Monday, July 28, 2008

It comes to this...

A number of years ago a (relatively) young kid started working in our group as a tech writer. He was a good writer, but he also had a knack for understanding the value of emerging technologies and learned all he could about how we could take advantage of them. 

The guy had an enormous amount of curiosity and cleverness, and managed to drag us, kicking and screaming, into the modern world.

A month or so ago he was snatched up by a different group in the company, which left a massive hole in our group. Amazing as it sounds, there were some in our group that felt like I could step in and handle some of the things he was doing. 

So I am giving it a shot, although I have no hope of filling those shoes. They are like clown shoes and I've got little girl feet.

To help me learn about one of the acronym-intensive areas he had mastered, I am now reading my first "For Dummies" book. I've always been curious about this series of books, and maybe Mush can tell us how well they actually sell, but I've also been curious about how I would feel openly reading a book that assumes I'm a moron.

I feel OK. 

Only a few work mates have mildly jabbed me about it, but since they don't want to get stuck having to learn this stuff, they tend to smile and quickly wander off.

I went to the website to see what other offerings they had, and it was amazing. For example, Chihuahuas for Dummies. I think the mere fact that you thought having a yappy little dog for a pet was a good idea automatically brands you with the "dummy" tag. But if the book at least gives you strategies for learning how to spell "chihuahua" it's probably worth it.

And then there was Grieving for Dummies. I mean, just, really? (I wonder if this covers fans of bad baseball teams? If so, this could be a big seller here in the SF Bay area.) 

OK - enough time wasting. 

I need to get back to learning to spell XSLT.

That's it - move along...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Biking the Baylands

The Boy and I headed off to the Baylands Preserve in Palo Alto to do a bit of bike riding. It has been a long time since I've been on my bike and even The Boy's bike had cobwebs on it when we started.

We had never been to this area, and it was pretty nifty. There are some hills that are closed to bikes from April to August due to some sort of owl that has a restraining order. Which was OK with me - riding on the level trails was enough of a challenge, especially when we had to ride against the vicious breeze.

One of the coolest things there is the farm where they grow telephone poles.

There were also a variety of very nifty waterfowl in the sloughs.

I declared that this was a heron, although it could have been just about anything from a pheasant to an albino sparrow with a thyroid condition. After we paused for me to take this picture we came across a herd of these, which I weirdly decided was not cool enough to take a picture of.

We had a good ride and the weather was nice. We will come back once the owls are up to visitors and my thighs are up to pedaling again. Man, I'm old...

That's it - move along...

PS: Completely unrelated to this post, a picture on my phone I had forgotten about reminded of a weird incident a couple of weeks ago while I was walking Idiot Dog Teddy out at Bayfront Park.

That white minivan is ours. The guy leaning on its passenger door, who really looks to be casing it, possibly looking to get the poop bags I keep in the console, is not ours.

I went up to the back of the van, turned off the alarm (with the annoying chirps that blares), opened the hatch and got IDT in, closed the hatch, and the guy had never moved. I finally walked up to him and asked if I could help him. He jumped a bit, dropped his cell phone, and said "No, I was just resting." This was really weird for out here in the 'burbs, especially out at this park. Nest time I'll put the poop bags out of site.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Folking Out in Redwood City

Well, since the band was from Seattle, the "folk" in the music had more of a punkish, alternativeish feel than a Peter, Paul, and Maryish feel. The band was Handful of Lovin, a fun and energetic band featuring a violin/fiddle that often reminded me of Jean-Luc Ponty.

But this is not about the music. It's about how Redwood City is trying to get people to regularly come downtown to the Courthouse Square area. This is a fun area that the city has, through the aggressive use of imminent domain (some of which the city was successfully sued over) and lots of redevelopment, made very popular. (I've written before about troubles finding parking on Saturday nights. Parking last night was easy due to Mrs Notthat's knowledge of private parking lots that send their tow trucks home at 6 PM.)

In any case, they have many regularly scheduled concerts, movies, plays, and festivals in this area. For example, tonight you can see a performance of Macbeth. 

Which should go over well with some of the crowd that was at the concert last night. You know, those that hung around the fringes drinking way more adult beverages than was good for them, shouting out helpful advice to the band such as "FRREEEE BIIIRRD," or keeping time (well, some form of time - sadly, nothing related to the song currently being played) by beating empty bottles together.

The lesson is to get there a bit early so you can avoid the fringes. 

And bring your own adult beverages.

That's it - move along...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If you don't use 'em... least have a bit of fun with them.

A co-worker picked up some free tickets to last night's San Jose Giants game. The Boy and I made a valiant effort to use two of them, but circumstances changed our minds.

Freeway traffic was remarkably light which meant we were going to be pretty early for the game. That's a good thing since I like to hit their BBQ (Turkey Mikes) early, before they run out of ribs.

