Happy Holidays!

Filed under: @ 7:13 pm

I usually send out Christmas cards. I intended to do the same this year, but when I got around to getting them out to stuff and address I found that I had none.
See, every year I usually go a little crazy with the Unicef catalogue and order a whole bunch of cards not realizing that I’d done the same the year before and still had some left over. It’s kind of a brain fart-ish holiday tradition and I can’t feel bad about it….I’m supporting Unicef after all!
Except that, as it turns out, I actually had some sort of brain fart in my brain fart last year and realized that I still had a ton of holiday cards and that I didn’t need to order any more.
So I didn’t.
The left overs from 2007 exactly took care of the list for 2008 and I was thrilled, thinking that I’d be able to make a big fat Unicef order in the summer or fall of 2009 and get a whole new batch of pretty cards. Unicef always has the prettiest cards.
Have you ever thought to check your supply of holiday cards in August or September?
Nope. Neither have I.
So three weeks ago when I sat down to do the Christmas cards I opened the drawer where I usually keep them and they weren’t there. I thought it was odd, but then remembered that I’d shifted things around in my desk drawers and filing cabinets after I finished redecorating my study last year so I checked the drawer where the Christmas cards _used_ to be. And you know what? The weren’t there either!
Suffice it to say that the Christmas cards that I thought were in my study weren’t, in fact, in my study because I’d sent them all out last year. And if you order holiday cards from Unicef in the first week of December, you can bet that you won’t get them in any prompt fashion (it being December and all). Mine came yesterday.

So happy holidays everyone. If I’m feeling energetic I might send out New Years cards this year, but since all of the pretty cards that I purchased from Unicef three weeks ago are, for the most part, Christmas or Hanukkah themed it seems a little silly to send them out after Hanukkah and Christmas are over.
But here’s a couple of pretty pictures anyway.
Ex Moose House
Isn’t Doug (on the left) cute in his new Christmas lights?

Ex Moose Tree

Peace and joy to you all.


“Dear LuckyVitamin.com….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:03 pm

It was with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment that I took delivery of order number xxxxxx when it arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. Everything arrived in a timely manner and in good condition. So far I am more than satisfied with your pricing and your customer service. however, there is one matter that needs addressing.

My order was for forty-eight rolls of Seventh Generation toilet paper, thirty-two rolls of their paper towels, and two gallons of Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Castile Soap. Your prices were very competitive, particularly since UPS Ground shipping was included free of charge. After a brief bout of confusion regarding my billing address—which I regard as a good thing, reflecting as it does your particularly stringent precautions against online fraud—my order was completed.

About a week later, I was working in my home office when I heard the blare of the UPS van’s horn and got up to greet the driver. He met me at the door with my delivery….all seven boxes of it.

I was a bit taken aback. Your packing department had elected to send each twelve-back of toilet paper in its own box. The paper towels were broken down into two shipping containers, one containing three eight-packs and the fourth in a separate box.

Not only that, but each cluster of rolls was tightly secured on all sides by a thick coating of….bubble wrap. As though toilet paper were susceptible to bruises, dents or stress fractures during shipping.

In fact, the only thing that wasn’t rendered immobile in its box by a thick corona of bubble wrap were the only two things that could conceivably have benefited from such treatment, namely the two gallons of liquid soap. They arrived, terrified but none the worse for wear, in a single box with one bottle upright and the other on its side, with a smattering of bubble wrap thrown in as a garnish. Your trust in the power of plastic screw caps is touching.

As a consumer trying to use his buying power to help make small differences in the world, I can tell you that, when I think of helping to reduce conspicuous waste—by, say, purchasing paper products made from recycled materials—the image that comes to mind in no way resembles this:


All this instead of grouping the paper goods into, say, two boxes—one for the TP and one for the paper towels—with a third box for the soap. This would have actually saved you money; I ran the numbers at UPS.com. At standard retail shipping prices, the four separately boxed twelve-packs of toilet paper would have cost at least $14.10 per box to ship to Zone 8 (me) via UPS Ground, for a total of at least $56.40. I say “at least”, because the actual dimension of the boxes you shipped them in was slightly larger than the actual roll packs, which means that an even greater dimensional weight would apply and bump up the cost. By contrast, four twelve-packs shipped in one box via UPS Ground to Zone 8 would run about $52.37 retail. The cost of shipping the paper towels breaks down in a similar way.

