Thursday, October 30, 2008

On health

So, on Tuesday I was feeling a little seedy, possibly in part because the LA's allergies continued, and when I woke up yesterday, I had what felt like a rope of mucus tying the tracheal portal of my nasal cavity to my uvula. I ended up heavily medicated, with pseudoephedrine, slow-release guaifenesin, ibuprofen and chicken soup. I was still feeling utterly wretched by bedtime, and this morning wasn't much better. I decided to treat myself for lunch, and to that end I defrosted some bacon for sandwich-making purposes.

As a result of how much that improved matters, I am declaring that my illness was in part acute hypobaconaemia.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On long-distance communication

I've heard that Stephen Fry considers the telephone an extraordinarily rude device, and I find it hard to disagree with that assessment of it. It demands our attention, it chains us to somebody else's idea of when is a good time to talk, and it forces one to make ill-considered replies to questions.

Be that as it may, we are stuck with the devices for the time, but there are methods one can use to make them more bearable.

First among these methods is learning a few simple rules. Here are some things to do with telephones:

  1. Know who you expect to answer. Opening a call that you dialled with the words "Who is this?" is, in my opinion, grounds for being reported to the FCC.
  2. Answer rapidly. Pretending to answer, by means of having a machine pick up and put the caller on hold, is Not Allowed.
  3. Reduce reliance on automated systems. Why should I have to do the job you're paying your call centre staff to do?
  4. Voice Recognition Doesn't. Automated voice recognition systems are, in my opinion, grounds for being encased in concrete and dropped into a subduction zone.
  5. Speak my language. If the person at the other end speaks a different language than you were expecting, you MIGHT have the wrong number, and it would be a good idea to at least try to clear this up in the language they first spoke. If that's not possible, you might at least learn to say "Sorry, wrong number".
  6. Redial doesn't correct. When you hit "redial", it dials exactly the same number, so if you got a wrong number before, it's STILL a wrong number!
  7. Admit you're not perfect. We've all misdialled. Every last one of us. Don't accuse me when YOU get the number wrong.
  8. Telephones get link rot too. Phone companies recycle numbers. There are only so many valid combinations. It is not the fault of the person who got the recycled number that whoever had it before failed to tell you that they no longer had it.
  9. Where did you think I'd be? At four in the morning, sane people are in BED, and you should NOT be making telephone calls.
  10. Not right now means exactly that. When someone says they can't talk now, please, STOP trying to talk to them.
I really want a whitelisting mechanism for telephone calls so I can only allow certain people to call me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the completion of another solar orbit

So, now I'm 28. What real difference does that make?

None at all, in practical terms. I'm still me, just as much as I ever was. However, taking stock of the year just past is a good idea anyway, so let's have at it.

This time last year, I was employed. Via an agency, true, but I was employed, I was earning decent money, and I was getting on with building up my finances so I could head over here.

This time last year, I was unmarried. I had been engaged over two years already, but the thought of marriage was still a "we'll do that when we can" prospect.

This time last year, I was devoid of animal companionship.

Now, I have a wife, two cats, and no job. I think I got the better end of the tradeoffs.

I'd have liked to be able to spend my birthday out taking pictures, but the antics of the cats are a good substitute.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On disappointment

The LA and I had been set to go to Hawk Hill today, for some photography, a little education and some socialising, but sadly this has had to be cancelled, as has the party we were planning to attend this evening. This means that Silas's debut in sucking at bowling has been postponed. You see, the LA has allergies, and they are being truly unkind right now. I had thought that she hadn't disturbed my sleep by sharing the bed, but as it turned out she had - to the extent that I couldn't manage to get any deep sleep that night. This resulted in my being very, very vague and unfocused the next day.

I offered to take the couch last night, but she insisted I should have the bed. It didn't feel right, but her arguments were irrefutable.

It seems I'm somewhat doomed never to get to Marin.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On conventions

Being a gamer, I want to attend conventions. It's a chance for large-scale socialisation, something that's important for people like me to get used to. Now, the local con is DunDraCon, and they have an online registration that allows folks to get money off if they pay in advance. The LA and I will be attending, for a total cost of $30.

But getting those thirty dollars to the con was a mission. First, I tried paying by credit card. Paypal wouldn't let me use the e-mail address I'd given the con, because that address already had an account. So I tried my other address, and it still didn't work. In attempting to get the first address sorted out, I found I was going to need to close that account, and why? Because Paypal refuse to admit the possibility that someone might want to keep their money after moving across a national border.

I eventually opened a new account under the second address, this time the card linked to it OK, and I got the payment in. I then zeroed my balance on the other account by sending every penny to the new account, and closed the old account.

I truly hate Paypal for making this so much more difficult than it could have been.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On parties

So, I probably won't get my "own" birthday party this year, what with my social circle being a Venn Diagram consisting of "Me" in one set, and "Everyone else" in a non-intersecting set, but the 4th anniversary party at Black Diamond Games today was a reasonable substitute. I even won the raffle, which got me a bunch of interesting things... and a single AT-43 unit that had clearly taken on a forklift and lost. For a line that he's deep-sixing, Gary sure does have a lot of AT-43. Maybe he's hoping that if everyone gets some, people will play it.

Sorry. For all that it's one item where the AT-43 had three figs, I'm more stoked with the Battlemech. For a start, I get to assemble and paint that (if I get primer, and so on), and there's more chance I'll actually play Battletech.

Still, the copy of a|state was actually a better prize than you realised. Sure, I can't use the mechanics (percentile skill rolls won't mesh well with Savage Worlds no matter how you slice it) or the items (mediaeval/steampunk, no firearms versus post-apoc, lots of guns), but I can pull a surprising amount of feel out of this book.

