Another snag

Looks like this was the week for miscommunication. First our cabinets came in slightly misconfigured (which we decided we could live with), now this.

The floor in the kitchen was kind of a mess. Originally pine planks, it had a layer of linoleum, then a layer of plywood, then another layer of linoleum on it. We wanted to strip everything down to the pine and have that refinished. The floor would have a lot of “character” (ie, flaws), but that was OK. If the old floor turned out to be excessively torn up, we were thinking of having oak laid to match the rest of the house as Plan B. We were clear with our contractor about our plans, and he thought he had clearly communicated it to his crew. The crew had previously ripped away the plywood, and had made a little headway on the lower layer of linoleum, but when we dropped by the house yesterday, all the pine planks were ripped up.

We called Karl to ask what was going on, and he was as surprised as we were. Apparently, someone on his crew had it in mind that we wanted everything stripped down to the subfloor. I know exactly how that is—you take an idea into your head and it refuses to be dislodged. Karl commented that some of the conversations he had with this guy indicated (in retrospect) that they really weren’t on the same page, but he didn’t realize it at the time.

So, Karl asked “what kind of floor do you want?”. Since he’s eating the expense, we didn’t want to stick it to him. We hadn’t been thinking in terms of putting tile down in the kitchen, but once we did, it started making a lot of sense. Plus (as a benefit to Karl), it’s something he can do with his crew, rather than job out (he’s not comfortable laying hardwood floors), so he’s only stuck with the costs for materials. Gwen and I headed straight over to Travis Tile and in a remarkably short time found a tile that we liked and that was pretty inexpensive—it’s a porcelain tile that looks remarkably similar to the countertop material we’ve chosen. Gwen commented that it was probably the fastest decision she’s ever made—no doubt an exaggeration.

This sets us back a day, and it’s a tough break for Karl (probably to the tune of $400 in materials), but it’s a happy accident that we’ll come out of it with a better floor than we had even contemplated before.

Week 5: cabinets and trim

Week 4 was pretty quiet, what with Xmas and all, but things are rolling along again.

Our kitchen cabinets arrived on the 27th, a day ahead of schedule. Karl called and told me “We’re having a little trouble fitting things in the way we planned.” Uh oh. “I’ll be right over” I tell him (even though I need to be at a practice for First Night in less than an hour). Fortunately, we’ve had very few moments like that.

One of our design constraints has been preserving this nifty old Vent-Rite hood that came with the place. It’s 40“ wide (to suit the original stove). We wanted our new 30” stove centered underneath it, or nearly so, but this resulted in an extremely narrow base cabinet (5“–6”) between the stove and the wall. We had approved plans that showed an open-fronted 6“ base cabinet there.

When the cabinets arrived, we discovered that the cabinet-maker had borrowed 3” from the left of the stove and put it on the right, to make that narrow cabinet 9“ wide. This meant that, without some modification, the left side of the stove would be almost flush with the left side of the hood—something we had explicitly been trying to avoid. Either we could live with this, have one of the wall-hung cabinets remade to be narrower (allowing the hood to slide over), or have all the base cabinets remade to the original specs (there is one monolithic base cabinet left of the stove, and the narrow one right of it). Had we insisted on that, the cabinet-maker would have taken a bath on this job, and it would have pushed our schedule way off. I called Gwen to advise her of the situation and say that I was willing to live with the cabinets as-is. She decided to come over and look for herself. She was annoyed at the situation, but decided she could live with it too after seeing it.

I’m not sure why the cabinet-maker made this change. He may have decided a 6” base cabinet was a dumb idea, and wasn’t aware of our reasoning behind it. More detailed communication might have helped. All that said, the craftsmanship on these cabinets is excellent. Better than we were likely to get from any of the big cabinetry suppliers, and tailored to our kitchen’s small dimensions.

Karl’s crew has made the massive boxes for the bedroom’s wall of storage. I think Karl is going to let the cabinet-maker handle the face-frames and doors, but he might be taking care of that himself.

The butcher-block surface for the kitchen island arrived yesterday, and we’re still getting an estimate on the quartz surface for the main counter. Most of the baseboard trim is in place. Karl has been measuring out the built-in bookcases—these are in the part of the house where the foundation and framing are most askew, so those will need a little fudging to look right.