But then traffic stopped when we were about two blocks away. And just sat there.

One of the things I like about San Jose Giants (single A minor league baseball) games is that there is generally plenty of room to roam around and stretch out. There can be lines at the BBQ, but nothing too bad. The heavy traffic meant that there was going to be a large turnout (I guess giving out free tickets does that, although it hasn't done anything like that in the past).

We've gone to a dozen or so games over the last few years, including a playoff game pitched by the SF Giants All Star Tim Lincecum, and we've never had a problem getting a parking space.

There was a problem on Tuesday. By the time we got close enough to see the ball park, the first pitch had been cast and there were a lot of confused people trying to park in alternative lots that are not normally needed. 

This kind of crowd meant that I'd probably not get ribs and we certainly would not be able to relax in our own corner of the bleachers. So we headed home and got burritos.

Tonight I took a look in the garden and found two huge zucchinis that had been hiding. There were cherry tomatoes, green beans, and lemon cucumbers. The pumpkins are getting huge (two are bigger than basketballs - we've never had them that big before).

The garden is still out of control, but it's managing to produce produce, so I am happy to deal with the jungle.

The unused ball game tickets though? Sad.

That's it - move along...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Henry Cowell Camping - Day Two

One of the by-products of the Boardwalk was that Ylime "won" a pair of "stylish" sunglasses. The Boy was having issues with his sunglasses so she gave them to him.

These glasses and the knife gave The Boy a definite sinister appearance (at least when you could get him to stop grinning). He looks like someone that would not put up with a British guy whining about not being petty at 4:30 AM. Unfortunatley, he sleeps too soundly to have heard anything. (See the previous post if this makes no sense to you.)

Aynos was extremely keen to eat crepes for breakfast - she had even made the batter the day before. All that was left was for Nod (not Nwad) to do was to cook them. To be fair, he did not have a proper pan or spatula and most of them came out pretty good. It just turned out that the one I took a picture of was having some issues.

While watching the crepe show, I noticed a woman walk by with a yellow cat on a leash. As a complete surprise to me, the cat was EXTREMELY unhappy about the whole leash thing. Sadly, I was not quick enough to get a picture of that, but by wandering around a bit I found her campsite where there were three cats, none of which was on a leash or in kitty handcuffs. I've never seen cats in a campground before - and especially would not have expected it in a state park.

After I finally got over the whole cat thing, I got bored and built this structure out of the firewood.

I've got a great movie of The Boy knocking it down, but it's a bit big to add to the post. But it's great, trust me.

We then headed off to some swimming hole that Nod (not Nwad) read about on the internet. From the parking lot it was a LONG hike downhill to the water. A sign claimed it was only half a mile, but it lied. The only thing I could think of was how hard it was going to be hiking back up the hill once we were done. (The other thought was that it was WAY too cold to be swimming in any case.)

Nod (not Nwad) and most of the others went wading in the creek. Nod bravely caught this crawdad and convinced it to hold still while I took its picture. Aynos wanted to try and make a crepe out of it.

Ylime also found something in the creek, but it turned out to just be a large rock (which she tormented The Boy with, naturally).

It was really a beautiful location and the trail was very cool. But man, it was a LONG way back up that hill.

We then went to dinner at the world famous Santa Cruz Diner. (I made up the "world famous" bit, but it really should be.) I love this place. It has an amazing variety of food choices, low prices, and a fun attitude. (I forgot the camera, but just imagine heaping plates of meatballs, mashed potatoes, jalapeƱo poppers, salmon, chicken, Vietnamese spring rolls, and lasagna being devoured by hungry campers.)

After dinner, a few of us (well, me and all the women except for Ylime) went for a hike to an overlook just outside the campground. It was fun and the views were great, but this was the nicest view.

(Insert "awwww" sound here.)

And that was about it. Saturday night was a lot less eventful than Friday night. We spent a lot of time playing this game called Apples to Apples which was great fun.

Here is a picture of all of us on the morning we left.

We all had a great time, nobody was seriously injured or arrested, and the weather, while cool, was good enough. This is a great campground (although apparently the showers were less than optimal - but who needs showers when you are camping?) with lots of trails to hike and easy access to Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz.

That's it - move along...

Henry Cowell Camping - Day One

Friday afternoon we headed off for Henry Cowell State Park for the weekend. This is an interesting campground a few miles outside of Santa Cruz in a heavily tree infested area.

There were three families that went: Nwad and her two girls Ylime and Aynos, Nod (not Nwad - which caused lots of confusion throughout the trip) and his wife Htiaf, and us (Mrs Notthat, The Boy, and I).

Note: for most of these people these are not their real names.

