Featured, Movies, Sundry

Week of 27 December, 2009

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/03/week-of-27-december-2009/

Sunday, December 27

The Lakeshore Limited stops at 6:54AM in Erie, PA. I heard a voice behind me ask a passenger “are you a US citizen?” And a moment later a warning that they have to carry their I-20 at all times or it is a $100 fine. I had been through a few checkpoints in Europe, and it seemed wrong to me that we were now at a “border crossing” within the US. I figured when they asked for my ID I would first ask for their ID. They asked the guy next to me.

“He’s sleeping,” I offered. He took the coat off his head and rummaged through his papers. He was born in New York, but he is a Mexican citizen, and he immigrated through one point, no, another. The conversation switched to Spanish. They wanted his permicion, and the agent flashed him a sample consular ID that in the dark looked to me like a Hawaii driver’s license.

“You came in as a tourist?”

“Tourist Visa’s only good for a year. Or six months.”

“Vamos con nosotros.”

The man gathered up his belongings. After a rough night sleeping on the train, he was off to a detention center, and then probably to Mexico. I told my neighbor, “I’m sorry.”

“I only asked him for the truth,” the agent replied.

“This is America?” asked the passenger behind me.

Having caught someone, they stopped checking IDs, and didn’t ask anything of me. On my way to the dining car the conductor announced that due to this last stop we were now running ten minutes behind, and would not make it up for some hours, but thanks to good weather and light traffic we would probably be in New York on time.

Monday, December 28

It is our week off together, and we decided to be tourists in New York City. Today we went to the New York Botanic Gardens in the Bronx, which is not all that interesting in the cold of winter, but I was keen on seeing their train show. This was neat: trains running through the conservatory on trestles built from wood and fashioned to resemble New York’s famous bridges, passing houses and architectural landmarks like the old Penn Station, built from plant materials.

Worth seeing once. The gardens are probably a better trip on a Summer day.

Afterwards we caught Avatar, which is definately a mind blowingly wonderful science fiction movie that will be remembered for its innovative effects. I really enjoyed it and if anyone is asking I say go ahead and spend the few bucks extra to see it in 3D and yes get there early because the first theater was sold out and we got a good place in line at the second theater because we showed up 40 minutes early.

On a Monday.

Tuesday, December 29

We got dressed up and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I enjoyed the European realist paintings, then Mei was agog at the Samurai stuff which seemed to me like an awful lot of impressive blades that didn’t quite captivate me. Mei was enchanted that bunny ears are part of the Samurai style, since rabbits symbolize longevity and cunning.

After that we wandered through the Chinese calligraphy, the writer’s garden which got me thinking that some ferns and hanging plants could really spruce up the home office, then on through the American stuff, which was mostly colonial furniture and some excellent Tiffany mosaics. It seemed interesting to me that the Samurai exhibition had a lot of Japanese tourists, the Chinese calligraphy attracted Chinese people, and there was a group of Indians checking out the Jain temple.

And America is represented by Tiffany mosaics.

Afterwards Mei treated me to a meal at Dean and Delucca, where she grabbed some cupcakes to bring home.

Wednesday, December 30

In the morning we hit up Ikea for a bed frame, and once that was wedged into the car, we took the long way around Brooklyn to the Bed Bath and Beyond so Mei could purchase a food processor. We stopped along the way at a place that Google thought was called VCS Hobbies but turned out to be a storefront for Restaurant Point-of-Sale computer systems. They buzzed me in to their office and I asked if this was supposed to be a hobby shop. Another lady came forward and asked which scale, and then explained that they were pretty much sold out of anything except N, due to the holidays, but they could take my information.

Not much for browsing, I guess. It seemed like a nimble, family run enterprise keen to make money any way they could, and really, there’d probably a lot more money in restaurant POS systems. Still, it is weird for a hobby shop to be on the down-low.

Thursday, December 31

New Years Eve! We watched the ball drop in Times Square from our sofa in Brooklyn. Instead of standing like cattle for hours in the cold without access to restrooms, I made Mei some hot chocolate.

Friday, January 1

We brunched at a French place over on That Street Where I Bought the Bike. Pain Perdu, oh la la!

We bought food, and Mei made a double batch of chicken chili.

Saturday, January 2

Mei baked cookies, and I helped get the place together, trekking out for veggies to go with the cheese plate and alcohol. In the evening, some neighbors and friends who braved the really cold outside came by and there was much noshing on chicken chili, hot apple cider, chocolate chip cookies, ginger snaps, cheese and veggies. It was a smallish gathering but our very first Brooklyn party worked out well.

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About Me, Featured, Religion

Atheist Position on God

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/08/oh-god-whatever/

Hemant Mehta asks:

Which statement should atheists be using?

1. There is probably no god.

2. There is no god.

In my book, Atheism is reverence toward God.

If God is almighty and all powerful, and leads an existence in the Universe beyond my ability to perceive it, then the most responsible approach I can take towards this thing beyond my perception is to shut the heck up about it, and focus on our collective worldly life.

So, maybe “God does not exist within my perception of reality.”

Or perhaps, “The question of God’s existence is irrelevant, but if for some reason it needs to reveal itself unto me, I bet it could hook that up.”

Or more modesty? “I have been unable to perceive the existence or intentions of God. I do think that Faith is important, and I put my faith in humanity, which tests my faith as surely as God tests the faith of its believers.”

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Featured, Sundry

Week of 3 January, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/10/week-of-3-january-2010/

Sunday, January 3

I would have been content to stay home, but Mei really wanted to go to the gym. I am not a big gym fan myself and I didn’t want to “work” on my vacation so I joined her at the gym and read my magazine.

