Archived news items from December 2000
Since this is old news, some links may be broken.
Yesterday we did get to go visit grandparents and we brought back our paternal grandmother to spend the night in glorious temporary freedom from the nursing home. It was good to see everybody. Dad took her back this morning.
I think this has been a record-grossing Christmas for me, if you want to refer to it that way. My grandmother gave my brother and me a surprise gift: a check for just less than half my monthly salary. I was shocked but quite grateful, I was worried about an unexpected car repair expense and not sure how I was going to cover it. More proof that God provides.
Also mom took me shoe shopping, so I now have a pair of black shoes. This will help me out a lot in keeping away the fashion police, since I have some nice black slacks and a nice black leather belt that I never felt I could wear with only my brown shoes.
I think my eyeballs may rot out, but I've got everything watched. Today I saw Princess Mononoke, which was good, and finished the last three hours of the Dune miniseries. I highly recommend it to fans of the book; it is quite faithful to the story, well-cast, and well-acted (except for the scene when Jessica changes the Water of Life; she could have used a bit more coaching, I think). I even saw all but the first ten or fifteen minutes of Slam-Dunk Ernest last night, just to keep things interesting. One can't watch all masterpieces....
I'll be attending church with my parents for the first time in a couple of years, and then I'll head back down to Austin tomorrow afternoon.
Been some lazy days. Yesterday I slept until nearly 11; it's been a long time since I've been able to do that. Yesterday I watched The Sixth Sense, which was superb. I still had this warm fuzzy feeling for hours after watching the movie.
Today I watched Fight Club, which my brother rented. It wasn't nearly as good as Sixth Sense, but still quite enjoyable (especially the last fifteen minutes or so; those of you who've seen it will know what I'm talking about). I also got started and watched the first half of the six-hour Dune miniseries which aired on the Sci-Fi channel a few weeks ago. I had my parents tape it for me. I'm enjoying it a lot, and unlike the other Dune movie, I haven't seen anything at all so far where I thought, "That's not the way it happened...."
Not much else to report. Ice has kept us from visiting relatives so far, but barring any unexpected weather systems blowing in overnight, we'll go see them tomorrow.
I plan to go to bed early if I can fall asleep so I can get up before noon.
This one is another of those "Tuesday morning written from a Monday night perspective" updates.
Saturday's practice went a little longer than noon, so I didn't really get anything else done on Saturday like I'd hoped, but that extra practice time was worth it. Everything Sunday morning turned out superbly. Both services were great, and the second service was pretty full. A couple in the church treated a bunch of us to Luby's afterward, so after getting home from lunch I only had about thirty minutes of "down" time before heading back up to the church again. We hadn't done any rehearsal for the evening Christmas Eve service yet, so we ran through a bunch of Christmas carols and then went straight into the service itself, which went well.
After the evening service was over, I finished packing and then took off for Palestine to spend a week with my folks. The three-hour drive was fairly uneventful. Dark and drizzly the whole way. I got in just after 11:00 PM.
Of course, this morning was Christmas. With no one under the age of twenty in the house, there was no foolish "wake up at 6am" behavior. My parents got me quite a few things off my wish list, and I'm quite pleased.
Basically I got four CDs (Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits, Dave Matthews Band - Under The Table & Dreaming, DC Talk - Jesus Freak, and Jars of Clay - If I Left The Zoo), two movies (Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Princess Bride), and a Seagate Barracuda ATA-II 20 gig hard drive. I really wasn't expecting the hard drive, and the timing is excellent since just in the last week my main hard drive has been flaky and running the vendor diagnostic utility says it has physical errors which can't be repaired. So I was planning on trying to mail it back to the manufacturer for RMA replacement here in the next few weeks. Now I won't have to (though I probably will anyway).
Around noon we took off to the movies to see Cast Away, which I enjoyed, though most of the rest of the family was fairly ambivalent about it.
