Monday, December 31, 2007

New Restrictions on Flying with Batteries

Since I only found out about this because I'm subscribed to the RSS feed from, I figured I should pass it along. Apologies if your standard news source has already warned you:

US Department of Transport announces restrictions for Li-Ion batteries

Travel Alert Starting January 1, 2008
Spare Lithium Batteries No Longer Allowed in Checked Baggage.

From what I can tell, here is how it affects me:
-I can not put my spare batteries in my checked luggage, especially since I'm not going to check the equipment that uses the batteries.

-I need to check if the batteries I'm using are quantity limited, if they are, my travel companion gets to carry a few.

-Each battery will be carried in its own plastic zip-top bag.

-I'm going to follow the carriage rules for other types of rechargeable batteries as if they were Lithium, to avoid harried baggage checkers pitching innocent batteries. If a few plastic bags save me a few minutes of grief in the security line, I think it is worth it.

Ugh. Yet another hoop to jump through. At least this one is based on actual safety rather than Hollywood safety.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Digital Photography Workflow, Part 1

Digital Photography Workflow, Part 1

What Your Software Can't Do:

I'm planning to make a series of posts about digital photography, mostly about what happens after the pictures are taken. I grew up shooting with film, getting the rolls processed wherever it was cheapest. Now, the level of control I have with shooting RAW digital has me spoiled for anything else. My strengths in photography are dynamic compositions and capturing interesting moments. My weaknesses are exposures and patience. I like to set the camera up once per location, and just shoot without thinking much about settings. I hate using filters. RAW is perfect for me.

Here is what your software can't do, even when you start from RAW:

1. If it is out of focus, it will always be out of focus. Use on-camera preview to make sure you hit focus on important shots while you still have a chance to retake them. Be familiar with how your lenses behave with your camera's autofocus. Be ready to switch to manual focus if the autofocus isn't cooperating. Learn how to use the diopter adjustment on your viewfinder to compensate for your own bad eyes. Sharpening may bring back a shot that is just a bit out of focus, but this will only look good in very rare situations. Worth a try, but it is best to just take another picture that actually is in focus.

2. If you totally blew out the highlights, sorry, they're gone. In bright settings or when using the flash, I'll set my exposure compensation to deliberately under-expose in order to avoid this problem. Bibble does have a highlight recovery tool, but it can't do enough if you really saturated your pixels. If you take a questionable shot, check the in-camera histogram to make sure there isn't a spike right at the bright edge that may indicate you've lost information. Again, just taking another picture after adjusting the exposure compensation will be your best insurance.

3. If you want the effects of a polarizing filter, you actually need to use a polarizing filter on your lens. RAW doesn't keep track of the polarization of the light hitting the sensor. Though, that would be REALLY FREAKING COOL if someone built a camera that could do that...

4. If you didn't shoot at a high enough resolution, or zoom in as far as you wanted to, there isn't a good way to get the information back. Memory is cheap. Buy more, and always shoot at the highest resolution for your camera. (Note, this doesn't mean using the .tiff setting. If you aren't using RAW, you may as well just use the finest .jpg because the .tiff setting never seems to have enough extra information to make it worth the file size.) Bibble lets you choose the resolution you export to at the final processing step, so you can make smaller res files to put online after the fact. But you never want to set your camera on a smaller res, because that is just telling fate to give you the best photos ever. If your camera was on 640 x 512, you will never be able to print those photos.

5. If you shot with an unflattering camera angle or lighting set up, your subject will not like the photo. Resist the temptation to shoot from below - the undersides of chins and insides of noses are not attractive vantage points on most normal people. Use fill flash outside, use bounce flash from above when inside. Study pictures to get a feel for the lighting and viewpoints that make people look good.

6. If you missed the shot, all you have left is the story about the one that got away. My camera has a setting that I call "take the damn picture" that tells it that when I push the button, I want it to take the photo instead of complaining that it can't find the perfect focus. It is officially called "release priority" in the instruction book. (As an extra source of aggravation, this setting defaults back to "focus priority" each time I replace the battery.) Also, don't delete in-camera. Buy more memory cards instead. Even nearly black frames (flash wasn't fully charged...) could have a great moment hiding in them, which you can recover if you are shooting RAW.

Thankfully, this is a very short list compared to the photography sins that can be forgiven by using a good RAW converter. I like Bibble, and I have since I got my DSLR. They were one of the few at that time that would support my camera (Minolta 5D) and my laptop (Apple iBook G4). Bibble only costs about $70 for the Lite version, and I've had free upgrades to all new versions since then. I'm also impressed by the customer service. One time I was having a big problem with Bibble crashing and I couldn't find an answer in the forums. My desperate email for help was answered by the main man, Eric Hyman. In twenty minutes. At 10:30 pm. Sweet.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Five Pounds Down

Remember that post a while back about the really long walk, and the fall colors? Well, a few days later I twisted my leg funny while wearing high heeled boots at work. I took about three weeks before it felt normal enough to exercise again, but by then I had gained about five pounds. Yuck. I was NOT happy.

Since about March of this year I've really been trying to reverse the direction of slow and steady weight gain that was happening to me. I'm in great physical shape, unless you look at my weight or my body fat percentage. Both are higher than they should be, in the "health risk" section of the charts for my height (5'5") and gender. The American Heart Association No Fad Diet didn't help me lose any weight, but the lifestyle changes did succeed in leveling off the number on the scale. As long as I exercised, I was pretty good at balancing things to stay at steady state.

But steady state isn't my goal, and gaining more was not fun. So the week before Thanksgiving, I joined Weight Watchers. I've been going to local meetings, following the Core plan, and spending longer in the gym. Result: today, five weeks in to this effort, I have lost 5.4 lbs. I'm really happy about that!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Strangest Thing I've Done at Work

My actual job is to be an Opto-Mechanical Engineer. I enjoy it a lot, and I get plenty of satisfaction out of seeing my designs turn into real objects and function how they are supposed to. The past two months at work have been a bit strange, because I got to do something completely outside of my regular job description.

The Security Department put on a play this year for the first time. I volunteered to direct. We just finished up on Monday, after playing to THREE packed houses in the company auditorium. This was no skit - it was a 45 minute, original, one-act play. A lady in the Security Department wrote it, to help increase awareness of the Counterintelligence Threat. As far as we know, this is a first for our location, our division, our sector, and possibly for the whole company. It has been recorded to turn into a DVD to share with other locations.

Being a director is only about 30% telling actors what to do on stage. The other 70% is the rest of the stuff that is needed to get a show to happen. This includes: rehearsal scheduling (in Outlook - all booked in conference rooms until the final week), cast changes (someone drops out, gotta find someone else), facilities coordination (lights, faking a backstage), staging coordination (thankfully I could delegate props, costumes, and sets to other volunteers), publicity (the graphics department came up with an amazing poster for us), script changes, crisis management, cast parties, announcements, sound recording, and a hundred other little details. But, I really loved it. And, since I got a charge number to use, this is the first time I've been paid to do something theater-related.

The response from co-workers has been amazing. We just had a year-end party for all of Engineering and Manufacturing, and I was approached by so many people who wanted to congratulate me on how the play went. This includes people I didn't know beforehand - they recognize me now because of the play. It was certainly the strangest thing I've done at work, but also one of the most rewarding.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

That Cranberry/Sweet Potato Thing

Here is a re-run of what I put into the Christmas cards last year. It is a side-dish recipe that was very popular with the whole group at Thanksgiving dinner. The results are almost sweet-and-sour, with lots of fiber and nutrients to make up for the butter and sugar! (I did submit it to Ocean Spray's recipe contest this year - no love from that...)

