Thursday, September 30, 2010

Slide show: Wildwood/Cape May 2010

OK, my Flickr album for this year’s vacation is done.  Or at least as done as I feel like doing right now.  I recommend the “full screen” button in the slide show.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Firefox (not responding)

NotResponding, originally uploaded by coneslayer.

The Occasional WTF #3

My Coke Rewards registration (taken a while ago).  Click to embiggen.


(Guess why I posted this today.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Occasional WTF #2

Value(Cheese XOR Bacon) == –$0.05
Value(Cheese AND Bacon) == +$0.75


We can deduce that cheese and bacon are exceedingly complementary goods, but only in the context of the Angus Beef hot dog.

(The menu board at the shop had entirely different, but still crazy, prices for the toppings.  I’m going from memory, but “Cheese or Bacon” was something like a $0.25 surcharge, while “Cheese and Bacon” was $1.00 more than that.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The SACS Report, Episode 4

The SACS Report was a public-access cable television show produced by the Southern Alleghenies Computer Society of Johnstown, PA, in the early 1990s.  For more background, please see the entry for Episode 2.

In this episode, we see the debut of my awesome sweater collection, featuring a button-up V-neck sweater over a turtleneck.  My patterned socks also figure prominently in this episode.  Unfortunately, the age of the VHS tape results in extremely poor video quality—the worst of the series—and my stunning wardrobe is mostly obscured.  The good news is that you’ll be able to devote your attention instead to my panel of guests, Craig Haynal, Mike MacInnis, and Ben Hauger.

Pool rules

The condo we’re staying at has lots of rules and signs, and signs about rules.  I just noticed this rule for the swimming pool:

Any conduct affecting the safety and comfort of others will not be permitted.

In other words, you may not offer someone your chair, nor call an ambulance for someone who is having a heart attack.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cape May: Sunset walk at the Meadows

This evening was the CMBO’s sunset walk at the Meadows.  Not a lot of great birds, although the Spousal Unit picked up a Sora just a few feet away, at the edge of darkness.  But the walk, as always, provided great photo opportunities of the lighthouse and ponds at sunset, with a bonus of a full moon rising.






Wildwood: Two Mile Beach

Today the Spousal Unit and I went to Two Mile Beach, near the Coast Guard’s LORAN transmitter in Wildwood.  We followed the path over the dunes and walked to the jetty at the end of the beach.


The bird activity was relatively quiet, with much less tern activity than last year.  Shorebirds included Sanderlings, Western Sandpipers, and Black-bellied Plovers.  At the jetty there was a single Ruddy Turnstone on the rocks:


On the way back, we watched a Turkey Vulture feed on the beach.



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What do you not like?

Based on your general tastes and interests, there’s probably some things you’re “supposed” to like. Things your friends with similar tastes like.  Things Amazon or Netflix thinks you would like. Things you expected to like before you tried them.

Cape May: Photowalk

Went out this morning for a CMBO-sponsored photowalk at Cape May Point State Park.  It was another beautiful, clear morning without a cloud in the sky.


The park continues to be overrun by Monarch butterflies on every flower:



We spend a while at a brush pile along the dunes, working on some Palm Warblers:


Not much else to note from the walk.  The Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were not present at the state park while we were out.  They may have moved to the Meadows.

I heard back from Louise Zemaitis regarding the tagged Monarch we reported on Sunday.  It was a local tag, from Cape May Point on September 7.  Based on the date, she said that there’s a possibility that it was a breeding Monarch, rather than one that will migrate to Mexico.  But who knows—maybe it will be recovered down there this winter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Salted water for boiling, the website associated with Bon Appetit and the late Gourmet magazines, has a recipe—a kitchen note, really—for Salted Water for Boiling.  The recipe reads in its entirety:

When salting water for cooking, use 1 tablespoon of salt for every 4 quarts of water.

This recipe has been reviewed 862 times, as of this writing.  78% of reviewers would make Salted Water for Boiling again, and it has earned a score of 3.5 forks, on a scale of 4.  Among those who side with majority is “A Cook from AZ” who writes:

How perfect! My in-laws are very picky eaters. At last, I've found a dish with ingredients that won't offend them. This will become a staple in our house!

