Monday, February 28, 2011

Dude, I Got Another Dell. Some Very Early Thoughts On The Vostro 3300

It was time to replace my ancient (OK, 3 year old) Dell Latitude D630 laptop. I had originally wanted to replace it with a Sony, as I love my Sony VGN-SR520G/B. But, for the life of me, I couldn't find a comparable model to the one I had. I tried both the Sony store and Best Buy, and I could either buy a comparably cheaper (and less powerful model), or spend $2k on something that was more than I needed.

Dell, on the other hand, offers the Vostro line that's exactly what I want: business oriented, yet, not over the top so.

Some initial thoughts (keeping in mind I've had it for about 3 days now):

  • The keyboard is silky smooth. Love it.
  • I like that a fingerprint reader is included. My Sony has this and it makes unlocking the laptop that much easier.
  • I also like that I was able to get Windows 7 Professional installed. I've found just a couple of cases where having the Professional version makes a difference - but when it happens, it's key.
  • The backlit keyboard seems nice, but I wish that made made gone all the way and also made the various buttons (such as the volume controls) also backlit.
  • I'm attempting to move my files from the old Dell to this new machine by doing a Carbonite restore. It's amazingly easy to transfer the license and kick off the restore - we'll see how this all goes when the restore is totally finished. So far, I'm amazed.
  • I'm not impressed with the weight of the laptop - it seems to be a the same size as my Sony, yet heavier. That could just be the result of larger battery I purchased. I plan to travel with Netbook, so this really isn't a concern
  • The laptop seems blazingly fast. Web pages and such just come up faster. It's a beautiful thing. I'm sure, after a few months (or weeks?) I won't feel this way, but for now, I'm pleased.
  • Here's what I plan to install on this sucker: My App List

Bottom line, I'm a happy camper at the moment. We'll see if I still feel this way in a few weeks. I'll definitely publish some more info when I have some.

A Little Elisp to Make Emacs and Racket Play Nicer

I love the power of racket (formerly known as PLT-scheme). And I love the power of emacs. In the past, though, to leverage racket I've used DrRacket. And while DrRacket has some cool features, it's no emacs.

In the past, using Racket within emacs was easier said than done. Racket's module system was quite powerful, but meant that using the standard (load ...) function was a bad idea.

Racket now exports a function call you can use to switch into a module, known as: (enter! ....). In theory, you can now write a tool that has the same advanced behavior with respects to modules that DrRacket has always provided.

And so I present to you a few lines of emacs lisp code which tries to leverage this facility:

(defun racket-enter! ()
  (comint-send-string (scheme-proc)
        (format "(enter! (file \"%s\") #:verbose)\n" buffer-file-name))
  (switch-to-scheme t))
(local-set-key "\C-c\C-v" 'racket-enter!)

Once this code has been evaluated, you're now able to open any .rkt file and hit Control-c + Control-v. Racket will then (enter! ...) that file's context, and you'll essentially be inside that module.

I played around with it tonight and it seems to do what you'd expect.

I'm far from convinced that emacs + this code + the standard scheme mode beats DrRacket. But, it's a start. And one I'm excited to play with further.

Oh, and if you happen to know if someone has a more developed emacs + Racket integration strategy, I'd love to use that instead of rolling my own (though, this certainly has been educational!).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Phone and Faith Friday: Accessing Tehillim (Book of Psalms) Online

One of the go-to biblical texts that Jews turn to when Stuff (good, bad, or otherwise) Happens is Tehillim - the Book of Psalms.

Here are a few resources for accessing this text from your Android phone:

  • Get the App - of course there's an app for Tehillim. Alas, the free version is only in Hebrew, which doesn't do me much good as I like the English translation.
  • offers a side-by-side Hebrew and English translation of Tehillim. The site is simple enough, that you can browse it without a problem on the G2's mobile browser. You can actually surf the site to find any book in the Torah. Definitely a handy resource.
  • offers the list of Psalms organized by topic. This one is really handy. From finding a soul mate to the correct Psalm in a house of morning, this guide has it all. Definitely worth bookmarking.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Outdoor Skill: Estimating Distance with Pacer Beads

First, I made it through Boy Scouts without learning to calculate distances with a compass. And I now I learn about yet another outdoor distance hack: Pace Counting Beads (or their more impressive sounding name: Ranger or Tracking Beads). Geesh, how did I ever earn my Eagle Scout?!

