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Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Friday, November 30, 2007
Current Mood: White

Yeah, I'm currently in a "white" mood - that represents the snow that the forecast is now calling for tomorrow and Sunday in or near the valley. When I first agreed to teach this weekend up in Beaverton/Hillsboro, the forecast called for sunny or at least gray skies.

This sucks. I really don't have the right clothing to be outside teaching in that weather... perhaps "white" will refer to the color of my frozen fingers!

Appearing in Print

Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Now I feel slightly bad about mildly mocking the Statesman-Journal just a few days ago.

About six months ago, Atkinson Management Today published my article that I wrote for them. Of course, I'm also Editor-in-Chief of that humble publication, so I was able to let the quality slip a little.

Today, through a partnership with the Statesman-Journal arranged by another member of our executive board, our articles appeared in the print and online versions of that newspaper. Also appearing is the largest photo of me online yet - albeit with facial hair and glasses that I've since shed for the time being.

I'll be honest - I'm not sure how I feel about being published in print. I worked hard on the article, yes, but I had a lot going on at that point in my life and I'm convinced I could write a better article today. What's done is done, however, and this is what I had at the time.

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Current Color: Gray

Woke up in a mood that matched the color of today's sky, for some reason. I don't know why, I just feel really... tired. Yet I got a lot of sleep. Oh well... I guess it all gets a big "meh".

I wants one!

Monday, November 26, 2007
So something very interesting came across my email inbox today: the VentureOne.

The VentureOne - give it to me!

Designed, apparently, as a three-wheeled hybrid motorcycle/car vehicle, the VentureOne - if actually produced according to initial specs - will be able to go at least 100 mph, accelerate to 60 in about 7 seconds, and yet still get get 100(-ish) miles per gallon while carrying up to two people in an enclosed cabin.

From the looks of the initial design drawings, I'm guessing it will be sold as a motorcycle-type vehicle. If nothing else, there's no front bumper (which passenger cars in the US require) but motorcycles don't need (according to regulations.) Furthermore, it looks like the driving dynamics (except for the steering) will be very similar to riding a motorcycle... implying to me that a motorcycle endorsement will be required to ride/drive one. I can handle that.

So if anyone has an extra $20,000 laying around, feel free to pre-order me one. (I'll take a Q100 in dark blue, with beige leather seats, GPS, and the premium sound, please.)

Snow Report

While ski season may be upon us, I can tell you that there's not much snow on Mt. Hood. Despite reports of ski resort (limited) openings - with 26" of snow on the ground - I can tell you that there's just not that much snow.

On Sunday, a couple of my good friends and I decided to go snowshoeing. It was a beautifully sunny day and we thought about doing something easy like going to Trillium Lake or something like that. However, after renting snowshoes, we drove up to the Sno-Park. We were not seeing much snow at about 3800 feet of elevation, so we decided to head up to Timberline Lodge at 6500 feet of elevation to see if would could find snow.

We did - but just barely.

Mt. Hood... but not with a lot of snow on it.

After strapping on our snowshoes, we decided to go "trailblazing" and pretty much just headed west around the mountain. We hiked along for maybe an hour, then stopped for an early lunch and enjoyed perhaps one of the most gorgeous views imaginable.

An amazing view looking south along the Cascades

We then continued west. Half an hour shy of our turnaround time, we came across a rocky gully that appeared to be at least 50 feet deep, with bare ground on the other side - and a large rock. It was decide that that rock would be our turnaround point.

We hiked (or, in my case, slid) down the gully, then found a trail that actually led up the other side at a manageable slope. We had to take off our snowshoes at the top of the other side, because there simply wasn't snow on the ground! Up along the ridge we went to the rock, where we rested for a bit and enjoyed the view before turning around.

Me, with Mt. Hood behind me (not much snow on it!)

We went back across the ravine (I took the path down rather than throwing myself down the side, like my companions!) and climbed up the other side, this time without an easy path up. Exhausted from that, we managed to just power our way back along our trail, covering two hours worth of ground in under an hour and a half.

All in all, it was a great time that I hope to repeat... only with some actual snow underfoot next time.

