Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

From Chiron Beta Prime!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FoxNews: Scientists Clone Fluorescent Cats

This just in from FoxNews:

How useful! I don't know how often I've been groping for a little pussy in the dark, thinking that things would be so much easier if only it were fluorescent.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I bought a new phone

I used to have a phone I liked a lot. It was a Nokia. One of these, as it happens:

I was quite happy with it, though it was old and had no multimedia capability. It made phone calls. It was extremely durable. It lasted years. However, one of the keys wore out recently, and as it was the key that unlocked the phone I was sort of stuck replacing it.

So now I've got this sexy new Nokia 6555. I didn't know exactly how new it was until I went looking for images to accompany this blog post. Well, I have one and I'm not terribly impressed. Sure, it's got a lot of stuff, but that's the point. With bloody few exceptions, I don't want the stuff they put on it. In some cases, they put stuff on it that I want, but can't access due to poor design; and in other cases there's just poor design. But lest you think that everything is gloomy, here's what's good about the phone:
  1. Bluetooth. Most phones have it these days, so does this. That's great, and expected. I'm sick of headphones with cords. When I drive, Bluetooth is just the thing. If your laptop is Bluetooth-enabled then you can use the phone as your modem.
  2. A micro-SD RAM slot. Good idea, but it's in the wrong place, which puts this feature on both lists.
  3. Hands-free dialing. Another nice feature. Damned if I can get it to work without Bluetooth, though, and WITH Bluetooth it is horribly inept at choosing the right number to dial. If I ask for "Everett" it's just as likely to offer to dial "Alice" or "Dave". Really. Out of desperation I renamed "Home" to "Leigh2Enterprise"... that is long enough to always be recognized.
  4. It has a USB port. In fact, it's one reason I bought the phone.
  5. Built in camera. Decent resolution (1.3 megapixels), nice picture. Has "night mode" and can take short videos.
  6. Built-in sound recorder. Nice for simply recording memos.
  7. The usual PIM apps. A decent calculator; calendar, and alarm clock. Especially the alarm clock... it will wake you up without jarring you.
  8. IM presence on AIM, MSN, or Yahoo instant messenger. I won't use it, but it's nice for those that need it.
  9. A email-to-text gateway. You can send an email to the phone and it arrives as a text message. OK, just about any phone allows this... even the old model I had. The point is that it's a good feature. This phone allows you to access more robust webmail, too, but I don't want that (though If I really wanted to do that I'd use my laptop ... I just want the ability to get quick messages from anybody).
  10. MP3 player. Yes, it's dross, but it saves having another gadget in the pocket. Podcasts are everywhere; if you're going to take them with you anyway, you may as well save pocket space.
Now, here's what ticks me off.
  1. As a certified geek, I have just about every USB adapter known to Man. Except one: the one that's included on this phone. AT&T doesn't carry the cable, either. Ridiculous, you say? So did I. The kind folks at the AT&T store suggested I might find the cable on Ebay. Yes, yes... they're so brilliant they haven't figured out that if you're not going to carry the accessories you really have no business carrying the phone. You ESPECIALLY have no business carrying a phone that has purportedly ben engineered for your network and yours alone. I found the cable on CellularOutfitter.com for $8.
  2. There are a number of demo games included. Not one full game is included. No matter; I don't want the games anyway, so I tried to delete them. After all, they're completely worthless demos. But they can't be deleted. They claim to be system files. That's right, Boys and Girls, in the AT&T universe, completely worthless demo GAMES are "system files".
  3. Cellular Video (CV). Don't want it, don't need it. If I chose to actually use this highly touted (by no one but AT&T) feature then at this moment I could see a couple of minutes of CNN News or ESPN sports; I could watch a funny holiday clip from South Park (Mr. Garrison directs the Christmas play); or two whole minutes (wheee!) of NBC Heroes. Yes, they charge for this. Yes, retards and children actually pay for it. Adults would rather reprogram the key. But guess what? You CAN'T!
  4. MEdia Net. More worthless fluff... not a useful thing on it, and I don't want it. But if I did I could "Follow Monday Night Football!"; I could find out what the weather is currently like where I'm standing; or I could download hot ringtones or games (to add to the demo crap that I can't delete). Did you know that ringtones are a billion-dollar business? We could feed every poverty-stricken man, woman, and child in Africa for what we spend on ringtones every year, so I choose to send the dollar elsewhere. You have no idea how much it pains me that I can't reprogram THAT key either. Together with CV, it's a complete waste of two keys.
  5. Push-to-Talk (PTT). This is one of the most inconsiderate, dumb-assed features ever conceived for a cellular network. You press a single button and talk and interrupt any conversation conducted by or in the immediate vicinity of the person you're calling; instantly labeling you as a rude shithead who should never be allowed within speaking distance. Before responding to this post to defend PTT, keep in mind that in making any such attempt you label yourself accordingly. PTT sucks every egg in the crate. And here's what's worse: the PTT button is on the outside of the flip-phone clamshell. This means that if you store your phone in your pocket or poketbook, you can and most assuredly WILL trigger it constantly, repeatedly, and unwantedly. Over and over and over again. You'll most certainly want to disable that key even if you use the service. But... though you can assign the PTT functioality to another key, you can neither disable nor reprogram this incredibly stupid engineering blunder. AT&T would love to charge you for this service, to the point of selling you a phone that is deliberately engineered to maximize the chance of those "accidental" charges. I say "deliberately" because no engineer qualified to put so much as two Lego blocks together could possibly create this steaming pile of stupidity by accident. The end result is that almost every time I pick up the phone I have to dismiss a dialog box that says "PTT charges will apply. Initialize PTT?" "Don't ask again" is NOT an option. However, it's exactly what you'll be shouting at the phone after you've used it.
  6. The microSD RAM slot. Yes, it's a good thing. But guess where it is? If you said, "in the basement in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door that says, 'Beware of the Leopard'" you wouldn't be far off. You have to disassemble the phone to get to it. Remove the back cover. Remove the battery. Pull it back. Flip up the little cage and Bob's your uncle. They could have put a slot in the side of the phone. Really, they could.
OK, so that's a lot of ascerbic complaints. Don't get me wrong: the phone itself is really nice. It does what phones are supposed to do, and a number of things besides. Where I've got complaints it's generally with the additional crap that AT&T piled onto this device.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My back is killing me.