Pace Beads look like so:

And they don't appear all that tricky to use:

As users walk, they typically slide one bead on the cord for every ten paces taken. On the tenth pace, the user slides a bead in the lower section towards the knot. After the 90th pace, all 9 beads are against the knot. On the 100th pace, all 9 beads in the lower section are returned away from the knot, and a bead from the upper section is slid upwards, away from the knot.

In this manner, the user calculates distance traveled by keeping track of paces taken. To use this method, the user must know the length of his pace to accurately calculate distance traveled. Also, the number of paces to be walked must be precalculated, or the distance traveled has to be calculated from the walked paces.

You can buy them on Amazon, but they seem awfully expensive for what they are. eBay is probably a better option, or heck, just make them from scratch.

They won't replace my GPS, but it does seem like a handy outdoor skill to know.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Batter Blaster - An Ideal Kids Food

Today's snack was powered by Batter Blaster - that's pancake batter that comes in the same form factor as whipped cream. I'm now totally sold on it as an ideal kids food. Because...

  • You can cook them one handed, which means the other arm is free to hold the kid while they watch
  • Who doesn't like to eat food smooshed out of a can?
  • The pancakes take just a minute or two to cook, which means they can be cooked on demand. This is fun watch, and means that you don't go through a whole bunch of effort only to find out your little one isn't actually hungry.
  • It serves as the perfect time to practice the word spatula - who doesn't love saying that word?
  • Batter Blaster is Kosher parve, which means that it's dairy free. It's also organic.
  • Cleanup is really easy
  • What kid doesn't love pancakes?
  • While I'm not sure I ever produced the perfect pancake, all the ones I made were quite tasty. I'd basically call them foolproof.
  • Our little one gave them the More-More-More stamp of approval

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A (Very) Low Budget Camping Adventure

I have to admit, I love the stunt that the guys over at SurivalWeekly tried about a year ago. They both hit the local dollar store and picked up $20's worth of camping gear (including food and water!). And rather than just pontificate about their finds, they actually went out and spent a night using their gear.

I'm sure it was educational. And it certainly put a different twist on spending a night in the woods.

Here's at least a few of their videos relating to this challenge.

I'm reasonably certain I could convince my brother to do something silly like this with me. As for getting Shira to be this irresponsible crazy, yeah, not going to happen. She's way too smart for that.

Perhaps I just see this as yet another example of using an experiment to learn something in a creative way.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Battle Cry of Leeroy Jenkins

Apparently, the video of Leeroy Jenkins doing his thing has been around nearly half a decade - yet my brother just shared it with me. Man, this is good stuff.

Apparently YouTube videos operate under the same rules as those forwards your mom/dad/aunt/uncle forward to you regularly and that you originally received in college 10 years ago. There's no expiration date on hilarity, it's always ready to be rediscovered and shared again.

Give it a watch. (Note - there's some naughty language in here, so this isn't for the kiddies).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

An Enlightening Home Project

Today's Fix-It was to replace the outdoor lights near both the front and rear entrances of our house. With my Brother's help, it was actually a painless thing to do. Here's a few random observations:

  • We purchased the lights from Home Depot - a store I don't usually enjoy shopping at. This time, however, I must have been asked by 4 different associates if I needed help finding something. Either it was a slow shopping day, or they've tightened up their customer service - regardless, it was the first time I can ever recall that I didn't have to go searching out someone to get help.
  • Those plastic wire wrapping/capping dealy thingies - those things are just awesome. I don't exactly know why I feel so strongly about these little guys, but I do. They just make the job of connecting up the wiring so simple, and seemingly fool proof. It just strikes me as an example of elegance and simplicity.
  • I'm proud to say that I did in fact flip the right circuit breakers to turn off electricity to the light plugs, *before* I started swapping out the lights.
  • On the front light, I had no extra parts. On the back light, I had 3 distinct extra pieces - a foam disk thingy, a plastic thread tie, and a handful of screws. Should I be bothered by any of this?

