Life in the Garden Part 36: Winter Survivors

We had a mild winter this year which gives me a head start on the garden.  After the 2008-2009 winter I expected to have a lot fewer green things still alive. Many of them look like they've been through the winter, but I was able to harvest them throughout the season.

Thyme and lavender survived in a big pot.  The basil didn't, but that's no surprise.

Here's how the same pot looked in July.

And here it is in August.

My Elijah Blue decorative grass (Festuca glauca) did fairly well.  I picked it up at the WA Arboretum plant sale last April. 

I did pretty well in the cold frame over winter:

Here's how it looked in May:

I quite pleased with how well the Hardy Jasmine plant did.

Here it is from May.

My rosemary plant had a rougher time, but not directly from the Winter.  The problem was I put it in an Ikea selfwatering planter.  These are actually a pretty poor choice for a planter.  Most self-watering planters have an over flow feature so they can't get too full, but these do not.  As the rains came down, they filled the reservoir and continued to fill the pot.  The soil turned into a swamp.  Every now and then I went out there and turned the pot on its side to dump the excess water.

Amzingly, the rosemary survived, though it did give up most of its color.

Here it is today.

And here it is when I first put it out on the deck.

My outdoor strawberries had a rough time.  The indoor ones are still in good shape.  The outdoor ones didn't quite stay wet enough in the cold frame.

They were a little greener in May, but I think they'll get back there.  If not, I'm still planting more seeds.

My bamboo has done well.

Here it is in September 2008.

Here it is in February 2009.

Here it is in May 2009.

And here it is today.

So the Spring is off to a good start.  I've got new seeds planted, and I have some survivors from last year.  It may take a while before it gets back to this:

But it should be a fun project.


"Still Alive" sung by a children's chior in Racine, WI

I found saw this in @MikeDrucker 's Twitter feed. It's just awesome. I only wish the video quality was better.

This is Jonathan Coulton's "Still Alive" which wrapped up the video game Portal.  You can see Coulton perform it here.


No longer misleading the DMV

I just hit a goal that I didn't even know I had until about a week ago.
I just got my new driver's license in the mail, which was actually part of a wonderfully simple process.  The state sent me a note saying it was time to renew and that I could do it online.  I took the note on a trip to Phoenix, and from my hotel, found the site, checked that my info was correct, gave them my credit card number, and a week later, they sent me my new Driver's License.  It was so much better than trekking down the the Jamaica DMV in Queens in the late 80s.

But when I checked my license, I saw my weight was listed at 240.  "Huh," I thought.  "That's not too far off."

And as of tonight, I reach a new goal.  I now weigh what it says on my license.  My actual weight and my state reported weight haven't matched in, well, ever.

I know some people are horrified at the idea of posting their weight publicly.  It doesn't bother me too much because it's not like people I know in real life are under the illusion I'm skinny.  It's no "secret shame." It's pretty obvious that I'm a big guy.

I'm down about 15 pounds since 2009-10-31.  At my biggest I was up around 265 3-4 years ago.

For an number of reasons I decided to make some small changes this past fall.  For example, while I always fit entirely in my own coach seat, even on a regional jet, it wasn't always pleasant.  And if the person next to me spilled past their own seat, well, there was no room for error.

I've been losing at about 3 pounds a month, which isn't quick, but it is likely sustainable.  I'm doing it without major lifestyle changes, too.

When I'm at home, I spend about 60-90 minutes on the Wii Fit Plus. (See 5 Things I like about the Wii Fit Plus and 5 Thing I don't like about the Wii Fit Plus.)  That's actually how I started -- just using the Wii Fit Plus.  And it helped.  I attribute that fact that I'm accomplishing any of this completely to the Fit.

I started taking the stairs in my building whenever I'm not carrying too much stuff. I live on the 5th floor and can make it all the way up without being too winded. 

I've reduced my regular soda drinking.  Now I mainly drink diet soda, water, juice, wine, beer, or other items.  I still have the regular stuff from time to time, and am not jumping on the corn-syrup-is-evil bandwagon.  As with most things, moderation is key.

