2/26/2009

The Science of Doctor Manhattan

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:14 pm

Got this off of Gizmodo today. James Kakalios, physicist and author of The Physics of Superheroes was a consultant on the upcoming Watchmen movie. In this clip he explains a bit of the physics behind Watchmen character Doctor Manhattan. Encouraging to think that the folks involved with bringing this to the big screen might have thought even a smidge past the “but it’s cool!” part.

2/25/2009

Required Listening

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:12 pm

….For most anyone born before Star Wars: Episode IV was released but after Dr. Strangelove.

Back in the heady, teal-and-turquoise, Reaganized-for-your-protection 1980s there was a short-lived yet immensely popular syntho pop band called Yazoo, known here in The States as Yaz. While the team of keyboard master Vince Clarke and church-bell-strong vocalist Alison Moyet proved capable of turning out some real hits, they parted ways after only two albums; Clarke went on to define the sound for such bands as Erasure and Depeche Mode, while Moyet had/has herself a modest-yet-distinguished career as a solo artist.

Since their breakup, Yazoo’s songs have been covered, sampled, remixed and mashed-up (mashupped?) sixty ways from late Sunday evening after the liquor stores are all closed. One of the most amazing homages to their work came in the form of DJ/Producer Paul Dakeyne’s epic remix, “Situation (Re-Situated)”, a nine minute, forty-eight second remix of Yazoo’s classic, “Situation”. Released on vinyl in 1987, the remix featured a meticulous collection of carefully matched and time-shifted snippets from a dizzying array of songs, movies, television programs and other media. It is an absolute classic.

After approximately 15 years of on-and-off searching in used record stores, modern CD compilations and on file-sharing sites, I finally found a decent copy of Re-Situated, downloaded from a BitTorrent seed. The first thing I did with the MP3 when I got it was play the whole thing through at about Level 11 on my 5.1 computer speakers.

The second thing I’m doing with it is making it available to you.

No one who is a fan of either Yazoo or DJ mixes (or the more contemporary art of mashups) should be without a copy of Re-Situated. Arr Eye Double-A be damned, I’m putting this baby up until someone in an expensive suit tells me to take it down. The world needs this song, perhaps now more than ever. So please, friends; download, partake, share and enjoy.

Situation_(Re-Situated).mp3

2/22/2009

Had To Be Said

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:27 pm

I shot this on our way into the West Seattle Puget Consumer’s Co-Op yesterday:

PCCC Market Sign

That really made me smile. I thought of how often I myself had been guilty of such a silly dereliction, picking up a new bag or two at the checkout counter because I had left my stash of bags in the car and the parking lot was just so far away…. I like the fact that the folks at the PCC have sufficiently high regard for their customers’ intelligence, humility and good humor to feel free to poke gentle fun at us in the name of a good cause.

We don’t normally travel so far for our groceries, but we had gone for a stroll along the waterfront at Lincoln Park, which we hadn’t done in a while. Since we were already in the ‘hood we decided to get some shopping done and to pick up our weekly dessert at Cupcake Royale, the Puget Sound area’s premiere source for expensive but really tasty cupcakes. They have a new Salted Caramel cupcake in honor of our new President’s favorite candy that is to die for. After that it was off for a quiet evening at home. We considered going to an evening showing of Coraline, which we both really want to see. However, after spending most of the ride home sharing stories about the stupid/evil/neglectful things we’ve seen people do to themselves/each other/their pets, we decided we were in entirely too misanthropic a mood to be released into the wild.

So it was home for a nice steak dinner, cupcakes and a DVR’ed episode of Dollhouse, which we’re both really enjoying. I’d heard Joss Whedon describing the show in an interview on NPR and had been sucked in. We don’t buy into the common sturm und drang offered up by the show’s detractors, that it is misogynistic. The idea of a shadow industry that offers human beings as reprogrammable puppets for the delectation of an ultra-rich clientele is disturbing in its implications, for sure. But you just know that if the technology arises, that’s exactly the use to which it will will soon thereafter be adopted. One might conceivably argue that the selection of that sultry, most rasa of tabulae Eliza Dushku (perhaps the finest job of casting since Arnold Schwartzenegger was hired to portray an intimidating robot) to play the part of the main character Echo constitutes a bit of sexism on the part of the producer and others involved. But really: assuming a world in which this service actually exists, the market for fat, plain, dumpy—in a word, real—people to use as meat-puppets would likely be extremely small. There are gorgeous male “actives” (as these Pop-N’-Fresh personae are known) portrayed in the show as well, but as Whedon and Fox no doubt understood quite well, a show that depicted the story of a man being forced to fulfill the needs of the amoral moneyed elite week after week—unless he is always being programmed as The Ultimate Killing Machine or something—would never sell hatchbacks and toothpaste. And Whedon is not typically known for his anti-woman sentiments. I’m very interested in seeing how this program develops.