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Tiny, But Fun, Adventure on The Appalachian Trail

The DC area is experiencing the most perfect hiking weather today: 70 degrees and sunny.Yeah, perfect. I wasn't sure if our schedule would allow us to get out though. Luckily, Shira came through with a most excellent solution: while on our way back to DC from West Virginia we stopped at a point where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road (near Keyes Gap).

While it wasn't much distance, I can officially say I've hiked a section of the AT in West Virginia (probably about a half a mile or so?). And like the weather, it was perfect little adventure.

Sure, I would have liked to have done more than 3 miles total - but reality calls.

Here's a the map and a few photos. Hope you got to enjoy this wonderful weather, too.

View West Virginia Mini AT Hike in a larger map

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gotcha of the Day: EC2 + Postfix + Amazon Simple E-mail Service - Getting all three to play nice

I was delighted to see that Amazon's Simple E-mail Service has instructions for integrating with Postfix. In theory, this means you can configure Postfix once, and then all services on the system - be it cron, /bin/mail or PHP, will automagically work with SES.

Alas, I ended up tripping over one key part of the process. Whenever I attempted to send mail both from a verified user and to a verified user, I got an error from Amazon saying I was using an invalid address.

To debug this, I created my own little dummy mail delivery script like so:


## Debug script

echo "---------------------------------------------" >> $LOG
date >> $LOG
echo $* >> $LOG
echo >> $LOG
cat >> $LOG

I then wired this into postfix by changing /etc/postfix/ to say:

aws-email  unix  -       n       n       -       -       pipe
  flags=R user=mail argv=/etc/postfix/ses/bin/ -r -k /etc/postfix/creds -e -f ${sender} ${recipient}

Sending e-mail then dumped the command and output to /tmp/debug.log.

I realized that while the From: header was correct, the command line value of ${sender} was using the internal hostname provided by amazon. Something like:


Amazon was obviously choking on that address.

But how to convince postfix to rewrite that address? Turns out, it's not so tricky after all. After much experimenting, I found that sender_canonical_maps would do the trick nicely.

I created a new config file: /etc/postfix/sender_canonical with:

 /(.*?)@(.*)/   $

And then added it to my with:

  sender_canonical_maps = regexp:/etc/postfix/sender_canonical

Now, when postfix receives e-mail from foo@invalid.internal it rewrites it correctly to and passes that to Amazon. Sure, I needed to verify, but once that was out of the way, I was all set.

Consider me a happy camper.

More Zingers and Reactionary Thinking. Ugh.

Let me make sure I got this right. Michelle Obama praises a recent decision by the IRS to consider breast pumps medical equipment, and thereby making them tax deductible.

Michele Bachmann, responds with:

I've given birth to five babies and I breastfed every single one of these babies ... To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies. You wanna talk about the nanny state? I think we just got the new definition of a nanny state

Apparently, Bachmann wants to compete with Palin for the best zinger.

And just like Palin, when you actually analyze what's going on here, you're left scratching your head.

So, now, Bachmann, who thinks tax cuts are absolutely critical, is against this one?

And how does a medical tax deduction translate into "the government going out and buy breast pumps?" Isn't that going out of your way to spread misinformation?

It would be a lot easier to take Bachmann seriously if she wasn't so blindly reactionary. Seriously, picking a fight Obama of breastfeeding moms? Can't she use just a little critical thinking skills? How can people support her when she behaves like this?

Tool of the Day: MySQL Query Profiler

I've always known that you can get MySQL to cough up what it's doing while running a query by using the explain command.

But, today, I found out MySQL will share quite a bit more with you, that is if you take the time to ask.

This article explains it all: Using the New MySQL Query Profiler.

I found out about this while trying to debug an issue with slow update times. This StackOverflow question includes the answer:

mysql> INSERT INTO foo ($testdata);
mysql> show profile for QUERY 1;

That's all there is to it. The article mentions a few other ideas you'll want to know about (such as using show profiles), but it's still pretty simple stuff.

