Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Everybody else is quoting the inimitable John Rogers, so I will, too:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Frustrated with AT&T Wireless

I'm extremely frustrated with AT&T Wireless right now. I've been a customer for something like 7 years now, and I've always had pretty good service, particularly in the AT&T stores (as opposed to the franchise stores). But my phone service took a big quality drop recently. Maybe they upgraded their network or something, but as of a couple of months ago, Christie gets 4 bars in the basement with her 3G phone, and I get 1 bar with my non-3G one.

So I went to the AT&T store, but they weren't any help at all in diagnosing my problem, except to recommend a new phone. They were particularly enthused about selling me an iPhone. They did give me a new SIM card, with a sort of half-shrug, saying "sometimes that works".

It didn't.

Today, Christie and I decided to stop by a different AT&T store, which was probably a mistake, as I wasn't feeling particularly good physically, nor was I at my best emotionally. They tried to sell me an iPhone, and I told them I wasn't interested in a smartphone of any kind. They asked why, and I told them that I spent 95% of my time within three steps of a computer, and that turning that into 100% just wasn't worth $30 a month to me. He kept trying to sell me an iPhone.

I finally persuaded him that I just wanted a baseline phone to make calls with, and that reception was the biggest thing for me. He sort of waved his hand at a bank of phones and said, "They're all basically the same. It might solve your problem with reception, might not. Every phone's different."

Huh, so they're the same, and they're different? If only there were someone around who could guide me to the phone with the best reception in and around Columbia!

I might have been getting a little cranky at this point. Since I'd spent a fair amound of time on the website, and had seen a number of phones with "$0 with upgrade credit!" next to them, I asked him what the prices on these were like with my upgrade credit.

"Oh, these are the upgrade prices."

Either there were free/cheap phones that he didn't want to show me, or AT&T is really trying to drive traffic to their web site. There is a third possibility, I suppose, which is that the prices on the web site are dependent on a contract, and the upgrade prices in the store are not, or something along those lines. Again, if only there were some person involved in the transaction who could have given me some guidance!

So, according to the good people at the AT&T store, about two months ago, my service quality underwent a rapid decline, but the reason for this is a total mystery to everyone, and the only way I can keep the level of service that I've been paying for (paying more for, actually, since they got rid of their lower level plans and 'upgraded' us to the next one up) is to spend $80 to $100 in the hopes that things might magically get better.

The best explanation I can think of for this is that AT&T pays their people commissions on new customers, and commissions on iPhones, but there is no commission for keeping a customer who might have gone elsewhere.

Anybody know how the reception is for T-Mobile in Columbia?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Business Idea

Christie and I are pretty much always either at home or at work. So neither of us really has any need for a smartphone. But it'd be really nice to have one during our upcoming trip to DC. ATT should start a program for occasional users where you can rent an iPhone for a week or two. Price it cheap enough to be attractive to people like Christie and I, but not so cheap that people would do it instead of buying an iPhone.

I think it'd be a win for the company, as lots of people might try them for a week and decide they can't live without it.

Family Bed to Crib

Christie and I have sometimes wondered if colic can cause PTSD, because we'll both have these moments of heart-in-our-throat feeling when we're putting little bit to bed, and the fear that we're in for a late night hits us. Last night was one of those nights, because we're laying it on the line and trying to transition her from the family bed to her crib.

Basically, when we put her to sleep at first, we lay her down in her crib, and if she wakes up and can't get herself back to sleep, we'll let her finish the night in our bed. But the goal is for her to eventually sleep all night in her crib.

To make this all easier, the crib is in our room right now, which means that when Christie and I went to bed last night at 8:30 (it's been a rough week, because somebody is teething and had a cold), we spent the next 2 hours holding our breath at every shift, heavy breath, or whimper from the general direction of the crib.