Movie Review: Enchanted

Sunday, November 25, 2007
When the opportunity to see the movie "Enchanted" came up this weekend, I seized it. (Editor's Note: It's still possible to see a movie during the day for $6.25 for adults in Salem!)

The plot of the movie, made by Disney, is that a young princess-to-be, on the day of her wedding (the day after meeting her sweet prince, of course) is tricked and banished from her animated fantasyland into the cold, harsh reality of New York City. Of course, being a Disney princess, she still bursts into song from time to time and does outlandish things, all while teaching about love to (and learning about love from ) a divorce attorney. Oh, and her sweet prince has come after her in the real world and is trying to find her - though so is the minion of the evil queen/stepmother who got rid of her in the first place.

The beginning of the movie is is animated and is pretty much non-stop laughs. They do a very good job of subtly (and not-so-subtly) mocking Disney princess movies, while still managing to be one at the same time. The humor is undeniable in the film, from the stereotypical prince, full of bravado and with a habit of referring to New York City citizens as "peasants" to the would-be princess who, far from her cute, furry, forest companions, uses sewer rats, cockroaches, and pigeons to clean her host's apartment. The movie is great for the whole family - especially if any of the members like those sorts of movies to begin with.

Final word on Enchanted? You'll love it... if that's your thing.


Thursday, November 22, 2007
I'd like to issue a retraction.

Not for me, of course, since I'm pretty much always right. I'd like to issue it for the Salem Statesman-Journal.

Several days ago, I read an article on their website about how the I-5 construction project to widen I-5 to three lanes in both direction through Salem from Hwy 22 to Kuebler would be completed by the day before Thanksgiving, just in time for the busy holiday.

This, as I experienced first hand, was simply not true.

TWO lanes heading north on I-5

As you can see in this picture, taken while stopped on the freeway between the Kuebler and Hwy 22 exits on I-5 today (Thanksgiving), you can clearly see not three but TWO lanes of traffic crawling north towards Portland. The two empty lanes to the left of us are, of course, empty unused lanes (thanks ODOT!) and then, on the very left, you can't really see but there are indeed three lanes of traffic heading south.

Fortunately, everyone from Salem heads south to Eugene for Thanksgiving, not north toward Portland. After all, Eugene is Oregon's largest city, right?

Noise Ordinances

Saturday, November 17, 2007
Both of my readers who actually know me probably also know that the list of "Things That Irritate Burton" is a full day's reading. However, near the top (somewhere between "other people" and "stupidly low speed limits") are "leafblowers".

After a nice, long, mostly peaceful walk today, I can say with some certainty that these are a tool of the devil. I say, "nice work, Dante, but it's been like 800 years and your list needs updating." So I propose we get rid of "lust"(since it's my favorite) and replace it with "using leafblowers". And all those who use them shall be punished accordingly. (Like, by having their fingernails chewed off by termites while having to listen to jet engines taking off... for all of eternity.)

So yes, they irritate me. On my walk through a nice neighborhood I was able to hear a leafblower over a block and a half away, as some gentleman (see: irony) was using this tool to move leaves around in his yard. Yes, that's right, everyone in a 300-foot radius knew that it was his time to do yardwork. I thought to myself, "that's awfully darn loud... I wonder if there's a noise ordinance around here?" Lo and behold, there is! Now, I didn't have a decibel meter on me, but I'm pretty sure this was approaching jet-engine levels of noise, and therefore violated the noise ordinance. I wish I could have notified the authorities. (Of note, it seems that Portland also has a noise ordinance. Good to know!)

A block further up the street I encountered another gentleman (no irony in this one) who was shoveling leaves into a yard debris recycling bin. I noticed other implements of yard destruction laying around, and the following conversation took place:

Me: "Are you actually cleaning up your leaves with a rake?"
Him (glancing up the block at Mr. Leafblower): "Yes."
Me: "God bless you, sir."