I created this recipe for Thanksgiving 2006, because I wanted to make something related to Candied Yams, just not so sweet. I also was tempted by the display of fresh cranberries at our local produce store. Eventually my brain put the chocolate and peanut butter together, and I came up with this. It is a great dish for when there is a lot of activity in the kitchen, because you can just turn off the heat if you need to ignore it for a while, then come back later. It will turn out fine. It also only takes one pot and one spoon. I still don't know what to call it; how about CRandied Yams?

  • zest of 1 large orange (I used a Navel orange)
  • juice of that orange
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries, washed, with the bad ones picked out
  • 1 40 oz can of cut sweet potatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons butter (I used salted); could be less, especially if people will add butter later
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp crystallized ginger (you could use 1/4 tsp ground ginger instead)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Zest and juice the orange into a saucepan, add the white sugar, and heat, stirring occasionally. The sugar will dissolve and the mixture will froth. Once that happens, add the cranberries. Stir over the heat and the cranberries will start to "pop" as the skins split. Once most of the berries have split, crush them gently with the back of your spoon. Let it simmer for a few minutes. At this point, you could stop and have a nice cranberry-orange sauce as a condiment. (At our house, the cranberry sauce has to be "shaped like the can" to count, so this would not go over well.) Keep going if you want a side dish.

Add the drained sweet potatoes to the pot, and stir to combine. While that heats, add the brown sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir until it is all combined and the heat has melted the butter. It will resemble a chunky apple sauce, but the color is a nice dark red-orange. If the sweet potato chunks are too large, break them up with the spoon. And you are done!

Hint: try a spoonful of the leftovers on oatmeal.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fiction Book Suggestion: Our Former Lives in Art

Another thing I accomplished yesterday was reading "Our Former Lives in Art" by Jennifer S. Davis. Again, I checked it out from the local library. It is a collection of short stories about people, but with some fantastical elements showing up amongst the realism. Nothing that totally separates the stories from the actual world we live in, it is more just showing how we don't understand everything about the actual world.

There ARE adult themes. There are Christian themes (for and against). People in the stories make some bad choices, or redeem past bad choices. The writing is good - detailed enough to understand why characters are doing what they do, sparse enough that you use your imagination to fill in the rest. Each story goes quickly, and I found myself looking back at the title of each chapter after the vignette was finished for one more clue.

Here is one of my favorite passages:
"You never asked me about my eye," Alfred says. "I don't think anyone's spent more than an hour with me without asking about my eye."

"You never asked me what I want to do after high school," Lily says. "Or if I have a boyfriend. Or if I have nightmares. Or if I want to talk about it. Or," - she smiles - "my real name."

So there you go. Check it out if you get a chance. I usually pick books at the library by going to the new-releases area and scanning for interesting covers. This one has a picture of a knitted-doll-toilet-paper-roll-cover, sitting on the top of a toilet. I read the blurb on the leaf and if it doesn't sound like a plot I'm tired of, I flip to the middle of the book and read a few paragraphs. If there is any chance I'd enjoy it, I check it out. We're paying enough in property taxes, and the library is the most we get for it, so I don't feel bad at all for hauling home a large stack of books and renewing them three times.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Reunion Photos!

4065_lowres_20071020, originally uploaded by prismglass.

Crossing a big item off of my to-do list today, I post-processed all of the pictures I took at the reunion and posted them on Flickr. I even set up a group, which I thought would be visible to all at
but that may not work the way I expect? I don't know, Flickr just seems so much more complicated than it has to be. Anyway, this is a photo of Abby Skillman and me, towards the end of the night. By taking photos, I think I got to talk with everyone, but not for very long.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall Colors on Foot

After doing all of the laundry and changing my closet over from warm-weather to cold-weather clothing, I looked out the window yesterday and decided I would rather be outside. It is FALL here now with clear skies, brisk temperatures, and beautiful sunlight enhancing the golds and reds on the trees. Fall weather is my favorite, but it can be difficult to get out and do anything anymore. I was already dressed to work out, using that as a mental signal on Saturdays that I really should get to the gym. However, I've said this before, I can't subscribe to good weather, so I try to never feel guilty about being active outside instead.

So I would go for a walk. I called Karen, she was busy, and Jessie had just gotten home from her graduate school class. So I would go for a walk alone. The Navy said that civil twilight would end at 6:22 pm, so since it was 3:22 I drove to the nearby Forest Preserve to do the Poplar Creek Trail (paved). Jessie and I do the 9 mile loop (counting from the car to the path as well) in 3 hours when we walk together. I figured I could shave time off by concentrating on my pace and definitely get back to the car before it got dark and they closed the park.

I start from the parking lot on 59 because that is where the trail numbers start counting off the miles. I've got my car keys held to my water bottle with an elastic hair-holder. I'm wearing running shoes, fancy running socks, my best sports bra, my favorite workout pants, a tank top layered under a long-sleeve t-shirt, a free hat, and my sunglasses. All of the other stuff that I usually have with me gets left in the car, so there is a symbolic shedding of burdens right at the start. Feeling good, with the perfect sunlight warming me enough to counter the chill air, I set out southbound.

Why not run a bit? I'm alone so there really isn't a reason not to. Running on that path feels fun - hey, I'll get to that bend quicker - hey, it's downhill here. I decide not to track how often I'm running vs walking, and just mark my overall pace. (So I'm sure some of the running spurts lasted around 30 seconds but I took them when I felt like it rather than at prescribed, timed intervals. This let me walk on the sections with slippery leaves for safety and save my quads by running on the downhills.)

For the first five miles, each marker comes up a bit sooner that I was expecting. My pushing-it-hard walking pace is 4 mph, so I plan on getting to each marker 15 minutes after the last one. With the running spurts added in there, I tag the 5 mile point at 1 hour and 11 minutes. But the sixth mile goes slower, and after I pick it up to jog the last 50 feet to the number 6 for a 16 minute interval, the next time I try to run lasts about 2 seconds. So much for the running.

Three miles to go, with plenty of time before sundown, so I concentrate more on the scenery and remembering to walk quickly. I see dozens of birds at a time: robins on the ground, finches in the grasses, gulls and geese in the air. The lowering sun becomes more golden and highlights each prairie grass and evergreen brush. The hat helps, but now that I'm moving west I can't look straight ahead because of the sun. There are still almost no clouds and the sky is that blue color that you can't remember anymore in January's gray. The trees are past their prime, having faded a bit and dropped lots of leaves already, but color is still there. Warm reds, oranges, and yellows blend with golden sun glints on the distant trees. I am in the middle of Fall, feeling very lucky.

The last mile, I even see deer up close. Two full grown does were running circles in a field near the pathway. Then I see a smaller deer standing in the path ahead, watching me. I'm not entirely sure if this was proper, but when I get about 20 feet away and it hadn't moved, I raise my arms wide. That clues it to run back into the tall grass, but it continues to watch me (and I him/her) as I walk by.

The final stretch before getting back to the parking lot goes through a large field on gently rolling ground. The sun has gone below the tree line and leaves an orange swath of sky. All the landscape looks like it is calming down and ready to rest for the night and for the winter. I take a mental picture to help get me through the season, or at least through the week.