Monday, January 4

Mei had the day off today. She explained this only after I woke her up in a panic at 7:15. In the afternoon I joined her for a visit to the DMV, where I had this conversation with the DMV lady:

“Good afternoon! I’d like to exchange my California driver’s license for a New York driver’s license.”

“It is very cold out.”

“Yes, it is very cold today.”

“Are you sure?”

. . . “Oh! Yes, I’m sure. Well, I grew up in Chicago.”

“About the same.”

We’ll be representing the Empire State in one to two weeks.

Tuesday, January 5

I watched Google unveil the Nexus One. That is a pretty bad-ass phone. I checked but I’m not eligible to purchase one yet through T-Mobile. Joe said the only service plan they offer with the bundle is $80/mo, which is ridiculous. He ordered the $500 unlocked version, because then he could sign up for a $60/mo plan, and come out ahead after two years without a commitment.

I am paying $55/mo now for data and voice and 500 SMS, and I think that is too much money. I got on a rant about how I really don’t care much for phones, but a magic device is sure nifty. I did a little more research into going full-on data, maybe even just at wifi hot spots, and then using VoIP, or a calling plan with no minutes. It looks like Google’s already thinking that way, and acquired Gizmo5 last November, and in time they will relaunch that as a VoIP portal thingy tied to Google Voice. Which would save a hypothetical me from futzing about with DIDs and a SIP client and other stuff I don’t really understand.

Got some work done. Mei went to bed early due to illness, and I ended up playing Cities XL rather late. Right now the game crashes after 40 minutes or so, so I play for half-hour rounds. They seem to be aware of the issue and will hopefully fix it soon. I started laying out bus routes, which is kind of a neat feature, but that gave me insomnia so I had to get back out of bed at 1AM and re-align my bus routes.

Yes, I am a huge dork.

Wednesday, January 6

“Once I had a woman
With a face so pretty and fine
But she couldn’t make that pudding shake
So I left that girl behind” –Guy Davis

Since the wind chill was up near 20, I rode my bike over to Atlantic for my orthodontist appointment. It was a neat place with National Geographic nature films projected on the wall of the waiting area, with a separate soundtrack of some intense yet relaxing drumming. The work area was this sort of modernist slate and smoked glass nightmare, and the Orthodontist himself seemed disgusted and amused that I brought him the mold from the San Francisco dentist for a plaster cast of my jaw. “I prefer digital.”

He started explaining a bunch of orthodontic jargon that I could parse somewhat, and then he explained a bit more. I figure he’s more of a I-like-animals-let-me-realign-your-teeth person more than a people person, which is fine with me. He is hoping to conclude the treatment before a total of two years.

On the way back I bought a hanging plant, which rode home in the bicycle basket. Now it sits above the monitor.

Cities are like coral reefs: a hard, growing structure that provides habitat for fancifully fragile and unique inhabitants.

Some of those inhabitants protect themselves with poison.

Thursday, January 7

I was up early and rode the bike down to the Tea Lounge, which at 7am was a ghost town.

Friday, January 8

A productive day at work. Afterwards I took Mei up to a restaurant called Bunny Chow. Bunny chow is a South African cuisine of curry served in a bread loaf, which served as a take-out container for laborers during Apartheid. The restaurant was small and seemed to be run by people taking it easy. Many menu items were out of stock, but what we ate was tasty.

It had no Yelp review, so mine was the first. Three stars.

Saturday, January 9

A quiet day, as Mei prepared for an overnight shift.

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Excerpts, Good Reads, Politics, Testimonials

Rita Buscari, 25

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/10/rita-buscari-25/

Excerpt from Studs Terkel’s “Division Street America” (1967)

There were about forty of us went down there to protest James Dukes’ execution. We had a very orderly, and I think, dignified picket line. We marched in two’s up and down, very quiet. We rarely spoke to each other. But across the street there were about two hundred people in their cars with the doors open, the radios blarin’ out rock’n’roll music, with beer cans and with sandwiches. They were there all evening, and very often there would be jeers at us from across the street.

I was marching with a Northwestern student, who goes down to protest every time there’s an execution. He said these people are there at every execution. Every single one. He said no matter how cold it is–this was a warm night, this was August–no matter how cold it is, there are approximately the same number of people. He believes they’re there because the lights dim in the building, which isn’t true, because the chair is rigged up to a different electrical system.

They stay there until the body is brought out in an ambulance. You got the feeling, you know, that this was the instinct that sent people to the Colosseum in Rome. And it’s here, right here and now, present in our society. Warden Johnson said people call up and ask for tickets. Well, if tickets were sold, I’m sure it would be a sellout house every single time.

It was so brutish. I was marching with pacifists and ministers, and the quiet of these people compared to the crowd across the street gave it a nightmarish quality. At the time of the execution we all turned toward the jail and ceased conversation. And this was when the rhythm of the noise on the other side gained momentum. They had all the radios on, first of all because they wanted to hear the announcement. The sounds on the other side increased as our silence increased.

When the announcement came through on the radio, there was a big reaction across the street: Oh, that’s over with. Oh, that’s great. Especially toward us. It was a victory for them, you see? A great victory against the crackpots who were demonstrating across the street. You know: This is how much your demonstration has achieved, you’re no place at all.

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Featured, Technical

Keeping Up With Your Web: Google Reader and Google Chrome!

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/10/keeping-up-with-your-web-google-reader-and-google-chrome/

So, you like reading web pages? Do you visit a hand full of blogs and news sites a few times a week to catch up? Is it a lot to remember: which web sites you like to read, and you wish there was an easier way? There is an easier way: use an aggregator!

