Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fun with Firefox extensions

We've had a little downtime at work since the end of the year is approaching, so between emergencies I've been exploring the world of Firefox extensions. In standard open-source style, there are a few projects that are useful and are well-written, and many that are either whimsical or provide functionality that can be found in better quality apps elsewhere (calendar apps and web accelerators, for example).

The three I've installed so far are Adblock, NoScript, and Performancing (which I'm using to write this blog entry). Adblock does what the name suggests, blocks advertisements. Give it a pattern, such as http://**, and data that comes from that source is blocked. NoScript lets you block JavaScript (and applets like Java and Shockwave), but enable it on sites you trust.

Performancing links into a few blogging services, Blogger being one of them, and provides a little HTML editor about as sophisticated as the old Composer app from Netscape 3.0 Gold, one of my favorite editors from pre Y2K. Highlight the right blog, type your post, click Publish, voilá. The main drawback, which I can live with, is a slightly wacky rich text box. It reminds me a little of this (IE only, and try the right-click menu) editor I was working on several years back, one of my many abandoned projects.

Christmas went OK. The ex had Stacey, so she and I opened some presents a few days before Christmas, and I saved some for when she gets back from visiting Grandma and Grandpa up in Wisconsin. She was still in town Christmas day, so I picked her up in the afternoon and we saw Chicken Little, which was suprisingly good.

I had Friday and Monday off from work, and didn't have the kid, so I slept about 10 hours a night for 4 nights in a row. I'm a new man.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas

Hello, fair readers, I hope Christmas finds you well.
Here's a randomly generated ASCII tree for your enjoyment:


And the perl source code for generating it:


sub symbol {
my $r = rand;
return '|' if $r < .07;
return 'o' if $r < .15;

my $width = shift || 30;
for my $cnt (1..$width/2) {
print "\n", ' ' x ($width/2 - $cnt);
print symbol for 1..2*$cnt;

print "\n", ' ' x ($width/2 - 2) . "_||_\n\n\n";

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas 2005

To-Do List:

- Visit relatives :: done
- Presents for relatives :: done
- Activity for Stacey and her friends :: done
- Presents for Stacey :: done
- Presents for Roomie :: done
- Presents for Mentee :: done
- Presents for dog :: done
- Buy tree :: done
- Bake cookies :: done
- Decorate tree :: in progress
- Wrap presents :: not started

Everything Christmas has progressed on schedule this year, and yet I feel that I'm really cutting it close. I think it's just the unwrapped presents that are gnawing at me, and possibly that Stacey has had a lot of activities that I had little choice in, such as singing exhibitions with her school choir and voice coach's theater group, a trip with her "Able and Talented" math class.

The main stressor on top of the crazy schedule was the one big event I tried to schedule in the middle of all that, the dinner/movie/sleepover with 6 of her friends. Strangely enough, that went off without a hitch. All but one of the girls who were invited were able to go, plus a friend of one of the neighbor girls who everyone thought should tag along to use up the extra movie ticket. Dinner was at Buca Di Beppo, a very good Italian restaurant close to my favorite theater, the Arena Grand. At the theater, I had balcony tickets for the girls to see "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", which was great (and had most of the girls crying at some point or other).

At the sleepover everyone stayed up until about 3:30am playing singing and dancing games, and bickering as they got tired, standard fare when a bunch of little girls get together for a night. I came off looking like the cool dad I am, and plus that can count as Christmas presents for everyone, releaving us from an obligation that is still ill-defined in popular American holiday culture: gifts for neighbors.

Last night Stacey and I baked some homemade cookies that turned out great. I used a recipe from the Food Network show "How to Boil Water", of all things. The recipe was as follows:

1 cup + 6 tbs all purpose flour. (This amount is puzzling, but I do what I'm told)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Mix dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix:

1 softened stick of unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark brown to, um, kick it up a notch)
1/2 cup cane sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
Mix until creamy
Mix in dry ingredients

Chop up 6oz of bittersweet chocolate (not chips) into yeah-big pieces (I used 4 because that's the size of the bar I had, and that worked fine). Mix chocolate with other stuff. Roll into yeah-big spheres and squish down just a little. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.

Good cookies, not much prep time, and we both had fun mixing, rolling, and squishing. Try it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Well, I finally got MythTV up and running on my Linux box. That would be this box:

This is the box I set up back in 2002 to be my main gaming and Linux desktop system. Since I spend more time on the iMac now than any other system in the house, I figured I'd put this one to good use.

It was a painful stretch of several days, trying to steal away a few minutes here and there to work on it, and overcoming one obstacle over another. I had purchased a WinTV PVR-150 model 1045 to set this up with, and had a lot of problems recognizing the tuner, and getting versions of MythTV and the Linux kernel, PVR-150 drivers (from both the ivtv website and my install CD) that all worked well together. I ended up with the following:

KnoppMyth R5A16
Linux Kernel 2.6.11
manual compile of ivtv 0.3.8
edit /etc/mythtv/modules/ivtv to add line "options bttv card=80 tuner=6", and add "/sbin/modprobe bttv;" as first paramater after "install ivtv"

Seems pretty simple, but I was starting from scratch with how the modules interacted, where config files were, and how video4linux indexed my tuner. It was a bear, and I was about 1 or 2 reboots away from taking my tuner card back. Now things are up and running pretty smoothly and I'm able to record, download schedules, read the news, etc. This is only day 1, though, and I expect more problems to tackle as time goes on.

In other news, tomorrow morning starts the new schedule with me and Stacey. I'm up before dawn to get ready for work and cook breakfast, then dropping her off at a neighbor's house to be taken to school, and I'm getting home in time to pick her (and occasionally her friends) up from school. Cheaper than day care, I beat rush hour traffic to and from work, and I get to spend the critical first hour after school with my kid every day for the rest of the school year.

Last in the news of the week is this Thursday Stacey and probably an assortment of her friends will be heading out to a pumpkin patch to pick some pumpkins, buy farmer's market goodies, run through corn mazes, etc. It should be a hoot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My mom moved out. More details available on request. The biggest impacts this has on me is requiring me to spend more time with my kid, a good thing, and requiring me to keep close ties with my neighbors, another good thing.

