The Coolest Weather Map Ever

Just take a look: the coolest weather map ever

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A Simple Home Improvement

Soon after we moved into our spacious new abode, the light of my life asked if I would install a peephole in the front door. Of course I could, I assured her; I’d even done it once before, long ago. Had I only heard the chorus laughing!

Here are the steps for installing a peephole:

  1. Go to the hardware store and buy a peephole.
  2. Drill a hole in your door.
  3. Insert the peephole halves from each side and screw them together.

Step one only took me about two weeks, if memory serves. That was a long time ago; facts may be blurred. I got the brass tube with a lens at one end out of its package and perused the instructions. This model required a 9/16″ hole. My tools are still in storage, but my sweetie has the basics, including not one, but two sets of drills*. Alas, the largest in the home measures 1/2″. Almost but not quite.

No worries, a short walk away lives Father of Sweetie, and there are few tools he does not possess. All we had to do was remember on one of the many occasions we were over there that we needed to borrow the thing.

That took two months, give or take.

Finally, finally, the stars aligned and we had in our possession a yellow plastic sleeve with the needed drill.

That’s about the time the pipe broke in the kitchen. That was, I can tell by traipsing through the archives of this august site, in late August. Two solid months ago, plus change. Repairs continue, but that’s another story. A couple of weeks ago I resolved to take part of the home repair back and to install the dang peephole.

Only… Where had the thing got to? With half the house piled into the other half of the house, there was just no telling. This weekend we decided to just buy another one. Off to the local downtown-killing mega-home-improvement store I went. Living in an area where the mall is about the closest thing to a downtown we’ll ever have, I don’t feel too bad about that.

Home I came, with fake logs for the fireplace (the hippie brand), a fire extinguisher, light bulbs, oven cleaner, and a new peephole. Nothing was going to stop me now! I installed our new doorbell first, then turned to the peephole. 9/16″ bore, just like the other. I’d made sure of that while still at the store. I got out the drill motor and the extension cord and repaired to the front of the house.

The drill was the wrong size. Way too small. I should have noticed that two months ago. But there I was, almost ready to install the damn peephole after all this time, and I still couldn’t drill the hole. Exactly where I was months ago.

This time, I strolled over to the home of Father of Sweetie, exchanged the 19/64″ drill for the 9/16″ one (he is a precise guy and was mortified at the mistake), and walked back. As swiftly as the next day, the peephole was installed and ready for peeping. Because I’m a Guy Who Gets Shit Done.

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* Peeves, like curly red hair, are inherited. The light of my life inherited both an appreciation of precise language and a peeve about about the use of the noun “drill” from her father. The drill is the piece of metal with corkscrew cutting edges running up the sides. [edit upon reflection – actually, that’s a twist drill. There are other pieces of metal designed to make holes in things that are also drills. See also: mining.]

The thing that powers the drill is the drill motor. My sweetie reacts to misuse of “drill bit” much the way gun enthusiasts (including her father and me, though I don’t own a gun) take exception to people calling a magazine a clip.

I could argue that language is a plastic thing, and words mean what everyone agrees they mean, but then I’d have to give up on several of my own favorite peeves, and that’s not going to happen.

Details of What?

A couple of the software tools I use print out the following when started up:

This is free software with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
For details type `warranty’.

Details… about the thing that doesn’t exist.

On Exercise and Weight

I’ve read stuff, I’ve talked to Folks Who Know, and I’ve got personal experience. I’m about to drop a health bombshell on you, and I’m not going to cite sources. But I’m right.

Here’s the thing: Exercise doesn’t make you thin.

Sorry, Nautilus, Nordic Trac, Bowflex, and all the rest, exercise doesn’t make you thin. It does make you healthier, stronger, and by all accounts happier. Any one of those effects would be enough to make exercise worthwhile, and you get them all.

But exercise doesn’t make you thinner. Exercise makes you hungry. Exercise gives you the opportunity to get thinner, but whether you do or not is based on how you deal with the hunger. Just yesterday I had one of my best workouts in months and followed it with a second heaping helping of lasagna. I was starving. My heart is stronger, my muscles tighter, my outlook on life a little sunnier, but at the end of the day when the ledger is balanced, I’m no skinnier.

A Twitter Question

Can you say ‘fuck’ on Twitter? Because I’m pretty sure that most things I want to say that fit in 140 characters use that word.

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Return of a Feature

You might have already noticed that when you look at individual episodes, there’s a list of similar posts at the bottom. I had this feature once before and now I have no recollection whatsoever why I turned it off. Maybe I’ll relearn something shortly.

