Why obesity is growing in America

You could say it's because we take something like the humble cracker and inject Cheez [sic] into it. We make up new things to fill our arteries because things like Cheese just aren't cutting it. Too much blood and is still getting through.

But I'm not going to disparage the humble Cheez-It and its salty, Cheezy goodness. It's not the problem.

The problem is that those addicting, orange, heavenly squares aren't quite good enough.


As a people we want --


We DEMAND more.

We demand bigger.

We demand more Cheez.

We are America.

We demand:


Canvas for OneNote

Microsoft OneNote is one of my favorite applications. At work, Outlook and OneNote are the two programs you will most often find running on my machine. I take all of my handwritten, typewritten and copy/pasted notes in OneNote.

It means I don't have paper notebooks laying around. I don't have multiple files to keep track of my conversations. I don't have a lot of scratch paper. It's all in OneNote. OneNote might even be my most often used printer.

At home I write my book reviews in OneNote, manage quotes, draft long blog posts, collect miscellaneous stuff from the web, and just generally dump stuff in there that I don't have another place for.

Tonight I saw an article about Canvas in the Seattle PI. I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces.

From the Seattle PI:
Discard the notion that working with documents, at least in Microsoft's OneNote software, requires looking at them, for the most part, page by page.

A prototype unveiled Friday lets users see thumbnails of all the pages they have created within the organizing and note-taking program on one screen.


If you are not familiar with OneNote, think of it as a virtual three ring binder.

I can put as many pages in it as I want, and I can divide those into as many sections as I want. I can use handwriting in it if I'm on my Tablet PC, or I can just type in it. Unlike Word, I can type anywhere on the page at any time.

It has an audio recorder so I can record meeting notes while I take them. When I play back that audio it highlights where I was in my notes at that point in the discussion. Or I can just click on a confusing part of my notes and it plays just that portion.

Etc. Etc.

Plus, I never have to save my file. OneNote is always automatically saving in the background.

I could go on about OneNote, but I'll spare you that. I don't work for MSFT, but I often do end up doing OneNote training presentations in my job. If you want to play with it (a don't already have a copy that came with some flavors of office) you can download a free trial from MSFT.

Canvas is an add on for OneNote that takes the metaphor a step further. Sure, it's great to have a three ring binder, but sometimes you want to crack open those rings and spread those sheets of loose leaf out over the floor so you can see and navigate everything at once.

Canvas lets you do that.

According to Microsoft:

Canvas for OneNote allows you to navigate and edit notebooks in a new way by providing a high-level canvas-view of all your content. The prototype lets you zoom and pan around; view and organize content in new ways; add new pages right where you want them; and even locate pages in a timeline view.

It's a new innovation from Microsoft Office Labs. Office Labs is basically experimenting with new approaches to Office applications. From their website:

As you view and try our ideas and prototypes on the site, treat them like "Concept Cars." They aren't actual products or features of Microsoft Office and may not work perfectly under all conditions. However, they are steps toward improving everyday productivity and we’d like you to be part of the innovation moving forward by taking a test drive or two, telling us what you think, and helping us shape the technology of the future.

I'll be playing more with Canvas over the next couple of weeks on my personal machine. You can see some sample videos on the MSFT Canvas page.


Disney's influence on Vegas

On a recent episode of Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place (Shut up -- Hannah went into reruns) oldest son Justin dates and become a werewolf and youngest son Max starts a dog walking business.

Why does he start this business? So he can afford his next business venture -- the cup on a chain. He is convinced that the cup on a chain is an awesome idea. You won't lose your cup, and can always have a drink ready. Plus it lets you have spitting contests with your thoroughly repulsed sister.

And he succeeds in getting his cup on a chain.

I can see the appeal. It's like a car cup holder for a kid. But now I'm wondering if Disney patented the invention because this weekend, they were all over Vegas.

Folks are all over the south end of the strip with the three foot long alcoholic beverages hanging from a chain around their necks. I thought about trying to get a better picture or asking one of them to pose and model, but given the volume of alcohol, I figured one of two things would happen.

Either I would have a loud, gregarious friend for the rest of the night that I couldn't get rid of, or I would encounter someone angry that I called attention to their cup on a chain and would suspect me of mocking them or trying to steal their cup on a chain (a process complicated by the fact that it's chained to a person). And I had no interest in either of those options. Stealthily taking pictures from the distance seemed to be the best, albeit creepiest, option.

So now you know -- if you want to get out in front of the latest Vegas trends for getting your drink on -- watch the Disney Channel. Because nothing will drive you to drink quite like unlimited reruns of Disney tween-targeted sitcoms.


Las Vegas Ice Lounge

The Minus 5 Ice Lounge recently replaced a wine bar in Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay. Wired had a fascinating article about the process and construction a few months ago.