I picked my first lock today. It was the Kensington cable lock that secures my laptop to its docking station at work. I attempted to pick the lock Monday; I left work early and needed to take my laptop with me, but couldn't find the key to the Kensington lock. I actually failed to pick the lock, and after some more searching I found the key. I didn't want to get caught in that situation again, so I examined closely how the mechanism worked, and read about exploiting that type of lock on the net.

My tool of choice for picking the lock is a thin plastic strip used in the packaging of boxes of printer paper. Snip a small segment off, feed it into the lock, and twist. This is an improvement, in my opinion, over the other popular attacks, namely the scissors and paperclip, two paperclips, and the toilet paper roll and duct tape attacks. My best time so far with the plastic strip is slightly under a minute. Locksmithing might be a fun hobby, I'll have to put that on my to-do list.

Unfortunately, my to-do list still has items from 1987 on it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Road trip fun

A few minor goings-on. I won a Voit wristwatch, probably worth about $10, from a video game at a truckstop on the West Virginia Turnpike. I fed the machine a single dollar, figuring I'd get some mindless entertainment while my daughter and mother looked for knick-knacks.

The game was from a new breed of prize games that lets you play for a while and win a small prize, and have the option of continuing and playing for a more expensive prize, or stopping and getting the chintzy one. The actual game was a cheap knock-off of "Snake", where you navigate a snake on a board who gets longer when he eats food that appears randomly. I wasted the first of my two games figuring out the timing, which was unusual, as the snake sped up dramatically the further the joystick was moved. I quickly crashed after only picking up a few bites of food, but used that experience to easily win the second game, opting to stop at the chintzy prize level rather than continue. I couldn't figure out how to select which of the low-end prizes I wanted, hoping for the small teddy-bear on a keychain for my daughter, when out popped the wristwatch.

My mother is a little irritated that I've taken to wearing the watch, since she bought me one for my birthday that cost her more than the dollar mine cost me. Heh.

We were on the West Virginia Turnpike because we were coming back from spending Labor Day weekend in North Carolina with our family down there. Stacey and I missed the annual family reunion because of a commitment to practice that weekend for an upcoming outdoor musical show put on by her voice teacher. She was missed at the reunion, and I promised my Grandmother that we would at least come down for a visit later.

Another odd event that happened was at a Wendy's in Zanesville Ohio, about an hour away from home. We stopped in for a quick dinner, and since it was after dark, all the hooligans were out. Four teenage girls showing off their midriffs and party clothes were at a table being impressed by the antics of a short teenage boy sporting rich-boy-trying-to-look-ghetto clothes, talking on his cellphone to some sort of antagonist. He yells at the phone for a while, and finishes the call with "you want some, punk? Here I come," and then hangs up and turns around to leave, smacking right into me.

He politely mumbles "oh, excuse me, sir," before returning to the table of girls to reiterate that he really-really is going to go fight this guy now, because "this guy thinks he's tough, and I'm sick of it!"

"Be careful," one of the girls worriedly cautions him. Then he leaves. The event was comical, amounting to the same thing as a high-school shoving match done mainly for the spectators to see how vicious and crazy the two "combatants" are. However, I was upset that the boy was so polite to me, and didn't seem to consider it a problem leaving the four girls in an otherwise empty restaraunt with me (my girls were at the connected gas station looking for candy and pop, so for all chumpy knew, I was alone). What am I, not a threat any more? I guess that means I'm getting old. "Excuse me, sir," indeed.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Girls, Girls, Girls

I've been around little girls so much over the past 9 days that I've been soliciting my male neighbors to talk about football and monster trucks in an effort to achieve normality. I took a week off of work to celebrate Stacey's last week of summer break before school starts again, and I found myself hanging out with her and her friends a lot more than I imagined I would.

First was the rock-climbing birthday party, a raging success, but a lower turnout than I expected. We had 8 kids total, and missing were 3 who had confirmed and 2 I thought would definitely show since they had in the past. Had they all showed, though, the party would have not gone as well since we had just enough adults to belay the climbers that showed up. Everyone had a good time and got thoroughly exhausted, and then managed to go through 4 large pizzas and most of 2 birthday cakes. Stacey got lots of loot and lots of attention, so she was happy. She's also a good climber, the first to make it to the top of the climbing structure.

Next was the Monday sleepover, followed by the Tuesday babysitting of all her friends who's parents were at work, followed by a somewhat costly trip to Dairy Queen with all the girls who slept over plus one straggler. Nothing required an inhuman effort from me to manage, it was just an all day affair with giggling girls dancing to pop music and playing with Brats dolls, the new Barbie. I jumped in occasionally, teaching the kids the correct way to do some old school dances like the robot and the swimmer, and showing them the one my posse made up back in the early 90s, the "readin' the book".

After that was the Hillary Duff concert. A neighbor had tickets she couldn't use and asked me if I wanted to take Stacey. I said sure, and brought two of her friends with us. The girls were giddy, doing their makeup in the car, and running around with their little purses and sashes. At the concert I decided to be extra generous and blew my extra spending cash on concert T-shirts for all 3 of them and some drinks and popcorn. They all had a blast, shrieking until they were hoarse. I still have a slight ringing in my ears from the whole ordeal.

Last was the lemonade stand and cleaning up the fallout from it. The girls and I went through a car wash, and then they helped me vacuum out my car, very nice of them. Afterwards I chaperoned them going to a local grocery store to buy poster board, lemonade mix, and pop, most of which they purchased with their own money. After a quick stop at the pet store for them to play with hamsters and a puppy, we went back and they started work on their advertising, and set up their stand early the next morning.

After spending all day out in the heat selling drinks and failing to make back their expenses, they were all at each other's throats, and I tried to heal any emotional wounds by taking them all out that evening for ice cream. Again. That went moderately well, and I expect they'll be best friends again sometime soon.