I really enjoy eating good food, and I'm not willing to give up the wonders of bacon and butter and meat.  It's just not going to happen.  What I can do is make sure that if I'm going to eat stuff that's bad for me, that I eat it because I am actually hungry or because I really want it.  Eating just because it's time to eat, or because something happens to be in front of me, is a bad idea.  The key here is to eat deliberately and intentionally.

A few years ago I switched to 2% Lattes.  I tried the Soy ones, but they were nasty (which is funny because I do enjoy things like Miso, Edemame, and even Tofu).  More recently, I switched primarily to Americanos and often drink my coffee black.  I'll explain the reasons for that switch in the coming weeks.

I try to walk more.  I live in a fantastic neighborhood and plan to explore it more this summer.

So it's been a lot of little things.  I'm not swearing off any food that's "bad" for me.  This biggest change is the hour+ on the Wii Fit and that's mainly come at the expense of some time wasting on the net.

Where do I go from here?

Well, in a couple months, the summer will be here and once again, I'll be hauling 7, 50 pound water jugs up the stairs and out to the roof most days, so I may pick up the pace there. 

I was hoping to make 235 by the end of the month, but that might be pushing it. Here are my target weights for the next 12 months.
  • 2010-05-15: 230
  • 2010-06-30: 225
  • 2010-09-30: 215
  • 2010-11-25: 210 (Thanksgiving)
  • 2010-12-31: 220 (Holiday food it too awesome to worry about it)
  • 2011-03-30: 199
Does anyone else have a weight at or below what it says on their license?


The DEW Line of Rock and Roll: Brown M&Ms

The DEW Line was a system of RADAR installations in north Canada built by the US in the late-50s and operated by Canada.  It's purpose was to provide an early warning in the event the USSR launched a bomber attack on the US.

DEW Lines also have their place in large operations and projects such as Rock Concerts.   While they don't draw this analogy to military installations, Fast Company recently published and article about how to spot problems before they become big ones.  There are some interesting examples, but my favorite is the one about Van Halen.

In the hey-day of hair bands, Van Halen put on an incredible show.  It was filled with effects and required careful coordination of the band's crew and the arena's staff.

According to the article:

 Van Halen did dozens of shows every year, and at each venue, the band would show up with nine 18-wheelers full of gear. Because of the technical complexity, the band's standard contract with venues was thick and convoluted -- Roth, in his inimitable way, said in his autobiography that it read "like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages." A typical "article" in the contract might say, "There will be 15 amperage voltage sockets at 20-foot spaces, evenly, providing 19 amperes."

Van Halen buried a special clause in the middle of the contract. It was called Article 126. It read, "There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation." So when Roth would arrive at a new venue, he'd walk backstage and glance at the M&M bowl. If he saw a brown M&M, he'd demand a line check of the entire production. "Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error," he wrote. "They didn't read the contract.... Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show."

... More

A single brown M&M may not be an extensive cold weather RADAR purpose, but it would alert Roth that there were likely other problems -- that were more important than candy -- that needed to be addressed.

What are the brown M&Ms in your work?


Logitiech FreePulse finally works for me

A few years ago, The GF took note of how annoyed I get with headphone cables.

I lived with them in 80s when I had my Walkman because that was all there was. Still, I went through several pair as I damaged one part of the wire or another.  Eventually my activities took me out of the Walkman world (I stopped listening to so many tapes that played slower and slower as the day wore on).

A couple years after moving into my current apartment building, I got tired of straining to hear the TV at three in the morning. Turning up the volume wasn't an option because some people have this crazy idea that 3:00 AM is sleeping time.  Damn sleepers making life inconvenient...

The solution was a set of wireless headphones.  I picked up a Panasonic set for about $100. They did a pretty good job until once again, my old nemesis, the wires, caused problems.

In 2006, I joined a cult when I got my iPod.  And yet once again I had to contend with headphone cables.  I really hate them.  They get tangled in my pockets.  They get caught on things.  The look messy.  And quite frankly I have none of the natural grace required to look like something besides a complete dork with them.  And I figured it was only a matter of time before I broke them.

This was one solution I found to the part of the problem.  Cool, huh?

So one year for Valentine's Day, The GF decided to surprise me with a set of Logitech FreePulse Wireless headphones for my iPod.  Since they run on Bluetooth, there is no cable to connect them to the MP3 Player which had the potential to be awesome.