Here's the problem: Mass-producing frozen swans is a lot more complicated than making punch bowls. The best industrial icemaker, from a company called Clinebell, is about the size of a copy machine, weighs 575 pounds, and takes three days to turn 44 gallons of water into two 280-pound blocks. So the first thing Bayley needed was space for a lot of Clinebells.

Fortunately, being in the middle of nowhere has its advantages. Bayley bought a 3,000-square-foot barn for $50,000 and installed 20 ice cabinets. Plus, water from the town well was free in Hensall. He determined that his work should meet restaurant health codes (no one eats ice sculptures, but people do occasionally eat off of them), so he also installed a reverse-osmosis filtration system. His ice would be crystal clear.


The GF and I spent some time there during a recent trip to Vegas. Sure, it's a bit chillier than the 60 degrees I like to keep my apartment at, but it's still quite pleasant.

The ice lounge is really two bars. One is in the freezer, which is kept at -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). The other is right outside the freezer, with a lodge like feel so visitors can warm up with another drink.

Normally, the cover is about $30. During Saturday afternoon, for each of us, it was just $20 and that included two drinks. Yes, I know that if I lived in Minnesota I could just step outside with a shot glass for free, but that's not the point.

The cover includes 30 minutes in the freezer. Before you go in, they wrap you up in a parka, detachable hood (presumably for easy cleaning), plastic food handling gloves, and big poofy mittens. You can run a tab using a small electonic device on a tether, which is important, because there is simply no way to handle a wallet with those mittens.

The friendly and chilly looking bar tenders pour up boozy beverages in ice glasses. The benches and tables are all made from ice. The walls are covered with blocks of ice. Animal skins (don't know if they are real or fake) cover the benches to keep them comfortable for seating.

There are ice scupltures in the room. And unlike at a ridiculously expensive wedding, the ice sculptures don't mealt away in a day. They still had Valentines Day and Superbowl ice sculptures on display.

Drinking is a bit of a challenge. You have to hold the ice glass between your two large mittens and tilt it into your mouth. As you drink, the think rim of the cup slowly melts away and assumes the shape of your lips. It's cold enough in there that the rest of the glass stays intact.

And with the parka, it's quite pleasant in there. The air is dry so you don't get the kind of cold that cuts to the bone on the east coast. Instead, you feel it in your cheeks and in your nose.

The ubiquitous Vegas club/event photographer popped in and out, posing people and taking pictures that were later for sale for $25 for three copies of one photo. Unlike the bartenders, she seemed more comfortable in her environment, hopping around in thin hoody and jeans. Of course I imagine it's difficult to run a camera well in a parka.

Before we left, group of twenty-something guys came in with 2 or 3 women. Of course, once they had their drinks, the guys had to take off their parkas and shirts to pose and flex for the camera while wearing their hoods.

Next of course, each one had to pose on the ice table. This table is 4 feet off the ground, and for those of you not familiar with ice, is both slippery and cold. Of course, it only took one to pose. He struggled to get up on this thing and not slide face first and topless to the ground.

He managed to do it, but I was sure this was going to turn into a Fark.Com story. His friends, being guys, of course, each had to take their turn on the pommel horse of a table. Afterall, they couldn't let him show them up, especially in front the women. By the time the third guy got up, his only option was to lie chest down on frozen block.

All to the encouragement of the photographer. Drunk guys + Proving their manhood = $$$$ It's a well-known formula.

And thought to myself, "You know, if I was 15 years younger, and had consumed a lot more alcohol, that could have been me."

Minus 5 is very cool, and no, I'm not apologizing for the pun. It's may be a little pricey, but it's fun, and it's a great fit for a weekend in Vegas.

Life in the Garden Part 10: Seedlings

It seems I might be just organized enough to get a good start on the year. I've started my coriander, basil, chives, and thyme about 5 days ago. And they're already starting to sprout.


The strengths and limitations of my new lens

When I went to the Flower and Garden show, I didn't want to bring all my camera equipment, or mess around with swapping lenses the show floor. So I brought my Pentax K10D, wearing the 50 mm f/1.4 lens, and went to work.

The great thing about this lens is how fast it is. That means it is great in low-light. The low f number means it collects a lot more light, with less camera shake (since the photographer can use a faster shutter speed) than other lenses. Even in dimmly lit areas, there is enough light to use this lens without a flash.

What would the same image look like with a flash? Here it is:

Which looks more natural?

There is a challenging characteristic to working with this lens: shallow depth of field.

The nature of an f/1.4 lens is that when the photographer opens up the aperture (like at 1.4), depth of field narrows. I'm not going to call this a disadvantage. It's more of a characteristic. Sometimes the shallow depth of field is an advantage. It allows the photograph to keep only certain items in focus, and allows the background and foreground to go out of focus.

