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Archived news items from January 2002
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Thursday, 31 January 2002 [23:55 CST]

This week has been much more sane. I've actually had free time!

Yesterday I wrote another song, this one a worship song based on Psalm 143. It turned out well enough, but I think I prefer the one from last week.

Also have been playing a lot of ElastoMania after school. Still incredibly addictive, and now several students are making their own levels. Some of them are pretty good.

We found out yesterday that the AcaDec team didn't qualify to go on to the state competition. This was not suprising, since our region had pretty low scores across the board. It's also good for my peace of mind, because it means having one less class to prepare for the rest of the year. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

Just figured I'd get in one more update while it was still January.

By the way, I'm now the second link on Google (up from maybe fourth or fifth a year ago). The more public pages link to me, the higher my Google ranking, so if you were thinking about it, don't hesistate. Link away! I'm noticing that Google doesn't use the page description I have provided. So I'm going to check into that.

Sunday, 27 January 2002 [22:24 CST]

I spent Wednesday editing tracks to go on the jukebox. I got all of Pearl Jam's "Ten" edited (five songs) in about three hours. Both "Why Go" and "Jeremy" took me right at 34 minutes apiece. Hopefully I pick up the pace on those in the next month or so, or I'll never get done.

Thursday night I didn't have to go to rehearsal because I was only singing this week. So I made myself sit down and write a song. My goal was to make one with a simple chord progression and stupid words just to get the ball rolling, but it turned out a little better than that. Not good enough that I'll probably post a copy for download, mind you, but not horrid.

Then, inspired by my ability to get a song off my four track and into a WAV file on the computer, I starting dubbing off all my old band tapes from high school. It's interesting to hear me from ten years ago. Some stuff turned out fairly well, and some is probably good blackmail material for if I ever become famous. Once I get it all done I'll make some CDs to send to all the old guys in the band. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who's got copies of all our stuff, so it'll be a big flashback for them. (Or maybe blackmail material; one's a doctor and one's a lawyer now....)

Saturday I met with the pastor's accountability team. We're charged with representing God to the church and the church to the senior pastor, encouraging the pastor through prayer, words, unity and deeds, and holding him accountable in his spiritual, personal, and professional life. I'm fairly honored to have been asked to be one of the five on this team, which will meet once a month.

This morning's service was awesome. Music went great, the message was great, and everything was just... great. :) Since I wasn't playing guitar, I had a free hand to grab a tamborine on the last song ("His Banner Over Me"), and I whacked the crap out of my hand and thigh playing it. My hand's got a nice purple bruise on it, and my leg has a knot and an area about as big as a footprint that's all red from broken blood vessels (but spread out so it doesn't really look quite like a regular bruise, though I guess that's technically what it is). It was worth it, though.

Tonight we had our yearly meeting to vote on the church budget. This one had the most involved discussion of any budget in the life of the church, but we finally get everything settled and voted on. This year will be a crunch year in the life of the church financially, but I'm excited to see what God is going to do. The potential for growth is really good, but in numbers and in maturity of the ones we already have.

Oh, and I meant to make an update yesterday notifying everyone of my Dad's birthday. I did call him and tell him personally, but I'd meant to tell "the world" as well. Just call me a day late and a dollar short.

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 [22:28 CST]

I bought some Girl Scout cookies today from the daughter of the teacher across the hall. I made the mistake of leaving the boxes out on the counter when I went to practice. When I got home, Pepper had gotten them, eating the entire box of Caramel Delights (except for the five I'd had before I came home). She only ate a couple Thin Mints. There may be some deeper meaning behind all that, but the main moral I picked up is "don't leave out food." Not exactly E=MC2, I know.

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 [14:17 CST]

Just a quick update. Computer Science II student Cody Wyers would like you to know that he won two gold medals at the martial arts tournament this weekend.

Sunday, 20 January 2002 [22:22 CST]

After an exhausting two days and driving about 650-700 miles, I'm back and somewhat rested. We placed second and won twenty-five individual medals as well as second-place team for the super-quiz relay.

Bryan won first (as expected) and so will go on to state. If our total score (27,755) is within the top fifteen or so of the non-region-winners in the state, we'll qualify for state as well. I don't know how likely that is, but it is possible.

