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Archived news items from December 2002
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Tuesday, 31 December 2002 [14:27 CST]

Well, despite the lack of updates, it's been a nice, slow, relaxing week. Last week while shopping at Fry's for other family members, I finally replaced my old Logitech mouse, which was starting to get a bit flaky. The previous mouse had been bought the same day I upgraded from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, so I guess that's a testament to how well Logitech builds their products, since that's a few years ago.

I finally got a mouse with a scroll wheel to replace it, this another Logitech (since I avoid Microsoft products whenever possible). It's the MouseMan Dual Optical, and I'm really enjoying having that scroll wheel.

The Christmas Eve service Tuesday night went really well, and then I left straight from the church to East Texas. Christmas morning my grandfather came in and shortly after, Paul and Julie arrived with six-week-old Logan in tow. We had a good lunch, with lots of food and sweets.

After papaw left to go visit other kin in the area, we opened presents. My "haul" was fairly light due to the washer and dryer: just a couple of books (In Code: A Mathematical Journey, the interesting story of Sarah Flannery, the teenager who made headlines in 1999 with an intriguing science fair project about cryptography, and Wild at Heart, a book with a workbook about helping men to "recover their masculine heart, defined in the image of a passionate God"). And Paul and Julie gave me a really sharp knife. Sweet.

I also got only two albums since my last update. One was System of a Down's Toxicity, which I got for voter. The second was sort of on a whim. I remember hearing a song on the radio while I was in college that I liked. I remember it was a local Austin band, kind of southern rock, was about a "swan dive", and included a line about "taking a drag on my cigarette." And that's it. Scouring the Internet, I determined the most likely candidate to be the song Swan Dive, by Podunk. The band name sounded familiar, they are an Austin band, and the album Murlin's Dock was released while I was in college. I couldn't find any lyrics anywhere, or a copy of the song to listen to. But I did find the album for sale on eBay for only $2.49 plus a couple dollars shipping and handling. Figuring it was worth a shot, I got the album. When it came in, I confirmed that Swan Dive was the song I remembered. And as an extra bonus, the rest of the album is pretty good, too!

I crunched some numbers the other day and determined I've spent $210 on 24 CDs in the last three months. The average is $8.74 per CD, which is pretty good, but would be even better if I hadn't bought six albums at full-price at Amazon.com (average cost $15.57). Without them, my average is $6.46 each for eighteen albums. Savvy shopping, but $70 a month is a bit much to spend on CDs for a public school teacher.

Paul and Julie hung around at my parents until Thursday afternoon. The rest of the time, I mostly just kept working on The Two Towers, which I finally finished Thursday night. Then we went to see the movie at the non-packed Palestine theater. I enjoyed it, but this movie had a lot more (seemingly unnecessary) differences from the book, and so that kept me from enjoying it like I could have. I need to go see it again now that I know it's going to be different, so I can just enjoy it for what it is.

We also bought Insomnia on pay-per-view, and I really enjoyed that. It's a lot more mainstream than Memento, director Christopher Nolan's previous hit, but then again, he didn't write this one, either.

I headed back for Austin Saturday afternoon, straight in for a band rehearsal. Afterward we went to Chuy's. Mmm, Chuy's.

My cats held up well by themselves while I was gone, though I think four days is probably close to their limit. Any longer and I'd make sure someone checked on them every couple of days or so.

Last night I went down to the Vibe to see (for the second time), Point of Contact, a band featuring Lakeline's lead guitarist, bass player, and former drummer. They are very tight and have a sound I've described as Creed mixed with Metallica mixed with Godsmack's vocals. They had a great show and got invited back to play again tonight for New Year's Eve! They're excited to get to play such a high-profile gig on Sixth street, and I'm sure going to be there. The Vibe is an all-ages club (though the cover is more for under-21), so anyone who still doesn't have plans for tonight should go check them out. They start at 10:00.

I broke another string on my guitar Sunday morning, so yesterday I took it down to Musical Exchange to let the craftsman known as "Walter" make it all better. I think he's going to replace the bridge and do some other things to get it set up properly, which it hasn't been in some time.

