Monthly Archives: January 2012

Take a Picture, Kill a Rat

My name is Matt, and I am a packrat.  But I’m working on it.

Partial solution: nostalgia is preserved almost as well with a picture.

I like to keep anything tied to a memory.  Water bottle from random bike race?  That’s a keeper.  Damaged beyond repair backpack you got in middle school?  Let’s keep it forever!  Blue plastic trash can you’ve had longer than some of your siblings?  Eh, ok that too.

The biggest offenders are free t-shirts that remind me of a project or event, and any piece of clothing I wore enough to sprout holes from overuse.  Needless to say, these started to fill more than a single box as time trudged along.

Enter the smartphone.  Now I always have a camera with Internet on my person.  Hence, the epiphany (partial solution) above.

You really only need a camera to execute this. But don’t worry, you’ll have a smartphone too someday if you don’t already. They’re lifechanging, and deserve their own posts.

Now I only keep things with an extremely high nostalgia value (e.g. diplomas, trophies).  The rest get a picture saved in the interwebs, and a new home at the local Goodwill.

Sometimes I wish I’d kept my elementry school alarm clock.  At least I have a picture.

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Fashion Lesson Learned

High school freshman is not many people’s favorite year, and I am no different.  I’ve repressed a few choice memories at this point, but one never fades away.  The sport was baseball, the misstep was fashion.

It hadn’t taken me long to perfect a quick scurry down the hallways between classes, never making eye contact or taking in much detail as I made for point B.  If crimes were committed, the CSI’s had best find a different nark.

It was this head-down speed walk that allowed me to seemingly ignore an upperclassmen heckle one morning as I veered between congregating cliques.  “Hey, pick a side!”  All I can tell you is the brute was crouching over a backpack 10 feet away at my one o’clock.  I gave him a wide berth.

Braves v. Mariners
Why was this so memorable? It was my only conversation with someone from a different grade that year, so that helped.  I didn’t enjoy picking out clothes as a kid because I never had the “cool” stuff, so that helped too.  This memory gets another play now and again when I see clothes for sale, and I think fondly of the helpful vogue hooligan.

I’ve made moderate progress since then, mostly around matching the color of my shoes and belt.  And, I support one team at a time.

Lesson learned.

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eBay Storage

I first heard of the term “ebay storage” over the holidays and it has changed my life, mostly on the philosophical side.  But, a bit on the practical side too.

First, what the heck does this mean?  Why are you buying stuff on eBay just to put it in storage?  No, I overheard it used in the opposite direction!  For example, “I’m putting this roller hockey stick in eBay storage.”  Wait, what?   Ooh, that’s kind of weird, and clever.

At least that was my initial thought.  However, I kept thinking about this off and on over the last month or so, and finally began to understand it’s brilliance.  Things that are not unique and do not increase in value faster than a mutual fund can be put in eBay storage.

eBay Storage: Selling stuff on eBay you don’t currently use, and buying the equivalent back when you need it.

Time for a convincing example.  I have an extra Kinect sitting in my closet.  I do not need it now or in the near future, because I only have one Xbox to plug Kinects into.  I can sell it for $100 on eBay.  Now I have $100 to plug into Star Wars, or a Wilco concert.  Or realistically, groceries.

If I do need that Kinect later, you can guess where I’ll find one.  That’s right, eBay.  And, it will probably be cheaper.  Or, there will be a newer version, making my old one worth less than $100.  But, I’ll probably never need another one.  Everyone wins with eBay storage.

So what’s the philosophical shift?  When I’m storing something now I have a new question to ask myself:  How often do I use this and am I attached to this specific one?  If I don’t use it often and I am not attached to it, it goes into eBay storage!

I’m a minor hoarder.  I’d rather put things in a labeled box than get rid of them.  You never know when you’ll need half a dozen extra computer mice.  Also, I hate disposing of books.  I was on track to be buried with my own little library of accumulated books, some of them even read by me.  However, eBay storage has saved me from a life of increasingly heavy residence changes.  Now I can pack light(er) for the next move.

On the book front, I’ve made two changes this January.  First, I sold all my law school textbooks from last semester on Amazon.  Amazon storage.  I will always be able to get equivalent books back, and that won’t be necessary anytime soon.  Second, I got a library card and have been using it.  I am no longer attached to a specific copy.  Instead, I am keeping track of my books on Shelfari.  Virtual bookshelf ftw!

The next time you’re putting something away, don’t forget the eBay storage option.  Now, is there anything in eBay storage I need retrieve…

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Seattle Snow Driving

During my seven year tenure in Seattle I often heard from transplants how bad natives were at driving in the snow.  While likely true at a macro level, the tone of this criticism never sat right with me.

 

First of all, when it comes to snow I will put my money on the Michigan driver over the Seattle driver every time.  Why?  Opportunity.  Average snowfall in Michigan can be measured in feet and months, and in Seattle it can fittingly be measured as a binary snow/nosnow.  I.e. did a couple inches of snow accumulate for about day this winter, or not.  Now, I’ve never lived in a snowy place, but I’m guessing like most things practice makes perfect.

