Friday, August 30, 2013

Baby Alert!

It's official, my newest niece has been born! Can't wait to meet her on Monday!

From my sister-in-law's facebook page:

Speaking of Social Media, I've got to say I was impressed when I saw this:

That's right, she didn't pass up the opportunity to check into Foursquare; that's dedication! -Ben

Got a recipe for Gridlock? Do Share!

Of all the speeches from the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, it was Bill Clinton's statement about political gridlock that has stuck with me:

And I would respectfully suggest that Martin Luther King did not live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock. It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back.

So what's the best strategy for reducing gridlock? Is it, as Clinton suggests, at matter of pushing harder? I'm not convinced.

But what should we do? This got me thinking: maybe we should do the opposite of whatever causes gridlock. Which naturally brings up the question, how do you create gridlock? That seems like an easier question to answer than how would you reduce it.

If you've got gridlock generating ideas, I'd love to have you share them in the comments. Here's what I've come up with as a quick and easy way to manufacture a political stalemate:

  1. Divide issues up into two, maybe three specific positions. You're either Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, you can't be anything in between.
  2. Demonize each position. "Republicans hate people of color", "Democrats hate rich people", that sort of thing.

Seems like those two steps would back people into a corner, where they'd vehemently fight for their cause. Eventually, they'd choose to get nothing done over allowing the other side "win." Hence, gridlock.

Now it's your turn.

Name that Plant: Green Spikey Cone Edition

Yesterday I'm jogging along when I come across a stand of these plants:

I figure with that large, green, spikey cone thingy, it should be easy to identify this plant.

Not so. No amount of Google FU would bring up images of a picture of a weed with that funky cone flower thingy. I decided to go another route, and searched by the type of leaf. After looking at a leaf identification guide I decided to search for "Opposite Oblong Leaf." I scrolled through pages of images but had no luck. Finally, I narrowed my search by checking just Virgina Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences site. They have a weed guide there, but not obvious way to search it. So, Google Images to the rescue. I searched for:

site:www.ppws.vt.edu opposite oblong leaf

in Google Images. Unfortunately, none of the images had any resemblance to what I saw, except for this guy:

It was a long shot, but what the heck, it doesn't hurt to check out the page hosting the image.

I clicked through and found myself on the Common Milkweed page and as I scrolled down, I saw pictures that exactly matched the cone like structure I saw. Whoo! I had an ID. Apparently, the term I was after was "pod" or "seedpod" not cone. Oh well.

This was actually an exciting find for a number of reasons. First, I finally solved the puzzle of what the heck this thing is, and second, Milkweed is supposedly a terrifically valuable plant.

Backyard Foraging recommended it by saying something along the lines of:if you're going to eat only one wild edible, make it Milkweed (the book is back at the library, so I can't get the exact quote). More details on eating the plant can be found here both eat Milkweed. It's also handy for fire making and rope making among other outdoorsy uses. The The Old Farmer's Almanac lists a number of other interesting facts about Milkweed, including that the "floss" was used to stuff Life Jackets during World War II when other materials were in short supply.

Here's more info and praise for Milkweed.

I challenge you to read the above links and not get excited about this find!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feeling Sluggish

While waiting for folks to arrive at minyan this morning, I noticed a very healthy looking slug in the mud near the edge of the building. And by healthy, I mean positively gigantic (for a slug, anyway). It was beautiful and hideous at the same time. Turns out, slugs are really hard to photograph.

They may be slow, but they can hold terrifically hard to capture positions. Still, I had to try.

You might be thinking, "oh wow, a post about slugs, that's a first." Not true, back in 2005 I was just as enamored with these curious little animals.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Scenes from an Anniversary

I zipped down to the Mall to catch part of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I saw exactly what you'd expect I'd see: crowds milling around, people waiting in line, and a large police presence. People were generally upbeat and relaxed. There was some rain, but it really wasn't bothering folks in a big way.

Here's a few photos to give you a sense of what it was like on the scene.

Oh, and who knew that the Coast Guard could patrol the Potomac armed to the teeth?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Worst. Wishing. Well. Ever.

