch Wikipedia edits in real time.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Well, I promised to write about this as if I were the first guy ever to find out his wife is pregnant, so I better keep that promise.

Aside from the occasional doctor's appointment, my life isn't actually that different. On the outside. But I have two overwhelming urges:

The first is a desire to get our shit together in every possible way, but most especially financially. And by "get our shit together", I mean "Make Some Money!" I've done both consulting and freelance writing in the past, and I'm suddenly wondering if I should dust off those old contacts (if I even could), and try to feather the nest a little bit. But it's not like we're broke. We've got a pretty good cushion each month. But this was the year that everything broke, and there went the cushion. When the little whatever arrives next summer, I want there to be a cushion again.

The second, though, is to be there as much as possible for Christie, to do everything around the house that's left undone, take care of her, and to make sure she's got everything she wants and needs.

You can see why I'm feeling just a little crazy right now. The projects take money (must save money!) and time (time is for Christie!), and anything I might do to make more money (must make money!) takes time away from projects and Christie both. Two overwhelming and mutually exclusive desires. I don't suppose anybody out there wants to pay me to blog about getting the baby's room ready, and to pay all expenses? Doesn't seem very likely, I guess. Bummer.

So far, though, I am finding a solution to the crazy. Christie and I are sharing to-do and to-get lists via Google Docs, which keeps us feeling productive and connected even when we can't be in the same room. And we're budgeting, so we can put the existing cushion to the best possible use. I don't suppose lottery tickets count, do they?
Why it's a bad idea to let your little sister blog with you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You know that whole fertility thing? The thing where Christie and I were told we couldn't get pregnant without significant surgery?

Well, surprise! It was to us, at least. Still is, really.

Now, it's early. Much earlier than most folks tell people, but my audience for this blog is mostly family and friends, many of whom we've already told. More than that, though, this blog is where I write through what's on my mind, and what's on my mind now is pretty much just that one thing, and if I can't write about that one thing, then this blog is going to get pretty fucking useless (too late, I know).

So, expect a few more links to daddy blogs and pictures of cool baby gear. Also the occasional cool nursery. And expect many, many self-indulgent posts in which I will pretend to be the first man ever in the history of the world to have a pregnant wife, and share my insights as though they were actually interesting. Should be a good time for all.

More to come. Much, much more.

Oh, and if you know me in real life, and you see me staring vacantly off into space, now you know what I'm probably thinking about.
I have a sort of a rhetorical question. Why is it that the racially paranoid right wing of the Republican Party are so freaked out by the prospect of hordes of people in the third world coming to our shores in search of economic prosperity, but they refuse to fund family planning in third world countries? Seems like a no-brainer to me, given their expressed feelings on the matter.

There's a larger issue, here. Emigration to the US, particularly illegal immigration, is generally tied to problems in the home country. But foreign aid is bad.

I've never met a conservative that actually wanted to see people go without health insurance, but they object to policies which guarantee health care for everyone.

They oppose abortion, but don't want to fund Planned Parenthood, which prevents many times more abortions than it provides, not to mention the prenatal care they also make available.

I guess they're just not results-oriented.
A Kansas City mechanic is working on a Hummer Hybrid that gets 60 MPG and has twice the horsepower.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some things you know from experience, and some things you just know. I'm not saying which one this is.
Today is one of those days where nothing quite works the way it's supposed to, everything takes longer than I'd like, and my brain has nothing particularly useful to contribute. Even getting it to participate in basic problem solving seems to involve thumbscrews and chocolate. So why am I telling you this? If I'm so incapable of being interesting, why post it to the blog and share the boredom?

Hmmm. No good answer to that one. But I'm posting it anyway, because I haven't posted in a while and because I'm stuck waiting for another damn query to finish its slow, slow work. Sorry. It's a war between me and my brain, and you're just in the way.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Over the years, I've had issues with Christopher Hitchens, but he's written a damn fine piece about a young soldier killed in Iraq who had been inspired to go there by Hitchens' own writings: A Death in the Family: Politics & Power
Apartment Therapy has a post up on talented artist Lori Nix. She makes miniature dioramas, then photographs them as if they were landscapes. It's weird and hard to explain, but the results are very cool.

Lori and I actually went to college together, but didn't really know each other, except this one time my girlfriend pretty much totally dumped me for her, and there was much drama, but that's sort of what college is for, and besides, I really, really needed to get out of that relationship, so really she did me a favor.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The verdict is in, and I have a partially torn ligament on the side of my foot. The more I move it, the slower it heals, and I move it every time I take a step, so I get to wear a boot to immobilize the joint for a couple of weeks.

Good fun.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ah, Tivo, how I've missed you. Can you forgive me for straying?

Never Mind

After two months with the IPtv, we're going back to cable, and to Tivo. The guy from Mediacom is coming this afternoon. Why?

Reason one:
Principle. And money. The principle of money, perhaps. They sold me on this system based on price. We were supposed to get three DVRs and it was supposed to cost only a bit more than we were paying for cable, and significantly less than we were paying for cable and phone combined. Read the fine print, though, and it turned out to be the same cost exactly. Oh, and only one DVR, plus two set-top boxes. The best part of that, though is that the set top box actually IS a DVR, it's just that the DVR functionality is turned off on two of the boxes. So I was paying more than I was promised for less than I was promised. Which pisses me off, I will admit.