A few other handy things to note:

  • You don't need super user privileges to use the profile
  • When I attempted to run these commands from phpMyAdmin, I didn't get back any results. It took running them from the command line to see anything useful.

Happy debugging!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: The Traveler

The audio version of The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks begins with this spooky recording by the author giving you a little intro to the book. He ends by explaining that he lives Off The Grid. It was an awesome way to start the book, as it totally pulled me in.

The Traveler is clearly social commentary on our disappearing ability to lead a truly private life. Twelve Hawks describes a world where all the various bits of information in our life can be easily accessed by one set of really bad guys - be it purchases on our credit card, facial recognition scans from an ATM or what books we've rented at the library. The bad guys, as you can imagine, don't use this information for good.

The result is not only good social commentary, but a terrific SciFi action story. Clearly Twelve Hawks put in a lot of research to make it as believable as possible. By combining existing technology, spirituality and history, I think he's managed to hit his goal. Plus, it's got a sword wielding chick in that totally kicks butt. So that sold me too.

As action adventures stories go, it's clearly a winner.

As for the social commentary side, I found that useful, too. It's so easy to ignore the privacy ramifications of the conveniences we use every day, that stopping and thinking about it is just invaluable. Even if I decide I'm willing to give up privacy (by say, publishing this blog, or having a Visa card and allowing them to track my purchases for fraud detection) - I should do it intentionally. We need the Twelve Hawk's of this world to keep us honest.

Finally, the book did mention one technique that I've actually adopted. In the book, the bad guys abhor random events. It's their goal to have complete order. The good guys, at least the warriors for the good guys, embrace life's randomness, and one way they do so is using a Random Number Generator (RNG). In the book the main character uses her RNG to make tactical decisions - like say, should she take the left or right tunnel (odd number might be left, even right). The idea is that a random decision will be harder to guard against.

I've gone ahead and installed a random number generator on my phone. While I don't intend to use it fight bad guys (unless, say, I wanted to know whether I should flee-left or flee-right), I do think it could be handy for more mundane parts of life. For example, deciding which restaurant to choose, or which museum to see while traveling. Randomness seems like a good way to break out of comfortable patterns and have new experiences.

The Traveler is just the first book in a trilogy, which fortunately has already been written (ahhh, the joy of discovering books that have been published for some time). So, perhaps the best thing I can say about the book, is that I'm eager to read the next two in the series.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gotcha of the Day: SimpleDB Fails to Deliver the Goods

I have to admit, I was psyched about Amazon's SimpleDB. There was so much to love:

  • You get High Availability for free
  • Data is always indexed and ready for fast querying
  • Amazon would would take care of all the infrastructure worries
  • Interesting data scaling options are available: like horizontal scaling and parallelizing queries
  • The whole thing runs over HTTP so it's accessible anywhere and everywhere
  • In general, the system is drop dead simple - making it an ideal platform to build clever solutions on top of

And you know, all of the above may in fact be true. But, there's one gotcha that I ran into that was a show stopper. One word says it all: Latency.

I found that a basic PutAttributes or GetAttributes call would normally take between 30 and 100 milliseconds. And as I added more servers to the mix, the latency got even worse.

And yes, the client that's making requests of SimpleDB is located on an EC2 box, theoretically within Amazon's network.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by the poor performance. But still, SimpleDB is just so dang simple - shouldn't quick response time, even over HTTP, be possible?

The test case I used was implementing HTTP session storage, which was nice and easy to implement. But, it was also nice and easy to implement in MySQL, and ran quite a bit faster (13 millis instead of the variable 30-100 millis).

I'd love to say I was doing something wrong. But, the time I was measuring was in the curl_exec(...) call, something I don't have a whole lot of control over.

OK, It's official, my new database to oggle is CouchDB. Oh, and I can't help keeping an eye on SimpleDB otoo, as maybe they'll improve it's performance.

Anybody have any experience that differs from this? Did I have some coding gotcha which gummed up the works?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Some Valentine's Day Links

Hopefully you won't need any of this advice. And don't forget Shira's #3rd principle of Romance:

It's always more special when you do that special act or give that special gift Just Because, rather than when Hallmark told you to.