I get back to the car and stop my watch at 2 hours and 16 minutes. (This does not include time waiting at intersections - I stop the watch for those.) Physically, I'm cold and hungry. My legs will hurt the next day. I feel better than I have in a long time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Geographical Bar Contents

View Larger Map

Here is the result of wanting to make a post about the lovely adult beverages we have in the house, and trying to come up with a more interesting angle for it. So I inventoried our liquor selection and did some online research to make this Google Map. I've narrowed the locations of origin down to at least the city. I do need to say that most websites by the companies that produce alcohol have the most OVERBEARING use of flash animation possible. Information is difficult to find on these websites, so I apologize for any inaccuracies.

The map just has liqueur for now. Our wine, sake, and beer will be added later if I don't run out of patience.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Easily Amused

Today's post is a collection of small things that have amused me. I also wanted to thank "random task" (who?), angel, and sarah for responding to my previous post. I have already emailed the organizer, and yes, he is a male. No response yet...

1) A Jiffy Lube near work would have a message on its sign announcing that Tuesday was "LADIES' DAY $19.95". Recent road construction that obviously makes it difficult to get to, and therefore less busy, had prompted the sign to change to say "HUMANS' DAY $19.95".

2) My favorite church-sign cheesy saying ever, also seen on the way to work: "GOD WANTS SPIRITUAL FRUITS, NOT RELIGIOUS NUTS"

3) While walking in downtown San Jose, CA, with a coworker after a business meeting, I watched a swarm of bicycle cops surround a kid and one take him to the ground in a headlock. We turned around and walked the other direction.

4) During small-talk time after a trans-Atlantic video-teleconference this morning, the Scottish people we were talking with mentioned that they heard we had a "bit of trouble" with our marathon. Yes, yes we did. (I know Scott in person. I've not met Barb, but she commented on my post about Myke and I've been reading her blog since then.)

5) I'm 20 rows into my first non-rectangular crochet project, and I've spent more time untangling yarn then actually crocheting. I have NEVER had this much trouble before with tangles forming when working from a skein. I'm using Lion Brand Micro Spun, which is softer and smoother than any other yarn I've used before. Perhaps the physics of yarn explains how the smoothness is letting loops form easier and slip into knots more often? The next skein will be preemptively wound into a tight ball before use.

6) The Lean Cuisine I had for lunch today listed the "percent chicken" at the end of the ingredients list. The really scary thing? It was to three significant figures.

7) Also near work: a Psychic Reader's office. Next to a State Farm Insurance office. Which one sends more business to the other?

8) Something I work on is mentioned in this press release.

9) I found a way to use up the 8+ year old bottle of Peachtree Schnapps that has been taking up space in our liquor cabinet. Thanks, Disaronno! (Look under Shots and Shooters, it is called the Fuzzy Italian.)

10) Nigel, our cat, now enjoys water. He drinks from the tub faucet when we let it drip, and he stands in the tub after we've showered. It is still very strange to pick up a wet cat.

And yes, I know I haven't posted the script yet, or the photos yet, or anything all that important recently. Humor me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What do I Wear?

Hillsborough High School (NJ) ten-year reunion is on October 20th. That's cool, but what do I wear? The party is in a nice hotel banquet area, but the invitation (actually an Evite) doesn't give a clue about how we are to dress. If you are from HHS class of 1997, what type of outfit are you going to wear to the reunion? I can't tell how formal of a gathering it is supposed to be. My husband can wear a suit, and remove the jacket and tie if that is too much, but it is a bit more of a production to change dresses in the bathroom if I guess wrong, you know?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Iced Coffee at Home

My caffeine dependency is back, but mild for now. I just need a cup of coffee every other day at the least to prevent headaches. At work I fulfill my requirement out of the giant urn of cheap coffee in the cafeteria, and since I'm always cold at work the hot coffee always seems like a good idea. At home, we keep it a warm 75 degrees in the summer, so over the weekends I've enjoyed making iced coffee. (I have to say that having an automatic ice maker in the freezer is one of those small luxuries that I will miss a lot if I ever need to give it up.)

I brew 4 cups (coffee-maker cup markings) using 5 scoops of coffee. I fill a tall glass with ice, and dispense a nice amount of Hershey's chocolate syrup over the ice. When the coffee is ready, I pour it directly onto the ice. (My reasoning here is that will cool the hot coffee down enough to avoid thermally shocking the glass. No broken glasses, yet.) Stir well. As long as some ice is left un-melted the coffee is going to be cool enough. Then I drink half the glass, fill it back up with ice and more coffee, and repeat.

My favorite thing about this is that it doesn't need any milk. After many years of milk-consumption, my system decided that digesting dairy just wasn't a priority anymore. Even with Lactaid (well, the Target brand Lactaid-equivalent) I can't drink a tall glass of milk, so chocolate milk is totally out of reach. Now I have chocolate coffee, so I don't feel so bad.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I Know this Guy!

LEGO link:
Sean has worked his way into having the BEST JOB EVER. I know him from High School, we met in Drama Club during my freshman year, which was his senior year. Last time I saw Sean was in 2002, when he flew from NYC to Indiana to attend my wedding. At that point, I think he still had a normal geek job designing web interfaces. I had no idea that his basement LEGO obsession had turned into this...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reminder About 24-Hour Play Festival

The 24-hour play festival for this year is this weekend. If you are in Terre Haute, or near it, or know someone who is who you can warn, I HIGHLY recommend attendance. The performance itself is held at 8pm on Saturday, the 22nd, in the Kahn rooms of the Student Union at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. I'm sure it is free. I'm sure it will not be suitable for children or the easily offended.

If you can't recall, or haven't read the rest of this blog, here's how it works: On 7:30pm Friday we all meet in Hatfield Hall. Groups are formed randomly, with one writer, one director, and 4.25 actors each. At 8pm we are assigned one prop per group and get started. The writer meets with the actors and the director for about a half an hour to get a feel for the group and their capabilities. Then the actors go away and the writer and the director brainstorm a few ideas. The the writers all go to a location (TBD) to write. At 8am the next morning, the script is due back at Hatfield to be handed off to the director and actors. They get 12 hours to memorize and practice the show before the world-premiere.

This year there are 8 groups. Brian and I are writers. So is Dr. Tom from the ME department. This year, Dr. Julia Williams is one of the directors. Maybe this year you can be one of the audience?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Career Networking the Easy Way

We've been through the Career Center lectures on how important it is to build a Network of professional contacts. This works great for business-types who get used to talking, shmoozing, golfing, hey-buddying, cold-calling, etc. for a living. But what about the Engineer or Scientist, who may be a bit introverted, and a bit shy about approaching new people? Kind of difficult to grow a network then, right? Not anymore! Enter, the Internet, again the solver of all problems: check out LinkedIn. Use it to find former coworkers, meet more people at your current job, catch up with where your college acquaintances are working now, and even check on if your ex-boyfriend is still un-or-under-employed!

This is the first friend-tallying website I've joined. It seems to have more of a point than the others, and the professional emphasis should keep out the Trolls. It came recommended by a manager at a supplier that we visited in San Jose, CA, last month. My profile has very little content right now. I've got to dig up an old resume to look up job titles before adding the old summer internships. And I'm certainly not going to pay for an upgraded membership until I actually need to USE the Network I've built.

