Archive for June, 2010

Flotsam in the Ether

June 29th, 2010 11 comments

I got a random text message today, obviously meant for someone else.  I’m intrigued by the story behind it.  Here is the message, in its entirety, with all spelling exactly as received:

Idk but i think hes mad idk y tho but o we’ll thts his shyyt u jst mind ur own beezwax and jst pay no attention to him o we’ll its true wat carlos was saying no1 likes me but carlos, vanessa n thts it suckks huh lol owell thts how life is ='(

Just another bit of flotsam in the ether…

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Repurposed Inventions

June 29th, 2010 2 comments

Did you ever wonder how many of the inventions we use every day are actually used for their original intended purpose? I mean, come on… do you really think floss started life as a dental product? No way. I looked it up.

The year was 1973, and Mr. Ronald Floss was just another inventor trying trying to make the next big thing in sewing technology in his basement. He went upstairs one day to lunch, as he always did, where Mrs. Floss served him up a big hearty bowl of left-over beef stew from the night before. Now, Mrs. Floss was a mighty fine cook, and that stew meat was just as soft and moist as you like, but still Mr. Floss came away with great big bits stuck in his teeth. Well, he went back downstairs to continue his inventing, but as he sat at the work bench he kept fiddling at the meat bits with his tongue. The inventions weren’t coming along very well that day, but after an hour or so he’d had some success dislodging all but the most stubborn bits. But as he worked he got more and more fed up with those last little bits right between his molars. Try as he might, his tongue was no match. So he switched to pawing around with his fingers. But despite their dexterity, the digits were just too large to get into the cracks between the teeth. In desperation, Mr. Floss looked around his shop. His eyes landed on the waxed string in front of him. He’d been intending it for a new type of waterproof garment — one that, sadly, never quite caught on — but just then it seemed to be just the thing. Cutting off a good sixteen inch segment, he wrapped it around his fingers to get a good grip, then pushed back into his mouth and dropped the thread between his teeth. For a moment it seemed that the thin line would surely break, but then, to his immense relief, the thread dropped down and dislodged the bit of meat. Mr. Floss sighed contentedly in his shop, spitting the offending bit into a dark corner — where it probably remains to this day — and got back to work.

Sadly, Mr. Floss never saw a dime for his invention. He tossed the bit of waxed string in the waste bin, never giving it a second though. Who would pay for waxed string to put between their teeth? He went about his life exactly as before. The only other time he ever thought of the incident was when he mentioned it in passing to his dentist as he lay back in the reclining chair at his next cleaning. The dentist, of course, immediately recognized the money-earning potential of the invention, but decided to keep quiet, instead giving Mr. Floss another particularly painful poke to the gums. After Mr. Floss left, the dentist quickly phoned up his lawyer, who got to work straight away on the patent application. In a final jab, the dentist decided to name the invention after the patient who had unwittingly given away his greatest idea.

And thus, floss as we know it was born.

Tons of things we use in daily life are like that. They come from all sorts of places, and rarely where you would expect. So the next time you’re walking around the house, take a look at the little gadgets around you, and think about where they came from, and what they were originally meant to do.

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In with the Old

June 22nd, 2010 No comments

Not much to report today.  The only semi-creative thing I did was to move all of my old blog stuff over from the Thinking Points page on the WordPress domain.  Well, I also did a bit of housekeeping on this site, but that hardly counts.

So yeah… better luck tomorrow.

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The Value of Things

June 22nd, 2010 No comments


I’ve been thinking lately about the value of things. Things in my life. Things that I’ve been carrying around with me. My photos. My senior project. My electronics crap I bought at Radio Shack back in the nineties. Man, those resistors and junk cost me over $100 bucks. I remember specifically thinking, “But it’s worth it. I’ll learn how to use these things and then I’ll use them for real projects once I learn how in colllege.”

Thing was, that actually did end up helping, in a wierd sort of way. I learned a little bit about circuits, and how resistors and capacitors and potentiometers worked. I didn’t quite get diodes and transistors, but I had a passing familiarity, and that made my electronics courses relatively easier….

