Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Latent lefty

I was in a hurry to get out of the house and beat the traffic this morning, that I didn't grab anything to eat. So, when I got in to work, I grabbed a little something from my ''food drawer'': a can of ''Home Brand'' (a ''store brand'') Vegetables & Steak.

And that's when I learned that I use a can-opener backwards. (Actually, I think I re-discover this about once a year.) I hold the handle with my right hand, with the handle ends pointing away from me; my right arm is curled behind the can; and I twist the crank with my left hand.

So: I must be a latent lefty.


''Elive'' Live CD: update

This is an addendum to my post from a few days ago, regarding trying out some Linux Live CDs. (Non-computer geeks should still skip to the end of this entry...)

As I think I mentioned, I e-mailed the PuppyLinux folks to report the bug I experience. No e-mails back.

Within a few minutes of this, I also e-mailed the Elive folks; within a few hours, got an e-mail back with a few suggestions. So, bonus points to them!!! :)

Tried the Elive Live CD again a day or so ago. This time, it **appeared** to be installing fine. But then I ended up at a command-line prompt, with three hints above it, saying I could type ''reboot'' to reboot; something else to switch to version 17 of the desktop instead of version 16; and something else to change the settings on my monitor.

Not knowing what else to do -- and thinking maybe it needed to be rebooted for one final layer of installation -- I typed ''reboot.''

It went through the whole startup/install thing again, and landed me back at the same prompt. Hm! I was expecting some sort of purty desktop with icons to click.

I've re-emailed the Elive guy; we'll see what he says.

Since I'm doing these Live CDs anyhow -- and since I'll be taking home a big, hulking PC that I'll need to install an OS on -- I've sent away for an Ubuntu CD-ROM. For those not in the know, ''Ubuntu Linux'' is -- supposedly -- a newbie-friendly operating system that should be pretty intuitive to use for anyone that is used to modern Windows or Mac computers.

And, because it's free, you're not lining the pockets of any multinational, quasi-monopolistic corporations. Instead, it's funded by some South African dot-com millionaire that's ''giving back'' to the world of computing. In fact, you can even request an Ubuntu CD-ROM (as I've just done), and they'll mail it to you for free!

Or, if you're a little more computer-savvy, and know how to burn an *.iso image, you can download it from here.


Better writer

In reading more of Wil Wheaton's blog, I thought I'd pass along this entry -- -- which links to this web page -- -- which has some good points about becoming a better writer.

A good, quick read. (Don't be put off by the seeming length of that web page: 80% of it is reader comments, posted below.) Although a few minor cuss words, and a comment that's meant as a joke, but could be misinterpreted as xenophobic.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shrubbery skulduggery

How weird is this?

My dad e-mailed us today to say that the night before, they had been sitting in the living room, reading. They heard digging sounds outside.

Eventually, they went out to investigate -- and found that their next-door neighbor had planted a complete row of three-foot high shrubbery along the property line (no fence, just one lawn flowing into the other lawn). In the dark.


Couldn't he have waited until, say, daylight?



Finding one's path

Blog entry on finding one's path, and being o.k. with it:


Mystery monitor

When I came in to work on Monday, there was a large -- 18'' screen -- computer monitor partially blocking the entry to my cubicle. It had mysteriously appeared over the weekend. I was mildly annoyed: What is this -- my area's the computer dumping grounds?

Although in some ways, it's my own fault: I **do** have three dead hard drives stacked on the floor by my desk... But I also have a still-in-the-box PC in my ''doorway'', left over from our computer upgrades. The monitor is sitting on that.

I asked our I.T. guy if he knew its origins; he didn't.

But tonight, on my way out the door, I learned that my boss -- the guy who offered up the surplus computers for sale -- thought it might go nicely with the obsolete P-III mega-tower. (Which is still at work; haven't paid for it yet.)

Hey, that was pretty darned nice. And fitting, as well: As people are moving to flatscreen monitors, I now have a top-end but obsolete monitor to go with my top-end but obsolete mega-tower.

Spiffy. :)


St. Pat's day, revisited

Abstract: A statistical test for differences in proportions indicates that people at my university campus do indeed wear more green on St. Pat's day than on other days.

Back on St. Patrick's Day, I wrote a blog entry where I wondered whether sufficient Aussies (or at least, Brisbanites) acknowledged St. Pat's Day. On that day I did a rough sampling of how many people I saw who were wearing green. I counted 23 out of 151 -- which is 15.2%.

Today, I thought I'd do another quick tally -- even though I **should've** done it on another Friday, not a Tuesday [today] -- but, eh! (Can't be bothered. So much for scientific rigor!)

Today the count was 14 out of 164, or 8.5%

Using the ''immediate form of two-sample test of proportion'' (the prtesti command) in Stata (a CLI-based stats package), it turns out that the probability of the difference between 8.5% and 15.2% being due to a ''real'' underlying difference -- as opposed to just a fluke of grabbing a strange sample -- was 6.4% (i.e. p=0.064).

That means that there's a 93.6% chance of people wearing more green on St. Pat's day than on a ''normal'' day is due to a systematic difference between the days -- like, it being St. Pat's Day!!!

In fact, the results for a one-tailed test -- that is, my assuming that St. Pat's day would have more green, rather than less green -- was 3.2% (p=0.032), or a 96.8% of being a ''solid, believable'' result.

Right on!!!

They do believe!!! :)


Monday, March 27, 2006

Guileless kids

One of the great things about really little kids -- say two years old and younger -- is that they're completely without guile. They're too young to be sly, to be strategic, to be diplomatic in their reactions. If they think you're funny, they'll laugh; if you're not funny, they won't. If you scare them, they'll try to hide. And etcetera.

This lack of artifice makes it especially heartbreaking when your kid runs to her mother to give her a big hug when you both get home from work, then ignores you to go play with her toys. Even when you ask for a hug, you get nothin'.

