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Want to buy a house?

Monday, January 29, 2007
So I know this guy, you know? And he's selling this house. It's a nice house in Oregon City that's got three bedrooms, 1.1 bathrooms, and it's beautiful on the inside. He did a lot of work to it when he bought it and it shows.

Check it out.

Anonymous Letter

Sunday, January 28, 2007
It's been about 6 months since I moved into my apartment in "beautiful downtown Salem." I've found a few more quirks in the place. The biggest one that bothers me is that there's a dis-used central heating system that - though defunct - still passes air around all 7 stories of this concrete fallout shelter. This is a problem because you're also allowed to smoke in these apartments. Although I'm not a smoker, my apartment reeks of cigarette smoke half the time that seeps in through the vents and walls.

So a few days ago I got this interesting letter slipped under my door:
Hi -
Not sure if it's coming from your apartment or not... if so, please stop smoking weed (at least stop smoking it indoors). If it's not you please pass this note to the apartment next to you. Thanks!
While a fairly innocuous letter on the surface, there's a few reasons why it's so infuriatingly useless.

First, I don't smoke weed. I never have. The concept doesn't bother me, per se, but for someone to think I do somewhat bristles me.

Secondly, I have no idea who this came from. I've never smelled pot here (cigarettes, as I mentioned, I smell all the time) so it's curious that someone who apparently live nearby smelled it.

Third, while I have no idea where it came from, I also have no idea who it was originally sent to. So it could have been sent to my neighbor first and, thinking it wasn't for him, passed it on to me. I don't know. I have no idea which direction to send the note in. (There is an apartment on either side of me!)

Finally, given the central ventilation system, the smell could really be coming from anywhere in this building. The writer of this note simply assumes that it came from nearby, but I'm guessing he or she is very, very wrong.

A view on Vista

Thursday, January 25, 2007
So it's no big secret that - computer guy though I am - I'm a big Mac user (and Apple fan in general.) So I found quite interesting an article titled "10 reasons not to get Vista". For those a little out of the loop, Vista is Microsoft's new operating system, the replacement for Windows XP.

Of course, anyone can read that article and it's got - in my extremely humble opinion - a lot of good points. I was also interested in a counterpoint article on the same site called "10 reasons you should get Vista" and it is to that counterpoint that I'm going to offer commentary. I suggest reading both articles, though, before continuing.

Reason #1: UI built for the era of video and digital photography

Interesting. However, I find that when Microsoft designs something like this it tends to concentrate on the "feature" of having the interface for video and digital photography and not the user action of working with videos and digital photographs. Having had this work well on my Mac for years, I'm not impressed.

Reason #2: Image-based install

Another interesting but generally useless feature. Great, I can reinstall my OS quickly. How often does this actually have to happen? In a corporate environment it happens more frequently than a consumer environment, but plenty of tools already existed to do this.

Reason #3: Up-to-date driver base and better driver handling on installation

This is something that gets touted every time a new version of Windows is released. I don't seem to have a lot of driver issues on my Mac, that's for sure.

Reason #4: Desktop search and search folders built in

Great. Redmond's photocopiers found Spotlight. A couple years late, but cute nonetheless.

Reason #5: Sleep mode that actually works.

The theme I'm sensing here is "Things Vista does better than XP", which somewhat ignores the competition. I mean, my Macbook Pro goes to sleep in a heartbeat and wakes up in under 5 seconds.... my Powerbook did the same thing 5 years ago. Microsoft is just getting this working?

Reason #6: Rock-solid laptop encryption

Wow. Microsoft made a copy of FileVault. Another "revolution" in the computer world.

Reason #7: Better file navigation

If you read the article, you'll find the author touting features in the Vista interface that Mac OS X has had since I was in college the first time. Really, this isn't original.

Reason #8: Inbuilt undelete

Now this one's actually interesting; it's keeping a copy of old files so you can revert to an older copy. (This is different from the Trash Can/Recycle Bin inasmuch as the type of recovery allowed.) Apple's including something called "Time Machine" which is very similar in the upcoming version of Mac OS X.