Not much else going on. I'll be here in Palestine until probably Sunday afternoon. I plan to try to watch the Dune miniseries my parents taped for me off the Sci-Fi channel a few weeks ago, The Sixth Sense, and maybe Princess Mononoke, which my little brother taped. Should be a relaxing break. We may go to visit grandparents tomorrow if the weather permits. I'll keep y'all updated.
Today was a productive programming day. I "finished" (that means I got to working alpha code state) two programs I'd been working on. One was the "tell me which period it is" program I mentioned yesterday. Other than a stupid mistake (I forgot to use parentheses in a situation where the default order of operations wasn't what I wanted), it didn't take very long. So maybe tomorrow I'll get a chance to make the player use that information.
The other one was a simple binary difference utility. UNIX has lots of tools that can compare two text files and produce a file showing what changed between file 1 and file 2, but my search for a binary version was fruitless. So I got one of those written. It's dumb, and the two files being compared must be the same length, but it does what I need. (Of course, my brain is already storming up improvements... more on those later.)
Here's why I wanted such a program. Many of you know that I put albums submitted by students on my "jukebox" at school. Occasionally there's a song on one of the albums which is fine topic-wise but contains a curse word or two. Well, I edit the .wavs and create an censored version, which I then put on the jukebox. Now, being somewhat of a perfectionist, it takes me a while to do the editing, usually fifteen or twenty minutes. But occasionally they take longer. For example, removing a single word in a satisfactory manner from the beginning of Undone (The Sweater Song) off Weezer's self-titled album took me one hour and fifteen minutes. For one word!
Now, I never want to have to go through that again, but it's possible that I'll change formats from mp3 to ogg vorbis in the future or that in a year the student who submitted the album will graduate (so I delete my copy of the album) and then six months later someone else will submit it again. So I either have to save a copy of the edited .wav (the compressed version isn't good enough to save, and doesn't even help me if I later change formats) or do it all again. So for a month or so I've been saving the edited .wavs. However, I edit songs relatively frequently and the files are huge, so they were starting to take up a lot of space.
So here was my plan. Rather than save a copy of the whole edited .wav, only save those bytes which differ between the regular and censored versions. Usually we're talking maybe two occurrences of a half-second word out of a whole five-minute song. So I wrote the binary difference utility to print out a list of just those bytes which differ. I also wrote a binary patch utility which can take a list of differing bytes and apply those changes to the original file (which I don't have to save since I can always get the original version off the CD).
The space savings are pretty dramatic. Here were four files that I had been saving in their entirety:
That's a total of 155,664,944 bytes of raw data. The difference files, on the other hand....
That's a mere 311,920 bytes in diff files, less than a third of one megabyte. The diff files take up just over two-tenths of one percent of the space the original files did.
Of course, this is not pure bliss. The files you're comparing have to be the same length. And they can't be offset, either. For example, imagine the following two files:
file 1: "AB The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. C" file 2: "A The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. BC"
A smart difference finder (like the UNIX text-based ones) will just mark that there's one letter missing near the beginning of file 2 and one extra letter near the end. At the moment, my program would consider every byte except the first and last to be different, so the difference file would be larger than the original. I'm thinking of ways that my program could detect and handle this, but I'd have to change my file format. Of course, doing so would also mean that my program could handle files which are different sizes, which would be nice. In any case, what I've got works for what I need, though I may make the improvements just for fun.
Tomorrow morning is dress rehearsal for the Christmas service, and then I have the rest of the day off. I'm thinking I'll go the school and program some more, since I'm sort of on a roll.
Oh, and my wish list is fairly up-to-date, if anyone is looking for last-minute gift ideas. :)
Now, I'm going to write this update as if it was still Thursday evening and not early Friday morning, so don't freak out. So when I say "today" I'll really mean Thursday, got it?
Slept late again, which was blessed. I got up and spent a couple of hours figuring out chords to "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", which we're playing this Sunday, and "A Strange Way to Save the World", which we're also doing then. It was good to exercise the music analysis part of my brain.
