Favorite Posts of 2010

These are ten of my favorites posts from 2010. They were fun to write. They aren't necessarily my highest traffic posts, or the posts that drew the most comments. If I compiled the list on a different day, the final selection might be different, but for now I'm satisfied.

This list does not include book reviews, movie reviews, or posts that are part of a different series. They are listed separately in the sidebar.

Running for a Flight

CSI: Seattle Center

RIAA To Pursue Mix Tapes

Great Customer Service from Ergotron with Samsung Monitor

The lamest gypsy curse ever

Where the rubber meets the road -- and decides to stick around

Skipping Mordor in favor of Dawn

Marian Call and Molly Lewis in Fremont

One Night in Camtasia

Olympic Game Farm -- Sequim, WA


Book Review 59: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Thinking this, he wondered if Mozart had had any intuition that the future did not exist, that he had already used up his little time. Maybe I have, too, Rick thought as he watched the rehearsal move along. This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name “Mozart” will vanish, the dust will have won. If not on this planet then another. We can evade it awhile. As the andys can evade me and exist a finite stretch longer. But I get them or some other bounty hunter gets them. In a way, he realized, I’m part of the form-destroying process of entropy. The Rosen Association creates and I unmake. Or anyhow so it must seem to them.

Page 98
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K Dick is one of those books that any fan of Sci-Fi should read at some point. It is also the basis for the movie Bladerunner (which has been recut and released at least 4 times).

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the other Dick novel I read (A Scanner Darkly), but it was still a good read.

The book follows Richard Deckard, an android (or “andy”) hunter for what’s left of the San Francisco police department. Much of the human population has either died off or migrated to Mars. Most of the animal population has also died off; only the wealthy can afford pets. Those with less money can have a robotic pet, like the titular Electric Sheep. They look like normal animals and require similar upkeep, but they are still robots.

He thought, too, about his need for a real animal; within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn’t know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another. He had never thought of this before, the similarity between an electric animal and an andy. The electric animal, he pondered, could be considered a subform of the other, a kind of vastly inferior robot. Or, conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the ersatz animal. Both viewpoints repelled him.

Page 42

Androids serve humans on Mars and are not allowed on Earth. Deckard and his colleagues hunt and destroy androids that escape to San Francisco. The trick is distinguishing them from humans. To distinguish them, they conduct a series of tests designed to measure empathy. As new androids get developed, however, they also do a better job of passing the tests. Separating them from humans becomes an even bigger challenge.
“On the test or otherwise. Everything that gives it a different quality. And then I report back and the association makes modifications of its zygote-bath DNS factors. And we then have the Nexus-7. And when that gets caught, we modify again and eventually the association has a type that can’t be distinguished.

‘Do you know of the Boneli Reflex-Arc Test?” he asked,

"We’re working on the spinal ganglia, too. Someday the Boneli test will fade into yesterday’s hoary shroud of spiritual oblivion.” She smiled innocuously—at variance with her words. At this point he could not discern her degree of seriousness. A topic of world-shaking importance yet dealt with facetiously; an android trait, possibly, he thought. No emotional awareness, no feeling-sense of the actual meaning of what she s said. Only the hollow, formal, intellectual definitions of the separate terms.

Page 190

It’s a frustrating and never-ending cycle of development and destruction. Whether Dick is talking about people, androids, or animals, the same cycle persists.
“It’s not just false memory structures,” Phil Resch said. “I own an animal; not a false one but the real thing. A squirrel. I love the squirrel, Deckard; every goddamn morning I feed it and change its papers—you know, clean up its cage—and then in the evening when I get off work I let it loose in my apt and it runs all over the place. It has a wheel in its cage; ever seen a squirrel running inside a wheel? It runs and runs, the wheel spins, but the squirrel stays in the same spot. Buffy seems to like it, though.

“I guess squirrels aren’t too bright,” Rick said.

They flew on, then, in silence.

Page 128

The entertainment in the society is equally as bleak. There is basically one show on TV -- a talk show. It runs for days at a time.

“I’ll sit in the hotel room,” he said, “and watch Buster Friendly on TV. His guest for the last three days has been Amanda Werner. I like her; I could watch her the rest of my life. She has breasts that smile.”

Page 183

The dominant religion is Mercerism. Its followers experience it by interfacing with a virtual reality machine, and they continually walk up hill with Mercer and get pelted with rocks. The rocks leave bruises in the real world, too.

“Mercer said it was wrong but I should do it anyhow. Really weird. Sometimes it’s better to do something wrong than right.”

“It’s the curse on us,” Iran said. “That Mercer talks about.”

Page 242

When folks need to adjust their emotions, they have the option of dialing in on another machine. They can choose what they want to feel for the day.

Dick explores theme of decay, struggle, and identity in this book. Answering the question of, “Who is alive?” is a continuing challenge in the book. It’s not just about which people are androids. It’s also about whether the humans are alive in a spiritual or emotional sense in the wasteland they inhabit. It’s about how they continually wrestle the challenge of decay. Despite the advances in robotics, the humans are clearly on the losing end of the battle with entropy. They fight it, yet still seem resigned to their lives as they are.

In some respects, it’s a book about how technology has simply left the Earth-bound humans behind and gone off without them. It’s not a Luddite book, but it is a dark one.

They themes make it an interesting read. The plot has the twists and turns to keep things moving. Some of the characters are fascinating. And if you are a student of science fiction, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is just one of those books you should be reading, anyway.

While I can’t say I enjoyed it, I can say that I’m glad I read it. And I do recommend reading it. If you’re looking for a happy book, though, this isn’t it.

You can find more of my book reviews here.


Olympic Game Farm -- Sequim, WA

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

While many folks may not believe it, there are plenty of non-Twilight related activities on the Olympic Peninsula.

On 2010-08-28, The GF and I hopped on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry to head over to Sequim and visit the Olympic Game Farm. It started as a training and storage facility for animal actors from Disney movies.  While the farm doesn't do much with the movie industry these days, there are still plenty of animals at the farm waiting for people to visit.