Reason #9: DirectX10

I guess Microsoft has announced that its new graphics platform for games is only going to be available in Vista, so if you're currently using Windows XP you're SOL. This is what happens when you have a near-monopoly on desktop software: you can print your own money.

Reason #10: Face it, you have no choice

This is the one that really irks me. I do have a choice. I can do 98% of whatever I need to do on my Mac. And for those esoteric little programs that prevail in academia I can use Parallels and run Windows XP in a window. Do you think all those little programs are going to be updated for Vista? This is the kind of "let's surrender quickly and get this over with" thinking that I find so loathsome in the world today.

Anyway, that's my nerdy post for the month. I'm a Mac user and quite happy with it.

The State of our Union

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
So another year has passed and it's time for the State of the Union. Unlike last year, this year the President faced a significantly less friendly Congress so - as a result - this speech was seemingly more moderate than in years past.

So, in my typical fashion, I'm going to critique and comment some of the high and low points with of this year's address.
We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.
I loved this tone at the start of his speech (after, of course, he praised Nancy Pelosi as being the first female speaker of the house.) While last year he basically told the opposition to "be civil and quiet in your dissent", this year he realized that he doesn't have that luxury. So it's "let's cross the aisle and work together" now.
First, we must balance the federal budget. We can do so without raising taxes. What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C.
Remember this one, kids, we'll talk more about this later...
[T]here is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour -- when not even C-SPAN is watching. In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You did not vote them into law. I did not sign them into law. Yet they are treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice.
Well, that certainly sounds reasonable, but I'm a big believer in accountability and transparency of government.
Tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents.
Well, medical insurance is good. Making it more affordable is good. But this seems like a back-door federal subsidy for the health-care industry. Is that really the solution?
Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America -- with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we are doubling the size of the Border Patrol -- and funding new infrastructure and technology.
Remember the whole "control spending" thing? What... control everyone else's spending? And what happened to the border fence?
We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes.
I read somewhere that the administration has spent all of 12 million (with an "m") on this last year, which seems pretty low considering the importance it got in last year's speech. But I can't find the link, so don't quote me on that.
For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger.
Actually, I beg to differ. I feel that the responsibility is to ensure freedom and rights of the citizens of this country, not "protect us". It seems the President thinks of the government as a parent.

At this point I'm going to skip the President's fearmongering section of his speech, where he tells us what imminent danger we're in because the 'ter-rists' want to kill us all. I'm glad he has decided to bump up security rather than address the root causes of this. So now we move on to Iraq.
We are carrying out a new strategy in Iraq -- a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission.
...Because that plan's worked so well thus far.

Anyway, the rest of the speech is just either saying "Well, we're going to do more of the same" or singling out heroic Americans or symbolic individuals. It's an interesting speech, but not earth-shattering and the tone that it really sets is "I'm just going to try to pass the next two years as quietly as possible." Isn't that wonderful?

DRM Bullshit

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Ars Technica has an excellent article up on the real uses of DRM, at least as seen by Hollywood. For those who aren't 'in the know', DRM stands for 'Digital Rights Management', and it's come about by a very interesting issue: In the age of digital media, it's possible to make infinite exact copies of anything. This presents an issue for copyright holders and the fair use doctrine.

The gist of the article can be summed up in the one bolded sentence: "[As seen by Hollywood,] DRM's sole purpose is to maximize revenues by minimizing your rights so that they can sell them back to you."

Now I find that to be a very interesting - and frankly insulting - point of view. I believe that if I buy something - a movie, a CD, a piece of software - that I OWN that copy. I should be able to transfer that copy to someone else, should I be so possessed. If a new version of what I bought comes out, however, I'm not entitled to that. I understand that - if I buy a movie - I shouldn't necessarily be able to open a movie-house and charge admission for it. But I should be able to have friends over to watch it, on whatever sort of equipment I have.

I really object to the concept of trying to sell me as little as possible while charging as much as possible, especially in this realm where the fact that the motive is pure profit is so transparent. I really feel that this is trampling on the rights of "the common man", and when I'm in charge of the universe this will change.

Pacific Northwest Weather

Well, here in the Pacific Northwest it's snowing mighty heavily. Even down here in Salem (in the middle of the Willamette Valley) we got several inches. Tragically, it wasn't enough to close Willamette University (they don't seem to close for much) though many schools in the region did close. Here's a photo I snapped of the state capitol.

