Entries from August 2006

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Friday, 25 August 2006 [22:27 CDT]

pay it forward

It's been a rough week on my car.

Wednesday I drove to work (as usual), but when I tried to get out of my car, the door wouldn't open. Locked or unlocked, the handle released nothing. Eventually I had to get out the other side. I've since figured out that the outdoor handle works, so it's probably just disconnected somewhere. Tomorrow I'll take apart the handle and see what I can see.

Unfortunately, in all the hubbub, I'd left my lights on. By 9:30 AM, an email had been sent out letting us all know that a car with my license plate had its lights on. However, since I teach two classes in a row with lunch duty immediately following, it was 12:45 before I ever saw the email, and by that time, it was too late.

The school used to have a portable jumpstart kit. It was stolen a year or two ago.

Over the summer, I'd bought what I thought was a portable jumpstart kit. A couple of weeks after I'd gotten it, and well after I'd thrown away the box, I figured out that it was just a car battery charger kit. You can plug it into the wall to charge a dead car battery, but it won't store a charge so that you can do so on the road.

So, one of my coworkers, though running late, gave me a jump. Just as I was sitting there charging my battery from hers, a student a couple of cars down was trying to start his car, and his wouldn't start.

My car successfully started, my coworker took off for her thing, and then I drove my freshly reanimated battery over in front of his car. I had to keep my foot on the gas to keep it from killing my car, but it worked.

He drove away, and I drove away. I did use my car battery charger a bit once I got home, just to make sure if was fully recharged, since the trip home is a short one.

There were more surprises in store, however. This morning when I walked out of my house, I could see that my muffler pipe assembly, while still connected to the engine and at the back of the vehicle, was sagging mere inches from the ground. Now, this isn't exactly a new problem; a bracket had come loose from there over a year ago, and at the time I'd used a wire coat hanger to re-attach it. The wire coat hanger had broken, finally.

I was in a hurry, so I didn't mess with it that morning. It's close to the ground, but only actually scrapes anything if I drive over a speed bump, and there aren't any on the way to school. At the end of the day, however, I got under there and just temporarily taped it up with duct tape.

Well, once the muffler heated up, the duct tape gave way, so by the time I'd reached my destination, the duct tape was long gone.

I didn't have a coat hanger with me, and I hadn't really liked that solution despite its working for so long. So this time I drove to Goodwill (not more than two miles from my house), bought a braided leather belt for $0.99, and then cinched the middle of the muffler assembly to the undercarriage of the car. It took me all of thirty seconds, and I wrapped the loose end and duct taped the belt to itself so that end won't come loose and drag the ground. I'll check the belt in a day or two to see if the heat seems to be adversely affecting it, of course.

I'm almost afraid to leave my car alone out there for the evening, though. Who knows what she'll try next?

Monday, 21 August 2006 [00:27 CDT]

a retraction

Actually late Sunday night....

I am in two bands.

The first is with some friends of mine from college. We meet once a week, where we're so far just learning new songs and trying to get our respective chops back in shape. You can call this band "Lord Nelson's Anguish", which is not our real name but merely a placeholder terrible enough that we're sure to change it before we ever play in public. I sing and play rhythm guitar as needed and sometimes keyboard, though I'm not as good at that. I first played with the bass player way back in 1991, with the drummer in maybe 1993, and the lead guitarist/songwriter around that same time or shortly thereafter.

My second band is the worship team at my church. We play every Sunday. It's a rotation, so it's rarely the exact same band twice, but depending on how you count things I've currently got two or three electric guitar players, three to five bass players, a drummer or two or three, a percussionist, three harmony vocalists, and a keyboard player. I play acoustic guitar and sing. Electric guitar when there's no one else to do it. Keyboard maybe twice a decade. My first Sunday with some incarnation of this band was August 10, 1997.

Now, in a posting ten days ago, I made the mistake of calling Lord Nelson's Anguish my other band. This was a grave error on my part, since I've clearly been playing with these guys longer. I hereby formally retract my erroneous statement and apologize (in alphabetical order) to Chase, Lee, and Tony. Or Anthony, Chase and Lee. Or Aaron (Chase), Anthony, and Roy (Lee).

If one of these bands was on hold, with scarcely a practice or a gig or even a jam session for close to a decade, what is that in the face of such obvious chronology? If another of these bands has practiced every week and played in front of people every week for that same near-decade, what bearing can that possibly have on truth?

"Other band", indeed. Harrumph.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006 [07:21 CDT]

locked and loaded

The new school year starts in less than ninety minutes. It is going to be an extremely fun year, I expect.

I supposed there's not much harm in me telling everyone that events conspired to have me teaching a single section of Algebra II this year (in addition to Computer Science I and II). I can pretty much promise that that will be the most interesting mathematics class those kids will have taken in some time.

Heck, yes.