Now, I know I rank higher than complete strangers; and I know I have my uses (I suspect I'm ''the 'fun' parent''). And when we're walking around, and I'm holding her hand, and something scares her, she'll ask me to pick her up.

But it's still sad being second-best. :(

The Lady says not to take it personally: it all comes down to who she spends the most time with. And there's some truth to that.

But I'd be willing to quit my job and stay home with The Kid, if it meant that I was her Number One.


Addendum, written next morning (3/28/06): Came home from work last night and she saw me through the window, and exclaimed ''Dah!!! Dah!!!''

And got her out of her crib this morning, and buried her head in my shoulder while contentedly sucking her fingers.

So, I guess being #2 is still pretty great. ;)


Parenting philosophy

I've been reading some of the back-postings of Wil Wheatons' blog. Some cussing, but it's well-written and generally interesting. One of his posts, on parenting, resonated with me.

I sometimes refer to The Kid as ''my buddy'' -- but that doesn't mean I won't be stern with her, as needed, out of fear that ''she won't like me.'' Setting boundaries (firmly but with fairness) is a huge part of what being a parent is all about.

This was echoed in the first part of the final paragraph of WW's blog entry -- slightly edited by me:

I have prided myself, these last ten years, on never trying to be a ''friend'' to [name of his two kids]. I have always taken my responsibilities as a parent very seriously, and I believe that trying to be your kids' friend is one of the fastest ways to screw them up. My thinking goes: they make friends at school, and they need parents at home. But this never meant that I didn't want to play whiffle ball with them, or introduce them to geeky games, or anything like that. I guess it's a parenting philosophy that one either intuitively groks or doesn't, so I won't spend a lot of time trying to explain it.




Bought cake

On the way into work today, stopped off at the local shopping center because they were having a darned good sale on diapers. While there, I impulse-bought a cake, just to share with co-workers.

While eating my slice of cake, the phrase, ''Tastes like a four-dollar cake'' floated across my mind. I'm not sure what it means -- that is, whether that's a good thing, or a bad thing -- but that would make a catchy saying. Kind of like ''Coals to Newcastle'' or ''As useful as hen's teeth.''


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bonus GeekPoints

You get bonus nerd points if you keep a Phillips screwdriver next to your PC -- because it's handier for when you have to open the casing.

(Apparently, popping open a PC case is not an issue for ''normal folks.'')


A musical packrat's dream

Last night, had a bit of a funny tummy. Woke up this morning, and still had it. Called in sick to church -- I was supposed to do one of the readings -- and essentially stayed in bed dozing until about 1pm.

While asleep, I dreamed that I was walking around some suburban neighborhood, and there was a pile of stuff on the front lawn of a ranch-style (i.e. single-story) house. The house had some charring, so there must've been a fire, and the stuff out on the lawn must have been what was salvaged -- or what was going to get thrown away. But it wasn't the usual type of stuff: instead of chairs and old carpets it was microphones and stereo equipment and the like.

Then I noticed a station wagon in the driveway to my left, fitted out like a camper. In the front seat was a friend of mine from high school, Stephanie Smith, who had been in a few Seattle bands until recently moving out of state. Her boyfriend (or some guy, anyhow) had just gone inside the house, and she told me that the person that owned the house had used it as a recording studio, but when the house had burned he'd just written everything off -- that is, took everything as a loss and just took the insurance money as a cash-out. Thus, everything on the lawn was fair game! She said the guy she was with had gone inside to salvage some of their stuff, but that anything that they didn't grab, I could have. Score!!!

I went inside the house. On counters, and in cupboards, in what would've been the kitchen if it hadn't been used as a recording studio: cables; switching boxes; signal processors; footswitches; weird stuff I recognized as being audio-related but had never seen before...

Some of it had some smoke and/or water-damage, but most of it looked unscathed. And it was free -- so if any given item didn't work -- ah well!

Most of it looked 1970s-1980s-ish, which suits my taste more than the looks of most audio gear built in the last ten years.

As I went thorough the den, with a horrible 1970s shag carpet, I also saw various sorts of video gear -- mostly video monitors of various sizes -- on the floor along the walls, I decided I'd pick some of those up, as well, for future video work.

After I'd gathered up two large cardboard boxes of gear, I started dragging them to the front door. A lady claiming to be an estate sales co-ordinator was in the living room: she was starting an auction. But -- nicely -- she said that since I had already gathered up my haul, she wouldn't include my stuff in the auction.

All. That. Lovely. And. Esoteric. Gear.

Ahhh... :)


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bad innards

My innards feel like I ate plaster. The hard-setting kind.


The Kid: vocals and swimming

A good day with The Kid. Last night, set up the mic, the new mixer, and my PC -- including aprox. recording levels. This morning, successfully recorded two segments of me and The Kid interacting. The first go-around had my voice clipping (i.e. overloading, causing distortion), but The Kid's voice was fine. The second go-around, both of our voices were within acceptable ranges.

Then, since The Lady still had a tender back, I got to the be swimming-pool parent. My first time -- as well as my second time in a swimming pool in eight(?) years. Fun! :)

A good ''parenting'' day. :)


Friday, March 24, 2006

First foray into Linux

We have Windows 98 on our machines at home. Although for a number of reasons I haven't installed a Linux distribution on any of the machines, a need arose for me to try out a Live CD of Linux.

(Vocab#1: A Live CD is where the operating system runs off the CD, rather than being installed on the hard drive. Assuming your PC boots off the CD drive, you just start (or re-start) it with the Live CD in the CD drive, and the CD-ROM takes over from there.)