Overall, things went pretty well, with the biggest difficulty being the accidental injuring of one of the students with the van. On Friday night, we had three hours between the essay and our speech time slot. So we went back to the hotel to change clothes. I had pulled into a parking spot and turned off the vehicle and was telling the kids what time to be back at the van to return. The girl in the front passenger seat had opened the door and was getting out when the van rolled backward, hitting her with the door. She was able to jump clear, but re-injured her left knee in doing so. It turns out I had left the van in "drive", which will roll backward on a slope in an automatic (unlike a manual transmission, which I'm used to, which won't roll backward when it's in gear and the clutch is engaged).

She was able to walk up the stairs to her room at first, but it turned out her leg had been more injured than we thought and it started to swell and hurt quite a bit. Since she has lots of problems with her leg she had painkillers on hand and her electro-therapy unit. She also iced down the leg. However, two hours later the leg was worse and she couldn't even be carried down the stairs. So we had to leave her in her hotel room so we could all still compete.

We did speeches and interviews and returned to find that her leg was beginning to improve. We gave her a bed to herself and got some real ice, and she was able to walk on it again by the next morning and so was able to continue competing. Missing those two events hurt her score, however, which is a shame.

We were of course in fairly frequent communication with her parents that night, and they knew how fragile her knee was, so they were understanding.

The next day, the rumor began to spread during competition that I had "run over" her the night before. I will take a little blame for not familiarizing myself more with automatic transmissions before driving so far in one, but I think I'm still safe in calling the whole thing "accidental".

We got back around 12:15 - 12:30 last night, and after returning the van I got home and to bed just before 2:00 A.M. I got about five hours of sleep Thursday night, four and a half Friday night, and was up for nearly twenty hours before I finally got a decent night's sleep. This morning I got up at 9:00 and went to church.

It turns out it's been a long time since I've been to Lakeline as an attendee only. I'm on stage in some capacity almost every week, and the few weeks I'm off I'm usually not in town. So it was nice to be able to just worship and be in a service without knowing what was going to happen beforehand.

I caught up on email and reading my various news pages this afternoon, though I still haven't even bothered to unpack. (Shows you where my priorities are....) We've got the day off tomorrow, so I'm going to go to bed pretty soon and see if I can get more than seven hours of sleep tonight.

And though it would be nice to make it to state in AcaDec, I think I'd sleep better the next month if we didn't.

Thursday, 17 January 2002 [23:11 CST]

Well, despite my inherent lack of bureaucratic skills I've managed to make the proper phone calls, fill out the proper forms and get the appropriate people to okay everything so that I can get my kids to Academic Decathlon competition in Aubrey, TX (near Denton). I'm behind on sleep (and I've got about another hour of stuff to do tonight) and I'm supposed to be in central Austin by 7:30 in the morning to pick up the rental van, but I think everything is in place.

We leave tomorrow morning between 9:00 and 10:00. Friday evening is the essay, speech and interview parts. Saturday all day are the remaining seven events. And we'll get back late Saturday night/Sunday morning.

I'll post a report with how many medals we won once I get back and get a little caught up on sleep.

In other news, I just finished watching Leander High School's musical this year: Hello, Dolly. It was excellent, as always. It's a young cast but they are very good. There are performances Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and a 2:00 matinee on Sunday. Go see it if you're able.

Saturday, 12 January 2002 [21:48 CST]

On Friday one of the teachers on my floor brought special "Elvis" doughnuts she'd gotten from the new Krispy Kreme location. They were jelly-filled with peanut-butter icing. Very nice.

Today we had our "tryout" for the Academic Decathlon team (the eleven students in the class tested to make nine spots on the team). We started at nine and finished up around 2:30, so I had the team finalized by 3:00. The rest of my free time in the past week has been spent trying to arrange everything so we can actually get to the competition and have food and a place to sleep. I'm terrible with management like this, and it's nearly killed me just trying to come up with a punch list of what I need to get done, much less actually do it.

Monday and Tuesday I was pretty stressed about it, but once I got a basic list to start working from I've settled down a bit and am now just working through it. As I complete items I think of or discover new things that need to be added, but at least now it looks like it's really going to happen. For a day or so there I was worried that we'd have to just not go to competition because I couldn't get any of the arrangements made.

Also been trucking on with the Ogg Vorbis encoding. I've decided that even quality 0 oggs sounds pretty good. I think if I ever need to make a song available from download from this site, I'll encode it at quality 1. They sound good enough and the file size is nice.