You can see the effect here:

The sign is mostly in focus, the background isn't. Neither are things that are closer to the camera than the sign. There is a subtle out of focus circle around the center of the image.

Here's another example.

The phrase, "This versatile modular planter" is the only text that's in focus. That's because of the shallow depth of field.

If I used a higher f-number, the entire item would be in focus. But because that would limit the light I capture, the image would likely be useless. Out doors, in the sun, this is not likely to be an issue. In the convention center with limited light, however, I chose to give up perfect focus in exchange for better light.

If you have used a film SLR in the past, you probably have a good idea of what you can do with a 20mm lens, a 50mm lens, or a 1000mm lens.

In a digital camera, those number don't really mean the same thing. To get the film equivalent for the Pentax, multiple the lens size by 1.5.

So a 50mm lens on DSLR is roughly equivalent to a 75mm lens for a film camera. I've known this for a while, but didn't intuitively grasp it until this week when I was tripping all over people as I took more and more steps back from my subject.

I can't use my 50mm lens to take pictures of big things. It simply can't handle the wide angles.

To photograph parts of the show gardens, I had to step back 20-30 feet, just to get most of the scene in the image. In a crowded convention hall, that means you don't get the shot. There are too many people getting between photographer and subject.

My 50 mm is great for most things, but it just can't cut it for photographing buildings or structures. It's gets in too tight and hides the whole thing from the viewer. But it's perfect for taking pictures of smaller objects in lower light. And it will be great for portraits.


Life in the Garden Part 09: Photography and the Garden Show

Last weekend, I commented on the versatility of a 50 mm f/1.4 lens for a digital SLR camera. Later in the the week, I had a chance to put mine through its paces.

I didn't set out to do it. I just wanted to visit the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. It was the first time I've been to this show and it will be my last. After a two decade run, they decided to end the show after this year.

I went there to get some ideas for my garden, and see if there was any neat new products I needed. There were some interesting things in there, but fortunately not too many jumped out at me. I can come up with plenty of things to spend money on that I already know about. I don't need to find new ones.

About halfway through the show, I realized I was looking at a lot of small green houses that I could probably squeeze on my deck. I guess I kind want one of those now, but I'm not sure that's the best idea.

Most of the stuff at the show was focused on gardeners that have actual gardens. Who'd a thunk? There wasn't too much for containers, but I'm sure I can come up with something.

This is one of my favorite ideas from the show.

I have an old trunk I'm not using. I'll probably set some shelves up in there and add some containers. I like the idea of a Trunk of Basil.

By the way, who says plants have to go in the ground? Several vendors were showing plants on the roofs and sides of buildings. It's an old idea that is gaining more traction as "sustainable living" becomes more popular.

Most of the vendors were selling things on the floor. In that respect, the event was more like a well organized street fair than a trade show. A lot of people were buying things -- big things -- and then poking me with their purchases as they ambled about the convention center.

In addition to all the plants and garden stuff for sale, the show has a garden competition. Different companies and organizations put together display gardens to show what they can do.

The lights were low in this section of the hall, but I still got some interesting pictures because of that lens I mentioned earlier.

I was ready to move into these gardens myself and take a warm comforting nap right there. Alas, it was not to be. Damn security guards.

Regardless, I had a great time at the garden show. If you are interested in gardening, check out a show if they hold one in your area. They area wonderfully entertaining. Just leave the credit card at home.

Tomorrow I'll write more about the lens I used and what I learned about it.


I don't see any crystals

I don't know what, but something about coffee culture in general -- and Seattle coffee culture in particular -- makes me think that if I ever drink instant coffee, I should do it in private and hide the evidence.

-- Monica Guzman
The Big Blog

War, Pestilence, Famine, and Starbucks Instant Coffee. Those horses all appear in the Book of Revelations, right?

Well it seems like we have all four now:

Starbucks turned Maxwell House on its head. And, while it is now fashionable to bash "Charbucks" it's important to remember that Starbucks did create the gourmet coffee industry in the US.

But instant? Can Starbucks make instant coffee that is actually good? I'm sure it will be better than Folger's, Nescafe, and Taster's Choice, but that doesn't mean it will be good. It's not exactly a high bar.

Even Starbucks expects it to be a challenge. The almost apologize for the entire Instant Coffee business:
I'm willing to give it a try. Apparently a lot of people are. On Wednesday I first heard about this on the news. On the Starbucks website, there was an offer for a free sample. A day later, however, the offer was gone.

