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Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
4:18 pm - Gas Statistics
I tallied up my receipts while taking a break from some other reading I'm doing:

Show me the tableCollapse )

I used 39.610 gallons (plus about a gallon to get from Caldwell to home, which I'm not counting in this) at a cost of $101.63. That's an average of $2.566 / gallon and 46.175 motorcycle miles per gallon (for a total of 1829.0 motorcycle miles from start to Caldwell), or 5.55 cents per mile.

That figure (1829 miles) is close to what Google maps says the entire trip is (1800 miles). Given that I believe the bike is over counting miles and speed by about 10%, I need to do some more investigating to see if I'm right. If not, then I really was going about 90 mph at some points :-/ Definitely didn't intend to. There were enough side trips and other extraneous riding that aren't on the Google map route that I can account for at least some of the 29+- miles over the Google figure. That puts the bike at over counting by less than 5% of Google's figures (assuming Google is correct, of course).

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12:48 pm - One District, Two Countries, Four Weeks, Five States, and 1,800 miles
The last few weeks have been busy. I've been home for less than half that time, spending a week in Victoria, BC, then a week home, then a week in the Washington, DC, area, then a couple days home, then almost a week on the road with my motorcycle. The most fun part (I think) is the bit with the motorcycle, so that's what I'll talk about. :-)

Here's the map of where I went over the July 4 weekend: http://bit.ly/3XtZqR (Google maps).

Show me the details!Collapse )

current mood: accomplished

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Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
8:24 pm - The Church as an Instrument of Government




Master's Commission, Wasilla, Alaska

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Saturday, May 10th, 2008
9:09 pm - Billy Bud
My friend Guido was kind enough to let me have his ticket for the HGO's performance of Billy Budd since he wasn't going to be able to use it.

I had heard some slightly-less-than-stellar reviews of the opera, but I thought it was wonderful. I was also at eye level with the stage about 17 rows (two-thirds of the way) back.

The set consisted of a hydraulic platform and a few ladders. You can see the platform in the pictures on the HGO site. Throughout the opera, the platform represented various parts of the ship.

I think the stark set matches the music of Britten very well. The opera is not Italian, German, or French (though the closest I can think of at the moment would be some of Richard Strauss's operas such as Elektra. Even so, it's distinctly British, if not English. It's a style that relies more on dissonance and melodic construction to provide tension and energy than large or loud choruses. The soul of the opera is something that I've never seen in a non-British 20th century composer.

The opera has strong gay undercurrents and overtones. There are no women in the cast.

The master-at-arms tries to destroy Billy Budd because Billy is handsome and reminds the master-at-arms of his own desire. Such beauty and handsomeness can't be allowed. The captain also professes his admiration for the beauty of Billy.

In one scene, the master-at-arms is below the platform. The scene is constructed to look like the characters are in a dark, dank, area below a bridge (the underside of the platform is a series of trusses). The master-at-arms is calling the Novice over and asking if he'll do anything to avoid another lashing. Of course, the Novice says several times that he'll do anything. I truly expected the entire conversation to end with the master-at-arms pulling his pants down. It would have in real life under a bridge in the dark.

The opera is framed by the captain as an old man remembering back to what happened on his ship. At the end, he's talking about it and trails off into silence a while after the orchestra finishes playing. He's dressed in his underwear (18th-century underwear, so full-body white). He stands up and, dragging the red kerchief that he had taken from Billy, slowly shuffles off the stage. The whole time, the audience is in stunned silence and the orchestra is quiet. No one's coughing or moving. Then the lights go down and it's over.

Overall, one of the most stunning operas I've seen, but also one that isn't going to appeal to everyone. Britten's music takes some getting used to. If you're looking for something more in-line with Verdi, Wagner, or the other 'continental' composers, you might not enjoy Britten.

Next time, I'll remember where I parked.