Here The Boy is tormented by Aynos and Ylime. To be fair, this tormenting went both ways during the trip. A lot.

Since the campground is close to Santa Cruz, once the tents were set up we headed to the Boardwalk. Some chose to ride the upchuck machines.

And then there is the Log Ride (this has an obviously distressed Nod (not Nwad) riding in front, an excited Aynos in the middle, and a cool as a cucumber The Boy in the rear. They did get a bit wet in the end.

While the others did their best to damage their bodies on the rides (Mrs Notthat getting an award for inflicting the most pain on herself by choosing to ride in the last row of some stomach-churning ride or other), I decided to eat ethnic food. I started with a cajun corn dog, a Fosters beer, and a sundae featuring French vanilla and English toffee frozen yogurt. (I could not work out an ethnic angle to a deep fried Twinkie or else that would have made the list too.)

But the main reason for going to the Boardwalk was for the free Friday night concert - this night featured the greaser doo-wop band Sha Na Na (who played at the original Woodstock, weirdly as the next to last act on the last day - they were followed by Jimi who burned his guitar in their honor). Here you can see them making us excercise.

A great tradition of these concerts are the beach balls that bounce around during the show. I bought a 50 cent ball for $2.99 in one of the shops and had all the kids write something on it.

Ylime wrote this bit about it hitting someone's head and The Boy added a graphic of sorts showing the result.

And then we set the ball free. We were able to follow it as it made its way several times across the crowd.

Fun bit - there is a fair amount of competition between the little kids to catch and then smack a beach ball at some random adult's head. There was a little girl not far from us that was trying very hard to get her hands on a ball, lunging at them even when they were twenty feet away. Then a ball ended up at The Boy. The Boy gently tossed it to her and two things happened: the girl nearly wet herself she was so thrilled and about 30 people in the area started applauding The Boy's good deed. This was a very cool moment.

After the last song we packed up and headed back to camp, where a wonderful campfire entertained us for a bit before heading to bed.

As is the tradition when I go camping, it was impossible to sleep due to irritating things, such as a little kid that started crying at 12:30 AM for WAY longer than any decent adult would have allowed to happen, followed at 4:30 AM by some idiot Britsh guy talking on his cell phone to his boss in the UK (using his loudest outdoor voice just in case the boss could not hear him through the phone) who stated at least a dozen times "I don't mean to sound petty about this, but..." Here's a clue - if you think it might sound petty, it is. Even if you are not named Tom. (A bad play on words - sorry.)

That's it for the first day. The next post will cover day two in which we willfully destroy some money, wade in a creek, and eat a great dinner.

That's it - move along...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Opening Pandora's JukeBox

First point: If your idea of fine radio is listening to a station with a 20 song playlist where there is a good chance you will hear the same song 3 or 4 times a day, you can probably skip this.

Second point: There's a good chance I'm the last one to know about this web site, which means you all can snicker behind my keyboard.

On Tuesday there was an accident on a critical freeway that resulted in me standing and waiting for a shuttle bus to the train station for nearly an hour. Of course I was thinking dark thoughts. But then something perky happened - a guy I know who normally takes a later shuttle showed up to wait with us and he proceeded to show me some WAY cool apps he had downloaded to his iPhone. (Small commercial here - being able to download apps to this thing has just increased its value to me tremendously. Seriously - this is a really good thing.)

One of the apps was for a website called Pandora. This is an internet radio station of sorts, but it's a lot better than that. This is a website based on the Music Genome Project, where nerds try to make good guesses at what songs you will like.

Here's how it works - you tell it a song or band you like and it creates a playlist for you. It then plays these songs for free. Without any kind of commercials or DJs.

And it works extremely well. 

I first entered a band (Barenaked Ladies) and it created an OK playlist. I then entered an obscure song (To the Dogs or Whoever by Josh Ritter - a seriously great song) and it then started playing songs that were reasonably similar. And I liked almost every song. And I had heard of only about 10% of the artists or songs. So I entered another song and it was like gold - it came up with so many songs I had never heard of that fit in with the seed song I gave it that I was amazed.

You create an account which involves entering a few things (like your email address, zip code, year you were born - supposedly all to guarantee you are living in the US and are over the age of 13, since nobody ever lies on the internet) and it saves these seeds as bookmarks. So when you decide you're in an AC/DC mood (I'm thinking of Plot here), you kick it off and rock out. Then when you feel like Buck Owens, you just select that bookmark. As it plays songs you can rate them just like with TiVo. Give a song the thumbs-down and it stops and the next one starts.