So what the thing does is compare the text, titles, categories, tags, and whatnot of the episodes and comes up with the ones that match the best. The whole thing is tunable, for those inclined to do things right; I just chose some numbers that seemed reasonable. So far, I’d have to say that the code really likes episodes with exclamation points in the titles. I’m good with that.

I just spent about twenty minutes cruising through history, following one episode to the next (ostensibly) related one. It was pretty fun for me, but probably in a you-had-to-be-there way. To be honest, I think this feature is mostly for my entertainment. But you can use it too, if you want.

A Couple of Firsts

The rebuilding of the kitchen is mostly done. Most of the appliances are back in position, if not yet functional. The countertops, which we pitched in extra cash to upgrade, look fantastic. With much of the kitchen back in the kitchen, we had enough space in the living room to do a little Christmas shoot in front of the fireplace. Good times!

Someday, we’ll have the studio unburied. But the fireplace made a nice little set, complete with a mirror to cause trouble:

A quick self-portrait while shooting Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction).

It’s not Christmas without bubbly, so we got a bottle of cheap stuff and as the talent arrived on set I poured a glass and set it on the bar. I realized it was the first beverage on the new bar! Hooray! After the shoot I turned the camera the other way and tried a few snaps. Here’s one of the better ones (of course, you can click the image to biggerize it):

Only fitting it should be bubbly, considering what we went through.

A couple of technical notes: This shot gave me a chance to play with the aperture and decide just how blurry I wanted the background to be. In some images you can make out the bottle in the background fairly clearly, in others it’s just a hint of something green. I was using the “Av” setting on my camera, which allows the photographer to choose the aperture then the camera figures out the rest. However, this time I finally had to go to full manual to get the exposure the way I wanted it. Not counting shooting with strobes, I’m pretty sure that’s a first for me.

There was another shot with a better exposure that showed off the countertops better as well, but it really showed the smudges on the glass from being handled for an hour or more. It’s the details, man. They get you.

The other first today was the aforementioned fire in the fireplace. It only occurred to me to commit the event to the collective digital memory after the “log” had burned down to where only a wisp or two of flame were clinging to the charred remains. My plan was to try a whole range of exposure times to compare the effects, but after my third frame the flame went out completely. Here’s the first shot I took, with a five-second exposure:

After years with no fireplace, it was nice to light up today.

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Numbers

442.

Sometimes numbers just come into my head like that. I’ll just be lying in bed at night, listening for mosquitoes, and bam here comes a number. Fifty-seven million. Five. Can’t say I’ve ever thought up a negative number that way.

Sometimes it’s not just a number: 442 pounds of TNT. Thirty-six thousand rounds of ammunition. One time on the john I thought “forty-seven thousand hand grenades.”

They’re just numbers; they don’t mean anything.

 

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Pee Wee Hockey Practice!

I’m at Stanley’s right now. It’s a bar that sits high above three of the four rinks at Sharks Ice, where as you might guess the local NHL team would be practicing right now were it not busy not playing.

I came here to get some writing done, but that’s proven difficult. Below me the ice is filled with tykes in hockey gear, skating, falling, getting back up, and moving pucks around. It’s awesome!

Truth be told, those six-year-olds are better hockey players than I am. There’s an odd combination of clumsiness and grace, where a kid will lose the puck, spin, reach and collect the puck, and once on his way again fall over for no reason. Right now the bunch of kids directly below where I sit is running a drill that involves carrying the puck around obstacles, turning back and putting a shot on goal. The coaches provide very light resistance to those ready for it. One kid put a shot on goal, the coach deflected it, and that kid dove after the rebound like it was game seven of the Stanley Cup. Get that kid’s number — he’s going places!

A whistle just blew four times, and all the kids shifted to the next station. There’s a new guy below me who may be the smallest dude on the ice (assuming it’s not a dudette — no telling with all that gear). He is not graceful with the puck. But here’s the thing — Little Guy falls down a lot, but he gets back up. This is probably the best lesson Pee Wee Hockey teaches a kid. (As I typed that he had a harder time than usual getting up, and a coach came over and helped him until he was steady over his skates. His shot went just wide of the goal, which bummed me.)

But back to the falling down/getting up thing. I’m not a parent, but if I were I think this is a lesson I’d want to teach my kids. For my hypothetical daughters soccer would be an option (those kids are tough), but for the boys there’s no alternative at that age. Honestly, I’d prefer that my daughters played hockey as well; it’s safer. And none of the alternatives have ice. You might get knocked down in soccer, but in hockey you will fall, without any help from anyone, over and over. There’s no making excuses, no blaming someone else. Nothing to do but get back up. You’ll fall again, but that’s all right. You’ll get up again. That’s what I’d want my kids to learn.