In other news, I went in for a series of neuroelectrical tests for my carpal tunnel on Friday, which proved to the satisfaction of all present that I do indeed have CTS and that I do not seem to have any other aggravating conditions such as a pinched cervical nerve or a gypsy curse. Hooray, I’m fucked up in exactly the way I thought I was! As a consolation prize, my doctor gave me a script for a popular neruopathic pain reliever called Neurontin, which, in case you are suffering from CTS, I highly recommend. This stuff has made the difference between sleeping the night through and being woken up four or five times a night with burning pain in my hands. It’s only a treatment for the symptoms, but perhaps it will let me get along without surgery until we’re in a better position to afford it. Sure has helped over the short term, lemmetellyou.

Last but not least, I have been spending a decent chunk of my spare time in the last week working on getting more use out of my silly overfeatured Windows Mobile smartphone. A recent upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.1 means that the built-in Micro SD card slot can now read Micro SDHC cards, with capacities up to 16 gigabytes (or 320 times the capacity of my first SCSI hard drive). I promptly got myself an 8-gigger and set about trying to figure out how to use the thing as my primary music player so I could switch from my 4 gig iPod Nano. The big trick lies in finding a piece of software for Windows Mobile that plays files encoded in Apple’s AAC format. There are a few prominent candidates out there, but my experience with them so far has been somewhat lackluster. Many of them offer up way too many bells and whistles—visualizers, slick interfaces, aggressive auto-inventory of your media—that can really suck up the processor cycles in what is, after all, supposed to predominantly function as a phone. Anything that affects the speed or stability of my phone is out. My wish list for a music app would include playlists, an equalizer with presets, and very little else. Maybe a podcast subscriber if I were feeling luxurious. Haven’t found that magic combination yet, but I’m optimistic that it exists. And I’ll be God-damned if I’m going to buy an iPhone. Though maybe I can get my boss to buy one for me. 😛

2/19/2009

Why Veterinary Medicine is Uber Cool — Part One

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 6:51 am

I was flipping through the April 15th Journal of The American Veterinary Medical Association a couple of weeks ago when I ran into the following article.

Internal Fixation of a Femur Fracture in an American Bullfrog

Four page article, complete with photos of the surgery and photos of the pre- and postoperative radiographs of a large male Bullfrog. Froggy had been crossing the road when he had been hit by a car then carefully captured and transported to an amphibian rescue organization associated with the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
In the interests of species preservation, and also because it was UBER COOL, froggy had a pretty darn complex surgery, got a pin placed in his fractured femur and then spent eleven months in rehab being fed his antibiotics and pain medications in (this is seriously cool) crickets.

I usually read my JAVMAs more out of a sense of responsibility or as something to do when I’m bored rather than through any real interest in (most of) the articles. Every so often something like this crops up and I get to realize all over again why it is that I entered this profession.

Veterinary medicine is so cool.

2/16/2009

So It’s Official

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:44 pm

I now have a doctor’s Seal of Authenticity: I am suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. Joy to the effin’ world. In some ways this malady is a symbol of my geek cred: no Tech Guy is truly worth his/her salt until they’ve passed through this particular vale of tears….or at least vale of zinging pain up and down their lower arms.

Now that I’ve finally gotten here, however, the question is, what to do about it. I’m not afraid of undergoing surgery for CTS; it’s a completely routine procedure at this stage in the advance of medical technology, and the probability of a serious improvement is practically guaranteed. Problem is, we’ve spent so gap-frappin’ much money on medical procedures in the last two or three years, keeping us walking on the tightrope between solvency and serious cost-cutting measures to stay out of snowballing debt, that I’m heartily sick of it.