Now I've had enough little girl activities to last me a long while, and Stacey had a busy week with her friends with lots of ups and very few downs. A good last week of summer vacation.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Tomorrow is Stacey's birthday, W00t! However, it will probably rain. B00t!

In a week or so, provided people have a good time, I'll have some pictures out on my photo site of the event. This year we're doing a climbing party at a place called Summit Vision, where the kids (and maybe some adults) will climb a climbing tower and various other things. Seemed like a cool idea.

Go buy some jewelry.

Butterfly Lane Creations

Yes, this is a shameless plug. The above link is for the website of a friend of mine who I used to work with. I helped her tweak some CGI and HTML, and had a chance to see some of the bracelets and such close-up. Good stuff.

Working on the site gave me a chance to brush up on my CSS a little bit, and I'm adding another item to my to-do-when-I'm-not-feeling-lazy list, writing a template for this site that I'm more happy with. Maybe one day I'll get around to it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Coathanger = po man's plumber

I learned everything I need to know in life not in Kindergarten, but by watching Macgyver. I'm also close to dead broke right for various reasons, so when my kitchen sink backed up last night, calling a plumber wasn't an option I was ready to entertain. Buying a $5 bottle of Liquid Plumber was also not going to happen if I could avoid it.

After debating for a few minutes with my roomie on the best approach for using a coathanger to unclog a sink, I went to work threading an unwrapped hanger down the sink, through the side of the garbage disposal, and down to the grease trap. After twisting the hanger around in the grease trap for a while, I gave up and decided to take the sink apart.

So I took all of our miscellaneous cleaning supplies and placemats out from under the sink, and found a good container to bail with. As soon as I put the container in the sink to remove the first scoop of water, the water started to bubble and swirl and make the unpleasant sucking noise that only kitchen sinks can, and all the water drained out normally.

I was unhappy about that, as I had stolen myself to the task of dismantling the sink, dismissing everything else I wanted to do that night, and now the task was taken away from me. My unhappiness was short lived, of course, as was the idea that the sink was deliberately spiting me. My current theory is that the coathanger actually did the trick, and I just needed to be more patient.

So now I saved $5 on a bottle of Liquid P and a possible $50 or so on a real plumber by sacrificing a 5 cent coathanger I wasn't using anyway. Now more of my hard earned cash can go to buying the last round of birthday presents for Stacey's party, which is this Saturday!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Picture Perfect

Every once in a while a two hour block of your life seems like it is dragged directly from a Disney film, a Norman Rockwell painting, or a chapter from a Leo Buscaglia book. This morning was like that for me.

Stacey had been with me for three weeks, and is going back to her mom today. My task this morning was a simple one I've done hundreds (thousands?) of times before: get her up, in the shower, feed her, drop her off at day care. Today my heart really wasn't in it though, because I was still exhausted from yesterday's activities.

Yesterday, Stacey, my mentee Dave, and I went to COSI to see the Titanic exhibit, and did much running around there and walking in the hot sun, and walked about a mile from COSI to the closest Mongolian Barbecue to eat dinner. After dropping Dave off at home, Stacey and I got Heidi (her dog) and went down the dog park for about an hour to let her run around. Basically we were both beat by the end of the day.

So I attempted to get Stacey up for a couple minutes, and decided to give up and try again later, so I crawled into bed beside her. She stirred a little, and scooted over to me and put her head on my shoulder, all with her eyes closed lest I accuse her of being awake. Heidi promptly got jealous and jumped on the bed and laid down on Stacey's other side and scooted in close so the three of us made a giant Stacey sandwich.

I vaguely remember Stacey talking to the dog after that, and the sounds of running water. After that I remember Stacey pulling at my arm and trying to jerk me out of bed. "Daddy, we're going to be late to Roya's."

She had gotten up, taken a shower, got dressed, and combed her hair, all while I snoozed. I took my shower, we brushed our teeth together, and said goodbye to the dog, and headed to McDonald's for some drive-through breakfast. We talked on the way to day care, and I told her how pretty she looked and how proud I was of her for taking care of herself and being mature (yes, while I snoozed, shush! I'm telling a story here!)

At the day care, the teachers were all glad to see her, and some of the younger kids' faces lit up and they ran over to her with whatever little toy they had. I took my goodbye kiss and left her to enjoy herself with her little toddler and preschool friends, where she no doubt acts like a substitute mommy.

I couldn't have made up a more poignant story of a great kid and her early morning antics. Stacey was already the best, but she just keeps getting better all the time.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Taking a breather

I just finished with a significant haitus from writing (hence no journal entries for a while), and a week's vacation from work where I didn't do a damn thing but sit around the house, watch TV, and play with my kid and my dog. It was wonderful.

I finished off the week last night by chaperoning Stacey and all but one of the neighborhood girls in a trip to the movies and a sleepover. They paid back my kindness by staying up until 4am shouting and giggling. In hindsight, Sunday may not have been the best day to plan that.

This morning, after sleeping for almost a full 3 hours, I woke to find them all camped out in the living room, sleeping in a big row, curled up in different shapes, and looking very cute. That was certainly worth missing a full night's sleep.

The only things I accomplished in the past 9 days were paying some bills, putting air in a low tire on my car, and improving my Joust game. I can now regularly hit 120,000 points in a game, and have 6 games over 200,000 points, a score I never managed to hit in the arcades back in the 80s when the game was still popular. With a little work on handling multiple pterodactyls and multiple blue guys, I'll be able to hang in there for several more waves regularly.

Unfortunately my Joust game and hanging out with gaggles of chatty little girls will have to wait a while, until I can catch up on real world stuff like keeping my job.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Don't say it if you haven't verified it

One of the worst of my old bad habits that I've been trying to rid myself of over the years is repeating unverified bits of trivia that sound interesting because they come from sources I thought were reputable. Often verifying them proves them urban legend or just a misunderstanding.

There were some good ones from my old high-school chemistry teacher, Ed Shay, for example:

- It takes more energy to produce a solar cell than the cell will ever return as electricity.

- The thick plastic cups on the bottoms of two-liter bottles are there (were there) because the bottles are too flimsy normally and would otherwise collapse under their own weight.