Unlike many zoos, most of the animals aren't in cages.  They roam free and visitors drive throuh the area.  The staff will be happy to sell you loaves of bread at the gate (I recomend you get at least 5) so you can feed the animals. That's right, you can actually feed them by hand.  The critters will lumber up to your car window to take the sliced bread right from your hand.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

There are really three sections to the drive.  The first section is filled with bears, llamas, zebras, yaks, and more.  The second section isn't as much fun.  It's a caged area for big cats like lions and similar animals.  That part actually looks like a zoo from years ago.  I imagine the animals are well cared for, but it seems a little more depressing.  The third part is another drive thru zone, but the animals are bigger and potentially more dangerous, so you are supposed to keep your windows closed an not feed the bison.  This three minute video shows parts 1 and 3.  

You can also see the video here, on YouTube.

We had a great visit.  And despite the ability of many of those anamils to kill people if they chose, they are still adorable.

You can see more of my pictures of the Olympic Game Farm here.  A few of them also appear below.

One of the first things visitors see is a prarie dog mound.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The prarie dogs apparently decided to entertain some birds, too.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

Llamas were some of the most aggressive animals.  Or maybe it's just because they were so many.  They walked from car to car looking for bread. 

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

Several zebras sought out their own bread, too.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The yaks certainly enjoyed their snacks, but they were less assertive.  Instead they just milled about.  Once they would get their bread, or realize they weren't getting any, they just sort of leaned against the car or stood in the middle of the road until they came up with something better to do.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The Shoebox Chef decided she was running low on chicken stock while we were there and decided to do something about it.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

I'm guessing Peacocks don't make the best soup, and that they are not prey for llamas, zebras, or yaks.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

Of course, the bears stole the show.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The Olympic Animal Farm isn't that many miles from Seattle, but because all that darn water and those mountains tha get in the way, it takes several hours to get there.  If you've got a free day in the Seattle area, and like to get close up to animals beyond cats, dogs, and squirrels, be sure to visit.  Just keep the top up on the convertible.

More pictures available here.


How was your Christmas?

I'm quite lucky, this year, for a number of reasons.  To begin with, it looks like we are facing massive flight disruption in the Northeast due to snow on Sunday.  I booked my return flight for Wednesday, so I shouldn't have to worry too much about snow (though I think Seattle may get some from a separate storm).

I got to see a bunch of relatives this week, and I even figured out how many of them are actually related to me, which, given the crowds of cousins of assorted flavors can be a bigger puzzle than you might think.

And I got some cool toys, including a new Macro lens, a portable scanner, the Bladerunner DVD set, a number of books (yes, you will be subject to more of my book reviews), an updated, electronic Rubiks' cube, a gnome and mug from Germany, and more.  And I realize now, I'll be using all of it to, in one way or another, generate additional digital content.


How was your Christmas?


Patience with Traffic

I used to be one of those people who did all his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.  There are a lots of practical reasons for that, I suppose, but part of me enjoyed it.  I did that for several years before tiring of it.

I would remember leaving the Green Acres mall at about closing time on Christmas Eve, having accomplished most of my shopping, and trying to leave the parking lot.  It's a big parking lot, and on a normal day it would take 5-10 minutes to drive out.  Christmas Eve, it would take 90-120 minutes.  It's frustrating for some people.  I could tell by looking in their windows.  It wasn't for me, however.

I was perfectly happy to turn on Z100's 24 hours of Christmas on the car radio, roll down the window, and inch along the lanes. I'd smile and gradually merge with the more annoyed shoppers as I enjoyed this solitary Christmas tradition.  I knew what to expect from the traffic.  I prepared for it ahead of time.  And as a result, it didn't bother me.  It was fun in its own kind of twisted way.

I suppose it's all about knowing what to expect -- plan for that traffic and relish the moments it gives you. Let the music flow, and enjoy those traditions no matter how crazy they make you look.  Afterall, it's the Holidays.

Merry Christmas.


I think I'm back on track with posting

My blogging declined a bit this month.  That's been frustrating for me because I really want to get a post live every other day.  I've got some time off work now so I fully expect to burn out my word processor stringing together thoughts and words that I find mildly amusing.  I've got a lengthy list of things I plan to write about.  The key thing is to see if I can execute that plan.

So what happened this past month or so?

I'm not sure.  The pace of stuff at work has picked up, but I've also spent less time in planes, so that balances out.

One thing that has changed is the nature of my work.  I'm writing more -- both a quasi-internal blog for one of my employer's customers and creating more technology training content.  

It leads me to wonder if there are a maximum number of words I can write in a month.  If I use up all my words writing for work, does that mean there are fewer available for my blog?  Are words like WWII food rationing stamps?

Or is writing more like spells in a role playing game?  Does writing consume mana so that once I've written a bunch of stuff, I may be able to do other tasks, but writing simply will not happen until my mana refreshes itself and I can cast my "BLOG!" spell again?

Or perhaps it's just a sign that I should spend less time on Fark, and more time looking at a blank screen.  


My fix for problems with Firefox 3.613

I had to prep a new laptop recently, and wanted to put Firefox on it.  I'm not sure why; I've prettey much abandoned it for Chrome, but it still seemed like a good idea.

I downloaded the latest version (3.613) from the Mozilla website, installed it, and tried to launch the application. It wouldn't launch.  Instead it just crashed on startup.  I tried it several times and had no luck.  I did get it to launch in safe mode, but that's no fun.

I tried rebooting, uninstalling, reinstalling, redownloading, and kept getting the same result.

Finally, I uninstalled it one more time, then I sought out Firefox 3.5.  I found it and installed that version. Once I launched it, it prompted me to upgrade to 3.6.  I chose that option, installed the upgrade, and it finally worked.

Short version of the story?  Download the earlier version of Firefox, install it, upgrade to the newer version, and have fun surfing.


Frequent Flier Animations

Frequent Fliers, and those who put up with us, will likely appreciate these videos.