Then to get some fresh air I walked to Radio Shack, which is maybe half a mile away, and bought a replacement battery for a calculator I've had since fifth grade. The battery I replaced was the original battery, even, which impresses me. Then I dropped off the music at the church so Bob could make copies for everybody.
Ate lunch and then headed up to the school to enter in all my grades, which took about forty-five minutes. And now I'm completely free of responsibility until the break is over. Which is a nice feeling.
I also got to spend an hour or so programming just for fun trying to improve the voting jukebox that I have up there. Right now I'm working on a utility that can look at the time and date and tell you what period it is, including which day of the block we're on. I've got maybe an hour or so left on that. Once it's done I'll be able to have the program which actually plays the songs make an entry in a log that such-and-such period played such-and-such song so that it doesn't play it again for a few days. And that will improve the variety quite a bit.
Rehearsal was long tonight, since we have new speakers in place and so we spent the first hour and a half of practice getting all that set up and equalized and such. After rehearsal, several of us went over to try out the new Denny's which just opened down the street. Since it's a Denny's Diner there wasn't as much on the menu as you'd expect from a Denny's, and since it was after 10pm by the time we got there our choices were even fewer. Once the food finally arrived, though, it was excellent. Some of the best sausage and hash browns I've had.
Also got email recently from two former students who're linking to this site: Josh Martinez and Tim Yip. So if it gets a little crowded in here, it's coming from them. I figure at some point I'll put up a links page for web pages of current and former students. It's nice to know other people think your page is worth linking to.
Hey! Long time, no see! Here's a huge update about everything that's been going on the past two weeks. They've been busy ones.
First of all, the choir concert went quite well. I'm sure you were all fretting about that. I also got to talk to one of my former students for a while, who came back just for the concert (it was an alumni concert as well). That week continued with several more long days of reworking the current assignment for Computer Science II and staying late to allow Computer Science I kids to work on their six weeks projects, which were assigned on the day of my last update.
Friday the 8th saw me getting measured for a tux for my best friend's wedding and then going to celebrate the 30th birthday of another friend at Dave and Buster's, where I managed to sell two CDs and recruit someone to come to church who was simply amazed that a church existed that played contemporary music.
Saturday I got up real early and met a friend at the new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop which had opened just four days earlier. At 8:00am, the line was already outside the building and took nearly half an hour. Those of you from up north will probably already be acquainted with the phenomenon that is Krispy Kreme, but this is the first Krispy Kreme to open within a three-hour drive of here, so we central Texans were missing out.
Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts are the best you've ever tasted when they're fresh (that is, less than half an hour old). They are much lighter than most doughnuts and nearly melt in your mouth. Within a couple of hours they are above average, and after half a day or so they turn into ordinary doughnuts. So I had coffee and ate doughnuts with my friend and it was nice.
Later that morning was L.W.A. (Leading Worship in Austin), a monthly support group for Austin worship leaders. I led worship for that (we do it on a rotating basis, and they prefer non-full-time worship leaders to do it so that the regular full-time people can just worship for a change) and we just talked about stuff for a while and studied about how God calls us to be totally sold to His plan for our lives.
Saturday afternoon I took my car to be inspected, and it didn't pass. I was quite upset because the only thing that caused it to fail was the missing glass on the turn signal on the front passenger side. Now, the glass has been missing from that turn signal ever since I've had the car in Austin, which is to say several years. And ever year, I've had the car inspected at the same place and they passed it. Except this, of course, when my income is the lowest it's been since I got out of college. Ick. So at some point over the Christmas break I need to get that repaired and get it re-inspected.
After the inspection fiasco I went up to school and spent several hours writing some code to enable my students to have randomly-generated semester exams. I got about half the work done.
The following day at church the guy I'd met at Dave and Buster's on Friday night showed up. We also had a new person with the band, a keyboardist who has way more experience than all the rest of us put together. He was phenomenal, and worship went really well.