Furthermore, I suspect that the Seventh Generation products I purchased are supplied to retailers such as yourselves in “cases”, bulk lots of multiples of four (say, four twelve-packs of toilet paper per case, or four eight-packs of paper towels) and that these cases arrive at your facility already boxed. I can only hope that you were out of those pre-boxed cases at the time the pick list for my order was printed, leaving the packer/shipper with no choice but to scrounge for appropriately-sized boxes to use in the fulfillment of this order. The thought of someone pulling a case of toilet paper off the warehouse shelf, cutting it open, removing the contents and putting them into four individual boxes for shipping is enough to turn my brain to Cheez Whiz.

Actually, I have a pretty good theory as to why my order was shipped the way it was. Two words: “holiday help”. Or perhaps “temp agency”. Someone with little or no experience on the job and not a whole lot of impetus to try to do things in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. Or perhaps this is merely a case of someone with r-e-e-e-a-l-y bad spatial-relations skills. Either way, I’m certainly not suggesting that you dismiss this person out of hand. They may have numerous other desirable qualities and qualifications. But you might want to take them off the pick/pack/ship fast track and onto something more their cup of tea….assuming, of course, that they can get their tea to fit in just one cup.


Winter Walking

Filed under: @ 3:38 pm

Yes, I do walk all winter. We have a treadmill in the basement, but it’s elderly and given to overheating which makes it shut off suddenly. It’s noisy, VERY noisy, and I’m not very tolerant of the consistent rattle-bang anymore. And when running it’s a source of constant fascination to the kittens. The last time I was walking on the treadmill I had just gotten up to a decent speed when Pogo decided to leap off of the windowsill to try and catch the moving belt, landed on the deck behind me and got shot off the back of the treadmill to slam against the wall behind us.
On the whole walking outdoors seems a lot safer.

And a lot more pleasant. I don’t like to walk when it’s pouring rain, but if it starts raining when I’m out walking.. Oh well.
But any other sort of weather is pleasant and each has its own certain charm.
Walking after it’s frozen? Fantastic. I love seeing the ice crystals in the dirt and since there are two or three small streams on my walking route it’s always fun to see whether or not they’re frozen over. I usually have to be extremely careful where I put my feet, but I’ve not ended up on my ass yet.
I’m not so much of a fanatic that I go out to do my power walking in the snow. My walking route is hilly and I don’t really trust most drivers to not skid out of control and mish me.
Windy? I like wind. I usually end up having to wear my sunglasses since I most of our weather comes from the west and I spend about the first third of my walk heading straight west. The wind makes my eyes tear so much that the protection of the sunglasses is a necessity and I get some truly strange looks from passing cars. Besides it’s fun to chase leaves and try to stomp them.
A week or so ago I was walking in a fog (and no smart ass comments about how fast I do, or do not, wake up in the morning, thank you very much). A damn cold fog, but at the hill at the top of my walking route I can see the water so I was watching the water lift off of the fog. When I got to the bottom of the hill, there was still enough ground fog to make things and people appear mysteriously. I like fog.

About halfway through my regular walking route there’s a small section of land that I can’t quite classify. Surrounded by untrammeled suburbia it’s…. Well, it’s wild. For lack of a better name I generally call it the walking path.
I’m neither naive nor romantic enough to think that this is a section of virgin forest, but it’s certainly undeveloped. The land is obviously owned by the city of Normandy Park, the path through it is maintained to a certain degree, and I see their trucks in the parking lot now and again. It’s this chunk of land that is the bottom of steep sided bowl which, this being western Washington, guarantees that about 90% of the year it is very wet It’s full of alder, maple, oak, and holly along with any type of native undergrowth you can imagine. In the spring it’s bursting with skunk cabbage (I like skunk cabbage — it’s pretty regardless of how it smells) and horsetail. In the summer it’s full of berries. Any surrounding houses are far enough away that they can’t be seen when there’s leaves on the trees. It’s far enough in from the road that unless something large passes by you can’t hear road noise. It’s quiet, it’s damp, it’s peaceful. I’ve seen opossum and raccoon, I’ve seen deer sign, and once I saw a coyote. Birds of all kinds, I saw a pileated woodpecker this morning. I purposely slow down when I walk through because I take such pleasure in just being outside.
I was discussing this with a checker at Trader Joe’s the other day. We agreed that there frequently isn’t enough outdoors in modern life and that, on the whole, we thought that the world would be a nicer place if more people spent more time outdoors. She’s a gardener, the whole discussion had started when she asked me if I thought the weather (gorgeous at that point) would hold long enough for her to get outside that afternoon. I replied that I hoped so because I still had a ton of bulbs that needed to go in the ground and we were off…

