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Archived news items from June 2003
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Monday, 23 June 2003 [01:03 CDT]

Actually late Sunday night....

I spent all day up at the church getting ready for VBS tomorrow. And I mean all day: I left home at 7:15 this morning and didn't get back until after 11:30 P.M. The place looks great, though.

And I have men's group at the church at 6:00 A.M. I need to get to bed.

Saturday, 21 June 2003 [22:45 CDT]

Well, after a subsequent trip to the grocery store, I was unable to find any contact lens "daily protein removers" using papain. However, I was able to find some using subtilisin. Checking that out on Google reveals that it is an "alkaline protease" secreted by certain bacteria. In particular, from the bacteria Bacillus lentus strain PL2958, which was genetically engineered by Novo Nordisk Biochem North America, Inc. for just this purpose.

Call me weird, but I'm actually more comfortable using a protein remover secreted by a genetically-engineered bacterium than one from the pancreas of a pig.

Faced with a lot of coding I'd like to do over the summer, I'm probably looking to buy a new computer desk. My wrists hurt after semi-extended computing sessions, and my right wrist is starting to occasionally get a bit numb, as well. And those are warning signs I need to stop ignoring.

Most of the problem is bad ergonomics. The "computer desk" I've used for the past six or seven years is just a 6-foot folding table. I sit on a barstool, which puts my arms a bit too high to comfortably type without leaning down, and it hurts my back to try. If I use a regular chair instead, then I'm far too low and though it's easier on my back, it's far worse for my arms.

So today I got out a tape measure, a ruler, and two yardsticks and measured every piece of computing equipment that would go in or on a desk and scrawled it all on a little piece of paper. Then I took that paper and my tape measure to both Office Depot and Office Max and narrowed down all their stuff to three choices in my price range.

I think I know which one I'd like to get, but I'm going to sleep on it and probably go back on Monday. I'll also pick up a decent chair and a chair mat.

Thursday, 19 June 2003 [23:58 CDT]

from the a-little-alarming dept....

Today I went to H.E.B. and purchased the "daily protein remover" drops recommended by my optometrist as part of my new cleaning regimen. I was reading through the instructions, and I ran across the following warning:

If you are allergic to pork or any ingredient in SUPRACLENS, do not use this product.

And so I think to myself, "Excuse me? Pork?" Searching around elsewhere for the ingredients, I find that, among other things, it contains "purified porcine pancreatin enzymes". Now, for the non-biologists in the audience, I'm pretty sure that means "juice from the pancreas of a hog". On my contact lenses.

So, I pull out my now-expired previous brand of protein remover, which are tablets. Reading that label reveals that they contain "pancreatin derived from highly purified pork." "Don't worry folks, this swine was highly purified before we derived that pancreatin from him!"

A little googling tells me that pancreatin is one of several enzymes that digest protein (a.k.a. "proteolytic"), and that it is, in fact, produced in the pancreas of humans and other animals. I also notice that papain is another proteolytic enzyme, but that it is extracted from papaya (the fruit). I begin to wonder why most contact lens solutions use digestive juices from a pig rather than something potentially equivalent from a plant. Then I notice another little disclaimer on my product's packaging:

Daily Protein Remover: especially for sensitive eyes*

Following the asterisk leads me to the statement "for papain sensitive patients". So I think to myself, "I wonder if I'm allergic to papain? And if not, I wonder if I can get some 'daily protein remover' that uses it rather than pancreatin?"

So next time I get to the grocery store, I'm going to check on that. Seems like something that would be carried at Whole Foods, for sure, anyway. Maybe I'll look for a package that says "Daily Protein Remover: for insensitive eyes" or something.

In other news, I looked after the eleven-year-old son of a friend today. We hung out, and upon learning that the eight-inch-tall army men he bought with him to play with were G.I. Joe, I had to drag out my circa-1984 figures. Later he went swimming in the pool at my apartment while I sat in a chair and read on Return of the King (this year I plan to finish before the movie comes out, I swear...) and absorbed some ultraviolet radiation. (I did put on sunscreen, but I think it expired in like 1992 or 1993.)

We also went to go see Bruce Almighty, which I think is one of the most theologically accurate "God" movies I've ever seen. I really liked how they dealt with the concepts of free will and of God's will and surrender. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 17 June 2003 [21:27 CDT]

This morning I went to the optometrist for the first time in a couple of years, and found out why my contacts (particularly the one in the right eye) have been often getting blurry or starting to burn a little bit... an hour or so after I put them in. I've got cute little bacteria colonies on them! Turns out the "multi-purpose" saline I've been using doesn't really disinfect that well, and is really only intended for disposable contacts, not "extended wear" ones that you keep for a year.