Something I want: Haptica Braille Watch

I want the Haptica Braille Watch. Really, I do.

Check out this bad boy:

The watch appears to function just like you'd expect it would: braille bumps (yeah, probably the wrong term) allow you to figure out the time.

And why do I need such a watch? Two reasons come to mind: The first is that it sure would be nice to be able to check my watch without others noticing, useful when a meeting is running over. Second, it would force me to learn at least a tiny amount of Braille, which I'd think would be a useful life skill.

Alas, the watch doesn't exist, so I can't yet add it to wishlist. But, I can fund the project partially, doing my part to make this watch real.

Of course, before I can do that, I've got to apply to Shira for the funding. She may be a bit harder to convince that Neeeeeed this watch, but I just may try.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hiking Potomac Overlook Regional Park

Arlington County may be one of the smallest counties in the country, but it never ceases to surprise me with what it offers. Today, we explored Potomac Overlook Regional Park. We wanted to get out and enjoy the heatwave (50° F) and thought some light hiking would do the trick.

The park, does indeed, offer a handful of trails. With all the leaves off the trees, there were a number of spots where we could see the neighboring houses. And the park is also in the flight path of National Airport, so every 10 minutes a jet liner would fly by. But, even with these distractions, the park is still a hit. We got a nice walk in the woods, and managed to come across a family of deer ("family" being the technical term, of course) which made for a nice bit of excitement. And we did all this within a 12 minute drive of our house.

If you want a nice two mile hike in the park, here's what you do:

  • Park at the parking lot next to the playground
  • Walk just a little ways down the road until you see a road on your right marked as "Farm Road"
  • Walk along the road until you to hit a a junction - then keep going
  • You'll arrive at the original Potomac Overlook point. At this location is marked a 1 mile hike down to the Potomac
  • Hike in and out

Even if you just do as we did, and wander around some of the trails off the road, it's still worth your time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How Time Adds Value

I've always had this philosophy about time and and photography. Any photograph, given enough time, becomes precious. A random snapshot of your shoes is boring now - but in 300 years, it'll be absolutely precious.

The same, apparently, can be true about other objects - which is what explores:

Once a building no longer serves its purpose, and all of its previous functionality ceases to exist, it becomes truly fascinating. Each room is transforming into something new at its own rate, yielding to water, ice, wind and gravity as they reclaim this man-made space.

... Each object left behind becomes more significant than it has ever been, hinting at the life prior to its disuse.

And what value these objects have! Opacity's work is breathtaking.

He's got photos of two places relatively close to where I've lived: Rochester, NY State Hospital and Lorton, VA Reformatory.

Here's a shot of the Rochester location:

You've got to give the creator of this site real credit - thousands of people no doubt pass these sites every day, yet never see their beauty. What a gift he has.

It's a great reminder to really pay attention to your surroundings, there really is beauty everywhere.

Phone Friday: Offline Access to Tons of Kids Activities

I'm always on the lookout for ideas to entertain our little one (or heck, anyone). And if the idea works without an Internet connection, even better.

My latest idea source? Project Gutenberg. A quick search for games returns promising results:

To get instant access to these books, you'll want:

  1. Download Aldiko eBook reader
  2. Follow the instructions to hook in the Project Gutenberg catalog
  3. Search for the above books and install them on your mobile phone

Now you've got lots of ideas to try out, and no need for an Internet connection to browse through them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gotcha of the Day: Running a virus scan on an infected computer

One of my laptops is having virus issues again. This time, it was running an up to date version of Norton, yet I still managed to get one of these Fake Virus Checker virus on my laptop. Nasty little sucker.

I was proud of myself for booting into Safe Mode and running Norton there. Unfortunately, it didn't detect the problem.

This left me in a tight spot: I can boot into Safe Mode, but can't detect the virus. I can boot into regular mode, yet can't depend on the machine to run a valid virus check.