First Night

Other cities have been doing this for some time, and now Austin is holding its first First Night, which will turn the downtown area into a big arts festival on new year’s eve.

I’m going to be a performer—there will be a total of five fire troupes (including Sangre del Sol, who are amazing, and our own troupe, which we are calling Pyrogenesis) performing at Auditorium Shores, in front of the skeleton of the old Palmer events center. The fire extravaganza will supposedly be running from 8:00 to 11:00 PM (add N minutes to allow for disorganization); our troupe is smack in the middle.

Every time I mention First Night to friends, they say “wha…?”. I’m sure this blog entry will make up for the paucity of publicity the event has been getting.

There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an athiest

Gwen’s been a fan of Freakwater for some time—a couple of women belting out country music with warped lyrics. Last night they played at the Cactus Cafe, along with a drummer/clarinetist/keyboardist, pedal steel guitar/mandola player, and bass player ripped straight out of the Rockabilly Book of Stereotypes, with an ugly old turned-around Rickenbacker and a black cowboy shirt with pearl snaps and embroidering. It was a good show. Two encores. The Zincs (well, the Zinc, since there’s only one) opened, and he was good too.

As a side note, it is interesting that Freakwater posts fan transcriptions of their lyrics on their website. After the recent flap over lyrics posted online, this is refreshing.

And as an update to this side note, it’s doubly interesting that Google’s new music search takes you directly to a lyrics search link.

Week 3: nitty-gritty

Week 2 was relatively slow, according to Karl, but seemed to go by pretty quickly for us.

Week 3 is where we start encountering money problems. We’re not even done with the week yet, but we have to confront the fact that now, we’re spending a lot more of it than we planned on.

Floors: When Gwen and I put together our preliminary budget, the floors were a big question mark. We knew we’d be refinishing them. What we didn’t know was whether we’d need to patch in underneath where walls had been. The answer to that turned out to be “yes.” The cheapest estimate so far is $1000 more than we allowed for the floors. Figuring out when the floor work would be fit into Karl’s schedule is another question, since Karl has his schedule, and the floor guys have their schedules, and each would prefer to work into the other’s at a certain stage in the project that may not be perfectly aligned.

Cabinets: We may have backed ourselves into a corner here. Karl has a local company he likes to work with for cabinetry, although in theory he’s capable of doing the carpentry himself. He told me his cabinet company would be competitive with the estimates we got from Lowe’s for kitchen cabinets. They’re not–they’re a lot more. I’m fully prepared to believe the local guys do better work than Kitchen Craft or whoever, but I’m not sure how much better we need for it to be. One benefit of the local guys is that they’re a lot faster, and at this point, we may need to pay for that speed: we’re at or beyond the drop-dead date for have Lowe’s take the job and still finish the whole project on-schedule. This has been the subject of considerable gnashing of teeth for Gwen and me. It’s hard to say how big the discrepancy is here (the local guy’s bid includes some stuff Karl would have been doing himself otherwise, and which had not been on the Lowe’s bid), but I’d estimate it at about $1000.

Our plan for the bedroom built-ins is also probably going to balloon beyond Karl’s original estimate. I think this may be a case of Karl not quite knowing what he was getting into when making the original estimate, and getting an education after-the-fact from his cabinet-making compadres. He’s been looking for alternatives to keep us on budget, but so far there’s nothing that we like that will also fit within the original budget. He wouldn’t say how much over his original estimate we were going to go, but it looks to me like a lot. This is one area where Gwen and I are going to have to suck it up, because we just want something nice for the bedroom. Our current plan is to use something that resembles Shaker-style doors, with 2′ x 2′ sections topping 2′ x 5’6“ sections; we’re considering filling the center panel not with wood, but with a frosted plexiglass. The original plan was to just do massive floor-to-ceiling slab doors but we’ve learned that apparently won’t work.

bedroom closet appearance

Our plans for the office built-ins have mutated into conventional closets, so we’ll probably save a few bucks there.