I do love including Fort CF Smith on a run. It provides for a nice little burst of trail running, an immersion in Civil War history and a dash of romance. This evening Shira and Dawn joined me for a run and we hit up the park.

Just don't expect to drop a coin into the well on the property in exchange for a wish, it's sealed up.

Oh well, who's got time for wishes when there are miles to run?

Here's another shot I took on tonight's run. This one was is of an impressive flock of birds covering the Rosslyn sky.

Shooting Strangers - Some tactical advice for capturing better photos

I find that most photography related videos I watch are either purely technical or purely inspirational. Every once in a while though, I'll come across on that's more tactical. That is, it is interested in teaching specific methods to getting better pictures. I found Adam Marelli's How to Talk to Strangers: 7 Tips For Photographing People to be just such an example.

The video is a whopping 2 hours long, but I found that I was sucked into it and it was definitely worth my time. On a whole number of occasions since watching the video a couple weeks ago, I've gone about taking pictures just a little bit differently.

You should really skip the list I've composed below and just watch the video, but if you're curious, here's 7 tips I took away from the presentation:

  1. Every once in a while you'll be able to capture the perfect subject with the perfect composition; it's rare though so have strategies in place to improve your odds.
  2. There's such a thing as an incomplete photograph; that is a photo that's missing the right composition, subject or camera settings. Study your photographs to see why they are complete (oooh, this would have been perfect if a guy was standing right here!) to see how you can improve. Intentionally shoot incomplete photographs for practice.
  3. Take a trip to the art museum, there's plenty of terrific examples of composition and technique to be found hanging right in front of you. Learn from the masters.
  4. In a cold slump photo wise? Leave your camera at home, and you'll see tons of photo opportunities.
  5. Scout out compositions, setup and wait for your subject to walk into the shot. This makes it easier to shoot strangers (they walked in on your shot) and you'll have most of the elements of a good photograph ready to be filled in with a subject
  6. If you ask to take a picture of someone and they stand with their shoulders square to you, take a few photos and then walk to either side, they'll be forced to turn slightly making for a nicer shot.
  7. Smile. If you're having trouble taking pictures of people, then you probably have a people problem, not a photography problem.

Absolutely worth your time.

A Little Love For Git

When I last wrote about git (and distributed version control in general) I wasn't impressed. Sure, it's an absolutely valid version control choice, but not one I was abandoning subversion for with the same absoluteness that I dumped RCS and CVS. To me, it seemed like the unstated argument for using git was a fair amount of "oooh, it's newer and more complicated, so it's got to be better."

The last few weeks, however, I've been using git in a project and I'm finding myself a whole heck of a lot more impressed. Finally, it feels like I'm not just using it as a more complicated version of subversion. The part that I'm especially digging is how lightweight a git repository is. I'm working with another development team on this project, and I'm finding an unusual degree of elegance in being able to stage my own commits in a local repository before pushing it to the master. I am also impressed with how easily I'm able to create and move around repositories; for example, effortlessly turning a local repository of mine into one that's accessible remotely. I can't even claim I fully understand all the git push / pull options when it comes to work with other repositories; but my gut tells me there's something special here.

This simplicity and flexibility in the distributed repository model is just too cool for my hacking instincts to ignore.

I'm hardly a convert, Subversion is still my preference for source management on the projects I work on. Still, I've got to give props where props are due.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hacker or Poet?

Most comments in source code are junk. They either state what the code does (what do you know, model.update() update's the model!) or get woefully out of sync. Plus, consistency in naming can go a heck of a long way (models/cart.php - hmmm, let's see, that's probably a data model for the cart). That's not to say that the occasional comment explaining *why* something is getting done (versus how; I can see how, that's what the code is for) isn't handy.

Oh, and they are occasionally useful for entertainment. This one feels like it has the makings of a lyric from a rap song, no? At the very least, it's got poetry written all over it.