Others offer helpful hints:

This is a great make ahead recipe. It will keep up to 3 days, covered, in the refrigerator. Just bring to a boil and serve.

For salt-sensitive readers requesting a substitute for the salt. I bloat up tremendously when I consume even the most miniscule amount of salt and therefore I used flour instead. This glutinous stew was just the ticket!

I had difficulty slicing it at first, until I put it into the freezer for a while. To get it to slice properly I then had to heat the knife somewhat, but in the end, it was worth the effort.

But not every recipe can be to everyone’s taste:

I found this to be way too salty - I couldn't even serve it to our guests (I should probably have experimented with it ahead of time. I found a much better recipe for salted water on which I will use in the future.

This Is How I See Things


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cape May: Monarchpalooza, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Cape May is in the midst of an epic Monarch butterfly migration.  This morning at Cape May Point SP, they were on every flower, and in huge numbers overhead. 


(Click any photograph to embiggen.)

Among the half-million Monarchs in the area today, the Spousal Unit and I came across one with a tag from the Kansas University Monarch Watch program, tag number NMW 190.  We reported the tag recovery by email.


Buckeye butterflies were also numerous:


We also saw lots of American Lady butterflies:


We didn’t participate in any organized bird walks today.  There were a few nice raptors overhead (immature eagle sp., Osprey with fish, Peregrine Falcon, Coops & Sharpies).  The stars of the day, though, were the 4 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in a pond near the hawk watch:


Saturday, September 18, 2010

On GPS navigators, traffic, and correlations

Our old TomTom GPS navigation device recently bit the dust, so we bought a new one, which came with free lifetime traffic information.  We don’t get traffic information around home—nor do we need it—but it’s a nice bonus when we travel to the big cities.

Generally speaking, traffic data is available for freeways, but not surface streets.  The TomTom unit has statistic knowledge of speeds on the surface streets, called “IQ Routes” (e.g. on Monday mornings, traffic on Foo Street averages 25 mph).

When there’s traffic on the freeway, TomTom will announce the delays (“12 minutes”) and in some cases suggest an alternate route (“5 minutes faster”).  The alternate route usually involves surface streets in lieu of the freeway.  It seems to me that TomTom must be comparing the actual freeway speed with the typical surface street speed (because it has no real-time data for the surface street). But does it understand correlations?  If the freeways are unusually slow, then presumably more people than normal would have already opted for the surface streets on the basis of traffic reports.

Second, what happens when most people have GPS navigators with real-time traffic, and follow the units’ advice?  Thousands of drivers may swamp a side street, trying to avoid a jam on the highway.  When that happens, we have a scenario more like finance than physics: the predictions of the model influence reality.  If you think you have a profit-making (time-saving) opportunity, it disappears in response to the advice.

The solution may be for the GPS navigators to introduce randomness into the suggested routes, dispersing their drivers onto several alternate routes.

I’ve also thought that TomTom should recommend randomized routes as a matter of course (when there are multiple almost-equally-good options) as a means of improving the IQ Routes database.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quick question


Why do women get “intimate apparel” and we just get underwear?

The SACS Report, Episode 3

The SACS Report was a public-access cable television show produced by the Southern Alleghenies Computer Society of Johnstown, PA, in the early 1990s.  For more background, please see the entry for Episode 2.

I was the moderator of the show, and apparently nobody ever told me not to wear the same outfit twice in a row when you’re on TV.

My guest for Episode 3 was Ben Hauger, who demonstrated an Apple IIgs, including its music-playing abilities (just $50 for a stereo upgrade!) and a variety of games and demos.  Also:  The difficulty of finding the floppy disk you need, and the ability to have more than 16 colors on the screen at once.