As a high-school kid, my chemistry teacher sounded intelligent and well-informed, and his confidence led me to believe the above nonsense. The latter was easy to test, which I did out of curiosity some time ago. With the bottom cup removed, the bottle, while certainly more unbalanced than the modern redesign, was not in danger of collapse whether the bottle was open or closed.

The solar cell issue, however, is hotly debated, and I don't trust any of the opinions or numbers I've seen so far. It was probably true when solar technology was younger, and if it is still true today, which I feel is doubtful, it will not be true for long. Whether true or not, the fact is that I was happy to repeat it without having ever tried to check my story.

I tried to stop doing this once I heard some ridiculous notions like "if you tap your breaks right when the cop hits you with the radar beam, your headlights confuse the radar gun, and it can't get a reading" passed off as fact by some work acquaintances. "Yeh," I retorted, "and I hear that you can't get pregnant if you do it standing up." It's amazing how sour people get when you tell them they're full of crap.

A pair of myths I've repeated often that I've looked up recently are "Newt is dead" and "QWERTY was a marketing gimmick", neither of which are true.

"Newt" refers to one-time actress Carolyn Henn, who played the character Newt in Aliens. Alien 3 brings us the shocking realization that Newt died in her hypersleep chamber when the ship crash landed, making all the hubub at the end of Aliens very moot. The word on the street was that the actress had herself died in a car wreck shortly after the release of Aliens, and was hence unavailable, and the producers decided to re-write the script to cut her character out.

In actuality, Ms. Henn decided (mistakenly, in the mind of many fans) that acting wasn't her bag, and went on to get a teaching degree and now teaches primary school, and has grown into an attractive, wholesome looking woman.

"QWERTY was a marketing gimmick" refers to the fact that all the letters that spell the word "typewriter" appear on the upper row of letters on a QWERTY keyboard. The myth is that this was done deliberately so that traveling salesmen could demonstrate how to operate the machine by quickly keying out "typewriter" without having to learn how to type for real.

I've heard variations on this, too, like typewriters were configured with a clumsy key layout to make it harder for people to type fast, so that the arms wouldn't jam. This has a grain of truth, but the real story is that the layout helped increase speed, but for reasons that are not apparent based only on key placement.

The first typewriter was two rows laid out alhpabetically, and was very prone to jamming. Changing the layout to three rows helped some, but jamming still occured frequently when common letter combinations that occurred on the same inner wheel were struck. To correct for this, the layout was changed so that the internal mechanisms were in better position, and common combinations occurred on separate inner wheels. The net effect is that typing speed increased. Or at least, that is my current understanding based on some lite research.

But don't take my word for any of this, and don't repeat it until you go look it up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Kids and Zombies

Stacey is gone for two weeks, and I'm bummed. Summers are pretty hard because I don't see her at all when she is with her mom. During the school year, I see her after school every day, and she usually spends the night when her girl scout troup meets.

Summers are harder when she isn't around, but more fun than usual when she is around. Take the last two weeks: School just ended and all the kids are excited. We set up a pool in the backyard, got a dog, and when the kids aren't swimming, they're helping Stacey and I run the dog until she gets tired. Afterwards everyone stays for dinner, and I then go back to the store and stock up on my emergency surplus of macaroni-n-cheese and various box dinners that can quickly be thrown in the oven and ignored for 20 minutes.

We're having some filter problems now, so I had to close the pool until I figure out what's going on, so as a substitute Stacey and a girl across the street went out with me to the Rec Center pool, and another day to an outdoor pool with her mom. This obviously takes time out of the other mom's and my day, but during the summer it's a given that kids are going to need entertainment, so parents' plans become penciled in for three months.

We've also got big plans like my vacation week, Stacey's Girl Scout camp, and Grandma and Grandpa coming down to camp for a few days. All of that helps alleviate the depression that comes with the periodic absence of the person I love most in the world.

I went to see "Land of the Dead" as a pick-me-up; zombie movies have always been a favorite of mine. The semi-recent "28 Days Later" and the recent remake of "Dawn of the Dead" were just fantastic, and "Shaun of the Dead" was so funny it damn near made me spit soda through my nose about a dozen times. "Land of the Dead" was directed by Romero, and had the interesting concept of zombies becoming slightly organized, so my hopes were high.

** Warning -- spoilers! **

The first thing I noticed was that the zombies returned to their meandering gate. 28 and the remake of Dawn introduced the concept of zombies being much more terrifying by being able to run quickly, and having a sort of scared, confused look on their face... as they ate you. This was a nice change, and added a lot more tension as they didn't have to sneak up on you while you were doing something stupid in the open, but could just run you down at any time. But, Romero's original zombies shuffled and poked along, so he's being consistent, so I can't fault him for not accepting the new paradigm.

The movie did also have some noteable good points, like a general disrespect for the people who were now undead, for example instead of just killing them, soldiers would string some of them up to use as target practice, and entertainment entrepreneurs would stage fights between them, or chain them up to have people pose for pictures with them.

I didn't like the thing with fireworks being a distraction, but a did like how a pack of zombies could immediately tell when their current set of victims were all dead and would turn as one and start mozying towards new victims.

Ultimately, Big Daddy wasn't cool. Is he a mutant zombie? Does he teach his fellows, or are they evolving as a whole and he's just doing it faster because he's Big Daddy? Why are they getting smarter? Why, if a single bullet to the brain kills them, and they are clearly breathing can they survive underwater where brain damage would be done due to lack of oxygen? These were interesting concepts, but were just kind of left out there as "sure, why the hell not."

It was interesting, but it's not going into my book of great zombie flicks. It wasn't the pick-me-up I was hoping for, so I'll have to find another way to pass the remaining 13 days.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Headline Highjinks

The following are a sample of news headlines concerning the Detroit Pistons recent game 6 NBA finals win over the San Antonio Spurs:

Pistons force Finals finale
Tim comes up short in chance to stand tall
Pistons drive to stay alive
Not a slam Duncan
'Sheed's deeds silence critics
Rasheed keeps Pistons pumping
Spurs' stars sputter, fizzle down stretch
Detroit motors to rare Game 7
Rundown: Detroit dials long distance to save season

The last is in reference to good three-point shooting, the rest are attempts at poetry, alliteration, or double entendre. Watching this series has allowed me to hear at least three comparisons between the name 'Duncan' and the verb 'dunk'. You know what, sports commentators and journalists, you just aren't that witty. And why do you need to fill every moment of a game with speech?