Don’t read too much into this: so long as we keep our jobs we’re not in danger of any serious financial hardship. It’s just that we had a pretty good nest-egg going before my cortisone injections/back surgery/physical therapy/kidney biopsy got hold of our bank account and shook it like a terrier with a tube sock. It’ll take a while for us to build it back up, and the last thing we need in the interim is another surgical procedure to bite us in the ass.

So I’m pursuing available non-surgical treatments including prescription topical anti-inflammatories, vitamin B6 and a homeopathic topical solution my company sells before throwing in the wrist-brace and pursuing surgery. If any of y’all in the Geek community have favorite non-surgical tips ‘n tricks for dealing with CTS, I’d love to hear about them. Although you can skip the part about wrist braces; it’s way past that at this point.

So, that being that, I only had one other thing I wanted to bring up. it occurred to me lately that, whatever else his retirement might bring, George W. Bush is probably going to be one of the happiest, most carefree ex-Presidents this country has seen in a long time, perhaps ever. There will be plenty to keep him busy if he feels like it. He’ll have a decent run of lecture tours, speaking engagements, groundbreaking ceremonies; he’ll be welcomed throughout much of Middle America and even notable chunks of the coasts for parades and fundraising dinners for local conservative politicians. But mostly what I picture him doing is what he did so much of during his time in office, what he managed to do more of than any President in history, namely not much. Clearing brush. Working out. Going on long bike rides with his security detail. And just sitting on the back porch of his ranch home, drinking coffee and watching Barney chase armadillos in the back yard. There may very well be a sweet corporate gig in his future—all those lobbyists he appointed to be assistant- or undersecretary of the very cabinet positions they used to lobby ought to be good for something—but in the meantime there’s lots of money socked away, plus a lifelong Presidential pension. Plenty of time to relax and take it easy for a while.

This is not meant to be an indictment of Shrub’s outlook on his responsibilities as the recent leader of the free world (even though pretty much everything else I’ve written about him is). I’m just observing that, unlike most if not all of his predecessors and probably most if not all of those to follow, this former President would not seem predisposed to leave office with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Margaret and I were talking about this during a drive earlier in the week. Her position was that GW was going into his retirement secure in the knowledge that he had done his best to champion that causes of Justice, Decency and Not Getting Blowjobs In The Oval Office. My argument went further than that. I don’t think Bush will ponder his place in history and find himself on the side of the (ahem) right; rather, I don’t think he will ponder the question at all, one way or another. I think he will reflect back on his time as President of the United States as a real hoot, an awesome roller-coaster ride with a couple of really scary loop-de-loops in it. In some very prevalent ways, his will be the anti-Lyndon B. Johnson ex-Presidency. The consequences of his actions while in office will in all likelihood utterly fail to follow him as far as the breakfast nook, much less his grave.

I think that, when called upon to do so, Mister Bush will trot out his pensive-puppy look for Katie Couric or Wolf Blitzer and play back the snippets crafted for him by top-shelf conservative speechwriters, about the burden of responsibility, the judgment of history and his place therein. Until it is time to once again fold and stow his leader costume for another day, and throw on his bike shorts for a quick ride before dinner. Enjoy your retirement, Mister President; and watch out for those armadillos.

2/9/2009

Take Time To Stop And Smell The Garlic Fries

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:23 pm

This has been a rotten month or so for me, blogwise. That’s not to say that I’ve been in some kind of deep blue funk or something; just that my life and my outlook have not lately been conducive to sitting down and putting word to silicon in my—oh copious!—spare time. I’ve had some really amazing kerfuffles at work in the last two or three weeks, including a couple of all- or near-all-nighters I’ve had to put in when key pieces of hardware decided to crap themselves for no particular reason. First our central file/application server went down, ultimately resulting in my having to blaze up to Tukwila to my favorite computer store to purchase a brand-new machine (off topic: if you need a server package and are not the type to want to configure a Linux box from the ground up for a mixed-platform environment [ooh, me, me!], Windows Server 2008 is a great upgrade to the venerable but long-in-the-tooth Server 2003. Sure, it’s based around Vista, which may give some folks pause—sure did me—but my experience so far with this box has me agreeing with those folks who say that Vista is actually Vista Beta, and Server 2008 is Vista 1.0) and spend most of the night configuring it before muling it down to the office in the morning.

