Children See, Children Do

Here’s a powerful public service spot, apparently out of Australia. It’s aimed at parents, but it should really be watched by everyone.

On a semi-related note, here’s a video that got Bill O’Reilly up-in-arms (not exactly a difficult task):

Leaving aside the fact that this is actually a thinly-disguised pitch for a music group‘s new album, I’m not sure how I feel about this. While I agree with some of the ideas espoused in the little girl’s tirade (which was quite clearly written by somebody else — is this not obvious to everyone?), I don’t agree with all of them. But I don’t think it’s meant to be taken seriously. I think it’s meant to get people riled up, to stir the pot. And it worked:

Bill, Bill, Bill. Don’t take the bait.

Can’t we all just get along?

[Public service spot via Dumb Little Man, ranting eight-year-old via Metafilter]

How to Walk

I took a day off work last week to get some errands done. Among other things, I swung by Pacesetter Athletic in Woodstock to get some instruction on how to use my shoes. That’s right: I needed remedial walking lessons.

I bought my shoes at the beginning of November during the store’s “20% off sale”. The owner helped me find an appropriate pair. “Listen to me,” he said, staring me in the eyes, “I want you to come back. I don’t have time to go over things with you now, but I want you to come back. You need to learn how to use these shoes. You need to learn how to walk.”

The only trouble was the owner wasn’t ever in his shop when I had free time. When I took a day off for other errands, I took the opportunity to drop by. At first he didn’t recognize me, but when he took a look at my old shoes, it all came back to him. “Oh yeah,” he said. “These shoes are crap. Look how they have these ‘air cushions’ in them. It’s all a gimmick. They don’t provide any support. Here — put them on again.”

And so I did.

He led me outside and had me walk back-and-forth. Then he had me jog back-and-forth. “Your feet wobble all over the place,” he told me. “Those shoes are awful. You have no support. Now try on your new shoes.”

I tried on my new shoes. I walked across the parking lot. I jogged across the parking lot. “See?” he said. “Isn’t that better. You were rolling your foot from the outside to the inside. This shoe helps correct that. But you’re still not walking properly. Let me show you how.”

The owner showed me how to walk. “You have to breathe deeply as you walk,” he said, and he made a big swooping motion with his arms, presumably filling up his lungs. “Also, you need to relax your shoulders. Keep your back straight. Keep your butt underneath you. You’re leaning forward like this.”

A light clicked. “Is that why I get shin splints?” I asked.

“Exactly!” he said, leading me inside. “Here, let me write this down for you. On a piece of paper he scrawled:

Checklist — every 5-10 minutes

  1. Breathe deep
  2. Relax shoulders
  3. Back straight
  4. Hip or butt underneath you


He also sold me an insert for my shoe, a thick piece of foam with an additional piece of foam glued in place as an arch support. “I want you to try these,” he told me. “I think they’ll help you.”

He sent me on my merry way.

When I got home, I tried the shoes with the new arch support. I started my three-mile route down along River Forest Loop. I could tell there were problems immediately. My feet were cramping, just like they used to. The shoe felt tight. But after a mile of pain, I stopped and removed the arches. Everything was fine.

I walked.

I practiced mindfulness. Every few minutes, I did a mental inventory. Was I breathing deeply? Was I relaxing my shoulders? Was my back straight? Was my butt underneath me?

Mostly, I was able to do all these things. (I have some trouble understanding the “relax shoulders” bit. I feel like I have slouchy shoulders to begin with. Can you get more relaxed than that?) When I had finished the walk, I was pleased to realize that I was not sore. I did not have shin splints. Now I just need to walk more often.

The Decemberists and Stupid Pet Tricks

It’s YouTube day here at foldedspace! First up, for Kris, is The Decemberist’s recent appearance on David Letterman. Craig should like this, too. They perform “Valencia”.

Next, for my brother Jeff, is the stupidest dog in the world:

And, finally, for me there’s videos of funny cats. (The first clip is short and very, very funny):

I love cats.

I Love My MacBook Pro

Allow me to rave some more about my new computer. Again.

I’ve never purchased a top-of-the-line machine before, so this is new experience. I feel like I’m on the cutting edge. Admittedly, a lot of this stuff isn’t new — people have been doing these things for months or years — but it’s all new to me, and I’m wallowing in the wonder of it all.