They "work" with a transmitter.  The transmitter plugs into the headphone jack on an iPod and transmits the sound to the headphones.

But the headphone demons weren't done with me yet.  When I set the system up, it dropped out an entire class of sound in music.  Those frequency drops made music sound poor but made podcasts inaudible.  It simply didn't work right.

I contacted Logitech and they sent me a replacement.  Again, it didn't work.  I think it was the same problem.  The whole system had great promise, but Logitech seemed unable to execute on it.  I put my two defective sets in a box and drifted on to other projects.

That's where they stayed until this weekend.  I was cleaning up my office and stumbled across the parts.  Even though they didn't work, I couldn't bring myself to get rid of them.  Then I gave it some thought.  It seemed the transmitter part was the problem, so could the headphones be okay? After all, Bluetooth is an industry standard.  Of course, the iPod 60GB doesn't do Bluetooth.

But Droid does.

I plugged in the two headset and let them charge for a day.  The first one wouldn't power on for more than a few seconds, let alone pair with a Droid.  I held my breath while I ran through the setup on the other pair -- and it worked.  It paired right up with my Droid and began playing audio exactly as it should.

I rejoiced in my technological victory and gave it some more testing, and it still works.

Now I can download podcasts directly to my Droid.  The sound quality is fantastic.  It's much better than I expected.  I can even leave my phone in the center of my apartment and the headphones keep their link 20 feet away and even through walls.

So I am thrilled.  I resurrected something from my closet.  I get to use a very thoughtful gift. I can enjoy podcasts without carrying my iPod everywhere.  And I get now listen while I work out on the WiiFit (stop laughing) without nearly strangling myself with a cable.

And I feel just a little better about Logitech.


Upcoming Travels

So far, this has been one of my busiest quarters in my current role.  In terms of travel, I mean.  There are two or three that might rival it over the past four years, but not much more than that.

I should have a chance to catch my breath in a couple of months. And how am I going to celebrate that?  By taking two weeks of vacation time.  And then...getting on another plane.

I'm actually flying someplace I've never been before simply for vacation.  I don't think I've done that since I was in high school.

The GF and I are heading to Tokyo for 9 days.

One of the great things about the trip is that we are doing it all on air miles and hotel points so we are getting to travel in a way I could never afford with cash. Two first class plane tickets cost 250,000 Alaska miles.  To pay cash for them would have cost $12,300. Each. The hotel is costing 460,000 Hilton points, which, again, beats spending cash.

Tokyo is someplace I've wanted to visit for some time, if for no other reason, to at least be there. We plan to each some fantastic food, browse some fascinating electronics, and just sort of swim in the exotic differnt-ness of being someplace else.

Neither of us speaks any Japanese (though Rosetta Stone may help me a little with that), so that will make it even more of an adventure.

We've got a big pile of tour books floating around, but here's where I could use your help.  What do you suggest we do in Tokyo?

By the way, if you can't fly to Tokyo, Google does offer driving directions here.  Pay particular attention to steps 8 and 23.


Product Title Syntax

When I was in college, if I was feeling flush, I'd spring for some Tuna Helper.  Not only that, I'd buy the tuna, too.  And the milk.  I had the whole Daddy Warbucks thing going on some days.

Eventually I moved up to the Hamburger helper.  I still enjoy that tasty, fatty, sometimes gelatinous mass it turns to in the fridge.  But I've been wondering about the name.

You add hamburger to make Hamburger Helper.

You add chicken to make Chicken Helper.

You add tuna to make Tuna Helper.

It all makes sense, right?  Well then what do you add to make this?


Frequent Flying

I rode the escalator up from the tram to the N-Concourse at SeaTac (SEA) on Sunday.  As I was riding up, I saw a familiar face riding down.  She looked at me, and then a look of recognition came across her face.  As she passed, in her dark blue uniform, at the end of her day hopscotching around the country, she smiled, and said, "You were on my flight. I kept your coffee filled." I smiled broadly and said yes, and we continued on to our destinations.

