Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Becoming Chef Ben, or My Very First Cooking Class

For years, we've walked past the Sur La Table cooking studio and thought we should take a cooking class there. The setup looks so professional, the chef looks so wise and the students all look like they're having a great time. Finally, Shira took matters into her own hands and actually signed us up. The result: last night we attended an Asian Noodle class.

I have to admit, things didn't start off so hot. We arrived about 10 minutes early, and they told us to wander around and give them more time to setup. No problem. After the requested 10 minutes we returned to find a full classroom. There were indeed two spots left, but at different cooking tables. I also couldn't help but notice that there were big chunks of beef on each table - not a great sign when I was hoping to cook vegetarian that evening.

Luckily, within a few minutes, we had things mostly resolved. An individual from one table switched with Shira, and that at least put us at the same table.

And then the class began. I was expecting thorough instruction, lots of demonstration and everyone at the table to be doing the same thing. Something like: "here, let me show you all how to dice up the garlic. Now, everybody grab their garlic and do the same." And that's exactly how it *didn't* work. The chef walked through a couple of recipes we had in front of us, and told our tables to get to work. This was definitely learning by doing.

At first we were all kind of hesitant about who should do what, but within a few minutes, we had some progress made. And by the end of the night, our table was a finely oiled cooking machine.

And that big chunks of beef on table? Yes, they got used two different recipes, but three others were vegetarian. And it just so happened that another person at our table was also a veggie.

All in all, the experience was quite good. The recipes came way too fast and furious for my brain to keep up, but it sure was fun to see that making something like Pad Thai or Lo Mein was actually doable by mere mortals. The team at Sur La Table was definitely top notch, as there were quite a few helpers around to clear dishes, provide us with any utensils or supplies we wanted and answer questions.

My big take aways:

  • Ask questions. Our chef was glad to teach us, but he needed us to have the courage to ask. A question about cutting onions turned into a slick demonstration about how to neatly slice them. A question about ginger revealed that pealing the outside with a spoon is ideal instead of using a knife (less chance you'll cut yourself or damage the ginger). A question about noodles being ready taught me that breaking them in half and detecting a white core means they aren't quite there. It's no fun looking like an idiot in front of a room full of strangers, but asking questions definitely made the difference in getting real value from the clss.
  • Your table mates matter. In our case, the strangers at our table were all quite nice, and wanted to learn (versus showing off what they knew). I could see some advantages of going as a group to one of these classes to insure that you had solid fellow cooking mates. But, it's also a nice to let serendipity happen, and just go with the flow. The class was definitely more of a team sport than I imagined.
  • Enjoy! Like I said above, for me, this was all really overwhelming. Once I accepted I wasn't going to soak up every bit of information, I was able to relax and really enjoy it.
  • Don't be afraid to go off script. When asked, they provided us with veggie broth and a separate wok to cook veggie dishes in. All we needed to do was ask. Of course, I'm sure there are requests that are beyond what they could meet - but I was impressed at how the chef was glad to think on his feat and adjust the recipe to meet what our table wanted to cook.

Of course, a few photos from the evening:

Definitely a fun thing to do!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Useful Object of the Day: Hand Sanitizer

OK, perhaps Purell isn't quite as handy as tin foil or dental floss, but apparently, it still has quite a number of uses.


And more.

Got any uses to add? Oh yeah, it can also be used to clean your hands.

Summer in DC in February?!

Yesterday was truly a spectacular weather day. Technically, it was 65°F and sunny, but it felt like it was in the low 80's. As soon as Shira walked in the door, she pronounced that we needed to take a bike ride. So off we went to soak up some sun.

Below are some photos I snapped along the way. Of course, they don't do justice to the beautiful day, but it was worth a try.

I biked with my Canon EOS t3i hanging our my neck, and then stuffed into my open zippered jacket. It provided quick access, which was key, but it seemed like far from the ideal setup. I suppose I want something like this, but I'm not convinced it would work well with a DSLR on a bike. How do you carry your camera while riding?

Monday, February 27, 2012

From Key Bridge to Rock Creek Trail, a Fun One Hour'ish Run

I tackled this 1 hour (and 8 minute) run yesterday over the Key Bridge, along the C&O Canal and onto Rock Creek Trail. All in all, it turned out to be quite nice.