Not to worry, because my eyes looked fine (no bacteria colonies on them), and I've now got a much better saline solution that really is bactericidal. That should clear up what's there, and I also got a prescribed cleaning regimen that should prevent it from happening again. Not to mention a new pair of contacts, which should be here in 3-5 working days.

Mom also writes to remind me that I neglected to mention a gift: a nice gold pocket watch she gave me. My previous one hasn't worked in years, so I'd resigned myself to using my cell phone to tell the time. Well, I've finally got a proper timepiece again.

Monday, 16 June 2003 [22:50 CDT]

A week ago I had to opportunity to visit Metrowerks and Electronic Arts Austin / Origin as part of a Games Developers Conference for educators. They let us talk to three of the lead developers for Ultima Online and we also got to play with developing games for a cell phone using a stripped down version of Java. The conference was intended to give high school computer science and multimedia teachers an inside look into the gaming industry, so that we can use that knowledge to help motivate more students to take and succeed in our classes. It was fun.

I also attended a family reunion this weekend. It was good to see everybody (except three cousins, one of whom is currently in Afghanistan, so he's got a good excuse) and we had so much food it isn't even funny.

As is becoming her way, Mom got an early start on gifts for my birthday. Off the wish list, she got me:

...and two pairs of khaki slacks and a half-dozen "polo" shirts. She also bought me a pretty good-sized kitchen knife set with a sharpener and a holder. My brother gave me two CD-ROMs with DivX-encoded copies of every single episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force released to date, which is very cool, indeed.

For the rest of you, you still have about two weeks, so dust off your credit cards and head over to the wish list and get going!

I plan to start rewriting my curriculum for Java real soon now. Oh, and I got all my school web pages from this year mirrored here, which is especially important since the school's webserver (being in a building under heavy construction) doesn't reliably have electricity over the summer.

Friday, 6 June 2003 [16:56 CDT]

Man, there's nothing like the first week (of about ten) on vacation with pay to put you in good spirits.

After a hellacious last week, I got everything done in time and turned in my final stuff for checkout by Saturday at 2. I had a pretty busy weekend still, with graduation that morning, Project Graduation that night, church the next day, etc. To quote one of my good friends, somehow I made it through.

I slept in on Monday, but otherwise didn't do much useful. In the past week, however, I completely backed up my computer (for the first time in maybe a year), put in a clean hard drive and installed the operating system from scratch. I haven't done this since I first switched to Linux nearly two years ago. I'd been running RedHat 7.3, and now I'm up to RedHat 9. The interface is really slick, and the version of Mozilla compiled with xft support is beautiful. The only problem is that it's only version 1.2.1, and the newest is 1.4rc1. I've downloaded the source code to 1.3.1 to see if I can successfully compile it myself. It's been churning away at it for more than half an hour, and it's supposed to take close to two hours to complete. We'll see how it works.

My coding project for this week was to serialize a Huffman tree to disk (and read it back in, of course). The end-of-the-year project for my Computer Science II kids is to write a simple single-file compression utility which uses Huffman coding. All these years I've been having them just save a frequency table to the compressed file, and regenerate the Huffman tree from those frequencies in the decoder, but that takes up a lot of space and is a lot of duplicated work. It is simple to do, however.

Well, I poked around on the net and found that one of the guys working on Ogg Theora (a compressed video codec for the Ogg multimedia family) had recently implemented just such a change. So I emailed him asking for pointers and he was kind enough to reply with a few words of advice that got me pointed in the right direction, and after an evening of thought I was able to write it and get it working the next day.

Also of note this week was some fairly intensive SAT practice with Jesse, my math tutoree. A too-low math score on the SAT about two years ago was one of the motivating factors in them hiring me to tutor him, so he gets to try his hand at it again on Saturday. We did a couple of practice SATs this week (from the excellent book 10 Real SATs), and it looks like he's in shape to score much better than his previous effort. I guess we'll see.

I plan to start on curriculum rewrites next week. And on Monday and Tuesday I get to attend a Games Development Institute for educators. The idea is for high school teachers to get a feel for what goes into real-world game development so we can use that to inspire our students. Should be fun.

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