"I think the team to win this game is going to be the one that scores the most points."
"You're right, Bob, and I also think good defense is going to be the key to keeping points from being scored."
"Good observation, Joe, and as you'll note, Ben Wallace has tamed his wild afro into his 'road hair' again for this game."
"Road hair?"
"Yes, 'road hair', where he styles his hair in corn-rows for road games."
"Ah, why do you think he does that?"
"Well, it may be superstition, or it may be that it makes him look like less of a criminal, since we know how all the Sheriff Lobo's down in Texas have that itchy trigger finger."
"Good observation, Bob."

My new solution to all that nonsense, and to help get through the boring parts of the game is to let my Tivo record the game for awhile, and play it back on 1.5x fast forward, which silences the commentators and helps you to see patterns that would otherwise be subtle, like how the Spurs in game 6 were moving slower and holding onto the ball longer, and how a three point score on one side was usually followed by an attempted three on the other side.

In the Autery household news, most of the neighborhood kids (5 of them) went with me and Stacey and the dog to the local middle school, where we took turns running with Heidi in an attempt to get her tired out. She loves all the kids, and didn't try to bite any of them when they fell down, which is a good sign. We also finished setting up our inflatable pool on the deck last night, with some of the kids helping us with leaf removal and smoothing out wrinkles while it filled up.

The dog and the pool are helping to make our house a popular summer hangout, which makes it a little more difficult to follow the "nobody leaves hungry" rule, and much harder to just sit and be alone when I want to. Such are the trials of being a good daddy. Those being my biggest problems, life ain't so bad.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

News of the day

I've been reading lately about Stetson Kennedy, the anti-bigotry activist who infiltrated the post-WWII KKK. His claim to fame was giving the producers of the Superman radio show information about the Klan, such as passwords, rituals, and coded speech used to identify fellow Klansmen while traveling. The information promptly made it into a four-part "Superman vs. the KKK" series, which humiliated the Klan.

Interesting man, outspoken and a little full of himself, which I find likeable in this case. I was just reading through an essay of his about us gearing up for war against Afghanistan and Iraq at Interesting read, and I don't agree with all of it, but he makes a number of good points.

On the lighter side, some of today's Google news headlines eerily match some popular television shows:

Miss. jury split 6-6 in 1964 murder trial- Cold Case
Democrats playing politics with Bolton- West Wing
Intruder fatally shot in US courthouse- The Insider
Rigases sent to prison for looting cable firm- Law and Order
Cruise to sue water squirters- Nip/Tuck
15 Iraqi police die in suicide bombing- Over There
FBI Chief Won't Mandate Terror Expertise- The Closer
Justices fault defense lawyers for not digging deeper for evidence- CSI

Friday, June 17, 2005


I finally purchased some life insurance, and my policy just came in the mail yesterday. My work gives me twice my salary, which is nice, but wouldn't send my kid to college after paying off the house and my other debts, so I opted to buy some more. $250,000 more, to be exact.

So what is the likelihood of someone like me dieing in the next 20 years? Thanks to my insurance company and some unresearched assumptions, I have a rough idea that it's about 1 in 125. Here are the basic facts:

I am a 34 year old white male.
I don't smoke or drink.
My blood sugar and cholesterol are normal.
My resting heart rate and blood pressure are normal.
I am a parent.
I live in the suburbs doing white-collar work.
I excercise moderately.
I don't have any diseases.
I don't have a criminal record.
I haven't been involved in a traffic accident in the last 10 years.
I have had two traffic citations in the last 10 years (one speeding, one running a stop sign).

Apparently that profile is good enough to qualify me for "preferred", but not "super preferred", which would require me to be a little younger and skinnier, and a slower driver. I came to my 1 in 125 estimate by running the numbers and guessing at the insurance company's expected profit.

$300 per year buys me a 20 year term of $250,000.
$300 * 20 = $6,000 to the insurance company at the end of the term.
$250,000 / $6,000 = about 42.

So basically to make any money off of this policy, it would need to be sold to myself and 42 of my peers, and only one of us dies in the next 20 years. They would do little more than break even after holding our money for 20 years, which I doubt is good enough for them. No, they want to make 5% a year or more on our money. Let's run the numbers that way:

$cash = 300;
while (++$counter < 20) { $cash *= 1.05; $cash += 300 }
$cash ends up being 9919.78623086652, according to my trusty perl interpreter.

That makes about $10,000 per policy that they want to have after 20 years from our $6000 per policy investment, for a profit of $4000 per policy. A little basic algebra gives us:

6000x - 250,000 = 4,000x
2000x = 250,000
x = 125

The insurance company can only make 5% a year on our premiums if it sells to 125 people like me, and only one of us dies. Hence, my peers and I have a 1 in 125 chance of dieing in the next 20 years. Assuming that my wildly slung together numbers and my insurance company's life expectency estimates have anything to do with reality.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman Begins

This movie is a nice compromise between the darker Batman comics, and the farce that was the preceding 4 movies in the franchise. In this movie, Batman employs stealth, dropping from above to grab a badguy and quietly drag him to the shadows without giving his position away. He uses more believable martial arts. The Batmobile is a good hybrid of the previous movies and the behemoth used in the graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns".

The movie departs from the Michael Keaton Batman storyline in that the murderer of his parents is not the Joker (dance with the devil by the pale moonlight, indeed), and he actually obtains his training and gadgets as part of the storyline rather than just background noise that is unimportant to the plot. Obtaining things didn't matter that much in the Keaton movies, for example, Danny Devito as the Penguin just happened to have schematics of the Batmobile laying around. How did he get them? Not important.