I don't really trust the distance measurement on my GPS (as I doubt I hit 25Mph), but figure the route was about 7 miles.

It took me by the Dumbarton House, which has piqued my interest - I'll have to drag my Mother-in-Law or my parents there when they are here on their next visit.

View Wilson Blvd To Rock Creek Pkwy Run in a larger map

The First Three Steps to a Successful Passover

This weekend I've finally emerged from denial: Passover is most definitely coming. To that end, I tackled the first three critical steps:

  1. Freaked out. I went through the usual repertoire of kvetching, including: "Why doesn't anyone tell me Passover is right around the corner?!", "We don't have nearly enough time to prepare, now!", "Last year went so smoothly, this year we're toast!" and of course, "Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhhh, Passssssooooovvvveeeerrrrr!"
  2. Initiated Operation "clean out the freezer" which involves the following challenge to myself: for every meal I eat, have it including something from the freezer. This morning I found and resurrected a random frozen bagel. This weekend I discovered some ancient pizza. It's tons of fun. It truly is amazing what the right combination of microwaving and toaster-ovening a frozen item can produce.
  3. Stocked up on the most critical supplies. See:

I figure, as long as I keep joking about, Passover can't come sneaking up on me...

Friday, February 24, 2012

The $100 Laptop Project is Alive and Innovating

I have been, and continue to be a fan of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. They hit some rough terrain a while back which seemed to burst their bubble (like: not setting expectations of buyers well enough, using the phrase "$100 laptop" and then not delivering a $100 laptop and letting the marketing material get ahead of the technology). But, I'm psyched to see that their back and better than ever. I give you the XO-3, a slick tablet:

I'm sorry to see the hybrid monochrome + color screen feature seems to be gone, but there's plenty of impressive innovations to make up for it. Including the use solar power and crank (something that was originally shown on the laptop, then removed, as it wasn't practical) power options.

The technology is slick, but I still think the key ingredient here is software. Until this is a useful learning platform, OLPC's job will be incomplete - even if it can deliver the $100 price point it's been shooting for, for years.

Still, I hope they keep up the good fight and I'm glad to see they weathered their last bout with fame. Here's to fame 2.0 having a better outcome for them.

I Have To Do This: S24O

I just blogged about what I'm never going to do,so it only seems fitting to blog about something I most definitely do want to do: a S24O.

And what's an S24O? Glad you asked:

A S24O (pronounced “Es-Two-Four-Oh”) was coined by Grant Peterson of Rivendell. It is a sub-24 hour overnight bike camping trip. The beauty is that it takes little time commitment (less than 24 hours) and if you forget something in your packing, it’s not the end of the world.

More info here and here.

I'm all for long trips, but the idea of being able to a short burst (sub-24hr) adventure really appeals to me too. Our one or two night backpacking trips are so much fun, I'm sure an overnight bike trip would be too. The best part is that the trip can start right from your driveway. That's instant adventure.

When the whether gets nice, I'm so going to nudge Shira into doing one of these.

I Will Never Do This. Or anything like it.

But I can enjoy watching others play on the World's Largest Rope Swing.


What 8 Years (or so) of Technology Looks Like

Years ago, I had the brilliant notion that it was essential to save the box that went with the technology purchase I had just made. I'm not quite sure what was going through my head on this - perhaps I was thinking it would make it easier to resell the gear on eBay or something? All I know is, for quite some time, I dutifully stored boxes from cameras, laptops, GPSs and more.

Months ago I realized that I had not once, in the last 8 years, trudged up to the attic to pull down some box that belonged to a gadget of mine. Earlier this week, when I was searching for something in the attic I decided it was time to purge said boxes. And so the to recycling bin (where possible) they went.

But, before they were banished from my home, I decided I should take one last photo of the heap. The result is a sort of geologic record of technology I've owned.