Direct Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFO0HSxJYWM

Direct Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDToRIUoC_0

Of course, I did just do a quick mileage run on Saturday on QX SEA-EAT-SEA to lock in status for next year...


Military to Ban removable media from many computers

In response the release of thousands of embarrassing documents on Wikileaks, the Pentagon has decided to ban removable media from computers.  According to Wired:

Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, commander of Air Force Network Operations, issued the Dec. 3 “Cyber Control Order” — obtained by Danger Room — which directs airmen to “immediately cease use of removable media on all systems, servers, and stand alone machines residing on SIPRNET,” the Defense Department’s secret network. Similar directives have gone out to the military’s other branches.

“Unauthorized data transfers routinely occur on classified networks using removable media and are a method the insider threat uses to exploit classified information. To mitigate the activity, all Air Force organizations must immediately suspend all SIPRNET data transfer activities on removable media,” the order adds.

It’s one of a number of moves the Defense Department is making to prevent further disclosures of secret information in the wake of the WikiLeaks document dumps. Pfc. Bradley Manning says he downloaded hundreds of thousands of files from SIPRNET to a CD marked “Lady Gaga” before giving the files to WikiLeaks.


This raises a few questions.  Let me preface this by saying I have no direct experience with military IT policies and procedures.  There may be very good reasons for why things were set up the way they were.  I'd like to think the military considered these questions at some point prior to this.

Why weren't these devices already heavily restricted or permitted only with additional approvals in advance? For years, it's been possible to configure a corporate PC in such a way that these devices won't work.

It seems like a the main suspect in the leak was a relatively low-ranking service member.  Should he have had access to such a large volume of disparate information?  I can see someone having a job requiring them to have access to classified information, but the breadth of it is rather astonishing.

Finally, it seem that this exposure is the result of someone intentionally downloading information to removable media, in a way not relevant to his job.  It seems like that would already be at the very least a policy violation.  He then likely committed an illegal act in turning the data over to another organization.  Would the threat of Court Martial for using removable media really have made any difference?

It's not like someone copied the data to an insecure thumb drive to work on it and then lost that drive accidentally.  This appears to be a deliberate and intentional act.  Would these policy changes have made any difference in this case?  It seems doubtful.



Angry Birds Peace Treaty: an end to Avian on Porcine violence, or a new Aporkalypse?

If you are a fan of Angry Birds, one of the hottest games out there for Android or iOS, and you are not among the 2 million+ people who have already seen this, you owe it to your self to take a look. It's pretty awesome.

(Note: some language may be NSFW).

Angry Birds Peace Treaty


Movie Review 17: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Any Harry Potter movie is guaranteed to be a box office smash. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is no exception. It’s also one of the best movies in the series. I put it on a par with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

If you haven’t read the books and still plan to see the movie (or read them) just go see it. It’s paced well and is a good adaptation of the story. In some respects, it does a better job of telling the story.

The rest of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. If you’ve read the book, then you already know what they are. If you want to go in completely cold, you should probably stop reading now, and just go see the movie.

I was worried about the camping sequence from the book. In the book, is seems like Harry, Hermione, and Ron spend a ton of time just wandering about the woods, trying to figure out their next steps. They do that in movie, but it doesn’t slow down the film. They show the passage of time with the weather and a haircut, and even though the whole process takes months, there’s enough action and character moments that it doesn’t get boring. And I want Hermione's bag.

During the initial escape from Privet Drive, we see the first death of the film. Although we know it’s coming, it’s still a shock to see the green light hit Hedwig. This is one of the liberties the movie takes with the book. As I recall the story in the book, the Deatheaters figure out who the real Harry is by his signature spells. In the movie, it’s Hedwig’s efforts to protect Harry that give him away.

The Familiars were always an area of the book where I think J K Rowling missed an opportunity. Early on, every witch and wizard has a familiar. Hermione has her cat, Ron has his rat (for a few books, anyway), and Harry has his owl. Outside of the actions in The Prisoner of Azkeban, though, the familiars don’t really do anything. Sure, they’re pets, and provide some companionship, but there’s not really anything magical about them. They don’t compliment the witches and wizards anymore than they would a muggle, yet Rowling seems to make a big deal about them early on. But I guess that’s not really a comment about the movie.

Ron’s bumbling about the muggle world proves entertaining. And the battle in the coffee shop is well done.

There’s a scene where the Snatchers seeking our three leads nearly stumble across them. Hermione’s charms provide adequate protection, but they tension in the scene is thick and very well done.

In fact, the film is filled with tense scenes. Even knowing what is likely to happen next doesn’t quell the stomach knots. Whether it’s the visit to Godric’s Hollow and the encounter with Nagini or Harry’s efforts to retrieve the sword, or Ron’s effort to destroy the necklace or the encounter at Lovegood’s house, the director kept me on the edge of my seat.

There's an awful lot of wand swapping in this film, like there is in the book. And considering the importance of some key wands to the story, it still feels contrived. It's like the writers are trying to make the game of musical wands fit the targeted outcome of the story. In that respect, it's similar to the car swapping towards the end of Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby.  If just seems forced and "convenient" to the narrative.

Finally, the scene for Dobby’s funeral is touching. It accomplishes something Rowling couldn’t do in the book. It’s closes out the movie they way it began -- with the death of a beloved character. Hedwig’s death tells us no one is safe. Dobby’s tells us it’s only getting worse. The movie doesn’t give us a happy ending. We’ll have to wait for part 2 for that. Until that film comes out, all we can do is mourn the characters we lost here, and fret about the fates of everyone else.

In short, this is an excellent film, with good pacing and a solid story. It’s reasonably true to the book and does a nice job of telling a tragic story. And I can’t wait for part 2.

You can find more of my movie reviews here.


Movie Review 16: She

In a backward post-apocalyptic world, She aids two brothers' quest to rescue their kidnapped sister. Along the way, they battle orgiastic werewolves, a psychic communist, a tutu-wearing giant, a mad scientist, and gladiators before standing against the odds to defeat the evil Norks.

I don't know where to begin with this movie.  It has so much awesome and so much awful about it. 