Some see this as desperate and foolish move for Starbucks. I'm not so sure.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality, instant product it would be a great way to supplement their business. I can't see it cutting into the business the stores do. People won't choose to make their own vs. going to to the store (unless it really is awesome). They'll use the instant when getting to a store is inconvenient. Or after hours. Or in places where they don't have access to their own coffee machine and beans.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, I could see taking it with me when I travel. All I would need to make decent coffee in a hotel room then is a way to boil water. Existing hotel coffee makers can at least to that. Plus many hotel rooms have microwave ovens. And there are plenty of portable boiling tools. It could be a great alternative to the awful coffee that often comes with a room.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, I could see people taking it work with them. It could provide a convenient way to make decent coffee at their desk. Not all offices supply coffee, and those that do don't always supply good coffee.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, it could extend their brand into a new, but related field. One of the reasons Starbucks has had problems in recent years is they lost focus.

They expanded into music. They experimented with full service restaurants. The experimented with furniture. The sold books, CDs, plush toys, and all sorts of things in the stores. They added hot breakfast sandwiches. It was all related to the brand, but it did get away from their core expertise -- coffee.

And it distracted from the atmosphere. A Starbucks isn't a store. It's a coffee shop. And there is an ethos surrounding coffee shops through the ages. They have often spoken of the Third Place. It's not work, and it's not home. But it can be an important place in someone's life. The over emphasis on selling stuff distracted from that.

But Starbucks, like any publicly traded corporation, must grow. It must generate additional value for its owners, the shareholders. If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, this gives them a growth path that is still tied to their core product -- coffee.

I'm skeptical, but I'll give it at shot.


Sushi Video

This is a compelling and simple video from Japan.

Sushi restaurants often have conveyors that take sushi on a trip around the restaurant. When a customer sees something they want, they just take a plate. What happens if you put a video camera on the belt?

You get to see a great collection of people enjoying dinner with varying degrees of sobriety.


Christopher Moore -- El Fudge

Sunday night I made the trek out to Lake Forest Park to meet author Christopher Moore. His Practical Demon Keeping was the first book I reviewed here. I also commented on Coyote Blue and Fluke. I have a review of The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove coming up within the next couple weeks.

Moore's books are a deft combination of dark humor, oddball characters, bizarre perspectives, and great use of the language.

Moore was in town to promote his new book, Fool, which is the story of King Lear told from the perspective of his court jester. During his talk, Moore described the common thread among his novels as using an unusual character (Indian trickster, shapeshifting demon, etc.) to "bring irony to the people."

He opened his talk with jokes about Bush, which are always a big hit with a Seattle crowd. He spent a few minutes making fun of Mitch Albom and the two body guards he brings to readings.

To research Fool, Moore traveled to Britain, and he told us about the trip and commented on British customers and language. Moore often travels to research his books, and those trips have taken him from Polynesia to the Holy Land to the Crow Nation reservation in eastern Montana.

Much of the Q&A dealt with details of his books, but one person did ask about the voice he brings to the text. Moore said, "When you write comedy, you have to do it with a strong voice." As a comedy writer, it's important not to be afraid to let that sometimes bizarre voice come through, regardless of what other people may think. He said that other types of writing don't need that distinctive sound; they work great with pacing or plot development. But comedy require the author to put themselves into the text in different way.

According to Third Place Books, 400 people were there. The crowd was huge; much larger than I expected. And if just 75% of the crowd bought they book, that's nearly $9,000 in revenue. Plus people bought other books, coffee, pastries, and assorted products. It's no wonder book stores host these events.

Moore kept the large crowd attentive and laughing through the evening. Watching his mind work was interesting. A question would send him off in a new direction, and he was coming up with new material on the spot.

I waited in line for an hour and fifteen minutes to get my book signed. It looked like there was another hour worth of people behind me. But despite some people commenting to Moore about the line, he was chipper and friendly throughout the evening. And the folks and Third Place did their best to keep the line moving, and were even willing to take pictures for those who brought cameras.

Moore was a great speaker who really knew how to work the crowd. He seemed to really enjoy the large group in a way that Sarah Vowell didn't. The event wasn't as intimate as the Scott Sigler event last month; it was a different type of event.

If you are a fan of Moore, check out his latest tour schedule. It worth an evening.


50 mm f/1,4

Jeff (@legacyB4) posted an interesting link on Twitter. You can see his public Flickr profile here.

PopPhoto.Com is running an article extolling the merits of the 50 MM f/1.4 lens:

What's so normal about a 50mm f/1.4 "normal" lens?

Almost nothing.

There's little this superhero can't do. Low light? No problem. Portraits? On most DSLRs, oh yes. Sports? For indoor action, it's the bomb. Extreme close-ups? With a reverse-mount adapter, it's what the doctor ordered. Street photography? Nothing better. Soft-focus romance? Absolutely.

