Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

27 November 2005

Black Friday Benefit

After the delicious irony of Black Friday, it is only fair that there out to be some great benefit. In this case there are two significant benefits worth mentioning. The first is that Tandy loves her new camera. For the most part she stopped taking photos when her old film camera broke and I bought a digital (Canon A75) for myself. Now that she owns her own digital camera she is snapping away like a madwoman. Hopefully I can coax her onto Flickr that we might all enjoy superior skills, at least superior to my skills. It will also be nice to return to the photographic record of the family. Since I have been taking the pictures I have been in few of them.

The other "benefit" has been sorting through a lifetime of digital data. I have kept stacks of floppies and Zip disks and CD-Rs with the assorted records of my digital life. Now armed with a 40GB pocket drive I can easily store all my music, photos sources and documents in one place. In the process I have found records of heartbreaking online conversions, my horrific attempts at fiction from high school and even my very first extra-curricular computer program.

The latter is a terribly embarrassing piece of work which ought to have kept me far from both the craft and science of software development. Unfortunately, it did not such thing other than imprint a subtle paranoia about security and an abiding interest in computer mediated communication, which was then called a "BBS." The only inspired bit in there was that I was apparently sufficiently aware of two key points: the need for a control-break handler and the benefit of peer review. The two most keenly embarrassing elements are the nick names my friend and I gave each other in comments and the use of social security numbers as an identifier. Fortunately, I was not aware of my number back then, so it must have been a concept. The program was called Cerberus, the three-headed dog which guards the Greek underworld, and I actually uploaded it as "cerebrus_pascal.txt". What can I say, the computer programming class I took at Warwick High School encouraged us to explore our own interests if we could finish the in-class material.

26 November 2005

Past Masters Porter

Tom labeled his beer this past week, leaving my beer once more unlabeled. My older daughter and I got together to make a label for a beer which did not quite live up to expectations. What I had believed would turn into Sick Stephen's Strong Stout instead wound up with no body, just bitterness, becoming a mere porter. The new name appropriate to this situation is "Past Master's Porter" a beer which wanted to be great, but wound up average. Our first try at label making wound up looking like this...

I am quite pleased with our first attempt and look forward to making more labels with my artistic daughter.

Black Friday Irony

I was just notified by my credit card company that my return to Staples to purchase memory for the Kodak camera triggered their fraud detection algorithm. I can only guess that returning to a store within a short period is a unexpected event. Looks like it is time to make a call...

I spoke with "Sarah," whose accent was just slightly less impenetrable than my Indian chemistry TA from college, who confirmed the charge at Staples as valid and "verified" that I held my card. I thanked her, and the company, for running such an aggressive fraud detection algorithm since it is likely to save me from bad charges. This kind of comment does not have a corresponding response on the script leading Sarah to make a sound which must be the Indian equivalent of "uh, okay."

25 November 2005

Black Friday Adventure

If the crowds are any sign, there is a lot of black ink flowing on ledgers today. My youngest and I got up early with two stores on our agenda: Best Buy and Staples. The former store opened at 5:00am and was the source for a 40GB pocket drive (for me) and undisclosed present for Tandy and a copy of Elf for my shopping companion. The latter store opened at 6:00am and was the source for a 1GB thumb drive for me and a 4MP Kodak camera and dock for Tandy. We pulled up to Best Buy at 5:15am to find around 250-300 people streaming into the store. The parking lot at the Maine Mall was totally packed. As my youngest and I walked to the store from the nether regions of the lot a guy wandered by and told us, "All the good stuff is gone. The computers and cameras were all presold by ticket." The start of the experience was quiet surreal.

Once in the store it was a complete madhouse. Over by the computers area, which we had to venture near to obtain the pocket drive, it was more like a prison riot than a store. People were shouting and jostling for the computers, despite the fact that each computer was linked to one of the tickets passed out earlier. I had to carry my youngest to keep her from being seriously trampled. We grabbed the drive the secret gift and copy of Elf and made for the line. In line we had very nice people on either side of us. My youngest played with the appliances, particularly the fridges, while we wound our way to the registers. She also made sweet with Kristin, a twenty-something pediatric nurse, during our forty-five minute wait in line. There was line cutting and general craziness as people took a spot in line then sent a member of their part out for more shopping. A store employee even came by with offers to go get "more stuff" for people who were already in line. The strangest incident was a guy who had a heart attack in line and had to be taken out in a wheel chair. A woman a few people over said, "Quick honey, fake a heart attack so we can skid ahead in line." Ick!