A few things I noted as I prepared these boxes for recycling:

  • In general, the packaging for items has shrunk. The laptop boxes, for example, get skinnier and skinnier. And why the Garmin IQue (the size of a Smart Phone) warranted a massive box is beyond me.
  • The older the boxes, the more manuals and paper they contained. Some of the older boxes, like say the Canon Powershot, was so heavy, it felt like there was an actual camera in there. Instead, there was handful of manuals in multiple languages. My new Asus Laptop came with little more than the laptop, power plug, battery and 6 page pamphlet telling you how to turn the sucker on.
  • I love that I have boxes for both a 250MB backup drive, and 1TB backup drive. And by now, even the 1TB is probably considered small.
  • I sure did love my Sidekicks - and how sweet was that packaging?
  • Ahhh those old school T-mobile phones, those guys were fun. Like the Samsung T809 and Ericsson T610 - these were incredibly fancy (and price) phones in their day, but for the life of me, I can't imagine what made them so special. Could the form factor have been worth that much back then?

Luckily, I'm just discarding the boxes...a number of these items still get quite a bit of us.

Ahhhh, tech memory lane. What fond memories do you have in the technology surrounding you?

Thursday, February 23, 2012 A hacker friendly Credit Card processor

Accepting credit cards on your website can be surprisingly tricky business. On one hand, you want to provide a solution that's as secure as possible (read: credit card data is never sent to your sofware), the on the other, you want to user experience to be as smooth as possible (read: allowing users to save and reuse credit cards or setup monthly subscriptions). And on the third hand, you'd like implementing the platform to be simple.

What's a programmer to do?

Thanks to the advice of a client, I now know of a potential solution: appears to be a credit card platformed designed for, and targeted to developers.

First off, they use a modern and clever JavaScript hack to securely convert credit card credentials in an token which you can safely transmit and store in your database. This token potentially be reused to offer the customer the ability to pay for an item without re-entering their card. It's an approach I've seen done betfore, but never in such a transparent and simplified way.

And then there's the API. To my delight, they offer examples that interact with the API via a curl command line session. This is an excellent practices, as it demonstrates to the programmer just how simple the API is to implement (there's no magic, it's just HTTP requests).

Finally, I love their easy test/production mode switch.

Of course, I've only written a little code to interact with them - so perhaps there's some gotchas I haven't detected yet. And I don't have any visibility into the business side of things (the client just provides me with the account, and I program away). But clearly, these guys are developer focused. Where has a mountain of products and docs to wade through (DPM, SIM, AIM, Oh My!), these guys appear to have a simple and flexible offering. Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Canon 55-250mm IS II Lens

My Mother-in-Law came through and got me a most excellent present: a Canon 55-250mm IS II lens for my relatively new EOS t3i.

I was impressed with the size of the lens. It's about an inch longer than the 28-55mm kit lens, which means that it's not a big leap from what I was used to already. It didn't strike me as particularly heavy, but was definitely noticeable as I schlepped the camera along for a walk tonight.

While snapping off random photos tonight, I was pleased with the reach the lens gave me, and found that I managed to get sharp photos even as I was running out of daylight.

Here's a few random snapshots that probably don't do the lens justice. I keep promising myself that I'm not going to overdo it on photography equipment. I want to keep my setup light enough that I'll bring it with me on my travels. So far, I've been able to do that, and I'm thinking that given the weight to functionality ratio, the lens was a worthy addition to the kit.

I've ordered a case for the lens. When it arrives, perhaps I'll create an updated gear list that corresponds to the EOS t3i.

What lens or gear should I be wishing for next? I've got a 50mm on the list, and that's about it.

That second last photo is a close up of Bank of America ATM. Shira was making a deposit, so I snapped a few photos. As we were walking a way, a bank employee and security guard approached me and asked why I was photographing the ATM. I kindly explained I had a new lens I was playing with and even showed her the photo. It was all very surreal. I guess I can't blame them, as the branch had been robbed a few weeks back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Getting Google Authenticator and Apache to Cooperate on CentOS

I love the idea of using two factor authentication to harden a web app. Recently, I discovered Google Authentication for Android, which together with the Google Authenticator platform, brings two factor authentication to The Rest Of Us.

In theory, leveraging Google Authenticator and .htpasswd should be as easy as installing the Google Authenticator Apache Module. Alas, that turns out to be much easier said then do. So, to help others out there, here's the steps I went through to lock down a directory in Apache with a one time use password from Google.

These instructions should be thought of as general road map - I'm still figuring out how the whole system works, so I apologize if I've included optional steps, or left out required ones. Where possible, I've favored specific Linux commands over explanations. If the commands bother you, you shouldn't be installing this module.