(Vocab#2: A ''distribution'' of Linux is essentially a ''bundle'' which includes the operating system [''Windows 2000" and "OS X" for Macs are examples of operating systems, as is Linux], as well as various other programs such as web browsers, word processing, audio players, graphics apps, and etc. Unless you're doing fairly specialized work, you typically don't need to install any other programs, because the basics -- web browsing, e-mail, and office apps -- are already included.)

The Lady likes storing data on her USB key (or what others call a USB flashdrive). However, Win98 doesn't come with drivers to read USB keys -- unlike more recent versions of Windows -- and I can't seem to find a driver that works. Thus, she can't dump files onto her USB key, bring them home, and work on them (e.g. with MS PowerPoint) on our machines at home. My proposed work-around, is to boot to a Linux Live CD, use that Linux distro to detect the USB key and the hard drives, copy the data across, then leave Linux and return to Win98.

Based on some notes I've been keeping from the Linux magazine I regularly read (Linux Format, from the UK)., I decided to test out four options:

  • Elive -- a live version of the Elightenment distro; supposed to be nice-looking and user-friendly, yet relatively lightweight.
  • Feather Linux -- small and lightweight, yet because it's based on Knoppix, it's supposed to have really good hardware detection
  • Topologilinux -- not a live distro, but rather a distribution of Linux that you install as an *.exe file on your Windows machine. An alternative to having both Windows and Linux on your machine, and booting into one or the other at startup.
  • Puppy Linux -- Small and friendly (and somewhat cute). Works on older machines.

Topologilinux I already had from the DVD from one of the issues of Linux Format. The other three I downloaded from the relevant websites.

Tried Elive first. It seemed to be loading up just fine -- got all the splash screens with the encouraging news about how swell Elive is. But then it got stuck, due to missing some important component (according to the message on the screen), and dumped me into the command-line prompt. Since I have yet to muck around with the Linux command line (analogous to working in ''MS DOS" under your Windows overlay), I called it quits for that one. Too bad; I'll possibly try it again when the next version comes out (currently version 0.4.2, so technically it's not ''real''yet). I was sufficiently altruistic to e-mail their development team to let them know of the glitch.

Tried Feather Linux next. Indeed small, and it loaded up right-quick. But, I couldn't find the hard drives: non-intuitive. Bah. So, it didn't suit my needs. Didn't even bother trying the USB key on it.

I next turned to Topologilinux. This is the one where you install it on your HD as a standalone program, and start it just like any other application -- except it's a Linux! However, early on during the installation phase it said that I needed Windows 2000, or newer, for it to work. Which, if I had Win2000 I wouldn't need this work-around to read my wife's USB key. So, ditched it.

Finally, I fired up PuppyLinux. This one had a non-fancy, but very straightforward series of configuration screens. The language seemed aimed at novices, which is a good strategy: for example, when it asked whether your mouse was USB, or through the PS/2 port, it noted that if it was by PS/2 port, the mouse cable probably ends in a green jack.

At the end of these setup screens, it noted that (1) once PuppyLinux was up and running, I could always go back and tweak the hardware configuration, if I wanted; and (2) it would be storing a small file on my hard drive, so that the next time I used PuppyLinux it would remember what I told it this time -- and thus, start up immediately.

The good news is that the interface was pretty intuitive, and I was able to copy a file from my wife's USB key to the hard drive, and vice-versa. Proof of concept! Also, the layout was pretty intuitive. For example, various program were filed under their type (e.g. ''multimedia'' held a number of audio applications, including a tone generator[!!!], while various word processors, text editors, and html-editors were under ''writing'' [or some-such; I didn't write this down]).

The bad news is that some of the included programs started up when I clicked the relevant desktop icon, and others didn't. And the programs that didn't work when I clicked the desktop icons still failed to start when I also tried accessing them through the ''Start'' menu. For example, I couldn't get ''AbiWord'' -- a word processor -- to start, through either route. Bummer.

Also, it didn’t seem to recognize *.doc files (and similarly, for *.ppt [MS PowerPoint] files). I base this on it showing ‘’generic’’ icons instead of ‘’text file’’ icons. However, if AbiWord had worked, I think it might have recognized them.

I also e-mailed the PuppyLinux folks, to share both the good and the bad with them.

VERDICT: Topologilinux might be worth a try for some folks, just for giggles -- although I won't have a need for it, as I'll be moving from Win98 -- which serves my needs just fine, thank you -- to probably Ubuntu Linux for general home use, and one of several multimedia-optimized Linux distros for audio recording and video editing.

FeatherLinux is a nice little novelty. But it seems that it's more a novelty than anything. (ex: You can carry it with you, and boot off a USB key.) From my very brief look, the apps that are included are rather bare-bones: they'll work in a pinch, but lack the features you'd want in a "real" paint program [or whatever].

And Elive and PuppyLinux are both worth looking at again. Once the glitches are fixed, it'd be fun to carry them around on a CD, accompanied by a USB key for data storage, and being able to temporarily ''hijack'' a Windows machine with Linux -- without causing harm, of course. And PuppyLinux could be used as a ‘’rescue CD’’, for when your machine doesen’t work but you need to rescue things off the hard drive - - like how some people use Knoppix, but without having to use the command line.


Annoying, paternalistic Microsoft

Windows XP comes in with a very intuitive CD-burning interface: just open up the CD drive, and drag and drop files into it, and choose the ''burn a CD'' option.

Unfortunately, WinXP can't burn disk images (scroll down to bottom). This is a major inconvenience to those of us who have a small pile of Linux DVDs (which come with the UK Linux mag we regularly get), don't have a DVD-R drive at home, but **do** have access to one at work.

I was going to try some of the Live CD Linux distros, in an effort to get The Lady's USB flashdrive to work on our PCs at home. The plan was to take the *.iso files from the DVD, then create bootable CDs. However, this requires the ability to make a ''ISO image'' -- and WinXP can't do that by itself: You'll need to get some additional CD authoring software.

