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.