After church I headed back up to school to finish the other half of the semester exam code. I programmed on it for about three hours and change and started to debug it when I typed something incorrectly and accidentally erased everything I'd done that day. Well, I spent about a minute just cursing and then about half an hour trying to see if the file could be undeleted. Of course, it couldn't.
So I went back to church for a potluck dinner and then to watch the children's Christmas musical. I was still quite upset by the time I got there. The light guy and the youth director were sitting back in the sound booth about to start a game of You Don't Know Jack (which I'd never played) and asked me if I wanted in. I did. The good news is that apparently I'm pretty good at the game and was able to take out some of my frustration on them. The bad news is they got beat $28,000 to $0 to -$4,800. Really.
After the musical was over, I went back up to the school to re-write the obliterated code. It only took me about forty-five minutes to write a second time (which is the way programming works; the hard part is the problem-solving aspect) and another hour and a half to debug everything and get it ready to go.
Monday was a normal day of school (except for the fact that it was the last day of the six weeks projects). After school I spent all evening writing questions for the semester exam question bank.
Of course, the next day third period took the exam and discovered a coding error in the whole thing, so I barely was able to salvage what the kids had turned in. By fourth period I had figured out a workaround, but I'm still going to have to rewrite the thing in the future to use a real database. The flat text files I'm reading and parsing manually with perl just don't scale to twenty-five kids at once trying to obtain a randomly-generated exam.
Tuesday was also when the cold front blew in, and the temperature dropped about thirty degrees in an hour. It was drizzling as well, so we were facing an ice storm. They made all the teachers leave at 4pm (ruining my plans to stay late and write semester exam questions for Computer Science II), and it took me about twenty minutes to scrape the ice off my car windows. I stopped by H.E.B. on the way home to do my weekly shopping and it was a madhouse. You'd think Y2K was coming again.
The ice was bad enough Wednesday morning to delay the start of school by two period, which allowed me to sleep late. Fifth and sixth periods missed their catch-up/review day, but we didn't miss any final exams, which was good. By ten o'clock when I left for school all the ice was melted and the roads were merely wet. I stayed after school Wednesday writing questions for Computer Science II.
Then, Wednesday evening, I went out with the singles group to Chuy's for dinner, and then to see the Trail of Lights at Zilker Park. Of course, they'd closed the Trail for the "bad weather" (which it wasn't by that point), so we just got to see the tree and the yule log, which is a huge (say 6' diameter) log burning in a pit. It was warm and cozy. Finally got back home by about eleven.
Thursday was only a half day, and we had our annual teacher Christmas lunch. I showed up late and most of the food was gone. I got some good tamales, though. The rest of the afternoon saw me finishing up questions for Computer Science II exam, finally doing some laundry (I'd run out of clean underwear maybe a week before) and then dropping by a friend's house to pick up a CD that had a good wedding song on it.
Friday was another half day, and I left the school within half an hour of the last bell. I rushed home, bought some road maps at H.E.B., packed, and took off for Houston. My best friend Chase was getting married, and I was a groomsman, so I had to be checked in to my hotel and at the church for the wedding rehearsal by 6pm. Of course, it was incredibly foggy, so the drive was fairly monotonous, with visibility rarely more than a couple hundred yards. But the directions I'd been given and the road maps proved helpful, and I got at the church fifteen minutes early even (of course, I didn't actually have time to take anything up to my room in the hotel or even see it, but I did get a a key and was assigned a room and that's all that really mattered at that point).
The rehearsal went well, though the lady running the rehearsal was fairly high-strung and authoritarian. We took to calling her "The Wedding Nazi". Behind her back, of course. Now, it should be mentioned at this point that Chase and Charleen (the bride and groom) had asked me to play a song at the reception. They hadn't really given me any other information except that I would be singing with Becky, one of the bridesmaids. So, after the rehearsal, I got a chance to sit down with Becky and talk about the song. It seems she knew about as much as I did, which was nothing. So we decided just to pick something. Now, I'd brought the CD (the one with that wedding song on it) with me, so we decided to sit in her car and listen to the CD to see if we could learn the song. Becky had sung with Breakaway which is a college bible study at Texas A&M. She had specifically sung with Ross King, whose CD I happened to borrow. So that worked out nicely, as she'd already heard what otherwise would have been a fairly obscure song (Will You Walk With Me, off his most recent album Big Quiet Truth, by the way). We sang it through four or five times, and got a feel for the melody and harmony. We decided that I would sit down with my guitar and the song the next morning and see if I could figure out the chords. If so, we'd do it. If not, we'd do some praise song which we both knew. So we had a plan and were off to the rehearsal dinner.