This means that:

  • You can't create exact duplicates of data or music CDs -- which under ''fair use'' laws, you're supposed to be able to (for your own use). For an audio CD, you'd have to rip the individual tracks to your hard drive, then re-combine them to burn the copy.

  • As mentioned, you can't create an ISO image file or bootable CD.
In other words, there's legitimate, non-pirating reasons to want this function -- but WinXP excludes it. Gar!

My workaround: Saved the individual files from my DVD to the HD; burned them onto CD-RW; will take them home and dump the CD contents onto **my** hard drive -- and burn my **own** bootable CDs. A minor nuisance -- but do-able. ;)



Addendum, Fri, Mar. 24, about 8pm: In all fairness, it turns out that the stock CD-burning software that came with my HP CD-burner doesn't burn iso-images either. But the ''Nero'' CD-burning software does.

Maybe I should broaden my rant to all CD-burning apps that allow a full copy of an existing CD, but not the ability to create your own disk image. Doesn't seem **that** hard of a feature to add on.

Got dead HDs

The Lady threw out her back last night, so this morning I got to play sherpa and carry her school bag up to her office for her. On the way out, I stopped by their I.T. guy and asked him if the dead hard drives we'd spoken of last week were handy, or hard to get to.

Turns out they were easy to get to: Inside a cabinet just a few steps away, in a box right in front. Not sure why he keeps a box of dead HDs -- I'm sure there's some legitimate I.T. reason ;) -- but I'm glad he does.

Gave me three dead HDs, including one that was bracketed to a dead floppy drive. Rock on -- partially makes up for my missing the PC dumpster from a week ago.

One HD is 212MB, and the other is 546MB; the third one is unspecified. (''Hi! I hold less data than a CD-RW!'') I wonder if old, small hard drives feel sad and lonely, now that 20GB hard drives (and larger!) are now the norm?


No flu for **you**, buddy!!!

I'd like to say that my mutant healing factor protects me from colds, flus, and various diseases. But that's just not true.

Thus, I just got back from getting my free(!!!) employee flu shot.

According to their little hand-out, because the flu shots contain dead flu bugs, you can **not** catch the flu from the shot.

You might, however, already have the flu, but not yet be showing the symptoms. And the immunization doesn't fully kick in for two weeks.

So: If you get the flu within a few days of getting the shot -- it's not their fault!


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Getting a mixer

After about a week of playing telephone- and e-mail- tag with the seller, I finally picked up my spiffy little mixer from the ebay seller. A good price (AU$66/ US$50; usually costs AU$89 [or more] new); local seller, so didn't have to pay for shipping; and it runs on Aussie voltage -- unlike all of my Seattle gear.

For those of you who know (and care) these things: 8 inputs, two bus, two output; tape in/tape out capabilities; two mic ins, with phantom power. The tape out (via RCA jacks) will be very handing for jacking it in to the ''line in'' port on my computer soundcard, via the ''stereo 1/8'' jack into two mono RCA plug'' conversion cable.

Now I can record The Kid's talking. Verbally, I sense we're in a fairly key transitional stage. I'd like to take an audio ''snapshot'' every three months or so, just for archival purposes. Something to show The Kid later, when she's an adult: ''This is what you sounded like when you were a baby...''


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Finally fall?

For the first time in I-don't-know-when, I put on long pants this morning instead of shorts. Reason: a bit chilly.

Could this mean Fall is finally here? Could be...


Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I'm figuring two of my readers will appreciate this. Maybe more.

Either Saturday or Sunday, I worked with The Kid on teaching her to exclaim ''SPOON!!!'' in a dramatic manner.

As I recall, she was sitting in her high chair, and The Lady was getting ready to feed her. The Lady and I are gradually teaching her language -- at this stage, mostly just the names of things -- and since she was holding a spoon...

But it just seemed -- better -- to hold it up in a dramatic manner, and exclaim it -- rather than just ''say'' it.

She appreciated it; whenever I did it, she laughed.

And, with some prompting, I got her to (somewhat) say it with flourish, herself.

We're gonna have a lot of fun when she actually learns how to talk. ;)



Teaching kids English wrong

I remind myself of an old Steve Martin riff, off his ''Wild and Crazy Guy'' album. From memory, I think it's the ''language'' thing off track #2. Basically, he thinks it'd be fun to intentionally teach your kids English... wrong. That way, it'll be funny when they go to school on the first day and speak gibberish.

The reason I remind myself of that is that I've been teaching The Kid ''come here'' in an alien language: the words are ''kee-TAH'', accompanied by a ''come here'' geture with arms crossed in front of your body. I got this from the pretty good, but sadly under-rated movie ''The Last Starfighter'' (a cute, reasonably family-friendly movie), where the main character gets brought to an alien world and is guided through various hallways by an alien lady who keeps saying ''kee-TAH.''

As evidenced by her behavior in the shopping mall on Saturday, and at home on Sunday, when I call out her name and do the single-armed ''come here'' gesture, she doesn't come. But when I say ''kee-TAH'' and do the alien gesture, she does.


Side note: I actually tend to use the Southeast[?] Asian ''come here'' gesture, which is with the palm down. Apparently, the palm-up gesture is considered rude in some cultures. I'm not sure of my specific motivation -- except maybe ''just to be different.'' But maybe it's a desire to be multicultural. Dunno.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Sad old computer (Part II)

Talked to my two contenders for the funny tower PC.

One guy says he'll take one of the ''regular'' (P4; 2+ GHz) machines instead.

The other interested parties -- one of the I.T. guys -- said he's still interested, but is short on funds. And if he was to do a lowball offer, it would be less than my lowball offer.

So, although I won't find out officially until the end of the day, it looks like the funny tower PC will be mine!

Had a nice chat with the new I.T. guy, though. Only his fourth day on the job. Says he's more a Linux user than a Win user, so we had a nice talk about Linux things.