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Monday, January 7th, 2008
10:33 pm - Daily Show
So... why does Jon need writers?

current mood: amused

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Wednesday, November 21st, 2007
7:31 pm - Don't Give Up on Vista
I took a while to stop laughing after seeing this:

http://www.macrumors.com/2007/11/20/dont-give-up-on-vista-web-ad/

current mood: cheerful

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Thursday, July 19th, 2007
1:45 pm - Providing Defense Council in Court Could be Illegal
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/07/20070717-3.html

Section 1.a.ii could be construed as blocking representation in court since such representation could be considered 'technical' aid. Donating funds to the ACLU could cause the government to freeze all of your funds if the ACLU is providing such technical assistance to a suspected terrorist. Anyone taking you out to lunch afterwards could likewise find their own funds frozen.

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Tuesday, July 17th, 2007
1:21 pm - Anyone know what this is?


I found this when I came home from the gym this morning. I haven't a clue what it is, and I'm not finding anything on-line that might help.

The top of the photo is the front of the thing. It was oozing along in that direction. I poked at it with a piece of grass, but it avoided it.

It glistens, but I didn't notice it leaving any trail.

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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
10:42 am - West Texas Days
In west Texas, it's about two and a half hours between dawn and sundown.

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Friday, April 27th, 2007
7:11 am - If you thought Bush was stupid...
you haven't been watching Poland.

current mood: amused

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Tuesday, March 27th, 2007
11:41 pm - Assumptions can sometimes be wrong
And one that I've grown up with has at least one documented counter example.

I've always been taught that a person's DNA is the same throughout a person's body. That each person comes from an egg that has been fertalized by one sperm so that half my genes come from my mother and the other half come from my father. That taking the DNA from one cell is no different than taking it from another cell, and therefore getting a sample from my cheek or saliva is no different than taking a bit from a skin biopsy or elsewhere.

All of that is no longer guaranteed to be true for me (well, I believe it's true for my own DNA, but it's not necessarily universally true).

'Semi-identical' twins discovered

It's extremely rare, but it isn't impossible.

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2007
10:28 am - OpenAjax Alliance just died
http://www.computerworlduk.com/technology/development/web/news/index.cfm?newsid=2311

Microsoft joined the alliance probably so they could do to AJAX what they've done to other things like SOAP -- trying to make it so unusable that you have to use their tools to do anything with it.

current mood: disappointed

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Thursday, February 15th, 2007
3:16 pm - The Call of the Wild
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFKglFtwSLM (NSFW)

I'd have a corresponding Colbert Report clip, but YouTube doesn't carry Colbert Report clips and Comedy Central doesn't make them accessible for referencing. :/

current mood: frustrated

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Wednesday, January 31st, 2007
1:19 pm - The Book, Google, and the Future of the Research Library
Dr. Steven E. Smith is giving a University Distinguished Lecture on Wednesday, February 7th, at 7:30pm in the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center (at TAMU). Admission is free, but tickets are required. Tickets are available from the MSC box office (979.845.1234).

For more information, see the on-line announcement from the Provost.

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Friday, January 26th, 2007
2:05 pm - Importance of language
Even in journalism, it is important to use the right words so people have the right context for a discussion. Good journalism tries to remove the journalist from the discussion. Poor journalism introduces the journalist's bias.

Of course, for those of us who aren't journalists, we try to spin things in a way that makes our side look good. For example, take the following quote from an article in yesterday's on-line edition of Chinese Christian News - Gospel Herald: "Top U.K. Church Officials Engage Further into Gay Adoption Debate":


Blair and communities minister Ruth Kelly, a devout Catholic, are believed to support an opt-out for faith-based adoption agencies which would make it possible for them to refer gay couples to other adoption agencies with a pro-gay adoption policy.


This sounds like the faith-based adoption agencies are the norm and that the secular adoption agencies are not. A better way to word this, and I think a more accurate way to word this, would be:



Blair and communities minister Ruth Kelly, a devout Catholic, are believed to support an opt-out for faith-based adoption agencies which would make it possible for them to refer gay couples to other adoption agencies with a gay-neutral adoption policy.


