June 25, 2006

A reprise and an inspiration

Returning to the subject of my very first blog enty, Kathleen and I went back to the Harvard Exit yesterday, to see the new crossword-puzzler documentary Word Play with our friends Natasha and Norman. It was a fine and beautiful day, if a bit on the warm side, and all was going fine driving there until we hit the police roadblock at 10th Ave. and E. Highland Dr. Apparently, we were wrong: the Raise Your Voice March, part of Pride weekend, was not going to be limited to the southern end of Broadway. It took us a while, but we finally backtracked enough to find a way down to the near vicinity of the theater, only to discover that (duh) it was all parked up solid. It turns out, though, that you can pretty easily find a parking spot on the street that only costs $35, paid to the municipal court system...

Anyway, the Harvard Exit remains a very comfortable place to see a movie, and the cafe across the street, Joe Bar, has changed their ways and now sells both sweet and savory crepes in the evenings. On the negative side, though, Joe Bar no longer appears to offer their "PB & J" crepe (formerly served with a glass of milk), so I never got to try out that delicacy.

The movie centers around Will Shortz, the crossword-puzzle editor at the New York Times, and various contenders in the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It's a fun, quirky look at some really fun, quirky people and their passion for puzzles. The latter third of the movie gives good feel for the action and the ambience at the championships and the twists and turns of final rounds are surprisingly exciting.

Inspired by the movie, I suppose, I didn't skip over the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in the paper this morning. I'd never tried any of the NYT puzzles before, let alone the hardest one of the week, but somehow I couldn't resist attempting it. At first, as I slowly worked my way down the Across clues, looking for any that I could fill in (in pencil, I admit: I'm not totally rash), I began to despair: I could only fill in maybe half a dozen answers, and I wasn't particularly sure of some of those. I got a couple Down answers right off, though, and that opened up the upper-left corner, and that led to the answer to the first of the "theme" clues, and finally I was making real progress. I'm pleased to say I finished the puzzle in pretty good form, with only a few answers that I didn't understand (who knew there was a "Brooklyn-born rapper" named NES?), after about 45 minutes of work. Along the way, there were several wonderful groaners ("German crowd?" was DREI), some very nice bits of misdirection ("Tower, often" was REPO MAN), and of course a fun theme (recontextualized advice from "Dear Old Dad").

Boy, standard crosswords have certainly changed while I've been off focusing on cryptics! I may just have to check out this Sunday puzzle next week, too.

March 14, 2006

Finally, the recognition I deserve...

Back in September, when I upgraded the blog to the new version of Movable Type, I noticed that they'd added support for moderating TrackBacks, so I decided to try enabling them. It would be fun, I thought, to see all the interesting sites where other people were linking back to my blog.


And thus was I introduced to the concept of TrackBack spam. I was, by then, already pretty familiar with comment spam; indeed, the support in the new version of Movable Type for semi-automatically dealing with junk comments was a major reason why I made the upgrade. That's worked out reasonably well, actually, and the same machinery also manages junk TrackBacks, so it's really just a question of going into the admin interface every once in a while to clear out all of the junk it's automatically quarantined for me.

Last night, after posting about the funny cats video, I decided to do some junk cleanup. It had been a little while since the previous scrub, so there were about 150 junk comments stacked up and about 250 junk TrackBacks. As usual, I skimmed through the two lists fairly carefully, making sure that everything there was really junk. But last night, for the very first time since I enabled TrackBacks, there was actually a real one buried in the middle of the junk! Somebody somewhere had actually both linked to an entry on my blog and used blogging software that bothered to tell me about it via the TrackBack mechanism.

Lia, from, had somehow come across my Mount Tee posting, been ... impressed? ..., and linked to me. Here's the best part, though: she didn't just say, "Wow, that dude has one heck of a lot of T-shirts!" No, indeed! Lia, obviously being a person of penetrating discernment, recognized my true nature. She has named me, truly, "the Imelda of T-shirts"!

What a great title! Now I just need to get that printed on a shirt...

February 04, 2006

Alright already: Veronica Mars, too!

Melissa and Lynn objected to my not including Veronica Mars in my recent list of TV shows I love. I was trying to narrow my lists to things that people might find surprising or intriguing; that's why I didn't include any of the TV shows we're actually watching right now. That list would include Veronica Mars, Alias, Lost, West Wing, Commander in Chief, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, and 24. That's the things we watch together. By myself, I also watch what Kathleen calls "guy stuff" (Mythbusters, New Yankee Workshop, This Old House, and The Woodwright's Shop) along with the occasional episode of Powerpuff Girls that I haven't already seen. Thank god for TiVo.

So, see? I am cool enough to know to watch Veronica Mars. Sheesh... :-)

February 03, 2006

Four Things

Since I run my blog from a private site, as opposed to a big aggregator like Live Journal, and since I don't have that many regular readers (not least because I don't post particularly regularly), it's not surprising that I've never been "tagged" before. Tagging is kind of the blogging equivalent of a chain letter or other pyramid scheme: somebody posts on an unusual topic, or addresses some set of (typically inocuous) personal questions and then names a set of other bloggers who are thereby "tagged" to do the same. Unlike chain letters, tagging doesn't appear to involve dire consequences for those who refuse the call, and unlike pyramid schemes, nobody's getting rich at the top of the pile.