But if I’m nuts for walking three to five miles a day as often as I can in any type of weather, well, mostly it’s because I don’t get much other excuse to be outside in my daily life.
These are all photos that I shot in one trip around the walking path. There are some marvelous things to see when you walk outdoors. Even in suburbia.
Amanita muscaria
A-nother AmanitaFungus on the tree trunk
Yellow Fungus
Reishi Log
Reishi Log 2
Turkey Tail


The Power of the Dark Side

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:38 pm

I had myself a mini-epiphany—I guess that would be an “epiphanette”—a few weeks ago. I had decided it was high time for me to upgrade my desktop publishing rig from my serviceable but long in the tooth Power Mac G5 to something more robust. I have been working non-stop on a variety of creative projects for the last four months or so, and I have calculated that a good 15% of my time is spent simply waiting for my computer to catch up with me. Photoshop filters, export translators, disk activity—all of these and more take processor and disk time, and it’s time I had to spend sitting around with my thumb up my tuchis instead of getting other shit done. The Mac OS is good at multitasking, but interrupting a highly intensive task by starting up a few less intensive ones tends to cause all tasks to slow down; better just to wait until Job A is complete before starting up Job B.

Anywho, I calculated the money required to get myself a top-flight new Mac Pro, plus a few other components that would greatly improve the experience. The total came out to about four thousand dollars. The only remaining question was when to go about getting it. The Mac Pro was getting well past it’s normal development cycle; there was bound to be a new model announced any day now. This would not only mean improved performance and new features for the money, but sale prices on the previous models. So I quelled the voices yelling “now now now now now!” in my head, and hunkered down to wait for the announcement.

About a week and a half into my vigil, I had my epiphanette. Why, I wondered, was I waiting for the advent of a new computer from Apple, when for the same money I was planning to spend, I could buy a top-of-the-line PC, cross-grade copies of all the software I use, and a fast PC laptop to go with it?

It sounds like a Microsoft ad, I know, but there it was: logic was staring me in the face, and I could deny it no longer. So, as of about seven days ago, I have become—in the timeless words of my brother-in-law—Bill Gates’ butt monkey. ❗

Not that this is quite the tectonic shift that all my drama-queen bloviating would imply. Of the six (!) working computers in the house prior to my purchase, three of them were PCs anyway; two gaming machines and my Web server. I’ve run Uncle Andrew dot Net off of both PCs and Macs over the years, with few complaints about either platform, once I prised my blog from the clutching talons of IIS 5 and moved over to Apache. And while it’s true that I’ve done all of my creative work on the Mac platform, the actual software used to perform my job differs little between the two platforms. There are a host of keyboard shortcuts that one must retrain oneself to use, of course, and there are certain pitfalls of cross-platform translation that one must be aware of. But the interface, and the visual metaphors that support it, are essentially identical. I’m finding my way around the new software with relative ease.