The general goal of this transition is for everyone to get a better night's sleep, but so far it only seems to be working for the munchkin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sci-Fi fun

I've been reading (and rereading) Scalzi books, which gets interesting when I try and talk about something to Christie. She loves Fantasy, but Sci Fi isn't really her bag. Some samples:

On Zoe's Tale:

Me: So her parents are running a new colony called Roanoke...

Her: Why would they name a colony Roanoke? Don't they know what happened to the original Roanoke?

Me: Well, yeah, that comes up, because, um, it's kind of complicated. Do you really want to know?

Her: Never mind.


Or on The Ghost Brigades:


Me: Black jellybeans end up being a big memory trigger for one of the characters.

Her: Like Proust.

Me: Right. They even mention it. See this character and his daughter used to love to eat black jellybeans together, so the first time he tastes them, it brings back all these memories of her death.

Her: If they used to eat them together, how is he eating them for the first time?

Me: It's kind of complicated. See, the main character has more than consciousness in his head because he was created to-

Her: This is the clone thing, isn't it?

Me: Yeah!

Her: Never mind.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You learn something new every day

Not necessarily anything useful, but it's something. I had no idea that Jimmy Carter was once attacked by a rabbit.

Kid transport in the city: stroller or backpack?

Which should Christie and I get for our DC trip, a backpack or a stroller? I've got my eye on a stroller that is supposed to be very light, folds up small, and has a bag available that makes it airplane-friendly.

On the other hand, backpacks are better at dealing with unpredictable terrain than strollers. But I don't know of any backpacks that are particularly airplane-friendly, nor am I sure that my foot is going to deal well with me having the little bit in a backpack all day, whereas a stroller might be a little easier to deal with, and certainly easier for Christie.

All in all, I'm leaning toward the stroller, but I'm still gathering data. Anybody out there have any thoughts?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The eyeballing game

Do I find the Eyeballing Game addictive because I'm a woodworker, and am so often tempted to eyeball things, or is it addictive for everyone?

I do predict Christie will get addicted. My first score was an average error of 4.92, but I think I can do better (i.e. lower).

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Excel Trick

Without going into the details, I had to create a spreadsheet that had a group of values distributed throughout, where the same number showed up the same number of times throughout, but not at the same place throughout. I put something together that looked right, but I needed a way to find out how the numbers were distributed in the sheet.

In Excel, go to Tools, then Analysis, and choose the Histogram function. It'll generate a new sheet with the distribution for you. Pretty cool.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What the hell do you call this thing?



First off, I apologize for the crappy camera phone picture. Secondly, what the hell do you call this thing? It's a small piece of metal that was driven into the mitered corners of all the door moldings in our house, holding the joint together. I'm getting ready to rehang the molding, and I'm reusing quite a few of these, but I foolishly didn't save them all (actually, they're probably in my iron (s)crap bucket, but I don't want to dig for them). The local hardware stores have been a wash so far, so I'm hoping somebody out there can tell me what this thing is called so I can take the search further.

Notice the ridges at the side, and the slight flare at the back, which helps hold the outside corner of the miter joint together. Anybody got any ideas?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Things to do and see in DC?

Christie and I are headed to DC for a few days in June, and I'm wondering what there is to see and do there. More accurately, there's so much to see and do that we're wondering where to focus our efforts. We'll likely have the kidlet with us, so we're also looking for kid-friendly restaurants in the Dupont Circle area. Any recommendations?

A logical argument for pantheism

For Patrick, via Andrew Sullivan.

Can God Be Perfect if We Exist Apart from Him?
Given how big a fan of Spinoza Patrick is, this is probably old news to him, but I really enjoy the argument. Basically, it's arguing that "God is perfect" can only be true if everything in the universe, including you and I, are part of God, which is heretical in most of the world's monotheistic religions. At least, it's heretical in the non-mystical branches of those religions.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bacon maple bar donut

C'mon, you know you wanna try it. And it was awesome. Not something I'd want to eat every day, but the woman behind the counter at Dixie Cream was right, it was like taking a bite of pancake, then a bite of bacon that had gotten all syrupy.

Good stuff, but my favorite is still their glazed.