// I’m a pacifist but when it comes to my code I’m a masochist
// Another day, another function, another ass to whip
// Rocking output functions cause they asked for it,
// I got cash to get

-- system/mojomotor/libraries/Mojomotor_parser/Mojomotor_parser_layout.php:98

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Scratch: Continuing to be the ultimate kid programming environment

For the last few days we've been doing a stint of short term respite care for a 15 year old (great kid, by the way; he went home tonight). This evening we had some time to kill, and I thought a quick session with Scratch may be fun and eductional. Our 7 year old enjoyed it, I was curious what a 15 year old think.

Scratch is an ambitious project from MIT that attempts to make programming fun and useful for kids. Rather than spending precious time setting up a programming environment, learning syntax or cranking out out-of-touch code (Fibonacci series, anyone?), Scratch gives users near instant access to the fun stuff: making games, music and other cool little projects.

Rather than try to explain all this to our 15 year old, I just brought over the laptop and brought up scratch.mit.edu. When I had last been to the site, you could browse through the creations that fellow Scrathers had made and download the Scratch desktop app to create your own. To my surprise, the folks at MIT have continued to work their magic: the desktop application appears to no longer be necessary. The fun visual coding environment is now just a single click away. There are apparently other important editions in this latest version of Scratch, but no longer needing to even download an environment has to be the biggest improvement.

I clicked on the create menu bar item and we went to work puzzling things out.

Within a few minutes our 15 year had totally gotten it. He understood that Scratch can make games, music and in general be a fun place to experiment. It was impressive to watch him connect the dots between events, actions, conditions, etc. He even managed to point a few bugs in the code that I had missed. After about 45 minutes we had worked up the following little "game":

In the above example, you can move around with the arrow keys and collect up each key by touch it. Whenever you collect a key, the sprite grows a little larger. Hitting space bar resets the sequence.

Considering you start with a single sprite on a blank canvas, that's actually quite a bit of code to develop. (If I do say so myself)

I've come away with this little experience even more impressed with Scratch (not that I thought that was possible). The environment they've setup where users can easily author, share, and remix projects, is truly incredible.

If you're a parent and you're frustrated with the amount of time your kid spends on video games, then you should consider redirecting their energy into Scratch. Let them create, rather than just consume. No other platform makes it so much fun.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Girl Fight!

OK, not exactly a fight. More like some extra pad work at the gym. (Notice how their hands aren't wrapped up? That's because they were focusing more on technique rather than slugging it out.) Still, watching Shira and Dawn work on their moves was quite a sight to behold. The gentleman in the pictures is one of our Krav Maga instructors.

A word to the wise: all three of these individuals are not to be messed with.

Name that Plant: Red Stems with Clusters of Berries Edition

I've noticed a fairly interesting weed along my usual walking route, and today I decided to see if I could name it. Here's what it looks like:

I typed weed with red stem and a cluster of dark blue berries into Google and the first hit back was for COMMON POKEWEED: Phytolacca americana. The pictures were a near perfect match for what I had snapped above. This one turned out to be super easy to identify.

Now that I had it named, I was curious to see if I could eat it? Those berries looked awfully tasty.

From the above link:

Toxicity: All parts of common pokeweed are toxic to humans, pets and livestock. Roots are the most poisonous, leaves and stems are intermediate in toxicity (toxicity increases with maturity), and berries are the least toxic. Since common pokeweed is not very palatable, most animals avoid eating it unless little else is available, or if it is in contaminated hay. Horses, sheep and cattle have been poisoned by eating fresh leaves or green fodder, and pigs have been poisoned by eating the roots. Children are most frequently poisoned by eating raw berries. ...

And it goes on from there. The description even suggests that the plant promotes mutation and possibly cancer. Yikes. Glad I didn't grab those berries and take a bite.

Even though it's poisonous, pokeweed isn't without some interesting uses. First off, if you're exceedingly careful, you can eat it. But for practical uses, skip the eating and use it for something more novel: to make ink. Now there's a fun little project to try.

Another use, this one in the spirit of Eating Aliens is to use the berries to enhance solar panels. Not something I'll be trying, but a clever use none the less.

Learn more about Pokeweed here.