The operating system itself, that’s a different matter entirely. My new computer is running, of course, Windows 7. My impression of it is somewhere between lukewarm and warm. It’s not a bad OS, by any means; the common lore that Vista was Vista 0.5 and Windows 7 is Vista 1.0 seems right on the money. As with Vista before it, I like very much the fact that I can turn down various special effects like the whole Aero Glass thing, which to me is just an embarrassing distraction, the nerd equivalent of a big gaudy spoiler and a Street Glow kit on a Honda Civic. That’s something I wish Apple would incorporate into OS X, though I doubt they ever will. I really like the new way of grouping system tray items into “always visible”, “sometime visible” and “never visible” subsets; that’s a huge space-saver. I like how dragging a window to the top of the screen automatically maximizes it. And as has been the case since the Earth’s crust cooled, printing from a Windows machines seems infinitely faster than printing from a Mac, using either of the most popular printing languages, PCL and Postscript.

But my biggest requirement of an operating system—that it not get in the way of what I’m trying to do—is to my mind one of 7’s biggest stumbling blocks. Much of the Windows 7 experience seems geared towards tricking it into doing what I want it to do. Why is it that I can put the shortcut to a folder on my computer in the Start menu but not a shortcut to a folder on a network volume, like a NAS? Why don’t folders in the Start Menu jump open when you mouse over them, instead of requiring you to open the root folder and then dig through the submenus to find what you were looking for? (And for that matter, why is it that when you do click on a folder in the Start menu, the OS doesn’t instantly recognize what you’re trying to do and show you that folder on the desktop, instead of keeping the folder hidden under whatever program window happens to be in the foreground at the time?) Why can I put a shortcut to an application in the Quick Launch area of the Task bar but not a folder? Why can’t I rearrange the order of Toolbars in the Taskbar dynamically by dragging them around? Microsoft helpfully included a “Navigation Pane”, a sidebar on the left side of folder windows with links to commonly accessed items. That’s great, just ducky; so why the fuck would they not make it so you could add things you commonly use to the Navigation Pane and remove things that you don’t? I will never, ever need the “Homegroup” link. What I could really use is a list of folders, selected by me, containing my most commonly accessed projects.

And the killer, the Big Kahuna granddaddy WTF³ feature of all time has to be the way Windows handles special Unicode characters like ®, ™, ß and so forth. On a Mac, in any application and the OS itself, if you want a ™ symbol, you hit “Option-2”. In Windows, if you want the same symbol, you hit “Alt-0-1-5-3”. That, or you go to the Start menu, open the Accessories folder, open the System Tools folder, select Character Map, find the ™ symbol, highlight it, select Copy, go back to your document and select Paste. What could be easier? 😡

Now it is true that many individual Windows apps have much simpler keystroke combinations built in for such characters, but the Mac OS has used “Option-2” for the ™ symbol for any and all scenarios since time immemorial. I imagine that there must be some good reason for keeping Windows wedded to such a bizarre array of rules regarding special characters, but I have no idea what it is.

[I brought this particular gripe up at a party yesterday, and my friend fisherbear explained that this convention was a holdover from the early days of Windows, and that it allows for access to the complete UTF character set from the keyboard so it is in fact a more complete solution that that offered by Apple. To which I say; maybe so, but just because a system offers more options doesn’t necessarily make it better. My feet can take me over a broader range of terrain than my car, too; doesn’t mean I’m going to walk to my in-laws’ house in Bellevue instead of taking my car.]

And yet despite all my kvetching, here I am with a brand-new 2.6GHz Core i7 machine with 12 gigs of RAM, two 1-terabyte hard drives, two DVD burners, a Radeon HD 5850 video card, Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Extreme Gamer sound card and Windows 7, lovingly constructed by my favorite local computer store, plus a lovely little Sony Vaio laptop and up/crossgrades to all my software, all for around the same price as a dual-Xeon Mac Pro with 6 gigs of RAM, one 640 GB hard drive, One DVD burner, an NVidia GeForce GT120 and stock audio. And no upgraded software, save for a copy of Parallels so I could run Windows on it as well.

