Thursday, July 31, 2003

Demo Day

Today was the day that the app (a prototype that I've been working on for the past few weeks) was shown to the management team. The demo went decently, except for a technical glitch that was out of my control. Well and good. So now I find myself back working on the Urgent Project of the Moment from a month ago, until I hear the verdict from today's viewing.

C'est la guerre. I just builds 'em, I don't designs 'em. It's nice to be able to (to a certain extent) leave this stuff on my desk when I head for home. It wasn't too long ago that I would have poured myself heart and soul into project after project, and risen and fallen emotionally with the current status of each one. I still give my due at work, but my emotional investment is much saner now. After working on (by a rough count) twelve more-or-less-major projects over the course of the past eight years, and delivered something like three, I've learned that projects come and go.

(I seem to be the type of person who's always given the high-profile, high-risk, low-probability-of-success nuts to crack. Flattering, after a fashion, but after a while you get to be sort of inured to the final result, especially faced with so much raw incompetence at the managerial level. Not that that's what's happening in my current situation, but good management is much less the norm than it should be.)

Anyway, so long as you're happy with your contribution to each, and you grow a little and learn something from each, moving from project to project ain't so bad. There're certainly worse situations to be in.

Da Good Life
Finally took the time to set the Robomower (tentatively named Munch or Muncher) to work last night; ran with nary a problem. Did laundry at the same time, and caught up on some backlogged TiVo. I've yet to try a homemade Chai recipe (things keep coming up in the evenings), but I may do so tonight. In the meantime I've gotten better at mixing the instant stuff, and it's not half bad, done right.

At long (long long) last, the airlock has stopped bubbling for my Sweet Home Alabama Stout. It's been over four weeks in the fermenter, which is very weird, but I'll finally get to bottle it this weekend. Here's hoping!


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Pathos of Instant Chai

My box of dozens of little packets of instant Oregon Chai arrived yesterday, and after procuring a little quickie electric kettle I made my first batch. Not bad... But not great either.

(For those who've never bumped into chai before, when I use the term here, I mean a variety of tea that's fairly sweet, generously spiced with cardamom, cinnamon and other spices, and served mixed in milk. Chai's got a warm, homey smell, and just a little kick of caffeine; it's a drink that makes you want to stop, put your feet up, and read a book inside on a rainy day. Or at least that's what it does for me. :-D )

As I've followed my standard "ooh! shiny!" footfirst jump into the world of chai, I've come across a number of excellent recipes for making homemade versions. In the wake of dumping rather-pricy powder into ordinary hot water for this morning's chai fix, I've come to the conclusion that chai is something that needs to have some care taken over it. Not just for accuracy of taste (though it would certainly help), but because it's that sort of drink, where process is nearly as important as product, like a good cup of coffee, or a martini -- and thanks to Mary (whose blog is still MIA) for this insight.

I could wax poetic about what our society loses in its constant quest for faster, more mass-produced stuff, but I won't.

The trick is what we choose to do with all the time our labor-saving devices and massive prosperity give us is as important as obtaining that time in the first place. Save time making instant, though mediocre luxury drinks, or use time saved elsewhere to make a luxury drink properly. :-)

So tonight (after having to work late, unfortunately), I'm going to sip some fresh homemade chai and read another good book while a robot mows my lawn, a distant bank's computer pays my bills, a machine maintains the temperature of my house, and my TiVos record TV shows so I can watch them when I feel like it.

I'm reading a lot more in the way of good books lately. It's nice.


Saturday, July 26, 2003

Saturated in Bandwidthy Goodness

Well! Had a good day. I started off early, heading over to a used furniture sale that Books-A-Million put on for its employees early this morning, and scored myself some plushy chairs and a nice long table (called a "rolling oak," for the obvious reason, and because it's on casters). LAN party, here I come! I also grabbed a decent table for my kitchen. Half of the stuff is still waiting for me at one of our warehouses, because...

...I got my cable modem installed today! I was hoping to get back to the warehouse before they closed up shop at 1 PM, but the installer was held up at the appointment before mine, and on top of that they apparently had a rhesus monkey at the switch back at Charter Communications Central, because it took an extra half hour of futzing for the broadband signal to turn "hot."