If you do join, I'm easy to find. A search on my name nets one result right now. Send me an invite! If I know you in real life, and you don't suck, I'll add you to my Network. (Hint: that is almost everyone I can think of. Unless you were my junior year optics project partner, who decided that D is for Diploma and left me to redo his half of the project...)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dundee Road Race Results

Well, I did a lot better this morning than I thought I would - finished the 5K Dundee Road Race in 36 minutes and 40 seconds. That was good enough to get 3rd place in my age group (women ages 25 to 29) and give me a medal on a green ribbon! Of course, that is just a testament to how small this race was. I think I was the last of the running 5K participants to finish, but at least only the first two 10K runners passed me before the finish line. I spent half the time running, including the first 10 minutes, and half the time walking. The weather was chilly, but not bad once I got going. Partly cloudy, no noticeable wind, and there was Starbucks and bagels waiting at the finish area.

So that was fun, but I spent a lot of time standing around by myself before and after the race. I did strike up a conversation with a spectator who had an older camera hanging around his neck. Turns out it was a Leica that his dad had won in a poker game in Korea. (Nice prize!) I don't have anything that fancy in my collection, certainly nothing I've purchased. The jewel of my antique camera collection is a Contaflex, graciously given to me by the in-laws when a great-grandfather passed away. Even so, I wouldn't bring that to a sporting event because there is too much sentiment attached to it.

Now it is time to take the rest of the day off!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Funks, Breaking-out-of

For about the last two weeks I've been in a "depressive funk" of a very frustrating variety. There was the familiar feeling of empty-blah-grrr going on most of the time, expect for the welcome bright spots whenever I got to spend time with friends. What made this time of bad-feeling extra frustrating was that I could not diagnose the trigger: an event, experience, or thought that would explain why I fell into the funk in the first place. Work is going well, Home is going well, I wasn't upset with myself about anything in particular, and I've even been getting enough sleep lately. So without something that I could identify to "fix", I had to just put up with the crappy mood and wait for it to lift naturally.

The thought that helps me most while I'm depressed is "It will get better." I've been through this to the other side enough times, I trust that even though I can't make myself feel better NOW, I will be feeling better eventually. Remembering that phrase, and repeating it when all my other thoughts are negative, is the best thing I can do while I'm "funked."

Still, I try to pay attention to what I was doing when the cloud finally lifts. Maybe there is a secret bullet for me? Like how the only way to get rid of my hiccups is to breathe deeply, slowly, and calmly for a few minutes? Maybe it isn't the same thing every time, and I should start building a toolbox instead of relying on just one cure. I did start feeling better again today, and maybe it was a coincidence, but here is what was going on:

I was at work, finally getting through a task that I've put off for more than a month. I had been having trouble concentrating so I found a mix CD in my desk that I had made for my MRI last year. When "This Must be the Place" by the Talking Heads started playing towards the end of the disk, I felt something curious. I'm not sure how to explain the feeling, other than my shitty mood seemed to dissolve as the sound met it in my brain. They couldn't exist in the same place above my ears for some reason. (I don't think I have any emotional linkages to this song - at least not consciously?) By the time it was over I really felt good.

So I've got to remember that, but not get my hopes up about music working next time.

Other random nice things:
Open source sewing!
I signed up for another 5k (and it is next week)!
Another 24 hour play festival is happening the weekend before Homecoming!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Not Enough People Have Watched This

Here is a link found through another friend's blog to the niftiest (and most pleasant to listen to) example of Theremin playing I've seen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How (Not) to Contact Your Representatives

Congresswoman Melissa Bean visited the place I work today to take a tour and give a talk. It was a short talk, but at the end she opened the floor for questions. I asked her what the best way was to get in touch with our representatives if we have a concern or an opinion. Her answer was worth sharing: email is the best way, getting a group together of like-minded people to all email on the same topic is even more effective, and using the Postal Service is a good way to make sure no-one sees your letter for 90 days.

As I suspected, they get thousands of emails, so their staff reads through and condenses it all into a report for the representatives. Numbers make a big difference here. If you are the only person writing on a topic, it doesn't get as much notice. If suddenly many people start showing concern about an issue, the representative can see that from the report. She said that on "common" topics, you can expect a pre-prepared response in about 2 weeks. On more unusual topics, you may be waiting 2 months because it can take a while to form a new position.

Congresswoman Bean was careful to point out that using "Snail Mail" really slows down the path of your letter. Because of the screening that is done, mail will take about 90 days to move through the system and get to someone who cares about its contents. If you have to mail a physical letter, she says to send it to the branch office instead of Washington D.C.

Here is a jumping-off point to find out who your representatives are, and how to contact them.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Classic College Humor

Going through old files, I found a clipping from the Rose Thorn's humor page. A news article on the back of the paper dates from 10/24/97, so this would be from Freshman year for all of us from the class of 2001. Author is unknown:

"So, what are you going to major in? Find your match with the Rose Thorn's Guide to the Majors"

Applied Optics- Can't see past your glasses because they're "just so darn interesting."

Chemistry- Looks under a sink and immediately figures out how to build a bomb.

Chemical Engineer- Leans over Chemistry major to tighten pipes.

Civil Engineering- Fascinated with asphalt or dirt.

Computer Science- Writes an IRC chat program to talk to roommate.

Computer Engineering- Can't decide who to hate more: Intel or Microsoft

Economics- Commits white collar crimes as a class project

Electrical Engineer- Stores static electricity in capacitors for "special occasions."

Mathematics- Does taxes in Base 11

Mechanical Engineering- Decides that all joints are to be connected by duct tape.

Physics- Arrested on behalf of the Humane society for performing the Schrodinger's Cat experiment.

That's it. For those of you familiar with Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology today, you might not have known that in 1997 the list of available majors was a lot shorter. We hadn't even won that U.S. News #1 ranking yet. Our laptops had CD drives (not burners, and not DVD drives) that you had to swap with the floppy drive, and no USB ports. The drama club practiced on stage in the old auditorium with the rifle team practicing in the audience. (The old auditorium is now the home of the CS department, which used to be located in the basement of the library.) A lot changed on campus in 10 years!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Nonfiction Book Suggestion: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I just finished reading a book (checked out from the local library) titled "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver. I highly recommend it as entertaining and informative. She writes about her family moving to a small farm in Virginia and only eating locally for an entire year. Her husband interjects each chapter with a worrisome piece of information about the state of American agriculture, often tying in to the state of the American diet. Her daughter ends each chapter with a glimpse into the way this strange (for our times) way of eating affected her life as a teenager. I can't say that I agree with some of the doomsday predictions in the book, but people should at least be aware of this angle on the subject. If you get a chance to read actual books anymore, you should check this one out. As far as its influence on my life, I think I'll be buying more produce from Goebbert's when it is available.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

An Unfair Question

A few blocks away from the bookstore as we walked back to the hotel, I was waiting for the light to change to cross the street. A man approached, looked at the bag I was carrying, and asked, "Did you just buy the new Harry Potter book?" "Yes," I answered, unsure what else he thought it might be, considering it was close to 1 am on Saturday morning, and the street was crowded with costumed fans.

"I'll give you 200 dollars for it."

Then he pulls out a wad of (Canadian) bills and starts counting. I didn't respond immediately, but when he looked back up at me I realized that my face was distorted with an expression of disbelief and disgust. I quietly squeaked out "No," and the man shrugged and walked on.