  1. Grab the tools needed to compile the Apache module: yum install httpd-devel
  2. Grab the Google Authenticator command line tool: yum install google-authenticator
  3. Grab the source code for the Apache module: wget
  4. CRITICAL: Grab mod_authn_google.c from this discussion. Use it replace the file found in the above download. Failing to do this will install a version of the module which prompts you for a password after a minute.
  5. Update line 7 of the Makefile to have the correct install path. I changed mine to read:
    install: all
             sudo cp .libs/ /etc/httpd/modules
  6. sudo make install
  7. Create the appropriate user-dir: sudo mkdir /etc/httpd/ga_auth
  8. Install Google Authenticator on your Android device and start it up.
  9. Generate the Google Authenticator configuration for the user: google-authenticator
  10. Notice that the first line of the Google Authenticator output is a URL that looks like:|.... Copy and paste that URL into a browser.
  11. In the Android app, select: Menu > Scan a barcode. Point it to the QR code image shown on the screen in the previous step.
  12. Store the generated Google Authenticator file where the Apache module can see it: cp ~/.google_authenticator /etc/httpd/ga_auth/foo, where foo is the user who will be logging in. Make sure the permissions are correct so the webserver can access it.
  13. Update your Apache config to have a block like so:
       <Directory />
         Options FollowSymLinks ExecCGI
         AllowOverride All
         Order deny,allow
         Allow from all
         AuthType Basic
         AuthName "Shhhhh, secret."
         AuthBasicProvider "google_authenticator"
         Require valid-user
         GoogleAuthUserPath ga_auth
         GoogleAuthCookieLife 3600
         GoogleAuthEntryWindow 2
  14. /etc/rc.d/init.d/httpd restart
  15. Watch the error log for debugging info: tail -f /var/log/htttpd/error_log
  16. Point your browser to a protected directory

If all went exceedingly well, you'll be asked for a username and password. Enter the username you created in /etc/httpd/ga_auth, and use the Android app to enter the current 6 digit password.

If it doesn't work, and you see mention of "(null)" in the error log, check out this discussion.

Don't forget to run this all over SSL, or you'll be leaving a gaping security hole open.

Good luck!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Moment to Kvell

So today was my Niece's Bat Mitzvah and it was truly outstanding. Everything from Dad leading Shachareit, to David doing Hagbah, to incredibly delicious food, helped make it just perfect.

And then there was the Bat Mitzvah girl herself. Wow. I don't recall much about my Bar Mitzvah, but I can tell you I had it nowhere near as together as she did. She gave an insightful and thoughtful Dvar Torah, which showed just how knowledgeable (and comfortable speaking in front of a large room of adults!) she truly is.

I'm so proud of her.

Here's to many, many more simchas! Mazel Tov!

(See all photos here).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Bat Mitzvah Begins

Exciting times in the Simon Family - my niece is having her Bat Mitzvah tomorrow! What a thrill it was tonight to get the fam together from near and far, all for such a wonderful occasion.

I'm having a bit of a "holy smokes, I'm ooooooold!" moment with this event. I remember going to kids Bar and Bats - and now my brother has a kid old enough to be having her own. How is that possible??

Tonight I took, oh, about 204 photos. But, I've yet to figure out what's Kosher to post, and what isn't. So, I'll just post these two photos that I'm fairly certain are safe.

Exhibit A: the Kosher Chinese food my Brother and Sister-in-Law brought in for dinner tonight. Man, it was delicious. And to top it off, along with a wide variety of Chinese options, they had hot dogs and french fries, too. This is absolutely something Shira and I would do, and was a huge treat. You may be thinking, was this really a bloggable meal? Yes, definitely. It was epic.

Exhibit B: Here's 4 generations of Simon men. No scotch in hand like usual, but we're all absolutely thrilled to be here.

Hopefully more photos to come and perhaps more yummy food after the ceremony tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Song of the Day: Wireless in Heaven

You just have to love Country Music. Any genera that can have the following chorus in a song deserves some serious respect:

Is there wireless in heaven? I just wanna know.
Do I need a password to log in when I go?
And does Jesus have a website to send in my e-mail?
Is there wireless in heaven, or do I go to hell?

Heard on Boot Liquor, of course. In fact, I've been listening for the last hour, and they're just delivering one sweet song after another.