I actually found two solutions to this conundrum:

  • Norton comes with a tool: Norton Bootable Recovery Tool. I ran this tool on my laptop that was properly functioning*, and it created an up to date boot disk that I could boot my infected laptop with. Using the boot disk, I was able to run a virus scan.
  • has step by step instructions for manually removing these fake virus programs. The instructions look sound: they have you boot into Safe Mode with Networking and manually disable the proxy server that the virus installed in the background.

For now, I'm going down the path of the first solution. The boot disk setup has scanned 1,240,633 files so far (it's been about 6 hours, and it's still going strong) and has found Trojan.Gen. It hasn't attempted to fix the problem yet, but I'm fairly optimistic that it's going to clean up my little mess.

If not, I've got Plan B ready to go.

Plan C, by the way, is to just buy a new friggin laptop, and install Linux over the infected one.

A Kid's Take on Retro Technology

Yes and Yes posted this wonderful French video showing kids trying to make sense of 1980's and 90's technology. It's definitely worth a watch:

Among my favorite moments: (1) the kid new not only what a record player was, but was able to scratch out a beat - very impressive. And (2), I love how one of the kids assumes a 3 1/2 in floppy disk was a camera. After all, it's totally conceivable to them that a digital camera should be just a few millimeters thick.

Oh, and I agree with the original post: French children are just too dang cute.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Appreciating the Super Bowl - It's all about the player's stories

Apparently, there's more to the Super Bowl than commercials. There's also the player's impressive back stories.

The Rumpus put together an impressive set of player bios from this past Super Bowl. Armed with this knowledge, it would be hard not to get into the game.

Heck, even the comments on the page contain juicy tidbits:

I grew up in a Wisconsin rurality just a few miles from Green Bay, where the streets were silent during Sunday afternoons, except for bursts of cheers or shouts from living rooms. When the Packers lost Super Bowl XXXII, school was cancelled the following Monday. every Sunday Mass between August and February ended with a five-minute prayer for the Packers. It wasn’t until I left home that I realized this was “weird.”

Note to self: next year, do a little research on the players, the game will seem much more appealing.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl Highlights (and by highlights, I mean commercials)

I didn't watch the Super Bowl last night. But I was kind of bummed to miss all those high quality commercials that make their debut. Thankfully, USA Today has put together a nice little tool to browse ads and see which ones are ranked where. Want even more commentary? Check out Adrants - they've got the topic more than covered.

Personally, I think the Doritos Puppy Ad was way better than equally high ranking Bud Light Dog Sitting commercial. And frankly, anything the eTrade Baby Does is automatically funny by my standards.

Sure was nice being able to take in all that entertainment without it getting interrupted by that football game they insisted on showing in the background.

The Baltimore Aquarium

Yesterday, we hit the National Aquarium in Baltimore. We did the Aquarium in 17-month-old-time, which means that we managed to get in and out in less than 2hrs. This gave us enough time for a quick lunch before our little one completely zonked out and we retreated back to DC.

I've always heard people rave about the Baltimore Aquarium, and for the most part, it seems much deserved. The collection of habitats and displays were impressive. There was definitely plenty for both kids and adults to love. True, our 17 month was at times more enamored by the touch screens than sharks swimming behind them, but, what can you do? He's a man with a fine appreciation for embedded computer systems, how can I blame him for that? He also loved the tubes filled with water that gurgled with bubbles at the start of the museum. I'll ignore the fact that I payed a small fortune for him to be entertained by an effect I can simulate a bath tub.

Two parts of the museum left me unimpressed. (1) The snack bars opened at 11am, but didn't actually have any food prepared. Like many families, we had a child ready to eat. I can't imagine this Sunday was any different from any past Sunday - so of course kids want to eat at 11am, and of course, it's inconvenient if you aren't ready.

(2) I wasn't blown away by the hands on area for little kids. They had what seemed to only be a token few things for children to play with and handle. For such a family oriented activity, I'd expect them to have more of this to offer.

Even with these observations, the Aquarium is still very much a must see. Especially for older kids, I could see this being a really thrilling place.

Some photos...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Pithy Advice on Leadership and Hand Grenade Usage

I stumbled onto and it seems like it contains some pretty useful information for the general public. Specifically, I think the flashcards on leadership could be especially handy handy. For example:

Describe the "Be, Know and Do".

