Pumpkin Progrom 2005

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:29 pm

Pumpkin Pogrom 2005 was a rip-roaring success! Well, a scratch-mewling success, at any rate.

Pumpkin Pogrom 2005

Many thanks to all who attended.


Laptop Review

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:49 am

Just before the International Medicinal Mushroom Conference I was in the market for a PC laptop. I use a Power Mac G5 at home for all my “normal” work stuff—graphics, desktop publishing, Web design—and I have a Mac PowerBook G4 for working on the road. However, the Conference was going to be very PowerPoint-intensive; as many as four simultaneous venues running PowerPoint presentations. Anyone who works cross-platform has probably experienced the havoc of moving a PowerPoint presentation from a PC to a Mac or vice-versa. Differing font names, inconsistencies in the software versions, operating systems with vastly disparate rendering schema and a host of other incompatibilities tend to make a pig’s breakfast of one’s carefully constructed sales report or training aid. It was for this reason that we strove to preflight every presentation, checking it for problems before it made it onstage. For that to work, I needed a PC.

It also happened that I was looking for a compact laptop to take with me when Margaret and I go to England next year for our tenth anniversary. I wanted something about the size of a hardback book, with a full suite of features (read: no external optical drive) and as much battery life as I could choke out of it. I looked at offerings from Sony, Panasonic, Acer, HP, Averatec, Asus and Dell. What I came away with was the Dell Insprion 700m.

Dell Inspiron 700m

I chose the Dell because it had the best combination of features and price. For a little over 1800 bucks (excluding tax and shipping) I got:

-1.75 GHz Pentium M 735
-80 GB 5400rpm hard drive
-8x dual-layer DVD writer
-Intel PRO 2200 wireless adapter
-56k modem and 10/100 NIC
-Intel Extreme Graphics
-Double capacity battery
-Microsoft Windows XP Professional
-Microsoft Office Small Business Edition (the one with everything but Access)
-McAfee Security Center (antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-intrusion), 15-month subscription
-Loads of crappy free software courtesy of Dell

Inspiron 700m and Apple PowerBook G4
Inspiron 700m sitting on top of my 15 inch Apple PowerBook G4, for comparison

With the extended-capacity battery the unit weighs about four and a half pounds. It just fits in a medium-sized man-purse along with my other basic traveling junk. It’s small, but the screen and keyboard are still useful. By contrast the teeny-tiny screen and keyboard of, say, the Sony Vaio TX Series, are too hard on my mediocre eyes and kielbasa fingers. I can type comfortably on the Dell, though I do have to use a modified hunt-and-peck. Since that is my basic style of typing anyway, this isn’t much of a hardship. The keys are nicely and logically laid out, with the exception of the Page Up and Page Down keys. These are accessed by holding down the Function key (ubiquitous in the laptop world) and pressing either the Left or Right Arrow keys. That’s tolerable by itself, but why did Dell decide that the secondary function of the Up and Down Arrows should be to dim or brighten the screen? Why not put Home and End there, instead of giving them their own set of keys at the top of the keyboard? Also, why is the Function key placed between the Control and Windows keys, instead of at the extreme end of the keyboard? Its (ahem) “function” seems so distinct from those other keys—they all have to do with the operating system, whereas the Function key is an aid to the mechanical operation of the computer—that you would think it would be more idiomatically consistent to cluster the Control, Alt and Windows keys together. Lastly, why oh why have computer manufacturers elected to color their Function keys, and their correlating dual-key functions, an almost invisible deep blue? Why not orange, or vermillion, or lemon yellow? Among the function keys painted such an impossible-to-find-in-the-dark hue is, naturally, the one that changes the video output of the notebook from the built-in LCD screen to the external VGA port. In other words, the very key you are likely to be looking for in a darkened room in front of an audience while preparing to give a presentation. Wierd.

The LCD screen is, to my mind, beautiful, bright with rich colors. The glossy sheen helps to increase contrast and color saturation, but some may find the glare off the shiny screen to be distracting under some lighting circumstances.

The overall fit and finish of the thing is pretty good. It’s made primarily of high-impact plastic of one type or another, some of it painted rather than infused with pigment, so it’s likely to start wearing off at some point in the future. The screen clasp occasionally fails to shut completely the first time, but this seems mostly to happen because I failed to close the lid firmly. My only real complaint has to do with the battery. It’s held to the back of the machine with two metal tabs. They seem strong enough, but the whole battery wiggles just a bit when you hold the computer battery side to your palm. This seems unreasonable to me, but I’m used to the Lexus-level of quality of Apple’s notebooks, so I may have unreasonable expectations.