However, I don’t buy the implication that experienced snow drivers will succeed where inexperienced snow drivers will fail, in Seattle.  It’s too frickin hilly!  No one can drive around on the steep hills when they’re covered in snow.  Basic physics is still in play.

I suspect the real difference is risk assessment.  An experienced snow driver knows better than to drive down steep snowy hills without sufficient traction.  And to maintain an even speed and not braking when driving up a slippery incline, while we’re at it…  Yikes!

It’s not all doom and gloom though.  Seattle looks fabulous in white, and I miss walking around town after the rare dusting.

And, every snow day brings us a fresh set of entertaining videos to peruse.  This one is my favorite from this year because it’s a block from where I used to live, and has what I can only describe as ice-skating music (Nutcracker?).

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Wedding Thank-yous Done!

More days than not I have a TODO list written down somewhere.  Notebooks and whiteboards being the most popular vehicles.  For example, here’s today’s list, and not any less legible than usual.

Today was a big day in TODO lists, because “thank yous” will not be there tomorrow.  It has been there almost every day since I got married in May ’11, but no more!  I polished off the last three today and can finally put away the box of random stationery stuff that has been lingering around the house for many months now.

I  know, great right?  Now, just to put things in perspective I should note there were approximately 150 thank-yous to write and send, of which I was responsible for 20 or so.  20 of 150 = 13% ownership.  Fine.  Next time I get married, I’ll shoot for a new PR.

Ok, ok.  But how bad is the delay really?  It’s true, I suspect some people have since moved addresses, but USPS forwards for at least 12 months, if I’m reading their confusing site correctly.  So, logistically I’m in the clear.

Who cares about logistics!  What about etiquette?  We’ll look at the first 3 Bing results and Emily Post.  That’s right, I use Bing instead of Google.  I never switched back after beta-testing Bing, and I haven’t noticed any difference in their effectiveness.   W’oh!  Hey there big guy, no time for a hollow search engine tirade.  Let’s put that in it’s own post where it can be rightly ignored as being soo 2009.

So, anyway, here is the research.

Bing #1 – eHow, your first stop for concise accuracy:

  • bridal shower: 1-2 weeks
  • gifts before wedding: 2-5 days (!?)
  • day of: 2-4 weeks
  • after: not covered by article, but probably same as day of.

Bing #2 – OurMarriage.com:

  • bridal shower: 10 days
  • gifts before wedding: immediately
  • on or after wedding: within 2 weeks of honeymoon end

Bing #3 – HubPages.com:

  • before wedding: immediately
  • on or after: within 3 months

EmilyPost.com:

  • all gifts: within 3 months

Summary:

  • all my thanks-yous: extremely late.  “who are these people?” late.  “when did they get married again?” late.  “i don’t remember sending them anything” late.

Anyway, they were fun to work on, and hopefully the handwritten notes garner a few smiles.  If they can decipher the words that is.  Thank god these blog posts are typed instead of scrawled in my chicken scratch handwriting.

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Houdini bubbles

Growing up in America provides you with almost all the answers you need when it comes to carbonation.  Almost.

If you shake your Diet Pepsi, you’ll lose most of it upon opening, unless you open it really slowly.  Shake it too much, and it’s a lost cause.  Working backwards from the hissing sound, you can infer that something is escaping.  Escaping gas + flat soda = liquid and carbonation separation due to shake.

What I don’t know is why shaking a can of soda separates the liquid and carbonation.  Time to research!

First, it is too much trouble to find a picture of video of exploding soda without Mentos.  Ugh.  Second, who knew Britney Spears hawked Pepsi?  Nice, but we’re off track.

Carbonation: The process of dissolving carbon dioxide in water, usually under high pressure.  When the pressure is released (can opened), the carbon dioxide slowly escapes (fizz).

Ok, ok.  But how does the shaking come into play?

As it turns out I didn’t know what I was talking about above.  So wrong! Shaking mixes, it doesn’t separate.  Cool.

Short Answer:

Shaking puts more carbonation in the liquid.  Boom!

Longer Answer:

There is an equilibrium between the carbonated liquid and the carbonated gas that collects at the top of the sealed container.  Shaking the soda shifts carbonation from the gas at the top of the container into the liquid.  More carbonation in the liquid = more fizz.  When you open a shaken soda, more of the carbonation is trying to escape from the liquid rather than the top of the container, and it brings more liquid with it (all over your shirt).

When you open a soda, the gas escapes, and then the carbonation in the liquid slowly escapes.  Shaking puts more carbonation in the liquid, which increases the amount of gas trying to escape the liquid (and container).

Sources:

http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/chem03/chem03164.htm

http://www.thekitchn.com/food-science-why-carbonated-so-89864

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XNA First Look (better late than never)

XNA is a set of tools and runtime environment aimed at making video game development easier for Xbox, Windows Phone, Windows 7, and Zune.  It’s provided by Microsoft, and the acronym doesn’t stand for anything.  It was first announced in 2004, first released in 2007, and I’d always planned to play with it when I had some spare time.

The time is now!  Well, a few days ago.  So, here is my initial take: It’s easy to use, and powerful.  I spent a couple hours going through one of the many tutorials available on the main site.