Jon and I watched this movie on Netflix streaming and tried to make sense of it.  We failed.  We didn't even think there were werewolves in the story.  They looked like vampires to us.

The film opens when the main character's sister gets kidnapped by nazi football players, a boxer, and some guy in a tuxedo during a raid on a post-apaclypitic flea market where they sell corn flakes.

She, the main female character (played by Sandahl Bergman who would go on to appear as Queen Gedren in Red Sonja) is a goddess ruling and kingdom where the men are slaves. 

Early in the film show goes into a cave to get a pointless prophecy and has to battle her way through sword wielding tough guys who pop out of packing crates as she walks by while wearing six swords and what can best be described as a long T-Shirt.  After she defeats them, three samurai-like things pop out of one crate and attack her.  She defeats them and seems about done, when all of a sudden, a robot Frankenstein monster pops out of a crate and attacks her.

This film is filled with wacky absurdity like that.

It even has a bridge guard that channels a Popeye-era Robin Williams.

There are chases, escapes, kidnappings, more escapes and a quest.  There is no reason for the characters to help one another or even to be in this movie at all, and yet there they are.

The plot is a complete mess. And yet we couldn't stop watching. No one involved in this movie should be allowed to touch a a camera again, but we had to finish it.

I will give the director points for the pacing.  The film moves from one ridiculous point to the next.  He can takes us from telekintec Soviet gods with green eyes to pink tutu wearing 350 pound men, and we want to go along for the ride.  We never had any idea what was going to happen next.  That's easier to pull off when there is no logic to the story.

Of course, the director immediately loses all those pacing points because he also wrote the script.

The credits claim this movie is based on the book, She, by H. Rider Haggard, but aside from She's name and the title, the two have nothing to do with each other.

If you want a fantastic B-movie that makes no sense, She is for you. It's funny and awesome like that -- a great movie to mock and hate.  If you want anything resembling a good movie,  I think you can safely skip this one.


Book Review 58: Count Zero

She nodded, her mouth full. Swallowed. “A little bit. I know that a lot of people don’t work for Maas. Never have and never will. You’re one, your brother’s another. But it was a real question. I kind of liked Rudy you know? But he just seemed so ...

“Screwed up,” he finished for her, still holding his sandwich. “Stuck. What it is, I think there’s a jump some people have to make, sometimes, and if they don’t do it, then they’re stuck good . . . And Rudy never did it.”

Page 205

Count Zero is part of William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy of novels that also includes Neuromancer and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Each book can stand on its own, however.

I always have mixed feelings about Gibson’s books. Often it feels like a chapter or two is missing towards the end. Count Zero is a little different. It’s much better paced than than most of his novels, and he seems to tie up most of the loose ends by the time the book stops. That makes this one my favorite Gibson novels.
Gibson’s strength is the world he creates. While the characters often lack depth or seem cliched, the environment they inhabit is fascinating. Gibson’s advanced weapons, early take in the Internet, post-governmental capitalist society, space travel, and advances in computer technology are a fantastic playground for his characters to run around in.

In Count Zero, the various story lines include an amateur hacker who gets in over his head, a discredited gallery owner seeking a mysterious artist for an uber-weathly collector, and a mercenary hired to “rescue” a researcher from a medical facility.

Medical advances are used as both liberators and prisons in this book. Although even when the liberate, they still seem to imprison.

Herr Virek communicates with people through virtual reality technology. His body had been failing him for some time.

“Please.” He patted the bench’s random mosaic of shattered pottery with a narrow hand “You must forgive my reliance on technology. I have been confined for over a decade to a vat. In some hideous industrial suburb of Stockholm. Or perhaps of hell. I am not a well man, Marley. Sit beside me.”

page 16

"I speak as one who can no longer tolerate that simple state, the cells of my body having opted for the quixotic pursuit of individual careers. I imagine that a more fortunate man, or a poorer one, would have been allowed to die at last, or be coded at the core of some bit of hardware. But I seem constrained, by a byzantine net of circumstance that requires, I understand, something like a tenth of my annual income. Making me, I suppose, the world’s most expensive invalid. I was touched. Marly, at your affairs of the heart. I envy you the ordered flesh from which they unfold.”

And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.

Page 20

While the wealthy can benefit from thing to supplement their biology, corporations also use technology to keep employees from leaving. The mercenary in the story discusses with a medical team what they will do once they get an employee away from his employer.

"Cortex charges, that sort of thing?”

“I doubt,” said the other man, “that we will encounter anything so crude, but yes, we will be scanning for the full range of lethal devices. Simultaneously, we’ll run a full blood screen. We understand that his current employers deal in extremely sophisticated biochemical systems. It greatest danger would lie in that direction .

“It’s currently quite fashionable to equip top employees with modified insulin-pump subdermals,” his partner broke in. “The subject’s system can be tricked into an artificial reliance on cer-tain synthetic enzyme analogs. Unless the subdermal is recharged at regular intervals, wit employer—can result in trauma.”

Page 87

The stories take place in a highly capitalistic society where everything can be bought and sold. In order to move the story along, Gibson has to take those obstacles out of the characters’ way. He throws loose-walleted sponsors at the characters to address this concern.

“Certainly, Herr Virek! And, yes, I do wish to work!”

“Very well. You will be paid a salary. You will be given access to certain lines of credit, although, should you need to purchase. let us say, substantial amounts of real estate—”

“Real estate."

“Or a corporation, or spacecraft. In that event, you will require my indirect authorization. Which you will almost certainly be given. Otherwise, you will have a free hand. I suggest, however, that you work on a scale with which you yourself are comfortable. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing touch with your intuition, and intuition, in a case such as this, is of crucial importance.” The famous smile glittered for her once more.

She took a deep breath. “Herr Virek, what if I fail? How long do I have to locate this artist?”

“The rest of your life,” he said.

Page 19-20

In the hacker thread, he is aided by a major organized crime organization.

Our mercenary is able to draw on the resources afforded him by his employers.

