finding.my.name

eternal ramblings of an empty mind

Nobody Knows

I have labeled myself variously over the years: “nerd”, “band geek”, “computer guy”, etc. I don’t think I’ve been aware of how labels in general are perceived by the culture around me nearly as much as I am now. Some labels, immediately bring to mind other labels, rightly or wrongly. For instance, “Sikh” (which would be the label applied to a certain subset of people of a Dharmic monotheistic faith) can cause people to associate the labels “terrorist” or “Muslim” with such a person (the labels “Muslim” and “terrorist” have an interconnection which is deeper and more complicated than what I’m trying to say here). Lately (and I use that word rather loosely, too), there’s been something called “#GamerGate” (info here, here, here, here, here, and about a billion other places, just not Wikipedia). Despite the possible implications of doing so, I want to make clear of a few labels with which I currently associate myself:

  • Engineer (mostly a career- and degree-based descriptor)
  • Nerd (If you want to associate the glasses-wearing, socially-awkward stereotype here, go ahead, because that applies)
  • Geek (The [mostly] stereotypical tabletop RPG playing, Star Trek watching, comic-book reading type, with music, legal, linguistic and math compound modifiers added to bolster my cred)
  • Music lover
  • Android user (as opposed to those iPhone fanatics)
  • Husband (yes, I’m married)
  • Diabetic (unfortunately, and this one won’t change unless there are major advances in endocrinology)
  • White, cis-gendered, heterosexual male (i.e. very privileged, but aware of it, at least to some small degree)
  • Feminist ()
  • Pro-choice (this goes hand-in-hand with feminism; see this, too)
  • Anti death penalty ()
  • Liberal (very much so relative to my current political surroundings)
  • Humanist (Philosophical and Secular, according to that list)
  • Skeptic ()
  • Atheist ()

There may be one or three surprises on that list to some friends, but these have all been applicable for rather quite a while now, so the revelation (I hope) won’t color your opinion of me, or worse, cause you to dissociate yourself from me. If so, perhaps “friend” was the wrong word.

While some labels I now use are the antithesis of the culture in which I was raised—I had no cell-phone until I think 2003, and no smartphone until the Samsung Galaxy S was released; I inexplicably regurgitated conservative/patriarchal gender roles while actually being feminist, without a label until I stumbled upon this one about a year out of college; I used to be pro-life and pro-death (penalty) due perhaps mostly to a misunderstanding of the facts; as recently as a year ago I would have identified as a “libertarian”, but the libertarians have made that an ugly place to camp as well, and I find myself to the left of that camp; I am a skeptic, which, after some careful thought about the ideas I never before questioned, lead me to espouse humanism and atheism as well—some are genetic, one is strictly medical, some are personality traits that I have no desire to change.

Split Personality

Conservative:

Liberal:

Non-Partisan?

Where do I get my news?

The lists don’t overlap, though I know that at least Slate, Salon, and Reason are biased, since I have some sort of political blind spot, I installed this. I haven’t done much browsing since I installed it, but I notice my trends are (so far) fairly balanced. Balancer puts these sites on the list:

Conservative:

  • Wall Street Journal
  • USA Today
  • The Atlantic
  • Deadspin

Liberal:

  • BBC
  • Slate
  • The New York Times
  • The Washington Post

Non-Partisan (on both lists):

  • Reddit
  • CNN
  • Buzzfeed

This means I expect my stick figure to be leaning a bit toward the blue side with my normal viewing habits.

Headline News

Yes, I’m going Weird Al for the post title. But I’m also using a category! 見解, pronounced けんかい (okay, kenkai), means “opinion” or “point of view”, composed of the characters for “see”, “opinion”, “idea”, and that for “understanding”, “explain”, “answer”. It’s a cool language—if only I understood it and its culture more.

Anyway, I came across this article and wanted to make a comment. First, the headline made me bristle: “Americans should expect acts of terror”. The subheading was a little more reasonable: “Tom Brokaw was right: Our violent attacks abroad increase the chance of retributive attacks at home”. Overall, the tone of the piece is remarkably restrained, compared to the more shocking headline (to “sell” an online magazine?).

Now, I don’t agree with much of the “Team America: World Police” attitude our government takes, I’ll freely admit that. It’s hard for me to reconcile the appreciation I have for the military with the fact that many are “just following orders” when they bomb a village full of innocents. Granted, there are bad people out there, and the stories I have heard from friends and family are much more on the lines of defense than anything else, so the fundamentally flawed “Nuremberg Defense” for one’s actions is totally unnecessary.