Otherwise, I've just been sleeping late and working on coding for voter. I was joking with someone last night that I hang out with high school students for a living and then write code for fun in my free time. Sort of like the opposite of a Silicon Valley job, I guess.

Monday, 23 December 2002 [18:37 CST]

Slept late, had a slow morning, and got off around noon to finish up my Christmas shopping. I spent more than I should have, but I've got a little money this year so I don't mind.

Going to spend the rest of the evening just relaxing and firming up music for the next two services. And probably hacking on voter. By the way, any LHS students who want to contribute to the next generation of voter can look at my newly-updated wish list, where there's a section for hardware and music for it.

Sunday, 22 December 2002 [21:38 CST]

In an amazing turn of events, I've got my end-of-semester grading done already. Yes, I know, school's only been out for two days, but I didn't want to have it hanging over my head so I got it out of the way. Which means I can actually relax the rest of the break. (Except for church stuff, which is still a bit busy during the holiday season.)

This afternoon I finished watching the last five Sponge Bob Squarepants episodes from a ten-episode DVD I borrowed from my drum tutoree's little sister. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. They're good, but they're no Animaniacs.

The service went very well this morning, the music especially so since our bass player called in sick at the last minute. We sure missed him, though it turns out that two acoustic guitars don't sound much worse than two acoustic guitars and a bass for most of the stuff we were doing.

I'm going home after the Christmas Eve service and will be in East Texas until Saturday afternoon. I've already received my Christmas present (a washer and dryer), so I'm only expecting some stocking stuffers. It's not about the presents, anyway, since I do enjoy spending time with my family. I'm lucky that way. I've talked to several folks over the past month or so who really get stressed when they have to deal with their relatives.

Yesterday I went down to Bob's house for a Christmas party. We ate fajitas from Chuy's and then went to go see the Trail of Lights. Last year I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it was pretty much the same stuff this year. And at this particular party, the adults were way outnumbered by children (all under ten), so that made things a bit interesting.

Bob is doing really well with his church-planting model down in central and south Austin. In only three months he's already got 19 churches started, and the BGCT has noticed and is going to make a documentary of his model to show it to other potential church planters around the state. His "churches" average about a dozen people each, but that's part of the model. And getting nearly a couple hundred people involved in church in less than three months ain't shabby. In fact, it certainly seems like God is blessing what he's doing down there.

All my semester exams went well. It turns out I did get that bug fixed, after all. Plus, previously the version of the exam the students were taking was hard-coded into the generation program. I got that factored out so that I didn't have to hand-edit the file between periods. So that made my job a lot easier, as well.

Thursday night I almost went down to Antone's with another teacher to see Bob Schneider play, but he wasn't going to start until 11:30, and it'd been a long week, so we did the responsible thing and got some sleep.

Tuesday, 17 December 2002 [02:47 CST]

Actually late Monday night....

Up way too late finishing writing the Webmastering semester exam. That's what I get for trying to teach two new classes in the same year.

And Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers opens Wednesday, but I don't think I'm going to get to see it until after Christmas. Which is okay, since I'm still rereading the book.

Monday, 16 December 2002 [00:06 CST]

Actually late Sunday night....

Mental note: three loads of laundry take longer using one washing machine than they do using three washing machines. Though when the one washing machine is at home, you can take a shower and read slashdot.

That is all.

Sunday, 15 December 2002 [21:00 CST]

I'm currently doing laundry. At home. Yeah, that's right. After several weeks of pricing and searching, I bought a washer and dryer (with my parents' money), ending ten years of laundromat living. I ended up with a Frigidaire washer and the matching dryer. So that's what I did Friday night and most of the day Saturday.

In between appliance stores on Saturday I also stopped off at CD Warehouse, where I spent way too much money on CDs, only one of which was on my wish list. Dig the variety of genres:

Let's see, what else since the last update? Music was especially good this morning. And last night I got to see the annual children's Christmas play, which was quite good. And for a change, something production-ish was happening at church, and not only did I not have to do anything, I didn't even know the plot. I just got to sit and watch it!

Kids are finishing their projects at school, and I've been gearing up a bit for semester exams this week. I finally did some poking around on the Internet and figured out a bug that was making my random-exam-generating program misbehave some of the time. The answer's complicated, but basically it boils down to using global variables when I shouldn't have. Of course, I can't test it since it only comes up under heavy load, but I feel confident the changes I made will fix it.

