Opaque

The only thing worse than reading XML is reading W3C XML documentation: The xsl:namespace-alias element declares that the namespace URI bound to the prefix specified by the stylesheet-prefix attribute is an alias for the namespace URI bound to the prefix specified by the result-prefix attribute.

Ah, glad they cleared that up.

My new project

What do you do when you have 300 CDs ripped and encoded on your living room PC, an affinity for perl, and two hours of commute time on the bus every day? What else — you make a remote-controlled kiosk style jukebox. Here’s a peek at the TV interface:

Behemoth

Last night I spent a romantic evening by myself at Giant. It is no Wegmans. Note, I have never been to Wegmans. Also I disdain the fancy grocery stores that Eloi frequent. But anyway, I noticed something odd: Giant doesn’t carry double-acting baking powder (except in Giant brand, in about a 5-year supply size). What the eff?

Why do I care? I was looking because I destroyed a batch of pancakes a few weeks ago, and among the mistakes was preparing the batter too far in advance. Baking powder is the thing that makes bubbles; it’s basically a dehydrated vinegar-and-baking soda volcano experiment. Double-acting powder adds another acid that reacts with the sodium bicarbonate at a higher temperature, so more bubbles are created when you cook it. With only single acting, it is important to cook your pancakes/biscuits/cornbread/etc as soon as possible after combining liquid and dry ingredients or else the mixture will be flat. So I may well be forced to repeat the previous kitchen disaster and it is all Giant’s fault.

Today I’m wearing a suit for the third time this year. Wearing a suit and complaining about the goods at my supermarket: is this progress?

Fixing the house

A couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of a Jackson 5 artifact that I had found in the recesses of my home. I’m now ready to tell the story in a circuitous fashion.

Long time readers, if such creatures exist, will know that for a while now I have been using MythTV. To recap, this glorious piece of software is like a better Tivo for your PC. I built a machine to run it and have gone to some effort to make it less obvious that there is a hulking computer sitting in my living room (spending the cost of a Tivo on the case alone). For the most part, the illusion is pretty good.

Like all other PVRs, Myth needs to download the guide data periodically, and therefore needs a connection to the internet. Until now, this has been provided by a cable that snaked down my stairs from my bedroom to the living room. While this is great for comedic effect (i.e. for other people who get to see my un-coordinated ass trip over it all the time), I’ve been told it isn’t the most pleasing aesthetically. I’ve tried dispensing with the wire by throwing a wireless bridge in my living room, but I would get dropouts of the connection all the time, and anyway that setup was too low-bandwidth to do fun things like stream television across the LAN so that I can watch TV in my room on my laptop. So, the only thing to do is to install real live wire like people did back in the day.

It became clear to me early on that the proper route would start from the (real) wall near my (computer) firewall, go up into the attic, across the attic, down a wall somewhere, all the way into the crawlspace, along the floor, and then back up a wall into the living room. So I went exploring in the attic and found a couple of old antenna wires that were clearly not in use anymore, and determined that at least one of them somehow made it into the dark dungeon-like depth of oblivion that is my crawlspace. I could trace the start and end of this cable but couldn’t figure out how they got from the second storey attic over to the first storey coat closet. (Rather inelegantly, the installers of this cable had just run it straight through the back of the coat closet by punching a hole in the top and bottom. I had noticed this before, and when I had my house carpeted, I cut the wire and made sure the carpeter covered up the hole in the floor.)

I estimated the path of this cable and decided it either went along the plumbing of the guest bathroom or behind the linen closet next to it. So I took a good look at this closet and noticed that there was a false back to it. Part of the wall was a big sheet of plywood that was just squeezed tightly between some crown molding. I ripped out the shelves and wrenched it free, and found a secret passage! It was just like Chronicles of Narnia, except without the lion and all the whiny bitches. In this second attic is where I found the head of Michael Jackson emblazoned on some cheap plastic. Also, this was clearly the route of the antenna wire, so this is how I would run the ethernet.