We may have a Hatfield–McCoy situation on our hands, though no one’s exactly sure who killed who first (Asa McCoy was the first casualty in the long-lasting family war). The US has made some questionable calls in the Middle East (from Libya to Afghanistan and most places in between)—I see no one denying that. A protest turns into an unruly mob, and before you know it, America is “The Great Satan” and bin Laden issued his “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places”. The fact that the US has chosen a distinct side in the 6000 year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays a big role in the US image (I’m not saying I disagree with the choice, but there are many more related bad decisions which I’ll not get into here).

I’d like to note that “this” (War on Terror, US police actions in Muslim-dominated countries) appears to me to be much more a feud than a religious war. Many think that the fatwās issued by individuals (like bin Laden or Khamenei) are integral parts of the Islamic faith, and they are not. They are diktats of a person of prominence, and of the millions that have been issued in Islam’s 1400-year history, many are conflicting. I won’t say Islam is a “peaceful” religion: I don’t know enough about it (I haven’t read but tiny excerpts from the Qur’an, for instance). But twenty countries recognize it (or some flavor) as their state religion.

On the other hand, I remain unconvinced that the United States is a “Christian” nation, or was ever intended to be founded as such. By December 17, 1791, however, the First Amendment to the Constitution goes into effect, and it states quite clearly, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The “establishment clause” effectively establishes that no religion shall have the status of a state religion in the US—it might be more accurately described as the “disestablishment clause”.

All that is really beside the point, but provides a little insight into the lack of reason that many apply to the conflicts in which the US asserts its military muscle.

Back to the original point, should we really “expect” acts of terror? It’s prudent to expect plots for terrorism, but telling Americans to expect an act of terror is entirely the wrong message—it’s an act of terror in and of itself, because that’s just the message its conveying: “Be terrified! You could be next!” Are you watching your kid every second of every day? Are you anxious around that “Muslim-looking guy” at your local coffee shop? Are you buying lottery tickets? Do you go golfing in a thunderstorm?

Lets look at the numbers, shall we?

Kidnapping: I’m still looking for the raw data, but various sources cite the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) stating that there are 115 “standard” kidnappings per year (a stranger takes a child for at least one overnight, more than 50 miles from home). Consider the number of individuals your child interacts with on a daily basis. With 800,000 missing children reported per year, apparently 799,885 of those are runaways or are taken by someone the child knows. Then, consider there are 316,668,567 people in the US, 63,333,713 under the age of 15. So the likelihood, per year, that your child will be taken, if all kidnappings are entirely random, is roughly 1 in 550,728.

Violent Crime (including terrorism): These numbers are much easier to come by. As of 2010, the likelihood you’d be a victim of violent crime, again, if it was totally random, is roughly 1 in 248 (most of these are robberies and assault cases, which includes domestic abuse and purse snatching). If you’re worried about forcible rape, it’s 1 in 3636. The terrorism? A rough estimate gets me at 3200 dead since 1990, and 4500 dead or injured (the injury numbers were harder to come by; this number is probably higher). Per year, that’s a 1 in 2,276,055 chance of dying or 1 in 1,618,528 of death or injury. Exclude the extremely unlikely 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (which are even more unlikely because of two things: reinforced cockpit doors and the realization of passengers that they can fight back. The hole-ridden security theater the TSA puts you through is entirely irrelevant.), the odds drop drastically: 1 in 36,416,885  chance of dying. For mass shootings, there aren’t as many as you might think given the media coverage. 316 deaths since 1984, and another 395 injured. 1 in 29,061,356 chance of dying in a mass shooting, and 1 in 12,916,158 of death or injury.

Lottery: Take the Powerball. It’s a fairly common game. The odds of hitting the jackpot are 1 in 175,223,510 per play.

Lightning: According to the US National Weather Service, the odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 775,000 per year.

Conclusion: So should Americans be afraid of terrorism? You’re about 40 times more likely to be struck by lightning than you are of being a casualty in an act of terrorism. Are you afraid of being struck by lightning? Be 40 times less afraid of terrorism as you are of a 30 kA, 33 MV lightning strike..