None of which is to say that I don’t still love the Macintosh; I’ve just kind of drifted away from it over the years as I’ve gotten my hands “dirtier” in the working innards of computers. I think that the Mac platform is a boutique product. It’s there for people who want performance, stability and superior design from a computer, and are willing to pay a premium price for it. Unlike days of yore, the Mac is no longer solely for people who “don’t know anything about computers”. Because of the UNIX roots of OS X, there’s now a sort of “donut hole” effect in the demographic of Mac users; a demographic that spans all the way from grandmothers and dorm-dwellers to oceanographers and astrophysicists. In the middle of the donut hole are those of us who want power and performance but don’t want to pay out the pooter for top-notch ‘puter. People who are willing—nay, are compelled—to tweak and tune, fiddle and futz with our machines until they are everything they could possibly be, or at least until we break something and have to start all over. I would never dare to imply that this sort of person is either smarter or dumber, more or less mature, higher or lower on the invisible yet pervasive ladder of technocracy than those who choose another path. There is room in the digital firmament for every constellation; Windows, OS X, Linux, Unix, Amiga, BeOS, what have you. All except the CP/M folks; they need to be cleansed from the Earth. Joke, people, it was a joke.



Filed under: @ 3:08 pm

Most of you will be aware of the annual New Year’s Spam Ritual.
For those not in the know, once a year, at 12:42 a.m. on January 1st, the Spam God flies over the earth. If you have omitted the proper sacrifice (a tin of Spam with the number 42 carved into it with a butter knife flung up on to the roof) or if you are not in the properly pious position (crouching in the house with the lights off and your head hidden) the Spam God will descend and suck out your brains.
During the preparation of the sacrifice there are always readings from the Holy Book of Spam (a book of Spam facts published by Hormel — honest!), there is the solemn singing of the Spam song (and if you’re not familiar with the Spam song you are WAY reading the wrong blog), there is frequent speaking in tongues, and people often fall out.
There are often auxiliary sacrifices. The Spam God only demands the one official sacrifice, but for years now we have been ceremoniously sacrificing additional Spam in hopes of expiating the sins of mankind from the previous year. We have decapitated Spam with a range of weapons from a battle axe to a 4 foot machete. We have blown Spam into space, 2001 A Spam Odyssey was a great success, we have flung Spam at nuclear submarines (the trebuchet was less of a success), and we have tried to cremate Spam in a fiery Viking funeral. And our auxiliary sacrifices have worked. Despite the Jasonist Heresy, which says that one may actually eat Spam (a pathology that is sure to draw the wrath of the Spam God eventually), our efforts on behalf of mankind have kept the Spam God mollified enough to keep from sucking the brains out of most of humanity. Though I could argue that this theory would handily explain G.W. Bush.

You’ll notice that I said we tried to cremate Spam in a Viking funeral. As it turns out, Spam doesn’t burn very well. Regardless of the fact that I had marinated the Spam in Everclear for three weeks, even going so far as to baste the stuff with an 1 1/2″ needle injecting Everclear deep into the brick of Spam. Despite the magnesium shavings, the gasoline, and the road flares…. Spam just doesn’t burn very well at all.
But with the successful return of fire to the New Year’s Eve celebration, we are going to try incineration again.

So here is the challenge. If you intend on coming to our New Year’s celebration, produce some immolatable Spam (it’s not a requirement for coming to the party, mind, just an added benefit). Whosoever produceth the most flammable Spam, as decided by popular vote, wins some sort of booby prize (about the shape of which I currently have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something) Entries will be judged on ease of ignition, and completeness of burning.

A few rules so as to protect our highly flammable old shake roof.
Your contribution must be no more than one standard sized block of Spam. The Spam need not be IN its original container, but it should be the approximate size and shape of its original container (as in, you can’t spread it thin on a cookie tray and mix it with something combustible then present it for burning all thin and flat)

Explosives are RIGHT OUT. We have few neighbors and those that we do have are not close, but keep in mind that we are suburban, we are directly in between the local fire station and the Washington State Patrol headquarters, and I really have NO interest in seeing flaming blobs of Spam flying all over the yard, sticking to the siding, and setting my house on fire.

And as explosives are out, so are preparations that will cause sudden flare ups. You can’t line a Spam can with a thin layer of Spam, fill the mold with napalm, and then cover it over with a ‘lid’ of Spam so what you have looks like a block of Spam, but is really an oozing, gelatinous time bomb.
We are looking for plain, solid, Spam that will burn. Pickle it in Everclear, mix it with lamp oil, do what you need to make it (and not my house or my garden) burn.
Ladies and gentlemen….. good luck!

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