The Occasional WTF #1

Amazon Music Downloader


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200: A “review”

This morning I was finally able to pick up my Virgin Mobile MiFi wireless access point at the FedEx Ground facility in Hunker.  My success was not due to any competency on FedEx’s part, but rather to good luck and helpful staff in Hunker.  I arrived at the FedEx Ground facility just after they “opened” at 8:00 am.  It’s clearly not a place where they intend to serve many customers in person:  You have to speak through an intercom so they can let you through the gate, and you enter through an office which has no counter or receptionist.  But a helpful guy met me there, and quickly discovered (surprise, surprise) that they had not received the instructions to hold the package for me.  He ran off to the trucks, and was able to remove the package from the truck before it left for the day.  I appreciated the effort, and the driver was actually happy that I came in.  The package was the only one for my area, so I saved the driver about 30 minutes by picking it up.  So kudos to the local staff, but the overall FedEx Ground customer service and internal procedures and communication still seem to be completely screwed up.

I ordered the MiFi with the hope of replacing my horrible WildBlue satellite Internet access with the 3G access the MiFi provides.  After an appointment in Pittsburgh, I hurried home to try it out.  The timing seemed perfect: since it was raining, my WildBlue Internet connection was, in its typical fashion, non-functional.

The device is very small (like a few credit cards stacked together).  I charged it up and turned it on.  It created a new wireless network that I could see in my laptop’s list of networks, and I connected to it easily using the credentials listed on a sticker on the MiFi.  I continued through the activation process, and once it became necessary for the MiFi to contact the mothership, it started to become apparent that the Sprint 3G signal strength here is poor.  The activation eventually completed, but I haven’t really been able to browse the web, and the MiFi status page shows that it’s “Connected,” but usually with 0 or 1 bars of signal strength.

So it looks like it’ll be going back to Virgin Mobile soon, and I’ll continue to be stuck with satellite Internet service.  When we moved here 3.5 years ago, I had to switch from Sprint to Verizon for cell phone service due to a lack of signal at our house.  I was hoping that the coverage had improved since then, and the online maps showed 3G service here, but I guess that’s not the case.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The SACS Report, Episode 2

In the early 1990s, when I was in high school, I was a member of a community computer club.  In those days the ‘tubes were short, and your online community mostly consisted of nearby people who could make local calls to the same BBSes.  We met monthly for demonstrations of the latest hardware and software.  As a form of community outreach and education, we put together a show on the latest computing news.  This was before “podcasts” and “live streaming,” so we used the 20th-century equivalent: public access cable television.  Think Leo Laporte meets Wayne and Garth.

I was selected as the moderator of the show, presumably on the basis of my outstanding sweater collection.  Just as Star Trek’s pilot episode was missing Captain Kirk, Episode 1 of the SACS Report did not feature yours truly as the moderator.  I’d rather poke fun at myself, so I’m starting this series with Episode 2.

The video quality of the footage varies from poor to adequate.  The episodes, being an irreplaceable relic of my youth, were lovingly archived at SLP speed on a VHS tape previously used to record baseball games.  The audio quality of this episode improves after a couple of minutes.  My archive consists of 6 episodes.  I assume it is complete, but I’m not certain.  I’ve simply assigned the numbers 1-6 to the episodes on my tape.

Episode 2 features two guests, Craig Haynal and Mike Dom, presenting the hottest computer games of the era, including The Sims, Wolfenstein 3D, and Los Dados Afortunados.  Revisiting this episode is appropriate, as Intel recently demonstrated a raytraced, cloud-computed remake of Wolfenstein 3D.  A massively multiplayer, raytraced, 3D update of Los Dados Afortunados is expected in Q2 2011, and should give Portal 2 una carrera por su dinero.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fedex Ground + Direct Signature Required = FAIL

I recently ordered a Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 (which I'll write about if and when I receive it).  Unfortunately, Virgin Mobile shipped this device by FedEx Ground, with "Direct Signature Required."  This is a great strategy, provided your customers are all unemployed pot smokers who never leave the house.