Word Up

Passwords. Use them wisely. For instance, when you change a password, do try to remember it. What I do know about my KeePass password is that it started with “pyrotechnical lagoon”, contained a total of 45 characters (two additional words), and I even know what dictionary file they came from. However, as best I can work out, brute-forcing the password, even with the dictionary, even if I had a library that worked with the version of KeePass I’m using, would take ages. So I “get” to reset all the passwords I forget.

So! A guide for installing and configuring a web server with a Debian-based Linux installation. Note: it’s definitely a work-in-progress, and honestly may not work. Check for updates if you’re truly interested.

Step 1: Installation
sudo apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com 0xcbcb082a1bb943db
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nginx/development
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install python-software-properties add-apt-repository nginx php5-fpm php5-suhosin php5-gd php-apc php5-mcrypt php5-cli php5-curl memcached php5-memcache mariadb-server php5-mysql unzip git imagemagick python-pip
git clone git://github.com/django/django.git django-trunk
sudo pip install -e django-trunk/

Step 2: Test 1
In your browser, check the view at that IP address, and you should see a “Welcome to nginx” page.

Step 3: Configuration for PHP
Edit /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini. Find the lines that deal with session.save_handler and session.save_path and set them to the following:
session.save_handler = memcache
session.save_path = unix:/tmp/memcached.sock

Edit /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d/www.conf and set some more lines:
listen = /var/run/php5-fpm.sock
listen.owner = www-data
listen.group = www-data

(those last two you’ll probably just be able to uncomment)

Edit /etc/memcached.conf and:
comment out -p 11211
comment out -l 127.0.0.1
add the following lines at the end:
# Listen on a Unix socket
-s /tmp/memcached.sock
-a 666

Create /etc/nginx/conf.d/php-sock.conf with the following code:
upstream php5-fpm-sock {
    server unix:/var/run/php5-fpm.sock;
}

Add to your virtual server file in /etc/nginx/sites-available/:
location ~ \.php$ {
    try_files $uri =404;
    allow 192.168.1.0/24;
    allow 127.0.0.1;
    deny all;
    include fastcgi_params;
    fastcgi_pass php5-fpm-sock;
    fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;
    fastcgi_intercept_errors on;
}

Step 5: Test 2
Create a file in your web directory called phpinfo.php that contains the following:
<?php phpinfo() ?>

Step 6: More Configuration
Edit /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini and set the appropriate line:
mysql.default_socket = /var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock

Step 7: Configuration for Django
Create a file /etc/nginx/django_fcgi_params:
fastcgi_param REQUEST_METHOD $query_string;
fastcgi_param CONTENT_TYPE $content_type;
fastcgi_param CONTENT_LENGTH $content_length;
fastcgi_param PATH_INFO $fastcgi_script_name;
fastcgi_pass_header Authorization;
fastcgi_intercept_errors off;

Create a file /etc/nginx/conf.d/django-sock.conf:
upstream django-sock {
    server unix:/usr/share/nginx/django/django.sock;
}

Of course, if you can find and set the right permission settings, you can put it in /var/run/.

Add to your virtual server file in /etc/nginx/sites-available/:
include django_fcgi_params;
fastcgi_pass django-sock;

Brain Damage

I have PHP and Django working, finally, with sockets, even. Now, that’s on my other local computer, not on my server in DFW. But it gives me hope that I’ll soon be able to resurrect that beast. I plan to rebuild it from scratch, get rid of all the junk, and start with Quantal Quetzal. The configuration I have started life as Natty Narwhal. I’m not going to worry right now about the fact that Raring Ringtail is coming around at the end of April. If, and I stress that “if”, my server can handle the load of WordPress and a Wiki running on PHP with fastcgi, as well as my quote database on Django (also with fastcgi), then my first real interactive site will appear. Well, again, not mine, but a client. And it means money! Actual dollars in the pocket! Not much, but six times more than I was originally going to charge, every year, plus development! And they’ll be saving $200 by going with me instead of an apparently aptly named company called “Narcissism, Ltd.” Okay, I changed the name to protect the, well, me, from the possibility of legal stupidity. Anyway, I figure a couple of days of serious development, now that I’ve got the hard stuff out of the way, should be enough to have a functioning demo, and a couple more days of work to make it look nice. Also, when I’m done, I should be able to put together an up-to-date tutorial on making everyone play nice together, and how to fix the problems I’ve run across in doing this.