AC: Karl told us that we’d need to involve an AC guy in the project, but wasn’t sure how much that would run us. He guessed $1000-$4000, but didn’t put a number in his original estimate. We didn’t add anything in. The actual figure is going to come in a little under $1000 (phew), but it’s still money we had left off our spreadsheet (oops).

Kitchen Door: It was obvious at the beginning of the project that the kitchen door should go. It became obvious once we got into it that the kitchen door must go. $600.

Foundation: I noticed yesterday that (at least) one spot of the house has some pretty obvious sagging—half an inch over three feet. We’re having a foundation guy give us an estimate before the crew starts taping and floating.

Although Karl says we’re a little behind where he’d like to be (by a day or two), things have been moving along swiftly–swiftly enough that we really don’t have time to make mistakes in planning without forcing work to be reversed or delaying the project. Almost the entire interior should have sheetrock hung by the end of today.

As much as we have planned and obsessed and tinkered and mapped things out in our heads and obsessed some more, we’ve still been caught short by some major aspects of the projects. And we’re at least $3600 over-budget already.

Week 2: Mechanicals

Although Karl’s crew has continued to beef up the bracing in the attic and only installed the frames for the sliding doors yesterday, this week has mostly been about the mechanicals.

I was somewhat dismayed that they ripped out the old rigid ductwork, which our inspector told us was better than the snakey stuff they use now. I’m not clear on why it had to go, but it’s gone.

The lighting plan has been one of the most complicated aspects of this project to figure out. Where do we want lights? What kind of lights do we want? Where should the switches go? The options are endless. We spent hours just picking out three ceiling fans. Hours researching different kinds of track lighting systems. Hours discussing the relative merits of different switch placements. Eventually we did manage to find options that we liked and which were not budget-busters. The whole track-lighting thing is really complicated. We wanted something that functioned like track lights, but Gwen wanted something less ugly. She likes monorail lights, but it seems that these generally fall into two camps: inexpensive kits where you’re pretty much stuck with what you buy, and expensive a-la-carte systems where you’ve got many options. We found that Lowe’s stocks a monorail kit (Tiella) that’s pretty cheap but that also has enough wattage in the transformer to allow the addition of a couple lamp-heads, and for which there are enough add-ons to give us some flexibility. So we wound up getting three of those. We wound up getting three different ceiling fans, although they’ve all got a sort of retro-modern style.

I discovered that if you want to have a light switched in two places (using what are called three-way switches), you can easily have a dimmer on one, but if you want a dimmer on both, you need to spend over $50 for a pair of special switches, because the two dimmers need to talk to each other (otherwise they multiply their effects). We decided this is not worth it, so we have dimmers on everything, and three-ways in a couple of rooms, but trying to do the double-dimmer trick would have added something well over $100 to our switch budget. Not worth it.

electric wiring plan for 1727 Giles

Then I got down and tried to figure out our signal-distribution plan. This has been (and remains) a source of ongoing confusion and frustration. I figured out a lot of this on my own, but I also wound up calling a tech-support guy at hometech to clarify some points for me.

It doesn’t make any sense to have one DVD player and try to distribute its signal to two TVs, unless you are happy with the picture you get over coax. DVD players can generally output to component video, which is much nicer, but the cost associated with distributing a component-video signal easily exceeds that of a good DVD player. Just buy one for each room.

Although I am setting up a rudimentary head-end in a closet, I’m not running the speaker cables through there. They’re all terminating right at the stereo. We’re running speaker wire to three locations in the house, but it didn’t make sense to run that through the head-end. One option I have (perhaps unwisely) not allowed for in this plan is having volume controls or switches in each of the three different zones. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably do that, but I don’t want to backtrack at this point, and it is possible to control at the stereo anyhow. Since it’s a small house, I’m not going to get worked up over it.

Although cat-6 cable is readily available, I couldn’t find any that was plenum-rated (at least on the shelf at Lowe’s or Fry’s), nor could I find any structured-wiring products that support it. So, cat-5e for me. I expect that 802.11n will make most wired connections irrelevant anyhow. 802.11g is already more than sufficient for most purposes.

One (hopefully) smart thing I am doing is installing only a single phone jack (of course, that’ll be served by the cat-5e, so we could have four lines if we wanted). We’re going to use one of those expandable cordless systems to put handsets elsewhere in the house.

