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Archived news items from August 2004
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Tuesday, 31 August 2004 [01:41 CDT]

Actually late Monday night....

Okay, so I'm done grading. And I'm going to go home. Fortunately, with my "jukebox" and refrigerator and microwave, I was able to eat dinner up here around 9:00, and I've been listening to music for the last several hours, so the grading hasn't been that distasteful.

And to be honest, that's what I get for not doing any grading all weekend, and for not even really getting started on the grading until around 9pm. But, I'll be feeling good going home (relatively) early tomorrow, that's for sure.

Now playing: silence.

Monday, 30 August 2004 [19:07 CDT]

I went through and moved everything older than June into the archives. I haven't done that since January!

My class sizes are finally down to where they need to be. And fortunately, I didn't have to force anyone to drop; everyone who dropped decided to do so on his/her own.

Despite the smaller class sizes, I've been burning the candle at both ends all week and am still not caught up on grading. And now that my web page is updated, I'm going to stay up here at school until all my grading is done. Or most of it, anyway, since I can do a little more after school tomorrow.

I'd expected to be doing math tutoring today after school, but Jesse had a really bad day. You should have him tell you about it.

In more positive news, I'd gotten a little extra money on my August paycheck for some coding I did for the district last spring, and so I decided to splurge and get a little refrigerator for my classroom, as well as a cheap microwave and coffee maker. We've really been downing the coffee in my classes, which isn't a surprise. Coding and caffeine mix well.

Anyway, back to the grading grind.

Monday, 23 August 2004 [17:56 CDT]

My friend and faithful reader Mackenzie points out that I neglected to mention my brother in my last update, and it's true. On Friday, he informed me that he'd just closed on his house, so is now a homeowner! W00t.

That is all. (Thanks, mac!)

Saturday, 21 August 2004 [15:33 CDT]

Welcome to all students of mine visiting these pages!

It's been a long week. The first week of school went well, though I still have too many kids in my classes. Wednesday night I was at school until after 7pm just working on stuff, and Thursday night was a later-than-usual band practice. I think the songs will turn out well, but it was a long practice all the same.

I also won that night an eBay auction for a keyboard for the church: an Alesis QS8.1, which I've been bidding on for the better part of a year, I think. Well, I finally won one, so hopefully it'll work out and I'll receive it without hassles and find it in perfect working order as advertised.

And speaking of music purchases, I just got Starfield's self-titled CD. I like it. Anyway, back to the story of my long last couple of days....

Friday was a longer day than I've had in a while. Of course, I taught school all day. Then went to the church afterwards to print out extra copies of my handout for the How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth series of lessons I'm doing for my small group. Then to Tres Amigos to meet up with some members of the math department, who decided on an impromptu "TGIF" get-together. Then home for the first time to change clothes and straight away to small group.

The class went well, and then after hanging out a bit most of us headed down to the Hard Rock Cafe for Point of Contact's CD release party show, which was excellent. A few of my students even showed up!

However, we didn't leave 6th Street until close to 2:00, and by the time I got home and to bed, it was nearly 3:00.

This morning I got up at 8:00, went for a 2½-mile walk, and then took my friend Misha to the airport (who's going to Dayton to see a college friend who just had a baby).

Got home and ate breakfast/lunch (eggs and biscuits, mmmm....) and then off to help some other friends who are moving into a new house this weekend.

And now, though I probably should go to school and get some lesson plans for next week nailed down, I think I may take a nap. Just an hour or so....

Tuesday, 17 August 2004 [20:15 CDT]

Had my first set of classes today. It's too early to tell if the kids are any good or not, but I do know my numbers are crazy.

I only have 24 machines in my classroom. I have always had 24 machines in my classroom. But in 3rd period, there are 31 kids on my roster. Ick.

I'm trying to emphasize that this is not a blow-off class and get the kids to self-select and change their own schedules. I don't like having to forcibly drop kids, though of course I will if I need to.

And my Computer Science II and Computer Science III kids are all mingled together in the same classes, which is also bad.

Sigh. I'll get it fixed eventually.

Monday, 16 August 2004 [17:23 CDT]

Got to finally see Napoleon Dynamite yesterday, and it was pretty good. Not "the greatest movie of the year", as I'd been told, but maybe it was just overhyped for me.

I should also mention that I played at Good Shepherd Lutheran's Celebrate again Saturday night (which is something I've done yearly for a while now). This year was more stripped down and more like a coffee house, so rather than just a song or two, I had fifteen minutes. I think my set was too long, though, to be honest.