He’s 15 weeks old, give or take a couple of days. My plan was, and currently still is, to keep Corvi around at least until July, if not for the rest of his life, but I’m worried that I might be allergic. There are very few things I’m allergic to: penicillin being the only thing that comes to mind (and probably certain kinds of pollen), but every time I pet him, I get a rash within a few minutes. It goes away with sufficient soap and water, but washing my hands so much dries them out, requiring moisturizer. It’s rather worrying. I also know he’s not getting his fair share of socialization, so I’m going to take him to doggie day care on Tuesday. I hope this wasn’t a very, very expensive mistake, but I’m really in far too deep to back out at a whim. It’s not fair to either of us.

With the weather improving (warming up, anyway), and light at the end of the day, I’ll have more useful time after work to exercise. Walking, and hopefully running, with Corvi, cycling at some point (not with Corvi), and Lindy Bombers (dancing—Lindy Hop/East Coast Swing) on Mondays, hopefully I’ll start shedding weight again. Back in early February when I had the flu, I dropped 4.5kg, and have managed to keep it off since. My goal is to lose another 11.5kg by summer’s end. That’d put me at 113kg, just 6.4kg above what the U.S. military expects soldiers of my height to weigh (well, 14.1lbs), and since I’m not a soldier, I think that’s a more reasonable goal for an engineer who sits at a desk all day.

Now, Kickstarter. I heard about the STRIPPED project from Howard Tayler (of Schlock Mercenary Fame), and I’d encourage others to support it. They’ve met their first goal of “The Final Push”—to get a few licenses for “in perpetuity” use. As it stands, they could still use another $14924, for scenes from the 1965 Jack Lemmon film “How to Murder Your Wife” (which incorporated comic strip art by Mel Keefer). What I’m most excited about, however, is the interview with Bill Watterson—the first ever with the reclusive creator of Calvin & Hobbes.

Another project I’ve backed which is still raising funds is Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary Challenge Coins. He’s also hurting for cash, at “only” 5517% of his goal. No, that’s not a typo. Interest was rather overwhelming. But if you know any military personnel who have stories about challenge coins, they’re looking for submissions for an unofficial storybook/history of challenge coin traditions. That stretch goal is a mere $693 away, but they plan to make the PDF freely available when it’s compiled.

A little bit of work cleaning my office here on Tuesday, and I’m going to make a serious effort to catch up on my comic book reading. After about two weeks more or less stuck inside (I missed dance tonight, but it’s now on my calendar so I should remember next time), British TV is wearing thin (I’ve finally caught up on Sherlock, watched half of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and more than my share of Top Gear reruns), I am out of Brandon Sanderson books to read (read them all, except Wheel of Time, and there are 11 books of Jordan’s before he picked up the reins on that one), and I can only do actual work on this website for so long at a time. But I always feel a bit better when things get sorted out/organized. And I think I need to make one of these, too.

Jesus Just Left Chicago

I am developing a “Lunar Lander” game for the Lake Afton Public Observatory computers. The one they have is DOS-based, entirely textual, and needs at least a visual upgrade if nothing else. It’s the most popular game they have. So, starting with zero information, I decide to see what it would be like to simulate the actual lunar landing. I’m guessing those 12-15 minutes were harrowing experiences for the LM pilots, though they’d probably done plenty of ground simulations to make it easier.

The problems begin right off the bat: the average altitude at which the 6 LMs began their descent was about 15188 m (8.2 nmi), traveling 1694 m/s over the lunar surface. Ignoring the immense horizontal speed (considering the vertical component only), they had enough fuel on board for just 100 s of full throttle. Obviously, if they just fell, they’d hit the ground at about 222 m/s and leave quite a crater, and it’d take just over 2 minutes to get there. But the records show that it took Apollo 11 a full 12:36.39 to touch down. I’m trying to figure out a) how they managed that and b) how I can keep the game fun and educational. For instance, I haven’t found any data on the throttle position during landing, or how hard each LM hit the ground, or what, given the suspension of the craft, would be survivable (while keeping the ascent stage sufficiently intact for the return trip). Most of this data I would expect NASA to have record of, and perhaps I need to write them and find out if it’s freely available somewhere (or if they’ll just send it to me).

