Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another Tomato Update:

On August 31, I blogged that the squirrels were, at last, leaving my tomato patch alone, and I hoped to get many more tomatoes. Things did not work out. During the hot spell when I was losing every single tomato to the blasted critters, I stopped watering my tomatoes. In retrospect, that was the wrong strategy; I should have been trying my hardest to grow tomatoes for the squirrels to eat. Most of my tomato plants withered or weakened, and their production in September has been poor.

I did get another thirty cherry tomatoes this month, before the next hot spell caused the squirrels to steal what remained. My totals for this year are: six Early Girls and 123 Cherry Tomatoes. That’s far from what I had hoped: 50 Early Girls and 900 Cherries.

There’s an irony here: This year, I was proud of keeping my costs down. The tomato plant sets are inexpensive. I needed no new fertilizer, and I had plenty of poles for the plants to grow on. My biggest expense was for the deterrent spray that did not keep the squirrels off my tomatoes.

Next year I hope to grow my plants in a chicken-wire enclosure.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Delicious Instant Coffee: Taster's Choice Gourmet:

It's generally a good idea to praise a product without knocking its competitors, but I can't resist knocking Starbucks Via. That coffee was rolled out gradually and confidently to great acclaim last year. I heard about it on one of Leo Laporte's podcasts, the Daily GizWiz. Leo was in ecstasy about Via. He claimed that it just tasted like good coffee, no "instant" taste at all. I was horribly disappointed when I tried it. For $1.00 a cup, I expected something that did not taste "instant", and Via does. I don't think you have to be a picky gourmet who spends $30.00 a pound for coffee (which I sometimes do) to taste the deficiency in Via, but let me add this disclaimer: it may taste different to you. I might just be the single unlucky person who doesn't like Via; maybe Leo Laporte was right.

But how about this product: Taster's Choice Gourmet Coffee (both mild and somewhat stronger): it is packaged about the same as Via, in little single-serve just-add-water tubes. It tastes decent for coffee, and there is NO, I repeat, NO instant coffee taste. It's a winner! And it costs about a fifth of what Via costs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

32 Loads:

I do most of the automatic laundries in our home. I like the “nothing added, no smell” washing machine soaps. Several brands advertise that their 32oz bottle holds enough soap for “32 loads.”

I think this is a clever advertizing trick. Each bottle comes with a lid that you pour the soap into, to transfer a measured amount into your washing machine. Just fill the lid up and you’ll get about sixteen loads. But there’s a faint line way down inside the lid. Be very disciplined and fill only to there, and you get 32, just as advertized. And we’re talking discipline here, as in: be very careful not to overfill the lid, every single time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Stealth" Gaming:

From time to time, I dream about buying a really expensive board game ($50 and up) that will give me many hours of pleasurable adventuring. I always decide not to buy, primarily for these reasons:
  • The cost. That's real money!
  • I intend, mostly, to play these games myself, and they are usually not intended as solo games.
  • If I find a really, really good game, then I'm afraid I'll play it too much.

But now, I have stumbled upon a web-hosted treasure trove: "Printable" games that one can download free and enjoy. And there's a whole set of solo games. I may find one that will give me just as much pleasure as the $50 game I'm not buying. Fun!
There's something unusual about many of these games. Their developers have tried to create enjoyable board games that don't look like games. The goal is that you can play them stealthily at work without getting caught. They are called "stealth" or "Ninja" games. One game, for example, uses "post it" notes to replace dice.
I wonder how much these "stealth" games are catching on. Oh, the wasted productivity. Oh, the humanity!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Through the ear, Darkly:

Rosalyn Landor gives a stunning performance of the (abridged) audio book, Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen.

In arts such as music and dance, there is usually a creator, a performer, and an audience. (To simplify, I shall refer to the audience as ‘you’.) There are also arts in which the conventional wisdom is that there is no performer, such as: reading a book.

I disagree with the common wisdom. In art, there is always a performer. Sometimes it is the person who created the art. Most often, it is you. You decide how to look at the Mona Lisa; where to look first, how to take in the details, how to bring the parts of the painting together. You decide how to view a statue. And when you read a book, you decide how the characters look, how they sound, how they move, and what the environments are like that they inhabit. The most detailed writer gives you, at best, clues in how to bring the work to life in your imagination. It’s a big responsibility, but it has its advantages. You can proceed at your own pace. You can make sure that the way you perform the work adjusts to your sensibilities. You can read into each book whatever you want.

When you listen to an audio book, it becomes very evident that a book must be performed in order to be perceived. I’m currently listening to a historical novel that, it seems to me, is not so great; but the performance is so good that the result is terrifically entertaining. Here's a negative review by Erica Jong. One of Jong's complaints, regarding the lack of depth in the characters, simply disappears in this engrossing performance. I rarely listen to abridged books. In fact, I picked this one up by accident. But after I finish it, I shall check out other book performances by Rosalyn Landor.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I like Google Priority Mail (Priority Gmail)!