This was gritty enough to appeal to fans of Frank Miller, with just enough lowest-common-denominator standard Hollywood BS to appeal to standard moviegoers, and of course cross-eyed, obese fanboys sporting their Spock ears and alt.jar-jar.die.die.die t-shirts will have a roaring good time nitpicking the movie to death. Good fun for all.

I hope that this will begin its own franchise and my fellow old-school comic fans can pretend the earlier Batman movies never happened.

Go see it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Timing is everything

Columbus Ohio is getting to be a big city. The population of Columbus and its surrounding suburbs is close to 1,500,000 as of 2000 according to a few minutes of census Googling. The office building I work in is 32 floors with a 7 floor parking garage. The drive from my house is approximately 17 miles, most of which becomes congested with traffic during morning and afternoon rush hours.

At 34 years old, I have all the grey hair I want for awhile. Working 9 to 5 would be nothing short of a nightmare for me. My day would consist of dodging other people in the house to make breakfast, competing for shower time, getting stuck in traffic, waiting in the garage for people in front of me to find parking spots, being aggressively hustled past as they attempt to save a minute or two going into the main building, pushing my way into an elevator and watching it stop on every floor on the way up to mine, and doing it all in reverse at the end of the work day. By the time I got home I'd have murder on the brain and no love to give to my family. And it would repeat, day after day after day, until it broke me.

Fortunately, I'm a morning person, following the sage advice of my grandmother of getting the worm, and becoming healthy, wealthy, and wise all with the simple chore of going to bed and getting up early.

I'm the only adult I know who falls asleep at 9pm, but it works out perfectly for me. I roll out of bed at 5am, having slept a full 8 hours. No one else in the house is awake, and I have an hour and a half to make breakfast, check email, watch a little TV, and take a shower. An hour and a half of "me time" every day, uninterrupted, first thing in the morning. Nothing does more to keep me sane.

The ride to work is usually pretty calm, but at 6:30am some of the roads are already getting full. One particular bottleneck through some freeway construction can make you stop and wait to merge onto the freeway even that early. After that one bad spot, it's just me and my audiobook of the week, and clear sailing. After work, the book is eagerly waiting for me to listen to more of it, and I get home just before rush hour gets going.

Because of all this, I'm happier, have more love to give the family, and more energy both at work and home since less of it is being sapped by waiting in traffic. By the way, listen to these audiobooks (ranked by my preference, links take you to the Westerville Ohio public library catalog):

Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
Faster, James Gleick
Hegemony or survival, Noam Chomsky
The Minority Report and other stories, Philip K Dick
The Neil Gaiman audio collection
Between Good and Evil, Roger Depue
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Electric Universe, David Bodanis
Matchstick Men, Eric Garcia
Edenborn, Nick Sagan
Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Stacey, my mom, and I went up to beautiful Delta Ohio this Saturday and brought back Heidi the Siberian Husky:

We bought her from a Husky rescue group, and dealing with them was both inexpensive and painless. If you're looking for a young adult pet, I recommend trying a rescue group.

Heidi is affectionate, energetic, and fun to have around. Stacey loves her, the kids in the neighborhood enjoyed playing with her, and she enjoyed trying to jump on them and lick them as I tried to keep her down on all fours. I picked this breed because of its reputation as being kid-friendly, as at some point during the week at least 4 of the 8 neighborhood kids come over for dinner, wreck Stacey's playroom and bedroom, play in the backyard, etc, and we needed a dog didn't have aggressive tendencies or stranger anxiety.

Read more about Siberian Huskies here.

Heidi already understood a few hand gestures and verbal commands, but more importantly is interested in trying to figure out what you mean, which I think will make her easier to train.

We've introduced her to most of the kids in the neighborhood and their parents, and it was relatively painless to coax her into not jumping up on them all, but she really wanted to. Everyone but one girl liked her and petted her, and a couple of the kids have asked me and Stacey to bring her out to play with. The girl who stayed away is shy around new things for awhile anyway. Ironically, one of her two dogs is a Husky, so she'll probably come around.

No biting or aggression, although she has done a little playful nipping once with me when we were playing, and was remorseful when I told her to stop. I think the only real problem we'll have is getting her to settle down in the dog park, where she is playful, but a little domineering with the smaller dogs, and once she gets excited she wants to go meet all the people and jump up on them. I'm confident that will work itself out, though. On our next couple visits to the dog park, I'll keep her leash on, and work on some voice control beforehand.

She's comfortable with us, and although she has a lot of energy, she already lays down in the family room when we're watching TV and doesn't demand constant attention, just as long as she can stay in the room with us. She's also comfortable sleeping beside the bed, or in it if I let her. If I make her get down, she doesn't mope. Good natured dog, we're definitely happy with her.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Back to normal

By the grace of God, a good sized tax return, and my .mac calendar, Stacey and I have made it through the busy season of little kid activities, and are returning to standard daddy/daughter time. This Sunday was the first in a long time that wasn't busy or rained out, so we went down to the local park to learn some soccer and softball basics, and capped the day off by inviting some of the neighborhood kids over for dinner, my famous oven-fried chicken and cream of chicken rice.

Stacey's first tap recital was Saturday, which was the last major activity before her trip to Oregon at the end of the school year. The recital was interesting, it was mainly about a select few high school senior girls who were skilled and in about 5 or 6 acts each. Stacey's class was in one act, where they danced to a big-band tune that had a Squirrel Nut Zippers sound to it. She was happy to be on stage again, and happy to get her flowers and trophy at the end.

Next on my Stacey agenda is this year's birthday party this August, which I already have planned and partially paid for. The theme this year will be climbing. We're going to a place that has rope courses and climbing walls, and letting Stacey and her fellow 9 year olds climb on the ones that don't go up too high. Should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A haypenny will do

Prize tickets at my favorite video game parlor buy about a half-cent to two-thirds of a cent of prize value. Some of the prize categories are stuffed animals, childrens games, Barbie stuff, RC cars, OSU memorabilia, CDs, game cartridges, consoles, and handhelds, and miscellaneous cheap doo-dads for the kids who didn't win very many tickets.