Reason two: The DVR. The remote was weak, and needed to be pointed EXACTLY at the cable box to work, and the volume controls could only move up a single step at a time. Very annoying. And the operating system for these things is actually Windows CE, which means that when it crashes (which happens more often each week we have the system), it takes almost 20 minutes to restart. Our Tivo crashed exactly three times in the years I've owned it. And the interface is clunky. And the DVR depends on a network connection to work, so that when the cable signal went out, or the network was down, I couldn't watch shows that I'd recorded. WTF?

Reason three: Service. The movies they have On Demand almost all suck. It's mostly horror films, actually, and not good ones. What, exactly, is the reasoning behind that? And the PPV? It's all wrestling. Even the porn is wrestling, if you can believe that. Naked Ladies of Wrestling or some such thing. Who, exactly, does that appeal to? Nobody in our house. I hope. And the one channel that's totally worth having cable for? CW. Which blacks out for some reason on Tuesday nights, when we really want to watch Reaper and Beauty and the Geek. I mean, yeah, Beauty and the Geek is a juggernaut, but Reaper is a new show, and it's a Kevin Smith thing, so it's practically canceled already! Centurytel, if Reaper gets canceled because Christie and I haven't been able to watch it yet, I'm totally blaming you!

Although, to be fair, CW also seems to have trouble coming in on Wednesdays for Next Top Model, which is equally annoying. Especially as the gym thinks their clients would rather watch Bill O'Reilly or Dog the Bounty Hunter than America's Next Top Model. Silly gym.

Reason four: Lifestyle. Lately, the "recorded shows" list has felt like a to-do list. Yeah, I still escape to TVland on a pretty regular basis, but we have other, better things to be doing. Like playing with the Wii. Or, um, well, I'm sure there's something. Actually, I've been watching a ton of TV lately because I'm supposed to be keeping my foot up, but I'm really not that happy about it. I'd rather do something interactive or even, if possible, productive.

All of which leads me to make this announcement: We're getting rid of our land line. There's just no point in spending $30 a month on the three or four phone calls we make each month. That comes out to about ten bucks a call, which is a bit on the ridiculous side when pretty much everyone calls our cell phones anyway.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

If you're a die-hard hater of government, I doubt this will change your mind, but read this anyway. It's a typical day in the life of a typical person, through the lens of what government has done for them.
Once again, I find myself writing a blog post, updating you about the stupid things I do to myself. Wow, deja vu, huh?

So, the foot. It's not broken, but the x-ray does show some swelling apparently. But it still hurts, so I've made an appointment with a podiatrist at my old friend, the Orthopaedic Clinic at University Hospital. I seem to spend a lot of time there, don't I?

Last year it was my finger, before that it was plantar warts. Now it's a fucked up foot. Grr. Apparently there something in my lifestyle that is hard on the extremities.

Until I know what, if anything, I can do about this, I'm basically having to keep my feet up except when it's absolutely necessary. Particularly at night, after a long day at work. Which means no mowing the lawn, limited housework, and no gym, all of which are things I do to alleviate stress. This is very frustrating. And boring. I'm thinking of starting up a Netflix account again just to have something to watch on TV while I do my medically necessary sitting on my ass.
xkcd has a naming suggestion for Ella's hypothetical future sibling.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Krugman hits one out of the park:
"Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work."
RIP Harry Lee, La. Sheriff.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A real book: Mime Ministry: An illustrated, easy-to-follow guidebook for organizing, programming and training a troupe of Christian mimes
If you're dieting and going to be setting goals, check out this Photographic Height/Weight Chart. It doesn't really deal with body type, which can be a big issue (Christie and I are both mesomorphs), but it's still useful to get an idea of what 5'8" and 160 lbs looks like, since that's my goal. (Luckily, I'm already 5'8", so the hard part is taken care of.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Interesting Article: Songbirds, Knot-Tying, and the Evolution of Language
Given that I was vastly entertained by listening to two college friends start a conversation with the premise that the Mafia manufactures LSD for use by the FBI, and then move on from there, you can understand why I find this list of weird conspiracy theories very entertaining.

Personally, though, I think the last word on conspiracy theories should belong to Molly Ivins, who said that people find them comforting precisely because they posit that someone is in charge of all this whole mess, even if they're evil.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Patrick, Wyoming Libraries has some interesting marketing ideas.
Welcome to all the folks linking from Moreena's place. This is a pretty casual joint, so if you spill beer on the sofa, just throw a towel over it, and I'll clean up later.

Friday, September 21, 2007

This story (Vicente Fox: "Cowboy" Bush Is Scared Of Horses) raises an interesting question. Has anyone ever seen a picture of Bush on a horse? I know I haven't.
A recent Cook's Illustrated review of oven mitts prompts me to tell you that these oven mitts are awesome. They're from Crate and Barrel, and whereas most silicone mitts are awkward and hard to use, these have a thin layer of silicone for waterproofing and ribs for heat-proofing, with a layer of cotton underneath. There's even a magnet so you can hang it up.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I believe I might have mentioned that Christie and I joined a gym. And we've actually been going! (Except I tweaked my foot on Sunday, and the more I walk on it, the more it hurts, so I've been spending my evening with my foot up, holding down the couch. But Christie's still going.)

Some of our motivation is about fitness, and health, and that sort of thing. When I look in the mirror, I see more gut than I'd like, and a general sort of softness that just isn't how I want to look. And there's a hint of a nascent double chin that really, really bugs me.

Ah, vanity.