Changing that one word indicates that secular agencies are not basing their decision on sexual orientation (rather than seeking out those with a homosexual orientaton as the words "pro-gay" might imply). This doesn't even directly say anything bad about the faith-based agencies, though someone could read that my version implies that faith-based agencies are not gay-neutral. But the implication would be fairly accurate -- at least more accurate than what "pro-gay" indicates about the non-faith-based agencies.


current mood: tired

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Monday, December 11th, 2006
6:04 pm - Intolerance in Africa
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1105AP_Nigeria_Gays.html

I fear that doing anything about this would get the same admonition that opposing Israeli government policies would get: charges of racism. But I'm not sure what else we can do. I wouldn't mind refusing to do business with anyone who does business in Africa, similar to how people handled South Africa not too long ago, but if we do that with every country on the continent, then we might be charged with racism.

The irony of not tolerating intolerance. Those who don't want to tolerate seem to demand tolerance of their intolerance and don't want to tolerate my tolerance.

The recent marches in Jerusalem against gays also brought the conflict out. How to oppose those aspects of Israeli society who want to persecute gays, forgetting their history in the previous century. How can an intolerant group talk of their historical experiences under the Holocaust? How can they demand comfort and understanding when they stand there shouting angrily at gays?

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Thursday, July 20th, 2006
1:18 am - Musings on psychosis and characters

I'm feeling better. Still a bit weak, but starting to take in solid food.

I found an interesting quote:

An excellent therapist I once knew made the point that in almost all cases of criminal psychotic acting-out there was an easier alternative that the disturbed person overlooked. Brenda Spenser, for instance, could have walked to the local supermarket and bought a carton of chocolate milk instead of shooting eleven people, most of them children. The psychotic person actually chooses the more difficult path; he forces his way uphill. It is not true that he takes the line of least resistance, but he thinks that he does. There, precisely, lies his error. The basis of psychosis, in a nutshell, is the chronic inability to see the easy way out. All the behavior, all that constitutes psychotic activity and the psychotic lifestyle, stems from this perceptual flaw.

(Dick, Philip K. ""Strange Memories of Death," The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings ed. Lawrence Sutin. New York: Random House Vintage, 1995. p.41.)

Compare that to what Paul Graham says about creating a start up:

Use difficulty as a guide not just in selecting the overall aim of your company, but also at decision points along the way. At Viaweb one of our rules of thumb was run upstairs. Suppose you are a little, nimble guy being chased by a big, fat, bully. You open a door and find yourself in a staircase. Do you go up or down? I say up. The bully can probably run downstairs as fast as you can. Going upstairs his bulk will be more of a disadvantage. Running upstairs is hard for you but even harder for him.

What this meant in practice was that we deliberately sought hard problems. If there were two features we could add to our software, both equally valuable in proportion to their difficulty, we'd always take the harder one. Not just because it was more valuable, but because it was harder.

("How to Make Wealth." <http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html>)

The difference between genius and psychotic seems to be awareness of all the options and their true costs. A hero who is mistaken and thinks he's taking the easy way out isn't a hero at all. He probably has a low self-esteem because he can't ever do anything but the easy stuff, from his point of view. So for me to write a psychotic character, I need to create a hero who doesn't know he's a hero. He needs all of the negative traits that can come from a failed life regardless of the effect he has on society. In some ways, this does describe an anti hero, but I'm still thinking about that.

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Monday, June 19th, 2006
3:10 am - Blowing up a character
I was talking to a friend recently about writing and mentioned the three things Samuel R. Delany said to put in a story for a well rounded character. "There [are] three types of actions: purposeful, habitual, and gratuitous." ("Characters" Jewel Hinged Jaw p. 157, referring to a passage from Nova.) Of course, I wasn't quite that eloquent on the phone. Here, purposeful actions further the plot, habitual actions can flesh out the context (e.g., society) of the character, and gratuitous actions can provide the leavening -- the filling that lets us process the story more easily (e.g., pillow shots in cinema).