One other minor quibble: the barrel connector on the AC adapter is, like, an inch and a half long. Would it have killed Dell to put an L-shaped connector on the thing? I live in fear of all the potentially destructive leverage represented by that plug. Drop that sucker at just the wrong angle and croink! The power jack snaps. My PowerBook uses a straight barrel connector as well, but it’s nearly half as long, and the surrounding armature is much sturdier.

Wireless range and link quality is quite good (certainly better than with my radio-opaque aluminum PowerBook), but I occasionally have problems using the wireless with my Senao 2611 CB3 access point. I have two separate Senao APs for different purposes, running at opposite ends of the DSSS channel range, but I think they may still tend to interfere with each other at times. Rebooting the laptop seems to fix this, and I have yet to experience the problem with any other wireless network.

The on-board Intel Extreme graphics processor is, of course, pretty much useless for contemporary 3D games, but I didn’t buy this thing to play games. Sure, a Radeon 9700 or similar GPU would have been nice, but I didn’t see any laptops in this size/form factor that offered this sort of feature. The Intel Extreme works fine for all non-gaming tasks.

I’m not a “performance benchmarks” kind of guy; I tend to evaluate computer equipment based on my perceptions of its performance in real-world situations. The main thing I have to compare it to is my 1.5 GHz G4 PowerBook. However, I use the PowerBook for tasks that are far more system-intensive than those for which I use the Dell. I don’t run Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and GoLive on the PC, so it doesn’t seem to be a fair comparison. That being said, I think the two computers run about neck-and-neck in terms of boot time, CPU performance, disk access, etc. The Dell might be a bit more responsive, but frankly, given the ridiculous graphical overhead the Mac OS X interface, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Applications open quickly, and I spend almost no time at all staring at an hourglass. Multiple-hundred-megabyte PowerPoint presentations (academics have no idea how to resize images outside of PowerPoint) take a moment to bring up, but after the initial load the slides fly by almost as fast as you can hit the “Next” button.

The small footprint of the unit makes it a breeze to work on in cramped quarters, far more so than my PowerBook. I used this thing everywhere during the Conference: in theater seats during presentations, at crowded lunch tables in the dining hall, behind the wheel of my (parked!) car while waiting for my take-out sushi order to be completed. Battery life is spectacular, particularly in comparison to the PowerBook; I got nearly six hours’ run time out of the thing.

The day my laptop arrived here, my favorite local computer store got in a new compact laptop from MSI, the S270. AMD Mobile Turion 64-bit processor, 512 megs of RAM, 80 gig hard drive, DVD burner, 12.1 inch widescreen, built-in bluetooth (not available on the Dell) and 8-cell battery standard, Windows XP Pro…..for $1399. Probably $1650 to trick it up to the level of my Dell. Doh. Only the fact that there is virtually no information available yet regarding this laptop kept me from shippping the Dell right the hell back. I would keep this machine in mind if you are in the market for a compact notebook.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with my Inspiron 700m, though if I had it to do over again I would definitely give the MSI a good hard look. I give the Dell three stars and a meteor out of five.


Geek Chic

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:19 am

It takes a true-blue, stamped-on-the-PCB (versus dyed-in-the-wool) nerd to get a tattoo like this. The only thing I can add besides “whoah” is my wish that the guy had gotten the thing across his back, or up his leg, or wrapped several times around his scalp….anything but down his arm. The effect is just a little too Dachau-coutre for my tastes.

On the other hand, being a geek, his forearm is probably the only thing with enough surface area to hold the ink that he regularly exposes to light.


Let The Punishment Fit The Thoughtcrime

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:06 am

I stopped at the grocery store on my way back from an errand yesterday afternoon; I needed some penne for dinner—have I mentioned how much I love being able to eat pasta again? Anyway, while waiting in line I dropped my wallet. Using the handle of my cart for balance, I crouched down and picked it up. Moments later my cart have a little twitch. I looked down at the handle, and then up and to the right to identify the cource of the problem: in bending down to retrieve my wallet, I had inadvertantly shifted my cart. The front-right corner of the basket had turned until it was protruding into the work area of the adjacent cashier’s station. It was, in fact, jammed squarely into the cleft of her ass.

“Goodness, I’m sorry!” I said, extricating my cart from her rear. She made some sort of noncommittal conciliatory noise and went back to what she was doing.

This little mishap bothered me. It is likely to continue to bother me, on and off, until the day I die.

That’s just the kind of person I am. To this day I’m still reliving embarrassing moments that occurred in grade school.