My new (slightly better) projector is mounted; with my bare hands I was able to retrofit an older mounting bracket onto it. It still needs to be repositioned quite a bit (the image is the wrong size and off-kilter), but if nothing else I'll be able to turn it on and off using only the remote control.

So, I should get to school before the show starts without me.

Monday, 14 August 2006 [23:27 CDT]

trivial numeric coincidences

My MySpace profile has been viewed as many times as the number of years between the estimated year of birth of the (alleged) Messiah and my own year of birth.

1,974 MySpace profile views

Cool? Or sad? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.

Yeah. I'm incoherent because the childrens will be invading my thus-far-relatively-peaceful workplace in less than 36 hours. And so I've been busy. Getting ready.

Friday, 11 August 2006 [22:52 CDT]

heavy metal future

So, in my last update I forgot to mention that I bought a new guitar. Well, a used guitar. But, more importantly, an electric guitar.

My readers who knew me in 1993 may remember that the first guitar I ever bought was an electric: a Peavey Predator. Cheap, $200 Strat copy. It played and sounded fairly mediocre, but, hey!, it's only $200!

At the same time I bought a used amp, a pretty decent Fender Stage 180. Both of these were afforded with drug money, by which I mean the proceeds from a pharmacological research study I'd done at the end of my freshman year of college.

I rarely played the electric guitar, and in 1998 or thereabouts I sold it to a student who now is one of my bass players at church. He still has the Predator ("You can either be the hunter or the hunted."), which he plays when I put him on lead guitar.

I do still have the amp, and I still use it.

Anyway, I've been pretty much an acoustic-guitar-only guy ever since my parents bought me my first in the summer of '69. Er, '95.

But recently my "other" band(*) has been needing a second guitar part on several of the songs we're trying to cover. So I trawled craigslist, found a pretty good deal, went to Guitar Center to play the guitar to make sure I liked it, and then contacted the craigslist guy.

(*) UPDATE: Though I originally referred to this band as my "other" band, I was incorrect to do so. Please see my later retraction.

After the smoke cleared, for $200 I picked up a used Epiphone G-400 which sounds excellent and plays very well. It's a little beat-up, but I think she'll hold. Oh, and I got the $60 hardshell case thrown in for $20.

It's hard to explain just how much better this guitar sounds than my old electric did. It even sounds better than a few other guitars in its new price range that I've played.

So you'll more often see me rocking out on my electric. Even at church.

Thursday, 10 August 2006 [00:38 CDT]

I come not to bury Ruby.

Actually late Wednesday night....

Today we teachers started back at school. I'd say that I'm sorry to see summer go, but I do love teaching, and it's how I get paid. So, it's about time to get back to work.

However, the purpose of today's update isn't to bid my summer break a fond farewell or even to dwell on how few things on my TODO list actually got done. I have come here to praise Ruby.

Since I buy a lot of CDs and rip them to my computer, I've written quite a few little scripts to automate as much of the monkeywork as possible. This past month or so I've been rewriting several of them from shell to ruby, since adding interesting features is way easier when you're not writing in shell.

So, today I wrote a thingy to automate ripping the multiple CDs of an audiobook. It'll create a folder for disc 1, change into that folder, use an external utility to rip all the tracks, then back out of the folder, eject the disc, and wait for me to put in the new one. I do so and press ENTER and it repeats the process in a different folder.

Anyway, you'd be right if you guessed that there is some sort of loop involved in the code. Let's say I want to write a loop that makes the variable disc iterate from 1 up to and including n, which is the number of CDs I want to rip in series. In Java (and C and C++), it looks like this:

// Java version

for ( disc=1; disc<=n; disc++ ) {
    // do everything for a single CD

Non-obvious syntax, but you get used to it. In shell scripting, I've been accomplishing it more like so:

# bash version

while [ $disc -le $n ]
    # do everything for a single CD
    disc=$(( $disc + 1 ))

Yeah. Note that if I leave off the double quotes around the "1" in the first line, this code doesn't even work. Ick. In Ruby, the same loop is this:

# Ruby version

1.upto(n) do |disc|
    # do everything for a single CD

For reasons that I find it hard to articulate, this pleases me immensely. This same construction occurs later in the same program, when I'm writing just dummy tracknames to a file that is later used to tag and rename the ripped files. Disc 3, track 7 is name "307"; the first track on the first disc is "101". Etc. Here's how it looks, again in Ruby:

# Ruby

1.upto(wavs.length) { |track| file.printf("%d%02d\n", disc, track) }

In English, this means something like the following: "Generate a list of the numbers from 1 up to the length of the array 'wavs', inclusive. For each number, run the following block of code, substituting the current value of the number for 'track' each time the block of code is run." And the block of code (which is the part in the curly braces) just formats the disc number and track number into a single three-digit number and writes it to the file.

Anyway, it makes me happy that I can write this so succinctly and (in my mind) so clearly.

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