I've been playing there for the better part of a year now, and can bring in close to 1000 tickets on 8 quarters on my favorite game, VRS Marbles. That works out to somewhere between 60 and 80 cents of prize value per quarter spent (my old website has a lengthy article about my habit).

"So what, you foul braggart" you ask? Allow me to explain.

In the recent past, Stacey and I have used ticket caches to purchase birthday presents for her friends, usually a big stuffed animal, and usually a big hit. Last December, I used some tickets to buy Christmas toys for a children's charity that AEP sponsors, which felt good to contribute to.

Stacey saw a 20,000 ticket item that she wanted, and I don't know what it is, but I'm saving up the tickets for her anyway. I've been playing aggressively over the last two weeks, and have saved up about 18,700 tickets so far, each ticket counted and thrown into the back of my car in giant stacks. Good game play tonight will put me over the 20,000 mark.

Hitting the game's jackpot score takes intense concentration, good timing and reflexes, and quick planning. It's mentally tiring. I'm dreaming about patterns of marbles now, and I can't go more than a few hours without thinking about the game. After hitting my ticket goal, I'm going to stay away from the place for a little while.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Last week's goings-on

My kid is still a genius. She passed four time-trial multiplication tests in two weeks, the first try on each of them. She had previously missed a time (nines, I believe) and had to take it again, and afterwards became a drilling, flash card reading machine so that it wouldn't happen again. The test requires writing the answers to 16 questions in 30 seconds. Try it. Try it with a random set of 12s questions. I managed to make the time with a few seconds to spare, but then again I can also drive a car, something I wouldn't expect a third grader to need to do.

I survived my third reorg in eight years without getting laid off or fired. This is one of those things that makes me unhappy with big business and yearn to become self-employed. Some reorgs are legitimate attempts to better structure a company, some are unnecessary and serve as a front to shake up an organization so the less desirables don't have a place to land, and most have a curious side-effect of saving the company a lot of money in salaries. I tend to believe my current company is trying to solve some internal development and communications problems with this reorg, and hopefully that will be the net effect. My last company had some unchecked politics that tended to favor those who followed the party line and kept their mouths shut when they saw things they didn't like. Honest and moral people tended to get either beaten into submission (metaphorically) or laid off. I was pleased to leave that atmosphere.

I survived a month without using a credit card. Going back to cash-only required only a couple of weeks of skimping, and a major rewrite of my budget spreadsheet. Now I simply substitute a debit card for a credit card, don't eat out, and watch the numbers very closely. By my current estimate, I'll have the card paid off and in the trash by the end of the year, along with my second mortgage. After that, I'll have extra money to pay off my car loan early, and then more extra money to put into Stacey's college fund, my retirement, and the home mortgage. All I need to do is keep my job, learn to love Ramen Noodles, and wait.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Link of the day

Skype blocked in United Arab Emirates

The assumption is that the UAE is blocking Skype because the national phone company, Etisalat, wants it that way. My assumption is that the UAE wants to keep monitoring the phone calls of its citizens.

This reminds me of a story from 1995, when I was working as a phone jockey for the (then giant) online service CompuServe. A guy called from Saudi Arabia, who was clearly a native English speaker, and was looking for local access numbers for the UK. I looked them up for him, and then asked why he didn't want numbers more local.

"Go ahead and look it up," he said.

The contact number listed was for the "Ministry of Telecommunications", and didn't list any network interconnect info like direct-CIS, Equaint, France Telecom, etc.

I explained all this to him and he said "Yeh, I called them already, and the next day the secret police knocked on my door and asked why I wanted to be on the Internet."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Good daddy week

I'll be honest, sometimes I'm not motivated to be the uber-dad. You will always burn yourself out if you focus your enthusiasm and energy for too long. "Above average" will always outlast "best". I did, in fact, burn myself out on volunteering. I was turned down for my regular gig this year of teaching a computer class to a local school's fifth graders, and in a way that was a very good thing.

I was pushing myself very hard, and I don't always get a warm reception from staff or students at schools, which made my efforts seem futile. After I realized I was burning out, I quit my backup gig of doing miscellaneous work as a teacher's assistant in my daughter's school. I had worked one on one with students on special projects, or helped kids who were falling behind finish an assignment that they had trouble with, and I managed to squeeze in a quick computer class one day. But my heart wasn't in it, and if I had kept at it much longer, the kids would have seen indifference on my face, which to most kids is worse than anger. So I quit before it got too bad. I may return to volunteering when I feel a calling, but I'm not in a hurry.

So now I'm aiming for above average daddy-hood, trying to just be involved in some of Stacey's activities, and push her to do better in school, not trying to make every day the perfect ray of sunshine, and not feel that I should make anyone cry uncle who doesn't agree that Stacey is the world's most perfect child. Last week had me feeling happy to be an involved parent again. I bought Stacey a better fitting bike, signed her up for Girl Scouts summer camp, and arranged for her to audition for "Annie jr.", a version of Annie cast with only kids, put on by the New Albany Arts Council (more on that later). We also decided to be Captain and Tenille at next year's talent show, and I've started working on the piano side of "Shop Around" to accompany Stacey's vocals.

I had time for it all, and didn't have to push myself (or Stacey), which qualifies the last seven days as a good daddy week.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fun with Google maps

I love google maps. Their terms of service forbid you from reverse engineering, decompiling, etc., but no effort is made to hide how their image indexing system works. It's a piece of cake.

My current "I'm bored so let's geek out" project is to create a street-level map of my home city and make it detailed enough to need a poster-sized print. Coming soon. No, seriously, the check's in the mail.

Until then, here are a couple places you can find me when I'm not geeking out:

$20 to the first person who can name both places and snail-mail it to me. I'll enclose a $20 bill and a congratulations note on a card I recently purchased in Washington D.C. When I'm rich and famous, it'll be a collectors item.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

One of these days...

...I'm going to make my millions, and then quit my job and open a daycare. I realize that sounds odd for a tech geek (and a man) to say, but I can't think of any career changes that would make me happier.