So, what’s an aggregator? Think of an aggregator as your favorite newspaper. These days most of the content in most newspapers doesn’t come from in-house reporters. Instead the editorial staff select items from syndication feeds like AP and Newswire. That is what an aggregator does: it keeps track of the feeds from the web sites you are interested in, and presents them to you in one convenient package. An aggregator is your personalized electronic newspaper.

Google Reader

Okay, where do I get an aggregator? There are many aggregators, and you may have to try a few before you find one you really like. I like to use Google Reader because I can access it from any web browser. I like the “sort by magic” feature, where it tries to show me the stuff I’m most likely to enjoy first. If I catch up on all my reading it will go and try to find other content I might like.

In order to maximize the Google Reader experience I have moved two buttons to my Bookmark Toolbar: a “subscribe” button and a “note in reader” button. When I stumble on a new web site with interesting content, I hit the “subscribe” button, which tells Google Reader to look for the web site’s syndication information, and add this web site to the list of web sites I like to read. (This doesn’t always work, because not all web sites have a “syndication” feed set up properly . . . in my experience, I’d say 70% of web sites work and 99% of blogs work right, and this is improving over time.)

A view of the Subscribe and note buttons in Firefox.

I hit the “note in reader” button when I am reading something I think is noteworthy. A dialog window pops up inviting me to enter a comment about the piece, and this is then published to a personal scrapbook. The nice thing is you can share these scrapbooks online, and subscribe to these scrapbooks just as you would subscribe to a web site. This means that your friends can help you find interesting things to read. For example, I really enjoy a lot of the articles about urban planning and mass transit that Ed Meng notes in his scrapbook.

When reading in the Google Reader interface, you can hit the “like” icon at the bottom of an article, and Google Reader will use that knowledge to help find interesting articles for you and for other people.

Google Chrome

Lately, my friends and I have started using Google’s new web browser, Google Chrome, more and more. The first reason for this is because it is fast: it launches fast and it performs tricks like DNS pre-resolution in order to load web pages faster. A somewhat faster web browser may not sound like a big deal but those of us in IT spend several hours a day using web browsers, so switching to a snappier web browser feels a bit like switching to a faster car with better handling. In a word, Google Chrome goes “whee!”

Chrome also has a lot of little spit-and-polish features that make a difference. I really enjoy that when I click the “new tab” button, a screen appears showing me thumbnail icons of the web sites I tend to visit. It makes getting where I want to go just that much more pleasant.

Google Chrome's "new tab" screen.

Application Shortcuts

The feature I have taken to lately is Google Chrome’s “Application Shortcut” feature. I bought a netbook last year, which is damned handy: like having a little “sketchbook” computer, handy for coffee shops, airplanes, or just catching up on Google Reader from the couch. Unfortunately, netbooks have limited screen resolution, and between the title, menu, URL, bookmark bars, and the Google Reader interface, I was left with less than half the height of the entire screen for skimming articles. Frustrating . . .

Google Reader in Firefox: Nearly half the vertical space is wasted.

Now, I have used the “Create Application Shortcuts…” feature of Google Chrome, which creates a “desktop application” out of Google Reader. When I run the desktop application Google Reader is launched in a special Chrome window that skips all the menu bars in a normal web browser window: all I get is a title-bar and a big old window for reading articles in Google Reader. If I click on article links they launch in the full web browser, where I can bookmark them, note them in reader, or the like.

Google Reader as a Google Chrome "application" leaves more room for reading.

So, perhaps this explanation is helpful to some. You are welcome to comment with your own tips. Otherwise: happy aggregating!


Free Style, News and Reaction, Politics, Technology, 中文

Google.cn: “手气不错”

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/15/google-china-luck-not-bad/

There’s been a lot of buzz in the tech community over Google’s Tuesday announcement that they are just totally fed up with the Chinese government’s utter contempt for human rights and for playing nice on the Internet, and that as a consequence they are going to remove either the censorship filters from Google.cn, or Google.cn from China.

I don’t entirely grasp Google’s strategy here, but if a plucky technology company that I admire wants to goad an autocratic government, I’m naturally inclined to sympathize with them.

So, while it is still around, I figured I’d translate Google.cn‘s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button: 手气不错

手 shuo3 is a pictograph for “hand”
æ°” qi4 is a pictograph for curling clouds, meaning “air”
不 bu4 is a pictograph of a bird rising to heaven, which once meant “to soar” but today means “not”
é”™ cuo4 etymologically combines “metal” and “dried meat” for the archaic meaning “gilt” which nowadays means “mistake”

But don’t get hung up on hand-air-not-mistake as the characters combine to form two words:

手气 means luck
不错 means “not bad” as in “pretty good”

So, 手气不错 translates for me as “luck not bad” and that is what I hope for both Google (è°·æ­Œ) and the 中国人.


Excerpts, Featured, Good Reads, Sundry

Week of 10 January, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/17/week-of-10-january-2010/

Sunday, January 10

2010-01-10 . . . it is too bad they didn’t have binary numbers one thousand years ago.

Last night I began reading Studs Terkel’s “Division Street America” . . . it is starting to remind me of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” where you drift from person to person, hearing a monologue . . . things shift around as in a dream. Some are more engaging than others.

I like that by page 27, I find a kindred soul in Elizabeth Chapin, who was 75 years old in 1967:

“The automobile, what could you do without it? In another few generations, people will have no legs, we won’t need them. I take the dog for a walk every day. Walk a few blocks to the bakery shop. I have known people who live around the corner from the bakery, who take their car to get there. People are amazed when I tell them I don’t pass a day that I don’t walk three, four miles. It just wouldn’t occur to me. There’s so much to see, to observe, while you’re walking. What happens to us when we don’t see these things? When I take the dog for a walk, I see things. People’s eyes are closed, with a thin film over them, or what is it?”