Since we’re going for a clean look, we wanted all the speaker cable run through the wall, even for the speakers that will be on the “TV wall” and hence close to the receiver. Figuring out where those cables should exit has forced me to pretty much lay out the entire living room and figure out where all the furniture in it will go. Getting all the TV wiring out of sight requires more creativity: we’re planning on getting a flat-panel TV and hanging it on the wall. But there will probably be seven (!) cables running between it and the console, plus power, and setting up wall plates top and bottom just to hide a 30“ run of cable was looking to be very expensive, with poor future expandability, and would require a triple-gang box or something crazy like that. What I’m hoping to do instead is run a PVC pipe down the inside of the wall with elbows to bring the openings out of the wall. Then I’ll just slide cables through it. Both openings should be hidden ordinarily.


Renovation, day 4

Work is moving on schedule according to our contractor, and they seem to making quick progress to me. With the exception of a little bit of framing, all the demolition that needs to be done has been finished, and the crew has made a significant dent in the new framing work. We can get a much better sense of how the house is going to look when it’s done, and we’re confident it’s going to look good. We’re also getting a sense of our lighting plan—we’ve been talking about that for some time, but it’s been difficult to pin it down without walking around in the space. Now we can do that, which is a good thing, because electrics are next after framing.

We made another minor tweak to the plan, to make a closet a little bit shallower, and we figured out exactly where a couple of doors are going to be positioned. It’s been interesting to see how much of a plan can only be decided once you’ve got the actual thing itself in progress. I’m sure that with better drafting tools and more meticulous measurements, we could have planned some of this stuff better, but other aspects (such as the lighting) really require you to be there.

I’ve got a renovation photoset going, and I’m adding pictures to it as things move forward. I’m commenting on a lot of the details of the project over there.

Liner notes

Moving can be an occasion for reconsidering how you live your life. One aspect that Gwen and I are confronting is how we listen to music.

I’ve got all my CDs ripped to digital files, and since I spend most of the day working at (or, well, sitting at) my computer, listening to my music through iTunes is the most obvious option. I’ve been pushing for having a gadget to relay music off my hard drive to the stereo in the living room, something like the Airport Express or Slimp3 player.

Not Gwen. She doesn’t dislike iTunes, but she’s visual. She wants to browse through the covers of her music to make a selection, rather than scroll through a list of artists or the like. But she and I both feel that it would be nice to put away all of our CDs. So what to do?

The MP3 and AAC file formats allow you to include cover art as metadata right in the file. iTunes can display this art while it the track is playing. And there exist a number of applications for the Mac that will display the art when iTunes is hidden, and even help look for it on the Internet–Clutter, which I could never bond with, Sofa, which is an intriguing app now caught in limbo by its author’s death, and Synergy, which I’ve been happily using for some time. But these don’t help you browse your collection by cover—they just show you the cover once you’ve selected something.

One of the big problems with cover browsing is that you need to have the cover art. As I said, there are some programs that can help (by mining Google Images or Amazon), but often enough, they can’t find anything, or they find the wrong thing, or they find the right thing, but only a thumbnail image. And there’s some stuff for which there simply is no cover art (remixes, bootlegs, etc). I’ve been rather laboriously going through my collection and manually searching the usual sources to dig up good-quality images to make cover browsing possible. I reckon once I’m done, I’ll still be left with 2% to 5% of my collection sans art, and for that stuff, I’ll have to improvise.

I recently learned about Cover Buddy, which gives you a slide-sorter view of your cover art. It’s got some nice features, and it’s reasonably priced. But I’m really excited about my latest discovery, CoverFlow. When I read the description of this, I was doubtful of its utility, but having played with it, I’m hooked. It’s still very beta and rather primitive, but also very impressive. You really need a scrolling mouse to make the most of it.

I showed it to Gwen, and she was impressed as well. I think we’ve solved our music-browsing dilemma. Now we just need a Mac that can run CoverFlow in the living room…

Well, that was fast

Just had a pow-wow with my contractor, Karl. We discussed a few problems that necessitate some modifications to our plans.