This was the second time in thirty days that an Alaska Airlines Flight Attendant recognized me from a prior flight.  The first time, it was on a flight to ORD. I slept the entire flight there.  Apparently, I made an impression, because when I flew back from ORD the next day an FA spotted me and mentioned it.

This time, a few more days has elapsed.  I flew to SEA with the escalator FA on Tuesday, and 5 days later she spotted me heading for my next plane.

I'm sure part of it has to do with my "uniform."  I tend the wear the same sweatshirt on every flight.  It's convenient and the sleeves me I don't have to actually touch any of my fellow passengers. Or maybe it's just the volume of flying I'm doing lately.  I think I've already been on about 35 flights this year.  It was bound to happen eventually. 

Still, it's pretty impressive that the FAs pay enough attention to remember a passenger a few days later, especially when that passenger doesn't actually cause any trouble. 

When they start to spot me on the street -- then I'll get worried. For now, it's nice to both see and be a familiar face.


Fedex is too fast

I have a large box of demo equipment that travels almost as much as I do.  The only difference is that while I change planes in Chicago, my box changes planes in Memphis.  I (well, my company) has used Fedex for years and I have very few complaints or disappointing experiences with them.  The usually do what they say and adhere to policy.  And that's the problem I recently ran into.

I had a long trip coming up, which involved leaving on the March 1, and getting home on March 9. My last day to ship stuff was February 26. I needed to ship my box across the country to a coworker's hotel.  Unfortunately, he wasn't scheduled to arrive until March 9 or 10.  And while Fedex is pretty good about sending things quickly, they don't have a way to make that shipment take 12 days instead of 1.

I figured the best shot was to send it ground to the local Fedex facility so my colleague could pick it up there.  Sometimes that's easier (and more secure) that shipping it to a hotel.  I figured it would arrive right around the 8th.  The guy at the Fedex counter told me it would arrive on the 6th.  Damn them and their efficiencies.  But the 6th isn't too early, so I filled out a ground shipping form and addressed it appropriately.

Then the clerk explained that wouldn't work. When shipping express packages and having them held at a local Fedex facility, you simply put the recipient's name on the sheet along with the Fedex address. 

Ground doesn't work that way.  You can't ship something ground, and have it held at a local Fedex location.  Ground will only ship to the addressee and since my coworker does not work for Fedex, I couldn't ship it to him at Fedex.  Of course for a package that is now 3-4 days early, I can't really ship it to the hotel.

So I decide to ship in with the slowest express service.  The clerk explains that it will arrive at the local Fedex facility to be held there on the 3rd .  Which is fine, except they will only hold a package for 5 days.  After that they are supposed to contact the shipper for further instructions.  I asked about other options, and we tagged the boxes saying when they would be picked up.  The clerk at my local facility said he would see if he could delay the day my shipment would leave the facility (but he explained he couldn't commit to that), but it wasn't enough

My box went out on time and arrived on time.  And the 5-day hold passed on time, and then Fedex gave up on the hold and shipped it back to me.  Apparently it is waiting at my local depot -- again, on time.

So my colleague didn't get to use the equipment in his demo, which is frustrating, but not the end of the world. 

I don't blame Fedex to much.  The did exactly what they said they would.  The only mistake was that they were supposed to call the shipper (me) after the 5 days for further instructions, but they never did that.  If tey had, things might have worked out.  Instead, they called my colleague asking him to pick it up in a few hours or it was just going back.  Of course, he was on a flight at the time and didn't get the message until later.

While he was getting off his plane and getting into his rental car, that package was probably being loaded onto a plane at the exact same airport. 

I don't want to accuse FedEx of poor customer service here.  This was more of a case of a missed opportunity.  My request for slow delivery may have been a little unusual, but it was an opportunity for someone to go above and beyond. to help me out.  I would likely have even paid extra shipping if necessary;

Instead, we all just ended up frustrated and out some shipping fes.

But at least I learned a few more things about how FedEx works.  Who do you use when it absolutely, positively has to get there in a week and a half?


Discount Aifare

Yesterday (Monday, 2010-03-08) Jetblue celebrated 10 years of flight by offering $10 fares to select locations.  You can read more about that here:

JetBlue is holding a one-day sale offering $10 fares between New York's JFK airport and the carrier's first 10 destinations in celebration of its 10th year of operation.


