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.