I should be walking more, myself.

Another theme so far is the people are bothered by the increasing isolation . . . 40 years ago. In the old days it was playing cards and long conversations. I’ve been thinking the world might be a better place if television was a metered service: you pay $1 for each hour you watch, with a fair portion of that going to whomever created the programming. People would watch less TV and the quality would go up if people were more selective about it. Anyway, maybe I’ll actually set up a jar in my own living room. Since I pay the cable/Internet bill I can reimburse myself. Or give it to charity or something.

0.5h Saturday Night Live
1.0h Nova: What Darwin Didn’t Know

Monday, January 11

In the afternoon I snuck off to the Tea Lounge before returning home for the Pager Review Meeting which is at 3pm in California. I go on-call Tuesday morning at 11am . . . well, 2pm local time. Right before the pager review meeting my workstation crashed and required a fsck . . .

1.0h Nova: What Darwin Didn’t Know

Tuesday, January 12

I started feeling seriously blue on Monday, and this morning was no better. The contributing factors are known and temporary, so no reason to freak out, but damn. This morning I treated myself to brunch . . . and spent some time just standing in the frigid sunlight, synthesizing vitamin D and hopefully ameliorating seasonal blues, thinking that office workers should work while the sun is down.

At brunch it was more the people watching than the delicious chorizo frittata that did me good. At first I kinda sympathized with the girl who kept sighing at her computer, which she had to hard-reset . . . Windows Vista or 7 running on a ThinkPad T61 . . . but she kept sighing and I was thinking “attitude problem” . . . the guys next to me sounded like the older guy providing some career mentoring advice for the younger guy. All while I was reading about the Whole Foods CEO in The New Yorker.

“. . . a tendency, common among smart people, to presume that everyone in the world either does or should think as he does–to take for granted that people can (or want to) strike his patented balance of enlightenment and self-interest. It sometimes sounds as if he believed that, if every company had him at the helm, there would be no need for unions or health-care reform, and therefor every company should have someone like him, and that therefor there should be no unions or health-care reform. In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can, and should, and so safeguards that have evolved over generations to protect against human venality–against, say, greedy, bullying bosses–are no longer necessary. The logic is as sound as the presumption is preposterous.”

On my way out I saw the girl on my left was editing an article in a WordPress blog, and I felt better about her. People who have found the joy of good software have a preposterous notion that software doesn’t have to suck, and so they are logically entitled to sigh when their computer’s operating system starts acting dumb.

Wednesday, January 13

Rough day on-call. I never even left the house.

1.0h Daily Show

Thursday, January 14

Another rough day on-call, but I went out for groceries. I walked to the store farther away, since it was a beautiful day: sunny with a high of 38F. On the shopping list was an onion, which allowed Mei to make beef stew. Yum!

0.5h Community
1.0h Project Runway

Friday, January 15

I was paged throughout the night as a consequence of maintenance activity that ran long. I sent an e-mail to management sharing my reservations about how the project in question was being handled. During the day I took it easy, and we managed to roll out an emergency measure to keep this other thing that had been paging a lot quiet.

Usually, on-call isn’t so bad. My last few times on-call had plenty nights of uninterrupted sleep. Luck of the draw.

1.0h Daily Show
1.0h Dollhouse

Saturday, January 16

The weather was nice so I sat on the park bench in front of the house and read. Of course, the wind kept blowing so I made a few trips inside for more clothing.

I have been bothered by my level of credit card debt and have hatched a scheme whereby I’m thinking to pay it all off out of savings and lay the cards aside. I’ll reduce my monthly “allowance” that I draw from savings for the year in order to re-pay the money borrowed, and basically live within my means on a tighter budget, whipping out the debit card when I need to pay with plastic, and then only if I can afford it. Hooray for austerity! (I haven’t put this idea into motion yet.)

And no, its not that I am anywhere near broke, but I have had my share of hard times, and I am pretty excited that in July I may have a 20% down payment on real estate I can afford, right around the bottom of the real estate market, which has been brought to us by reckless overspending. When I was a kid, my mother yearned for years to own our own home, and it was always just out of reach. As a kid, I seldom had much money I could spend, and had to learn to say “no” to nice things. Well, finally being able to afford a place will feel good. And there is also a value in being able to say “no” to nice things you don’t really need.

0.5h Colbert Report
0.5h King of the Hill
1.0h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

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Chicago Card Plus Defeats New York EasyPay Xpress

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/20/chicago-versus-new-york/

New York’s public transit system is fantastic. But they’re a bit slow on the whole information technology thing.

In Chicago you can sign up for a Chicago Card Plus, which is a plastic “proximity” card you keep in your wallet. To pass a fare gate or board a bus, you just touch your wallet against the sensor, et voila. When your account runs down it automatically charges another $20 from your credit card. I can log on to their web site and recover the forgotten password for my log-in name, access all of my account information, and a list of trips charged to my card in the last 90 days.

New York has a similar system, that will charge $45 to replenish your balance, but instead of a rugged plastic card they send you the same little piece of reinforced paper with a magnetic strip that is used for the 30 day pass. After a few months of pulling the card out of my wallet and swiping it at various fare gates the strip becomes worn and unreadable. Their web site has no way to recover the “PIN” code for the 13-digit account number they e-mailed to me several months ago, so I call their toll-free number, and after waiting on-hold they cancel the damaged card with a 15-day waiting period to issue a new card.