Here, give the song a listen:

Some Initial Thoughts on R7RS

By now, I'm sure you've heard the huge news: public review has started for the R7RS small language. Exciting, right?!

I've been through the draft and here are some initial thoughts. I'm going to let them all gel a bit before I decide if I want to bother the steering committee with any of the feedback.

In no particular order...

  • Overall, the draft looks good. They've managed to reclaim most of the tiny-language feel that was lost in R6RS. Kudos to the steering committee for an excellent job.
  • (p8) I'm not really sold on adding new comment options #; and #|...|#, but that's probably more a reflection of my love of comments. Certainly #; is clever, and I suppose #|...|# may be handy for literate programming, but still, I'm not there yet.
  • (p8) Same goes with the directive #!fold-case and !#no-fold-case. Perhaps if the language offered a new way to add directives, I'd embrace them further. But for now, they just seem like special cases that may be handled in other ways. For example, perhaps case folding could be accomplished with a parameter?
  • (p9) I see there's still no way to add a new disjointed type to the system. I suppose this can be approximated using other means. Still, I wonder if it creating new types could be a useful foundational element.
  • (p18) I was pleased to see make-parameter was added to the standards. Parameters provide a really useful middle ground between passing local state around and global variables. I'm convinced it's a pattern other languages like Java and PHP may one day discover.
  • (p21) I was disappointed to see that syntax-case didn't make the cut. Seems to me that syntax-case is the next logical evolution of macros, just like syntax-rules was the logical choice over defmacro. syntax-case allows you to create any sort of macro you can imagine and do it in a relatively clean way. I know it's probably considered too big for the small language. In my super-compact-language dream, I'd see leaving out define-library and the details behind exception handling, and use syntax-case and make-parameter to implement these. That's probably pushing things too far, and losing out on some key foundational elements that will make R7RS large layer nicely on the small language. Still, a Schemer can dream.
  • (p25) I'm not really sold on including define-record-type in the small language definition. Seems like it could be moved to the large language spec with minimal impact. As proof, the example programs in the back of the report demonstrate quite well that you can write code without records.
  • (p26) As stated above, part of me feels like define-library could be pushed off to the larger spec. Libraries are used to structure code, and closures already do that quite well. But, as a practical matter, a library syntax probably serves as glue to hold the scheme community together. If we're going to have a module system in the R7RS spec, I suppose I like the one that's being offered up here.
  • (p46) I'm pleased to see byte vectors are available.
  • (p50) I feel more or less the same way about the exception framework presented as I do about define-library. The purist in me wonders if we could get away with parameters and continuations, and not bother defining a handful of error handling functions. But, the realist in me knows that having a sane exception framework will make software development much less painful. Feh.
  • (p71) The notes section and example sections are quite helpful, and truly make this a language spec one can sit down and read.

Again, I've got to say I'm really impressed with what the steering committee came up with. R6RS left quite a bitter taste in everyone's mouths, and they've done an excellent job of picking up the pieces.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stat of the Day: 53% of infants born in the US are on WIC

From the USDA's FY 2013 Budget Summary:

WIC. The WIC Program, USDA’s largest discretionary program, helps improve the health and nutritional intake of low-income pregnant, breast-feeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to their fifth birthday. WIC works by providing participants with vouchers redeemable for foods dense in nutrients known to be lacking in the diets of eligible groups and by providing nutrition education and referrals to other important health and social services. In 2010, WIC infant participation was over 53 percent of births in the United States.

Or put another way: "WIC serves 53 percent of all infants born in the United States."

I find that astounding. Over half the kids born in this country are on some sort of assistance.

Because of my involvement with being a foster parent, I've actually participated in WIC. Let me tell you, this isn't some cushy government program you want to get on. In exchange for checks redeemable to buy the most basic of child foodstuffs (plain rice cereal, peas, some fresh produce), you need to attend training seminars, bring your child in for regular check-ups and jump through hoops at the grocery store. Heck, you can get a feel for it yourself next time you shop - look for food marked with WIC tags and imagine trying to feed a family off it. You're not going to put up with these shenanigans unless you really need the help.

I'm not sure what conclusion I should draw from this statistic. All I got so far is shock. What do you think?