A tiny eshell add-on: jump to shell ready to take input

So I'm finally grokking eshell and one feature I want is the following:

Suppose I'm looking at a buffer containing index.html which lives in ~/projects/hacking. I'd like to effortlessly switch to eshell and have it jump to this directory, so I'm ready to start entering commands.

If I had this feature in place, I could go from a file's buffer to a shell quickly and without futzing with changing directories. Using this example I was able to quickly write up a command that does exactly what the above description suggests:

;; Inspired by: http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/EshellControlFromOtherBuffer
(defun bs-eshell-switch-to-and-change-dir ()
  "Switch to eshell and make sure we're in the directory the current buffer is in."
  (interactive)
  (let ((dir default-directory))
    (let ((b (get-buffer eshell-buffer-name)))
      (unless b
        (eshell)))
    (display-buffer eshell-buffer-name t)
    (switch-to-buffer-other-window eshell-buffer-name)
    (end-of-buffer)
    (unless (equalp dir default-directory)
      (cd dir)
      (eshell-send-input)
      (end-of-buffer))))

(global-set-key (kbd "\C-c \C-s") 'bs-eshell-switch-to-and-change-dir)

From any buffer I can hit Control-c Control-s and bam! I'm now at a shell prompt ready type away.

Update: One of the comments below suggested shell-pop-el as a pre-existing implementation of the above concept. I'd definitely recommend using it over what I've got above.

Update: And try: shell-switcher, too!

Finally wrapping my head around eshell (the emacs shell)

For years, I'd see eshell (an emacs command shell) come across my radar, and being an emacs guy, I'd naturally try it out. And within a few minutes, I'd be back to my bash and screen ways. It recently popped up again (and for the life of me, I can't recall where) and I decided I'd take a closer look. I realized while perusing the manual that I'd had a key misconceptions about eshell: I assumed it was more complicated than it is.

Perhaps it was the important sounding name, but I just assumed that learning eshell was going to be like learning calc or gnus. Sure, these are both is an amazing tools, but they've got so much you can learn, you might feel like you've never mastered it all.

eshell it turns out isn't particularly complicated at all. In fact, after playing with it for a couple of days, I've come to realize it has one especially cool feature: you can enter regular unix-like commands (eg. ls -l) *and* you can enter in elisp functions (find-file foo.php). eshell does exactly what you'd expect it to do, if it can't find the command as an alias, or executable on disk, it tries to execute it as a lisp function. While this may be clever, it doesn't seem especially useful at first. For example, you can type the following:

  substring "hello world" 3  9

This is converted to (substring "hello world" 3 9), which is novel, but not something you typically need to do at a command line.

What gets especially interesting is when you type this:

  find-file index.html

This invokes (find-file "index.html") which opens up the current file. In other words, you've entered a shell command and seamlessly jumped into emacs world. Here are some more examples:

  dired .             # kick off M-x dired on the current directory
  rgrep TODO "*.html" # kick off M-x rgrep on all HTML files below the current directory
  svn-update ${pwd}   # kick off M-x svn-update on the current working directory

Notice in the last case the use of ${...} notation. This notation actually invokes a sub-eshell so you can put in arbitrary commands or elisp within ${...}.

With this elisp integration, I'm truly starting to see the light: eshell isn't about creating a shell experience that's better than say bash + screen, it's about giving you a new way to interact with emacs. Rather than thinking "OK, I'm going to do some unixy command line stuff, I better switch to an xterm" you can think "hey, I bet half of this could be done in command-line-land and half could be done in emacs, and eshell gives me a seamless way to do that."

Thanks to eshell, my fingers are finding new and faster ways, to get stuff done. And we all know, that's what emacs is all about.

Definitely go off and read Mastering Eshell, and learn about the other cool features of eshell. But don't do what I did, and psych yourself out thinking there's going to be a huge learning curve.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More Finds in Arlington Cemetery

Took a delightful walk through Arlington Cemetery with a friend this afternoon. As usual, we discovered a number of interesting sights. Among them: a memorial to the Surrender of Geronimo, a tomb of not just one unknown soldier but 2,111 of them from the battle of Bull Run and one of the coolest names ever: George W. George.