I've been back at school all week, mostly in meetings and such, but I've been working in my classroom most of the day. I'm pretty much ready for the kids, but a lot of other teachers aren't as ready. For example, as I write this, the public address system isn't functional, and nor is the bell system. So I'm not sure we'll be able to let the kids know when to move from class to class. Heh.

The only other thing of note is that the band Point of Contact, which I've mentioned here a few times, is having their CD release party at the Hard Rock Cafe on Friday night. I'll be there, will you?!?

Monday, 9 August 2004 [19:39 CDT]

In yesterday's update (which probably most of you haven't seen), I mentioned that I had a "really good excuse" for not having updated this page in the last seven weeks. So here it is:

I haven't had internet access at home for six weeks.

It's a long story that starts back in January, so let's back up a bit.

In late January of this year, I was really struck with the fact that I was spending way too much time on the computer, and specifically the Internet. And was further struck by the fact that I almost seemed unable to get off the machine even when I'd already done all the stuff I normally do on the computer. (That is, after checking my email, reading my webcomics, and catching up on Blue's News and slashdot, I would still be trapped in front of the computer, even when I had other things I should be doing with my free time.)

Those of you that know me are aware that I don't like to be mastered by anything. So, I resolved to do something about it. I reasoned that I'd be a lot less likely to spend time just mindlessly surfing the Internet if I wasn't able to do it at broadband speeds. So, on February 10, 2004, I called AT&T to set up a phone line in my apartment (which I haven't had since switching to a cell phone years ago), in anticipation of downgrading to dial-up.

After several false starts and much calling on my part, AT&T finally got my new phone line activated on March 1, and so I unplugged my cable modem for good, and started life with my brand-new, 56K dial-up service.

Part of the scheme was to see if I could make the switch from broadband to dial-up 1) without going batty, and 2) without anyone else noticing. I figured, if my switch was obvious to other people, it almost wouldn't count. So I kept it a secret. I also went to Fry's to pick up a 256 MB USB keychain hard drive and a 50-pack of CD-Rs so I could continue to upload and download large files at school or church and get them to and from home if necessary. These items turned out to be invaluable in allowing me to (for example), download the ISOs for Fedora Core 2 (which weigh in at 2.3 gigs) or continue to upload new albums of Ogg Vorbis files to Voter.

This worked out fabulously. I was able to keep up with all my responsibilities at school and church, and as far as I know, no one was the wiser, except my brother, who I'd informed of the little plan. And this, despite the fact that my new connection was literally fifty times slower than my cable modem, and for about the same price (once you add in the cost of the phone line).

For three months this continued. Things got more difficult once school was out for the summer, because I couldn't use their high bandwidth anymore, but I was still able to get done the things I needed. And I was spending less time on the Internet (though not as much less as I'd hoped, since it took me longer to do everything), which was a good thing.

Around mid-June, however, I began to wonder if I could take it to the next level. Could I have NO HOME INTERNET ACCESS AT ALL and still not have anyone know? That'd reduce the amount of time I'd spend on the Internet, that's for sure. So, on Monday, June 21, I unplugged my modem.

In order to be able to keep up with my responsibilities for church and such, I'd need email access of some kind. So, I went up to the church and had a mammoth coding session, where I wrote a perl script to put on my server that would get all my email and roll it up into a single flat text file and let me download it. Thus I could go to church, load up the CGI script, put in my name and password (and email server), and download a single text file to my USB keychain drive. Then, I could take that file home and run it through another perl script (also written that Monday) to import it into my email client just as if I'd downloaded it there directly.

I spent a few days debugging that, and have since added a couple of extra features (like cookies to keep me from having to type in my name and password all the time, and the ability to zip up the mailbox file before downloading). So that enabled me to keep up with my email, though now I was only doing it about once or twice a day (rather than continuously as for the past few years). I was still having to drive up to the church to do it, though, as well as for any other web needs (like paying my bills online, etc).

So, a few days later, I ordered (with some birthday money) a Sony CLIÉ, which I mentioned yesterday. There are two WiFi-enabled coffee shops within a few minutes of my apartment, so with the CLIÉ, I could go to them, connect to the Internet, visit the mailbox-downloading CGI script, download all my email to the PDA, and then go back home. And with a round-trip time much faster than having to go to church.

A real breakthrough happened within a couple of weeks, when I went "wardriving" around my apartment complex and discovered that somebody has an open WiFi Internet access point just on the other side of the pool. Thus, I can pull on some shoes, take my CLIÉ out there, get on the Internet real fast, download my email, disconnect and be back in my apartment in under three minutes, without having to even get in my car. (Incidentally, this was also the motivation for putting cookie support into the mail-downloading CGI script, since I didn't want to be sending my email login and password in the clear over someone else's server several times a day.)