As part of this process, I set a weight goal for myself and put the Google 15 widget on my iGoogle page so I could track (by running average) my weight over time. For the first few weeks, it sort of wavered up and town, but the trend was distinctly horizontal. This was, alas, not working. Change was called for. But what to do?

Over the years, Christie and I have looked at a lot of diets and rejected almost all of them for the simple reason that diets don't work. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you've got to change your lifestyle, and I'm simply not willing to live a carb-free existence, or eat only tribbles, or whatever, for the rest of my life. Besides, I have enough limitations on what I can eat as it is. We did try South Beach for a while, but with my allergies, I was very, very limited as to what I could actually eat, and the Phase 1 diet was pretty much impossible for me.

In the end, we settled on simplicity: burn more calories than we eat. Christie and I each figured out our base metabolic rate, and we aim for about 1-200 calories per day below that. Working out is a bonus, but it also earn us the right to eat more if we so choose. Frozen dinners help a lot, but Target sells a digital kitchen scale that can track nutritional info as well. That's a huge help. With a bit of math, I was even able to figure out the approximate calorie count in my homemade turkey chili (about .75 calories per gram).

The result? I'm down 2 pounds from my max weight of two weeks ago, and Christie's seeing similar results. We're eating (more or less) what we want, and enjoying our food. Life is good.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eureka occasionally has funny ads for fake products during the show, but this is a picture of my TV from an actual ad, for an allergy medicine called Veramyst. The caption, if you can't read it, says "The way VERAMYST works is not entirely understood."


Uh, yeah, that's reassuring.
An honest auction, brought to you by the University of Missouri: Disturbingly Hideous Desk Lamp: "Very Ugly Desk Lamp. Ceramic; unfortunately this is not broken and is in working condition."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Don't you hate that feeling, when you're working on a report and it's a real pain in the ass one and you start to wonder when you're about an hour in and you think 'before I put all this time in, I better be sure I'm working on the right thing', and you look at the tables that drive the whole thing, and something doesn't look right, but this is the same set of data that you've been running a series of weekly reports on for like the last 3 months and if it's wrong now, then it's been wrong all this time, so you start thinking maybe you're better off not checking, but now that you've started to think about it you've got this pit in your stomach and if you hand off this report with a pit in your stomach ... well, you just can't. You can't hand off a report feeling like that, but you think you must have checked it, right, back when you first started this? You must have. Because you always do. But you don't remember doing it, so you take the time and you dig through your email and you find the lists, and, yeah, it's okay. The data's right, and you must have checked it, because you're working off the list they sent you, and if that's wrong, well, there's not much you can do about it.

Yeah, I hate it, too. But it turned out all right.
Heroic. I was originally going to describe this as small-scale heroism, but I changed my mind. No, these guys aren't rushing into a burning building to save a thousand orphaned puppies, but they're showing real courage and making their world better.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Warning to Billie (and others): New iPods reengineered to block syncing with Linux.

Actually, it's just that they don't work with non-Itunes. So I guess if you're running windows from within Linux, it's okay.

Update: It's apparently now been hacked. That didn't take long.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I could totally make this: Air-A-Leave Reverse Downspout Blaster.

I just need to remember to wear old clothes when I use it. And a hat.
I was reading something the other day about the maturity level of the average male, and it reminded me to tell you that I found this extremely tasteful, high-brow cereal commercial to be hilarious.
A Gutted 747 could make kind of a cool lake house, if you outfitted it right, and $100,000 isn't a bad price tag. If it includes delivery.
Right up Christie's alley: Toaster-shaped teapot.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Five years ago, I wrote about September 11th through the lens of my divorce, talking about the hole in the sky where the towers had been, and saying to myself, "Yes, that's what it feels like." Since the one and only time I saw the towers in person, I was on a business trip I didn't want to take, scheduled in the middle of my first marriage falling apart, I definitely think there's a poem in there somewhere. The political really is personal, I guess.

Years later, though, I think of someone I saw in some documentary, talking about how much he missed the towers, and then suddenly one morning he realized that now his appartment had a view of the Statue of Liberty. And maybe there's a poem in that as well.

Six years later, it's still all tied up together. I can't believe that there's still a wound on the landscape of lower Manhattan while I'm the happiest I've ever been in a marriage the likes of which I never thought could exist.

That's on the personal side. On the political side, I can't believe Bin Laden is still walking around making propaganda videos and the guy who promised to catch him seemingly could care less.
Finally, a mathematical explanation for my inability to get anything other than a nasty screech out of a fiddle.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Must read about the Jena 6 and racism in contemporary America.

On Gay Marriage

Andrew Sullivan married his partner, and their vows were among the best I've ever read:
I, Andrew, take you, Aaron,
to be no other than yourself.
Loving what I know of you,
trusting what I don't yet know,
with respect for your integrity,
and faith in your abiding love for me,
through all our years,
and in all that life may bring us,
for better or worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health,
till death do us part,
I accept you as my husband
and pledge my love to you.

Pictures here, and reader reactions here.

Christie and I have always joked that we planned to have a gay marriage this time around, since we both had the other kind the first time, and that sucked. I'm proud to say that we're succeeding in that goal so far.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Free Workout Music. Caveat Clicker: I haven't tried this yet, but plan to tonight.
On the other hand, this is the sort of birthday present that lets me give Christie a present she's been wanting - a new kitchen floor.

It's a cheap knockoff of this tool, but it's $40 vs. $260, and it's fine for a one-job tool, which I suspect this would be.