The aptly name Shooter is a simple 2d side-scrolling game, which I was able to write, build, and install on my Windows Phone without any trouble.  All the art is provided, and the tutorial walks you through all the code required to turn it into a mobile game.  Very cool.

All you need to begin playing with XNA is a modest PC, and a beginner-level knowledge of C#.  To run programs on a physical Windows Phone (or sell them on the app store), you’ll need a $99 annual membership as well.

There is a huge amount of information, examples, and tutorials to sift through now that XNA has been around awhile, and I have only scratched the surface.   Now…What to build next?

Main XNA site: http://create.msdn.com/en-US/

Shooter Windows Phone tutorial: http://create.msdn.com/en-US/education/tutorial/2dgame/getting_started

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Ergonomics

Here are some ergonomic tips for setting up a computer workstation that have worked well for me over the years.

I read a surprisingly long document at work (Microsoft) a long time ago that essentially boiled down to these simple tips: 90 or 180 degree angles, eyes level at the top of your monitor.

Tip #1: Elbows, waist, and knees at 90 degrees.

Tip #2: Neck and wrists at 180 degrees.

Tip #3: Eyes looking straight ahead should be level with the top of your computer screen.

This final tip is from lots of personal experience.  Double entendre unavoidable.

Tip #4: Use your non-dominant hand to mouse with at work.  Save your dexerity for when it counts. I.e. computer games.

It took me about 2 hrs to get reasonably functional with my left hand, and back up to work speed in a week or so.  I use the forward and back buttons religiously, and did not bother to swap their mappings after the switch.

There was a happy ending too.  My stiff right shoulder went by the wayside, and sporadic evening gaming resumed without a hitch.  At least until The Dread LSAT came abreast and began boarding, but that’s another story…

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Beer in a Nutshell

It’s Wednesday, hump day as some would say.  A fine time to to talk about beer, not wine.  No need to rhyme.  I enjoy beer, but I don’t know how it is made.  I have friends that brew, but knowledge I did not gain.

Just fermentation and hops, right?  Who knows!  I’ll do just enough research to justify referencing my favorite Seattle-area brew, Mac & Jacks.

Background: Beer has been around for thousands of years.

Basic ingrediants: water, fermentable starch (e.g. malted barley), brewer’s yeast, flavoring (e.g. hops)

Basic process: There are a lot of great diagrams out there, and the basic steps all seem to be about the same.  However, not all of them had a cow, so here you go.

  • Milling: grinding the grain
  • Mashing: add water and stir
  • Lautering: separate the grains from the sugar water (wort), feed spent grains to your pet cow, Lucy

Fun facts:

  • In the past, beer has prevented illness when used as a substitute for drinking water because it is sterlized during the brewing process.  There is a great book called The Ghost Map that touches on it, while telling an interesting story of cholera in 1800′s London.
  • Coors Light unseated Budweiser for the No. 2 top selling beer in the U.S. in 2011.  Bud Light still reigns surpreme as No. 1.  Article here.

Who’s thirsty?

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Game of Thrones is Awesome, So Far

I read the Hunger Games over the winter break in the span of a couple of days, mostly because other M loved it and was going to drag me to the coming movie in March anyway.  I really don’t like watching movies if there is a chance I’ll read the book.  In general, the medium that came first is always better.  I can’t speak to novels that come after a movie or video game, but someday I’ll ready the Doom novel and report back on it’s relation to the famous video game.

Hunger Games turned out to be a great, yet quick, read.  The action movie translation should be straighforward.  I won’t spoil it, but if you like outdoor survival adventures with some hand-to-hand combat, check it out.  It successfully reignited my interest in fiction books.  For some reason I’ve been reading primarily non-fiction for the last few years.  I always feel reading non-fiction is more productive, so there are some conclusions to be drawn there.

Alas, while drowning non-fiction with fiction, productivity reared it’s ugly head.  SO, my 3 month reading goals are: 6 books of fiction.  My first book is Game of Thrones, and the recent HBO adaptation helped tremendously in my selection.  I often select a movie to watch based on the cover’s imagery and/or actors.  No summary reading for me.  Wesley Snipes with guns or fire?  Yup.  Julianne Moore playing a cop or doctor?  Oh yeah.  Cop, law, or medical drama?  Definitely.  Gary Oldman in anything?  Done!

Sean Bean in medieval garb, contemplative, with a longsword?  Thanks, that’s all I needed to know.

I’m about 150 pages into the total 800, and it’s awesome, so far.  Hunger Games was a tasty little appetizer preceding the delicious feast that is Game of Thrones.  The training wheels are off.  Both books are engaging, but GoT has more going on.  More heft, more mass.  It’s prompted me to think about features or themes of a story I enjoy.

  • Many characters with unique abilities and backgrounds (e.g. Lord of the Rings)
  • Medieval setting => enemies inevitably resolve disputes up close and personal
  • Backstabbing politics
  • Hidden agendas
  • Epic historical background  (i.e. this has all happened before, sort of)
  • Suspense

I’m sure there are more, so I may have to revisit between books 1 and 2.  Thankfully, both books are the first in a series.  Add it to the list!

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