Then, on Superbowl Sunday, while helping to move our company server rack to its new home, our mail/fax/time clock server decided to start bluesecreening as soon as the desktop loaded. I and my cohort sat there for a couple of hours tickling the system volume to no good effect, until it finally grew bored and decided to burn itself flat to the ground….still don’t know quite what happened. Frankensteining a new mail server together from parts lying around (remember, this as around nine o’clock on a Sunday) took the rest of the night, and I got home around 5:30 Monday morning. I actually hit morning commute traffic on my way home.

These sorts of abventures really mess with my system, and it takes a good long time to get myself back on a reasonable vector each time it happens.

After the epic adventure of Mail Server 2: Son of Mail Server, I found that my carpal tunnel—well, I assume it’s carpal tunnel; I haven’t had it diagnosed yet—had flared up like a bastard. I think it has something to do with eighteen hours of off-and-on screwdriver use. Now I understand why every hardcore system-builder geek I know has one of those manini lithium ion driver guns….gotta go get me one of those. My hands have really been killing me for the last week or so. I have an appointment to get them up on the lift for a tuneup this week, and I’m hoping to Baal that the doctor says, “Oh, this is no problem whatsoever! We just have to unscrew your elbows one-quarter turn per side to loosen up your tendons and you’ll be good as new. In fact, when I’m done, you’ll also have gained the ability to fly!” Man, that’d be sweet. But I’d settle for a non-surgical option to deal with the pain.

On top of all of this, I just haven’t felt very amusing, insightful, didactic, loquacious or versificatory as of late. I think of things I’d like to say, but when I sit down to blog about them I can’t seem to string the words together. Everything I type seems uninteresting, hackneyed, no better and often much worse than what has been posted on a quillion other web sites already. This is something I’ve talked about previously. I really do think that some of this must have to do with the antidepressant I’m taking, given that my dropoff in writing perfectly coincides with the start of my prescription—although, as Slashot tag submitters are wont to point out, “correlationisnotcausation”. But given the other benefits I’ve enjoyed from being on the things, I’m leery of switching to another script, much less discontinuing them wholesale.

All of this is to say that, given my physical, mental  and emotional telemetry at the moment, the last thing I usually feel like doing is sitting down at my trusty computer for yet another hour or two to immortalize my somewhat fractured musings for posterity. Hell, I’m not even dedicating the time I should be to my video games, let alone my marriage. (Fallout 3 is just sitting there, staring at me accusingly. Make it go away!)

But I felt like I simply had to get this one down, because there’s potentially so much riding on it. An entire other family’s very livelihood may depend on my efforts (this is complete hyperbole, but then again kind of not; read on to find out why), and those of like-minded Internet-based nanocontent providers. I can’t let them down. So here goes.

If you happen to be in proximity of the greater Burien/Normandy Park/Des Moines axis any time in the future, I wholeheartedly endorse dropping by Benson’s Best Bites, Normandy Park’s newest—hell, only—gourmet sandwich shop and deli. Best Bites is kind of hard to find the first time, situated as it is in the crook of the elbow of the mildly unprepossessing Manhattan Village shopping center. But they’re worth overshooting the first time or two. Keep an eye out for their A-board placed out at street level.

It might help to characterize Best Bites by comparing to another established shop, in which case I think I would call it a scaled down cousin to DeLaurenti, purveyor of a dizzying array of uptown-typey specialty foods at the Pike Place Market. Folks what live ’round these parts—and many a Seattle tourist—know exactly the place I’m talking about. For those in the know, just picture DeLaurenti at about one-third or one-quarter scale: high-quality meats and cheeses (a truly epic cheese selection!), both for munching on-premises or on the go and for taking home in bulk, desserts, ready-to-cook fresh and frozen pasta and baked goods, a decent selection of nonalcoholic beverages (including one of the best ginger beers I have ever tasted—none of that Jamaican lime hooey, just pure sweet knock-your-tonsils-out gingery goodness), plus exotic packaged sweets, crackers, oils, spices, grains, cooking and baking tools and supplies….everything but a big ol’ brass-eagle-topped espresso machine. They seem to have eschewed, or at least waylaid, the investment in an espresso rig for the store—probably a good thing, since there are (count them) two Starbucks located in this very micromall; one standalone shop at the front of the parking lot and one in the QFC. They’re so close they’re practically conjoined.