The rehearsal dinner was nice and quite relaxing in contrast with the whole previous week. It was good to talk to a lot of old friends I hadn't seen in a while, and the food was good as well. Afterward, a lot of people went out for more fun, but I just went back to the hotel, got into my room for the first time, and went to bed.
I got up around 7:30 the next morning and got out my guitar. I didn't have any way of playing the CD at that time (the person I was borrowing a CD player from wasn't awake yet and so hadn't brought it over), so I sat down and tried to figure out as much as I could just from memory. It turns out I was able to get all the chorus and about half the verse, so I felt a lot better about our chances with the song. I called the CD player's owner and asked to borrow it and then went down to eat breakfast.
Two of us ordered together and then wanted to pay with two credit cards, and it took literally half an hour for them to figure out how to get it done. They had to call a manager to come in from somewhere else and everything. It was alarming. The food was good, though. And I got to talk to the groom's mother, who I hadn't talked to since high school. I also sold two CDs (one to her and another to my friend and former guitarist Steve Foster) at breakfast, which I thought was pretty cool. All weekend I sold five CDs and gave away three more.
By the end of breakfast the person had brought the CD player over, so I was able to figure out the rest of the chords. By then, it was near noon and time to check out of the hotel and head over to the reception place (a nice garden club with an old restored house and a huge backyard with lots of flowers and hedges and such) to set up. So we (the groomsmen) set up tables and decorations and everything, and then got dressed and went over to the church.
We spent some time there taking pictures and then ushering before the wedding. The wedding was beautiful. It was in a large Catholic church. Chase and Charleen wrote their own vows, and I could barely look at Charleen while Chase was saying his. She got all doe-eyed.
After the wedding we had to stick around for a few more pictures, and then it was back to the reception area, this time with a crowd, for the reception. As soon as Becky and I both got there we snuck into a private room to run through the song a few times, as we hadn't ever done it with me playing guitar. And it turns out we were just in time, too, because after our third time through Charleen came in and told us it was time to do it.
So I plugged in to the live band's setup and spent a while hunting for tape or a clip to secure my music (the band didn't have any music stands and we certainly didn't have it memorized). Then I said a little bit (call it a belated toast, since I didn't do one at the reception), and we played. It went extremely well, and we got lots of compliments. Chase said he even started tearing up. So I'm really glad it all fell together.
Then, with all my official duties out of the way, I was "free" to enjoy the rest of the reception. It was a fun one, with two live bands, lots of good food and dancing. The first band was a cover/party band and was pretty good. They did several popular favorites from the seventies. But the second band was by far the most fun, a zydeco band. They were all middle-aged and older black men, and, boy, could they play! There was even a dance instructor there who taught us all how to dance zydeco. So now I know two dance steps: the traditional "move-in-a-circle" slow dance and zydeco. And yes, I actually danced with a girl. I know that may be shocking to some of you.
The reception lasted about five hours, and never slowed down. Then I had to stay afterward and help clean up and also get out of my tux. After all was said and done, it was ten o'clock before I left to drive back home. (I would have stayed the night, but I'd already checked out of my hotel, and wanted to be at church in the morning.) So the drive back was uneventful, and I got home right around 1:00am.
I'd taken the week off from the worship team, so I was able to sleep late in the morning and still make it to the 11:00 service. It was nice to just sit and watch for a change. Sunday afternoon and evening I cleared a pile of paper an inch high off my desk that had been there a month. It was a nice feeling.