Compact for travel, it's light enough to carry 24/7. And that big maximum aperture delivers a blindingly bright finder image. Want more? Even the expensive ones are a bargain. Compare, for example, Nikon's 50mm f/1.4, at $290 (street), to its 85mm f/1.4, which costs $1,000. No wonder every pro we know owns a 50mm f/1.4.

While teles compress space and wide-angles expand it, the 50mm renders spatial arrangements almost exactly as your eye sees them. Try this: Mount a 50mm on your DSLR and look through the viewfinder. Now, slowly lower the camera. Photographers weaned on superzooms that yoyo between expanded and contracted space may be surprised -- there's little difference between views. This distortion-free magnification, perspective, and angle of view is why it's called "normal."


The article then goes into detail explaining why this lens is good for all those applications.

My DSLR world is fairly narrow. I love my Pentax K10D, and my Mother gave me the Pentax 50mm f/1.4 lens for Christmas. It never occurred to my that this would also be a popular lens spec for Nikon, Canon, and the others.

I haven't given mine too much of a workout yet, but I have liked the results I've gotten from it so far.

The low light versatility is one of the main reasons I wanted the lens. It's a great indoor piece for taking pictures without using the flash.

I generally like longer zoom lenses, but with a 10 megapixel camera, that's less important. As long as I have good light, I can take pictures of a larger area and zoom in later. The ease of digital cropping and zooming is one of the key advantages for digital vs film photography.

If I was making large prints from my photos, a longer physical zoom would be more important to prevent pixelation on blow up. But on my blog, Flickr, and my screen saver, that's not really an issue.

On Amazon, this lens have 50 reviews. What's really interesting is that of those 50, 44 are 5-star reviews and 6 are 4-Star reviews. It's rare to see a product that draws so few haters on the Internet.

I'm looking forward to my next indoor, photo worthy opportunity to give this lens a true workout.


Dollhouse -- a good start

With Dollhouse, Joss Whedon returns to the network that attempted to drive Firefly into obscurity. The new show, starring Eliza Dushku is off to a good start. From the official website:

Joss Whedon, creator of the groundbreaking cult favorites, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "Firefly," returns to television and reunites with fellow "Buffy" alumna, Eliza Dushku, for a thrilling new drama, DOLLHOUSE.

ECHO (Dushku) is an "Active," a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Hired by the wealthy, powerful and connected, the Actives don't just perform their hired roles, they wholly become -- with mind, personality and physiology -- whomever the client wants or needs them to be. Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.

Dushku does an impressive job playing different characters in the show. In opening sequences the character she plays resembles tough-girl Faith, the Vampire Slayer, but after that, Dushku completely breaks away from her earlier role. She becomes Echo, and becomes whomever Echo needs to be.

The script doesn't sound like a Whedon script. Buffy and Angel both had the same fast paced, wacky dialogy. It worked great in those shows and matched the tone perfectly.

That became a problem with Firefly. Firefly, a space western, had a more langurous tone to the dialoge. Sometimes, though, it sounded like a page of Buffy dialogue showed up in the middle of it. That pacing would shift and then shift back. What I imagine happened is that Whedon naturally writes like that, and those jarring bursts are chunks of script that just didn't get through the revision process. Or they were last minutes chunks that no one had time to rewrite.

While the concept of Dollhouse seems like something Whedon would come up with, the dialogue and script don't sound like things he has written before. And that's a good thing. I loved the voice in the older scripts, but this is a different show and it should sound different. And it does.

The plot held together reasonably well. There were some unexpected twists to the story that bordered on the contrived, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The other characters in the series are roughly drawn, but it is the first episode. I image most of them will be fleshed out in the coming weeks and step away from the card board cutouts they appear to be now.

A first episode in a show with a complex concept has a lot to do. Fleshing out and developing secondary characters can't really be a priority.

I'm looking forward to more episodes. The show starts under a cloud with rumors of trouble with the story. A movement was underway to save the show as early as May, 2008. The show is due for 13 episodes.

After one episode, the show strikes me as one that should go no more than two seasons. In fact, I would be quite pleased if Whedon and Fox came right out and promised the show would end after 36 episodes (or however many). Plan from the start to build a great story arc with a beginning, middle, and end. I'm not sure how well Dollhouse could due with an unlimited run.

If you've enjoyed Buffy, Angel, Firefly, or Dr. Horrible, check out Dollhouse. It's a great concept and it's off to a nice start.


Dave Wopat -- Undercover agent?

Back in the early 90s, Dave Wopat, was driving around the country in a small station wagon playing music at college campuses and other venues. I saw him when he came to Carroll College. It was really nice, low key show. I bought a copy one of his tapes.

I think it was called 5 Songs. Or something like that. One side, as I recall, was labeled 5 Songs. The other side was labeled 5 More Songs. I think there were 13 on the tape. It was mostly covers of lite rock. That cassette got quite a workout in my tape deck.