The "Out-of-the-Box" Experience

Friday, November 16, 2007
Today I had the opportunity to help a friend buy a new laptop as hers was "on the way out." Now, as my readers should know I'm a huge Mac guy (I switched in 2001), despite my occasional glitches with their products. Well, in my friend's case I didn't push the "you should get a Mac" issue too hard and instead advised her to get a small, light, fairly low-end HP laptop (HP being my PC manufacturer of choice) that would do the basic things she needed it to do.

We arrived at an HP dv2615, which we got off the shelf at Best Buy. The specs weren't bad, and the price ($650) was pretty good for what it is. Now this new laptop came happily preloaded with Microsoft Windows Vista, an OS that I'm not particularly enamored with.

So let's talk about the "out-of-the-box" experience. By this, I mean, "How does the computer appear as you take it out of the box? Does it work? Is it simple?" I will say that Apple has that down to a science. Whenever I get a new Mac the process of getting it to a usable point is very short.

Not so with off-the-shelf computers, I've found. Perhaps it's the lack of integration, but just getting to the point that I could click on anything took literally 15 minutes of "Please wait while HP installs software..." Furthermore, even once I could click on anything, I had a ton of pop-ups because everything wanted to be updated. And, thanks Vista, I had usually not one but TWO warning every time I wanted to change a setting. Want to remove something from the start menu? Oh, it makes sure. Then it asks you to confirm one more time. I spent probably an hour just getting the laptop to the point where I could hand it off and say, "Here you go, it works." On a Mac, that's usually less than 10 minutes.

I've never been a big fan of the "install updates as the computer is shutting down" thing that Windows does. Sure, I don't like rebooting. But on my Mac I can install updates and move along with my business. Or, I can choose not to, because it's an inconvenient time. God help you if you want to shut down your computer and NOT install updates under Windows because you're in a hurry. Oh, I want to quickly install the updates and restart. WRONG! That's not happening.

Okay, so this post isn't especially well-written or coherent. I'm just getting over my immediate annoyance at having an otherwise decent laptop that a sizable chunk of money was spent on have such a terrible user experience out of the box. Had I been NOT a computer-guy, I probably would have been even more frustrated - and probably not bought another one from the same company.

An excessively shrewd, expansive look at presidential candidates

From the mailbox of yours truly today comes possibly one of my favorite things of all time to emerge from the New York Times. This is an interactive look at the character of all the current presidential candidates, done in the style of an early 19th-century British author's "A Tabular Estimate of Some Leading Members of the House of Commons."

The idea is that each candidate is ranked in categories such as "intellectual capacity" and "temperament" using an impressive - and slightly humorous - range of adjectives. Describing the demeanors of Dennis Kucinich as "know-it-all" and Mitt Romney as "excessively wholesome"? Way too awesome for words. Even better is the description of temperaments: Barack Obama is "grumpy when tired" while Rudy Guiliani is "strong but disturbing". You can't usually buy this level of fun.

I'm going to say that it takes a lot of gumption to put something like this together - and even more to publish it for all to see on the internets. Still, enjoy it, laugh at it, and marvel in its cleverness.

Spare Tire

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
So this post is mostly just a reminder to my reader(s) to occasionally check the air in your car's spare tire. While most readers are, I'm sure, aware of the importance of tire pressure in vehicle performance, safety, and economy, I know that for most of us the spare tire gets neglected.

Astute readers might recall my beach trip back in July, where I packed a bunch of friends into my car and headed to Lincoln City. What I didn't mention at the time was the fact that, since I was driving, I wanted to make sure my car was as ready as could be for the trip. Among other tasks, this involved checking the tire pressure. While I was at it, I remembered that I'd never actually checked the pressure in the spare tire and thought it might be a good idea to do so. Lo and behold, while the pressure in my donut was supposed to be 60 PSI, it actually measured out at closer to 12 - basically the tire was about to fall off the rim! I was mighty proud of myself at the time for catching this and remedying it. The trip, of course, was fine and the spare tire was unneeded.

Putting on the spare

Fast forward to this past weekend. Nothing can put a damper on an otherwise festive evening like getting in the car, driving a few blocks, and having that conversation that goes something like, "Hmm, something doesn't feel right." Pull over, inspect the tires, and - you guessed it - one of them is flat.