In any event, I'm gettin' my megabits on wireless-style, courtesy my new Apple AirPort Extreme. Yes, I bit the Apple again, but it's primarily because it offers what I need today, at comparatively low cost, with the ability to upgrade to 802.11g (even higher bandwidth) when the prices come down. It also offers the option to hard-wire the cable modem's connection to my primary computer, so there won't be any of that awful WiFi latency problem when I go online to game with that box. Now all I need is a 100baseT hub or router, and I can share that wired connection among as many boxes as need it. :-)

Part of today's agenda was to set up a perimeter wire around my back yard, facilitating its mowing, but it seems 18-gauge solid-core wire isn't as plentiful as I expected. I had to head to Home Depot for the small amount of 20-gauge I did find, and that's unlikely to be enough. Oh, and I was short on stakes. Sigh. Luckily more stakes are coming in the mail soon...


Friday, July 25, 2003

Glowing Mowing

After much tweaking of the perimeter wire, last night saw the first perfect mow of the zone I've got set up in my front lawn.

I read the first few chapters of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume II as I lounged in a chair and (ahem) supervised the process. Three hours without a cut wire, lost mower, given-up slope or other "gotcha." C of C is a good book, but the bugs were a distraction. I'll have to get a citronella candle or two for next time (or a cooler of dry ice, a bit away), and a table with a beer on it. Perhaps a hat. There's always tweaking to be done. :-)

The neighbors are beginning to talk, evidently, because I'm getting waves and pretty reliable thumbs-up from the husbands.

This weekend will see me set up a backyard perimeter (which will be much simpler and quicker because it's completely flat) and a small perimeter for the grass to the left of my driveway. I may need more wire, but my stake supply is decent, and 18-gauge, solid-copper-core wire from Radio Shack is relatively cheap.

Dating Aftermath
Sounds strange to say it, but the past day has been very relaxing - moreso than it would have been otherwise. Vindicates the decision, I suppose. Joining a local health club this weekend -- no pool, so it's going to be good old iron-pumping (free weights only, please), leavened with some treadmill work.


Thursday, July 24, 2003

Thorny Road

This is why I hate dating so much.

A few weeks after I moved into my new house, I received an e-mail from a woman who was interested in one of my online dating profiles. We met, saw a few movies, had a few dinners. She liked me a lot, and began cooking me meals, driving me to the airport, and engaging in other acts of kindness and fondness.

Problem is, I wasn't able to reciprocate those feelings. Maybe, given world enough and time, but not now, and not, in all honesty, likely in any reasonable period of time.

So last night I was constrained to hurt someone who'd never been anything but wonderful to me. She wasn't interested in continuing as friends (and I understand, as someone who's been told "but I don't like you that way" too many times), so it was time to take the honest road and break things off.



Friday, July 18, 2003

Clean Livin'

It's been a week of hither and yon. Monday, Tuesday and yesterday evenings were all spent tweaking the Robomower perimeter, which is code for "lots of bending, stooping, yanking barbed plastic stakes out of the ground, hammering pilot holes in different positions for replacement stakes, and then the new stakes themselves."

Bad news: I feel like I'm back playing football again, with the creaky knees, throbbing hands and pepperings of mosquito bites.

Good news: it's great actually to be out in the sun doing things, meeting the neighbors and tinkering with a new toy. :-)

Tonight or tomorrow, I plan to head out to Atlanta again to hang with Matt and Amy. His beer doesn't sound quite ready for bottling yet, but the dogsitter's paid for and it's not like I hate spending time with them -- we end up playing lots of strategy/board games, and I'm discovering a real love for them. This weekend may be the time for all three of us to learn Go, if we can find a board and stones by the time I leave.

I've also developed a Chai Latte problem. One of the benefits of working for Books-A-Million is that I get a discount at Joe Muggs Coffee, which is sometimes part of a BAM store, and sometimes its own building, like a Starbucks would be, and Joe Muggs is a great source for the stuff. I've grabbed my own little 20-oz. Thermos-style carafe, and am now wrestling with the fact that the standalone Joe Muggs establishments (the ones that open early enough to get a hook-up before work) are far enough off my path to work that I have to leave 20 minutes earlier in order to avoid being late. Tough to do without the caffeine that was the point in the first place. I'll have to look into getting my own Chai concentrate.