If I didn't mind sweating a bit, though, there's always this Japanese pull saw, which does the same job and won't quit working on me in the middle of the job.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A three day weekend, whether enjoyable or not, will often provide good blog-fodder. Stories, projects, pictures, maybe a funny line or two. Not so this weekend.

Okay, there was one moment where my heart was in my throat. Christie got stung, and we weren't sure if it was a bee or a wasp. There was some drama, and a lot of pain, but she's fine now and all is well. The only lasting effect on our lives was that we missed one day at the gym, and I didn't get to spend much time in the workshop. In other words, not much.

So, basically, we celebrated the memories of those who gave their lives fighting for the 40-hour workweek by doing jigsaw puzzles, drinking beer, and watching movies. Life is good.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beer expert Michael Jackson, arguably the man most responsible for the American beer renaissance, has died. Please knock back a microbrew in his honor, if you can.

Cloud of stupid descends on Wendy's

I can, on occasion, get a little cranky and overreact to things. I try and take this into account so as to not make the world a less happy place than it needs to be. So when I'm pulling away from the drive-thru window at lunch, and there's a car parked in the drive-thru lane, my first thought is that it's somebody putting away their change, sticking their straw in their soda, giving their kids some french fries, something like that. But, no, it's an empty car, just sitting in the drive-thru lane, blocking traffic.

But that's okay, there are two lanes. I look to my right and start to pull around, when up zips a tow truck with its lights on. It stops right next to the car that's blocking the drive-thru lane, thereby completely blocking traffic. The driver gets out, grabs some tools, and jogs over to a nearby mini-van, where a woman has apparently locked herself out of her car. She and her daughter stand in the empty parking place right next to her car and discuss what the tow truck driver is doing as he opens her door.

By this time, not only am I waiting, but the woman who was behind me in the drive-thru is waiting, as are two cars that have pulled into the parking lot, all wondering why nobody's moving. I might also note that the tow truck is also blocking access to that empty parking place. Wow, he really picked his spot well, didn't he.

The woman who abandoned her car in the drive-thru lane now comes strolling out and looks naturally confused at the clusterfuck that has developed in her absence. Meanwhile, the tow truck driver is putting his tools back in his truck, having already opened the door. I've got to admit, that was impressively fast. But still, ya know?

All told, I figure I spent about a minute eating french fries, stewing, and wondering if there was any point to opening my window and yelling at the guy to move his truck. Which means I've probably spent more time writing this post than I did waiting for tweedledee and tweedledum. Not exactly a major imposition, but I feel justified in my annoyance.

The funny thing is that, while in said drive-thru, I drove right past the speaker and had to back up to place my order. My brain was elsewhere, probably planning my weekend, and I made life difficult (or at least confusing) for the woman behind me. The lesson? Grease fumes clog your brain.
Parkour in Columbia. I don't know if this will ever happen, but I'd love to be in shape enough to do this. What is parkour? There are articles galore, but this video is probably the best into you'll find. I'll have to track down the videos these Columbia guys have done.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Telling a story and got stuck? Try one of these handy tropes, fully tested and audience approved.

Monday, August 27, 2007

When the history of our family is written, this will be recorded as The Year Everything Broke. Possibly the FY everything broke, since last fall we lost the vacuum cleaner and a significant portion of my left index finger.

This weekend, it was the lawn mower. Now, I'm a fix it, don't pitch it, kind of person, but the mower has developed this tic where, when you try to start it, it wrenches the cord pack. Last time it did it to Christie, she had to ice her shoulder for a week. Yesterday, the handle yanked out of my hand and bounced off the other, leaving a nasty bruise. Even so, I was prepared to try and fix it, till Christie pointed out that if we had a self-propelled mower with an electric start, she'd start mowing again.

Sold!

(Side Note: Christie refers to the Dyson as "the magical vacuum cleaner that makes my husband want to vacuum" and I wanted a mower like that for her. Because I love her.)

Lowe's first, Home Depot second. Lowe's had exactly one mower with an electric start, and it was at the top end of our price range. Home Depot had half a dozen, several of which were cheaper than I expected. And they had a salesman who really knew what he was talking about. With his guidance, we went for a Toro Personal Pace mower, and it's amazing. The throttle on this thing is integrated on the handle, so if you want to go faster, you push harder, and if you want to slow down, just pull back. It's as if Segway made a lawn mower.

I can admit now that part of my reluctance to buy a self-propelled mower was that they've always made me nervous. The last (only) time I used one was one of the early models, and it was hard to control, which I consider a very bad thing for a lawn mower. Not so the Toro. Yeah, it's heavy as hell. But you only notice that if you're trying to muscle it into or out of the car. Or dragging it backwards. I was actually able to push it one-handed up what I like to call "the big fucking hill". I love it.

Also, we got such a deal. They were out of the one we actually wanted, so Dave (our salesman) gave us a free upgrade rather than sell us the floor model, which amounted to about $60 bucks off.

Home Depot has been having its share of problems on the national level, but our local store has really improved in the last couple of years. Their sales staff are knowledgeable and friendly, their selection is great for raw materials and such (finished goods are still an advantage for Lowe's), and they've got a better selection of hardwoods. I'm becoming a convert.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Yeah, Bonkers is cool. But this is crazy cool.
I have nightmares about this sort of thing. I mean, not this exactly, obviously, because we don't have a brick veneer, but this kind of project-gone-horribly-wrong sort of thing.
Okay, so Megan McArdle's got a new blog over at the Atlantic. And I added it to the blogroll because I don't often agree with her, but she's no demagogue. She is, however, a libertarian, which is where I usually end up disagreeing with her. Her post on the morality of health care finance is a really good example. Basically, she's catching grief because of a post on her old blog where she argued that, "as a class, the old and sick have some culpability in their ill health."