Sometimes I don't think before I speak

Me: Okay, you can prep for the soup, but I need to sharpen the mandoline. I'll just bring the sharpener and the blade over here and sharpen it while I watch the baby. Okay, wow, that's a really bad idea, isn't it?

Her, laughing: Yeah. Pretty much the worst ever.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Well, our local talk radio Republicans had a little protest downtown yesterday. I expect they picked one of our smallest parks so that the protest would look bigger, but what do I know?

I'm not sure what, exactly, these Republican teabaggers are hoping to accomplish, apart from being a pain in the ass for Capitol security, but they do seem to be enjoying themselves, and if it keeps them off the streets, who am I to complain? I guess everybody needs a hobby. They haven't been all that specific about what they're upset about, either. The stimulus is on their list, as is the budget. The word socialism shows up a lot, but they don't seem to actually know what it means, other than that it's bad.

They remind me quite a bit of the folks who were out protesting our invasion of Afghanistan right after 9/11. They make about as much sense, and I expect they'll have more or less the same effect. I will give them credit, though, insofar as they do have better hygiene and drive nicer cars.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New TV Show

Castle is fun, partly because the writing is good, but mostly because the main character, played by Nathan Fillion, is clearly having fun. The best thing about it, though, is that it's on the same network as Dancing with the Stars, so I don't have to choose between happy Mike and happy Christie.

You do not want to get between that woman and shows with sparkly outfits.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Eat the rich; the poor are tough and stringy

Steve Benen's got a good graph on the increased tax rate on the rich "proposed" by Obama. I put "proposed" in quotation marks, because this is actually a planned sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts.

If you'll remember, the Bush tax plan included a massive tax cut to the top 2% or so which was sold to the country as a temporary thing. This "massive tax hike" is merely leaving the law as it was proposed by George Bush and enacted by a Republican congress.

Summer To-Do list

This is off the top of my head, and I seriously doubt I'll actually get all of these things done, but this is the outside stuff I'd like to have done by the end of summer. In stream of consciousness order:

1. Clean all the gutters.

2. Replace/rebuild the small retaining wall by the driveway, and put in another planting bed there for Christie and Sophie to dig in the dirt.

3. Get grass established on the southern slope of the backyard.

4. Get estimate for various approaches to the front retaining wall including replacement with timbers, replacement with stone, repair of damaged timbers, and total removal.

5. Powerwash the house where it's dirty from splashback before we put in the gutters.

6. Powerwash the grill and patio furniture.

7. Fix a few deck boards and check railing posts, consider childproof railing options for upper deck.

8. Price out new landscape lighting fixtures, keep an eye out for deals.

9. Crawl under upper deck and move joist to give our remaining deck tree room to grow for a few more years.

10. Rebury french drain in front of house.

It's going to be a busy warm season.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Discipline

This has always been a full-disclosure blog, but this is tricky territory, so bear with me. Christie and I were talking about discipline last night, and I had a realization: I don't know squat, except what I don't want to do, and that's not particularly helpful.

My parents practiced corporal punishment. My grade school practiced corporal punishment. I do not want to practice corporal punishment. Unfortunately, I'm finding that I don't, at a gut level, trust non-corporal punishment.

Now, I'm not talking about beatings. But at the base of every punishment, there was pain. Even the non-corporal punishments, like groundings, were enforced with the potential of a spanking. On some level, I felt like that was all that kept me from climbing out the window and going wilding, I guess.

So the whole timeout thing seems weird to me. Every time we've watched some show like Supernanny, and she's putting kids in timeout, I find myself asking, "What happens if they won't stay on the naughty step?"

"Then you put them back on."

"And what about when they get off again?"

"Then you put them back on."

"And if they won't go?"

"Pick them up and put them on the step."

"And what if they fight you?"

"You put them back on the step until they've finished the timeout."

"But what if they won't stay there?"