Update: My brilliant wife pointed me to the FY 2013 budget summary, which gives the most up to date information the USDA has on the topic. Thanks babe!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sweet, Sweet Dieting Advice

I have two main rules for meals. One involves serving sizes, which I'll spare you, and the other one is quite simply: eat dessert after every meal. No seriously, every meal. No matter which meal, no matter how small. Dessert makes it better.

Why this sage advice? Oh, so many reasons:

  • You'll eat less at the meal if you know that you're going to be having desert
  • Dessert officially ends the meal, and you won't keep snacking afterwards
  • Because you know you're going to have dessert after every meal, you'll make the desserts you do eat smaller
  • Life is short!

And guess what? Science now agrees with me! From

Can dessert for breakfast help you lose weight?
New research suggests that, in the early morning, you can have your cake and shed pounds too
A new study from Tel Aviv University finds that eating a small dessert as part of a balanced breakfast can actually help you shed unwanted pounds

OK, so they were talking about dessert after breakfast, not every meal. But if a little dessert is good, wouldn't a lot be better?

Funny Because It's True: Freelancer Fred

Oh Freelancer Fred, I so feel your pain! Here a few notable quotes:

See more of Freelancer Fred here and here.

While clever, I still think the First World Problems meme my all time favorite.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Grandpa Would Agree: Vodka can improve your problem solving skills

Ask my grandpa, and he'd probably tell you that there's little that can't be improved by a shot or two of scotch. And, apparently, science agrees with him:

Getting a buzz from booze may boost creativity. Men who drank themselves tipsy solved more problems demanding verbal resourcefulness in less time than sober guys did, a new study finds.

Sudden, intuitive insights into tricky word-association problems occurred more frequently when men were intoxicated but not legally drunk, say psychology graduate student Andrew Jarosz of the University of Illinois at Chicago and his colleagues. Sober men took a more deliberative approach to this task.

Read the entire article here.

I knew gradpa was a genius.

Access to Idea Juice any time of the day - yet another advantage of working from home.

Churches, Contraception and My Blood Pressure

This latest debate on requiring churches to offer contraception has me all riled up. Here's how it breaks down to me:

I thought the core principle behind health care was that all medical decisions should be made by you and the doctor of your choice (with family, religion, and any other input being factored in at your discretion). In fact, the whole "government take over of health care" cry was so effective because it implied that the government was going to play a role in making your health decisions, and in the extreme case, deciding who may live and die (see: Death Panels).

Given this philosophy, it seems like the ideal situation would be that insurance plans offer every treatment option available at a reasonable rate, and you and your doctor pick the ones that fits you. You and your Doctor decide The Pill is right for you? You should be able to go on it. You and your doctor decide acupuncture is the best fit? Again, it should be available. Want to try botox for migraine relief? Again, if your Doctor gives you the green light, you should be able to get it.

Of course, we don't live in an ideal world, so every treatment option won't be available in every plan. That's just economics, I get it.

Along comes this contraception kerfuffle. Churches say they can't be expected to pay for procedures they don't agree with. OK, I can see that. In fact, after some reflection, I more than see the point, I think it's critical. I'd be mortified if my shul was required by the government to support something we as a congregation don't agree with. So, Obama re-jiggers things, and says, fine, churches don't have to pay for contraception. In fact, they'd have no involvement in contraception at all. The GOP responds by suggesting this isn't a compromise, and takes the rule further: any corporation should be able to deny contraception coverage.

And this is what ties me up in knots: doesn't this put individuals in a place where potentially who they work for limits what medical care they can afford, and therefore access? Isn't this the nightmare scenario conservatives painted, only with churches and corporations calling the shots instead of some government committee?

Put another way: it seems fair for a church or synagogue to say where they spend their money. But, it doesn't seem fair for them to limit what medical care their employees have. And it seems like that's what they are reaching for.

Why do I feel like Republicans are fighting for the rights of a churches and corporations over those of individuals?

Update: I feel like I should add, if churches and corporations do end up getting the right to pick plans that don't cover contraception, it won't be the end of the world. Heck, you could work for an employer who thinks that acupuncture is a sham, and refuses to cover it. Your options would be: get a new job or pay for it out of pocket. Not ideal options, but not the end of the world either.

It just seems disingenuous to say that the Government is going to ration your care, and then turn around and fight for another party to be able to do the same thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Women Finally Get Their Revenge On Men

Spanx for men?!