You see that sort of thing from time to time. This is the basic reasoning:

1. A single-payer health care system takes money from the healthy to pay the sick (in the form of health care).

2. Many forms of illness are the result of the sufferers choices in life. Therefore, the healthy are healthy and the sick are sick as a result of their choices (taken on average).

3. It is immoral to take money from people who make good choices and give it to people who make bad ones.

Conclusion: A single-payer health care system is immoral.

There are so many problems with this. Regarding the first premise: the "healthy" and the "sick" are not discreet groups. With early intervention, it's often not difficult to take someone who was sick and make them healthy again. It happens all the time, and it's easier to do the earlier you can catch the problem. That's one argument in favor of single-payer, which is proven to be better at early intervention.

Second premise: Many forms of illness are not the result of bad choices. Most, in fact, are the result of bad luck, and many more are environmentally based. Of course, as a libertarian, Megan sees taxes as a form of punishment, so she'd really only accept this as a refutation of a single-payer system if I could demonstrate that health stems from wickedness, making it a moral imperative to take money from the healthy.

My big problem, though is with the third premise and the conclusion, and this is where I really give up on libertarians. See, I could care less whether a government program is moral or not. All I care about is whether it solves the problem without creating worse ones.
xkcd explains romantically inept geeks.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Overheard on Campus

Fundie guy leering at two girls holding hands: "I know God says it's wrong, but it's still hot."

Based on the religious discussion that followed, it became clear that he actually meant it. Gotta love it when the students come back.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nerves

Christie and I joined a gym last night, and tonight's our first session. We're meeting with a personal trainer to get acquainted with the machines, form a plan that fits our goals, etc.

I feel good about the decision, but it's a net good feeling, not a whole-hearted one. That's fine. Life's complicated, and there's almost always a downside. But I want to spend a little time thinking about why I'm so nervous.

1. Will Power. The last time I had a gym membership, I used it fairly thoroughly for a couple of months, then stopped going. This one's easy to see around, though. Last time I was going by myself early in the morning, and it's wayyyy too easy to choose staying in bed over going to the gym. This time Christie and I will be going together, and it'll mostly be an evenings thing. I won't be missing out on sleep, I'll be missing out on TV, and that's not much to miss. Heck, I might actually schedule gym time to coincide with some show or another. Maybe Reaper. Or try to be on the treadmill for the evening news. Other preventatives include taking classes and working with a personal trainer.

2. Luxury. This is a nice gym. I mean, a nice gym. Tons of space, plenty of machines and weights (we were there at primetime (6 p.m.) last night, and the parking lot was nearly full, but it didn't feel crowded). Nice views out of every window. Mineral water in the pool. Some people feel spoiled by that kind of thing, and I do, too, but it also leaves me a little uncomfortable. Growing up, the kids I knew that had really nice stuff were generally kind of assholes about it. Or, more accurately, the kids who were the most visible for having nice stuff were the ones who were assholes about it. So I've always sort of associated the one with the other.

Thanks to MBS, the cost for Christie and I to belong at Wilson's is about the same as it was for Carrie and I to belong to Gold's, which comes out to a lot less as a percentage of income, given how broke I was back then. But Wilson's sort of feels like a yuppie gym, and, man, did I hate the yuppies. But having a "Die Yuppie Scum" bumpersticker on your car in the 80's was every bit as much of a calculated pose as anything the yuppies did, and about the only way I'm not a yuppie these days is that I'm not particularly young (not particularly old, either, but I hope you see my point).

I don't have any particular plans on how to get over this one, apart from growing up a little and learning to accept my current lot in life. I expect that the feeling will diminish the first time I see deer browsing outside the window while I'm in a kickboxing class, but if it doesn't, I'll just have to administer mango protein smoothies until I feel the urge to buy a BMW.

3. Self Image. Outside of the gym, I can talk fitness with the best of them. I was a ropes course director for two summers and can still tie my own climbing harness with my eyes closed. I love the feeling of muscles sore from exertion. But drop me into a gym, and I morph back into the kid who got picked second to last in kickball. And basketball. And, well, just about everything else. The only 'sport' I was any good at as a kid was getting into fights on the playground. I feel like I'm intruding on someone else's territory, and any minute now the captain of the football team is going to give me a wedgie and kick me out of the weight room. Which is doubly weird because I knew the captain of the football team when I was in high school, and he wasn't the type. And I was friends with one of the captains of my college football team, and the best way I can think of to tell you that he wasn't the type is to explain that I knew him from Latin class.

I'm starting to think maybe this is some pop culture BS about nerds vs. jocks much more than it's about my actual childhood. (weird segue: Christie and I watched Mind Control with Derren Brown last night, and it triggered a whole mess of thoughts about impressions, memory, and that sort of thing. At one point, he essentially changed someone's memory of the recent past so convincingly that they refused to believe their own handwriting. So it's not a big surprise to me that pop culture memories could trigger stronger feelings than actual memories.)