"You should have taken him up on it." "I don't want to wait in line for four hours to get another copy!" "That's a lot of money." "That was an unfair question! And if you really wanted to turn it into a business proposition, we could have ordered a second copy and scalped that."

So that is my favorite story from my Harry Potter acquisition experience. I did end up pre-ordering over the phone from the same chain that Cam recommended in her comment to my last post. But I decided to use the downtown location that is walking-distance from our hotel. Well, I then started us going the wrong direction down St. Catherine, and it wasn't until the street numbers got above where the bookstore should have been that I realized it. (Besides, who would put a major bookstore in the middle of Montreal's redlight district?) One Metro trip later, we got to the bookstore at about 10 pm. Wandering through all the floors to soak up the surreal atmosphere, we got in the official pre-order line closer to 11 pm. There was a lady from a local wildlife organization there with a REAL OWL working the crowd. I got a really cute picture of a small Harry Potter talking to her about the owl - I promise to post that later.

Occasionally, they would announce the time left to release. The last few seconds there was a countdown, with the crowd getting out of sync with the PA system, just like New Years'. It had actually started out in French, but the last five numbers were in English so we could yell along. Then the screaming started - there were quite a few teenagers and tweens that would scream when they got their copy. Really cute, I thought, that they would be that excited about a book. Once they started handing out books the line was moving pretty quickly. (The pre-orders had bracelets, so they just cut off your bracelet and handed you a bag with a book in it.) At about 40 minutes after midnight, I had our book and we headed out of the store and down the street.

I'm not sure how long I was actually reading for, but it was about 2pm on Saturday when I turned the last page and suggested we go out for lunch. I did have to get some sleep about halfway through, but the point wasn't to get it done in one sitting. The point was to use this slice of my vacation in a decadent and highly enjoyable way. I'm still digesting what I've read, and I'm sure I'll be checking up on details in the other books once I get home.

Also, I want to say Happy 26th Birthday to my little brother. I hope it's a good one.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Harry Potter in Montreal

Vacation plans for this year are shaping up. We've got tickets to Montreal (AA frequent flyer miles = Canada for the same rate as domestic) and a reservation at a hotel. Generally the rest of the details about what we'll be doing are best left to "whatever we feel like" but this time I've got to take care of one more item. I will be in Montreal for the release of Harry Potter book 7.

I hadn't read any of the HP books before the 6th one came out. So last time I didn't care. But this time, I want that book as soon as physically possible. If I wasn't travelling, I would pre-order at Borders or Barnes & Noble and go to the midnight release party. Now, I've got to put some more thought into this. The easy way out would be to order from and have it delivered to the hotel. But I'm worried about the logistics of that, and ruining all of Saturday waiting around for the package to show up.

No, I still want the book on Friday night. Which I will then start reading immediately and not stop until I finish. I read quick, so this should be over before lunchtime on Saturday. I need to find somewhere that is open at midnight, is selling books in ENGLISH, and will not charge me full price. So far, the internet has failed me. I may need to start making phone calls.

(It does look like if I buy the book in Canada, I'll get one of the British-style covers. Should I go for the adult cover or the children's cover?)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Any Advice on Sergers?

Does anyone who reads this blog have any advice for me on Sergers? I'm in the market for one, but I'm having a difficult time getting good information to make a decision. There just isn't the critical mass of opinions online about this product - sewers as a group do not generally contribute as much content to online communities as computer people, or even car people. I'm getting suspicious because while there is a lot of "I wouldn't buy X because it is junk," there isn't much "I did buy X and it was junk." People seem to easily put down the brands that they did not buy, but when it comes to what they did buy, no-one is saying they screwed up. The negative reviews just aren't there, so I don't know how much I can trust the good reviews. Are the good reviewers just the lucky people who got the good machines, and the unhappy people just operate under "If you can't say something nice..."??? Or are we in a happy state where I can rest assured that whatever I pick is going to end up working just fine for me?

A serger is a specialized machine for sewing that uses 2 to 5 threads to form a different type of stitch than you can get out of a conventional sewing machine. (If you see a machine with more than one cone of thread behind it, it is probably a serger.) A conventional sewing machine has one needle and one bobbin. A serger has one, two, or three needles, two loopers, and a knife. They can do overlock stitches, rolled edges, flatlock stitches, and some convert into a coverstitch machine. They are also really, really fast at sewing. I'd use it in addition to my sewing machine (Pfaff Expression 2036) to speed up garment construction and get a more professional-looking interior finish.

But the question remains: what do I get? What do I want to spend? How can I prevent getting something now and regretting it in a year or two? The field ranges from $200 for a Brother from to $1500 for a Husky/Viking from Joann fabrics. You could spend more, but above this you are either paying for it to thread itself or for decorative stitch options. (My Pfaff does plenty of deco stitches, I don't need more.) I'm trying to look at it from the perspective of price breaks - when does each feature become available? Here's what I've got so far:

$200 Brother 3 and 4 thread serger, no dealer support, good reviews on, very basic machine, not able to try out before buying

$270 Kenmore 3 and 4 thread serger with 3 year service plan, was the front-runner until I tried threading one at Sears today and I kept breaking thread and tangling it, not an easy machine to work with, also one of those brands with almost NO reviews online...

$400 Husky/Viking 3 and 4 thread serger, Joann classes, most popular brand, I test drove one today and it was nice to use but the controls were not marked well enough that I could expect to find the same exact settings next time I needed them

$700 Husky/Viking 3 and 4 thread serger, Joann classes, bigger, roomier, free-arm option, controls done better, there may be more stitch options on this one but it was difficult to tell

$900 Pfaff 3, 4, and 5 thread serger, local sewing-store classes, huge advantage because this one does the cover stitch and a 5-thread safety stitch, but really, this costs more than the washer/dryer I just bought last month!

So, please chime in if you have an opinion! Do you or someone you know have a serger? Are you happy with it? Do you wish you had gotten a different machine with more capabilities? Is it sitting in a closet somewhere (maybe you would like to sell it???) or is it a valued member of your sewing-room team? Operators are standing by.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Fruits and Veggies

First, really quick, here's how the race went:
Official time: 49 minutes 16 seconds
Time I was moving forwards: 44 minutes 54 seconds
Time from start to finish: who knows?

I never did figure out where the starting line was - it wasn't where the map said it was. The announcer kept saying things like "the start is towards Balbo Street" and "the start is 300 yards north of last year's start" both not really helpful in determining the absolute location of the starting line.

I ended up separated from the others from work, and fairly far back in the pack. You can see from the times above that I spent over four minutes standing still after the starting horn sounded. After we got going, I spent the whole race trying to get around the slower people who had started ahead of me. And I'm not fast. But the important thing is that I actually finished in less than 45 minutes of movement, and I probably went farther than 3.5 miles if you count all of the side to side in order to get around groups of walkers. That said, it was a really fun challenge, and a great first race. I could see racing again, at least at the 5k level, and enjoying it.