Tuesday, 8 January 2002 [21:36 CST]

The changes to the jukebox have been working perfectly. A few kids were alarmed about the albums which I don't own that are currently not on the list, but overall they've been interested in hearing about all the changes, and a few kids have remarked that the sound quality improvements are noticeable.

And I've been catching up on sleep.

Sunday, 6 January 2002 [23:59 CST]

Spent some hours on Saturday and tonight re-encoding all my albums for the jukebox. I've finished all the ones I plan to for the near future. There's lots of editing I now need to do (I had taken out many a curse word off my own albums for a couple of years there). I hope to start dealing with that in the coming weeks. Then in a month or so, I may start allowing students to submit new albums.

By the way, I've encoded 91 albums in the past three days, 62 of them today. In just under 4 and a half hours. That's less than 4 minutes and thirty seconds per CD, on average. And if I'd limited myself to some multiple of 23 (the number of machines I have available) or just under, it would have been even faster).

Saturday, 5 January 2002 [00:54 CST]

It's really Friday night, I swear....

I spent from about 3:00 P.M. until midnight at the school. The modifications to ogg123 are done. As expected, the basics of playlists took just over an hour, and then another couple of hours to make the program pay attention to a playlist to watch for changes. So now my jukebox system is working just as before, only it plays oggs instead of mp3s.

So I also began the process of re-encoding all the CDs I own (about 75% of the ones on the jukebox) in Ogg Vorbis format. The ripping, normalization, and encoding process takes anywhere from an hour to ninety minutes on the lab hardware, but I've got twenty-four machines. Parallelism is my friend. So I spent several hours this evening adding to the scripts I use to streamline the process. So now it takes me about two minutes per CD at the beginning to get the ball rolling, then about one minute around thirty minutes later, and about five seconds per machine at the end to rip, normalize, encode, upload and add everything. The rest of the ninety minutes is all automated. Which means I could probably do the whole shebang at the rate of nearly 50 CDs every three hours, and I could finish the whole lot (120 or so discs) in six to eight. Which is what I plan to do tomorrow.

At first I was planning on encoding the oggs at "quality 5", which gives a sound quality far superior to the average mp3 but which take up around 25% more space. After doing some listening tests I can't really tell the difference between quality 4 and quality 5, anyway, and quality 4 oggs are about 3% smaller than an average mp3. Plus, the sound quality is still remarkably better. (In fact, quality 3 oggs sound noticeably better than your average mp3, and are a little over 10% smaller.)

Consider this an official suggestion to go to http://www.vorbis.com/ and download the rc-3 release for your platform. The encoder for Windows (OggDrop) is really easy to use, and there's a Vorbis player plug-in for many of the popular mp3 players out there. At the default quality (3), the file size is smaller than mp3 and the sound quality is noticably better. Plus, the format is free, so you won't have your files telling you where you can copy them.

Friday, 4 January 2002 [01:04 CST]

The clock tells me it's Friday, but my body tells me it's just late Thursday night....

Okay, the promised big update. It's late and my memory's a bit fuzzy so I'll hit the high points.

Church went as well as could be expected Sunday morning (Dec 23), with Bob gone. Drove home Sunday afternoon and my newly-repaired car drove wonderfully. Got home and unloaded all my presents and Paul arrived a few hours later.

Monday we went to Grand Saline to visit all my older relatives: my grandparents and great-grandmother. Both grandmothers have varying stages of Alzheimer's and are in the same nursing home (with my great-grandmother, who's mind is still sharp as ever but whose health is poor), so that's sort-of like one-stop-shopping for seeing folks. We picked up my paternal grandmother, who's a bit saner and went to Mineola to eat at the Ranchero, where we had a superb waitress. Later that day we went by to see my grandfather as well, and then got back home in the early evening.

Tuesday was Christmas and we got a late start but finally got around to opening gifts. Here's what I got:

That last one was from my brother Paul Mitchell (his real name). He was tired of me complaining that I didn't know what all the parts under the hood of my car did, so he got me a Smithsonian Motor-Works model kit for a 4-stroke engine, with over 100 parts and lots of screws. The text from the manual reads as follows:

"The engine you are going to build is a greatly simplified version of a real engine. This will make it easier for you to understand the operation of a four-stroke, internal combustion engine. Consequently, the following components are not included: oil filter, liquid cooling system, air filter, connecting rod bearings, rings, oil pump, fuel pump, alternator and a starter.