I've always known that the Robert E. Lee House overlooks Washington DC, but I learned today that buried out front is Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the architect of D.C. How fitting, right? This also means I know which direction to shake my fist when I get lost in DC, which is unfortunately, a regular occurrence.

A few photos from our stroll:

4 Hacks: Post-Its, Foam Cups and an Anti-Hack?

Here's a collection of hacks I've picked up the last few days:

1. Post-It Note Sketching - Melanie Reim shared this story of putting her jury duty waiting time to good use:

My fellow jurors and I sat and waited, and did that some more and the dreary, rainy day droned on. Most were bored out of their minds- for me- free models! Thank goodness for drawings -and post-its!

See what she created here.

2. A Post-It Note Powered Play - Could you tell a whole story using nothing but two actors, each armed with a stack of Post Its? Of course you can. The play appears to work, too. Let this further be a reminder: you can create your next masterpiece on a budget; just swap dollars for creativity.

3. The Foam Cup Timer - Grunt Doc nailed it when claimed this setup was "what genius looks like."

This makes me want to grab two cups and start timing something.

4. The Obvious Traffic Sign - I pass this sign all the time. Here's what it says:

(Text: "Don't hit the car in front of you")

You'd think, who'd need to be told this? And yet, according to the local police, it's helped cut down on the number of accidents at this on ramp.

If we assume that a hack is a clever and efficient solution to a problem, then is this sign an anti-hack? Or, is it the perfect hack? It does potentially deliver safety while costing almost nothing. On the other hand, putting up a sign in a location when you want drivers to pay close attention to the road seems counter productive. Not to mention, the real solution is to fix the road. In all fairness, the merge ramp that this sign sits at is absolutely a fender-bender trap. So taking any action is wise.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Name That Plant: Green Tentacles Edition

I usually learn the name of new plant or tree by "discovering it" in the wild, and searching for it's most prominent properties on Google Images. This time, however, I had the reverse happen. I was looking through Backyard Foraging and noticed how other-wordly chestnuts look. Here's a an example from this site:

Seriously, a nut wrapped in green or brown spines? You'd have to be blind not to notice this tree in your neighborhood. I mean, what could be easier to identify? I'd certainly never seen a chestnut tree, I knew that much.

And then I'm on a run last night, a route I've done hundreds of times (though not within the last year, probably) and across from a set of baseball fields in Pentagon City I see these guys hanging from trees:

Holy Smokes, I do believe those are chestnuts in the making! Chestnuts are apparently ripe in the fall, so what I think I'm seeing there are a batch of unripe ones. And we're not talking one tree, we're talking like 3 or 4 of them. And again, this isn't in some hidden corner of Arlington, this is a 2 minute walk from Pentagon City Mall.

Once again, I give you the difference between seeing and paying attention.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A "Wife Speak" Pop Quiz

OK married gentlemen (and ladies in a same-sex-marriage), here's your pop quiz for the day. Suppose you find some super delicious Whoopie pies in the freezer and on outside of the ziplock bag was this message:

(Text: "Pumpkin - think before touching")

Do you:

(a) Think, awwwww how sweet, she took the time to save me a few extra Whoopie pies from our last batch. And look at that, she wants me to think of how special she is while I eat them.

(b) Think, uh oh, better not touch these. That may look like an innocuous statement, but really it's a threat to my happiness and perhaps life as I know it.

(c) Too late, I'm already in trouble.

(d) None of the above. Answer in the comments below.

Review: Backyard Foraging and A Third Way To Think Of Wild Edibles

I picked up Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos because I'm on a plant identification kick. My first impression was that the book was a quality but unremarkable one. The photos are clear, the list of plants fairly lengthy and the tone is quite enjoyable. It's not quite as in depth as Foragers Harvest, but as a field guide, it would be a nice additional resource.