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Whither Discopants and Haircuts?

Over on the left side of this humble media empire you will find a link to Discopants and Haircuts. That link, it seems, is dead, and that makes me sad. The proprietor of that Web property is a right good guy, a gracious host, and an articulate individual.

Were I better at the whole “maintaining-contact-with-people-who-are-awesome” thing, I likely would not have been surprised to find DP&HC was offline. But, well, I suck at that. Dr. Pants is out there, somewhere, and I hereby resolve to restore that connection.

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Ah, Love

Behind me is a first or second date going very well. She keeps surprising him with baseball knowledge, she’s laughing at his jokes. There have been kisses. Right on, guys.

Here Comes November

My current novel is stalled, overwhelmed by the domestic upheaval caused by the loss and reconstruction of a kitchen, a work crunch, and, coming off the crunch, spending too much time playing a computer game that has grabbed my brain.

November is drop-everything-and-write-something month. The timing is either perfect (regaining the write-every-day habit) or terrible (another thing between me and finishing Munchies). I’m taking the optimistic view; at this time last year I was seriously considering bagging NaNoWriMo. It seemed more like a chore than an opportunity, and let’s face it, although there are few out there with longer winning streaks at NaNoWriMo than mine, ultimately it’s not that important.

This year, though, I’m really looking forward to it. I need to get back in the habit, and I need to loosen the hell up and just let the words flow. I need November.

My employer has generously added three paid days off in November, making Thanksgiving holiday an entire week. It’s tempting to travel that week, but really all I want is to bunker in our (hopefully by then) reconstructed house, without construction guys (however friendly) visiting every day, without planning how to shift all the stuff from one room to the next, without having rain change dinner plans, because right now our stove is the barbecue in the backyard. Note that all these inconveniences affect my sweetie much more than they do me, so I can only imagine how frazzled she’s feeling. So, probably ‘no’ to the traveling.

Which means, instead, perfect timing for going 100% literary. Getting my head into story-space, developing characters and maybe even coming up with a plot. And then throwing the fruits of November away and taking that momentum back to Munchies.

I have two ideas tickling my brain, both extensions of little pieces I’ve posted here. Two story seeds. The first is a more developed idea, a solid foundation for an action-adventure yarn on an interesting world. The second is little more than a character sketch, but in my head she could be a really empathetic character. While I have pretty much no idea how the story would go, I do know the final decision she must make.

Both have room for compelling bad guys, which is always a plus. They both have world-building; the first is on a planet entirely unlike our own, while the second would present our world through different eyes. One is about survival and doing what is right, the other is about identity and the nature of good and evil.

Dang! I can’t decide. I don’t have to make up my mind just yet, and it’s a nice problem to have. Last time I had this problem I ended up choosing option three, something that hit me just as October faded into November.

But I’m curious what you guys think. Did either of those two snippets resonate? I read the ‘Gravity’ bit now and mostly see missed opportunities, but the soul of the thing is there.

Marketing Diseases

It’s October, and that means football players everywhere are wearing pink. Some in token gestures, others with shocking neon forearm and shin wraps. It’s part of an effort to end breast cancer.

Now, I’m all for that. Breasts should not get cancer. People with breasts should not get cancer. For the record, I’m against cancer. But, like General Motors, cancer sells under many names. Breast cancer is a killer, but lung cancer kills more women yet. Lung cancer also kills non-women. Lung cancer bites hard.

Maybe lung cancer doesn’t get the same attention because it’s perceived as a consequence of the afflicted’s choices. Hey, you chose to smoke, don’t ask me to feel bad for you. That’s tough to hear if you’re a non-smoker with lung cancer, but statistics are a bitch.

Because of the smoking connection, lung cancer is a tough sell. As a bunch we don’t pony up so well for diseases like that. Breast cancer is much more marketable, what with innocent women being brought down merely for having boobs. Most folks, myself included, are in favor of boobs, and are against women dying for having them.

But truly kicking one cancer’s ass will likely yield the keys to kicking the rest of them. Mad Cell Disease must have some common roots between manifestations. There are eleventy-bajillion different sorts of cancer, and it’s up to our generation to kick twelvety-bajillion tiny cancer nuts, and send them home to cry to their mommas. And then kick their mommas’ tiny cancer nuts.