This house has a gabled roof. Normally the ceiling joists would run parallel to the rafters. Not in this house. A related problem is that they are not continuous beams from one end to the other, and we were planning on removing a wall under a spot where they join. Fortunately, there were going to be non-structural built-in cabinets there, so it is a relatively simple modification to turn them into structural closets. There’s another spot where we want to remove a wall underneath another run of joints. There’s no easy workaround for to this: Karl’s solution to this is to actually take down the joists, install a reinforced beam to carry the load out to the nearest load-bearing walls, turn the joists 90°, and hang them off this beam. It’s a lot of fooling around, but I don’t want to cheap out on the structure. In 100 years, when someone crawls up into that attic, they’ll look around and wonder “…what the hell?”.

The kitchen is a little bit knottier because of tight dimensions. Our plan called for a 72“ kitchen island where a wall is now. The problem is that this would leave only 32” of space to pass on each side, and Karl is pretty convinced you need at least 36“. I’m inclined to trust him. The simplest fix would be to make the island 8” shorter, which we may do. Karl suggested a more ambitious plan that involved making the island into a peninsula against the wall, and running a narrow 12“ counter along the wall between the original counter location and the peninsula, and leaving the fridge where it is instead of moving it, as we currently plan to. Moving the fridge to the corner we’ve planned could clash with the island/peninsula.

And so it begins

Last night, Gwen and I took possession of our new house, the one we bought about a month and a half ago. We then proceeded to throw a party:

Wake of destruction, Empty house party - 2

The house we’ve bought is basically a good house, but it’s a little on the small side for our purposes, and that means there’s not a lot of slack in the floorplan. Very quickly after we put in an offer on the house, we took pretty good (though not quite good enough) measurements, plotted out the house’s current floorplan in Illustrator, and then started to monkey around with ways to improve it. We showed our ideas to our contractor, who suggested a few tweaks but thought the ideas were generally sound and doable.

Current paln

Current floorplan

Proposed floorplan

Proposed floorplan

Some of the windows are positioned incorrectly here, and there are some omissions in the proposed plan–there’ll be a big kitchen island, the kitchen door will probably go, and there will be some built-in cabinets not pictured. There are some dimensions that are pretty sensitive–not allowing any wiggle-room–and they still need to be pinned down more accurately than we know them. So there will probably be some tweaks to these plans.

As I said, the house is a little on the small side. This means we need to divest ourselves of a bunch of furniture. So if you’re in the market for a bed (king or queen, both really nice) bookcase (we have three), a pair of speakers, a futon frame, or some bentwood chairs, drop me a line.

From the department of really bad ideas

I’ve seen a sudden upsurge in a particular kind of spam over the past day or so. All of them come with a (Windows) executable attachment.

Several of the messages read as follows:

From:     Admin@cia.gov
Subject:  Your IP was logged
Date:     21 November 2005 22:07:31 CST
To:       [my e-mail address]

Dear Sir/Madam,

we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.

Please answer our questions!
The list of questions are attached.

Yours faithfully,
Steven Allison

++++ Central Intelligence Agency -CIA-
++++ Office of Public Affairs
++++ Washington, D.C. 20505

++++ phone: (703) 482-0623
++++ 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., US Eastern time

Call me crazy, but it seems like a really, really bad idea to use the CIA—the same organization known to torture prisoners—as the Joe in your little joe-job phishing expedition.

later: Apparently I’m not the only one getting these.

Greetings from mission control

I had a full-time Internet connection in 1997. The first thing I did once I got that working was to set my mail client to check my e-mail on a regular schedule instead of manually.

The second thing I did was turn off the alert that told me I had new mail. Of course I had new mail. I always have new mail.

Using a computer to tell you things you need to know, and how it tells you, have interested me for a long time. These topics are addressed in the article from the Sunday NY Times Magazine, Meet the Life Hackers, This has been so widely discussed in blogs that I probably read the whole article via scattered excerpts before reading the article start to finish. And we continued discussing it at the small but stimulating blogger meetup last night.