Favorite computers

I think this is another indicator of geekiness: Having a favorite computer.

My impression is that most people use them as fairly interchangable tools: As long as you have a few desktop shortcuts set up, and maybe the desktop wallpaper, the rest just doesn't matter to them. And, most people just own one computer.

Out of the various computers I own, i think the mega-tower will be my favorite. Despite the slower speed. It just looks -- well, cool!!!

If I end up purchasing it, I'll have to post a pic (of the outside and insides!!!).


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Social imagination

In addition to watching her cognitive skills develop, it's also interesting to watch The Kid's social skills develop as well. They go hand-in-hand, of course.

This afternoon The Lady and I were keeping The Kid busy by having her ferry small items back and forth between us in her little plastic wagon: a book, an empy can, a slipper...

On a few ocassions, after picking up her cargo from me, The Kid spontaneously said ''Bye!'', and waved good-bye, as she walked away. Now, I'm sure she knew that she wasn't actually going **away** -- just to the next room. But she has enough of an intuitive sense of the meaning of ''Good-bye'', and the social situations in which it's used, that she can apply it to an imaginitive, play situation. Pretty neat!

Similarly, even though she can't talk yet -- her pronounciation for most words is pretty much non-useful, and she can't string multiple words together (e.g. she can say ''Down" or ''keys", and ''please'' -- but not ''down, please'' or ''keys please''). But with her little toy cell phone, she can press the button to make it ring; pick it up and say ''Hi!', babble away in quasi-sentences; and then say ''Bye!'' and put the phone down. In other words, internalize and then mimic the social behaviors of the surrounding adults. Interesting! :)

One year, seven months (AKA ''nineteen months'').


Friday, March 17, 2006

Giddy over computers

Very interesting: I'm still feeling quite elated -- giddy; tickled; ''hee-hee-hee'' -- over having gathered up computer pieces. Very odd, that just making sure that each PC had a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and appropriate cables would jazz me up so much.

Same feeling I get when I've played distorted guitar. And, to a slightly lesser extent, playing the electric bass, or drums, or synth, or trombone or trumpet.

But not when I do social science research, or woodworking: That's more of a ''dum-dee-dum,'' puttery sort of thing -- interspersed with ''Hmmmm!'' when I get to the stage of running the data, and finding patterns.

Of course, not all computer things jazz me up: wrestling with stupid things that don't work leaves me very much quite cold.

In some ways, my life would be easier if I had one, single, over-riding burning passion. But I don't. It's more like six(?) things that I really like doing (and am good at?). Which is more diverse, and thus makes me a more well-rounded person: Because each of my main interests has small related offshoots, I know at least a little bit about a lot of things.

But the downside is that having many divergent intersts (1) takes up more space, and (2) costs more to indulge in.

Ah well. :)



St. Patty's Day!!!

Being ''Gye Greene'' and all, Saint Patrick's Day is almost like a religious holiday for me. Olive-drab green short-sleved shirt; olive-green suspenders with blue pin-stripes; pastel-green paisley tie; faded olive-drab green high-top sneakers; and mint-green socks. I'll try to remember to shoot a digital pic when I get home.

Sadly, St. P's day isn't such a big deal here in Aussie-land. Near as I can tell, none of my colleagues wore green today. I noticed a little more green this morning on campus, but it could be I'm just more attuned to it. I counted 23 green-wearers out of the 151 people I bothered to count: 15.2%. I'll try counting again next Friday, and run a pr-test to see if there's a statistically meaninful difference between the proportion of green-wearers.

The customs also differ. Blog-readers, plz post a comment re: whether, as school children, you had the custom that if you didn't wear green on St. P's day, you got a pinch! Asked three of my co-workers, and none of them knew what I was talking about. (Granted, one of them is from the Netherlands.) So, is it an Everett, Washington thing -- or an American thing?

Anyhow, it's St. P's day, and I'm all greened-up!

Plus I got to round up computer components, so I'm happy. (The office has upgraded computers, so we're donating three per school to three Special Schools. Pretty decent machines: 15" flatscreens, Pentium 4, 2GHz-ish. Rounded up the appropriate number of cables, keyboards, manuals, etc. per machine.) :)


Update [Mon, Mar. 20, 2006]: Dangit! Forgot to take a pic. Ah well...


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sad old computer

Maybe being sentimental over old, unloved computers is a true sign of geekdom. But I always feel bad for discarded technology -- slide rules, 1970s calculators, reel-to-reel tape recorders -- that used to be at the top of their class, but have since been supplanted by faster, cheaper, more powerful units.

They're surplusing some computers here at work. In addition to the "normal" desktop units -- one of which I'll pick up (P4, 2.5GHz-ish, 15" or 17" flatscreen LCD monitors) -- there's an oddball that I've been eyeing ever since I got here (July 2005).

It's a super-tall tower (not a server, but darned spiffy).

A little older: P-III (MMX), 850 MHz (nominal).

But it has an extra card for additional drives: Currently 2 of 20GB HD, but room on the ribbons for three more HD's, and rack room for 5 HD's.

RAM = 1.0GB

Also has floppy drive, Zip drive (250MB), CD-RW, separate DVD-ROM.

2 USB ports -- not sure if USB 1.0, though.

Fired it up, and it gets to WinNT login screen, at which point I'm stuck. But if I got it, would most likely wipe it and run Linux. Use the extra slots for my misc. ''extra'' 2GB-5GB HD's. Probably for video editing, which -- unlike audio editing -- isn't quite as ''real-time'' in its processing needs (as the video camera does the real-time capturing). Thus, the extra RAM should compensate for the slower speed. And the extra HDs would allow me to back up to various physical drives.