Unfortunately, I lost a case of 12 tapes on a trip and that tape was in that case. I've made some half-hearted efforts to replace it since then, but I haven't had much luck.

And here's where it gets interesting -- Google is failing me.

If the names sounds familiar, it's because his brother is Actor/Singer/Broadway dude Tom Wopat. Best known for his work on the Dukes of Hazzard, the past 20 years of his career have been surprisingly diverse.

But his roaming minstrel brother seems to have disappered. There are no references to him on Wikipedia or on Tom's website. MySpace is no help. Amazon lists nothing. And the Google search returns just a few mentions of his name, and those are people who also saw him perform at colleges in the 80s and early 90s.

That may not have been a superstar career, and it was before the Internet reached a mass audience. But still. He apparently made his living as a professional musician, went back to the same places several times, recorded a album (which was not as cheap and easy back them), and must have had some fans. It's odd that there is so little of him on Internet.

My working theory is that music was just a cover career. He was actually working for some shadowy governmental organization. He travelled around the country singing at night and taking on missions during the day. And one day he had an especially important mission. He had to "disappear." His handlers took him off the road and proceeded to wipe out his existence. They erased online entries and databases. They convinced his family not to talk about him. They even followed me just so they could recover that cassette, which must have had state secrets encoded into it.

I guess now that I have given voice to this national secret, I should keep my eyes open for unmarked vans...


Relative weather

I just got back from a quick trip to Phoenix.

This morning I left my hotel and stepped into the 50 degree weather. I smiled and enjoyed the nice, warm conditions. I avoided the previous day's rains and emerged into a sun I haven't seen in weeks.

I get to my meeting and start chatting with the folks who are already there. They live in Phoenix. And what's the first thing they remark about?

How frigid it is.

As appalled as I once by that reaction, I have to wonder: Is this how people in Chicago and Buffalo feel when I complain about the Seattle snow?


Breakfast at sunrise

I took this picture on my way to CES last month. My flight left at 6:30 AM while it was still dark. I got a great view of the sunrise at 35,000 feet.

And purely by accident, I also captured a reflection of my breakfast in the window. I didn't realize I did that until I looked at the pictures on my computer.

2009-01-06 Travel to Vegas (2)


Life in the Garden Part 08: Self watering containers

I'm a big fan of self watering containers for my plants.

These pots or window boxes have a reservoir at the bottom that is covered with a porous surface. There is a spout that leads out the side of the pot or straight up to the rim. You fill it with soil and add your plants as normal.

Instead of pouring water on the soil, however, you pour it through the spout and fill the reservoir.

The advantage is that you can add a lot more water at once without soaking your plants. You can go longer between waterings which is great if you travel a lot, are busy, or just don't like to deal with watering. It's also great in dryer, warmer climates when plants may need water more often.

The plants soak up only as much waters at they need. This leads to healthier plants that are less subject to root rot. This is important, because I have probably killed more plants by over watering than under watering.

But they are expensive. I find it tough to pay $25-$50 for an ugly, plastic planter just because it is self watering. A standard plastic planter will be under $10. Of course I can go to Wal*mart and find some smaller one for under $10 but I prefer not to do that.

So maybe this year, I'll try making my own. It doesn't look too tough (famous last words, right). I found this video over on VideoJugg.

Gardening Basics:How To Make A Self-Watering Container

For those looking for a hipper version, check out this YouTube video from SurviveLA.com

Are there any other instruction sets for self watering containers you would recommend?


1,000 Posts

Cromely's World has had quite a few milestones over the past 4 months.

  • Several days ranked #1 on Entrecard in November and December.
  • Passed 100,000 visitors in December.
  • Celebrated 3rd Blogaversary in January

And that brings us to tonight. This is post #1,000. Three years ago it never occurred to me I would hit that mark. Rather than taking a look back at posts (you can see my favorites in the side bar), I thought I would answer one of my most frequently asked questions.

Where does the name Cromely come from?

It's not my meat space name. As I discussed over at Loud Noises, Big Plans I choose not to use my regular name not to guarantee anonymity (which is impossible) but for discretion.

I created the name Philip Cromely back in 1993. My senior year of college, I and several friends started playing the White Wolf role playing game, "Vampire: The Masquerade." Cromely was the pseudonymn for my character. The character's real names was Bryan Rosares, a Setite, but he was operating in Gary, IN, and pretending to be a Ventrue named Philip Cromely.

So yes, my fake name is the made up name of fictional vampire.

In 1995 I got my first PC -- a Gateway 2000 Pentium 75 desktop. I signed up for AOL and needed to choose a Screen Name. I was stumped and chose Cromely as an inside joke for myself.