Monday, 9 December 2002 [19:17 CST]

I have several students who are now toying with Linux for the first time. I recently ran across a detailed introduction to Unix command-line commands, which is the thing that makes Linux powerful. Interested parties should check out the Rute User's Tutorial. I personally first started learning this stuff back in college (around 1994), but I had extensive DOS command-line experience already, which eased the learning curve a bit. Those interested in reading a bit about the difference between interacting with a computer using a command-line, and the more popular method using a mouse to click on pictures, should read In the Beginning was the Command Line, by noted science fiction author Neal Stephenson.

Of course, you could use Linux all your life without having to deal with a command line, as it has several nice, pretty GUIs available. I use one myself. But just like most people would prefer not to have the hood of their car welded shut, sometimes it's nice to get in there and be a little more direct.

Saturday I spent many hours up at school getting some grading done. I'm trying not to repeat past six-weeks where I do no grading at all and then try to do it all the last day or two.

I also spent some time this weekend starting to make it possible for students to submit new albums to be added to voter using a web interface, which will be harder for them than the paper forms I currently use, but which will immensely reduce the amount of processing time it takes me to approve one. I'll still have to listen to the whole album through one time, but if I can do it while encoding is going on in the background, and if everything else is scripted so that all I have to do is give a final thumbs-up or down at the end, it'll make my life easier.

A web cartoon I've been enjoying recently is www.homestarrunner.com, with lots of cool Flash content. In particular, I like the Strong Bad email, updated weekly. (Speaking of command-line interfaces....) I recently emailed the creators of the site to ask how they fund their bandwidth-expensive Flash habit. One of the two brothers replied, saying they fund it all off the occasional freelance flash work that having such a nice site generates. And he suggested, "Keep tuning in and spread the word." So I will.

In non-computer news, a friend at church let me borrow his SLR camera that he doesn't use anymore, since I'm thinking about getting one. It's a Canon AE-1, one of the old workhorses that has lots of compatible lenses and such for it. He has three lenses: a regular lens, a telephoto, and a wide-angle. I've got a couple of rolls of film left over from Haiti, so I'll probably load them in and play around with it. I think there's a lot on that camera I won't be able to take advantage of, but at least if the photos come out out of focus it'll be my fault and not the camera's (as is the case with the little focus-free jobbie I used in Haiti).

What else? Yesterday I went to see My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding in the theater. It was worth the $7.75 ticket price, and that's saying something. Recommended if you want to see something different for a change.

And some of you have seen my Barnes & Noble Starbucks Cafe coffee carafe. I bought it when we first started having our Men's Theology Coffee House meetings maybe two years ago. Since then I've used it to death, melting the original lid in boiling water. I dropped it from a height (accidentally! I'm no Dave Letterman) and broke the outer shell, which I then taped back together. I dropped it again, breaking a piece of the shell from the bottom, when I then superglued back. It's no longer airtight, so it leaks a little when I drink from it, and it can't be put in the dishwasher, so I have to clean it out by hand. But I still use it.

Well, last week I had it up at school (which I often do), and one of my students, Kim Shumate, was looking at it. She dropped it a little ways, and the formerly-glued piece came off the bottom again. Of course, she was bummed, even though I explained that at this point it was no big deal.

However, today I had that same class again, and Kim brought in a gift-wrapped package which ended up being a brand-new carafe, identical to my old one (except for the fact that it's new, I mean)! Well, I was pretty floored. So now I've got both at home. I can't decide what to do with the old one to retire it, so if you've got any ideas, let me know. Basically, part of me wants to put it safely away somewhere, while the other part wants to honor its apparent death wish by letting it go out with a bang.

My drum tutoree broke his arm with weekend playing rugby, so I'm home unexpectedly on a Monday night. I plan to code more on the web submission stuff.

And I didn't buy a washer and dryer yet. Probably later this week or this weekend. Finding a friend with a truck will probably be the major issue. I also haven't bought any CDs since the last update, for a change.