The master plan includes recruiting all the women I've worked with over the years who truly loved kids (not just keeping up the appearance of being nurturing and maternal, but who really thought kids were cool -- about 1 in 5), hated their jobs (most), and who would still dane to have a conversation with me (about half), and who have seen me shower my daughter with affection and praise (all of them).

With me and my geek-gone-caregiver posse, we would create a very mentally stimulating environment for young tots, with computers a-plenty, board games, RC cars, maybe an arcade cabinet or two for the school-agers who only stay during the summer. And naturally, I'd be the hero for organizing the whole thing, which, while not my primary motivation, is a large part of the appeal.

On my old site I talk about this a little bit in some of the earlier blog entries in the archive. What got me thinking about it again was this song I downloaded ("Bate, bate, chocolate", a kindergarten song in Spanish about mixing chocolate) when looking for iTunes songs for Stacey. It reminded me of this woman who was a caregiver to Stacey for a while when she was 3 and 4.

Her name was Elizabeth, and I don't think she's ever felt sad in her entire life. She loved the kids she took care of, and the kids all wanted to adopt her as their new mom. The day that always comes to mind when I think of her is one where I was a little later than normal dropping Stacey off. Elizabeth had the kids sitting in a circle of chairs, and when Stacey saw what was going on she booked over there to join in, foregoing the goodbye kiss and sad look she usually gave me.

They were singing "Little cabin in the woods", where each kid has to chime in with what is chasing them to make them go running by, scared as they could be. The round ends with the kid being rescued by the kid who came before, and runs up to Elizabeth and gives her a giant hug when she says "Come little Stacey, come with me, happy you will always be."

I had never seen anything like that before. Stacey was so happy, as were the other kids, and the song leader was enjoying herself as much as Tricia Sebastian is in the "Chocolate" song above. For the two minutes I was there observing before I left, I was in love with her. She really was going to rescue Stacey from all the mean things. It was beautiful.

At the same time, it was a simple child's game, singing in rounds, making up the thing that is chasing you (bears, lions, motorcycles -- none of the girls chimed in "boys", which I was a little bummed about), and Elizabeth and the kids probably forgot about it soon thereafter and went about their normal lives. It was part of the day, and it was normal, and it didn't change anything. But to me, it was special.

Nothing I did at the time was that special. I waited for my phone to ring and painstakingly waited for a chance to speak so I could explain how the caller had failed to follow instructions, or how our programmers had failed to write a quiality product. No saving people from the bears chasing them, no mixing chocolate. Maybe I was making more money than a daycare teacher, but It was I who had the short end of the stick.

So one day, after I make my millions... One of these days.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Link of the day: Math fun.

This is an old one from my roommate that I re-discovered. A page on calculating the intersection area of two circles given their center coordinates and radii. Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Link of the day

Fabien Cousteau and his Shark-shaped submarine.
Read more about it here.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I posted some articles from work today, which is the first time in nearly two years I’ve updated one of my sites from outside of the house. My current job blocks outbound SSH traffic from user workstations, and after a couple attempts at workarounds (trying different ports, for example) I decided to leave it alone lest I get fired for trying to hack the network. Considering that my current position involves transmission of the company’s financial records, the appearance of hacking is a very bad thing, and in the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley, possibly leading to jail time.

So I couldn’t SSH home and update a page. Using Blogger is easier than my old method of SSH-ing home and running a perl script that calls emacs and updates the blog file system when you exit. I liked the idea of having total system control, but in reality all I wanted to accomplish was to just add a diary entry to a web page, which I can do from any public free blog service.

Tonight is the big UNC/Illinois game. I haven’t watched a UNC basketball game since the roster contained names like Jordan, Worthy, and Perkins, so I’m not sure what to expect. Basketball isn’t the game it was when I was a boy, in fact, sports in general has changed. On one side, sports medicine has improved; keeping players that would have been crippled in the game. Cheap technology makes analyzing everything easier – more statistics until they become too confusing to be useful (Joe shoots worse on Tuesdays, unless it’s raining), more film to watch and more specialists to extract meaning from it. On the other hand, players are bigger asses than they’ve ever been, and sports commentating has become an overly animated talk show hosted by taunting and jeering buffoons.

Anyway, I’m watching the game at my amigo’s house across the street. Prediction: UNC by 8. I’ll say about 65 to 57.

Today (as my calendar indicates) was parent observation day in Stacey’s tap dancing class. The girls went over some basic steps and a 3-minute routine they are practicing for the upcoming recital. Stacey was performing about the same as she did in ballet a few years ago: She was excitable at first and couldn’t follow the instructor’s lead with much precision (only slightly worse off than the other girls) until about half-way through the recital routine, where her superior memory helped her stay on target where some of the other girls began to falter. If I could only get her to calm down beforehand… well, she wouldn’t be Stacey, and that would suck.

So I ‘m looking forward to her recital in May. She’s done performances before and always does great. Her ballet recital went well way back when, her Americheer cheerleading group was the intermission act at a competition downtown and also at Otterbein college, she showed remarkable poise under pressure at this year’s talent show when her music was inaudible and she was forced to sing a cappella (what a champion, I was so proud of her then), and she’s been in about 4 or 5 local parades under various groups. She’s got the crowd thing down. I worry when I see her struggling with her bounciness and not quite having all the moves down, but I trust her to settle herself down and hit all her moves come game day.

I’m also fairly certain I worry about this stuff a lot more than she does.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Day 1

I am.

There, that should satisfy the basic requirement of blogging, self-declaration.

The present:
I am a father to my kid. I am a coder. I am a burned out volunteer. I am self indulgent and self deprecating.

The future:
I am going to put my kid through medical school. I am going to pay for her wedding and send her on an overpriced honeymoon. I am going to retire at 60 with $1,500,000 in the bank. I am going to stop working for the man sometime before then and code and write from my home. I am going to visit Europe. I am going to make $10,000 playing blackjack in Las Vegas without counting cards. I am going to finish my two novels and get them both published.

That pretty much covers it: love for my child, greed, and goals that are difficult but attainable. I'll write more about these declarations later.