I've been laid up for the last couple of days. Here's the cause of my pain:
Cute, isn't she, sitting there with her little cracker. Her name is Cuddles. She's not mine, but belongs to a houseguest. Cuddles was down in the basement screaming her head off last Sunday, and I thought, "The poor thing is lonely. I'll bring her upstairs so she can sit on her perch and have some company." Pretty damned nice of me. Sadly, my wife's idiot dog was a little too happy to see the bird; the bird became agitated; bit a hole in the knuckle of my right index finger and then sliced through the artery in my left thumb. I dropped the bird, which sent the dog running, and the very agitated cockatoo began to bite at my toes. Naturally I wound up falling over, just trying to avoid kicking and killing an animal worth about $1500. This injured my spine (I've already got a bulging disk and it doesn't take much effort to mess it up.)

I left Cuddles on the floor and went off to lock the dog away and staunch the flow of my blood. Then I assembled a large cage that we'd had on the back porch (it was prepared for painting, but I needed it immediately. Returning with leather gloves, I managed to get the still agitated cockatoo into the cage, but not before she took another bite out of my right forearm.

So there she is, locked away. She sidles up to the bars, cocks her head at me and says, "I love you!"

Now, none of this was the bird's fault. It was an exhuberant dog that got her agitated and fearful. Nevertheless, an hour or so later my back started to swell and I spent the next three days on my back. Well, I tried to work on-site Monday, but that was really, really stupid. Bottom line... I'm behind schedule.

OH, YEAH, I should mention that Cuddles is for sale (and not because of this incident... her owner just needs the cash). Cuddles is normally quite nice. She's got a really good vocabulary, including the usual, "Hello", "I love you", and "Pow, Pow, shoot that cat!" She loves company and is happiest in a room filled with talking people. But you do have to be careful of what you say... she's been known to pick up a word after hearing it once.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Sundowner

Good Lord, it's been since September since I posted anything here! Good thing this isn't intended to be done on a schedule. How about today I reminisce instead of ruminate? This promises to be convoluted, but bear with it, please.