Friday, 6 December 2002 [22:27 CST]

Based on some renewed interest in the program at school, I've been revisiting the code to the Worm game I wrote about four years ago (download the thing on the code page). I'm tinkering around with it to see if I can actually make it a real game, with a high score list, graphical menu, etc. Got a bunch of things I'm thinking about doing, and we'll see which ones of those I actually feel like doing.

In fact, I've been coding quite a bit lately. In Computer Science III, we're working on a predictive text program that works pretty much like the one on my cell phone (which is one of the most useful programs I've seen in some time). I wrote about half of that today.

I also just sent off a patch to the silly but worthwhile program bogosort, listing some optimizations. I don't know if it even makes sense to attempt to optimize a program which is intentionally designed to be (according to the jargon file) "the archetypical perversely awful [sorting] algorithm", but if I did things right and they want to include my suggestion, that'd be all right.

But it hasn't been all coding this week. I've also been listening to my new CDs. The Grits CD came with a music video in Quicktime format. Fortunately for me the new version of MPlayer, my favorite Linux media player, now supports both Quicktime and WMA files. I've also recently installed Mozilla 1.2.1 and that's nice, too. It's been a good week for open source.

Today I got my first unsolicited phone call since I got a cell phone. This was a survey, which took half an hour, about my thoughts about renting apartments, the factors I use to decide what complex I'll stay at, etc. At the end they tried to get my name and mailing address to register me for some contest, but I told them, "My privacy is worth much more than $500 to me." And they were fine with that, which pleases me.

This weekend I'm going to go up to the school and get a lot of grading done, probably work on voter coding (which I still haven't started on), and probably buy a washer and dryer.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002 [20:40 CST]

New CDs in the rotation:

Last week was an excellent two-day work week. I did some mad coding (for those of you over forty, "mad coding" means "coding like mad", not "coding while angry"), finishing a project that's been on my to-do list for quite some time. And also did some stuff for voter at school. Always hacking on that from time to time.

I slept in Wednesday, and then left for my parents' around noon. We hung out that evening, and then Paul and Julie and Logan rolled in around 10:00 P.M. Logan (who's three weeks old today) is still much more active at night than during the day, so we stayed up until after midnight.

The next day we headed to visit my grandmother in the nursing home briefly (she doesn't really remember us anymore, so long visits don't make much sense). Then we all headed up to Flint (a suburb of Tyler, if a city of 80,000 can have suburbs) for Thanksgiving. It was a smallish gathering, just about eleven (in the past we've had dozens). We ate lots of good food and later played Skip-bo. Out of five games, I won three and my mom won one. Next time she and I ought to be on a team. Mwa-ha-ha!

Paul had to work that day, starting at 5:00, so he and his left early, while Mom and Dad and I stayed another hour or so. Still, we got back home before dark, and just had a lazy evening.

Slept late again on Friday, and watched Texas beat the stuffing out of Texas A&M. Then I left for home, getting back to Austin not much after dark. Did some more coding.

Saturday I spent time pricing washers and dryers. I will probably buy myself a set for Christmas, mostly reimbursed by my parents. At Best Buy I ran into a couple of former students, and we spent about an hour just standing up in the front of the store before we finally admitted that we weren't going to shop and left to Jason's Deli to have lunch.

That afternoon I had worship rehearsal, and then went to Chuy's and then later to Starbucks, where I hung out with some band members (Kristin and Bill) until after 10:00. It was nice. Then worship the next day went really well.

Been back at school trying to get things done for progress reports. This six-weeks hasn't been very productive, but I think I'm getting things going again.

I'm probably going to spend some time tonight and tomorrow hacking more on voter. You've got to have a project, I guess.

So that's the report. Sorry for the lack of updates.

By the way, this morning on the talk radio show I usually listen to, they were talking about pornography for some reason (I missed the beginning of the topic). This guy called in and said that what happens between consenting adults is their own business, and that in pornography there's no victim.

Bull. What you put into your mind doesn't stay in your mind. And pornography affects how you are likely to think about every woman you ever meet. It can screw with your interpersonal relationships, and make you think of women not as people but as things. Which ain't healthy, let me tell you.

I have quite a few students that are fairly open about their fascination with pornography. Does it surprise me that virtually none of them can interact normally with the real girls in their school? Not at all.

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