Put out an e-mail of advice to a few computer-type friendds. So far, the consenus seems to be (1) if I'm really interested, get it, but (2) offer a price lower than what it's been posted.

If I do this, I may get it: there were three of us in this office who were interested, but the other two have bowed out. And if my boss rejects my lowball offer, and he sends it to the auction -- our Centre doesn't get the money; it goes to the university. So, my chances are good.

If I get this one, The Lady says I'll need to get rid of one of my other PCs. Fair enough. ;)


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Scavenging sadness

To my knowledge, things tossed in a dumpster are fair game.

Yesterday around 3pm, on my way to the computer lab I run, I noticed a wide, shallow dumpster with obsolete PCs and CRT monitors behind the Social and Behavioral Sciences building. After the lab, had a brief pick through, and saw there were three PCs within easy reach. They'd been fairly picked over -- the RAM, hard drives, and power supplies had been removed.

But, the floppy drives, CD-ROM drives, misc. ISA cards, and the cooling fans were still there. The floppy drives and CD-ROM drives I'd use to build peculiar devices; at the very least, I'd salvage the electric ''drawer-opening'' motors from the CD drives. The ISA cards are green and nifty; I'd hang them from the wall. And the cooling fans I'd mount in a semi-circle around a piece of tile, thus creating a little soldering station: they'd suck the nasty fumes away.

Alas! Just got back from there a few minutes ago, carrying my briefcase of tools and a small cardboard box for my spoils. Sometime between 4pm yesterday and 8:15am today, the dumpster was removed. Dagnabit!

Foiled -- and spoiled.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Inexpensive modern technology

Apparently, back in April of 1970, my parents paid US$99.95 (plus sales tax) for a very small (12" screen?) B&W t.v. Today, you can get a color set for about half that amount.

My dad also said that at the school district where he used to work:

''[Their] first VCR cost about $1200 in 1979 dollars. [...] It could play, rewind, fast forward (but NOT search) and record one program in the next 24 hours. There was no remote''

There may be bad things about the age in which we live -- but at least the technology's cheap!!! :)


Monday, March 13, 2006

Messing with the masses: altruistic-style...

Been meaning to do for about ten years now -- esp. now that The Lady and I have pretty much F/T job incomes (as opposed to being graduate students).

Get about $100 in ones from the bank. Walk down the street and give everybody a dollar, just to see their reactions. I'm predicting that some people will be distrustful and wary, and think it's some sort of scam -- that there's some sort of catch.

No catch; just giving everyone a dollar.

It's fun to mess with people -- as long as it's in a nice way. ;)


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Unusual skills

Not everyone knows how to splice rope.

Not that everyone would want to. :)

Useful for joining two lengths of rope, without the knobby-ness of tying a knot. Darned strong.

Making an eye-splice gives you a permanent loop at the end, and -- again -- is more elegant than typing a knot. Although bowlines are good.

(The green rope is permanently around the tent peg; the notch is smaller than the hole, so I had to remember to thread the rope through before starting the splice!)

Back-splices are also useful: That's when you ''cap off' the end of a rope by doubling it back on itself, so it doesn't unravel. Again, more elegant than tying a knot or wrapping tape around it -- or for nylon ropes, melting the ends.

My dad taught me how to splice: Maybe when I was about twelve -- but, not sure.

My other two tricks I know -- with more ''party trick'' potential -- are hanging a spoon from my nose while taking a drink of water, and doing a running forward dive across four people, and landing safely on the carpet or grass (it's all in how you tuck 'n' roll).


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Nifty geek toy

The '''' website has a bunch of nifty items -- many of which I'd consider (eventually) buying.

I like this one: -- Not a tape drive, a la Commodore 64 computers, but rather a tool for converting old cassette tapes to *.mp3 files. (Although maybe it **could** be used as a tape drive. Dunno if it writes to the cassette tape, or just reads.)


Friday, March 10, 2006

Unhelpfully specific

I found this amusing.

This morning, one of the I.T. guys e-mails around this warning:

There is a scheduled network outage on Wednesday 15th March from 7:00am
until approximately 8:00am on Level 8 in the [name of building] Building.

The reason for this is to replace the Hewlett Packard (HP) TX-389 switches in
the Michie building with WS-C3560-48 port switches.

Ah, yes -- those switches! ;)

(As opposed to using a general term, like ''the network router switches.'' Or whatever the heck will be ocurring.)


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Reading glasses mods

About a week ago (March 4th-ish), I finally sat down and did what I'd been meaning to do. My eyeglasses perscription is strong enough that it's actually easier on my eyes to have two sets of glasses: a ''regular'' set, with the focal point set an infinity, and a ''reading/computer'' set, with the focal point set at about arm's length. The advantage of the second set is that when my eyes focus on what I'm reading, the muscles can be ''at rest'', since what I'm looking at is at my focal point -- rather than having to tense my focusing muscles to pull the focus point in from the distance.

The coating on the inside of the earpieces had worn off -- but the rest of the frame, and the lenses, are just fine. The rough surface on the earpieces thus irritated the side of my face where they touch, above my cheekbones, every time I wore them.

Cut to length some electronics shrink tubing, slip it over, heat to shrink. Result: A handy buffer that doesn't look too, too bad.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sideboard/workbench update

Brought the ''sideboard- now, eventually- work- bench,'' into our back yard, under the Hill's hoist with the blue tarp over the center (did the tarp Sunday, Mar. 5th, I think).

As you can see, put it on some scrap roofing, to keep it off the wet grass; may prop it up further, in a bit.

In moving it from the humpie to our back yard -- by myself! -- I was reminded of how non-stable it is; hard to carry, due to its rickity-ness. I had forgotten how non-connected some of the pieces are, plus it's not at all lightweight -- and it was hard to find a good way to carry it for more than a step or two.