Here are some of the things I love:

  • Video chat — You’ll recall that Mac, Joel, and I participated in videophone market research some years ago. That was a novelty, and showed promise, but ultimately was a hassle to use. Apple has removed all barriers. New iMacs and MacBooks ship with built-in video cameras at the top of the screen. Video chat is as easy to initiate as any other chat. And it’s fun! We don’t see Jeremy and Jennifer as often as we’d like, but last night we spent 45 minutes together via video chat. It was awesome. It’s a completely different experience than instant messaging or voice chat (which is just like telephone). I’m sold. I want all of my friends to rush out and buy MacBooks so that I can do video chat with them. Mac! Joel! This means you!
  • Windows — For years, Mac-users have been able to run Windows via a product called Virtual PC. The truth is Virtual PC sucks. It’s slow. It’s cumbersome. It’s a bother. Since Apple switched to Intel chips, the same chips that Windows PCs are built on, it’s much easier for programmers to make Windows work on a Mac. And that’s what they’ve done. Apple offers a free download of a product called Boot Camp, which lets you opt to start in either MacOS or Windows, but even better is a piece of software called Parallels. Parallels lets you run both MacOS and Windows at the same time. Not everyone needs to do this, but for a few this is a godsend. For example, I wrote all the Custom Box software in Visual Basic on a PC; now I can run those programs on my Mac.
  • Dashboard — I shouldn’t love this feature so much, but I do. The Mac “dashboard” is a collection of little mini-programs called “widgets”. When you press F12, your regular desktop fades to the background and your collection of widgets appears. I have a calendar widget, a dictionary widget, a Flickr widget, a Wikipedia widget, a weather report widget, a stock market widget, and a Google widget all running. If I need some info, I simply tap F12 and voila!! I have what I need. This is one of those jaw-droppingly simple things, like a scroll wheel on a mouse, that has revolutionized the way I work.
  • iTunes — I’ve always been ambivalent toward iTunes. I liked WinAmp on the PC, so I found the iTunes interface clunky and restrictive. But I’ve grown to embrace The iTunes Way. By giving up control of my files, I’ve gained accessibility. It’s easy to search for songs and albums and artists in iTunes. And though it’s mostly just eye-candy, I love the new album-art jukebox. It makes the experience more visceral, as if I’m actually flipping through my CD collection. It’s improved my relationship with iTunes immensely.
  • Speed — As I said, I’ve never bought a top-of-the-line machine before now. I’ve built PCs that were near the cutting edge, but they’ve generally had problems. This is the fastest laptop that Apple makes, and I packed it with 3gb of RAM, which is the most memory it could take. Things are silky s-m-o-o-t-h. It is a pleasure to use.
  • Wide screen — A few weeks ago, I bought an Apple 23″ Cinema Display, which has amazing resolution. You can fit a lot on that screen. It made me realize just how important screen space is to me. On a normal monitor (at 1024×768), I can work with only one program at a time. On a larger display, I can have multiple programs open side-by-side. For many people, this isn’t an issue. But for me, as I write my weblog entries, I want to be able to have my text editor open next to my web browser. On this wide-screen laptop, I can. When I go back to 1024×768 now, things feel cramped.

I’m like a raving fanboy. I don’t care. I’ve only had this machine three days, and already I know it’s the best computer I’ve ever owned. While the 17″ size is still rather large and cumbersome, I’m getting used to it. This computer will never be as convenient as the 12″ models I’ve had for the past five years, but the additional screen real estate is a fair compromise.

“You’ve come a long way since you switched back to Mac,” Jeremy said last night over video chat.

“Yeah,” I said. “When I first switched back, I found a lot of things frustrating. I wasn’t wholly sold on the Mac experience. I’m sold now.” And I am. This is the way computing should be: fun, exciting, and productive.

For the geeky, here are some comparative stats.

On 30 September 2002, I switched back to Mac by purchasing a 12″ iBook. It was a 700mhz G3 with 128mb RAM and a 20gb hard drive. The iBook had a DVD/CD-burner combo. It connected to the internet via internal modem or an ethernet cable. (I eventually bought an add-on wireless card and expanded the memory to 640mb.) I purchased very little software for the iBook; most of what I needed came with it.

On 27 November 2006, I purchased this 17″ widescreen MacBook Pro. It’s a 2.33ghz Intel core 2 duo with 3gb RAM and a 160gb hard drive. The machine comes with a fast wireless connection, built-in video camera, and who knows what else. I’ll purchase very little software for the MacBook Pro; most what I need comes with it.

The Long and Winding Road

A lot of people have been asking how much I’m making from my web sites. A vague answer is: enough to order a new pimped-out MacBook Pro.