Howard dropped by on Saturday with all his expertise to help me take on this task, and we got it done in about an hour not counting the work that is still remaining. As it turns out, pulling wire is pretty straightforward: you just cut a hole in the wall, drill through a stud, and pull the wire through. Repeat until you reach the destination. Obviously, there is some collateral damage here, so you must be prepared as I am to patch all of the holes (three in my case) and paint the associated walls. In this process, I was surprised to learn that there was something even uglier behind the flowery wallpaper border in my bedroom: painted red hearts and blue leaves. It needs some green clover and purple horseshoes.

I now need to pick out wall colors for my living and bedrooms. I have one of these sheets from Behr and it reads like a coffee shop menu: Brown Bread, Cinnamon Spice, Pumpkin Butter, Cup of Cocoa, Toasted Grain, Sweet Marzipan, Butter Cookie, Baked Scone, Swiss Coffee, Warm Nutmeg, Vanilla Cream. I feel left out. They are missing some of my favorite colors here: Steak Prepared Medium, Pepperoni Pizza With Extra Cheese, The Number 6 From Wendy’s, and Another Shot of Tequila.

Super Sunday

No, not referring to that football game that I didn’t watch. But yesterday was so nice out for the two or three hours that I spent outside my lair. And here is what I did: I cut a tree the hell up. Listen: on Saturday I had bought a chainsaw with the intention of cleaning up my shrubs which are nearly six feet tall now and horribly overgrown. I don’t think they have been pruned ever. So yesterday, a bright sunny day in the 60s, I fired the sucker up. Soon after, bush number one of four was reduced to a stump. At this point I learned a little bit about a chainsaw because the chain popped off and I had to fix it. Four times. So, I gave up after the first shrub but it was still a fun expenditure of energy and cursing.

Around my house, these kinds of projects are always a sort of trip back in time. Here are the things that I found inside the shrub:

  • Five decomposing tennis balls
  • One red plastic ball
  • One Falcon brand “Super Sound” air horn canister
  • One label, Diet Rite cola, circa 1983

Words, words, words.

I went to the bookstore tonight instead of the gym. Because you gotta work out your brain, too! On the recommendation of Scientific American, I picked up On Food And Cooking by Harold McGee. This hefty volume is a cookbook-slash-chemistry textbook, sure to be well received by fellow fans of “Good Eats”-style cooking shows. I’ve read the first dozen pages or so and it appears to be thorough in scope while maintaining an accessible, conversational style. I also snagged Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer-winning Interpreter of Maladies. I don’t normally go for collections of short stories, but Lahiri’s novel The Namesake was easily the best book I read last year. The first story in Interpreter, like Namesake, manages to vividly capture intense emotion without trying too hard. Hopefully the rest of the book will follow suit.

So I came across this Lessig book, Code. After all of the group hugging going on at boingboing (the Backwards City excerpt, by the way, was truly bad), I thought about giving it a go. But then I looked on the back and the sole quote to sell the book was credited to slashdot.org. Thanks publishers: you made it easy to leave that one on the shelf!

404

Well my website is down again so you don’t get to see the artifact I discovered until it comes back up. Maybe it is time to start paying for a hosting provider.

Wow!

Apropos of a certain trial starting today, here is a little bit of past Americana that I found in a secret passageway within my house this weekend (I’ll write more about that later). I have no idea what this used to be.

Pneumonia in 5 easy steps

Here’s a quick way to get pneumonia:

  1. (night before) Forget to throw undershirts in the dryer, thus ensuring that you will have to dry one in the morning, which, since you will be pressed for time, will still be damp when you put it on.
  2. (day of) Get up at some godless early hour at which you are not normally accustomed to being awake. This will scramble your brain sufficiently that step three will practically happen on its own.
  3. Leave the house without a coat. It helps if the temperature outside is below freezing with a windchill in the single digits.
  4. Develop initial stages of hypothermia while waiting for the bus.
  5. Sit back and wait for the symptoms to appear!


I’m currently on step 5.