Also rescued various pieces of wood, including some pieces that were probably the backs of the cupboard, due their length plus having remnants of the same barn-red paint. Also grabbed a big long plank -- heavy!!! -- 4cm thick, 30cm deep, about261cm long. For comparision, the top of the cabinet is 145cm x 44cm.

As I said, the wood plank I rescued is 30cm x 260cm; top of body is 145cm x 44cm. In the photos, gloves and mallet shown for size reference.)

Some of the plank may be lost to charring, but should be able to plane it off and still retain most of its thickness. Doesn't appear to be any rot.

The size of the board would cover the top of the cabinet, but only if I do funny fiddling around with it. I'd be better off having it cover the front two-thirds, and having some other piece of wood covering the back two-thirds. Maybe two layers of 2" x 4" or 2" x 6". Handplane the front and back sections to the same thickness.

Another photo, indicating the thickness of the board. My workboot, for scale reference.

As I think about it -- and do some quick calcuating -- the plank is 7800cm^2, and the top of the cabinet is 6380cm^2. So, I could indeed cut and paste to make it cover the top, and even have some overhang left over, for clamping purposes; perhaps leave some along the back, just in case I have a situation where I'd have access to the back and need to clamp it all the way around.

6cm seems like a reasonable overhang, which brings the needed dimensions to 157cm x 56cm, with 8792cm^2; if have the same overhang all the way around, algebra would shows me what the lip should be, but I don't remember the quadratic equation offhand, and can't be bothered to look it up. However, a quickie Excel spreadsheet shows that that the lip could be 3.5cm deep (about an inch and a half); and now that I look at a ruler again, 2.5cm (about an inch) would be deep enough to be secure for both C-style clamps and bar clamps.

Here's an end view, showing some of the more charred sections. Some phrase about ''silk purses and sow's ears'' keeps floating through my mind. But, I'm a bit (??!!) of a scavenger; I hate to waste things; and converting this into a workbench seems like an interesting project.

Plus, there's some minor sentimental value to it, as it came from the humpie (apparently, the Aussie term for a cabin with a dirt floor). And I'll be primarily using ''found'' wood -- both from the collapsed humpie and from another stash here on the property.

This is a close-up of the top-center section in the front. You can see how the vertical isn't attached to anything. Also, I'll need to make some vertical spacer to bear the load of the ''lid'' of the workbench.

Another shot of the top- front- center, from a different angle. Glove for scale. You can also see the gappy bit in the back.

Most of the repair will just be nailing the top right corner back together with the right side; but I'll also need to reinforce the whole body with some diagonal braces across the corners, to prevent it from racking when using as a workbench, e.g. when plane-ing.

One redeeming character- istic is that whoever built this orginally seemed to have a pretty good design. This is a shot of the right rear corner, showing the blind finger joints (for those that know their woodworking joints). I think the darkness indicates charring, but it could be a stain of some sort, as well.

No apparent rot in any of the section, based on the ''rapping it with a hammer handle'' test (i.e. listening to the tone). Just some charred bits. if there was rot, I probably wouldn't bother. But all the wood seems solid -- just pulled loose at the various joints.

Here's a shot of what my eventual ''temporary workshop'' will look like. Have a tarp over the Hill's hoist (the clothesline); I've since added a pair of ropes, staked into the ground, to keep the Hill's hoist from rotating in the wind.

From the side view, you can see that the [future] workbench is under shelter, such that if it rains it shouldn't get wet -- or at least, not too wet. I may add a larger tarp, or shift this tarp forwards.

Or, I may keep a stash of wood on the other side of the vertical pole. Or cover the whole area -- possibly add a series of overalapping tarps, if the smaller tarps are cheaper than one large tarp. Dunno yet.

Based on my working style, I'll probably have some sheetmetal shelves off to one side. I've discovered that I like having my tools and parts handy, at waist thru head level.

Yes, I know that rescuing old cabinets is not ''working on my Dissertation.'' However, this was time-dependent: I couldn't let it rot in the rain for four months, until I had time for it!


Rhythm kid

Last night, The Kid was walking around shaking a little percussion shaker-egg in one hand, and a plastic building block with a bell inside in the other.

I'm hoping this means I'll have a percussionist in a few years. ;)


Monday, March 06, 2006

Frog o'clock brings happiness

Just got back from the Slushie Run. Brought the ''frog o'clock'' frog with me, riding in my shirt pocket, to try out on the nice ladies at the cash register (40+ y.o.).

Asked the lady serving me -- loudly enough for her co-worker to hear -- ''Say... do you know what time it is?''

''I don't think I want to know...'' she said, preparing to grimace at the impending attempt at humor.

But, Alas! one can not escape from knowledge; for indeed: [Ree-bip, ree-bip!] ''It's frog o'clock!!!''

Both seemed suitably amused; one was nearly hysterical with laughter.

My work done, I left the candy store and returned to my office.


Healthy, healthy lunch

My lunch today is consisting of the bottom, leftover section, of a large bag of potato chips -- in fact, leftover from a few days ago. I cut the top 2/3 of the bag off, to better reach the contents.

Tip: If you're eating chips while typing, use a spoon. This keeps your fingers clean.

Prediction: My sister will leave a comment and/or e-mail me to tell me that potato chips do not a healthy lunch make. ;)


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Summer is winding down

Last night was the first night in -- well, months -- that we've actually used a blanket on the bed (instead of a single sheet).

And in the morning, we were just right -- not hot.

Hopefully, this means that the heat of summer if finished for the season.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Added photos to Mar 1st entry

Just to liven it up -- and to be more descriptive -- I've retroactively added some photos to my March 1st entry ''A tale of three workbenches''.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Car dislexia

At gas station this morning -- lived here for 2 1/ 2 years, and still -- still, still, still -- go around to the left side -- the passenger side -- when driving by myself; then have to walk around to the right-hand side: the driver's side.