In what seems to be another life I was in the US Air Force. My first (and last) posting outside the U.S. was at RAF Croughton, near Bicester, Oxfordshire, England. On the day I arrived at Heathrow airport there were two feet of snow on the ground. The weather was so bad that the bus that was sent from the base to welcome us left early. That was our welcome... being stuck at the airport with no transportation. ("Our" meaning me and my good friend Bob Wells).

No worries. We hired a taxi to drive us the 60+ miles to RAF Upper Heyford. It was freezing, so along the way we stopped at a pub. The first pub I'd ever visited.

Now, at the time, my preferred drink was a Whiskey Sour, and that's what I ordered. That's when I found out that pubs don't serve cocktails (at least that one didn't). But the bartender was a really good sport and was really intrigued that I wanted a "sour whiskey," so he asked me what was in one. Hell if I know. All I knew was that it had whiskey in it, and some kind of citrus.

"Some kind of citrus," he mused. He then took out a shot glass, filled it with whiskey, reached under the bar and pulled out a lemon. Slicing the lemon deftly in two, he then squeezed it firmly into the shot glass and pushed the thing smartly across the bar toward me. "Try that!"

Well, I did. And my lips puckered and curled and drew back over my skull until my cranium looked like a bony golf ball sitting atop a fleshy tee. WAAAYYY too tart.

It took a little experimentation, but I finally settled on whiskey, grapefruit juice, and grenadine. Mixed a bit like a tequila sunrise, with a somewhat muddier look. That's what I drank for the next five years. I didn't name it. To Mike (all the bartenders at the RAF Croughton All Ranks Club were named "Mike") it was "my usual."

Then I went TDY (temporary duty) to write technical manuals in Sacramento, California. I taught the bartender at the hotel how to make these things for me, and she refused to let it sit without a name. I suggested that if she wanted it to have a name, she should name it. She called it a "Sundowner", and that's what it is. My drink; her name.

Not quite the end of the story. As I said, I was in England for five years. (A normal "long" tour of duty was one year, so I was the old man by that time.) On my last day at RAF Crouton. I went to the All Ranks club and Irish Mike was behind the bar. I walked up and asked for "my usual" and Mike mixed it, just as he had done hundreds of times over the previous half-decade.

A new patron was sitting at the other end of the bar, watching. When Mike was done, the newbie motioned to my drink and asked, "What is that?" In his inimitable brogue, Mike replied:

"A waste of good whiskey."

UPDATE: I've recently come across the same ingredients used in a drink called "the Blinker". TheKitchn.com describes it as "a cocktail dating back to the 1930s calling for a mix of rye, grapefruit, and grenadine. Three ingredients and some ice and you'll be sipping this vibrant, sophisticated drink in no time."

Yup, that's close, and it differs from the Sundowner in only two important respects: the ice and the shaking.  Whereas the Blinker is a uniform pink resembling some form of anti-freeze, the Sundowner has a smooth grade between deep red at the bottom to pale pinkish-yellow at the top. And of course, the Sundowner is made with pre-chilled ingredients and requires no ice. It's the difference between tacos and nachos. Much as nachos are simply failed tacos, the Blinker is a failed Sundowner.

That's my opinion, and I'm stickin' to it. :)

RECIPE: It occurs to me I've never told you how to make the thing properly. Didn't think I had to, as "like a Tequila Sunrise" should have done it. But here it is:

  • 1.5 oz chilled whiskey (I like Johnny Walker Red)
  • 3/4 cup chilled grapefruit juice (fresh squeezed if you have it)
  • 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger grenadine (more or less to personal taste)

Combine the whiskey and grapefruit juice in a highball glass. Carefully pour in the grenadine... it won't mix, but will sink to the bottom. Give it one stir with a swizzle stick; just enough to give it a good color grade. Don't garnish it. Really... just don't.

Drink it.