Monday morning I'd told some students I'd be at school to let them finish up a few outstanding assignments, so I got to school at 9 and they worked on stuff. At noon we had an AcaDec study session and talked about speeches. Then three of the students stayed afterward and we listened to Space Ghost albums and finally hung up posters in my classroom, which I'd been meaning to do since I moved in this summer.
Yesterday I got school around noon and graded the six weeks projects (which had been turned in for over a week). I left school, briefly stopped by the house and then went up to church for vocal rehearsal. After rehearsal I stayed at the church for about an hour and practiced on the drums for the first time in probably two weeks. It was very therapeutic. Then I went home and stayed up late finally making a few AcaDec music CDs for the few kids that didn't already get one.
This morning I slept until 9! I spent the morning writing a college recommendation for a student (it had been on my desk since mid-November, due by January 1) and then mailed off a couple of CDs to music publishing companies as part of our license to record their songs. Then went up to school and entered in all the grades for the projects and figured out what the curve would be on the semester exam. It was different for each class and averaged about 18 points, but of course wasn't that simple since I know something about statistics. :)
That puts me about an hour's worth of work away from being completely free for the holidays; I have to actually enter the students' grades into the gradebook that we use, and then I'm done.
Got home and ate dinner and decided to update the web page. So here it is. Noticed earlier that today this page had its 6666th visitor (though as I write this the counter has moved on to 6673). Aside from being the mark of the beast times 10.009 repeating, that means that I'm now averaging slightly more than six hits a day. Right at 30% of those hits are from frequent visitors, so I really appreciate the support. Even when I'm bad and don't update for sixteen days or so, but as you can see, I've been fairly busy.
I plan to go home after the Christmas Eve service on Sunday evening and spend the whole week in Palestine, so that will be nice.
In less-temporal news, I've been reading What Happens When Women Pray, which is an excellent practical, biblical treatise on prayer even if you aren't a woman. I highly recommend it.
Well, that's about it for now. I don't like going for so long without updating either, since writing all this to catch up took me over an hour and a half.
Today was a lengthy day. Left the house at 6:35am (about ten minutes late for prayer time) and got home at 9:05pm. Since we had another choir rehearsal tonight at 7, and since I needed to finish up some stuff for Computer Science II, I just never went home. Practice ran just a little late and I also had to get gas on the way home.
But I'm about to go to bed, so maybe I'll wake up on time tomorrow.
This morning was choir rehearsal for the parent-faculty choir, which does a couple of pieces every year at the choir's Christmas concert. Afterward I hung around the school and worked a bit on getting things ready for the six weeks projects which the kids will begin on Monday.
Dropped back by the Blocks' house because I'd forgotten my jacket. Came home, ate dinner, and then went up to the church to set up the display for selling our CDs. (I'd taken it down over the weekend because there was a craft fair in the building yesterday and there were going to be a lot of people running around unsupervised.
Once I got that set up again and ready for the morning, I sat down at the drum kit and practiced for about half an hour. It was a lot of fun, though my ears are ringing. I think next time I should bring my earplugs. I think I'm only a couple of weeks away from being able to play with a live band a see how that goes (maybe the youth band some night when their regular drummer can't make it).
Now I'm going to start winding down real early to make up for my nearly 3am bedtime last night and read a book.
And here's the comic strip I promised you.
I just got back from the Blockhouse Concert Series. It turns out this is forty people crammed into the living room of one Ann and Eddie Block to hear some local talent play the heck out of an acoustic guitar. There was a guy opening who's a guitar tech at a music store here in Austin. He's got a CD, self-published. Then the "headlining" guy played a couple of sets. He's got two or three albums and a T-shirt, but still self- published or maybe on some little label. He was quite good. Of course I don't recall either of their names.
Afterward most of the crowd thinned out and half a dozen of us sat around jamming. It was fun. I think I'm going to try to make the next one.
No venison yet. Much ado in the morning, so I'd better catch some Zs.
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