Army leadership begins with what the leader must BE, the values and attributes that shape a leader's character. Your skills are those things you KNOW how to do, your competence in everything from the technical side of your job to the people skills a leader requires. But character and knowledge while absolutely necessary are not enough. You cannot be effective, you cannot be a leader, until you apply what you know, until you act and DO what you must.

Seems like you could use these to build your own little leadership cheat sheet, or list of guiding principles.

And, on the off chance you need to master the use of hand grenades, they've got flashcards for those too:

How do you inspect unpacked grenades or grenades stored in ammunition pouches?

1. Inspect unpacked grenades daily to ensure that the safety pins are present.
2. Check the body for rust or dirt.
3. Make sure the lever is not broken or bent.

Other topics of interest: First Aid, Maps and Navigation and Wilderness Survival, not to many a variety of Army and weapons specific topics.

Definitely interesting stuff.

Friday Funny:

Perhaps it was the mood I was in when I was browsing because I found just about every comic made me giggle. Giggle, I say.

Seriously, if you want a smile this Friday, check out the site. Once you've read the comics, you can check out the quizzes. Finally, you can learn such handy facts as Are your loved ones planning to eat you? or How many hungry weasles could your body feed?.

Note: most of the comics are probably considered R-rated because of the salty language. So, this one isn't for the kiddies. (Despite having some great advice on eating playdoh).

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Outdoor Skill: Estimating Distance with a Compass

Here's a handy technique I'd like to try next time I'm in the woods: Measure Distance with a standard Compass.

By using two known angles, and a reference distance, you're just a little trigonometry away from knowing how far away a point is. Or, more succinctly:

distance = (Tan (90 - (A -B))) x Ref

Finally, a reason to carry my cell phone (which has a calculator on it) when I go on a hike.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola's Advice to Programmers and Entrepeneurs

I found this interview with Francis Ford Coppola to be surprisingly riveting. It's filled with all sorts of insights that seem to apply to both being a programmer as well as an entrepreneur.

Take his view on how young the world of movies is:

I just finished a film a few days ago, and I came home and said I learned so much today. So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say, “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema. Because the cinema is very young. It’s only 100 years old.

Even in the early days of the movies, they didn’t know how to make movies. They had an image and it moved and the audience loved it. You saw a train coming into the station, and just to see motion was beautiful.

The same thing can be said about programming. In so many ways, I think we're still very much inventing our field. And it really is true that not too long ago getting the computer to do anything was just remarkable in and of itself.

He goes on to talk about the importance of risk (something every entrepreneur needs to learn to love), the concept of borrowing a style from another person (something a programmer should embrace) and some really unexpected views on making money. Such as:

You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

Like I said, really interesting stuff. Definitely worth a read.

Found via:

I suppose I can chalk this up as yet another movie maker giving solid geek advice.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

700 Offbeat Kid Entertainment Ideas

Perhaps, retro is a better term than offbeat. I give you: The Boy Mechanic Vol. 1 700 Things for Boys to Do. It does, in fact, appear to be a list of 700 things that you might do as a boy in 1913.

Many of them don't quite seem applicable today (washboard holder, anyone?) - but as sources for ideas, it's terrific.

Just think, how might you adapt the creation of a simple wireless broadcasting setup, or construction of a bell tent, or indoor baseball using a pocket knife (bye-bye totenchit!). Oh, the possibilities!

Depending on your view, being a boy in 1913 must have been either wonderfully exciting, or disastrous.

And when you've exhausted those 700 ideas, there's a whole slew of additional craft books here. Come to think of it, haven't I discovered sooner?

Distraction of the Day:

You know this is going to be hilarious: And it is. Very.

Mom: I just looked at the forecast! Appears you have a lot of precipitation headed your way in the next 48 hours.

Mom: New topic

Mom: Promise me something

Mom: If you guys ever find me dead in bed, do an autopsy

This site hits especially close to home, as my Mom (to her credit!) is a big texter.

Via the clever: blog (proving that blogging with the same format every day can totally work!), which was found via the always enjoyable