I'm still intending to order a copy of GURPS Myth, though. Most of the fluff in that will be directly applicable...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On flowers

So, today was Concord's Oktoberfest, ja? The LA and I went, thinking I could check out some local microbrews, but we found a distinct shortage of beers I wanted. This was because of one thing they all had in common.

Cascade hops.

The Cascade hop is the curse of the American microbrew. Yes, it grows better than any other hop variety in the USA's climate. This does not make it the right choice for American beers, however, as it is extraordinarily bitter, and lacks any subtlety in its flavour. Indeed, Cascade hops are almost guaranteed to render me nauseous. I suppose if one's suddenly discovering that beer can have flavour, then it's perfectly possible to become used to Cascade, but frankly, to me they are disgusting. Please, anyone who wants to brew, go the extra few bucks and import Fuggles, Challenger, Goldings or Saaz. European hop varieties are FAR more pleasant.

Moreover, please, America, please learn what IPA is actually about. IPAs do tend to be high alcohol and heavily hopped, yes, but they are NOT a competition to see who can make the concoction which most resembles a mixture of corn syrup, Everclear and Bitrex. If you want to know what a proper IPA SHOULD be, kindly take yourself to your nearest BevMo! and look for Meantime India Pale Ale. It's not what you think. What this stuff is, is flavourful and subtle. It's hoppy, yes, but you can still taste something other than hops.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Two Wheels

As you probably know, I'm not a driver. However, I do still know the rules of the road, since I do cycle to get to places. Indeed, I probably follow the rules of the road rather more stringently than do most cars around here. Today, I went to the library. Because the bus company is idiotic, when the library is actually open, the buses don't run past it, and when it isn't open, they do. This meant that I had the expensive and tiring option, or the cheap and tiring option. I went for cheap and tiring, and set off on my nice not-all-that-shiny Trek to reach the library.

Now, the most direct route takes me along Contra Costa. This is all well and good, but I didn't want to go along Contra Costa because a) it's being worked on at the moment and b) people drive like maniacs along there. So, I worked out an alternative route, shown below:

View Larger Map
This route is still almost entirely on public roads, aside from the section along the EBMUD trail, but those are much less busy roads. So, off I went, and was taking the lanes from the beginning. At the first stoplight, I was in the middle lane, and so it continued. All the drivers I encountered were perfectly OK with my behaviour. I count that as a great success for the vehicular cycling philosophy, which holds that as a cyclist one should behave as a vehicle, and this will cause cars and other motorised entities to treat you as a vehicle. Not a single vehicle cut me off, several actually deferred to me at multi-way stops (!), and I astounded one chap in a VW by being less than a length behind when we left one intersection, having been next to him (and in the middle tending left of my lane, so that those turning right could filter past while I retained ownership of straight ahead; safety and courtesy) at the light.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On the winding of yarn

The LA is a knitter. Some yarn does not come ready to knit with. However, ball winders are available, some motorised.

The LA realised that she had married me. She therefore commissioned me to make for her a ball winder, using K'Nex, since it had been posted elsewhere. To this end, we procured the following resources:

My first attempt was... overcomplicated.

This monstrosity never got tested, because I realised that I'd overlooked how to transmit torque properly, and thus I could get the required two-axis spinning action with a single shaft. The key was in fact the ability of the gears to free-float.

Version 2 was distinctly less overblown:

The big wheel turns, causing the small cog to turn with it. This rotates the platform. Meanwhile, the vertical shaft is held immobile, and the wheel atop it engages with the spindle cog, causing the bobbin to rotate whle the platform it's mounted to also rotates. Hopefully, once I've figured out precisely how to run this thing, it will produce balls of yarn which can be centre-pull or outside-pull, and will do so at roughly a fifth the cost of a motorised one. It actually cost similar to a hand-wound winder, but is That Much Cooler simply because it's something I built.

Directions are available on request; if you share them, please credit me for them. I put a lot of thought into this device!

Monday, October 6, 2008

On keeping things tidy

The LA and I live in an apartment community. What this means is that there are no gardening tasks I need to perform, unless I decide to grow something. There are grounds, with plants growing on them, and a gaggle of small men who maintain them.

At this time of year, even in California, the leaves are turning and falling (I must remember to take a camera next time I'm visiting the LA's parents; some of their trees are gorgeous), and so there is a drift of leaves. This being the USA, they need to be removed, lest you get natural mulch and humus. Again, this being the USA, the small men refuse to use rakes to collect the leaves. Instead, they scatter them using leaf-blowers. Said leaf-blowers are powered by small but loud two-stroke engines, which is hardly West Coast Hippie. I personally find it amazing that leaf-blowers haven't been banned; they're loud, they're ineffective, and they're unkind to air quality.

Indeed, the blowers fail even the most basic test of leaf-collecting: actually collecting leaves. They merely redistribute them, mainly to the surface of the ponds.

Speaking of the ponds, recently the LA and I were walking home from somewhere, and I saw a small bird. For the Americans, it was roughly football-shaped; for the rest of the world, roughly rugby-ball shaped (the rest of the world is closer) and it was cryptic colours, with a dagger-like beak, showing it to be related to herons. I ran it past the rather good What Bird? wizard, and ascertained it to be an American Bittern.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On the allure of sticks and string

Those of you who follow the LA's blog will know that she knits. Among her current projects is a pair of socks to keep my feet toasty through winter, but that's beside the point. This afternoon, we were in the drugstore failing to find a shoehorn, any pseudoephedrine or a 4" cube-shaped box, but we did get some Halloween candy (since we can't actually turn off our porch light).

The LA saw some 49ers hats and scarves, and immediately began analysing the stitching. She's mildly obsessive...