My program does do some nice things that others may not: it adjusts the mass of the craft based on the amount of fuel remaining, gravitational acceleration is adjusted based on the distance the LM is from the ground based on Newton’s law of gravitation (using mean lunar radius and estimated lunar mass), and uses all the (averaged) stats I could gather from the actual Apollo missions (Isp of the main thruster, acceptable thrust values, mass). I suspect I’ll edit starting values for “easy”, “medium”, and “hard” modes, and I’d like to add a “scenario” mode for each mission that actually landed. Keep in mind, Apollos 15, 16, and 17 had the lunar roving vehicles on board. Even though the rovers themselves were each just 210 kg, each of the LM were roughly 1179 kg more massive (probably for mounting equipment and shielding), yet held roughly the same amount of fuel.

One thing I do not have is terrain on which to land. I could (and probably will) make an artificial 2D terrain generator when I start building the GUI, but I’ll have to ensure that it’s realistic (that the parameters for a random midpoint displacement aren’t too extreme for the lunar surface).

Many sample programs I’ve examined use ambiguous altitude and speed measurements, things like “fuel units”, in addition to lives. I’m sorry, but if anyone crashed on the moon, they’d be dead. They wouldn’t get another chance five seconds later to try again. And instead of making decisions about how much throttle to use (or fuel to burn, as in the case of the current LAPO program), the user gets arrow keys to control pitch and the down arrow to control thrust–so it winds up being on or off. One boasts about using “true gravity physics”, but even if you land successfully, your craft explodes. Another talks about using realistic mass, thrust, and fuel consumption, but starts you off 50 m above the surface with a zero-magnitude velocity vector.

I went to Lindy Bombers tonight. Haven’t danced in probably 3 ½ years (since just after I moved to this house, I believe). It turned out that knocking some of the rust off my moves was easier than I expected it would be. I can do the swing out and the 6-count pass. Lots more of the basics to recall, but I’ll get there. Just gotta stick with it. Perhaps I can convince Karyn to join me some evening, at least over at Care to Dance.

So Corvi has grown…a lot in a short while. He’s probably passed 30 lbs already. Certainly not fat, either, just growing like a weed. I have to work on his biting, though, and a lot of it’s my fault for not spending enough time with him. Things will become much easier next week, as we finally get that extra hour of daylight in the evening (even if I do have to sacrifice an hour of sleep for it). So, running, dancing, dog, raise, side-job for more pocket money, things are going much better now than they were a month ago when I had the flu! I just have to find the time to do things like put away the laundry (it’s all clean, most of it’s folded, there’s just no room in the closet right now).

Everything Falls Apart

Once again, I don’t have the energy to get worked up about the injustice of the world. An American citizen’s door was battered down, he and his family handcuffed with guns pointed at their heads, and, though he looked nothing like the picture, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents didn’t realize they had the wrong man until after fingerprinting him. Because he was Latino. An innocent man served 15 years of his 1–15 year sentence because he refused to admit guilt. In the eyes of the parole board, that was a sign of guilt and lack of conscience. The judge, after the sentence had been served, declared him “factually innocent”, but the damage to his reputation is done—the community sees a child molester. Another was tried and convicted of possession with intent to sell. The prescribed opioid painkillers were to treat the triple-whammy of multiple sclerosis, a car accident, and a botched back surgery. Once in prison, the doctors there reviewed his charts and prescribed a dose higher than what he had before. After four years and a NYT exposé, he was pardoned. The mandatory minimum sentence would have kept him locked away for another 21 years. A 73-year-old man’s apartment was raided by a SWAT team, ostensibly to search for drugs. They claimed that the occupant fired first, before launching a barrage of 123 rounds into the apartment. His great-granddaughter emerged from cowering in the bathtub, to see her caretaker bloody and dead, cowering in his own bedroom closet. No drugs or weapons were found. An internal report cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, and they were acquitted in the criminal case, but the city did pay the survivor $2.5M.