But back on things… I’ve carried my things with me for a long time now. Longer than most people keep things, I imagine. I have several books I’ve carried with me since Montana. Come to think of it, I’ve got a number of things that have followed me from the old MT.

A few:

I have some blue cups, bowls, and plates Mom bought me on my way to college. I first laid eyes on them days before leaving Montana for the forseeable future.

I have my backpack, which I’m proud to say has been with me through every backpacking trip I’ve done since before 2000. I doubt many people can say that their first personal backpack has been their true and steady companion for that long. (And not for lack of trying. I try on packs every time I go to the store, and not one has matched the comfort level I have with my pack.)

There’s some other camping gear, too. None of which is really that good anymore, but is still perfectly serviceable, and I don’t use it enough to bother replacing it.

A few favorite tee shirts hang out in the bottom of my dresser drawer. One of them is probably my favorite shirt, but is just not the sort of thing I’d wear to work most of the time. (Funny thing is, it’s become very indie-retro now, but that’s another topic entirely.)

I’ve held on to a few rag-tag bits of ski gear. My skis. My boots. My snowboard boots (NOT the board and bindings — those got replaced… the original is still taking up space in the garage back home, for all I know). I still have a sweater that I bought in… oh… 1998 or so. I vividly remember the price of that sweater was $5.55. I got five or six of the things in various sizes and colors. It was my style. But that one large grey one was the last of the bunch. Been through at least ten ski seasons now. Probably only washed three or four times. It’s got a big whole under the armpit that I keep meaning to darn up. But I don’t know how to darn, and it doesn’t show under the rest of my ski gear.

I also have my ski gloves that I bought at Gull Ski way back in the day. They’ve been packed out and down right cold for a couple of seasons now, but I still love them. I’ve got another pair that are warmer now, but when it’s not cold my old gloves are still the clear favorite.

I still have a ski coat — a damn nice one — from a good company that never really took off. The hood is a bit small, but I’ve adapted to it. I actually have an outer layer I like better now, but this one is still in the running on a cold day. I bought the old coat the season before I went to college. It was on sale, only $99.99.

I have my clarinet, played it since fifth grade. Plastic? Fantastic. But it served me fine. I only wanted to be better than average in band. I mean, I wanted to do as well as I could, but I only put in 50% effort. The rest was pure, cheeky hubris and luck that got me through.

I’ve got a few driver installation CDs and, oh bugger, I still have the damn computer they came with deep in the closet. How many moves has that gone through? Montana to San Luis, San Luis to Grover Beach, Grover Beach to San Luis, San Luis to Santa Barbara Olive Street, Santa Barbara Olive Street to… well that’s five, anyway.  More than any computer should make.  I’ve had other computers come and go over the years, but that one’s certainly been an albatross.

I’m sure I have a couple of toiletries squirreled away that have followed me over the years. There are some among the backpacking gear, of course. A roll of emergency toilet paper in a ziplock bag that never got used up (thank God!) comes to mind. But just past week I found a Benadril spot-dabber that had expired over ten years ago. Somehow that had fallen into the deep dark crevases at the back of the medicine cabinet and had been scooped up with the rest of the last odds and ends you throw into a box at the very end of packing. Several times. (Hmm… remind me to check the medicine cabinets later….)

I also have a number of papers and things. Some records that I have to keep that started back in high school, some bits of memorambilia that don’t weight much, so I keep hauling them around. Most of them probably don’t matter anymore. But it’s a pain to deal with them, and there’s always the nagging “what if?”

There are a couple of follow-ons, too. Things that I gatherered from Montana on subsequent trips. The family camera that no one was using. That has sentimental and collector’s value. Little bits of my past that I pulled in. Mementos of another time.

As I look around at my possessions I realize that I’m keeping bits of all of my life with me, not just my life when I left Montana. Things I have acquired since then. DVDs. Books. Trinkets. Papers. Cameras. Bicycle parts. I know where they all came from. For whatever strange reason I remember where I got most of them. They have a back story. I attach too much value to some, and ignore the value of others.

So I think I need to gain a better perspective of the value of things, so I can choose how to spread the value of my posessions in the most effective manner. And if that means culling the flock of physical memories that I carry with me, so be it.

