Monday, September 20, 2010

Using the right tool for the job

As you probably know, our landlord is nominally responsible for fixtures and fittings in the house the LA and I rent. That said, it's usually quicker, easier, and gets better results, if we just take care of things ourselves. For instance, the curtains provided by our landlord are three for three on "breaking", since they were never properly done in the first place. If you're screwing into sheetrock, you need to drill a pilot hole and use a proper anchor, because otherwise you're asking plaster to hold against screw threads. That's not something plaster does well, to say the least. As a result, today I bought a box of Drive Wall Anchors, which are ever so clever, and ever so cheap at $10 for 50 of the blighters. For your 20 cents, you get a screw-headed bolt (fine pitch engineered thread, to mate with a matching thread, driven by a screwdriver), with a sharpened tip, and a clever metal contraption designed to slip through behind the sharp tip (and a plastic insert provided to bridge the gap) until its final plate reaches the surface, at which point it bites in and prevents the metal thing from turning. You then tighten the screw, which causes this clever metal wossname to expand outwards, ensuring it'll never come back through the hole. Then you loosen the screw (or remove it, if necessary; the anchor being an integral part of the wall by this point) and put the thing you needed screwed to the wall on, then tighten up again. Simple, easy, and it actually works. Of course, it does cost about 20 cents per hole more than "that'll hold until I've left the building", which just goes to show that the most important tool is the one between your ears!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Of mushrooms, mail, and memory foam

For most of my life, I've disliked mushrooms. Recently, I've learned to tolerate them, and then a couple of weeks ago, I began actually wanting them. The LA has been a somewhat enthusiastic fungivore for many years, so really, this brings my tastes into closer alignment with hers more than anything else. I've begun adding mushrooms to my pasta sauce, and may well continue to use them in cooking. It just goes to show, one should always be willing to give a food another chance. That said, neither of us feels that enthused about curry. The LA dislikes spicy food, and I still can't get past the years of school curries which smelled of vomit.

As for memory foam, I've finally realised that I need a good pillow to keep my neck from becoming completely ruined by my sleeping habits, and succumbed to the lure of the high-density polyurethane foam. It's too early to tell if it's a massive improvement, but this morning my neck felt better than it has for some time. All this bought me was more of a chance to feel the effects of my recently discovered allergies; I'd forgotten, but it seems that I suffer an overreaction to some varieties of tree pollen, and there are such trees around here.

And so we come to mail handling. E-mail is a useful tool, but poorly defined and generally poorly implemented. The standards are contradictory, and frankly it's a nightmare. Even determining the syntactic validity of an e-mail address is nigh-impossible. That said, some aspects can be managed; one such aspect is message threading, which is to say keeping a message grouped together with its replies. Some clients don't do this; it's a tricky thing to handle. The most computationally cheap method is to compare subject lines; this works reasonably well. Google's mail service uses this, and adds a few wrinkles such as parsing the message and hiding the quoted text under the assumption that you've already read it. However, this approach breaks down if someone changes the subject line; I've seen Gmail fragment a useful conversation into unreadability because of this. My in-laws gave me a used iPod Touch last week, as a very early birthday gift; among its features is an e-mail client. This client handles message threading very well. I believe that how it does this is by means of the message-id (a header not usually exposed to the user, automatically generated to have a reasonable likelihood of being unique) and the in-reply-to (another header, rather obvious in what it refers to). The upshot is that messages remain threaded even with multiple subject line changes. I rather like this. The iPod has many other useful features, but this was the one which leapt out at me.