Berries are on special! Blackberries were 99 cents a box last week, and blueberries were 99 cents a box this week. I also got a box of raspberries for $1.50. It took a lot of self control to leave a few in the fridge tonight. Shopping at the local produce store has helped clue me in better to the phases that fruits and vegetables go through over the course of the year. Basically, when the crops are good and plentiful, Valli Produce has them on special. Even though a lot of the produce is coming from other parts of the world, there are still distinct "good times" to buy each item. Limes are the most volatile I've seen. At some times, they are three for a dollar, and the X/$ changes over time to 5 then 10 then 20 or 30 and I think I've even seen 50 limes for a dollar at least once. Then it goes back down and the cycle starts over. (I can't even imagine what you'd do with that many limes...)

For those of you trying to eat more vegetables in your daily lives, I want to put in a good word for the American Heart Association's No Fad Diet cookbook. They find a way to put maximum vegetables in everything, and 80% of the recipes I've tried I can say I'll be making again. For example, dinner tonight is my third time cooking their Gourmet Tuna Noodle Casserole. They use whole wheat pasta, cream of chicken soup, and tuna (of course) but then they add spinach, water chestnuts, green onions, dill, lemon zest, and fat free milk. Then you top with corn flakes in a 9 x 13 pan to get maximum crunch surface area per volume. Of course, they don't put enough salt in anything, but that is easy to adjust. My other favorite from the book is the pumpkin curry soup. It's been out for a few years so your library probably has a copy.

Finally, I'd like to thank (in no particular order) Scott, Sarah, Kevin, Dave, Rhiannon, Herb, Karen, Jessie, Brock, and Hannah for all of the great times last weekend. What a thrill to throw a party that people show up for! I'm very glad it was a four day weekend for me - I was able to prep on Friday and recover on Monday - because Saturday and Sunday were then a no-stress and all-fun whirlwind of social interaction! For example, the downtown adventure that Scott, Sarah, and Kevin left after dinner went on much longer for Dave, Rhiannon, and us. We went to an 11 pm showing of Second City etc. which didn't end until after 2 am. I didn't get to sleep until 4:30 am, then it was up again the next morning to shop for the cookout. The cookout didn't quite end until dinner, when we decided that since all of the dishes and food in our house had been used or consumed, we needed to go out.

Imagine nine people at one giant round table at Hot Wok Village, nine different dishes to pass around to sample, and what must have been 30 fortune cookies at the end of the meal in a giant pile. Sarah and Kevin started writing a short story with their fortunes. Herb did an Antique Road Show shtick with an empty rice bowl. Dave passed around his phone with photos of a stick-figure-whiteboard-manifesto about data transfer. I inadvertently ordered the spiciest thing I've ever eaten, (and continued to eat rather than giving up,) the Ginger Beef. FUN FUN FUN! Let's do that again sometime.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Warning: Depressing Post

[Edited between square brackets on 7/9/08]

At work on Monday, April 30th, we all got some horrible news. One of our fellow Opto-Mechanical Engineers had been killed in a car accident over the weekend. Myke Minbiole was 29 years old. He had been married less than a year, his wife Julie was also in the car but she was out of the hospital in a day or so. He had been working at [our company] since he graduated from Northwestern. I didn't know him well; I knew of him and he was always friendly. But I am closer friends with several of his close friends. The whole department was affected, and all of the others at work who had spent time with Myke were also touched.

We know a few details of the accident. It happened around midnight, as they were driving home from a visiting friends in downtown Chicago. His Pontiac Sunfire was t-boned on the driver's side by a 2007 Cadillac Escalade. Literally a hit-and-run: the occupants of the SUV (some reports said there were four) got out and fled on foot. We assume it had been a stolen vehicle. All around, a horrible stroke of bad luck, him being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Monday and Tuesday passed as if the whole day was one long moment of silence. Our usually lively room was quiet and somber. The obituaries were posted on doorways and you couldn't get around the building without the constant reminder that Myke was gone. The visitation was on Wednesday evening, and an amazing crowd showed up. Despite the traffic, we packed the funeral home, standing room only. I met Myke's parents, his widow Julie, his two brothers and their wives. All of his family was amazed at how many co-workers were there. Even a supplier had shown up to pay his respects. How could we not be? How could we not say goodbye?

The casket was open at the visitation. They had dressed him in the perfect shirt: a green graphic print t-shirt, with a tree/root motif growing from the neck and a few white shapes that could have been doves. I heard it was one of his favorite shirts. I also heard (but didn't check) that he was wearing a duct-tape accented belt. So many stories and memories were shared in that room. I really wish I had been good friends with Myke. It turns out he was an artist - a cartoonist even - who loved to create things - to fix things. He had co-authored a book on solid modeling as an undergrad with a professor. He had single-handedly won a robotics design competition in college. He hand-built a canoe (never used) while he was in high school. Myke was an amazing person. I truly regret not getting to know him.

The funeral was on Thursday, in the middle of the day. Most of the coworkers who lived downtown didn't come in to work at all. Us suburbanites rode on a company-sponsored shuttle bus to the Holy Name Cathedral for the service. A beautiful day in a beautiful church, sadness and comfort fought in my heart. I was so glad to hear that Myke was in God's hands. The uncles who spoke at the end of the service told us that Myke was the third young man to be taken from the Minbiole family this year. The most sadness I have ever seen was covering Julie as she followed her husband's coffin into and out of the church. I prayed for her, and I prayed for us all. God, help us through this horrible, stupid, meaningless loss. Help Julie and the Minbiole family adjust to being without...

The department manager led an expedition to the local pub after we got back to work. More stories were shared about Myke, but other topics got brought up as well. Management convinced Mykes best friend (and cubemate) to take Friday off. Myke's cube is preserved (not that anyone had taken anything) until Julie feels ready to come in and gather his things. On Friday they sent out an email authorizing people to charge personal time for any time we took off for mourning. Through the whole ordeal I kept being reminded that [our company] is a really sensitive and caring place.

Epilogue: on May 24th our location is going to participate for the first time in the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge 3.5 mile race in Grant Park. There will be a dedication to Myke before the race and our team shirts will honor him. I'm going to jog and walk (my first race!) with the goal of finishing in 45 minutes. (Secondary goal: not throwing up afterwards.) We have 147 people signed up for the team. I feel like making some more friends...

Monday, April 23, 2007

For Earth Day, a Gas Leak!

Yesterday was Earth Day. I hadn't planned anything special. But our house decided to celebrate by burning out one of the compact fluorescent bulbs in the kitchen and - this is the fun part - getting a small gas leak going in the dryer! I was late getting laundry started on Sunday (like 8 pm late) and when I took the towels out of the dryer where they had sat overnight, they smelled VERY STRONGLY of gas.

We have a gas dryer (and stove, water heater, furnace...) so I was pretty concerned. The smell was really only strong inside of the dryer. I opened the window (at least the weather was nice) to air out the bathroom. Then I called the gas company. It took a few times to get past a busy signal, but then it took a while to get through the voice mail system. (I'm glad it wasn't a dangerous emergency...) In about a half an hour a technician pulled in the driveway. He comes in with a fancy piece of equipment that has a sniffer on the end and sounds like a Geiger counter when it smells gas. So what is the first thing he does when he gets to the bathroom? .... He sticks his head in the dryer.

A few minutes later he's narrowed down the problem to the valve inside of the dryer. It is easily accessible if you pull down on the lower panel in the front of the dryer. Apparently the manifold doesn't shut off the flow of gas when it is supposed to anymore. He shows me a manual shut-off for the valve and says that we can keep using the dryer safely, we just have to shut the gas off manually when we aren't using it.