The more I thought about the book, however, the more I realized it was more unique and impressive than I originally gave it credit for. The emphasis on the book as the name suggests, is finding wild edibles near home. For example, the classic Cattail plant isn't included because presumably most people don't live in a swamp. Dandelion, on the other hand, gets extra praise for being so versatile, and again, a plant most will find easily accessible. To me Zachos goes beyond just enumerating plants that might be nearby; she gives a fresh perspective on wild edibles. What if you populated your garden with them?

Rather than choosing between a decorative garden and a veggie garden, why not have both? That is, plants that look beautiful (a quality she does indeed emphasize) and that are also tasty. By cleverly using edible plants you can accomplish just this. Additionally, and this my experience peeking through not hers, why try to grow a few measly veggies when you can plant something with the heartiness of a weed, because, well, it *is* a weed. Also at play here is the notion of eating alien species. With a good number of these plants, they not only grow like crazy, but you can harvest them to your hearts content because people want them gone.

This concept would work great with front yard gardening. Rather than being limited to a standard veggie garden for food, you could spice it up with some attractive and tasty wild edibles.

This brings me to my updated list of ways to view Wild Edibles. They are:

  1. For Wilderness Survival - For years, this is what I assumed to be the main use of edible plants. Of course, if you get lost the last thing you want to do is eat something which could make you sick. So yeah, it's not as practical as it sounds.
  2. For Hunting - This notion is straight from the Forager's Harvest. Why not think about wild edibles as something we essentially hunt, like we do with animals. You head into the woods, use your skills to collect food, and then bring it home to prepare and enjoy. No blood spilled, but a strong connection to nature still maintained. Well duh, right? But I hadn't thought about it like that.
  3. For Growing - If these wild edibles are so great, why not just grow them in your garden? Again, seems obvious, right? It does in hindsight.

So Zachos expanded my mind to see this third perspective. What more could you ask from an author than that?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Little Beach Front Property in Arlington, VA

The operative word being "little." This afternoon I did a stretch of the Potomac Heritage Trail during my run. As I was jogging along, I noticed a number of tiny beaches that stretch for a few feet and then hit the Potomac, like this one:

The route I did turned out to be just the right amount for me to tackle in an hour. It's a little over 5 miles long, and covers the start of the trail until Windy Run. If you are an outdoorsy person who lives in or near Arlington and you've yet to hike the Potomac Heritage Trail, it's a must do. It's a real, woodsy, backcountry trail that runs parallel to the Potomac river. Sure, there are times when you're a few feet from the George Washington Parkway, and the noise isn't exactly pleasant. But it's the woods, and it's local and it's fairly challenging. I even saw a bit of wildlife, check out this Great Blue Heron (at least I think it's a Great Blue Heron) I stumbled on:

As for weather, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to be on the trail. Check out how inviting the Potomac looks:

Here's the full route, I can't recommend it highly enough:


View A Little Potomac Heritage in a larger map

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Workflowy: your next application mockup tool

Recently I learned of workflowy, a wonderfully simple and clever way to track lists (and lists of lists). It brings me back to the old DOS days of using an Outliner (maybe MaxThink? For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the one I used), which was one of the original Killer Apps I encountered. I still like using a Wiki to track projects and notes, so Workflowy has yet to take hold in my daily workflow. Still, there's no denying it's a cool app.

Yesterday, I was passing along some advice for getting your software idea out of your head and into written form and it occurred to me that Workflowy would be the perfect tool for this.

Rather than focusing on graphical mockups (which are definitely slick, but can be exhausting to create and manage), I suggest folks work in a outline format. Essentially, you want to describe the hierarchy: Roles » Pages » Functionality. This is where Workflowy really shines.

You've got the technique and now the tool, what's stopping you from getting that next great idea out of your head, and into reality? Oh yeah, nothing.

3 Reasons Why Arlington County's Columbia Pike's Library is The Best.

You might think that the Internet would have rendered libraries obsolete. Not so, of course. And while looking up some information on my local library, I was pleasantly surprised at how innovative my branch has been. Here are three examples of my library being better than, well, your library:

1. The Reading Rabbit Program - while some parts of the country freak out about an imaginary Shariah Law controversy, my library is using it's kids-reading-to-animals program to get Muslim families more involved community, not less.