I’ve got to get rid of some stuff.

I think I could stand to see the Radio Shack electronics bits go, no matter what.

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A Desert Scene

June 21st, 2010 No comments

I have a set of pictures in Picasa that I think would make for nice paintings.  I keep looking over them and thinking whether I’m ready to do each one.  Some are too hard, others don’t quite feel right just now, and still others will never make it onto a canvas because they just aren’t that good.

As Dore and I drove back from Ojai, however, one of the pictures just seemed to click for me, and I knew that I wanted to try painting it.

Desert Abandon

Desert Abandon

The picture is of an old house way out in the Mojave desert somewhere along California State Highway 395.  It’s a dilapidated old structure, with scrub brush growing right up to the door and piles of discarded chunks of plywood and two-by-fours littering what might elsewhere be called the yard.

I snapped the photo from the back of a moving bus after a long ski weekend.  The lighting was the low sunlight of late afternoon, and the horizon held the giant, broody clouds that you get over the desert: huge and dark, but with little chance of dropping any moisture.  It struck me as just the sort of scene I would imagine for a story of desolation.

Sadly, the picture came out about as well as you would expect for being shot at sixty plus miles an hour — blurry and a bit off kilter.  But that’s one thing I like about painting.  I get to fix some of the little mistakes and gloss over things like blurry scrub brush.

My big challenge for this painting was to get  the colors just right.  Just looking at the image I knew that accurate colors would be key to capturing the feeling of the desert.  Fortunately I’ve been focusing a lot on color mixing lately, so things weren’t all that bad.  I’m really happy that I was able to strike a good balance between muting my palette without getting too gray and murky.  I also used a couple of little techniques that I’ve read about recently to make the clouds a bit more realistic.  I think they helped a lot, and I’m going to try to keep improving on that work.

As I’ve been doing for the last few paintings, I’ve been keeping a timer with me to try to keep focused and moving forward.  I’m making a point of stopping every thirty minutes to (1) step back and objectively review the painting, and (2) snap a photo so I can do “time-lapse” changes.  I think it’s really interesting to look back and see what changes I made.  I notice a lot of little things that I wouldn’t normally expect.  If you’d like to check it out, I’d recommend looking on my Picasa album, since you can click back and forth through the pictures to see the transition.

So anyway, that’s what I did on Sunday afternoon.  Pretty neat.

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A Work in Progress

June 21st, 2010 No comments

Well, I didn’t post anything over the weekend, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything.  I just didn’t finish anything.  I did start in on an essay/how-to thing on getting the most out of Internet searches, but it hasn’t quite come together yet.  Best to hold off on that until it’s ready, I think.

Dore and I did have a lovely time relaxing in Ojai for a belated anniversary trip, and I have to say that the very best thing was simply sitting out on our private patio under the dappled shade of an old oak tree, sipping wine and playing cards.  Nice, simple, and private.  We don’t get enough of that in Santa Barbara, it seems.

Just one final note before I get back to actual creative stuff: Lest you think I’m getting all depressive or crotchety or whatnot, there was no particular theme to the last few posts.  Well, I was rather annoyed when I wrote  the first one.  The cheaters post, though, was just an idle thought that I decided to run with.  I only realized after I’d posted it that it looked somewhat suspect next to the previous one.

Anyway, enough with the analysis.  Back to creating…

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June 18th, 2010 No comments

The biggest lie ever told to children is that “cheaters never prosper.”  That’s a bunch of bull.   Cheaters prosper all the time.  Many of the most profitable people in the world are huge cheaters.  I mean, Martha Stewart is a cheater, for gosh sakes.  She went to jail for cheating.  But last time I checked she was worth roughly the same as Singapore.

So don’t tell me that cheaters never prosper.  I know better.

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The Man Upstairs

June 17th, 2010 No comments

I have a kickball game later tonight, so I probably won’t be able to do much more in the way of being creative today. So instead I’ll leave you with a little autobiographical ditty I just banged together:

The man upstairs has all the fun,
He does whatever it is that he wants.
There’s no one gets to tell him what to do,
He won’t listen — so just screw you.
There’s nothing to do about it but deal,
And get on with your life without appeal.
And so it goes — day in and day out,
Living with the main upstairs about.
But as I lay in bed at six…
His loud-ass singing makes him kind of a dick.