In this case it’s not just the embarrassment; it’s the perceived sexual tone to the incident that is most vexing to me. My discomfiture is not helped by the fact that the checker in question was young and attractive. Please note: I am not suggesting that the checker felt herself to be the target of my unwelcome, shopping-cart-oriented advances. Only the most crass, pathetic, pea-brained Homo habilis could derive some sort of vicarious sexual thrill from this sort of exercise; such a person would be hard-pressed to exhibit the neurochemical activity needed to make it to the store under his own power. (Not that such people don’t exist, but they’re probably few and far between in our neighborhood.)

But even the remotest scintilla of a possibility that I might be mistaken for one of these personality-deficit males makes my teeth hurt, my soul shriek and my brain pivot axially in my skull.

This is hardly the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. Hell, it’s not even the first time this month. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in one of my favorite local coffee shops, which is also a small-time eatery. I asked the late-teens-early-twenties blonde behind the counter for a cup of drip. As she turned her back to me to fill my cup, I spied the cookies in their decorative display on the countertop and exclaimed, “Oh, my!

The temperature in the room instantly dropped about fifteen degrees. I wanted to travel through time and take it all back, or at least to put my outburst in context, but what was the use? Was I really going to try to explain to this person that I was not expressing appreciation for her taut young form, but was in fact vocalizing my carnal desire for peanut butter cookies? Just how long would I stand there, blushing furiously, trying to describe the spirit-crushing diet I was inflicting upon myself and my resulting 24/7 obsession with food, before throwing in the towel and slinking out of the store with my curly pink tail between my legs? So instead I tucked the incident away, to be replayed at random intervals accompanied by shudders and gritted teeth.

Sometimes I tell myself that my constant need to punish myself mentally for social transgressions in which I have not actually engaged makes me a better person—that I am, in a way, maintaining a constant vigil over my own baser instincts. Most of the time, however, I see this sort of behavior for what it doubtless is: a waste of time and energy.

Adding to the basic pointlessness of this exercise is the fact that, in all likelihood, the women in question put the incident out of their minds the instant it was over. It isn’t my intention to make light of inappropriate conduct by my fellow Y-chromosomers, but the ability to mediate and filter out potentially offensive or distressing sexually-oriented social telemetry is a facility that most women—and attractive women in particular—seem to develop at an early age. Probably to spare themselves a string of three-to-eights for voluntary manslaughter.

I suppose I can comfort myself with the thought that holding oneself overly responsible for the discomfort of your fellow human beings is better than not thinking about your role in it at all. In fact, upon further reflection, I would say that is definitely the case. Perhaps in some small way I am making up for the mindless trespasses of others, restoring some sense of balance to the sociosexual inequities of modern society.

Or perhaps I need to check with Blue Cross to see what my co-pay would be for a therapist.


Back From The Conference

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:51 am
The Puget Sound from Fort Worden
The Puget Sound as seen from Fort Worden

Well, for anyone who was not aware of my absence, I have returned from the Third International Medicinal Mushroom Conference. It was exciting, memorable, frustrating and literally a pain in the ass, thanks to my bulging discs.

But it was quite an accomplishment. A group of people already working one-and-a-half jobs each managed to put together a successful cutting-edge academic conference with 250 participants. Fucking-A, Yay Us!

Here, in no particular order, is a selection of knowledge nuggets I have acquired during my part in this auspicious event:

The Fort Worden State Park and Conference Center is not one of the worst places in the United States to hold a modern scientific conference; it is the worst place in the United States to hold a modern scientific conference. This place was an embarrassment to live and work in from Day One. The former barracks that served as low-cost Park housing were like a bad YMCA nightmare; one conference attendee compared it to a Salvadoran whorehouse. Many rooms weren’t cleaned or provided with fresh linens before we arrived; other rooms turned out not to exist at all; they were merely a second door into the adjoining room (lots of pandemonium and shouting in German over that little fiasco, lemmetellyou). Thank God I stayed off site at a charming little B&B called The English Inn; I recommend them wholeheartedly. As I’ve said before, no Internet access provided….though I did track down an unsecured wireless access point from a community college annex bookstore operating out of the former Fort Worden School House. Other than a special shout out to Steve Ballou and his hard-working facilities support staff, and the friendly rangers that patrol and maintain the park, the people running that place are liars, space cadets, intellectual gastropods, glacial responders, and simply do not care whether things at their Conference Center suck or not. The one thing they have going for them is that they’re friendly. I bet they’ve suckered in a lot of conferences that way.

– Presenters at conferences tend to exist within a singular temporal stream: their own. It is not at all unusual to have a presenter stroll up to you twenty-six minutes before they are scheduled to do their shtick, hand you a USB flash drive and say, “Hi! Here’s my PowerPoint presentation. I didn’t embed the fonts, so I hope you have the complete Eastern Crotosalbavonian charater set on your PC. Oh, and I received these important new charts by fax at my hotel this morning. Do you think you could scan them and use them to replace slides 3, 6, 7, 9, 21, 44 and 49 through 67?”