If we can find the replacement part for a reasonable price, we should be able to fix the dryer. If not, we may be appliance shopping soon. (Washer and dryer are Roper brand, came with the house, and are probably 20+ years old. They owe no-one.)

I learned a few things on Sunday:
-Visits from gas company technicians to investigate a gas leak are free.
-The dryer has a panel in the front that is easy to open, and you can see the fire in there when it is running.
-I shouldn't have spent so much time with my own head in the dryer trying to decide if I needed to call the gas company. I got a headache that didn't go away until this morning at work.

In general the weekend was full of ups and downs. A special-occasion dinner at our favorite restaurant was disappointing because they changed the menu from fancy food to bar food. (BAD) We had friends over for the first grilling of the season on Saturday. (GOOD) I walked for 6 miles with another friend on Sunday in a forest preserve and we got to catch up on girl-talk. (GOOD) I ended up with unexplained red blotches all over my arms and legs afterward. (BAD) They stopped getting worse once I showered, and went away by the end of the night. (GOOD) The dryer misbehaved (BAD) which meant I couldn't do laundry (BAD, no, GOOD). And on and on....

Saturday, April 7, 2007

It's Better Live

When life stops changing drastically every four years, time can start slipping by without making much of an impression. Recently I've become aware that going along in my rut (it's a good rut, but still, I'm doing the same thing week after week) isn't letting enough fun into my life. So I'm making an effort to jump at chances to have new experiences interspersed day-to-day.

Last weekend I took Sara up on her offer (see comments to previous post) of going out to a college acapella competition downtown. I've been in choirs and choruses for the majority of my life, but I wasn't quite enough of a chorus geek to be aware of this particular sport. Apparently at some larger colleges (larger than Rose, at least, which was the same size as my high school) groups of students get together and practice acapella songs to perform and compete with other groups. It isn't barbershop, madrigal, Latin chanting, or do-wop. These songs are arrangements of popular music, where there is still one or two main vocalists and the rest of the choir is taking over for the instruments, including the drums. I was really impressed with how many different sounds can be made by the human voice. Each choir did about three songs, and the soloists switched off. Some numbers had choreography, which was like watching just the musical numbers from a school production. The funny thing was when the "instruments" suddenly sing something in English to supplement the number. (My favorite was during that "You oughta know" song, after the soloist said "till you die, till you die, but you're still alive" the rest of the group says "Why don't you die?")

It was a really long night. I left home at about 4 pm, took until 5:45 pm to get downtown to the restaurant. The show was scheduled to start at 8 pm, but didn't get going until 8:30 pm because people were still arriving. Then they had to stall in between sets to let the judges tally their scores. 6 groups for 15 minutes each, a 15 minute intermission halfway through, and THEN the judges took their dear sweet time deciding who was going to win. The host group, Northwestern's Purple Haze, ran through their entire repertoire. Then the had a "beat box" contest. Then they pulled another choir out of the audience who happened to be there ("Is there an acapella choir in the house?) so we heard two songs from Boston College's Bostonians before the judges were finally ready. By the time the night was over and I was back at my car it was after midnight. I actually hit traffic on the way home because of construction, so I got home at 1:30 am. Driving to downtown Chicago... grrr...

My favorite band of the night, the xtension chords, was selling CDs after the show so I bought their most recent one. It's called "Instrumentally Challenged" and I've listened to it twice. Nothing really wrong with the CD, but I have to say in general that this type of music is really better live. I'd certainly go to another concert, but I don't think I'd buy another CD. The excitement isn't captured. The complexity of the human voice isn't captured, and their great acting and stage presence certainly didn't show up on the audio recording. (They got 1st runner up to another band that I forgot the name of.)

So in all it was a really fun evening with Sara, Tony, and Amanda. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to step out of my rut for a while!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cat Story and an Alternative to Donuts

We've had our cat, Nigel, for about six years now. Like all cats, he has an aversion to water or getting wet. When Nigel does something he isn't supposed to be doing, and we see it, he will get squirted from a water bottle. Now, however, I think he is trying to train himself to not fear the water!

When the tile in the shower was replaced at the end of last year the shower door was also removed. Instead of the metal track on the rim of the tub, we now have a shower curtain that goes outside of the tub and a shower curtain liner that goes inside the tub. This forms a tent over the rim of the tub. At first, Nigel just played in the tent. Then he would hop into the bathtub (when it was dry) and wrestle with the liner. Or just stand in the bathtub.

Now he'll hop into the bathtub when it is still wet from a shower. Or he'll perch on the rim of the tub and try to catch the water still dripping from the faucet. This may be one of those "you had to be there" but he will swat at the water drops with his paws, but if he actually catches one he shakes his paw violently. "Holy shit! This is WET!" So the desensitivity training is not complete yet.

At work there is a tradition that to celebrate your birthday, you bring in donuts. Fine, but I shouldn't be eating those donuts and I know a lot of my other coworkers can't have donuts. (Or even homemade cookies, which is sad. I will make room in my diet for homemade cookies!) Something I did last year, and will do again this year, is to buy many pounds of fresh fruit at the local produce store and bring that in instead. Ripe, washed, and ready to eat apples, oranges, and pears were so popular that all 12 or so pounds were gone by lunchtime. One coworker thanked me for bringing in treats that he didn't have to miss. (He actually had his heart attack at work one evening. Luckily, other people were still there working with him.) One said "Do you know how long it's been since I had an apple?" Plus, because the fruit is on special for 49 cents to 79 cents a pound, I even spend less than if I had gone the Krispy Kreme route. Mmmm. Krispy Kremes....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Correction to Earlier Post and Some Useful Links

A few posts ago I wrote about how the lever to open the trunk of my car had stopped working. I was on the phone with the service department today to set up my 30k appointment, and mentioned that I was having this problem. The service manager that I was talking to, Steve, immediately suggested that the lock-out lever may have been accidentally set. He described the lever's location so I could check it myself. (The lever happens to be unmarked and Not Obvious.) Sure enough, that fixed the problem immediately. Kudos to Steve at Bigger's Mazda for sharing information for free over the phone - not normal for a car dealership service technician!

I wrote out a list of nifty links to send to a friend, and figured I may as well share them with you all as well:

This site integrates Google Maps so you can figure out exactly how long a walk you took was:

This site was written by "some guy". I'm not sure how medically accurate his advice is, but I like the way he wrote it.

I was looking for asset allocation suggestions, and I found this online calculator - it takes more into account than just your time to retirement!

This store rocks. I've been very happy with all the things I've ordered from them.

If you own cats, you should check out this webcomic!

And this site has good free information about sewing.

One more thing: I've been getting the NetSAAvers emails from for years now and I finally saw a deal I couldn't pass up. $99 round trip from O'Hare to Newark, direct flights, so I'm going to visit my family this weekend! Now, I haven't flown since the liquid-restriction hassle started, so this is going to be a new experience. I've already instructed my parents to have a bottle of contact lens solution waiting for me, because the "small" bottles only come in 4 oz, which is too large to carry on.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I would like to share...

I would like to share the play I wrote last weekend with anyone who would like to read it. I think it turned out very well, especially given the time constraints and this is the first time I've ever done anything like that. BUT I'm worried that if I put it out on Google Docs with the setting where ANYONE can read it, some kid will find it and rip it off for their creative writing assignment. Paranoid, I know, but I'm proud of the multi-level symbolism I was able to create around a train whistle, and I don't like the idea of some cheatwad getting extra credit for it! Okay, that sounds really far-fetched when I write it out like that. Here's the link:

(link removed 3/31/15)

I may take it down in a month or so, to reduce its weblife.