It somehow seems not worth it.

The part that makes me smile is the back of the card says EXPIRES 06/30/11 — someone at MTA has thought this little paper card would swipe for two years! Hooray for wishful thinking.

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Sundry, Technology

Week of 17 January, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/25/week-of-17-january-2010/

Sunday, January 17

2.0h V for Vendetta

Monday, January 18

A quiet day on-call, cooped up. Mei had to pull a long shift at the hospital, but when she got home we enjoyed the from-scratch Apple Pie she made for my birthday.

1.0h China From the Inside
0.5h Twilight Zone

Tuesday, January 19

Last day on-call.

In the evening Mei took me out for dinner at the restaurant where I had taken her for dinner for our anniversary. The anniversary dinner had been a perfect dining experience, and we later learned that the restaurant had a Michelin star. This time around we had a great meal, but the service wasn’t as perfect. I figured that like many restaurants they may not have their best staff working on Tuesdays.

Pushups: 35 + 35
0.25h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Wednesday, January 20

In the morning I biked down to the Tea Lounge. I wrote a follow-up review on Yelp explaining that although I love the Tea Lounge, if you serve diuretics your toilets shouldn’t be traumatizing to sit upon.

Later in the day I called the MTA to get my transit card replaced. They have a new program where you can purchase one transit card and they’ll just charge you more money when your balance runs low. Unfortunately, they send you the same little piece of paper that all the ephemeral transit cards use, so after a few months it was completely shot. They cancelled my defective transit card and said a new one would arrive within 15 days.

Later I dropped by the new orthodontist, who scanned my head in various ways and then got to the business of demanding that my teeth bow to his vision of an ideal alignment.

Pushups: 40
0.5h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Thursday, January 21

I asked Mei if she had any aspirin since my jaw was sore. I never take aspirin, and while I wasn’t quite in pain, my mouth felt sore enough that I’d rather not have it preoccupy my day. The good Doctor hooked me up.

I sent the city another letter explaining how I don’t want to pay them $115 for violating the no stopping zone that wasn’t adequately marked. I also bought some toilet paper which was marketed with the enticing promise “Virtually Lint Free” . . . 1,000 sheets for 59c? I also bought the name brand roll that was 1,000 sheets for 79c, in case Mei found the virtually lint free toilet paper to be exceedingly cheap in quality.

0.5h Community
1.0h Project Runway
Pushups: 35 + 35

Friday, January 22

Work kept me busy, but I can hardly complain given my commute.

Around 11:30 as we were near bed time Mei asked about these popups she was getting to run the virus scanner that we never installed that said her computer was under siege by viruses and she couldn’t run any programs because everything was infected and she was going to have to upgrade to the premium edition. The legitimate virus scanner couldn’t find anything, so I rebooted into Safe Mode and Windows offered to revert itself about two days, and upon the next boot Windows said it had reverted Internet Explorer and a couple shared libraries. Mei was sleeping by now, so I continued to install Google Chrome as an overall nicer alternative to Internet “zero-day exploits” Explorer, and then I went and scraped about two dozen software barnacles off of her hard drive. Her laptop seems happier with the tune-up. If I were more of a man I would disassemble the thing and solder new connections for the fragile speaker wires that have broken in the hinge. Assuming I owned a soldering iron and had balls enough to wave it at the girlfriend’s laptop computer.

1.0h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Saturday, January 23

After sleeping in a bit, I took Mei to Cheryl’s and then we walked over to the ice skating rink in Prospect Park where her coworkers were having a get-together. I skipped the ice skating since on the one hand its not my thing and on the other hand I’m still Secondary On-Call with the work laptop in my bag. Better to hang out in the sun reading my magazine and synthesizing vitamin D.

1.0h Dirty Jobs
0.5h Daily Show

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Featured, Letters to The Man

Are Girl Scout Cookies a Scam?

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/25/are-girl-scout-cookies-a-scam/

I will always remember that us Boy Scouts gathered at the local council to go to Scout Camp and it was a really ugly building in a bad neighborhood. One day we drove past the Girl Scout council headquarters in a large, shiny, landscaped office in the suburbs. The contrast in my mind is that our troop got the money to fund camping expeditions, and my sister’s troop got the funding equivalent of an ugly building in a bad neighborhood.

I just filed the following question with the Girl Scouts of Northern California:


Why does over 50% of the proceeds from girl scout cookie sales go to “Council Services”?


I would like to think that if I pay $4 for a box of cookies that the girl’s troop is seeing at least 50% of that, as might be expected from other fund raising opportunities. It honestly sounds like a scam to me, and that is part of the reason I stopped buying Girl Scout cookies.

Thanks for explaining.


They did not write back. I guess you have to pay a bit more for “Council Services” before every last crackpot can expect a response.

I ate a lot of Girl Scout cookies when I was growing up, and I think they’re tasty, but they are not a good value for the money. Next time I’ll ask if maybe they can take a direct cash donation to the troop.

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When Will Google Voice Support Apps Users?

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/26/when-will-google-voice-support-apps-users/

Background: Google Apps is a service where Google will host the e-mail and calendar for your domain. So, instead of going to gmail.com I go to mail.toldme.com and log in as dannyman for dannyman@toldme.com. The annoying thing that has been going on for several years now is that only a minority of the growing array of Google software that features personalized content will support my Apps login, so I have two completely separate Google accounts:
Apps Account: dannyman@toldme.com
Gmail Account: picasasucks69@gmail.com

The first contains an archive of e-mail going back 15 years, my combined e-mail, telephone, and address book of all my friends, and Calendar appointments for the past five years. It integrates seamlessly with my Android Phone.