My goal all along has been to earn enough to order a new computer. Not exactly reaching for the stars, I know, but a fella’s gotta start somewhere. My initial goal was to be able to do this by October 2007. But when Apple announced upgrades to their laptops on October 24th of this year, I realized that I could afford to buy one now. I placed an order that afternoon. (But not without some deliberation: should I go with the 7200rpm/100gb drive, the 5400rpm/160gb drive, or the 4200rpm/200gb drive? The choices we geeks face…)

I was eager to get my new machine. Because I was taking the second week of November off to write, I figured that would be a great time to break in my new computer. When I placed my order, I frowned at the estimated delivery date: November 7th, the Thursday of my week off. “Ah well,” I thought, “there’s plenty of time to get writing done early in the week, and then time to play with the new computer at the end of the week.”

During my vacation, I checked the order status several times every day, hoping that the computer would shipped early. It never did. In fact, it hadn’t shipped by November 7th, the day it was supposed to reach me, and then suddenly the ship date changed to November 12th! This made me sad, but it gave me an opportunity to alter my order. In the two weeks since placing it, I’d realized that I actually wanted a large hard drive, not a fast one, so I called Apple and made a small adjustment. No problem, right? Wrong.

By changing this one aspect of my order, the ship date was pushed out further still! The new ship date was November 22nd, the day before Thanksgiving.

Again I waited, hoping the machine might ship early. It didn’t. But it did ship from Shanghai on Wednesday morning. “Hot damn,” I thought. “It might reach me by Friday.” I watched the tracking reports as the computer flew to Anchorage, Alaska, then boarded a plane for Indianapolis. “It’s really going to do it,” I thought. “It’s really going to reach me by Friday.” When I went to sleep on Thanksgiving night, the computer was still in Indianapolis, but I had great confidence it would reach me the next day.

On Friday, I sat cold and alone in the Custom Box Service offices. (This is the deadest day of the year for us. Nobody calls. Nobody comes in to work. It’s just a ghost town.) The FedEx web site still promised delivery by noon. The FedEx telephone system said the same thing. But according to the tracking report, the computer was still in Indianapolis. “Maybe the tracking report is wrong,” I thought, but deep inside I knew the tracking reports are never wrong.

I waited in the office until one before I called FedEx again and paged through to an operator. “I’m sorry, sir,” she told me. “Your package has been delayed in Indianapolis.” I sighed and drove home.

For a time over the weekend, I actually forgot about the endless wait. (Forgot, that is, until Paul J. cruelly reminded me.)

I had a dentist appointment early this morning. FedEx usually comes to the shop late morning or early-afternoon. I expected to come back and still have to wait for the computer to arrive. But just as I was walking out the door, the FedEx truck pulled into the drive. Such torture! I signed for the package, opened it, looked at the shiny metal case, but then had to leave to get a filling. O cruel fate!

Eventually, of course, I was able to use my new computer. In fact, I’m typing this entry on it now. It’s quick and responsive. The screen is ginormous (1680×1050 &dmash; just imagine what this is going to be like when coupled with my 24″ cinema display). I love the new features in OS X.4 (I had never bothered to upgrade my other Macs).

I wish I had more time to play with the new computer right now, but I don’t. I have a lot of writing to do. But make no doubt: play with this beast, I shall!

I’m just happy that it’s finally here.

I ordered my MacBook Pro on the afternoon of October 24th. It finally reached me on the morning of November 27th. That’s a l-o-n-g wait.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

The extended holiday weekend gave me an opportunity to catch up with old friends.

On Wednesday, Andrew and Joann joined us for dinner. In August, they hosted us for a couple of nights during our trip to San Francisco; we were happy to return the hospitality. We decided to fix them a swell new dish: beef tenderloin stuffed with pine nuts and monterey jack cheese. Unfortunately, the dish was swell only in theory.

That’s right — we committed an entertainment faux pas by attempting to impress company with a meal we’d never tried before. We could have served Caprial’s beef tenderloin with pepper and port sauce, a dish we’ve made many times, a dish that we can nail, a dish that never fails to impress. But we got cocky and went for something new. The results were disastrous. Though we followed directions, the meat was bland and undercooked. I thought the balsamic vinegar clashed terribly with the other ingredients. It was a mess. We should have surrendered and ordered pizza, but we stuck it out, finishing the steaks. Andrew and Joann get gold stars for that.

After dinner, I preached the glory of the Wii. We had fun with Wii Sports, but when it came time to play something else, I realized I don’t have any other good multiplayer games yet. We tried to play the Monkeyball party games, but it was an exercise in frustration. None of them made any sense. And I hadn’t unlocked enough of the Rayman multiplayer games for it to be any fun. My top priority for this machine is to get another fun multiplayer game so that my evangelism can carry more weight.