Monday, July 14, 2003

Back in Town

Had a good, if ambivalent, weekend with the family. Lots of cousins, uncles and aunts to hang with and catch up with. Lots of good memories relived and made. Much sushi eaten, much pool played, much travel done.

I'm ready for a vacation.

But no, tonight's the night I install the perimeter wire around my front lawn for use by the mow-bot, which has been charging since last night. The neighbors will love me for it, because in the interim the grass's gotten to look pretty ratty.

Haven't you used that thing yet?
I had the chance to drive the Robomower around manually last night, playing and calibrating, and it's a slick machine. It's definitely a no-frills design, but sturdy, and overengineered where necessary: safety, battery use, and motor power. It talks to you, too: certain alerts and safety messages are announced in a pleasant synthesized baritone voice, like "Please do not lift the mower without removing the battery pack," and "Remember to follow all safety instructions when using your mower." Thankfully, when these messages get old (and you know they will), there's a menu option to disable all but emergency sounds.

Installation of the wire involves tacking it down with plastic stakes, not unlike those for a camping tent, except these are made to lie flush with the ground when hammered in. I have several good steel hammers, but I think I may want a hard-rubber mallet to get this job done - I've broken too many tent stakes over the years.

Wasn't this guy making some beer?
Yep, the sweet stout is still fermenting after two weeks and two days. I need to bottle soon (yeast willing - it's still going fairly strong), or else rack to my glass secondary fermenter before I start getting some off flavors from the long sit on the trub.


Thursday, July 10, 2003

Family Time

Well, the Robomower arrived last night (as well as some choice morsels from Cheapass Games), but I'm not going to have the opportunity to play with the mower for a while yet.

This is because I'll be heading to Detroit tomorrow morning for the viewing and funeral of my sole remaining grandparent, Christine Heliste. Grandma Heliste (pronounced "HEL-iss-tee") was the matriarch of my mom's side of the family, which has, from her three daughters and son, yielded eight grandkids, and the great-grandkids have been popping for a few years now.

She was born in 1913, so she saw two world wars and experienced the Depression and the incredible prosperity of the United States over the past century. She was very insistent about her grandkids flying an American flag and doing our duty by our country, and was the picture of unflappability and steadfastness while we were growing up. My childhood memories of rhubarb pie and chocolate-chip cookies from an apple-shaped earthenware jar come from her example.

She did a lot of mothering and a lot of living in her life, and her quirky, garrulous family is very much the better for her hard work and example.

Catch y'all on Monday.


Tuesday, July 08, 2003


Schedule... So utterly destroyed... Where have the weeks gone?

Life in Birmingham is going well. Work has kept me busy, as has the beginnings of a social life. I am also driving something like 40 minutes to get anywhere other than the grocery store or gas station. Fortunately I've been able to get the Taurus serviced, so the travel isn't as painful as it would otherwise be.

What else? I've been given a gas grill by a friend, visited Matt and his sweetheart in Atlanta, put a beer in the fermenter (and got Matt started on the hobby as well), and am now waiting for my just-ordered RL-800 Robomower to arrive.

"Robomower?" Excuse me?
Yep, that's a robot lawn mower. Just set up a wire around the perimeter of a yard, and turn it loose. It remains to be seen how well it'll handle the nontrivial slope at one edge of my front yard, but there's a walk-behind manual mode if the automatic one balks. Steers with a D-pad, just like the one on a PlayStation controller.

I really hate yardwork. :-)

Unpacking: Still?
Yep, much of my stuff is still in boxes, but the essentials like the kitchen and bathroom stuff and much in the way of books and miscellaneous equipment are unpacked enough to be functional. Part of the problem is all the driving I have to do. I'll have to be more careful scheduling my outings.

A Day in the Life
Am emphatically not on all four cylinders today; the battery in one of my smoke alarms died last night at around 3:43 a.m., which caused the alarm to emit a loud "chirp" every 30 seconds or so. This sent the dogs into a truly remarkable paranoid frenzy.

Oh, did I mention that this was the smoke alarm that's at the highest level of a twelve-foot vaulted ceiling?

So I found myself walking, forlorn and muttering, down the aisles of my local Wal-Mart at four-fifteen in the morning, and ultimately purchasing an eight-foot stepladder and a single 9-volt battery. The problem was resolved by five a.m., but by then the sleep damage was done.