One thread has characters chasing a character called The Wig. One thing I like about his story is the casual way Gibson discusses the power a smart, skilled hacker can wield.

Silicon doesn’t wear out; microchips were effectively immortal. The Wig took notice of the fact. Like every other child of his age, however, he knew that silicon became obsolete, which was worse than wearing out; this fact was a grim and accepted constant for the Wig, like death or taxes, and in fact he was usually worried about his gear falling behind the state of the art than he was about death (he was twenty-two) or taxes (he didn’t file, although he paid a Singapore money laundry a yearly percentage that was roughly equivalent to the income tax he would have been required to pay if he’d declared his gross).

The Wig reasoned that all that obsolete silicon had to be going some where. Where it was going, he learned, was into any number of very poor places struggling along with nascent industrial bases. Nations so benighted that the concept of nation was still taken seriously The Wig punched himself through a couple of African backwaters and felt like a shark cruising a swimming pool thick with caviar. Not that any one of those tasty tiny eggs amounted to much, but you could just open wide and scoop, and it was easy and filling and it added up. The Wig worked the Africans for a week, incidentally bringing about the collapse of at least three governments and causing untold human suffering. At the end of his week, fat with the cream of several million laughably tiny bank accounts, he retired. As he was going out, the locusts were coming in; other people had gotten the African idea.

Page 155-156

I like Count Zero because I think I understood what happened in the end. Gibson wrapped up many of the loose ends in the plot and I didn’t feel frustrated when the book suddenly stopped like I do with many of his novels. Count Zero didn’t disappoint me. Of course, when I went back and read the Wikipedia article about the book, I discovered that I missed a great deal of the what was happening in it. It some respects it seemed like Wikipedia had a chapter I didn’t. I guess I’m lucky I’m not taking a test on it. But I'm not sure that matters.

The bottom line is that Count Zero is a good book, and one well worth reading if you have interest in the Cyberpunk genre. It includes Gibson’s fantastic universe and has what I thought was an unusually tight ending.
Now I suppose I should reread all three books in the trilogy to see if they make more sense as a set.

You can read more of my book reviews here.


Life in the Garden Part 45: Carrots

The garden wasn't a big success this year; Seattle just didn't get warm and sunny enough (shocking, I know), but there were a few bright spots.  One of those spots was my carrot crop.

I planted a few carrots for use in salads, or for when The GF needs to throw one into a stock or soup or some other magical thing that comes out of her kitchen.  Neither of us is a big fan of carrots (she's gotten skilled at picking out carrot bits with chop sticks) but they are a useful ingredient.  And home grown vegetables always taste best anyway.

What I like about the carrot crop is that it is hardy.  Once the vegetable grow, I can leave them in the ground until I'm ready for them.  Tomatoes and strawberries have to come off their vines as soon as they ripen, but carrots are content to sit there in the dirt growing bigger and drinking water.

That's how one carrot looked on 2010-10-23.  It got pretty twisted up in the ground.

I think the big mistake I make with my carrots was planting my seedling in peet pots to start them, instead of planting straight in the ground.  Normally thin roots grow right through the peet pots so it's not an issue.  With carrots, though, the one big root is the whole point.  So my carrots had to twist and split them selves in order to grow.  Next year, I'll direct sow.

It is getting into November, and it was time to enjoy more of the garden's bounty.  I pulled that carrot on 2010-11-16, and here's what I got:

2010-11-16 Fresh carrott from garden

2010-11-16 Fresh carrott from garden

2010-11-16 Fresh carrott from garden

It was quite a bit of carrot for one plant.  I suppose you could argue it was multiple plants.

To prep it, I cut off the hub and was left with these:

2010-11-16 Fresh carrott from garden

I scrubbed them, and they cleaned up easily.  They were also easy to peel.  I did all that, and then chopped them up and tried a bit.

2010-11-16 Fresh carrott from garden

They were crisp and clean and tasted like carrots.  They may have been a little less pungent than commercial carrots, but they were still pretty good.  They are not so good that I will sit on the couch and eat them like Twizzlers, but they're not disgusting.

So what did I do with the carrots?  Ramen.

2010-11-16 Ichiban Ramen

This was any ordinary Nissin Top Ramen though, (okay the bowl I had after this was the regular Nissin Top Ramen).  This was Sapporo Ichiban Ramen.

2010-11-16 Ichiban Ramen

They carrots were good in the Ramen.  They soaked up broth but stayed crispy.  They also cooled off the boiling water when I put them in.  They turned out to be a really nice addition to the soup. Plus I can now pretend it's healthy soup.

This is reason enough to grow more next year.

You can see more of my carrots and other garden picture here.

You can read more about Life in the Garden here.


A use for Skymall

I scored an exit row window seat with an empty middle for a recent flight to Atlanta.  That's about as good a seat as I can get if I'm in coach.  It was an early morning flight (it left at 6:00 AM) and most folks were trying to sleep.  I was working on a few projects and staring at my laptop screen.

The flight attendants asked us to lower our window shades for those who still wanted to nap or were watching the in flight entertainment. When she asked me, I point to my window.

There was no shade in my window on the exit door. Apparently, she's had this problem before and suggested a magazine.  Before long, I had MacGyver'ed a solution.  Sure, the frame almost popped out of the widow (just the cosmetic frame) but it worked and kept most of the bright sun out.


I'm not sure how many Federal Air Regulations that violates, but who am I to complain.  After all, it did make it dark


A fortunate injury

The other day I was thrilled to injure myself.  I was cleaning the bathroom (I should know better) and banged my left hand against a sharp corner.  It's wasn't a bad injury.  It was just annoying. And then I realized this was actually good news.  I now get to wear my new awesome Bacon Band Aids!


In addition to being a great way to express my bacon love, the bandage has the added benefit of looking meaty enough, that if I just glance at it, I freak out and wonder how I managed to gash my hand open like that without extra pain and wonder why my hand looks like bacon, and...oh...yeaaaaaaah.

The bandages are courtesy of Kathy over at The Junk Drawer blog. I won them in Kathy's occasional "What's that contest?"