"On the other hand, the following components, which are included so you can identify their location on the engine, are not intended to function: water pump, carburetor, dipstick (without oil), flywheel clutch. A drive module, powered by a small electric motor, replaces the starter."

Well, I put it together in an hour or so, but some of the parts weren't machined well and didn't fit properly, so the thing didn't work well. Also many of the plastic parts were to be put together with as many as six screws, which had lots of tiny threads, so it might take a few minutes just to screw down a "rocker arm cover". And of course, the part I understood most about internal combustion engines was the cylinders, pistons, spark plugs and valves, so I'm still at a loss about how the oil pump, air filter, water pump, or what-have-you fit into the mix. It was certainly a creative gift, at least.

The other large gift I received was precipitated by some unclear text on my wish list from a bit back. I'd asked for a "cassette deck for 4-track mixdown" and Dad assumed I was asking for a 4-track recorder (which I've owned since maybe April 2000). So he got me a nice one: the Tascam Porta-02, which is the exact model I had. I was certainly surprised.

Well, he decided to keep it for himself and just give me money instead, so I ordered (the next day) the Pioneer DVD-305S SCSI DVD-ROM drive from Axion. Believe it or not, it beat me home, arriving at my door in Austin on Saturday (after being ordered in the early afternoon Wednesday, and online (not by phone)).

Of course, my wish list has been updated to reflect the changes, so if you meant to get me a gift or something, you can't go wrong with what you find there.

The rest of Christmas day I made everyone watch Moulin Rouge, read on The Fellowship of the Ring and started feeling ill. I continued reading a lot on Wednesday and finished it up that night. So we went to go see Lord of the Rings finally that afternoon, and it was good. It isn't the movie of the year or anything, but was very enjoyable. The acting was good, and they didn't screw up the plot too badly.

Basically the rest of the time I was home I just continued to be ill (chills, lots of mucus and throat crud, sore throat, insomnia) and also watched Paul play Everquest (he got the latest expansion for Christmas). Oh, and played guitar some, too.

I came back to Austin Sunday evening, and tried to go to bed early. Monday "morning" I installed the DVD drive in my computer, downloaded DVD player software for linux and watched enough of Moulin Rouge to confirm that everything worked. Volume is a bit low, but I'll blame that on my passive speaker setup.

Monday night I went to see Guy Forsyth play at the Saxon Pub for New Year's Eve, which you know about. Got in late, late.

The past several days I've been going up to my classroom (which is cold, around 64 degrees in there today) to grade. I got that mostly finished yesterday, and so I've been working on modifying ogg123 (the reference player for Ogg Vorbis files) to work with my classroom jukebox system. Once done I'll be able to use Ogg Vorbis files (much higher sound quality for the size and not legally encumbered like the mp3 format) instead of mp3s.

Basically the player needs to support four features that it currently doesn't for me to use it with my jukebox: it needs to write the currently playing track to a file (easy), it needs to be able to run itself in the background (easy though I spent an hour tracking down a bug that still spits out lots of '\r's to stderr even when verbose output was turned off), it needs to be able to read files from a playlist instead of just on the command line (easy to get something working but harder to do it The Right Way), and it needs to be able to start over at the beginning of a playlist if it changes (much trickier to do The Right Way).

I got the first two done today and am now much more familiar with the source code (making that first change took a while because of the learning curve of dealing with someone else's code). Adding basic playlists should only take an hour or so, and then the "re-read on changes" may take a bit longer. I plan to do that tomorrow and Saturday, as well as finish just a tad more grading.

I'm still sick, though it's much better now. The chills have long gone but I now have a cough. Less throat crud and no sore throat. I almost lost my voice for a while back there. I'm sleeping through the night now, though it still takes me an hour or more to fall asleep. Maybe once school starts and I have to get up at 6:00 A.M. for a few days I'll fall asleep more quickly.

I think that's about it. I really need to do this stuff as it happens. These mammoth updates take way too long.

Tuesday, 1 January 2002 [14:09 CST]

Happy new year! Today brings the first of 2002 and the Euro's adoption overseas. I rung in the new year at the Saxon Pub, watching Guy Forsyth's last show with his current band. He went until after 2:00, and then the group I was with (my friend Tony and some of his friends from Kuk Sul Won and his work) went to Kerbey Lane Cafe for some food. I got in around 4:00.

I'll go into a little more detail about what I've been up to the past week and a half (other than being ill) when I get a chance later tonight.

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