Anyhow, to my knowledge, I've never been tagged before, so it was kind of fun to have Lilly tag me on a recent posting. Far be it from me to refuse my first-ever tag, so here are my lists of four:

Four jobs I've had:
1. Playing a male Elizabethan actor who only gets to play female roles from Shakespeare (at the Southern California Rennaissance Faire)
2. Organizing the international newspaper collection at a major university library
3. Teaching mathematical logic and reasoning at a summer school for gifted 12- to 15-year-olds
4. Co-founding an Internet company that was later sold to Microsoft

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. Shakespeare in Love
2. The Matrix (but only the first one)
3. Harold and Maude
4. 'Breaker' Morant

Four places I've lived:
1. Bloomington, Indiana
2. McLean, Virginia
3. Berkeley, California
4. Yellow Springs, Ohio

Four TV shows I love:
1. Strange Luck (sadly cut short)
2. Babylon 5 (not counting the fifth season)
3. Firefly (tragically cut short or not?)
4. Sports Night (Lilly was right, Sorkin is/was the god of dialog)

Four places I've vacationed:
1. Lake Champlain, Vermont
2. České Budějovice, Czechoslavakia (so-called at the time)
3. Tolsta Chaolais, Isle of Lewis, Scotland
4. Thoraígh Island, Donegal, Ireland

Four of my favorite dishes:
1. "Stuff on rice", especially Saag Lamb
2. Northern Gold Cashews & Raisins Granola, with milk
3. San Jose scramble, at Hobee's
4. Chocolate-covered dried cherries, from Peet's

Four sites I visit daily:
I subscribe to over 40 RSS feeds inside my mail client, mostly so I don't need to visit sites daily, but these survive:
1. AlterSlash (much more usable feed from SlashDot)
2. OED
3. Wikipedia
4. Windows Live (for my "only skimming" RSS feeds)

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. In my garage woodshop
2. At home, watching a movie with Kathleen, with a cat on each of our laps
3. In Second Life
4. At a table in the coffeeshop upstairs from Bloomsbury Books, in Ashland, Oregon

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
1. Hans (because he didn't know what I meant by "tagging" when I mentioned it at lunch)
2. Derrick (because his "favorite dish" answers should make great reading)
3. Lynn (because she's one of the few other bloggers I know who reads my blog)
4. Melissa (to force her into finally starting a blog!)

September 25, 2005

A new look

Notice the new look for my blog? I just upgraded to Movable Type 3.2, and then refreshed my templates with the new default in this release. I don't know that it's any better looking than the old one, but it's certainly newer...

If you notice anything working worse here than it did before, or anything that seems out of order, please let me know by adding a comment to this entry. So far as I've been able to tell so far, the upgrade went pretty much without a hitch. I had made some changes to some of MT's internal templates, to work around a problem with their auto-reload mechanism on the weblog-rebuilding pages, and the problem is still there, so I had to copy in my changes from MT 3.11. I also had to restore just one of my weblog settings (show the last five entries on the main page, regardless of how old they are), which was a bit surprising, since that should have been covered by the database upgrade. Other than that, it was a really easy upgrade.

If you're using an older version of Movable Type on your blog, I recommend upgrading to 3.2. It's easy, and there are a remarkable number of useful new features. (For me, the most important of those is integrated comment- and TrackBack-spam controls.)

August 11, 2005

A Very Specialized Website

Easily the most popular entry I've ever made on this blog concerned a very curious Japanese method for folding T-shirts; aside from the RSS feeds and the blog home page, that entry gets more hits than any other page. Further, it accounts for almost 50% of all search-engine queries that lead people to my site.

Clearly, there's a lot of interest in how to fold T-shirts quickly. Who knew?

Now, at what we must hope is the pinnacle of this phenomenon, we have a web site entirely dedicated to the only known video footage of the T-shirt origami technique. Folks, that's all she wrote: as far as I can tell, there's only the one page on that site, and that's the only purpose of that page: to show that video.


(Thanks to Cecilia's Blog, from Piled Higher and Deeper, for the pointer.)

July 28, 2005

Gone Cruising

I know I've been blogging pretty regularly for the past week or so, but that's about to stop for a week as we head off tomorrow on a six-day cruise up the Norwegian coast, all the way up above the Arctic Circle, to Kirkenes. According to the cruise company's website, there's no Internet connectivity on board the ship we'll be taking.

Comment approvals and blog additions will resume once I'm back online again.

July 01, 2005

Recently Added RSS Feeds

I'm completely in love with RSS ("really simple syndication") and my RSS reader, IntraVnews. Now I can track lots of different blogs and other news sources, even really sporadic ones (like this blog) without having to surf all over the place checking on them. I'm just too lazy to want to do that.

Here's a few of my most recently added feeds:

Lindsay Staniforth is a Canadian woodworker and jewelry designer living and working in Vancouver, B.C. Her blog, though only rarely active, offers a nice view behind the scenes of a creative craftsperson. She has a lot in common with my friend Melissa, who's also a woodworker and jewelry designer. Unfortunately, Melissa doesn't yet have a blog...

An acquaintance from my LambdaMOO days, Lynn Cherny, writes Ghostweather Shortform, a fun and eclectic miscellany of short pieces on technology, travel, photography, recent events, and anything else that strikes her fancy.

Meryl Getline is a airline pilot for United Airlines who writes a roughly weekly Q&A column for USA Today, called Ask the Captain, in which she answers all sorts of questions about aircraft and flying. For example, what's that hole at the back of an airplane, how do planes stop so quickly after landing, and how much does a plane fly itself? Captain Getline also has a personal blog, but I didn't find that quite as interesting. (Thanks to Lilly "Girlhacker" Tao for this one!)

Finally, I just learned about PostSecret, an online confessional blog with a cute difference: all confessions must be mailed, via US Mail, on a homemade postcard. The editors then scan that in and post it on the site. Most of the cards resemble ransom notes, but the confessions and the creativity of the authors are genuine and, I find, captivating. I'm a little concerned that the volume may be too much for me to keep up with via RSS, but I'm grateful to the New York Times technology feed for pointing it out.