So what's the downside? Well, you can enter a song as the seed for the playlist that it creates, but you will likely not hear that song. When I entered a band, I did hear songs from that band (and many others), but you can't choose what songs to play. My feeling is that you will get better results by entering a song than a band since most bands have a wide variety of styles. (Except AC/DC.) It also uses some of your internet connection bandwidth. The music quality is not stunning, but it's not hard to listen too either. Oh, and you can pause a song, but you can't rewind it or jump back to a previous song.

I really don't know how this makes money. I figured they would have a tie in that allowed you to buy songs that you really liked, but I haven't seen that yet. You do hear a lot of music from artists that you've never heard of, so that probably has something to do with it.

In any case, this is really cool to have on at work in the background.

But I won't be listening this weekend. We are going camping in the woods just outside of Santa Cruz. Friday night will be spent at the Boardwalk watching Sha Na Na. The woods, for all its glory, has not figured out the internet yet, so there will not be daily updates. I'm not even bothering to take my computer since there is no electricity. Hopefully I'll have fun things to share on Sunday.

That's it - move along...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Riley Visits the ER (Again)

This turned out to be a non-serious incident, but it sure didn't seem that way at first. The one thing I learned from this is that ducks are deadly and we should try to eat as many of them as possible. And soon. 

You can read about it and see lots of pictures here on WHM's thing. (Warning, there are also graphic pictures of Riley potty training.)

I loved this picture.

In any case, all is well.

That's it - move along...

PS: No, they did not see the MIA Tim Lincecum at the hospital. What a game last night. Bud needs to come up with better solutions for this sort of issue. Like maybe retiring.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flame On!

Note: This is a repost of my last post at the old blog site. It's sort of a proof of concept to prove I can do this. Or not.

There's a nice guy I work with. He's polite, smart, and pretty normal looking (especially considering he's a software engineer - and I mean that in the nicest possible way).
It turns out he has an interesting hobby - creati
ng flame throwers and letting people shoot them for fun at heavily attended public events. (Yes, I will call him "sir" a bit more often now and won't make as many snarky remarks at his expense. Who know what other hobbies he might have...) You can see more of his work here.

The Boy and I went to the Crucible's Fire Arts Festival last night.

Important Note: If you are thinking of going tonight (the last night), you should try to get tickets ASAP, since Saturday nights tend to sell out. Tickets aren’t cheap though at $55 or so for general admission. If you live in the area you can see a lot of this for free by walking around the perimeter fence - not a perfect experience, but pretty good considering. Also, the fire stuff does not start until 9PM, when it is good and dark.

If you think flames are pretty cool, you would like this event. You would also find that flames are hot - it was a cool evening with cold breezes interrupted by intense heat events. It is amazing how a 40 foot flame could shoot up 100 yards away and instantly warm you right up.

It’s a little hard to appreciate how cool this Fire Vortex (which looked disturbingly like a fire tornado) was. Inside a circle of fans, two guys in heavily protective suits would shoot flames into a spinning, intense, towering column of fire. Behind them (and the flame throwers) were the elevated BART tracks. It was fun to see the passengers staring out in disbelief as flames danced just outside their windows.

And of course the event would not be complete without the “fire truck shooting flames” display. (As a side note, there were several Oakland fire trucks on the street for “just in case.” There were a couple of intense-looking fire marshals wandering around, but the actual fire fighters seemed to be in awe and thrilled by the exhibits.)

This one was a bit odd. This is a 300 pound block of ice with a hole in the middle that that these flames are shooting from. This had something to do with global warming and was named Exxothermia (their website is here).

There were several places where real people could participate. (Sadly, the fire marshall would not let normal people use the flame throwers. Some sort of safety or liability issue he said. Harumph!)

If you look carefully on the lower-left, you see a guy playing a keyboard. This controlled the array of flames that you see on the right. Very clever. In the upper left you can see a ring of flames. In this case, you would get in the middle of the ring and hold a sensor against your skin - your heart rate then controlled the flames. You would see people jumping around trying to get their hearts beating faster for a better show.

There were many other exhibits, like the Tesla coil that had two girls in extremely protective outfits wandering around while getting struck by bolts of lightening, but after a bit it was all kind of overwhelming.

We had a fun time and The Boy got some ideas. And the propane tanks at home are now safely locked away.

That's it - move along...

PS: This was a challenge to put together. I hope there are some tricks to making it easier to add pictures. But it's done. Whew.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Please be gentle

I've been blogging on my .mac account using iWeb for a couple of years. After a number of frustrating issues, the latest being Firefox 3.0 compatibility, I've decided to try out Blogger. I may run away screaming soon, but it is worth a look to see if the grass is greener, or at least more compatible. 

I'll be learning. For example, I'm going to try to put in a link now. 

Here is the link to my previous blog. It will stay up and function as well as it can. Hopefully updates by either Apple or Firefox will eventually correct the current issues (it appears they are busy pointing fingers at each other for now).

That's it - move along...