The second is for all the stupid Google applications that do not work with my Google account and require me to have a Gmail account that I never use otherwise: Picasa, Blogger, Google Maps, Google Voice . . . that last one is especially annoying, because now the brokenness leaks onto my Android phone!

The following is adapted from http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Google+Apps/thread?fid=475790531056779f00047e151dc314f4:

As a big Google fan, I have an Android phone and a Google Apps account, and a Google Voice account. Google Voice is really neat, but since it only supports Gmail logins it is really poor that my Gmail / Android contacts aren’t available in Google Voice. That’s right: since I’m a really big Google fan, the Google Voice application will NOT sync with my Google Phone.

I understand that it is possible to install software that pulls the data out of your Apps Gmail account or Android phone, and then re-copies that back in to the Google Voice non-Apps account. But this requires extra effort on my part to maintain a kludge to have duplicate copies of data stored in two different places.

What I want instead is the obvious and sane solution, where I log in to Google Voice the same way I log in to everything else: with my Google Apps account. My Android phone logs in to my Google Apps account and has instant access to my contacts list, and my hosted Gmail logs in to my hosted Apps account, and has instant access to the very same contacts list shared seamlessly with my Android phone. So, when I log in to Google Voice, I want to log in with my Apps account, and then Google Voice has instant access to all of my phone numbers and e-mail addresses associated with my Google Apps login.

Basically, I am asking for sanity, and short of sanity, at least an acknowledgement that sanity is a desired outcome.

This “second class citizen” treatment is really frustrating at times: the biggest fans get the worst support. Any idea when Google Voice is going to stop locking us out? And when that time comes will I be able to keep my phone number, or will it be like when I was forcibly migrated from Google Calendar over to a blank Google Apps Calendar, losing all my appointments and shared calendars, with no option to migrate my data?

I have tried to get an answer from Google Voice to no avail. I would like to think the Google employees behind Apps are working behind the scenes to make Google Voice available seamlessly to paying and loyal customers. Or maybe this simply is not a priority and us common folk Google Evangelists just shouldn’t get too worked up about Google products, and consider switching to competing technologies. Thanks!

These days my Android phone is in a weird way, because I’m starting to use Google Voice for SMS, except Google Voice has no access to my address book, so everywhere I am accustomed to seeing names and pictures for my contacts I see a ten-digit number, because Google Voice has no access to the contacts in my Google account.


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Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/28/ipad/

Background: I am not an Apple fan, but I keep an eye out. Yesterday they said they would make a world-changing announcement, and they gave us: the iPad. Here’s a comment I just made about the iPad:

Lack of an OS? The thing is an extra-large iPhone that can’t place phone calls. It is a Kindle killer but for $500 it can not even keep up with cheapo PC netbooks.

A Dell Mini 10 has a better screen, lower price, keyboard, can run all non-Apple software, video chat, and USB ports so you can offload your digital camera without buying an extra dongle, and you can buy it last year.

I am hoping to see more touch screens on netbooks, going forward.

Another thing I have noticed is that if I trash PCs, Windows, or Linux, people will either agree with me, or not take it personally. “Yeah, things aint perfect.” But if I trash Apple stuff, Apple people quickly become offended. I suspect that a part of the loyalty of Apple users is that they have paid a premium to buy in to the club. Any perception that is positive reaffirms the extra investment they have made into buying only the very best, but any negative perception undermines their self-confidence regarding their investment, and provokes a hostile reaction.

Windows users? Hell they’re just glad if they haven’t had a virus in the past six months.

Linux users? They downloaded a CD and managed to get something non-Windows running, with a little advice from web forums. Some of it is really sweet, some of it is pretty enh.

Mac users get offended that Firefox doesn’t match the style of the rest of their purely Mac applications.

For me, the best part about the iPad is that it was already advertised back in 2006. It is just too bad that the 2010 model lacks Vaginal Firewall Protection.

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The Death of Books

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/02/01/death-of-books/

I just posted a comment on a friend’s Facebook status:

I think the Death of Paper Books has been predicted with the advent of newspapers, radio, television, microfiche, books-on-tape, CD-ROMs, the Internet, portable computers, e-books readers, and smart phones, but it still hasn’t happened yet.

I like books, I like holding them in my hands, and I like stacking them on shelves along the walls of my apartment. I suspect that this love of books will be transmitted to my children, much as it was inherited from my parents. I doubt we’ll have an “unabridged dictionary” or a set of encyclopedias like when I grew up, but hell yeah, as long as I and my descendants have the money to spend, paper books aren’t going to die out.

I think eBooks will serve a particular role, especially in lightening the load in school backpacks. For my normal routine of reading one book at a time, though, and then palming it off to a friend or family member, I am fine with having the pulp copy to thumb through, though access rights if I later want to search the book digitally would be nice.

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Featured, Sundry

Week of 24 January, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/02/01/week-of-24-january-2010/

Sunday, January 24

1.5h Up the Yangtze

Monday, January 25

Just at the end of my work day my manager called a team meeting to tell us he was quitting. Quitting to write full-time. The guy we had added to the team most recently would take over as manager. I think that we were all extremely pleased and proud of our boss for taking this brave new step in his life, and any worries of change were quickly smoothed over because our new manager has had a good deal more management experience, and is generally just a likable guy. We’ll see.