Our regular Paws-to-Read program is on hiatus for the month of August. So librarian Desiree decided to invite the rabbits to the Library partly because she knew that several Muslim families are unable to participate in Paws-to-Read, since practicing Muslims discourage touching dogs.

2. Blind Date With a Book - what a novel way to branch out and read something different:

Columbia Pike Branch Library staff have selected an eclectic assortment of books from a variety of genres for your reading pleasure. Each booked is wrapped in a plain paper cover with a general subject heading and bar code on the wrapper.

Try that with your Kindle! (Actually, it wouldn't really be that hard to setup a bit of code that sends you to a random entry on Project Gutenburg. Hmmm...)

3. Nauck Community Scan-In - here's a another clever use for library resources: helping to collect local historical data. The scan-in concept is really smart: get your neighbors to bring in photos and other local-related documents, and digitize them. Nobody has to actually part with their precious heirlooms, and the community can record and learn about its history.

The library isn't just collecting and scanning documents, they are also gathering oral histories. Like this story, which took place on Columbia Pike, the street we live off of:

In those days many people didn’t have TVs. My father had the appliances and hardware and stuff so on Friday nights they used to have fights until ten o’clock or something so he used to keep the store open on Friday nights so people could come and watch TV.

When Danny’s family moved down here from New Jersey, they had moved here that week and on Friday night his mother and father went out for a walk, and they were out there out there watching the TV…[M]y sister, my mother and I and we came to the store. My aunt and a cousin were there. My aunt said to my cousin… “Well, Mrs. Cohen, are you ready to go home?”

[H]is mother heard “Mrs. Cohen” so she went up and said, “Which one of you is Mrs. Cohen?”

My aunt said, “I’m Mrs. Cohen. This is my daughter-in-law, Naomi Cohen, and this is my sister-in-law, Ida Cohen.”

This lady said, “Are you Jewish?”

Of course my aunt said, “Yes.”

She said, “Well, we’re Jewish and we just moved here from New Jersey, and I have two sons and they’re tired of eating dairy, they want meat. Can you tell me where to find a Jewish butcher, a kosher butcher?”

…She said she had these two sons and of course here I am this bold little girl and I said, “How old are your sons?”

She said, “fifteen and seventeen.”

I said, “Do they like to bowl?”

And yes, the daughter in the above story goes on to marry one of the sons that had just moved to town. Kosher butchers, the original Jdate.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gotcha of the Day: New Propane Tank Doesn't Work with Weber Grill

Usually my gotchas are software related, this one however, isn't. It's all about hardware.

Yesterday, I went out replaced the two propane cylinder I have for our Weber Spirit Grill. I've done this many times, and the hardest part is usually finding a store with propane in stock. I got my two canisters home and ran into the following odd sequence:

  1. I plugged in cylinder A to the grill. Turned on the grill. No gas appeared to come out (no sound or smell). I attempted to light the grill, nothing happened.
  2. I removed A, and plugged in cylinder B. The gas turned on as I expected. I was able to light the grill.
  3. Cylinder A had no obvious defects, so I removed B and plugged A back in. It didn't work. It was heavy enough that I could be sure it had gas in it, but none appeared to be released when the grill was on.
  4. At this point, I figure A was a dud cylinder. I plugged B in. To my surprise, it no longer worked.
  5. I swapped them both one more time confirming that A definitely didn't work. When I put B in place again, it did work.
  6. While I was confused why B was working, then stopped, then started again, I pretty much left the situation alone and focused on the import task of cooking dinner.

Not sure what else to do, I dropped a note to support@weberstephen.com describing the above situation and asking for suggestions. Did I just get a bad cylinder? Was my grill broke? What did I need to buy? (Probably a new grill, and while I'm at it, a new deck to put it on.)

To my surprise, a couple of hours later I got the following note back:

[...pleasantries trimmed..]

It sounds like you may be activating a safety device built into the regulator. This safety device is a component of all LP gas regulators and is designed to reduce the flow of gas in the event of a leak.