– A corollary to the point above: when planning a conference around scientists, doctors and academics, make sure to allow for “professor time”, a buffer of at least twenty minutes on either side of any adjacent presentations, seminars or symposia, to accommodate the inevitable discussion and schmoozing that takes place immediately following the conclusion of an event. Wrangling thhis type of crowd is even worse than the proverbial herding of cats; cats, at least, respond to badgering and intimidation. Ever try to intimidate a tenured professor? Not gonna happen.

– Patriates of many of the 25 countries represented at the Third International Medicinal Mushroom Conference have no problem with farting in the presence of total strangers, be they in lecture halls, crowded vans, or lead-sealed casks at the bottom of the ocean. They seem to do it as naturally and un-self-consciously as you or I might breathe, though when they’re doing what they do as naturally as you might breathe, you aren’t doing a lot of breathing, naturally.

– A group of people focused on and dedicated to a purpose can accomplish almost anything. To my co-workers at Fungi Perfecti: U p33pl R teh r0x0rz! I am proud to know and work with you, one and all.



Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:08 am

Fire Completely Destroys Aardman Studios

Everyone go and see the New Wallace and Gromit film. Twice. And buy the special edition DVD when it comes out. And Nick Park’s back catalogue of DVDs. Hell, buy him a sammich, while you’re at it.


Paranoia The Destryoer

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:41 am

I’ve been getting entirely too many hits on my unauthorized reprint of the story Nackles by Donald Westlake. My referrer log suggests that most of these people are looking for something other than the original story that bears this name. Their search terms often include words like “Satan” or “Incantation”, so I don’t think that my blog entry is what they’re really looking for.

On the other hand, all the attention is making me a little paranoid. Who knows when Westlake might send out an unholy army of search-bots with their payload of cease-and-desist orders? Avert your eyes, children, he may take on other forms!

Forgive me; fatigue toxicity and EMR poisoning have set in.


Save Yourself The Effort….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:21 am

I won’t be posting again until after I get back from the International Medicinal Mushroom Conference. Got waaaayyyyyy too much to do. Sorry.


Forty Minutes I’ll Never Get Back

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:56 pm

Because we did not yet have one (the chief justifcation for so many of my purchases), this weekend Margaret and I picked up a copy of Ghostbusters, the high-larious 1984 film starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. We and Shawn watched it Saturday night. The film has held up extraordinarily well (far better than, say, Caddyshack); aside from the music—which wasn’t any great shakes when the film was new, but really hasn’t stood the test of time (all those hard-stereo-panned syntho tom-toms!) it was as good a flick to watch today as it was when it was released.

This weekend, however, watching it with an older and perhaps more critical eye, I picked up on something I had not the first time ’round. In the second half of the film, Aykroyd, Ramis and co-star Ernie Hudson are standing around in the basement of the Ghostbusters’ headquarters. Ramis’ character is expressing concern regarding the recent upswing in business for the company. He holds up a Twinkie:

RAMIS: Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning’s sample it would be a Twinkie…[considers]…35 feet long weighing approximately six hundred pounds.

AYKROYD: [Chokes on cigarette smoke, coughs]

HUDSON: That’s a big Twinkie.

RAMIS: [Takes bite out of Twinkie]

Great scene. However, the projected weight of six hundred pounds struck everyone watching that evening as sorely understated. Since I am the only one in this bunch to ever actually come in contact with a Twinkie, I took it upon myself to obtain a sample for analysis.

Twinkie 2

As you can see above and below, a Twinkie measures approximately 4 inches in length, 1.5 inches in width and 1.25 inches in height.

Twinkie 3

Since a pack of two has a net weight of 3 ounces, one may deduce that a single Twinkie weighs 1.5 ounces.

Twinkie 4

If Ramis’ theoretical Twinkie was 35 feet in length, it was proportionately 105 times the size of a standard-issue Twinkie. This would make it 420 inches long, 157.5 inches wide and 131.25 inches tall, with a volume of 8,682,187.5 cubic inches. Divided by the 7.5 cubic inches in a regular Twinkie, this would make the theoretical Twinkie some 1,157,625 (105 cubed) times larger in volume.

1.5 ounces multiplied by 1,157,625 is 1,736,437.5 ounces. Divide that by 16 and you get 108,525.34 pounds.

Now that is a big motherfucking Twinkie.

(Many thanks to Margaret for providing a second opinion—and calculation.)

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