Reading further in Nova deconstructs that passage.


The mirror of my observation turns and what first seemed gratuitous I see enough times to realize it is a habit. What I suspected as habit now seems part of a great design. While what I originally took as purpose explodes into gratuitousness. The mirror turns again, and the character I thought obsessed by purpose reveals his obsession is only a habit; his habits are gratuitously meaningless; while those actions I construed as gratuitous reveal a most demonic purpose.
(Nova, p. 166, 1969 Bantum ed.)


The evolution of one type of action into another doesn't negate the need for that type of action, but shows the evolution of it as the story unfolds. All three are there in the mind of the author. The turning mirror is the evolving vision of the author as they write the novel. In some of his Neveryon stories, Delany picks up the topic of mirrors some more and explains how a simple reflection can help us see the problems with something, but a second reflection can show us the answers. That's a topic for another post sometime.

I don't think I'll be quite as conniving as Delany, but I have tried to put the three types of actions to work. When I did, I got very positive feedback from the workshop. I'm not as good with the gratuitous actions because most of my writing has been short stories, and in those every word has to carry as much weight as it can.

Three quick excerpts from my thesis-in-progress:

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There are passages which I put in just to show some aspect of the character, but which are now turning into lead-ins for some plot twists. I didn't quote any of them, though I have one of the members of Barbara's family share the habit of righting the fallen eight without doing anything else with it. Of course, not everything in a novel falls into one of these three categories. Something I figured out working with the Genre Evolution Project was that the more the lines were blurred, the better the story seemed to be.

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Friday, June 9th, 2006
6:17 pm - Salome
Here's an opera that we need to bring to TAMU and that I need to see: Salome by Richard Strauss.


After Salome inquires into his promise, and he swears to honor it, Salome prepares for the dance. This dance, very oriental in orchestration, has her slowly removing her seven veils, one by one, until she lies naked at his feet. Salome then demands the head of the prophet on a silver platter. Her mother cackles in pleasure. After Herodes cannot dissuade her with an offer of jewels, rare birds, or even the sacred veil of the Temple, he finally concedes. After an orchestral interlude, the head of the prophet is brought up out of the well and presented to Salome as she requested.

In one of the most voluptuously gorgeous musical love scenes ever written, Salome makes love to the severed head, finally kissing the prophet's lips passionately. The superstitious Herod is horrified. On his order, to a harsh cacophony, his soldiers kill Salome.

A brief stunned silence usually follows curtain-fall.


(Excerpt from the Wikipedia article linked above.)

current mood: silly

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Friday, March 3rd, 2006
7:07 pm - Owning a house never tasted this good
I've had to live with electric stoves for most of the time since I left home back in '91. They just don't cook the same way as the gas stoves I grew up on. Fortunately, the house I bought came with a gas stove and convection oven. I'm starting to enjoy cooking again.

The nice thing about gas is that it doesn't take long to heat up. I turned on the convection oven the other night thinking it would take a while to warm up. Five minutes later, when I had assembled the ingredients for the shortbread I was making, it was done heating.

Shortbread is *very* easy to make. Take some butter, mix it with some powdered sugar, and slowly stir in the flour a little at a time. Knead it lightly until it's smooth, put it in a pan, and bake it for 30-40 minutes until it's light golden with slightly darker edges.

The recipe I was going by said I could substitute up to 1/3 cup rice flour or corn starch for an equal part of flour. Since neither forms the gluten that flour does, this results in a slightly crumblier shortbread, which I like. I didn't have rice flour (I do now), so I put in the corn starch. It turned out pretty good. Definitely something I want to do again.

Tonight, I fixed noodles.

I melted some butter, and sauteed a chopped up yellow onion. To that, I added a few cups cut fresh spinach. Once it had all cooked down, I put in 4 ounces of crumbled Feta. Once the cheese had melted, I tossed it with the noodles. The Feta is a little strong, but the spinach has a crunch to it. :)

Tomorrow, I'm going to try molasses cookies.

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