The only problem with my setup at this point was sending email, which I still had to travel to church to do (using the regular webmail interface to my email that my web host provides).

So, I spent another afternoon coding a counterpart CGI script to put on my server. Instead of downloading a mailbox in a single large text file, this would allow me to upload a single text file of outgoing messages (composed in my usual email program at home) and send out the message(s) to all recipients specified in the message itself. Again, just as if I had sent it directly from my home machine's email program.

It took me a day or so to debug the handling of multiple recipients (especially in the Bcc: header), but now it seems to work flawlessly, too.

Armed with my CLIÉ, an open wireless access point, and the two CGI scripts, I can now operate like so: I walk outside and download all my email from the past several hours to the PDA. I go back to the apartment and import the email into my regular email program. Then, I can reply to any messages I like (which get hung in the outbox since I don't have an Internet connection going). I close the mail program and copy the outbox file to my PDA. I then walk back outside and upload that outbox file to my second CGI script, which sends out the messages. I can get any new email if I want, and go back inside. Total time: maybe ten minutes.

As you can imagine, this has enormously reduced the amount of time I spend on the Internet in a given day. It also means I don't always get or reply to emails in as timely a fashion as I used to. And that I haven't been able to easily update my web page, so I haven't. Once school starts again (I'll be back in my classroom by Thursday) I should have an easier time of this last one.

I don't think anyone suspected that I haven't had broadband for five months and that I haven't had home Internet access at all for six weeks, so my experiment was a success. And I'm kind of enjoying the greater productivity I have since I'm spending less time on the Internet, so I think I'll keep going with it for a while. Not to mention the money I can save on Internet access. (Ignoring, of course, the $650 I spent on the CLIÉ and assorted memory sticks and other accessories. And the 10+ hours of coding time for the various CGI scripts involved in allowing me to still have email.)

So, the experiment is this: as a young man with a WiFi-enabled PDA in what is allegedly the most wireless-friendly city in the United States, can I continue to operate without home Internet access? And can I do so without interfering with my ability to stay in touch with friends and family and keep up with my responsibilities for school and church? I'll keep you posted.

And what does this mean for you, dear reader? Not much. Email me with your thoughts. I'll receive your message somehow, and find a way to reply. :)

Sunday, 8 August 2004 [16:37 CDT]


Okay, it's been 50 days since my last update. Which is a record. If I have any readers left, thanks for sticking in there.

I start back at school on Tuesday, and the kids return a week later.

I've got a really good excuse for not updating, but I'm going to wait until the next update or so to talk about it.

Been doing Vacation Bible School the past week up at church, and it all went well despite having to scramble to get band members to play and having to use my drum machine in lieu of a real drummer on Tuesday and Friday nights.

After it was all over Friday night, some of us went out to IHOP, since a few of us had skipped dinner. So I rolled in to my apartment complex afterward a little after 11:00. As I was coming through the gate I noticed the thick smell of smoke in the air. And driving down the road in front of my apartment I noticed a fire truck in front of my apartment building.

It turns out, one of the apartments in my building had been on fire, though it was out well before I got home. It wasn't the apartment next to mine, and it wasn't the apartment below mine, but it was the apartment next to the one below mine. Or, if you prefer, the one below the apartment next to mine. Cater-corner in the up-down sense.

Anyway, my apartment smelled a bit like smoke, but it seems to have been well-contained, as only that apartment was affected. It makes you think, though. I probably should check into getting renter's insurance.

I should also mention that my good friend Chase is now back in Austin to stay, after having spent four years at medical school in Houston and four years doing his residency in Rhode Island. And he's garnered a wife and son in the meantime, as well. So if you're looking for a good doctor in the Austin area, I know of one.

Also been spending money like a sieve. Of most note is my Sony CLIÉ, which is very nice. Palm OS 5, built-in 802.11b wireless internet capability, a camera, and mp3 player that also does Ogg Vorbis, the works. It's what I blew all my birthday money on, plus some.

And last night I picked up volume 2 of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force DVD, matching volume 1 I got with part of a birthday gift card to Best Buy. And with the Simpson's DVD (fourth season) Mom got me, I'm starting to get quite the TV comedy collection.

Anyway, I don't have time to make a full update of everything I did over the past 7 weeks, but if I don't start updating again soon, I'll never get back in the habit.

Enjoying my last two days of freedom....

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