My weekend food endeavors weren’t all bad. I made some yummy mashed potatoes for family Thanksgiving on Thursday. On Saturday, I surprised myself by mixing up a batch of damn good bean soup. It was easy! Here’s what I did:

J.D.’s Impromptu Bean Soup
Soak 2-1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill 13-bean blend for six hours. Rinse. Add 2 quarts water. Bring to boil over high heat. While waiting for the boil, add the other ingredients as they become ready: 3 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill Bean Soup Seasoning, 1 teaspoon hickory smoke salt, 1 yellow onion (diced), 3-5 cloves garlic (minced), 1 can tomato sauce, and about 1 pound of the pork product of your choice. (I used ham because we had some in the freezer. Bacon works. Fresh ham works.) Cook for about two hours, until beans are done to your liking. Remove from heat. For best flavor, store overnight in fridge.

It’s good stuff, I tell you — good stuff!

Yesterday we met up with Nicole Lindroos and her husband, Chris Pramas, for brunch at Wild Abandon in southeast Portland. Paul and Amy Jo joined us. I love to go out for breakfast. It’s a treat I don’t get very often because it’s Kris’ least favorite meal. It was an adjustment for me to order a breakfast with limited sugar. Normally I’d devour a huge stack of pancakes and then slather them in syrup. Yesterday I ordered a ham-and-cheese omelet with fried potatoes. The only real sugar came from ketchup and from a small blueberry scone. Still, the meal was good.

I should join Paul and Amy Jo for breakfast more often.

Tales of the Chicken, part six

Rumor has it many of you like the ongoing Tales of the Chicken. I aim to please.

The shop kittens are baffling sometimes.

On most mornings they rush inside when we open the door, jump onto the chair next to the fax machine, and begin to “self-serve” from the open bag of cat food. They continue to graze from the bag throughout the day.

Some mornings, though — including today — they bypass the bag of cat food and trot to the kitchen, hop onto the table, and rummage through the cafeteria supplies. What are they searching for? Cheetos. I have no idea why they like Cheetos so much, but these pigs eat more than the rest of our employees combined.

Today when I came into the office, I could hear them rummaging in the chips. When I went to the kitchen, they had ripped open two bags and were munching away. Cheeto fiends.

(In the afternoon, Max was sprawled on my desk sleeping. Nick had a bag of Cheetos. He snapped Max awake by laying a Cheeto on his paws.)

Meanwhile, another stray cat has appeared. It has long tortoise-shell fur and already has the kittens cowed. When Max or Duke gets too close, the new cat takes him down in a flurry of fur. She moves like lightning, wrestles the kitten for a second or two, then bolts away. The kittens are in a state of shock. Thus far in their young lives, they’ve only encountered benevolence.

The chicken, however, is nonplused, and the new cat ignores it. Yesterday the dumb bird was by the back door begging for food, so I took a cup of cat food out for it. Duke followed us. The new cat was already waiting. When I poured the food into the bowl, the new cat chowed hungrily. The chicken joined her. I tried to put Duke down so he could eat, but he was frightened — not of the chicken, but of the new cat.

Actually, he was probably just craving Cheetos.

Nintendo Wii: First Impressions

I’ve been a PC gamer for nearly thirty years. (I started as a young boy on an Apple II.) Recently I’ve grown away from gaming (except for World of Warcraft). I owned a Nintendo Gamecube for a while, but traded it on craigslist for a digital camera. But ever since I first heard reports about the Nintendo Wii last May, I’ve coveted one. I saved some money explicitly to purchase a system on the day it was released.

Last Saturday, after our college reunion, I drove to the Oregon City Fred Meyer to buy a Wii at midnight. I didn’t get one. I was 77th in line and the store only had 75 units. So I got out of bed on Sunday morning at 4:30 to stand in line at the Oak Grove Fred Meyer. This time I was 9th — I got one.