You may have seen her posts in my left sidebar.  If you're not already a reader, I'd encourage you to check it out.  She is a great story teller, and isn't afraid to tell tales many would consider embarrassing.  She's got a original and humble voice that's well worth reading.  I can't wait for the latest update on Windy, a plastic bag that's been stuck in a tree in Pennsylvania for more than two years.

Oh, she also sent me this awesome magnet.

Junk Drawer magnet

Check it out.  I may not comment all the time, but I never miss a post.


Stomp in Seattle: Everything INCLUDING the Kitchen Sink

Last weekend, The GF and I saw a perfromance of Stomp in Seattle. It's a show I've wanted to see for some time.

Stomp is a working class tap dance show that looks nothing like any other tap dance show. It's an ensemble of 8 people who clap, flick, rustle, bang, swish, and, yes, stomp across the stage. They tell little stories, develop characters, and tell jokes, all without a single word of dialog.

If there's a overriding message to the show, it would be that music is everyhwere, and music is cheap. If you have a newspaper, a broom, or a bucket, you can make complex music.

If there's another message, it would be that teamwork makes all the difference. While one person can make fascinating music with a cigarette lighter or trash can, it takes a whole team of people working together to make it truly extraordinary.

Most of the segments begin with one person playing an improvised instrument. Then someone else comes in and builds on that, then someone else builds on that, and before you know it, there's a symphony going on.

The opening sequence is a great example of that. One guy comes out pushing a broom. He sweeps to a rythm. Then he starts adding broom taps to the rythm. Next, someone else comes out, also pushing a broom in rythm. His actions with with the broom are different. Maybe he taps it differently, or sweeps in a different sequence. Eventually, there are 8 people on stage with brooms and they've built up this whole, intense musical experience using just percussion -- no melody.

In some respects, it reminds me of the Kid Beyond performance I saw at w00tstock! last year. In that performance, he made a sound with his voice, and looped it, then added another electronically. Obviously they are two very differnt things. Kid Beyond was one guy who could also do melody and do it all electronically. The similarity is in the way they start with one simple sound and then layer complexity on top of that.

Stomp's chroeography was impressive as well. It wasn't just about banging stuff. At points they were tossing items to one another while playing them. So in additioanl to the music, and dance, there were also elements of juggling.

The show surprised me with its nuance. It exceeded my expectations with its story telling and character interaction. I expected it to be a fantastic exlporation of rythm and percussion.

Keeps your eyes open and find a team. Extraordinary things like Stomp are possible.


High Corporate Taxes can Spur Innovation

One solution often suggested to start growing the economy is to slash corporate taxes.  When business taxes are too high, the argument goes, businesses lay people off and scale back on their research expenses and everything stagnates.

But what if the opposite is true?

In an early October, the Pacific Northwest Magazine (part of the Sunday Seattle Times) published a story about how Boeing came to dominate the commercial jet market following the Korean War.  High taxes were one reason Boeing succeeded.  Essentially, taxes were so high, that it made a significant research and development risks much less risky.  Had taxes been lower, the risk would have been much greater, and Boeing might not have chosen to invest in jet aircraft in the way they did.

Actually, Allen, the lawyer, had discovered something very interesting about the question of whose money the company would be spending. During the Korean War, Congress had put an "excess profits tax" in effect, intended to prevent military companies from making out too well because of increased demand during a war. As it happened, the law essentially defined "excess profits" as anything above what a company had made during the peacetime period of 1946-1949. For Boeing, of course, peace had been a sock to the pocketbook; it had hardly made anything in that time. Therefore, as orders ramped up for the war, Boeing stood to face the "excess profits" tax on virtually every dollar of its profit, while a company such as Douglas, which had had its hands full rolling out propeller-driven airliners after the war, wouldn't face the higher trigger until its military sales equaled the bonanza it had made on commercial sales.
What Allen clearly saw was that now was the perfect time to plow a huge amount of company money into an audacious new development project. All of it would be a legitimate business expense, reducing the "profits" for the coming years, but so what? That was all money that would have basically gone to the government. As long as he could persuade the board that he was putting the company in a long-term position of leading the field with a jetliner, its members were unlikely to object. Yes, it was a huge gamble, but for every dollar of the dice roll, only 18 cents of it would have been Boeing's money to keep anyway.

I'm not sure that this taxes this high are the answer to all our problems; I go back and forth on the appropriate level of business taxes. 
But this is a scenario I hadn't considered before.  High tax rates may not be a way to generate revenue for the government.  They may be a away to encourage other spending, however on innovation, research, and other risky projects.


More fun TSA stuff

Lately there are more stories appearing in the media about the disgusting behavior of TSA.  Here's one more stumbled across.

It's a lengthy post, so here's a summary:
  1. Guy goes to the airport 
  2. Guy declines the nude-o-scope (AKA virtual strip search, AKA Back Scatter X-Ray) 
  3. Guy declines "enhanced pat down" 
  4. TSA informs him he can't fly as a result
  5. Guy says OK.
  6. Guy gets escorted out of the secure area.
  7. As guy tries to leave the airport, as TSA already instructed him, another TSA guy tries to stop him from leaving and threatens a civil penalty of $10,000.


NYC and data

Wired recently had an article about NYC's 311 service -- a non-emergency number residents can call to ask questions or report problems. It's a really interesting story about the value of crowd sourcing and data mining.  You can read it here.

My favorite line in the article, though, was less about raw data and more about human nature:

Even the biggest cities have small towns buried within them.


Thoughts on The Walking Dead

I hadn't planned on watching this show because my TiVo Season Pass list is already mind boggling long.  Plus, with the level of hype, I just didn't think it would be all that good. I expected it to be cancelled inside of 6 episodes.

But then the reviews came in.  And it wasn't just random reviews, they came from people's whose opinions I respect.  So I decided to give it a shot.

Jon was the one who let me know I could watch episode 1 (and ONLY episode 1) for free online.  You can watch it right here:

I hooked up my laptop to my 46" LCD through the HDMI port.  It looked fantastic in HD on the big screen (makes me rethink cable a little).