2.0h Daily Show
Pushups: 40

In the evening I participated in an annual survey of New York’s homeless population called Project HOPE. We gathered at a training site, which was a public school two blocks from the apartment, at 10:30pm. At midnight after we had been fully trained, we struck out to various survey sites, walking our assigned blocks in teams of 4-6, escorted by pairs of beat cops. The rule is anyone you encounter you ask them to participate in a brief survey:

“Hello my name is Danny and I’m a volunteer with the New York Department of Homeless Services. We’re conducting a survey tonight and we would like to ask you a few brief questions. Your answers are strictly confidential, would you like to participate?”

“Do you have a place to sleep tonight that you would consider your home?”

“What sort of place is it?”

“Has someone else asked you these questions this evening?”

Tuesday, January 26

We had been worried because earlier Monday the weather forecast was for rain and high winds, but when we got together it was 50F and occasionally drizzly, though the lows were upper 30s. Walking the streets in the cold drizzle we encountered few people at all. I think our team encountered maybe 6 people total, and none of them were homeless. The last guy was in transitional housing, and seemed proud to be paying rent and also glad to see us walking the streets, caring enough to help study the homeless population.

We also noted that, walking through some sketchy neighborhoods in a large group with cops in tow, that a fair number of would-be respondents crossed the street to avoid us.

I was home I think around 3:30. Mei got up three hours later and I slept in, starting work at 11am. One nice thing about telecommuting to the West Coast is that if I get a late start on my day, that puts me on a less-early schedule compared to my coworkers.

I think it is more that we are pack animals looking for leaders. A charismatic leader who is supremely self confident and has an answer for everything can be appealing in a politician, a boss, or a lover, whatever your gender. Our culture perceives the role of charismatic leader asshole as a male role, but “nice girls” suffer the same frustrations as the “nice boys” because men find bitches to be hot, despite themselves.


0.5h John Oliver’s New York Standup
0.5h Daily Show

Wednesday, January 27

I biked to the Post Office to mail my XO-1 laptop back to the OLPC folks for deployment to Haiti, and picking up a package Mom sent for my birthday. Back at home, I spent too much time scoffing at Apple’s fancy new iPad. Later, I watched the State of the Union Address.

1.5h State of The Union
0.25h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Thursday, January 28

I spent a little more time futzing with the “live squirrelcam” at ustream.tv.

Pushups: 43 + 36 + 35
Situps: 100

1.0h Daily Show

Friday, January 29

I went off to a co-working event in . . . Williamsburg? It was harshly cold outside but it was nice to work, for a change, at a long table with other people who work from notebook computers . . . there was an entrepreneur who built a social networking website for the music business; some freelance web developers; a lady in finance who was allowed to work remote for her employer in Washington, DC; a guy who is CIO for some part of the state Senate, who is working to champion open access to government information. Around lunch time we walked a few block over to pick up sandwiches, and around 4:30pm some guys brought back some beer and we went around the room making introductions. It was great to “get out” . . .

. . . we did not go out in the evening because it was just way too cold.

0.5h John Oliver’s New York Standup
0.5h Daily Show

Saturday, January 30

We went to the dentist together, then we grabbed lunch nearby . . . “nothing special” . . . then we caught “Fantastic Mr Fox” at a nearby theater, which was pretty good. On the way back we checked out a pet adoption event, and learned of a web site for foster families for pets, which we might go for.

Back at home we played with the squirrels some more, live on Internet TV. We had three come by and the highlight was after the first two climbed up to the can to grab a nut, the third absconded with the can lid, because surely if it smells like nuts it bears further investigation out on the fire escape. Alas, such thinking outside the can didn’t produce any results, but we got a good laugh out of it. Later, I looked down to the pavement and decided that it just wasn’t worth the slight risk to my personal safety to climb down the fire escape to retrieve the lid to the nut can.

I dropped Mei off at the hospital for a night shift, and returned home to engage in laziness.

1.5h Fantastic Mr Fox
1.0h Project Runway
1.0h Dollhouse
2.0h Star Trek
0.75h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

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Week of January 31, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/02/02/week-of-january-31-2010/

Sunday, January 31

I slept in, but Mei was catching up on sleep from her night shift, so I wandered down to the Tea Lounge. After she got up I met her at Cheryl’s for brunch, then we picked up groceries, and she ran off to the gym as I cleaned my desk area, and began writing holiday thank you cards, as she returned and cooked up food for the week.

1.0h Frontline

Monday, February 1

I was pretty productive at work, most notably cleaning up the mess I made on Friday moving my project from stand-alone Django to hosting via WSGI. The big win was in adding this to my WSGI handler:

# So, usually in django you can have print statements in your code to
# aid in debugging, but this cause trouble for WSGI, so we'll direct
# print statements to stdout instead to stderr, hopefully landing them
# out of the way and in the error log.  -dannhowa
sys.stdout = sys.stderr

Mei made her macaroni and cheese from scratch.

Later, while watching Frontline’s “Young and Restless in China” I was struck by and admired Jingjing’s concise and honest account of a tragedy in her personal life:

I’ve been through a difficult time. My fiancé and I are both very, very busy. Actually, I focused more on my work than my relationship, and it faded. He gave up. I could feel it. His heart wasn’t here any more. There were new temptations, probably a better woman than me. I felt like I was the one who always blamed or criticized him, but the other woman flattered and admired him.

He said it first: “let’s just end it.”

I tried really hard to get him back, but I just couldn’t.

Fortunately, Mei and I are both aware of the danger of putting work ahead of personal relationships.

Pushups: 34
0.75h Frontline
0.25h Saturday Night Live

Tuesday, February 2

I was glad to hear that the groundhog bit the mayor last year.

This blog got hacked for the second time. This time I am running the most current version of the software. An edit was made through the “admin” account to link an entry to some web site in Russian. I reverted the edit and deleted the “admin” user. I should probably update my plugins.