The scene at Staples was totally different. The employees still had that sense of being totally harried, but there really was no one there. This was no have-a-heart-attack-in-line kind of place. At Staples we were in and out in minutes. The 1GB thumb drive I wanted was right up front and there was a whole palette of 4MP Kodak cameras. My youngest looked at some chairs for a bit; she was sweet on a blue mesh one with wheels. We came back home and she hid the present for her Mom, the item which cannot be named. We returned home to pick up the less crowd-enthusiastic members of the family: Tandy and my oldest. All four of us returned to the Mall area for breakfast at IHOP, which was a well coordinated madhouse. After breakfast we took Tandy to Staples, which was quieter still, for an xD card for her new camera. The clerk gave her an SD card, which we discovered once home, necessitating yet another run out to the mall area to replace it.

After a serious nap and some Myth Busters I put my new hardware to good use. The thumb drive allows me to easily back up all of my standard files, which was difficult before because my email put me over the size of my 128MB thumb drives. The 40GB pocket drive already has my music files on it and is destined to take the photo archive, after all we are going to need a mechanism for sharing photos. Tandy has the Kodak camera and dock all plugged into her iMac and has been tinkering with it for a while. I personally consider the goods and pricing to be worth the effort expended, but it clearly is just the other side of crazy.

24 November 2005

Thanksgiving Traditions

What are our Thanksgiving traditions? We always order a bourbon pecan pie from Handmade Desserts in Portland. We have been going to them since way back when we lived on Sawyer Street, which may well be six or seven years now. Tandy always bakes a pumpkin pie with tons of molasses in it. It is my very favorite style of pie. For the last two years we have been going out to Vinny T's for dinner on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something about " no dishes." Makes a lot of sense to me. In the morning we all sit around and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Well, really I do something else like writing this blog entry, for instance, but Tandy and the girls have been doing this since...forever. When Tandy and I used to drive to Pittsburgh, PA to visit my family, she and my grandmother watched the parade. Now she and our daughters watch it. By my count this is a tradition about fifteen years old or so.

Then tonight we will have family over to our house for dinner. We always serve a huge Thanksgiving dinner, catering to the inclinations of all who attend. When my vegan sister joined us two years ago, we also prepared a "Tofurky Roast". It was so like a small, dried-out haggis that I thought it ought to be called a Tofaggis. Even my sister was totally dismayed at how wretched it really was. There was plenty of vegan-safe food nonetheless since we do not normally use a lot of milk or butter in our cooking to keep the "point count" down. There will be a few bottles of beaujolais nouveau from Georges Duboeuf and an organic beaujolais nouveau from Chateau du Boisfranc.

After everyone heads home after dinner, the girls hit the sack and Tandy and clean up as quickly as possible, then I hit the sack. My youngest and I get up early and head out for Black Friday. We have already reviewed the sales circulars in the Thursday paper to pick our items. She and I motor out to the stores at 6am to satisfy my gadget freak self as inexpensively as possible. This year we have our eye on a Kodak 4MP camera for Tandy and a 40GB pocket harddrive, 1GB USB thumb drive, and the new DLO TransPod all for me and a copy of the movie "Elf" for my little companion. We only spend about two hours and are normally back home before most people get going. I have had my eye on a pocket harddrive for some time, but they were always a bit out of my price range.