It stuck. I was Cromely@aol.com

A couple years later, I beacme Cromely@cyberhighway.net and eventually became Cromely on pretty much every other ISP, online service, IM, or free email service out there. Cromely at this point has become more than my on line name - it's my online brand.

I have no idea what the next 1,000 posts will bring. But I am looking forward to the surpise. And so is Cromely.


Tax cuts are a bad idea

A stimulus package should encourage spending. In that respect, it's ironic to rely on this tool, since an orgy of debt heavy consumer spending on credit cards and silly mortgages is what got us here in the first place. A mild, several year long recession would likely be good for the economy in the long-term.

What it needs is a controlled burn in the forest to clear out the dead wood. That's what a mild recession would do for us, and we probably should have had one a couple years ago. But we didn't, and that controlled burn has now turned into a massive conflagration set to level a major metropolis. It's too severe to just let it burn. Thus, I am resigned to a massive stimulus package.

That package should focus on infrastructure -- transit systems, roads, new power transmission lines, enhanced nationwide broadband access, new energy technology, new materials, bridges, space exploration, and other items of that ilk. Some of these projects may be pork, but that's okay. The point is to put people to work -- get those private construction companies moving again. Make sure their employees spend money in their communities and employ even more people.

At the end of the stimulus period, either the economy will be moving again, or it won't. If it is, that's great. If not, well, at least we will have all this new infrastructure which we desperately need. And people had work. The money will not be wasted.

An additional benefit of the massive infrastructure spending is that not only will we get this cool new stuff, we'll get it cheap. People will work for less money. Steel, oil, and other raw materials are cheaper than they have been for years.

Plus, if we make these investments only when "we can afford it" in a strong economy we are also stealing labor and resources from the private sector's own growth initiatives. Let's get the infrastructure done now when we don't have to compete with the private sector. The country will be stronger for it and already have the key blocks in place when the next boom begins.

Of course this is all money the government is borrowing and we have to pay back, but that is also cheaper than it has been for years.

If you have the capacity to borrow and spend money this is now the best, cheapest possible time to do it.

There was a lot of stuff like that in the House version of the bill.

My concern is the tax cuts. The $800 billion package include more than $200 billion in tax cuts and rebates. The latest details are a bit challenging to nail down.

The problem with tax cuts and government stimulus checks in a bad economy is that they don't encourage spending. Responsible people will not spend that money on new stuff. Instead, it will go to pay down bills. Or it will go into savings for the hard times ahead.

And that's exactly what people should do with those savings. That demonstrates great personal responsibility.

But it won't stimulate the economy. It won't get other people employed. It won't bring more manufacturing on line. It won't drive increased investment by technology companies.

In short, it won't move things forward.

But I don't see anyone opposing middle class tax cuts anytime soon. As much as I hate to say it, the best compromise will be to leave the tax rates alone. Don't send out a "stimulus" check. Instead, provide tax credits for purchases.

I normally don't like tax credits and deductions. They make completing tax forms more complicated than they should be and are one of the reasons our tax code is such a mess.

But the point of the tax reductions in the bill isn't to save people money. It's to stimulate the economy.

So let's replace those tax cuts with rebates for buying things. For education. Or for buying a new, energy efficient car. Or for making substantial home improvements (spend $10K on your kitchen? Get a $5K tax credit). Or for paying for child care. Or for moving to a part of the country that needs a specific set of skills.

By putting those tax reductions in the form of tax credits, we take the money out of the savings accounts and put it to working creating jobs for people. The people in those jobs can now, in turn, make their own purchase.

Saving money doesn't move the economy forward. Spending does. Whether that spending is private or tax payer funded doesn't matter. Nothing happens until someone buys something. And that's what a stimulus package needs to encourage.

Tax credits for buying stuff will do that. Tax rate cuts and generic stimulus checks will not.


Shatner-Palooza: George Takei and Raw

This, like much of Shatner,is both hilarious and appalling. It would be one thing if Shatner and Takei were actually friends, but everything I've read indicates that they really don't like each other.

So why hasn't Takei appear on Shater's Raw Nerve? Here's Shatner's take on it.

John Wayne Airport modernizes to 1998 levels

At the Irvine Airport, there are two extension cords. One runs from the one outlet to the runway lights. The other goes to the tower. If a passenger trips over one they have to close the airport.

That's also the real reason the airport closes at night. They don't have the curfew because of noise. It's because that's when TSA guy Frankie gets off and he takes his extension cord home for his Xbox.

Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad, but the lack of outlets at that airports has been a shockingly big problem.

Last year, I remember sitting on the floor near the flight insurance vending machine at the Orange County (AKA John Wayne, AKA Santa Anna, AKA SNA) airport with 3 other business travelers. We were taking turns using the only available outlet in the airport.