What's next, high heels for men?

Not cool. Not cool.

More Running With a Camera

Camera: Android G2
Mode: Retro Camera, Xoloroid 2000
Route: coming soon
Sites: Pentagon Memorial and the entrance to Arlington Cemetery

What a chilly run this morning - a feels like of 11 degrees. Finally winter arrives!

With the cold, though, I had the route all to myself.

For the first time, I did a circuit around Arlington Cemetery starting at the Pentagon. I only recently learned how accessible this route (there's trails or sidewalk the whole way).

It really boggles my mind that I can step out for a run and pass by all these iconic sites. Arlington truly is an awesome place to live.

Friday, February 10, 2012

More Photography From A Run - Arlington Edition

Continuing on this photography while running theme...

I've got this new 5 mile running route that I'm really loving. It takes me through the Lyndon Johnson Memorial Grove, past the Navy & Merchant Marine Memorial, along the Potomac with views of DC and through Gravelly Point, finally ending back at Pentagon Row.

It's beautiful on any occasion. But last night, during the sunset, it was just breath taking. So yeah, I couldn't resist snapping a few photos. I used Retro Camera again, though this time I had it set to Ye Old Pin Hole Camera. The results don't quite capture what I saw, but given the equipment I had, I'm pleased.

View Pentagon Row, Lyndon Johnson Memorial Grove, Loop in a larger map

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Gotcha of the Day: Fighting with WordPress's wpautop

The great thing about WordPress is that it makes editing HTML so easy, my customers can manage their own content. The annoying thing about WordPress is that part of the brains behind this easy editing (wpautop) seemingly randomly inserts HTML in your page.

For example, I was trying to lay out HTML like this:

<img class='alignleft' src='...'/>
<h3>This is a title</h3>
This is some body text

Yet, wpautop decided it needed to insert a BR into this, which throws off the layout:

<img class='alignleft' src='...'/><br/>
<h3>This is a title</h3>
This is some body text

For a while I fought with wpautop, trying to put stuff all on the same line and such. But it was clearly a balancing act that wasn't going to work.

And then it hit me: why not just turn off wpautop?

Naturally, there's a plugin for that. But, I didn't want to turn it off for all posts. Just for the post that I would be maintaining and this particular client wouldn't be editing.

I added the following lines of code to a plugin that's part of the system and I was basically there:

function maybe_wpautop($content) {
  $post = get_post();
  $skip_autop = get_post_meta($post->ID, 'skip_autop', true);
  return $skip_autop ? $content : wpautop($content);

remove_filter ('the_content',  'wpautop');
add_filter('the_content', 'maybe_wpautop');

For any post I want to skip the wpautop functionality, I just add the custom field skip_autop.

Now I'm back on solid terms with WordPress. I can let my client continue to be the benefit of its magic, while this same magic no longer gets in my way.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Iwo Jima at Night with a Camera Phone

Continuing on my theme of grabbing snapshots on my run, Dave and I ran through the Iwo Jima memorial last night. The full moon was hovering perfectly over the DC skyline. In fact, as we approached the Netherlands Carillon, we noticed what must have been 25 photographers set up—tripods and long lenses—attempting to capture the shot. All I had with me was my camera phone, and we were already running late. So, I grabbed a few shots of the Iwo Jima memorial, and promised myself I'd come back another time to catch the view.

Here's what I was able to grab:

Seriously, watch moonrise from Netherlands Carillon needs to be on your must do list. It really was breath taking (or maybe that was the 5 miles of running we had done to get there?).

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

ASUS u46e-bal7 - Silly Name, Super Fine Laptop

Years ago, I bought a Sony laptop and loved it. I assumed that I was now a fan of Sony, and would buy from then, from now on. Not so, as my next laptop was a Dell Vostro. Again, I loved it (still do, actually), and assumed I would be buying from Dell from now on. And again, I was proven wrong.

Neither Sony, nor Dell, had anything that really impressed me, so I went back on the hunt for laptops. While poking around Best Buy I discovered the Asus u46e-bal6. It had impressive specs for the price (i7 process, or 8 gigs of ram, 13" screen and was relatively low weight). Add to that the positive review by cnet and I was sold.