I only played for a few hours yesterday, but that was enough for me to fall in love with the Wii. I think Kris even liked it. Here are the four games I own and my initial impression of each:

  • Wii Sports — This game is included with the system, and does a fine job of showcasing the revolutionary controllers. The sports themselves are crude representations, but it doesn’t matter because Wii Sports is all about the gameplay. Here’s how you serve a ball in Wii tennis: you flick the controller up to toss the ball, and then you swing the controller over your head like a tennis racket. You don’t press any buttons. To bowl, you perform a bowling motion. For boxing, you attach a secondary controller and you throw punches, just as in real life. It’s actually quite a workout.
  • Super Monkey Ball — This is primarily meant to be a “party game”. I only played it in single-player mode. Have you ever played one of those “marble in a maze” type games, where you have to tilt a board to get a marble or BB to travel through it? That’s what Super Monkey Ball is like, except you’re tilting your Wii controller to guide a monkey in a ball to collect bananas. This has potential.
  • Zelda — Zelda is an ongoing Nintendo franchise about a young man in a mystical kingdom who has many adventures. This game is getting rave reviews, and it intrigues me, but it’s a little overwhelming. It’s almost too freeform for me. I’m taking it in bite-size chunks, but I’m worried that it’s not going to be as fun as Zeldas of former years. (Plus, I can’t get the darned horse to jump over fences!)
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance — The only true dud so far. Maybe I need to give it more of a chance. You’d think I’d be eager to control my favorite superheroes, but I have no idea what I’m doing to make Thor fight or the Human Torch shoot fire. My presence seems superfluous except to move the characters around the screen. They all fight (and win) without me. I’ve already posted to craigslist hoping to trade this game for something else.

So far, the Nintendo Wii is a lot of fun, especially Wii Sports. Here’s a system that doesn’t emphasize graphics or technology or shooting and killing. It emphasizes fun. The wireless controllers look like remote controls and contain built-in motion sensors. This opens up an entire new world for gameplay. I’m eager to see how other games take advantage of this unique control system.

Nintendo is marketing the Wii as a gaming system for people who don’t play games, and I think they’re onto something. Kris has never been much of a gamer, but she agreed to play a round of tennis with me yesterday. She beat me, and had fun doing it. Later she beat me at boxing (which kind of bruised my ego). Later still, she killed me at bowling — she scored 180 and I only scored 88. Yikes! (Tonight, just before I posted this entry, I beat her at baseball twice in a row, so I’m not completely inept.)

One final note is that playing a game on the Wii requires a lot more activity than playing a game on another system. For Wii Sports, you need a clear space in front of the television so that you have freedom to move around, to swing your controller. (I’m not sure we’re going to have enough room for four people to play doubles tennis.) A few rounds of boxing is actually enough to get my heart rate up. This might be the first videogame system that helps kids lose weight instead of gain it.

Old Historic Temple, Rising Grandly Through the Years

The best years of my life were spent at Willamette University. Don’t get me wrong — I love my life and, except for period bouts of anxiety, am quite content. But no memories compare to those of my college years.

Kris and I joined a small group of other Willamette alumni for a fifteen year reunion last night. Bernie and Kristi were there, looking dapper, as were other classmates we see less often: Ginger, Anne, Shelley, Martin Taylor, for example. And, especially, Paul (and his charming Stanford-educated wife, Tammy), and Aaron and Tiffany.

[a photo of Willamette friends]

It was wonderful to catch up with these friends. It’s fascinating to hear what everyone is doing now, and to see how they both have and have not changed. For me the highlight of the evening was a long chat with Tiffany Tarrant. Tiffany was one of the residents of Matthews Hall when I was RA. She, Dan Rathert, and I took astronomy together. We loved it. We had a lot of fun. We even formed a short-lived astronomy club and published an issue or two of a newsletter. We called each other star names. Tiffany was Nunki; Dan was Ras-Al-Ague; I was Altair. I once wrote a mock love poem for Tiffany in which I declared, “You are my spiral galaxy.”

Good times.

I would have liked to have seen more former classmates last night, but I’m happy for the time we were able to spend with those who made it.

Firefox 2: Geek Heaven

I have died and gone to geek heaven.

I recently downloaded Firefox 2 for the Mac. I like the improved tab management. I hate the fact that the scroll bar is still broken.

But what simply has me in ecstasy is this: my Mac just crashed hard while connecting to my lovely 23″ Apple Cinema Display. (This is an issue that I need to look into.) “Crap,” I thought. “I’ve just lost all my work. All my open weblog entries. All my open browser pages.”

I had five open Firefox windows, each with at least a dozen open pages. That’s a lot of stuff to lose track of.

But when I restarted the computer and relaunched my browser, Firefox asked me if I wanted to restore my previous session! Holy cats! I’ve been wanting something like this for ages! And sure enough: the browser has re-opened every single page I’d been using before the crash.

This is like a geek dream come true.

Now if only there were a similar feature for BBEdit, my text editor. I weep to think how much writing just evaporated into the electric ether. (I had a nice entry going about the birds/squirrels in the yard that is now lost.)