I signed up for this new feature, and I really like it. If you want to try it, bear in mind that you can always view your inbox the usual way; there's a button onscreen to do that. "Priority" is just a way that Google can show your inbox to you. In Priority mode, the first emails you see are the ones that Google guesses are important; second, you will see your starred mail; what's left comes after that. You can train Google regarding what's important in several ways, so don't worry too much about how it guesses for you. Try it!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

What should a cartoonist do after he loses the contest?

The last page of the New Yorker magazine runs a wonderful contest for cartoon captions. First, they print the cartoon without any caption. People write in with suggestions. Then people vote on the best three ideas, and then they show the cartoon with its winning caption. People are so resourceful, that the results can be quite apt.
If you want to draw a cartoon for this competition, all you have to do is to produce an image that is striking and really, really makes no sense. Then the New Yorker's clever readers will find a caption that, somehow, some way, fits.
Now here's the problem: suppose you're a cartoonist, and you submit a cartoon to the New Yorker for this page. You make it as bizarre and disjoint as you can. And the New Yorker declines to use your cartoon. You went to all that drawing effort, and now what? You can sell the cartoon to somebody else, but you'll have to come up with a caption on your own. Or maybe you can post it at your own cartoonist website and ask people for ideas...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Stand up for Computing:

My physical therapist convinced me that sitting down exacerbates my back problems. I sit down a lot. I read; I eat; and I work at my computer. I write on my computer; I process my Email; and I use the Web to follow the world, wherever I want it to take me.

Occasionally, on field trips for business, I have had to use my computer standing up. That was kind of fun. I recently noticed that a dresser in the same room where I use my computer had an excellent height for stand-up work. I made up my mind to move my laptop, my Internet connection, my wonderful Logitech Smart Mouse and my external keyboard to the other side of the room and try some standup.

The day I cleared off that dresser, the painters who are doing our windows moved a pile of stuff onto the dresser so that they could get at some window panels they had to remove. I looked at that dresser, piled high with papers and books, and said, “Screw it, I’m not going to stand up.” But after I sighed, I persevered. After a lot of stuff-shifting, yesterday was my first day of standup computing.

I was tired. My legs were worn out. My body ached. I just wanted to sit down. But I made some wonderful discoveries, and today I’m still standing.

Discovery #1: There’s another reason I use my computer that I did not list above, because I had not realized it. I use my computer to crash. I’m tired, so I sit down and peruse a few web sites. I can’t collapse-to-relax if I have to stand up. I was much more active yesterday, and I’m sure that was good for me. Also, I’m aware that it makes a difference in well-being to have a good posture at the computer. Well a good posture’s not likely if I’m just sitting there to rest my weary self, is it?

Discovery #2: It’s a lot easier to take a break from the computer if you’re already standing up. We all know we’re supposed to take breaks and not just sit there all day. But getting up out of the chair is a lot harder than just stepping away. Taking quick breaks was very easy for me yesterday.

Discovery #3: Maybe I was spending too much time at my computer. When I had to stand up, I went to the opposite extreme, spending a lot less. I’m actually thinking about getting a life.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Mainstream press throws Wikileaks under a bus:

The title of this entry copies Cory Doctorow's piece on this subject at BoingBoing. The issue is a new proposed federal journalist shield law, something a country with our first amendment shouldn't even need. The issue is that a few big, 'responsible' news entities are trying to work verbiage into this new law that prevents it from protecting Wikileaks. Cory links back to: Trying to exclude WikiLeaks from shield law stinks, by Douglas Lee.

One offensive observation by these weasels is the assertion that Wikileaks is not practicing Journalism; it's just doing "data dissemination." Thank God that no responsible paper has ever stooped to disseminating data, like, oh, say, the Pentagon Papers, or transcriptions of the Nixon tapes, or Associated Press feeds.

Here's one of the fine points Lee makes, and I quote: First, does anyone — including the most mainstream of traditional journalists — really think it a good idea that Congress and judges define, analyze and evaluate what is appropriate “editorial oversight”? For decades, news organizations have struggled to resist those efforts in libel cases and, so far, those struggles have succeeded.

Before we add a few dozen more exceptions to the first amendment, why don’t we exercise our muscles a bit by adding a measly one or two exceptions to the second? I’m not sympathetic to most of what WikiLeaks does, but it’s pathetic for news media in the USA to think that it’s so dangerous, it needs its own exception from our constitution.

I’ve been down a lot lately, haven’t I? I’ll write with a lighter hand next time, I promise.