Pushups: 41
0.5h Daily Show
1.5h How Much Do You Love Me?

Wednesday, February 3

This morning I was thinking that winter might help make people liberal: they understand that suffering is universal and temporary, we are proud of our survival skills. Sometimes people need a hand, though, and you ought to help them out because we’ll all be doing better come spring time.

Where the weather is always warm, suffering is more often regarded as a consequence of personal failure, and personal failure is often inherited from shiftless parents. Helping out the hopeless just gets in the way of one making the most of long pleasant days: a noble distraction for some, but nothing one should be burdened with in the form of taxes.

It is certainly more complicated than that, but there is a gradient where you see the great social democracies at the Arctic Circle, and as you move closer to the Equator that capacity for efficient government seems to evaporate. (Also, necessity being the mother of invention, collective action being a prerequisite for mere survival in Sweden.)

Pushups: 31 + 21 + 25
Situps: 100
1.5h Barack Obama versus The GOP
0.5h Daily Show

Thursday, February 4

Advice to a coworker wondering if he should sue Toyota or request rental car reimbursement:

They might could loan you a car, being a car dealer and all, but really the fix takes about a half hour, except the government’s thinking it might be an issue with the computer, possibly caused by electromagnetic interference, so good luck figuring that one out. You might consider disabling excess electronic junk in the passenger compartment: put your mobile device in airplane mode, etc. (Personally, I would just man up and accept that my mortality is bound by fates beyond my understanding, though personally I avoid driving anyway.)

But what I really want is to hear the Governator slur it just right:


If recalls bother you then you might be better off with a used car, which has had several years for any consumer defects to have been detected, analysed, and amended. My father, who spent many years repairing electronic systems, always preferred cars from the junk yard with minimal electronics because he KNOWS they’re failure prone in unexpected ways, and he figured that after the nuclear war his car would still be driveable. (What with the EMPs . . . )

After dropping Mei off at work in the evening I finished off an open bottle of dessert wine, and watched a bunch of TV, including several episodes of “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” which featured a two-part episode where the Mooninites stole Carl’s hypno-rims and hypnotized him into sodomizing himself with a broom. Now, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is pretty “out there” but mid way through the second part I just had to turn that crap off.

Friday, February 5

This morning I received an unexpected phone call from a stranger in Dublin who explained that the directory link count on a Unix filesystem indicates the number of directory entries contained in that directory. Two of those are . and ... This might also explain why you can only use symbolic links for directories, since the link count field has a different purpose.

Technical Debt — A term coined by Ward Cunningham to describe the obligation that a software organization incurs when it chooses a design or construction approach that’s expedient in the short term but that increases complexity and is more costly in the long term. The technical debt vocabulary provides a way to communicate with non-technical staff in an area that has traditionally suffered from a lack of transparency. Shifting the dialog from a technical vocabulary to a financial vocabulary provides a clearer, more understandable framework for these discussions.

“Woonerf” – Anarchy the Key to Safe Streets? — Europeans are experimenting with an idea that tearing out sidewalks and sharing road space between vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians can improve both safety and speed of travel in towns with fewer than 15,000 residents. The safety is achieved by slowing vehicles to a maximum of 20 MPH-a speed at which drivers can react effectively and the human body is most likely to survive an impact. Vehicles gain speed because they can move efficiently through intersections without waiting at traffic lights.

Saturday, February 6

Today I went in search of adventure. I started walking, following the directions allowed by traffic lights, and made my way down Flatbush, right on Church, past Ocean Parkway then down past Cortelyou to Ditmas where I happened upon the hobby shop I have wanted to visit, Trainworld. That was a groovy place and I was tempted to maybe buy a ready-to-run holiday trainset or a Bachman set with a Norris locomotive but aside from not-needing-to-spend-the-money there’s also that where-would-I-put-it-anyway. At one moment I thought how my calculus for spending money on things that don’t have an obvious place to live would be changed if the request were made by my children, and I reckoned I will one day say yes to them a little more easily, but that when I was a kid I learned that since parents say no, it is important to consider the cost and value of different wishes, and that something is gained when a child learns to choose their battles.

After flirting with my boyhood fantasies and leaving the shop empty-handed, I walked toward the adjoining elevated train station, but postponed my train trip to watch several fire trucks and a small crowd of people respond to a fire in a small building. Smoke poured out the doorway and the firefighters knocked out windows and brought in a hose, while two guys climbed the fire truck ladder onto the roof, I guess for tactical reasons. Everyone admires the heroism and strength of firefighters, and for a boyish instant I wanted to become a firefighter too. While this particular fire didn’t look like much, everyone in the crowd was glad at the chance to see these men entering a burning building to make things right.

After the smoke had mostly cleared I hopped on the train and rode the F out to Coney Island, which was rewarding because that station is built in the style of the grand train terminals you still see in Europe, with possibly a dozen tracks alongside each other under a soaring ceiling, trains coming and going constantly. I hopped an N train back North, which didn’t offer the scenic view I had had on the F, because it ran in a ditch. But I did get to see the operator reach out the window at one stop to press the “local” button, which I imagined was rigged up to set the switches for the train to run on the local track. Seeing this little detail of the MTA operations was a thrill. Though, I was a little disappointed that we ran local, because the subway map says the N runs express up to Pacific Avenue. Along the way there were darkened trains parked in at the express tracks in the stations, and I wondered if they might be trying to keep some of the extra trains warm, or maybe they were doing yard maintenance and were using the express tracks for storage.

2.0h New York: Episode 2
1.0h Dirty Jobs

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