The key here, I think, is too replace bad information with good information. In some ways, it might actually help that this gym is so different from the dingy cinderblock basements I've always worked out in before (even Gold's, a three story building, managed to feel like a basement. And smell like one.). My goal is to recondition my mind as I recondition my body until I'm as comfortable in the gym as I am in the library, the mall, or walking the streets downtown. This is another area where hiring a personal trainer might help, but we'll see what I can accomplish on my own first.


And now I'm getting excited about this. It's not just about shrinking my gut, it's also about shedding bad mental habits that limit who I am and what I can comfortably do.

It's also about being able to climb a 30-foot Giant's Ladder and have fun doing it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thanks to the Internet, I now know how to say "you have the wrong number" in Spanish. Which led to chattering on the other line I couldn't understand, leading me to say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak any Spanish other than 'Numero equivocando'."

Although, doesn't "numero equivocando" sound more like you might have the wrong number?

I really need to learn Spanish.
We had some weird weather Sunday night, but no real problems. We lost power for about ten minutes and have a bunch of sticks to clean up. Naturally, though, it all happened while I was down with a summer cold, which increased the weirdness level exponentially. Nothing like 60 mph winds with no rain combined with fever dreams.

I'm very glad, though, that we took that tree out back in June, otherwise we'd have some work to do.
Am I the only one who thinks that a big part of Karl Rove's plan to "spend more time with his family" is going to involve a long vacation to some tropical island with no extradition treaty?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cool fractured-looking wall unit. I particularly like his idea of using drawers from discarded dressers. That's something in plentiful supply in this town.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

If you want to get so mad you can't see straight, Google "Cassandra Hernandez". She's an Airman who reported a rape by three men, was bullied out of pressing charges by the Air Force, and is now facing a court martial for "deviant sex acts", i.e. having sex with the three men who raped her.

Oh, and the men are being granted immunity in exchange for testifying against her.

More here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I always thought that raccoons were our evolutionary understudy, but if squirrels are stealing chocolate for the toys, then maybe they're the ones we need to watch out for.

Monday, August 06, 2007

This is the most insane thing I've ever heard:
GOP State Legislator: Fear of Black Man Made Me Pay for Blowjob!
Just right for Baby Ella.
Good weekend. We had a garage sale and made a couple hundred bucks and a big hole in our stuff. By noon we'd sold down to just a few tubs of stuff that clearly wasn't what the market wanted, so we bundled it all up, took it to the Restore and Salvation Army, then went home to wait for my parents to arrive. The next 24 hours was quality time with Mom and Dad, including a trip to see Hairspray, which was a hell of a lot of fun, but also spurred a nice discussion of social change, spiced liberally with my parents memories of the sixties. (From my dad: "I don't remember 1962 having quite so many '63 Chevys on the streets...")

And then last night, Christie and I took in the Bourne Ultimatum. She mostly watched it with her eyes closed, but I'm a huge fan of the series, and this one didn't disappoint. It's a joy to watch an action movie that not only doesn't insult the intelligence of its viewers, it indulges it. It took me a second to realize that the entire first half of the movie is set between the end of the action in the last movie and the epilogue, and it's done very nicely.

Here's the thing, though. His real name, as revealed in the epilogue of the second film, is David Webb, and he was born in Nixa, Missouri. Which is weird, because a friend's little brother growing up was named David Webb, and I kept imagining little David, who would get so mad when we made fun of him, growing up to become an unstoppable assassin.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thousands of Missouri spans ‘deficient’

It may technically be true that Thousands of Missouri bridges are structurally deficient, but the vast, vast majority of bridges in Missouri are rural bridges crossing small creeks and rivers. Driving up to Kirksville from Kansas City, I probably went over a hundred or so bridges, but most of them were so small that there was only room for 6 cars bumper to bumper on both lanes.

I'm not saying that there are serious problems with the infrastructure in Misssouri (and most of the U.S), just that I'd like to see some reporting on the issue that didn't conflate the I-70 bridge over the Missouri river with a one-lane bridge over some unnamed creek on MO-11.
Billie, I know you're in a rush to fix the grace house, and ceiling fans can really class up a place, but don't do this.

Kidding. Billie knows what he's doing. But this whole gallery makes me cringe. Mary, don't let Rob click through any of these. I think they'll make his eyes bleed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

MySQL

What a day. Billie's always giving me a hard time for running queries in Access, even going so far as to describe Access as "a tool that lets people who don't know what they're doing do things they shouldn't."

Hmph.

Well, I'm always looking to learn new skills, and I try to be open to using new tools. Besides, I spend a lot of time waiting on my computer to finish running a query, so I'm definitely interested in upgrading. So I downloaded MySQL and started playing with it.

These are my discoveries so far:

1. The wizards did a great job of importing all my tables, but none of my queries made the transition, unless they're hidden somewhere. So I have all my data, but none of the tools I use to organize it or run reports. Recreating those will be a lot of work.

2. For data that updates regularly, I routinely just link the table in Access to a text file that I refresh. Saves a lot of time and effort. I'm sure there must be some way to do this in MySQL, but I'll be damned if I can find it.

3. For really big datasets, I'll import the text. But if I'm dealing with fewer than ten thousand records, I'll usually just copy and paste them into Access. The MySQL Query Browser I'm using doesn't seem to support this.

4. Speaking of building queries, I tend to think of databases in visual terms. So when I'm putting something together than pulls from a variety of different tables, I essentially need to visualize it, then figure out the SQL, then build the query. In Access I can build as I visualize. Much easier, much faster. I know there are so-called visual query builders for MySQL, but I've got no idea which ones are good and which ones suck. Anybody out there in the Intertubes got any advice?