With all the global technology companies operating in the Irvine area, you would think "electricity" would not be a foreign concept to the airport authorities. But you would be wrong. It's almost as rare as it was in 1783.

So imagine my surprise when I say this on a recent trip.

2009-01-19 AC Outlets SNA  (2)
2009-01-19 AC Outlets SNA

Thank you, SNA, for taking this important step towards becoming a modern airport. Now can we talk about free Wi-Fi?

With a little luck, you could be as technologically useful as Long Beach (LGB)


Laumeier Sculpture Park near St. Louis

I had a spare couple of hours during my recent trip to St. Louis. My Hertz NeverLost system suggested I visit Laumeier Sculpture Park.

It was about 25 degrees but felt quite a bit warmer. The sun was out, and it was a great day for tromping around in the 4-6" of snow. Or it would have been if I had appropriate footwear. Dress shoes and business casual attire may not have been the best choice, but I had a good time.

The Laumeier is a different experience from the Seattle sculpture park. The space is much bigger. In Seattle, the park is in a compact strip of land straddling a highway and hugging the sound. The Laumeier Park sits on acres of rolling hillsides in the suburbs west of St Louis. Seattle's park has lots of gravel. St. Louis's has lots of grass. I think.

But it's about more than the space. It has to do with the tone. The scupltures in Seattle are more imposing. Many of them are also just out of reach. Everything in Laumeier, however, is easy to grasp.

In Seattle, they post warnings like this.:

St. Louis is a little more tolerant.

I was in a particularly geeky mode so much of the art reminded me of things from Science Fiction.

In this picture we see a piece that highlgihts two different colors of metal. But look in the back ground towards the left.

Doesn't that piece in the distance look like a Bantha climbing the hill? I only saw one, but they could have been traveling single file to hide their numbers.

When I got to the other side of the park, I got a better look at it.

The three dimensional nature of sculpture means that what you see in the artwork depends on where you are. When I moved 10-20 feet down the walk, I got a completely different view of the Bantha.

It's the same piece, but seeing the individual pieces of metal gives it a completely different look.

I fully expect Joss Whedon to place a Buffy The Vapire Slayer story in St. Louis now. Why?

Because they have their own Hell Mouth.

Oh, come on. You just knew the gateway to hell had to be marked by a smile-y face.

Until Buffy gets to St. Louis who is protecting our universe from the unholy legions of demons that would seek to destroy us?

Why, the Ents, of course.

Here is a tree wearing its protective suit of Armor. It's ready for battle.

This piece struck me as the control center for some mad scientist's lair.

I spent several minutes staring at this piece. I saw it from a distance and thought of it as some sort of grave yard. Up close it still looked like that, but what kind? Am I seeing zombies rise from their Stygian slumber? Is it a robot grave yard for discarded, yet honored, automatons? Or are they markers for some alien civilization?

I've touched on it a couple times but one of the interesting things about this sculpture park is the role that distance plays in how I percieve the art.

Here is the everyman from across the hills.

As you get closer, the 1950s ordinariness of this giant figure looms large overhead. Here is the giant, numbered corporate cog we aspire to avoid or to embrace.

The giant man is at the beginning of a trail that took me into the woods. Whereas most pieces were in the wide open spaces, there were a number of pieces hidden by the trees. You walk down a path and suddenly encounter them.

I head down a path that wasn't terribly steep, but was steep enough in business style Doc Martin's to require a bit more work. I got plenty of exercise this way.

This bridge could be straight out of Battlestar Galactica, acoss some Caprican River. But here it is across a Missouri stream.

Totally not worth the steep stair climb was this tree sculpture that calls to mind Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

One of the last pieces I encountered on that trail was these two grassy (or snowy) mounds.

I don't have a strong Sci-Fi association with this work. Perhaps some battlements on Hoth? Do they make you think of anything Sci-Fi related?

The sign in front says, "Please do not climb or walk on the steep grassy slopes." You can tell how much stock people put in those signs by the foot prints and sledding tracks covering those slopes.

The big piece in the center of the park had an amazing orange color when the sun hit it just right. One side was made of big round tubes. The other side was made of crushed orange tubes. The balance and contrast between the crushed and full things held my interest.

It's also a massive piece you can walk under. That cross piece is a good 25-30' off the ground. It encourages you to look at it from as many angles as possible.

I'm sure Laumeier is lovely in the Spring. It must be a great place to go for a stroll or picnic after the snow is gone and before the oppresive St. Louis heat returns in the summer. If you have some time in St. Louis, check it out.

And let me know if the whole thing doens't remind you of a Sci-Fi novel waiting to be written.

You can see more of my pictures of these and other pieces here, in this Flickr set.