And we're back where we started. I'm starting to realize that, when it comes to punishment, I'm like a Ron Paul Republican trying to understand a fiat currency. They don't think any money without a gold standard is "real", and I don't, in my gut, understand how a punishment can be affective if it doesn't have physical pain somewhere in the equation to back it up.

Now, you might think this would make me want to use corporal punishment once our little disease vector is old enough, but it's had quite the opposite effect. The more time I spend around parents who don't spank, and see how their kids grow up, the more I realize that my thinking has been fundamentally warped. There is this entire world of ways to encourage and discourage behavior, and my thinking is stuck on the Spanish Inquisition.

Luckily, my gut isn't the one making parenting decisions, and my brain is thoroughly convinced that corporal punishment is not even going to be in the toolbox. The next step is to read a whole lot of books in the goal of re-educating my gut. I'm going to start with the Love and Logic books, but I'm open to suggestions. Anybody out there got any recommendations?

Update: Christie and I were talking about this yesterday, and one of the things that's most ironic about my instinctive desire to have corporal punishment available as a tool of last resort is how many times I've seen parents who are using corporal punishment, desperately searching for something else because it doesn't actually help them engender the behavior they're looking for. Why would I want it for a tool of last resort, when it's not actually a very good tool? And yet I do. More evidence that my brain is broken.

Overheard

"Everybody says I'm going deaf, but my hearing is better than her listening!"

For Movie Geeks Who Love Comics

Slate presents Watchmen as imagined by Woody Allen, Judd Apatow, and others.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Geeks with babies

Me: Have you ever noticed that sometimes she sounds exactly like R2D2 did when he was shot by the Jawas?

Her: I can't tell you how many times I've had that exact thought.
Want:Festool’s new parallel guide system And it's only $130! And it could pretty much replace my table saw!

Of course, it's useless without the saw, which is about the same cost as a new table saw, albeit not a very good one.

Monday, March 02, 2009

via scalzi, artist unknown, but brilliant:

Thought for the day

If you're a business owner, and your net income is over $250,000 a year, and you're really upset about your taxes going up, you could always cut your income somewhat by putting more money into your business. You could, for example, hire a few more people.

Update: I was kidding, but some people are apparently trying to do just that.

My favorite part is: "The attorney says that in order to decrease her income she'll have to let go of clients, some of whom she's been counseling for more than a decade." You know, if your attorney doesn't understand the marginal tax rate, and actually thinks that cutting her income will save her money, then you're probably better off if she decides to stop giving you advice.
Lance has a nice rant up about the alternative history Republicans. The only thing I would add is that these Republicans who are saying, "I'm not sure if Obama's policies are wrong, but I hope he fails so we can take advantage of it" are completely and totally backwards. If they really cared about their country and their countrymen, they'd be saying, "I believe these policies are a mistake, but I hope for the sake of the country that I'm wrong."

Of course, that's precisely what some of them said, until Limbaugh leapt in to steer the ship. Now, granted, a lot of that choice is more about personal cowardice than a belief that Limbaugh is right on the merits. Limbaugh's got a big pulpit, and several hours a day to rant about the first Republican politician to cross him. And the second. Etc.

But it was Limbaugh who said this weekend that "One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas." Limbaugh's been very clear that he doesn't give a rat's ass about what's good for the country; he just wants power.

This is the person Republicans are choosing to follow.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cabinet for Christie's Office


Well, it's done, and fits perfectly in the space.

Okay, it fits perfectly after quite a bit of tweaking. But, thanks to some happy accidents, the shelves in between the two cabinets gave me some wiggle room.

I'd guess that between the casters, the plywood, the walnut for the edgeband, and the finish, this was about a $200 piece of furniture. Not bad, for custom cabinets.

I'll admit, there are some things I don't like about it, but I'll let those be my secret. Things I do like include the space for the fridge, which has exactly the same reveal on all four sides, and the L-shaped compartment on the right, impractical as it may be. I really like the walnut edging, too. It's got a really nice grain to it, and the piece of plywood I used for the countertop has good chatoyance.

For the in-progress shots, see here.