5. Speed. I wrote a very simple query using MySQL, having it go through a list of titles and pull out the ones where the publisher was ______. Now, in Access, I could have scrolled down the list until I found an example of the kind of title I needed, copy the pubkey, paste it into the query. In MySQL, I had to write the damn thing from scratch. Fine. Different tools, different techniques. But Access showed me the results in about 15 seconds, and MySQL took three minutes! Of course, the results screen told me the query ran in 0.04 seconds. Which is nice, I guess, but what was the program doing with the other 179.96 seconds?

MySQL is really more of a platform than it is a piece of software, so maybe it's that I'm just using the wrong applications. Anybody out there got recommendations for good ones?

But I suspect that the real problem is that I'm an analyst and a dataminer, not a programmer. I don't need something to serve up webpages or maintain a dozen different user accounts, all of which I'm confident MySQL does very well.

I run reports. Granted, they're fairly complex reports. Some of them pull data from more than a dozen tables, and some of those tables contain millions of records. I'd love to find something better than Access for what I'm doing, but I've got a feeling that using MySQL to run these reports is like using a water jet to cut bread.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Here's a great tutorial on how to make your own LED bulbs. We've got a number of light fixtures in the house that use that same kind of halogen bulb. Maybe when they burn out, I'll take on this project (which will include learning more about electronics).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Want.

Except that, like most electric scooters, it can't handle hills, which makes it useless for me, unless I want to drive it around in the garage.

Guess I'll have to get one of these two instead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

That's me in the corner, losing my religion

It's late, and I should be heading for bed, but Christie's out of town, and I never can sleep right when she's gone. So instead I'm staying up and playing with the new cable. Some dude from the phone company dropped by the house a couple of weeks ago to pimp their new IPtv service. They're rolling it out slowly in Columbia, since only a few neighborhoods actually have the necessary wiring for the fiber optic.

I'd love to say it was all about the features, and there are some cool ones, but I really signed up because having all our data from one source is going to save us about $30 a month, all told. What's weird about it, though, is that for less money, we're also getting unlimited long distance on the phone, and three DVRs from the phone company. And our rate is grandfathered, not just an introductory thing.

All these are good things.

But there I was just kind of farting around, channel surfing and digging through the menus, and I realized that the DVR was recording two shows at the same time while I was surfing around. Definitely not something the Tivo can do. At least, not the 2nd generation Tivo we have. And then, just when I was questioning my faith in the cult of Tivo, Christie called. And the callerid info popped up on the TV screen.

I guess you could call this a crisis of faith, but, if so, why am I smiling?

Please don't take this as a negative recommendation for Tivo, though. After all IPtv is awesome, but it's not exactly widely available.

Update: Christie's home and the DSL is down, but the modem is something their usual customer service people have, of course, never heard of, and can't figure out how to access remotely. Which means no Internet and no TV until they can get a repairman to us, which will probably be tomorrow. No longer smiling.

2nd Update: Smiling again, but tentatively. Everything's working again. Like so many technical problems, it fixed itself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What goes through my head when the service isn't very good...

Me: Wouldn't it be weird if the Rapture happened, but only waiters and waitresses got into Heaven, and it happened on the lunch hour?

Christie: You are so odd.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not really a spoiler, is it?

In the Doctor Who episode The Shakespeare Code, the Doctor says of Harry Potter, "Wait till you read book seven! Oh, I cried."

My thoughts exactly, and that's all you'll get out of me till you've finished the book. Those who have and want to discuss the ending can email me. Melissa, do you have an email address Jack doesn't read? Christie and I would love to talk about the ending.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Does this new Executive Order mean that the Treasury Department will be seizing the Bush family assets, as well as those of major donors to the 2004 campaign? Because they'd certainly qualify.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I just got back from the eye doctor. We had a nice long talk about Harry Potter. His big worry is that he's got guests coming in this weekend, so he won't be able to read. He's particularly afraid he'll overhear someone in the waiting room talking about it.

Me: Just put a sign up in the waiting room: "Harry Potter spoilers will be severely punished!"

Him: No: Dilated! With the really nasty, long-lasting stuff!

Me: That ought to do the trick.

Him: I probably couldn't get away with that, though. Too bad.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This post on the Wall Street Journal blog (Are Dads Less Handy Around the House?) questions the dichotomy in many men's mind between fixing things around the house and spending time with their kids.

I know I sometimes have to remind myself to shift gears when I'm working on a project with other people. The other night, Christie and I were over at Michael and Lorie's, and one of the possible items on the to-do list was putting together their new grill. There's at one step in the process that requires two people and works best with three, so it was a good thing that Christie and Michael started helping. But Grant, being as in love with tools as he is, was desperate to help.

He's three.

I'll admit, it was a bit of a relief that it took him so long to realize what we were up to, and I was a little glad Lorie was keeping him distracted. But once the heavy lifting was done, it was a blast watching him "tighten" screws with a wrench, having him fetch tools, and so on.

One of my dad's catchphrases when I was a kid was "I would have been done sooner, but I had help." There was a bit of that in this project, sure. But it always takes longer to teach than it does just to do, and the world needs more people that like to fix stuff.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Because it's Friday the 13th, Christie and I are going to see that witchcraft movie tonight.