It's not helped by usually being the passenger, and thus having the left-hand side be where I usually sit.

But it's also an interesting insight into my cognitive structure. Apparently, two-point-five years of living in a country that drives on the left isn't enough to overwrite ten years of driving in the U.S.



Car carnage

BrotherDave's squashed car got delivered today. Yeow.

Photo excluded by request; I can respect that.

Just imagine a four-door white sedan with the rear squashed, and both front tires pushed down and inwards. Except for cracks in the windshield and the back window, the cabin was o.k., though -- which explains how he walked away from it.

Good British steel. (And/or automotive engineering.)


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A tale of three workbenches

My cup runneth over with workbenches I can't yet use.

Soon after we moved here (about two years ago), Next-Door Uncle offered me an extra workbench of his; hopefully he'll let me keep the woodworking vice that's currently attached. The bench is 2.4m long x 0.7m deep x 0.8m high (8ft x 2.3ft x 2.7ft).

Then, back in August of 2005 (i.e. five months ago), he mentioned he also has his paternal grandfather's (i.e. my wife's great-grandpa's) workbench under a tarp, under the eaves behind the house. Apparently Great-Grandpa G----- (henceforth known as ''GGG'') was a shipbuilder -- although it's unknown whether he used this particular workbench for his shipbuilding, or just for projects at home. Next-Door Uncle said I could have this one as well, if I wanted it. (The Lady says Yes! we want it.) This one is 2.8L x 0.6D x 0.9H (9.3ft x 2ft x 3ft). Mighty long.

Then, today I made a move towards acquiring a third. On the property that we'll (eventually!) be building on, there's a mostly- collapsed shed that Gran and Grandad lived in when they first got married: tin roof, tin walls, dirt floor. (Remember, we're rural, in a hot climate, and this was back in the 1920's(?). The photo to the left is of the ''good end'', which is the alcove where the wood-burning stove used to be.

Much of the collapse, of course, was caused by the bushfire that came through a few decades ago: Makes it hard for buildings to stay standing when the wooden supports and beams and such get burnt.

The next shot is from the other, more- collapsed end. The Lady's brother (AKA ''Brother Dave'') has been salvaging metal odds and ends from it, in preparation for our eventual borrowing of a big skip for metal recycling. He mentioned he'd put a broken-down cabinet outside, so it was no longer sheltered by the remnants of the roof.

It's been raining now and then for the past few days, so I thought I should go take a look at it. What remains of it is pretty solid: no obvious rot or termite damage. Used to be some sort of sideboard or horizontal floor cupboard. Three fixed shelves on one side; used to be a cupboard on the other, but now just has a strip of wood swinging on the hinges. No top. One corner has surface charring, a result of the aforementioned bushfire that swept through this lot a few decades ago.

But, as I say, it's sturdy, and a useful size: 1.46m long, 0.44m deep, 0.95m high (4.9ft x 1.5ft x 3.2ft) -- which doesn't include a top. It's falling apart at some of the seams, but some extra screws or nails here and there, some reinforcing blocks at some of the joints, and adding a sturdy top (maybe 3cm-5cm [1''-2'']), and it would make a good workbench. (This is probably inspired by my brother's similar path to creating his own woodworking workbench.) I'll probably scrape off the charred bits, too -- then rub a mix of beeswax and boiled linseed oil across the whole thing, to seal it up.

I'd probably make the new top large enough that a lip extends a few inches across the front, and both ends, to facilitate clamping; maybe along the back, too.

Originally, I was hoping to have room for both Next-Door Uncle's workbench and GGG'sworkbench in my woodshed. But after doing some calculations, I've realized I can't: due to city council regulations, it has to be less than ten square metres (on average, 3.16m x 3.16m [10.5ft x 10.5ft) to avoid needing building inspections and council approval. Since this size includes the wall thickness and the overhang of the eaves, there's not enough room for both long benches in there.

So, here's my new plan: It doesn't make sense to build my woodshed until we actually move next door. But, I don't want to wait until then to start building useful things out of wood. Thus -- When I Finish My Dissertation -- I'll put a tarp over the Hills-hoist clothesline out back (one of those ''umbrella-style'' clotheslines), which will provide shelter from the rain. I'll use the ''rescued'' cupboard as a workbench, placing it on cement flagstones (what Aussies call ''pavers''), to keep it off the wet grass.

Due to it being outside, of course, I wouldn't keep anything in it permanently: I'd ferry tools and pieces out at the beginning of each session, and bring everything back inside at the end. Hm -- would need to build an old-timey wooden toolbox, and/or wooden tool caddie...

Then, when I do build my little woodshed, I'll use Next-Door Uncle's, plus this ''rescued'' one. NDU's is the lower of the two (0.8m/2.7ft), so I'd use that for planing and other work. The rescued cabinet will be around 1.0m high (3.3ft), which makes it better for some sawing, plus staining/varnishing, and gluing/assembling the pieces.

And, the Great-Grandpa G------- workbench will probably end up holding synthesizers and keyboards. Maybe not in keeping with its history -- but at least it'll be seeing some use, instead of being under a tarp. And I'd have to build a rack or table for my synths, anyhow.



Einstein blackboard

Old Roommate mentioned a nifty website on his blog (see, where you can insert text onto a photo of Einstein drawing on a chalkboard.

For example:


(Actually, TG is extremely bright...) ;)


Cooling down

During the summer, The Lady and I sleep with two fans on -- and still wake up hot: overnight, it never fully cools down. Bleh.

But, for the last week(?), we've actually woken up a bit cold, and have to stuble out of bed at whatever-o'clock-in-the-morning to turn off the fans.

And last night, we just slept without the fans. Still cool in the morning.

I think this means that summer is winding down.

That, and when we got home last night, the room with my computer was only 79F, not 87F.

Niiice. :)