Warning: not entirely work safe. Read it yourself before deciding who else to show it to! I'd love to hear comments. (I disabled the capthca-thingy, but comment moderation is still enabled.) (And if you knew me in college or before, I was Amy. Now I can understand Darren's point of view but haven't taken it completely to heart.)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

30,000 miles, and an all-nighter

My Mazda3 sedan reached 30,000 miles on the way home from work today. In the near three years I've had it, I've had only two things you might be able to classify as problems. First, they did a recall to fix an airbag sensor that would crack and let moisture in. Second, I've recently realized that the lever inside the car that pops the trunk has stopped working. I'll get that fixed under warranty at its 30k checkup. So I have been more than pleased with the quality and design of the entire car. I'm starting to see more of them on the road, too, so others must be happy as well.

The payments will be over around this time next year, and then I hope to drive it for many years after that. I spent more time and energy researching which car to buy than which house to buy - and while we had to compromise on the house (1.5 bathrooms instead of 2) I don't feel I had to compromise on the car at all.
Thank you, Mazda, for designing and building a small car that isn't a piece of crap!

Tonight I hope to get a lot of rest, because we are driving back to Rose tomorrow to participate in the Drama Club's 24-hour-play-festival. Us writers (alumni, mostly, I think) have from 8 pm on Friday to 8 am on Saturday to write a small play each. Then the actors and directors get until 8 pm on Saturday to rehearse and memorize the plays for a performance. So if you can make it at all, please consider stopping by the Kahn Room at 8 pm on 2/3/07 to watch the World Premiere of a bunch of plays. Those plays will be written by sleep-deprived engineers and scientists, with the constraint that we must include a certain prop (also provided at 8 pm tomorrow) and use certain actors. Hilarity may ensue (your results may vary).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Can't Feel my Face!

The dentist that I'm going to uses all the high-tech gadgets: digital bite-wings, integrated computer patient database, blue-light cure composite fillings...

And yet, all of the assistants are high-school students. Literally - I asked one. They do an okay job with the polishing, and the dentist is actually the one wielding the sonic scraper for once, so I haven't had a problem before when I just went in for cleanings.

However, I got a little unnerved today when I had some fillings done. It bothered me just a little that the dentist was spending a lot of time telling the assistant what to do. It bothered me a lot when he had to correct the assistant during the procedure! In addition, the assistant couldn't seem to aim the suction device well enough to keep me from feeling like I was going to drown in my own spit. I was shaking by the time it was over, and shivered the whole way home - not from the cold, either.

Compound this by how I got there ten minutes early, but had to wait until 45 minutes after my appointment time to be seated. They didn't start the action until an hour and 15 minutes after the appointment time. I was ALSO told that it looked like the decay under one existing filling (that they were removing to replace) might be close enough to the root that I would need a root canal. Thankfully, once the coarse drilling and some poking were done, he was able to verify that I could keep my nerve.

And I used to like going to the dentist.

(Hi to all the RGSB people!)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Local Food: POL Bistro & Cafe

We tried a new restaurant tonight. I had been driving past it on the way to work for months, and it finally opened on Monday. All I knew about it was the name, "POL BISTRO AND CAFE" but I wanted to check it out. Not because I really like Polish food, but because I really don't know much of anything about Polish food beyond pierogi from the fair. So I had my first experience with a potato pancake wrapped around beef stew. It was really pleasant, simple food, and I've got enough leftovers for two more meals - from the lunch portion! For $9.99!

It is also a new, independent, local restaurant. I like the mom-and-pop places and I like to see them do well. But around here, the chain crap-on-the-wallpelbees type dominates the selection. We have a lot of good independent Asian and Mexican places
: Thai, Indian, Japanese, and dozens of taco/burrito joints. I'd like to see more variety, so getting some European choices is great. If someone opens up an independent American restaurant that ISN'T a sports bar I'd be there, too.

I'm not saying that chain restaurants don't have a place in my heart. I'll go for a focus-group-approved salad from TGI Fridays or the portobello ravioli from Olive Garden when the mood strikes. What I hate is the idea that eventually every establishment in the country will serve the same menu of artichoke-spinach dip, deep fried onion blossom, and Jack Daniels steak. I had a preview of that future in Terre Haute... We did eventually find a few good independent places, but a "city" of that size should have had more, at least in my perfect world.

The best defence against homogenization is to reward the unique places with your patronage. That can get difficult when the sneakier chains try to make themselves seem like non-chains. I've learned to use the power of the Internet to check up on a new place before getting my hopes up. Basically, if it is a chain, and it is named something like "Mike and Jimmy's" you can nearly bet that there has never been a Mike or a Jimmy involved in it. They just call themselves that to seem like they used to be a mom-and-pop place. Grr.

Update on previous post: Bibble did come out with a new version when I was halfway through the processing. It does nifty new stuff. (One of these days I'll write more about Bibble and how I use it.)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Slow Progress

I took too many photos last week. As the official wedding photographer, I was supposed to take a lot of pictures, but I surprised even myself when the night was over - I had over 900 shots. I shoot in RAW, and I post-process in Bibble, so I get to run my fingers over each one of these pictures again. That is where the "too many photos" comes in. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have so many pictures, and so many of them are nice shots. But I've been at the laptop for the greater part of the day, and I'm only about 250 pictures into the stack. (The ceremony just ended. Next up, the formal portraits.)

Prediction: as soon as I finish converting the last batch from this wedding, Bibble will have an update to the software version that does something miraculous. It's happened before, and no matter how long I stall before starting, the new software comes out a few days after I finish. Grrr.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Honey Liqueurs

We threw a New Year's weekend gathering, and one guest brought a bottle of Barenjager Honey Liqueur. (Teuke + Koenig, Germany, 35% alcohol). We all tried some - and we all liked it. Anyone who doesn't have a problem with how alcohol tastes would like it, because it tastes like alcoholic honey. We didn't mix it with anything, just sipped it from small glasses.

Since that was so great, and we ended up at a liquor store the next day, the same guest decided to buy a bottle of a different type of honey liqueur. The Old Krupnik Polish Honey Liqueur (Poland, imported by Adamba Imports, 40% alcohol) has two bears drinking under a tree on the label, so he went for that. This one doesn't taste nearly as much like honey as the first one, but honey is a very significant flavor. It is more complicated, as the bottle hints by saying "Prepared from bees honey and various spices and herbs according to Polish recipes many hundred years old." I call it good, but it wasn't as popular as the Barenjager.

I had some with hot black tea, and this may be my new favorite hot alcoholic drink. Today, a coworker told me that Old Krupnik is actually a traditional Polish tea "additive" and his first exposure to the liqueur was when he ordered tea at a Polish bar. So I was being culturally authentic and didn't even realize it.

Recommendation: both, eventually; if you favor sweet tastes you would like the Barenjager better; if you favor spice (like chai tea without milk or sugar) go for the Old Krupnik.

First Post!

Okay, me, here are the ground rules: I shall not post while (newly) angry. I shall not post while drinking. I shall not post anything so boring that I wouldn't tell my friends in person. I shall not obsess over comments, or lack of comments. I shall spellcheck my posts.


There aren't many photos of the photographer


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