16 November 2005

My First iMix: Christian's Christmas

The girls are already playing Christmas music nearly every morning. Even the retailers are hard pressed to beat out my children in the enthusiasm for Christmas competition. If I heard one more Bing Crosby tune before my first cup of tea I was going to cry. Instead, I headed to the iTunes Music Store to see what they have for the grinches of the world. Something I could listen to with the kids in the car, so there was a fine line to walk. The result was just published to the iTunes Music Store as an iMix entitled "Christian's Christmas". The track listing is:

  • Angels We Have Heard On High - Relient K
  • Christmas in Hollis - Run-DMC
  • Merry, Merry Christmas - Koko Taylor
  • Cradle in Bethlehem - The Beautiful Mistake
  • Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies - The Vandals
  • The Christmas Song - Mel Torme (Michael Kesseler Open Fire Mix)
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Los Straitjackets
  • It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year - Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas - Relient K
  • Winter Wonderland - Johnny Mercer (Rise Ashen's Brazilian Beach Mix)
  • O Holy Night - Avril Lavigne and Chantal Kreviazuk
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies
  • Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin' - Tinsley Ellis
  • Please Come Home for Christmas - Willie Nelson
  • Rudy - The Be Good Tanyas
  • The Nutcracker Suite - The Berlin Symphony Orchestra (Baz Kuts Breaks Mix)
  • The Time of Year - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  • Twelve Days of Xmas - Relient K
If anyone has suggestions for other wacky Christmas music for this collection, let me know.

15 November 2005

What does your birthdate mean?

Is this the new chain letter or what? I noticed Mike took another test, so this is how I came out. I can never figure out if these tests are talking about who I ought to be if I were a decent person, or if they are just a load of "codswallop."

Your Birthdate: April 2

You're so intuitive, it's like you have a sixth, seventh, and eighth sense.

You connect with others freely and easily - and you tend to have many best friends.

Warm and caring, it's hard for you to close your heart to anyone.

Affection is like air for you - you need to give and receive it to survive.

Your strength: Your universal compassion

Your weakness: Your unpredictable mood swings

Your power color: Mauve

Your power symbol: Butterfly

Your power month: February

13 November 2005

Sick Stephen's Strong Stout

The porter I brewed up a few weeks ago with Tom has settled in the bottle. At the time of brewing we noticed it might really be a stout based on its body. During bottling we were yet more convinced that we had a sweet stout on our hands. We cracked open the first bottle today to sample it. The alcohol by volume is around 5.5% without any strong alcohol character in the taste. The nose is not at all floral but rather conveys the scent of chocolate malt. The body is much heavier than a standard porter while being lighter than a cream stout. There was a good bit of bitterness in the flavor with a slightly sweet after taste.

By way of comparison, both Tom and I thought this stout was quite like Guinness Extra Stout if you added about 20-30% more bittering hops. With my devout love of hops this is essentially, Guinness the way I would brew it. My brewing results are somewhat like the New England Patriots: Trip Hop IPA (win), Benedictine Wheat (loss), Sick Stephen's Strong Stout (win).

One last note... This beer is named for Pope Stephen VII, who had Pope Formosus exhumed, tried, condemned, stripped of his vestments and reburied (and eventually thrown into the Tiber). Stephen was soon strangled to death and his successor, Pope Theodore II, overruled his decisions and restored Formosus. Stephen was clearly a sick, sick man. There are a lot of papal reigns which stick in my mind after having read three histories of the papacy. This is one of the top five.

08 November 2005

MeSDA05: Maine's Changing GIS Landscape

At the MeSDA Annual Conference I lead a panel discussion called "Maine's Changing GIS Landscape." The panelists included Philip Bogden, PhD. (CEO of GoMOOS), Patrick Cunningham (President of Blue Marble Geographic), Chris Frank (President of Intelligent Spatial Technologies), and me (Software Architect at DeLorme). The idea of "just a programmer" leading a panel filled with a CEO and two Presidents was a little odd, but the Philip, Patrick and Chris were really nice guys. We each took a turn delivering a ten to fifteen minute presentation on a GIS related topic. Patrick Cunningham lead with information about Blue Marble, Chris Frank talked about his creation 'The iPointer," and Philip Bodgen gave a detailed presentation of GoMOOS which highlighted its use of OGIS standards. I had the good fortune to follow those three with a 30,000ft talk about "The Future of GIS." The panel then responded to questions from the audience, which consisted of about twelve to fifteen people.