We can fix this cancer thing, with the proper resolve. So forget about politics and don that pink ribbon with pride and vigor! Better yet, pony up a buck or two. It’s like voting, but your opinion actually matters. That lymph gland you save may be your own.

A Worthy Subplot in a Cop Show

There are a lot of cop shows on TV these days. Also a bunch of lawyer shows, which are hard to tell from the cop shows. All about bringing bad guys to justice. In these shows, it would be terribly inconvenient if the suspect du jour asked for a lawyer rather than confessing. It would be even more inconvenient if the police had to follow rules of evidence or even get a warrant to search a place.

A pithy phrase that I didn’t make up but don’t know where I first heard it and now can only approximate: That legal technicality you’re complaining about is actually a civil right. These are rules to prevent cops from punching you in the face until you confess, to prevent cops from planting evidence or destroying evidence. These aren’t technicalities, they are what protect us from tyranny. Whenever they are discussed disparagingly, the speaker is undermining your freedom and mine. This is never as obvious as it is on cop shows.

So a great minor arc in some big, overblown cop drama would be the Evil Judge Who Doesn’t Give Boss Cop What He Wants. Boss Cop smacks a guy and ransacks his apartment, and Evil Judge reprimands Boss Cop and the guy walks! Holy crap where is justice!? Boss Cop asks for a warrant and doesn’t get one; Evil Judge is a hardass that way. Jesus how’s a cop supposed to do his job with all this law getting in the way?

Boss Cop still gets the bad guy; Boss Cop is a badass. It’s just more work. Boss Cop is always right, though.

So by episode six of the season Evil Judge is not well-liked by the viewing public. What’s his problem? Does he hate America? Is the mob paying him off?

Then… the twist that must happen in every cop drama. Boss Cop stands accused. It looks bad; evidence against him is coming out of nowhere! What the hell? That’s not real! End of episode nine: Facing damning evidence, Boss Cop walks into court and sees Evil Judge presiding (this is unrealistic, they would know the judge long before, but this is TV after all). His nemesis! Evil Judge knows how Boss Cop feels about him.

Next episode: Evil Judge turns his skeptical eye on the evidence presented by the prosecution. Shakes his head. Chucks out the case. “No substance,” he says, “Numerous violations of civil rights.” Or something only slightly more subtle.

The courtroom rises to a frenzy, but the noise fades as Boss Cop and Evil Judge exchange a look across the well. “Always remember,” Evil Judge communicates with a wise smile, “it could be you.”

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More On Egregious Privacy Violations

Last episode (less than an hour old now – you might want to read it first) was about a case of computer rental companies engaging in truly horrifying invasions of privacy. The article I cited finished with a mention of an interview with an anonymous representative of the company DesignerWare, in which he said that he felt his company had done no wrong. DesignerWare is the company that created the software used to steal passwords and get pictures of unsuspecting nekkid people.

They say they’ve done no wrong!? Are you shitting me? They were pure evil!

Wait, no, that’s not quite right. They enabled pure evil. They didn’t activate “Detective Mode” on those computers, the mode that allowed such terrifying transgressions. They wrote the software, and they sold it, but it wasn’t they who turned it on in situations where it wasn’t warranted.

How do we assess the responsibility of DesignerWare? People tried to sue gun makers when people were shot, but with no success. Is Detective Mode like a gun, where the manufacturer can’t be held responsible for the behavior of its customers?

On DesignerWare’s site, they even tout the features they’ve added to protect users’ privacy. But behind the scenes they put in this super-spy-mode feature to help rental companies recover their hardware.

It wasn’t DesignerWare who turned on Detective Mode when it wasn’t warranted. That was something the dickheads at their client companies did. Those bastards deserve to be strung up by their short-and-curlys. No doubt there. But was DesignerWare wrong?

The key word, I believe, is ‘warranted’. Is such an invasion of privacy ever justified? The DesignerWare people would say yes, there are legitimate cases where the rental company has the right to use every means at its disposal to recover its property. Funny thing about ‘warranted’, though – law enforcement would have to get a warrant to conduct similar surveillance. (Well, not any more, but that’s another rant.)

My argument is this: if there’s no legal or ‘warranted’ way to use that software, then at the very least DesignerWare is guilty of fraud for selling it without telling their customers that use of that feature is illegal, rendering it valueless.

Detective Mode is not a gun. Gun companies argue that it’s not their responsibility if their customers use the product illegally. They can do this because there are legal uses of the product, and most gun owners follow those laws. DesignerWare can’t argue that they’re not responsible if their customers use the product illegally, because there is no other use.

So, yep, DesignerWare is evil.