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Look, Ma! I’m a web admin!

June 16th, 2010 No comments

Dore has been working on catching up on all of her loose ends now that she’s done with classes, and one of the things on her list was to get up to date with logging all of her counseling hours.  So last night I fired up the PSY|tracker application that I build for her a while back, dusted off the cobwebs, and got it running again on my laptop.  (If you’re curious, the application is basically a glorified time card that tracks various counseling activities that Dore has to report for internship applications and the like.  It’s not too fancy, but it was a good way to get my feet wet using Django.)

I was reasonably happy to find that the application still worked.  “But why wouldn’t it?” I hear you ask, “It’s just been sitting there… nothing has changed.” And normally I’d agree with you.  But this is the land of computers, and bit rot is a very real danger.  For some reason that is still unexplained by computer science, a program that hasn’t been run in a while is almost certainly broken.  Don’t ask me why.  I just know if to be true.

But despite my inward cringing, Dore happily went along, getting all of her hours logged and data collected without a hitch.  Hooray!  I’ll allow myself a minor pat on the back for a job (reasonably) well done.

Given that I have this fancy-schmancy new web site going, this evening I figured it was high time to give the newly resurrected PSY|tracker a real live home.  So I set about getting everything in place to host it on  I won’t bore you with too many details, but here’s what I ended up doing:

  • Set up a new subdomain for my Django apps
  • Add a MySQL database
  • Mess with some user settings
  • Install Django (The DreamHost wiki was really helpful here.  I’m definitely digging them as a host so far.  Crossing my fingers that the good experience will continue.)
  • Add a Subversion repository to hold the source code for the application
  • Import the code from my laptop repository to the remote one
  • Completely restructure the application directory structure (I’m planning on having more apps in the future, so it makes sense to set up for that now)
  • Check all of the changes into the repository
  • Test out the web site
  • Make some more tweaks to get all of the paths right
  • Check everything in again
  • Import all of the database data from my laptop (fortunately this was relatively easy, since I only had one user, and she was in bed reading by this time 🙂 )
  • Test one last time

I have to say, as many things as I needed to do, I’m really surprised at how easy everything came together.  Sure, it took a long time, but that was just because I was figuring a lot of stuff out as I went.  And now everything is up, working, and good to go.  Cool!

I think tomorrow I may take a break from all this tech and do something a little different.  But who knows.  Stay tuned…

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The New Site

June 15th, 2010 No comments

So I’ve done it.  I finally got my act together and registered for a domain name ( and got hosting for my “soon to be awesome” web site.  Okay, who am I kidding?  This web site will probably never be all that important in the grand scheme of things.  But I am happy with the fact that I finally got the family name registered. But let me back up a bit…

I’ve been thinking of setting up a web site for myself for some time, and now that I have some expendable income and this shiny new project to be creative, I figured it was high time to get going.  So I searched around for a bit trying to nail down what I would need.  As it turned out, my choice wasn’t that difficult: I needed a host that would allow me some flexibility in what software I installed (since I plan to use the Django framework for at least some of my stuff), and I really wanted shell access.  I’m a sucker for banging away at a terminal.

Oh, and I wanted it to be relatively cheap.  I’m not planning on making any money on this venture.  (Hoping, yes.  Planning, no.)

My searching brought me to DreamHost, which seemed to have everything I wanted at a pretty reasonable price.  Nine dollars a month?  I can swing that.  It’s a bit more than some of the other places, but it has the features I want.  Plus one of my friends at work whom I trust about such things uses them and says they’re pretty good.

So after work I signed up and played around with the site controls a bit.  Everything so far seems pretty easy and straightforward.  I was able to install the WordPress software without any trouble, and got my blog stuff moved over.  It does seem that I can only have one blog, so I may have to merge my two blogs together at some point.  Or rather, since this one only has a couple of entries, import the Thinking Points blog and then recreate these posts.  But it’s late and that’s a job for another day.

So yeah, all in all not too exciting, but I did do something I’ve never done today.  I’ll call it a success.

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