Best Bites is owned and operated by Ezra and Loie Benson, with help from their three daughters on the weekends. This joint is truly a Mom ‘N Pop operation, which opened up only a few scant months ago after much preparation. The Bensons really seem to love the food that they serve, and are always pressing free samples of something new or fun or both on the customers. This is no grocery-store “deli”, stocked with myriad variants of the “chopped/rolled/pressed conglomerate-O-parts” genus. The Bensons stock only the good stuff: real pastrami, roast beef, prosciutto, salami, sopresata, pancetta to name a few, even caviar and other exotic foodie feed. They get in new stuff all the time and use it to concoct novel and yummy sandwiches and sides. Just last Saturday we popped in there to pick up an order, and Ezra had had himself a gem of an idea: he set up a prep table and cook stove out front of the shop and was taking advantage of the unseasonably sunny weather to cook up batch after batch of garlic fries. The aroma was carried out into the parking lot by the laminar sheet of wind that pours down the drive between their shop and the side of the QFC, attracting folks from as far away as the main thoroughfare. Best advertising they could have invested in that day.

If there is one thing I wish I could change about Best Bites, it would be the speed of the service. Ezra and Loie are attentive and solicitous businessfolk, with an eye on quality and getting things done right. Not necessarily right now. Watching Ezra make a sandwich is like watching a jeweler clean and set a watch; everything is just so and just right, just not very fast. Expect your order to take about 15 or 20 minutes to get to you. This isn’t a problem for me as I budget in the wait time, but it could be a bad surprise for someone on a 30-minute lunch break with ten minutes of commute time to and from work, used to the pay-N-punt service at their local dispensary for extruded polyurethane based insta-comestibles like McDonald’s or Subway. I rather expect that, should this place really take off, the Bensons’ll either learn to crank their speed up a notch or two or—better yet—they’ll be able to hire some help to staff the actual sandwich foundry so Ezra and Loie can schmooze with the customers.

And I’m really hoping that Best Bites takes off. Needless to say, this is not the best economy in which to launch a new business, let alone a business in as fickle a market and with as anemic a profit margin as food service. The Bensons seem to have put their hearts—and probably their savings—into this place, and it shows. I’m optimistic that the mildly affluent, north of the marina/west of the airport Normandy Park community can sustain a mid-to-upscale lunchtime eatery like Best Bites, and hope that they will do so enthusiastically. Half the battle is just helping people to find the place. Another small portion, perhaps a tenth of the battle or less, is making people aware of the good eats available practically under their noses, and hopefully helping to promulgate a groundswell of positive reviews, both word of mouth and word of machine. Hence this post.

So if you’re in the Normandy Park neighborhood, mosey over to Manhattan Village on 1st Avenue South, pull into the parking lot, head past the Starbucks and down along the north side of the QFC, and stop in at Benson’s Best Bites. I recommend the genoa salami with coarse mustard and banana peppers. Or the New Orleans style panini with three meats and olive spread. Or the mortadella and provolone. Oh hell, get whatever you want; it’s all good. And a ginger beer.

2/5/2009

Literary Lunacy?

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 7:19 am

Maybe it’s just me, because I grew up in a family that values the printed word. Maybe it’s the people that I hang out with (a la Jaunthie’s recent musings on perpetual motion and overachievers).
But is it weird that I read whenever I can spare a few minutes and that I have books stashed around the house that I’m in the middle of?

Honestly, the majority of the people that I work with think I’m completely nuts. Now granted that if you discount the DVMs, very few of the people that I work with have more than a high school education, but still….

I am currently reading:
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Dave Barry Turns 50 by Dave Barry
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
And I’ve got Dragonfly In Amber by Diana Gabaldon on my i-Pod to which I listen when I’m walking or gardening.
And that doesn’t count the compilation of classic Peanuts comic strips that I dip into occasionally, nor Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama and Little House in The Ozarks by Laura Ingalls Wilder, both of which I started to read about 18 months ago and haven’t finished yet.

One of my assistants was completely gobsmacked when I brought up that tally. l seriously don’t understand what’s weird about it. What else do you do in that time between going to bed and falling asleep? What else do you do on an airplane? When you’re lying around sick?

Nah. It’s not me that’s weird.

What are you reading?


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