That’s (a taste) of terrible things going on in the country. Some things are less terrible, but still unfortunate. If a friend of mine hasn’t completed 300+ hours of training at a cosmetology or barber school, and passed the requisite exams and paid the appropriate licensing fees, I cannot legally compensate him or her for trimming my hair. Other professions have similarly onerous requirements. If your movements have been tracked, your phone bugged, or something similar, to determine the movements of another person who is the true target of an investigation, you have no legal standing to challenge the invasion of privacy, as you were not (officially) the target of the investigation. The legal system is so complex that attempts to count the number of laws vary wildly: there are roughly 4000 criminal laws, with between 10000 and 300000 that can be prosecuted criminally—and that’s just at the federal level. “After the McCain-Feingold legislation passed in 2003, for example, both parties held weekly, three-hour classes just to educate members of Congress on how to comply with the bill they had just passed. This is a bill they wrote that applied to themselves, and they still had to bring in high-paid lawyers explain to them how not to break it.” (via) Oh, and prosecutors and judges have this thing called “absolute immunity”—they can be as evil as they please and suffer no penalty (e.g. Aaron Swartz)

On the positive side of things, the women in combat ban has finally been lifted; females are now allowed to serve on the “front lines” (blurry as they may be).

Well, that’s a lopsided list, isn’t it? FYI, a good chunk of this came from here. Think what you want about HuffPost; I read Balko’s stuff, wherever it may be, when I can handle allowing my blood to boil just a little. In fact, I have a host of RSS feeds that do that to me, but I try to balance them out with comics, The Bloggess, and a healthy dose of Cheezburger network (and similar sites).

Timing is everything, and I seem to have hit everything just wrong.

Perhaps I should have waited until it was more realistic. My dog Corvi (3/4 lab, 1/4 Australian shepherd)was good for a few nights, requiring, well, a tad more intervention than I hoped, by waking me up about every two hours (“Good practice for you!”, quipped a couple of co-workers). Then I made the mistake of getting the flu. True, that wasn’t something I had much control over, but his needs don’t stop when I have trouble fulfilling them, of course. I tried to keep him warm, so I took him inside, but I left him in the basement, because I didn’t want the inevitable mess on my carpet or hardwood. Two days went perfectly fine. Day three he had pulled out and chewed apart a 2′ piece of insulation. Not too bad, I shrugged it off. By the morning of day 4? Half the wall had been torn apart. I still don’t have the energy to clean up his…leftovers, much less patch the wall up. Not only am I going to need the insulation, I’m going to need a bit of that plastic wrap that he chewed through to get to the insulation. At least I’m no longer contagious (to the best of my knowledge of these things, according to the info the doctor was able to give me). I’m going to the vet to pick up a chemical to rid him of the Ancylostoma caninum currently resident in his intestines. Meanwhile, I had one of those “Invisible Fence” things installed (different brand, though), so once he’s trained with that, I’ll no longer need to be the master of knots. Just how he manages to thread the cable through holes of miniscule size, and around, over, and through, or even just around certain objects is baffling. I try not to think about it when I’m unraveling things. But his arrival is also marked by the alarming disappearance of massive amounts of money. Most of it I expected, and was able to handle. The fence part, though only a tiny fraction of what an actual fence would have cost, equaled a house payment. Which I also had to make. So I’m rather strapped for cash at the moment…And since February only has the two paydays, March is going to be tight as well. Looks like, barring a good tax refund, I might be hard up until August.

Speaking of which…H&R Block has reduced the allowable password strength of their TaxCut product by limiting the length of the password to 15 characters. Additionally, Chrome isn’t fully supported by their software. All their “Need help finding this info?” links (one of which I’m stuck at now) only seem to work in IE. Had I not already paid for it, I might consider switching to someone else’s product.

I Can’t Drive 55

I may have mentioned before that Buckyballs and their like will be effectively banned in the US shortly. I had 341 of these shiny little guys, and now I have 339. And, while I can state with certainty that they disappeared on December 28, where they got to is beyond me, yet I’m unlikely to be able to replace them.

Due to the “down” status of my PHP-based website, I’ve retreated to WordPress.com. Since I no longer have my wiki, I’m recreating what I can recall via my impeccable memory. Well, it’s rather less than impeccable. I could only remember nine of the (at least) 13 cars in my “ultimate garage” (catalogued at the back of that link). Now that I have a better idea of how to configure my server, it’s a matter of motivation to do the deed, make the changes.