You can find more in-depth reviews elsewhere, so I'll just leave a few thoughts here.

  • It's a well executed horror show.
  • The tension and scary moments come not from things jumping out at character all the time, but that they usually don't. Yet they do often enough so you can never tell if you're just being teased. They keep a high-level of tension throughout the show and really pay it off at the end.
  • It is a bit gory.  Not excessively so, but it is a zombie show.  They dead are walking about and getting shot in the head.  That's naturally going to be somewhat gross.
  • Half a body crawling around?  That intense.
  • Geez, dude.  Find some damn shoes.

I'm pretty excited to see where it goes.


Wasting time because there's none to waste

Some days I struggle with what to write here. It's a pointless struggle, but it's not for lack of content.

I have at least another 15 posts about my trip to Japan -- stories I feel I need to tell.  I have 5 more book reviews sitting in the hopper just waiting for me to turn quotes into content before I forget the book.  I have policy proposals for the new Congress to take up. There are events in Seattle to comment on, and pictures from scenic vistas around the state to share. There are auto upgrades to show, and there are garden stories to tell.

The problem is that that any of those posts may take an hour or more to write. Many evenings I just don't have an hour to work on a post.  I put one of those I've been meaning to write on hold so I can write something quick for now, and come back to the longer project later.  This way, I can do something in 15-20 minutes, instead of 60 minutes.

So I sit down at the keyboard and start working on that shorter post that I don't actually have an idea for yet, but I know it will be shorter because I just can't give the "bigger" post the attention it deserves.  I'll get to that when I have more time.

And yet in an attempt to save that 60 minutes, I'll instead spend 30-45 minutes trying to come up with a topic, then finally come up with one, and spend another 30-40 minutes writing it.

In other words, my time saving effort usually saves me a negative-ten minutes.

Two days later, I'll go through the same process again.

Sound familiar?


Freeze a hard drive to recover data

It happens.  I had a hard drive crash.  It probably happened because I dropped the laptop on the ground a few dozen too many times.  Fortunately, I was able to recover my data.

To begin the story, I just want to say it is critically important to back up your data.  There are only two kinds of computer users:
  1. Those who have lost data
  2. Those who will lose data.
Is your backup current?

When my hard drive failed, it had been about a month since my previous back up. That meant that while it wasn't critical that I recover everything, it still did represent a potential loss of 75-100 hours of work.

I took the hard drive out of the computer and put it in the freezer, as suggested on Lifehacker.  This suggestion is popular because most computer hard drives are mechanical devices, subject to expansion and contraction with temperature.

When a hard drive crashes, it typically means the the drive head, which hovers less than the thickness of a human hair above the data platter, touches that data platter for some reason.  When they touch, data can be destroyed. Or it could happen because parts go out of alignment or seize up.

Freezing a hard drive lowers the temperature enough that many times, that drive will briefly come back to life.

I put the hard drive into a USB enclosure and tried to access it from another computer.  No luck.

I wrapped the enclosure in saran wrap, and stuck it in two ziplock back, to minimize damage due to moisture.  Then I stuck it in the freezer for a few hours.  No luck.

I left it in the freezer for a couple days.  No luck.

Then I pulled it out of the enclosure, and put the frozen hard drive directly in a laptop.  No luck.

I was about to give up.  I took the drive without the saran wrap this time, put it in a ziplock pack with a silica gel pack to, again, minimize moisture damage, stuck that in another plastic bag, and put it on top of the frozen pizza in my freezer.

Then I did some more trouble shooting.  I took a known good hard drive, stuck it in the USB enclosure, and tried to read that data.  No luck.

It turns out that not only had the hard drive crashed, I also had a bad enclosure.

I bought a different USB adapter. A week after covering the pizza with data, I tried again. I pulled out the hard drive, plugged in the cable, and I put it on one end of a cookie sheet.  On the other end, I put two ice pack.  I used the aluminum cookie sheet to keep the hard drive cold while I went to work on it.

I hooked it all up, and the computer could actually see the drive.  It did give me some errors.  It though the drive was unformatted, and it wouldn't open the properties right.

But the hard drive was making more appropriate noises.

I opened a DOS window in Windows 7, and ran, "chkdsk /f /r /x d:"  In this utility, Windows scans the disk and attempts to correct errors it find in the data structure.  It ran for several hours.  Eventually, my ice packs were starting to melt so it was time to add froze vegetables to rig.  This is how it all looked:

HDD Recovery

As the utility trudged along, it found more and more data.  At the end, I finally had access to all my documents.  All that work was now safe.

I got lucky.

The lesson is the always have a back up of your data.  The hours that go into creating it, or the prescious memories associated with your it are too important to not back up.

But if you do have  worst case scenario and can't get your data any other way, stick it in with the El Monterey Chimichangas, and it might just work.


Tokyo Travels Part 17: Harajuku Area

After an early morning visit to the Tsukiji market, we ventured into the train system for the first time.

I checked with the front desk on how to get to the Harajuku station, and they told me how how to get from the Conrad to the Shimbashi station.  With some trial and error, we made it.  The next step was to figure out how to buy a ticket.  I found a kiosk, switched it to English.  Then I puzzled over it for a few minutes before realizing I was at a inter-city kiosk.

The GF and I headed over the to information desk and the friendly women tried to help us with the combination of their limited English and our non-existent Japanese.  Eventually, they figured out what we were trying to ask and we figured out what they were trying to answer, and they pointed us in the right direction.

Thus began our next challenge.  We found the kiosk and set it to English.  The fare you pay depends on the station you are going to.  The trick was that the fare map has the station names listed in Japanese.  We puzzled over that for a few moments, trying to figure out which station was the Harajuku one.  We gave off that universal confused tourist look, and a businessman asked if we needed help.  He pointed out the right characters on the map for us and we were able to buy our 240 Yen (or so) tickets.

One of the great things about Tokyo is that even though we didn't speak the language, the people we dealt with were overwhlemingly friendly and helpful.