As luck would have it, the bal6 model line was discontinued, but the bal7 line is now available. It appears to have almost no differences (except a higher price) than the bal6, but was still what I considered to be a solid bargain.

So I did it, and for the first time in my life, I'm an Asus owner.

What's truly amazing about this laptop is just how smooth a transition it has been to use. The setup took about 3 minutes. I downloaded Firefox and xmarks, and within another two minutes I had all my bookmarks. I was now ready to use the cloud, and with zero effort had access to all my e-mail, docs and company information.

I removed the virus software that came with it (as no doubt, it was some sort of trial) and just installed Microsoft Security Essentials, what seems to be a free and reliable virus checker. And other than the Bing Bar being installed, I've been impressed with how little bloatware is on the laptop. I can remember not too long ago, when manufacturers would provide you a computer littered with the stuff.

After the Anti-Virus and Firefox were in place (which, yeah, I should have done in the reverse order. But, whatever), I installed Cygwin and emacs and the vast majority of my development tools were taken care of.

Finally, I installed Carbonite and "restored" my files from my old Sony laptop. In another few days, all my files should transfer from the old laptop to the new.

It's all just been so dang uneventful.

The actual physical laptop seems to be high quality. They keyboard seems usable, though, most of the time, I have I'll have it hooked up to an external keyboard. In theory, it has a WiMax chipset built in, and USB 3.0 - but I really don't have a use for these. I just know that it seems fast, and so far, has been reliable. I haven't seen how long the 8 cell battery will last, but I'm sure it's more than satisfactory.

As for down sides, it has few minor nits. There's no finger print scanner, but it does offer facial recognition that's quite impressive. Time will tell if its practical to use. It also doesn't have a backlit keyboard, which my Dell Vostro has and makes working in bed next to a sleeping wife more pleasant. But, given the other specs of the machine (i7+8Gb RAM), I figured I could live without the keyboard. Or heck, maybe I'll upgrade it later. Another psudo-nit is that I'm not in love with the placement of the volume keys on the keyboard, but that was trivial to fix with this autohotkey script:

HotKey, +#Up, vol_up
HotKey, +#Down, vol_down
  Send {Volume_UP}
  Send {Volume_Down}

All in all, I couldn't be more pleased with the new laptop. Its peppy and has been a breeze to switch to. Couldn't ask for anything more.

DC Through A Fudgecam

On a run through DC yesterday, I brought along my Android G2 and snapped a number of photos using Retro Camera - specially, the Fudgecam Setting. I really do love the Retro Camera app - it's a wonderfully simple way to make interesting photos, especially when you don't have sophisticated equipment handy.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Super Bowl Recap

I'm not usually a fan of the Super Bowl, but this year, I embraced it it 100% - catching every minute of play time, as well as every commercial (far more important, right?). I did skip out on part of the half time show, but when else was I going to get ice cream?

Here's my breakdown of the event...

  1. Best Goofy Ad: M&M's: "Sexy and I know it
  2. Runner up Best Goofy Ad: Sketchers: Mr. Quiggly
  3. Best ad that kinda petered out when I found out what it was for: Best Buy: Phone Innovators
  4. Most inspirational ad: A tie: Halftime In America and Hyundai: All For One Rocky Theme Song
  5. David's Favorite: Acura: Acrua NSX
  6. I still get a kick out of the Career Builder and E*Trade ads, so I'm one that hopes they'll keep up the themes.
  7. I so need to see every action movie advetised during the Super Bowl. In the end, I so won't, but that's OK.
  8. Check out some photos of the food pref below. Makes it look like we ate healthy, right? Yeah, it's amazing what you can do with a little selective photography.
  9. Oh yeah, the football was entertaining to watch too. I learned all about dangers of intentional grounding. Also learned David's Law - if the ball touches the receiver's hands, he should have caught it. Failing to do so, or failing to land with both feet in bounds, is unacceptable and shall be met with loud yelling at the television.

All in all, I had a great time. And I'm thankful that David and Maryn let us crash their party, and put up with me every time I said: "Hush, I think a commercial is coming on!"

And That's A Wrap

I wasn't there to see it, but our friend's Mom captured photos of it: The Boys putting on Tefillin as part of the World Wide Wrap. Never before has a photo made me say " cute" and "awwww....I'm so old." I'm so proud of them.