Rather than calling AAA, which I won't do because I'm a) broke and can't afford it, and b) manly, I determined to change the tire myself. Thankfully, the spare tire was well-inflated and quite capable of supporting the weight of the car, which wouldn't have been possible had I not attended to it in the summer. Just think of how inconvenient it would have been had the spare tire been flat, too! Anyway, since everything worked we were on our way in under 25 minutes with a spare on the car and a fun story to tell.

Let this be a lesson to all of you: Check your spare!

Referer Spam

Monday, November 12, 2007

In writing my blogs and running my server, I've made an effort - from a technical standpoint - to streamline operations as much as possible. I've also made an attempt to make information about this site as public as possible, for the benefit of my reader(s). That's why, for instance, I've made my web stats available for all to see.

In doing this, however, I've run up against a particularly frustrating type of spam: Referer Spam. In short, there are herds of maliciously controlled computers out there that will crawl across the web, looking for sites (such as mine) that publish their stats, and will continually make requests for a page but claim that they were referred to the link by some website they're trying to promote. Since I publish my stats, I then show that a bunch of people came to my website via a link on "besttexasholdem.com" or "livenudegirls.com" or some website that I can assure you doesn't actually link to me. This benefits them in Google's page rankings, however, since suddenly they have a bunch of pages linking to them.

Now, despite the fact that I generally don't let search engines crawl through the stats pages (using the robots.txt file), that only eliminates the benefits for the referer bots - it doesn't fix the problem (nor does it change the fact that they're filling my log files with crap that still shows up in the stats.) So, after ignoring the problem for months (if not years), I finally got off my butt and implemented something that should cut down on the problem considerably.

Using a combination of mod_security2 and mod_setenvif (both are modules for Apache) I've managed to deny web access to most of the bots and I don't even log the access anymore. If there are any matches from a list of substrings in the referer field of the HTTP request header, mod_security sends back an error status of 412, which denies access but is still logged. I then use setenvif with that same list to set an environmental variable, one I tell the log files to ignore. This solves all my problems - except for the fact that I'll have to periodically check to see if there are any new pattens for referer spam headers.

I guess it's good enough for now, and it's a bit of peace of mind, too.

My Present Value

Wednesday, November 07, 2007
About 18 months ago I found a site that will estimate the value of a blog based on... whatever. It's arbitrary, but fun to measure. At that time I was told that my blog was essentially worthless - crushing news, but I'm not one to give up easily.

I'm happy to announce that the results of this today are significantly better. Now, I'm not going to be able to pay off my exorbitant student loans, buy a house, or even go to Disneyland, but anything greater than zero is progress in my mind, especially given the irregular updating I do.

So, without further ado, I present the results:

My blog is worth $1,693.62.
How much is your blog worth?

Movie Review: Into the Wild

Monday, November 05, 2007
This weekend I had the opportunity to see the movie Into the Wild at the Salem Cinema. Astute readers might remember that I read the book about 10 months ago and generally found it to be fantastic. I can now say that, in this case, the movie is even better.

To sum up, the movie follows the true story a young man who, upon graduation from college, drops out of society to pursue his own brand of freedom and eventually embark on a "great Alaskan adventure", much to the heartbreak of his family with whom he stops communicating. This summary does the actual story little justice, but I'm providing it so you can get the basic idea.

Into the Wild is compelling on many different levels. Aside from just an amazing (but true) story, the music, most of which is performed by Eddie Vedder, is abnormally well done. The cinematography is remarkably breathtaking. And, when I left the theater, I was speechless due to the profoundness of the film overall.

If you can find this playing in your area, I highly, highly recommend it.

Humorous Thought for the Day

Friday, November 02, 2007
So these bizarre thoughts pop into my head from time to time. I'm not sure if I create them or heard it once a long time ago and modified it to my own liking. Nonetheless, today's, as I was humming the Zelda theme and folding laundry, is:

"I'm pretty good at staying alive, but I'm sure it's going to come as surprise to me one day when I eventually die... and can't reload from the last save point."

Yes, I'm a genius. Revel in it.



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