More reasonably, however, as my Saturn Vue may not last the two more years I was hoping to squeeze out of it, I’m making a list of things to find in my next vehicle. I’ll try to string this one along as long as reasonably possible, but there’s only so much I can do. So, in no particular order:

  • Requirements
    • legroom
    • quiet ride at highway speeds
    • decent stereo with auxiliary input (or Bluetooth connectivity to play audio from my phone)
    • dash display of fuel economy and tire pressure
    • enjoyable drive
    • A make (and possibly model) with a long history of reliability—probably something of the German or Japanese variety
  • Desires
    • dual trip odometer
    • built-in hands-free phone (the Bluetooth connectivity, here)
    • GPS
    • 2.5″ trailer hitch receiver
    • HUD/digital speedometer readout

I’ll create a CD and/or playlist with the songs I’ll want so I can crank the volume to verify quality for appropriate songs, and likewise turn it down to verify appropriate (lack of) road noise for others. The tire pressure deal should be pretty simple. 2005 model year and newer cars are required to have sensors in the wheels already, it’s just a matter of display. Whether it’s an automatic or manual I don’t much care; I almost prefer the manual at this point, so long as it’s also fun to drive. I’m thinking something like the Subaru Legacy Outback at the moment, but I need to do some browsing. Perhaps I’ll rent the next time or two I make trips to KC or Manhattan.

June 20-23 is the PL Classen Family Rebellion. Er, Reunion. September 7-8 is the 2013 MS 150. I have decisions to make before each of those events, and the sooner I make those decisions, the better. I definitely will be going to the reunion, but details are still sketchy. Should at least book the hotel room, though.

Another thing I’ve been saving for: I need my well hooked up this spring. $2000, part of my “one step at a time” plan to renovate my lawn, for an expected total cost of around $18000. I’ll have the cash by that time (for the well, anyway), squirreled away safely and faithfully each paycheck, despite the extra FSA contribution I’m making and the extra FICA taxes yanked mercilessly from my paycheck. I shouldn’t grumble too much about the latter because I know the reasons behind the changes. Whether I like them or not is an entirely different matter.

Next on the wallet is, of course, my computer. I have no idea why I hadn’t noticed it before about three days ago, but I’m short roughly 256 GB of hard drive space, along with those 8 GB of RAM that I’ve been missing since the summer. This does not make for a very happy James. $200 for a straight-up replacement, $290 for the fix I want, unless the HDD is bad, in which case, tack on another $200 for that. It’s entirely my fault for not shipping the stuff back within 90 days, of course.

So with all that going on, how am I supposed to get a dog? The idea is becoming more and more appealing to me as time wears on. At this point, for various reasons, I’ll probably have to wait until the end of summer for it to be realistic.

I’ve decided not to do the 千羽鶴 thing. I’ve got 二羽鶴, and will probably leave it there for now. I do intend to make one of these soon, for giving away. I’m not ready to give away a oligodendrocyte necklace yet—I’m not sure how well it’d go over, at least until I get to know her better, but if she’d go for that sort of thing, then I’d say I’ve probably found the one. If not, I’ll need a lot more paper.

Burning Down The House

This post (unlike most of them) is intended to be informative. In Microsoft Word 2007 (and possibly other versions), it is sometimes desirable to create outline-numbered documents (all are formatted this way at my company). Now, since we ignore the procedures manual (which was written for typewriters and early computers, pre-Microsoft Word), there are a few difficulties with the procedures. Strange thing is, I haven’t found any clear instructions on how to do this (possibly because the titles of the article are so completely unrelated like this one), so I’m doing my best to publish the method I use, and hopefully it’s the method advocated by MS MVPs. I’ll try to add pictures when I get a chance.

I’m making the assumption that you start with a clean document, probably using the default Word 2007 style set.

If outline numbering for your document isn’t set up, “Heading 1”, “Heading 2”, etc. will have no numbers displayed in front of them in the Styles ribbon. Open the “Define new Multilevel list” dialog. Attach these headings to the corresponding list levels (if you’ve done it before, it remembers the preferences; I’ll have to check on a clean install I have at home if this is the case there as well).

The first few headings in our documents are expected to be sans-number. In a book, this is similar to the preface. Then there’s the main body of the document, with sections 1, 2, 3, etc. Finally, we may or may not have appendices, which are lettered, A, B, C, etc. We want the table of contents to look like the following, if possible:

Preface
1. Chapter 1
1.1 Section 1.1
1.2 Section 1.2
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
Appendix A
Appendix B

The first bit is simple. Create a section using the style “Heading 1”, type “Preface”, then move your cursor to the beginning, and hit [Backspace]. This will remove the numbering scheme for that paragraph alone. The indentation will remain intact, but another press of [Backspace] can get rid of that, if you so desire.

The chapters are even simpler, just use Heading 1, 2, 3, etc.