Quite some time ago, I had an e-mail conversation with Brent Simmons regarding the dock icon used for his excellent NetNewsWire. The dock icon shows a total count of unread articles as a badge, much as Apple’s Mail program does. This is fine, although I always feel a little guilty because my unread count is typically over 1000 (maybe I need to prune my subscription list a bit). We discussed ways to get more fine-grained information into that icon; I suggested using a compass-rose icon where each point of the compass would represent a specific feed or group of feeds, and its fill level and color saturation could be used to indicate unread count and recency.

In the Times article, a couple of sections caught my eye as being somewhat similar in spirit

Czerwinski proposed a third way: a visual graphic, like a pentagram whose sides changed color based on the type of problem at hand, a solution different enough from the screens of text to break through the clutter.

Another experiment created a tiny round window that floats on one side of the screen; moving dots represent information you need to monitor, like the size of your in-box or an approaching meeting. It looks precisely like the radar screen in a military cockpit.

In retrospect, I’m not sure if a multicolored compass rose is really all that important for keeping track of how far behind I am on my newsfeeds. But I do think that something along those lines could be useful in a more general way.

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of using my computer to tell me things lately. One widely-touted aspect of the latest version of OS X is Dashboard. Dashboard is almost right, but exactly wrong. Dashboard allows you to show widgets–tiny one-trick programs. These widgets generally break down into two categories: either they passively show you some piece of information (such as the weather or traffic conditions), or they actively let you manipulate information (such as a calculator or del.icio.us posting tool). The problem with Dashboard is that it is modal: either you’re viewing Dashboard, or you’re viewing the rest of your system. For “active” widgets, that’s not so bad. But for passive widgets, it’s dead wrong. I want to see my to-do list all the time. If I have to remember to take action just to look at my to-do list, I’m less likely to look at it.

Although Apple doesn’t make it easy, I decided to disable Dashboard almost immediately. Casting about for something that would remind me “hey, mom’s birthday is tomorrow” in a way I could not overlook, I revisited Konfabulator, a program that does almost exactly the same thing as Dashboard (about which I’ve written before), but whose widgets actually live on the desktop. I had tried Konfabulator a long time ago and wrote it off as a resource hog. Between my newer computer and perhaps better coding in Konfabulator, it seems to work with my system much better. I’m using it right now to show my calendar events and to-do list, and the weather, and that’s it. It’s not absolutely perfect for my needs, but it’s pretty good. I’ve also been intrigued by Stattoo — I like the fact that it has a more disciplined appearance on-screen, but find some of the modules to display too little information to be really useful–it omits a lot of extras that seem obvious and desirable; it is also severely limited by the fact that it apparently has no plug-in architecture. A slightly more fleshed-out version would be ideal–even though Konfabulator is free, I’d pay money for a sort of “Stattoo 2.”

Another feedback mechanism on the Mac, and one that is becoming widely supported and well fleshed-out is Growl. Growl was an outgrowth of the excellent Adium chat client, and can be used to show ephemeral blobs with the text of incoming instant messages–very handy. But it also gives me numerous other status updates–how long my cellphone calls last, when a blog entry has been successfully posted, etc. I frequently get e-mail from clients overnight, and want to know right away whether there’s anything I need to look at, so I’ve scripted Growl to show a little notification blob for client e-mails that persists until I make it go away. In theory I could use Growl to show upcoming events, although to-do list items might be trickier. I use sound as a mail notifier as well, with special chimes for mail matching certain criteria–I even have Mail speak the name of the sender when I receive mail from a friend.

In fact, Growl probably isn’t exactly the right tool for the job of showing ambient, persistent information–it’s more intrusive, its blobs of text float over everything else. Ambient, persistent information should probably sit under everything else–a murmur, not a growl.

Ideally, I’d probably corral all these visual notifications and status monitors into a separate display, or have a region of my main display roped off for just that purpose. Right now, that’s not feasible. I know that Microsoft’s Longhorn is going to have special support for subsidiary displays, although I suspect those won’t be exactly what I have in mind either. It’s obvious that my current setup, although it’s pretty good at presenting information in a way that’s ambient, unobtrusive, and pretty well customized to my needs, is still undisciplined (I haven’t mentioned all the various forms of notifications I get). The available tools generally seem to be moving in the right direction, though.


I could have easily missed MirrorMask if I hadn’t been trolling through the Chron’s review section, and I’m glad I didn’t. I only know Neil Gaiman’s work by reputation, which is very strong, so when I did notice this, I was eager to check it out.