"Direct Signature Required" means that somebody must be present at the delivery address to sign for the package.  For FedEx Express services, this is only moderately annoying, because after they miss you once, you can go pick up the package in the evening at the FedEx Express location, which is probably not too far away.  FedEx Ground, however, is a completely different system, whose facilities are few and far between, and which do not have convenient hours.

Since the Spousal Unit and I are gainfully employed, there wasn't anyone home today when FedEx Ground tried to deliver the package, nor will there be anyone home the next two days.  I called FedEx to discuss my options, and my option was this:  They can "add a note" requesting that the package be held at the FedEx Ground facility in Hunker, PA, 90 minutes' drive from my home.  I can pick up the package either between 8:00 and 10:00 am, or between 4:00 and 6:00 pm.

Virgin Mobile:  It is not reasonable to make your customers deal with this crap.  FedEx:  You need to find a way to better integrate your craptacular Ground service with the rest of your system.  I should be able to easily divert Ground Direct Signature packages to a FedEx Express facility or a Kinko's store.

UPDATE (the next day): Despite my request to hold the package at the Hunker facility, FedEx Ground attempted re-delivery today.  I'm getting up early tomorrow to go to the facility between 8:00 and 10:00 am, so I called to reiterate my request.  The CSR I spoke to did not see any record of the request I made last night, and entered a new one.  I asked how I could be sure that the package would be there tomorrow morning.  She instructed me to call at 8:00 to verify that it is on hold.  I explained that in order to drive 90 minutes to Hunker to be there during their morning window, and then arrive on time to an appointment in Pittsburgh, I had to leave home well before 8:00.  She apologized repeatedly.  I asked if the apology was all that would happen for the screw-up, or if further action would be taken to identify and correct problems in FedEx's processes.  She asked if I wanted to open a complaint, and I said yes.  She noted my name and phone number and said someone would call me.

For the exciting conclusion, see Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200: A “review”.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The fate of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE rests on tonight’s Penn State game.

That is all.

  1. Sean Carroll
    seanmcarroll @plutokiller, a friendly wager? Penn State wins today, Pluto is a planet again. Alabama wins, I admit there's only one universe.
  2. Mike Brown
    plutokiller @seanmcarroll I'm in. If its a tie, neither Pluto nor the Universe exist.
  3. Sean Carroll
    seanmcarroll @plutokiller If it's a tie, Pluto is ITS OWN UNIVERSE.
-- this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

On road trips and duct tape

In June 2003, when I was in grad school in Pasadena, California, the Future Spousal Unit and I spent a weekend in Las Vegas.  The drive there was uneventful, and was conducted at high speed along I-40.  We had a fun weekend, and I won about $200 at blackjack.

When we went to pack up the car and head back to LA, I noticed dried white spots all over the hood of my 1994 Civic del Sol.  A quick investigation revealed that the spots were from coolant that had spewed from the radiator on the way there.  We refilled the radiator, and started home.  The temperature gauge climbed quickly.  We refilled the radiator a couple of times, and I traced the leak to the plastic fitting where the upper radiator hose connects to the radiator tank.

I bought some duct tape and used it to pinch the crack closed.  That slowed down the leak and kept the coolant temperatures at an acceptable level, but only if we drove without air conditioning and blasted the heat.  This is not the most pleasant way to drive from Las Vegas to Pasadena in June.  The greatest insult was to be stuck in a traffic jam, where the World's Largest Thermometer reminded us that temperatures were well over a Benjamin outside, and worse yet in the car.

We made it home without any more trouble, and I got the radiator fixed for just about the amount I won at blackjack.

(You’d think that I would now carry duct tape in my car, but I’ve found that it turns into a gummy mess before I need it.  I guess I’ll have to keep gambling.)


I’ve long held the opinion that the hardest part of blogging was coming up with a name.  After several years of fruitless contemplation, I came up with the name for this blog while tweeting with @PhilCatelinet:

  1. Phil Catelinet
    PhilCatelinet It's been a while since I had a weekend road trip. I have a music playlist ready. What else do I need? #fb
  2. Matthew Hunt

-- this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

So, now I have a name.  We’ll see if that really is the hardest part.