We took the train to the Harajuku area, known for the Meiji Shrine and shopping areas favored by Cos-Players.

The Tamagotchi store is across the street from the train stations. Remember the virtual pets on key-chains that were popular in the nineties?  There's an entire store dedicated to them in Harajuku.

2010-05-17 Tamagotchi store in Harajuku

Just down the street is Takeshita-dori, known for it's focus on on unusual youth fashions, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

2010-05-18 SC Harajuku (5)

2010-05-17 Harajuku (1)

2010-05-17 Harajuku (2)

2010-05-18 SC Harajuku (3)

It's filled with both name brand shops and independents.  In addition to the local crepe stands, McDonalds and Wolfgang Puck also have their outposts.  And, like other restaurants in Japan, there is no avoiding the fake food displays in the windows.

2010-05-17 Harajuku (3)

Ometesando-dori is right near Takeshita-dori and is an extreme contrast in price.  While Takeshite-dori is all about the inexpensive shops, Ometesando is more for those who have money to burn.  Brands like Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gaban, Marimeko, and other luxury brands crown the street and mall.

It's not exclusively shop like that, though.  It's also home to Kiddy Land, a 7 floor toy store that dedicates and entire floor to Snoopy and the Peanuts crowd, but is now apparently closed for remodeling until 2012.

2010-05-17 Harajuku (7)

Just down the street from that is the Condom store.

2010-05-17 Harajuku (5)

Wrapped trucks advertising online services plied the streets.

Macherie.tv appears be a video chat chat service and 550909.com might be some sort of dating site.

2010-05-17 Harajuku (8)

2010-05-18 SC Harajuku (7)

For more pictures from this trip, click here.

For more posts about our Tokyo trip, click here.


Back Yard Burial

A reader recently asked the Seattle PI if people could bury their pets in the backyard when the die.  That answer was that they could, as long as it didn't pose a nuisance. Apparently, the law also pets under 15 pounds to be disposed of with "household waste" which, while logical, seems all kinds of wrong.

I had gerbils for several years when I was a kid, and a few of them did make it to the back yard after they lived out their gerbil lives.  Joe The Gerbil had  a crazy long tooth that really was never right. He was the first to come into the house, and the first to make it into the back yard.  I remember packing him in a Maxwell House coffee can with woodchips when it was time for his burial. 

I also remember taking and old, heavy, slate, stepping stone of some sort and working on it with a hammer and chisel to carve his name into it.  Now, it feels like that was a project I spent days or weeks on, but it could easily have been just an afternoon. I must have been in that 10-13 year old age bracket at the time.

Writing this, it almost seems like a sad story (I suppose I could punch it up and make it a real tear jerker (the handicapped gerbil with the weird tooth would put it over the top)), and I was probably sad at the time.  But it wasn't a traumatic experience; it didn't scar me.  Carving that tombstone wasn't a labor of love.  It was just what you do.  It seemed natural, and I took to it like the project it was. 

Over the years, there were several more gerbils, and several more backyard burials.  They came in and lives through their normal gerbil lives.  I think there was only one more tomb stone, though.

I'm not sure what the point of this story is.  It started off as a tale about paint, but I guess that will have to be a future post.  I can't always be certain just which story will want to be told. 


Fig Newtons Vs Fat Free Fig Newtons

Fat Free Fig Newtons sound too good to be true.  Are they?

2010-10-24 Fig Newtons (4)


2010-10-24 Fig Newtons (3)

The answer: Pretty much.

First, lets look at the numbers.  The two packages cost the same, but the regular Fig Newtons weigh in at 14 ounces, while that fat free version is just 12 ounces.

It's not that they made the cookies smaller; then didn't. Instead, you get fewer cookies in the Fat Free version.  The Regular version has 26 cookies.  The Fat Free version has 24.

2010-10-24 Fig Newtons (9) 2010-10-24 Fig Newtons (8)

So there's no cost advantage to the Fat Free.  It must be a great alternative for those on a diet right?

The label starts with the absurd notion that a serving is two cookies.  Seriously?!?! Who eats just two at a sitting? One of the most misleading things about nutrition information is the absolutely ridiculous servings sizes listed on the label. They are pure fiction for the vast majority of people.

Regardless, a "serving" of regular Fig Newtons is 110 calories with two grams of fat.  The Fat Free Fig Newtons are 90 calories per serving with 0 grams of fat.  They also have a little less sodium and potassium.  

So, a regular Fig Newton is 55 calories with 1 gram of fat and a fat free one is 45 calories.

Is it worth it to switch to fat free to save 10 calories per cookie? That's a little less than a 20% reduction in calories.

Let's looks look at the cookies themselves.

2010-10-24 Fig Newtons (10)

They look similar, but the Fat Free version has more color variation in the breading.

2010-10-24 Fig Newtons (11)

The crust also appears a little thinner on the Fat Free version.

That brings me to taste.  It tried them both, knowing which was Fat Free. 

The Fat Free version tasted okay (it's not the disaster that the Lean Pockets Cheeseburger was).  It did seem a little flat, however. The regular version had a fuller taste.  The fruit itself tasted the same; the difference was all in the breading.  The traditional Fig Newton crust was more flaky; it crumbled better.  The difference was less about flavor, and more about texture.

The GF tried them both in a blind taste test.  Historically, she hasn't been a big fan of Fig Newtons,and, with less invested in the process, was in a better position to offer some insight.

She tasted them both and clearly preferred the traditional version over the Fat Free. She described the crust on the fat free version as "more dense," and said the Fat Free version just didn't taste as fresh.

After this limited test, I'd say the traditional Fig Newtons just pop more.  The difference between them is all in the crust.  

If you plan to sit down and eat all 24-26 Fig Newtons at one, then if might be worthwhile to switch to the Fat Free to save 240 calories.  Of course, if you're eating them all at once, you're probably not concerned about the calories.

For a more normal sized snack (5-7), I'd say get the traditional Fig Newtons.  The calorie reduction in the Fat Free Fig Newtons just isn't worth the sacrifice in taste and texture.