You can inadvertently activate the safety device without having a gas leak. Typically, this occurs if you do not wait a sufficient time between opening the tank valve and the burner control knobs or if one or more of the burner control knobs is in an open position when opening the LP tank valve. When the safety device has been activated the grill is referred to as being in "bypass".

Keep in mind that the safety device reacts to gas leaks. If a grill is in bypass, the gas connections and hose should be tested for leaks with a soap and water solution.

If you do activate the gas regulator safety device, the grill may struggle to reach high temperatures or may not light at all, even with all burners on the START/HIGH setting.

To insure that you are not inadvertently activating the safety device as you turn on the grill, please use the following procedure: THIS IS A PROCEDURE YOU WILL WANT TO GO THROUGH EACH USE OF THE GRILL.

-Turn all burner control knobs to OFF, including the side burner control knob if present.

-Make sure the grill lid is open. Open the LP tank valve and then wait one full minute. This will allow the hose and regulator to pressurize.

-Turn the appropriate burner control knob for your model grill to the START/HIGH position and then ignite the grill by pushing the ignition button.

-Turn the other main burner(s) on HIGH as well.

-Close the grill lid.

-The grill should reach approximately 500 to 550 degrees in 10-15 minutes.

When you are done grilling:

-Turn all burner control knobs to the OFF position

-Turn off the LP tank valve last.
If you have any further questions, please call our Weber Customer Service with your serial number and one of our reps will be happy to assist you.

Safety device? Who knew?

Thinking back, I think it *was* the case that the knob for my grill may have been accidentally in the on position when I plugged in cylinder A. As soon as I noticed this, I turned it off. I didn't think much of it because I assumed the regulator wouldn't care. In fact, I had no idea my grill regulator had any intelligence at all.

I've yet to try the above procedure to see how it works, but I'm psyched to see that my question and seemingly random issue wasn't random at all. It was just my grill quietly trying to protect me from blowing myself up. How nice.

Fearless Frenchmen

I suppose you could spend all day trolling Vimeo looking for videos filled with breathtaking scenery, soothing music and downright insane people risking life and limb. But this little gem has to be among the best. It consists of two Frenchmen Base Jumping and walking a tightrope in the most amazing / terrifying of locations.

My favorite bit of dialog comes at around 4:24. It goes like so:

Frenchman #1: You can't fall the other side, you'll hit the cliff...
Frenchman #2: No you won't!
Frenchman #1: Yep - there's a ledge just down there.
Frenchman #2: If you fall with no initial speed you can turn and track away.
Frenchman #1: No!
Frenchman #2: I'm sure you can!
Frenchman #1: You'll hit at 4 seconds with no chance to turn or track.
Frenchman #2: Yeah, you're right, OK

Whoops, apparently that jump spot was deadly. Oh well, at least they figured that out *before* they jumped.

Seriously, if you've got a few minutes to kill, you've got to watch this film:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Nats Game for the Win

We hadn't been a Nats game in over a season. Finally, the 4 Boys kicked our butts into gear, and we managed to see the Nationals play the Phillies. The weather was perfect, the home team won and the performance by Strausburg was outstanding (not that I knew that at the time). We didn't see any home runs, though we did see a lot of very solid baseball.

I especially enjoyed watching the game next to Caleb, who plays for his college baseball team. Apparently, at the college level pitchers throw in the mid to high 80mph range, the same as in the big leagues. Someone throws a rock hard object at me at almost 100 mph, I'm not hanging around to find out if it's a ball or strike; I'm fleeing for my life.

All in all, an awesome time. My only disappointment is that we managed to eat a late lunch so I didn't have a chance to gorge myself ballpark food. The Nats stadium offers quite a few vegetarian options and even some Kosher options, as well.

Oh well, next game!

Gooooooo nats!

If you're curious, Yes, that's William Howard Taft beating up a shark during the Presidents Race. Because, you know, it's shark week and such.

I couldn't resist making an animation of this valiant attempt to get the ball by a Phillies player: he's got it...he's got it...he doesn't got it.

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