Kid directing ground traffic at JFK

NEW YORK — As planes waited to take off from Kennedy Airport, the jargon-packed radio chatter between controllers and pilots was interrupted by a boy's voice: "JetBlue 171, cleared for takeoff."
An air traffic controller who brought his son to work let the youngster read a few routine messages to pilots — and brought in another child the next day — in an incident that amused pilots but not the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Authorities suspended the controller and a supervisor Wednesday after a recording of the radio calls was posted on the Internet, then reported by a Boston television station.


By this point you may have heard this story.  A controller brought his kid to work and let him read some radio calls to planes at JFK.  The recording got out on the 'net; the controller and his supervisor are suspended.  You can listen to the actual audio here.

And there is much outrage and gnashing of teeth over thousands of people who were nearly killed as a result. The problem with that view is that there wasn't any actual damage.

It's important to realize a few things here.

  1. The is grounds control at JFK.  Planes are slowing moving about the tarmac and are not in the air.
  2. It's clear that kid was being told EXACTLY what to say and he did it clearly.
  3. This was actually safer than a normal JFK afternoon.  The fresh voice on the radio and break in routine probably amused many of the pilots.  At the very least, it got them to pay more attention, which is a good thing.

Indefinite suspension is a little much for this incident.  The controller shouldn't have done it, though his actions seem to have caused no danger. Give him a verbal reprimand and be done with it. Let's hope this incident doesn't turn the kid off to airtravel careers in the future.


Clients from Hell

I need someone that can take everything in here (client points to head with both hands), and put it on the internet.

-- Client speaking to a freelancer

Lately, this has become one of my daily stops on the Internet when I make my rounds to ensure the 'net is still funcitoning the way it should.

Clients from Hell  is a collection of short, funny anecdotes from graphic designers, web designers, application developers, and other freelancers where they tell their favorite stories of dealing with challenging customers.  There's usually only two or three new stories a day so it's easy to keep up on.

It's interesting in ways beyond a customers-sometimes-do-stupid-things way.  I'm often on the other side of the conversation, playing the role of the client.  What I find fascinating in the whole thing is that it demonstrates a few key facts.

  1. Designers are under appreciated.  While software has made it possible for anyone to throw up a quick website or toss together a logo, it still requires a professional to use that software to create something that's actually good.
  2. Customers don't speak the same language as designers.  On some of the stories, it struck me that the freelancer was at fault.  Customers are likely outsourcing this stuff because it is out of their realm of expertise, and the customers, in all likely hood don't know how to communicate what they want or need from the freelancer.  And some freelancers don't ask the right questions or have the patience for the answers the customers might give.
  3. A good contract is essential.  Given the way customers try to get out of paying, having clear terms is a critical issue that can prevent issues down the road.
  4. Some people are just plain wacky.

Check it out.  It's worth a visit. If you deal with the public, you'll recognize many of the people in the stories.  If instead, you are a client of these service providers, it may give you some ideas on how you can work more effectively with your service providers.


Shatner-Palooza and Olympics

When I first heard Shatner was going to be part of the Olympic closing ceremony, I thought it just might be awesome. And the whole thing was. 

Perhaps I could have done with less of the Russian stuff, but then we might not have gotten people bouncing up and down in light up inflatable balls, and really, where else are you going to see that?

Then Shatner comes out and I hoped for a minute he might sing.  Instead he touts the noted Canadian erotic prowess in canoes, and the accompanying free splinter removal. In all Shatner made me feel more warm and fuzzy about Canada than Catherine O'hara did with her jokingly passive-agressive rant.

Michael J Fox was a nice way to wrap up the segment, with his touching claim on all the Olympic medals.

And then the whole thing went crazy.  Giant inflatable Mounties and beavers, card board hockey player, a stage made out of hat -- the parade of all things Canadian was bizarre and wonderful.  I expected the Space Shuttle's robotic arm to come out next.

I think If someone had hired me to put on a stage show that made a parody of , and mocked, Canada, this is exactly what I would do.

And yet -- the whole thing turned out to be just funny and awesome.  I really can't get snarky about it.

Let's face.  My friends to the north put on a heck of a show.