But things get slightly more difficult for the appendices:

  1. Create a paragraph using the “Heading 1” style.
  2. Open the “Define new Multilevel list” dialog.
  3. Ensure the entire dialog is shown by clicking “More >>”.
  4. Select level 1 to modify.
  5. Change the “Number style for this level” to “A, B, C, …” (or whatever your choice is).
  6. Change “Start at” to “A”.
  7. Under “Enter formatting for number”, add “Appendix” before the letter.
  8. Most important: change the drop down for “Apply changes to” to “This point forward”

Also, keep in mind that if you ever want to modify styles for previous “Heading 1” paragraphs, you may have to repeat these steps or risk messing up the document. So this type of thing should be saved until you’re confident of the formatting of your document.

Kick Drum Heart

My 2013 calendar finally arrived, complete with sketch #287/425, where it appears Schlock is lamenting the fact that his tub of Ovalkwik is empty.

Meanwhile, I expect this week to drag on, with little to break the monotony until the break. And while the week may seem interminable, the break will, I’m sure, pass too quickly. I’ll spend a minimum of two days at the folks’, and some unknown amount of time with friends here.

I did discover that I had $134.11 “free” at Amazon.com, but it existed in such a way that I couldn’t spend it on Kindle books—I had to spend it on real goods. Not that it was much of a problem to crank through that, though I had to supplement my purchase with a few bucks from my own pocket to cover tax. The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16 Ton Megaset was only $30! I couldn’t pass up a deal like that. Sleepwalk With Me, Stephen Colbert’s America Again: Rebecoming The Greatness We Never Weren’t, along with the Batman and Superman animated series DVDs rounded out my purchase. They’ll all arrive on my doorstep on Christmas Eve, apparently.

The tragedy in Newtown, CT. I’d call the reactionary dialogue about gun control, mental health treatment, and security execrable. The Baltimore Sun editorial page published an article by one Max Stearns (a law professor) that traverses a small handful of logical fallacies, along with assumptions that collapse under the slightest bit of scrutiny. And yet it was written in such a way, in a thoughtful and reasonable tone, that many will believe his idea of the “cause” is accurate. Not 20 minutes after reading the letter (presented on Popehat as satire, to those who are familiar with the writers, yet still believed by some commenters to be, at least Patrick’s, opinion), at least one of my coworkers spouted the identical ideas, “If I were in charge…” I briefly attempted to demonstrate the futility of proposed changes, but quickly gave up. Yes, it was tragic. Yes I hope it doesn’t happen again. But I hope people learn to think before taking action, however, in the words of Patrick Henry, “I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” I’ll stop before going into a tirade, but while a measured approach will fair better with the logical few, the reactionary approach has strong support from the mob.

So apparently the energy requirements for real FTL travel has been reduced. The math here isn’t beyond me, but I didn’t read that in the paper. Supposedly, a reduction by a factor of 1025. The whole concept, however, is amazing, as I read it, whether it requires 1044 J or 1019 J. Not only does an Alcubierre drive reduce the effective mass of the payload, but it can boost speed by a factor directly related to the amount of energy applied, without that annoying limit of c. I hope the experiment proposed is performed and we can see what the theorists have been proposing. That would be truly exciting, as much as FTL neutrinos would have been.

Another exciting development in science (this one a little more timely than the Alcubierre papers spanning 1994–2006) is the development of a universal kilogram. The current standard has existed since 1879, but teams at NIST and in Canada are hoping to produce a new standard to the CGPM in 2014. If the kg can be defined in terms of Planck’s constant, then we’ll finally have a system free of physical artifacts.

I feel silly, somewhere between giddy and skittish, and keep checking my phone for text messages. After two-plus years I’ve entrusted my heart to another, and it feels good, and that much better when we’re together. Karyn is, if nothing else, stretching my palette. Sans a trip to Japan, it’s unlikely I would have tried sushi on my own. And when we walked by Sabor “Latin Grill & Bar” last weekend, she said, “I wonder what Latin food is…”, walked in, and got a table for two. If it were me, I probably would have looked at the menu and, not seeing anything familiar (or much at all in English), suggested going elsewhere, but I’m extremely glad I stuck around, because it was delicious. Tonight we head to Red Bean’s Bayou Grill—again, new to me—though I was thoroughly sated by the office lunch. Hopefully our adventures together will not be limited to new restaurants, but expand into grander schemes.