Speaking of, I've been rereading the books in preparation for next week, and I'm halfway through Goblet of Fire right now. I think I'm seeing evidence that Snape is a good guy.

All the Death Eaters (that I can think of) in the series go out of their way to be nice to Harry until such time as they 'come out', at which point they try to kill him. Even Draco kissed up to him when they first met. But Snape has been consistently contemptuous of him literally since day one. If he was a bad guy pretending to be good, wouldn't he suck up to Harry at least a little?
Another reason to want a Wii: WiiFit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I did take the camera to Michigan, but never actually got it out. I think it's good for the soul to be somewhere that every single sunset is so beautiful that it's picture-worthy. But if you're snapping pics, you're missing the sunset, really. Art vs. experience, blah, blah, blah.

I guess this is just my way of saying that I don't regret the lack of pics. Except that I really would have liked to have video of Kelyn loudly insisting, "I'm Spartacus!" That was pretty awesome.

But kids are kind of like sunsets in that respect.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Home again, home again

I love my friends, I love the cottage, and I love the cool breezes blowing in off the lake. There's magic in stepping out of life for a while. But there's magic in coming home again as well, and it's good to be back in my own house, showering with really, really good water pressure, and just generally getting things done. I've already caught up with email, know what I have to do in the morning, watched a little Doctor Who, and I'm on the verge of going on a walk around the neighborhood with Christie, now that the temperature is becoming reasonable again. Oh, and I've had a beer. Vacation or no, I don't want to shock the body with sudden changes like, um, not having a beer.

Apart from the news that life is good and that turning off the news for a week does wonders for the psyche, the only real insight I can convey from the past week is this tiny bit of profundity: If you ever have the chance to watch fireworks with a three year old, don't pass it up. It's one of the seven wonders of the emotional world.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I'm briefly online, but don't get spoiled and expect much of it. Christie and I are off on our annual media fast. Except that Christie and I both have to keep up with a few things at the office, so we're taking a bit of time each day to break the fast to check email, at least. But I want to keep it short so I can get back to staring at the lake and reading old books.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The problem with reading a book like Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven : Story of Violent Faith is that when it's a nice night and you're out for a walk with your wife, and a couple of tie-wearing guys on bikes ask you, "Are you familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?", you're likely to say something like, "Yes, I'm entirely too familiar with your religion. But y'all have a nice night, alright?" and walk firmly away.

I felt kind of bad about it, but Christie pointed out a number of things I could have said that would have been much ruder. Funnier, though.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quirky discipline rules that work - CNN.com

These remind me of some of the rules my parents had when I was growing up, particularly, "You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit." My parents' version was "And where did you get the idea that life is supposed to be fair?"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Good tree service in Columbia

If you're local and have trees that need work, I highly recommend Arthur Ratliff Tree & Stump Removal. I called them on Monday afternoon about a half-rotten tree that was not only right next to the house; it was actually in the middle of our deck! He came out that night to see it, came back the next morning to see it again and make an estimate, and he and his crew were back the next morning to take it out, along with a branch that was rubbing on the roof and an old dead tree that had just fallen. They were fast, clean and efficient, and it cost less than I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a budget outfit, but they're reasonably priced considering the quality of their work, which was important, given the location of this tree. But I very much think it was worth it.

BTW, I heard about them through this article in our local paper, which is proof if proof were needed that PR is more effective than advertising. And Christie and I have both recommended them to friends with tree problems, so word of mouth is obviously a big part of how they do well. Which is why I'm passing this on.
Jack Chick + Etsy = Awesome!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More pics of the entertainment bench


entertainment_bench_17
Originally uploaded by Litcritter
There are a few alterations I'm thinking of making already. For one thing, the receiver sticks out too far, but I think I can fix that by removing one of the supports in back. But it's all wired in and everything seems to be working properly.

Christie would like me to note that the cushion will crush down some over time, and she thinks it's too poofy right now.

More pics here.
I just had a really good customer service experience with Amazon.com. See, I ordered something for our upcoming Michigan trip and went for the Super Saver Shipping option, thinking there was plenty of time. But, no, the confirmation came back with an estimated delivery date of July 2-9th, which would be too late. And it was also too late to change the delivery method on the web site.

So I googled their customer service number and called. The guy on the phone confirmed that it was too late, but assured me that since it was shipping early, I'd get it in plenty of time. And then he suggested a work around just in case it doesn't get here in time. So my stress is twice-relieved, even though he didn't actually do anything, which is often the essence of customer service, in my book.

I know people complain about how hard it is to find a phone number for Amazon, but all it took was a Google search for "Amazon phone number", and I had it. If there was a phone number plastered all over their web site, I'm sure I would have been on hold all day. So life is good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Entertainment bench



And this is my contribution to the new living room arrangement. We'd been wanting to put the TV on the mantle, but the windows flanking the fireplace meant there was no good place to stick the receiver, VCR, Tivo, etc. My solution was to build a low bench to fit under the window, with storage for the electronics. it's got adjustable shelves on each side, and a vertical section in the middle for storing DVDs, or maybe someday a Wii. The slats on the back are so I can run the wires, and the back is recessed about 3 inches to make room for the surge protector and give me space to organize all those wires, which Christie's dad has compared unfavorably to the guts of the space shuttle (and he would know!).

Christie's already made one cushion, which we'll use either for this bench or the other one I'm making for the dining room. Oh, and now you know what my workshop looks like when I'm in the middle of a project: a total friggin' mess.