Despite starting off at a circus, the movie’s opening is surprisingly drab. It quickly settles down into the visually imaginative dreamscape I was vaguely expecting–though I’d have no way to really expect what I did see, it being altogether fantastical. At its core, the movie turns out to be a fairly conventional coming-of-age story. But it’s the visuals that make it very much worth seeing.

Good night and good luck

Saw Good Night and Good Luck recently. Excellent movie. Beautiful to look at in black and white, the story is taut and told in punctuated chunks, interspersed with old kinescope footage; all together, it gives an interesting look into the ways life was different about fifty years ago. Appropriate to its subject matter, it has a sort of eyewitness, journalistic quality. George Clooney is clearly more than a pretty-boy actor, and while David Strathairn makes a believable Murrow, Clooney is a hell of a stretch for Fred Friendly.

The movie is not remotely subtle about the messages it is laying out–there are several–but they are messages that are worth telling.

It was especially interesting seeing the movie at this exact moment in history, when a right-wing government that is suspicious of its own citizens is just beginning to fall into disarray.

And my pretty countryside had been paved down the middle

Construction machinery for SH130

Rode out FM 969 to Webberville today. Saw this and moaned “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

Any road construction around Austin is going to be controversial, and SH130 is no exception.

Originally sold as a bypass for I-35 to allow long-haul truckers to speed past the congested parts around Austin, even TxDOT claimed it would yield only a 4% reduction in traffic on I-35.

The notion that this is really intended as a bypass–if it was ever taken seriously–is clearly off the table, as it is clear that there will be an interchange here, about halfway to Webberville. There’ll be another one on the other side of Manor as well.

There are a lot of smaller and organic farms out along this way, but suburban-style development has already encroached. This is going to speed that process along and help kill another one of the things I like about living in Austin: being able to ride my bike out into the countryside.


iPhoto is bundled with every new Mac, but I never really bonded with it. The way it maintains photos is grossly inefficient, and it doesn’t deal as gracefully with batch processes or metadata as I’d like. I always used Graphic Converter for that stuff, but I have to admit that it isn’t great for just organizing photos.

From time to time, I’d read that people using the current version of iPhoto found it much improved–indispensable, even. And with a 250-gig hard drive, I could tolerate some inefficiency. So I decided to give it a shot. Thanks to the Keyword assistant and Flickr export plugins, I can use iPhoto with a tolerably efficient workflow. I’ve managed to import, tag, organize, and upload a lot of old photos to my flickr account–check ’em out. More to come.

the Corpse Bride

Saw the Corpse Bride yesterday. I can’t remember the last time I saw two claymation movies in a row, and both this and the Wallace and Gromit movie had Helena Bonham Carter as voice talent. Weird.

I have to say, it’s pretty amazing what they can do with a few lumps of clay. These characters were more emotionally stirring than many of their flesh-and-blood counterparts, and managed the neat trick of making the dead seem charming (and much more lively and colorful than the washed-out living Victorians), something that would be impossible with live-action. The quality of the animation was also astonishing, and apparently achieved through unprecedented meticulousness. It occurred to me partway through that the whole thing could have been done as computer animation, and indeed, it wouldn’t be a bad use for CGI, which has gotten good enough to have entered the “uncanny valley” when rendering humans, but should be more than up to task rendering caricatured claymation characters. Still, I can imagine some subtleties would be lost along the way, and for all I know, it wouldn’t save any time.

Almost all Tim Burton movies have a fairy-tale quality to them. This is no exception, but what is different is that it is apparently based on an existing folk tale


I knew a woman once with the nickname “Sproidy”–she was given this monicker because the letters on the dial of the phone could be used to spell that. I occasionally find myself using this trick in reverse when I need to invent a numeric passcode or the like–I pick a convenient word, and work out the numbers on a phone dial that correspond to it.

There ought to be a name for words and numbers created using this trick, of using numbers to generate words, or vice-versa. Since these are generally used as an aide-memoire, I kind of like “mnumerimonic.” Another possibility might be “numerinym,” though that would only make sense for to words generated from numbers.