Snow at the State Capitol
One of the interesting things about living here in the Northwest is that the weather is a perfectly acceptable and interesting topic of conversation. It's so frenetic that the changes *are* notable - and the weatherman is so frequently wrong. Last week the temperatures we hitting a high of freezing. This week it's snowing - though slightly warmer. A few weeks ago it was raining like mad and I'm sure we'll get a few days of sun here soon enough.

Outside my apartment
So that's the news from over here in the Oregon Territory... in case any of you were wondering.

Restlessness

Friday, January 12, 2007
On my mother's advice, I just finished a book called Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. It starts with this amazing author's note:
In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters.
It's the real story of a man, just two years outside of college, who has given up his worldly belongings and, with visions of Jack London, Tolstoy, and Thoreau in his head, he makes a valiant - though eventually tragic - attempt to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness.

What makes the book so profound for me isn't the excellent manner in which it's written, it's the protagonist with which I can identify in so many ways. This young man had so many traits that I can see in myself: a restlessness, a desire for adventure, a stubbornness that gazes back at me in the mirror. The biggest difference, I guess, is where we place ourselves with society and civilization. The man in this book really seemed to find himself at odds with civilization and tried to place himself as far apart from it as possible.

I, on the other hand, think that society and civilization can represent the peaks of human achievement. I think that our collective ability to land ourselves on the moon, design a microchip, compose a symphony, or even write the tragic biography that I read is a good thing, not a bad, and I strive to eventually find myself a spot (or series of spots) inside this mess, contributing to the whole. But we all have to make that choice on our own, I guess.

This is a book I think everyone should read - preferably in their younger years. There's a lot of lessons to be learned from this book, and the earlier we can learn them the better. Do me a favor, please... just try reading it.

Frog Pond Butte

Monday, January 08, 2007
A couple weeks ago, my friend and I decided to climb up Larch Mountain in the middle of a stalled front that was dumping metric tons of water all over us. This was "awesome", but not always "fun."

Yesterday, we decided to try snowshoeing. Despite the forecast for 70% precipitation, we drove up to Otto's in Sandy, rented a couple pairs of snowshoes, bought a map, and decided to go to Frog Pond Butte, just on the east side of Mt. Hood. There's a black diamond cross-country trail there (which isn't as meaningful on snowshoes) that's also a snowmobile path as well.

At first, all went well. We had better gear this time and snowshoes, so our feet were far less likely to get wet like they did on Larch Mountain. The cloud level was low, but we weren't getting dumped on. As we started, there were several dog-sled teams just unloading. I guess there was some sort of event going on - but not on our particular path.

The first thing I noticed as we slogged up the hill was that snowshoeing isn't easy - even on the trail (not groomed) that we were on. I mean to say that I was wearing a waterproof jacket, thermal underwear, snow pants, boots, snowshoes, a hat, and my hiking backpack full of stuff and I was working hard just moving up that slope. It was great exercise.

Playing in the snow
As we climbed, we were passed by a pair of snowmobilers (going respectfully slowly) but otherwise saw no one. It wasn't quiet, though. The wind was starting to pick up and snow was being shaken off the trees as the weather started to catch up to the predictions.

Given our plans for the day, we wanted to turn around at 12:30 - regardless of whether or not we made it to the top. Realizing that coming down was going to be a lot easier than going up, we decided to change that to 12:45 (since we'd need less time for the descent.) While we had a map, as the clouds descended and visibility dropped we had no real idea where we were in relation to the peak and, getting tired, we contemplated eating and turning around. However, due to our adventurous natures, we decided to keep going and at 12:30 emerged into what can only be described as "nightmarish, but kind of fun" conditions. Think of snow and ice being driven sideways in 50-foot visibility weather. We figured - since trees were scarce - that we were close to the top but were still following old snowmobile tracks. Then we saw it: the cell tower at the top!

Barely able to look up, we trudged towards it figuring that the top would be where they'd put something like this. We snapped a few pictures, marveled at the weather and at how we were still actually enjoying ourselves, and turned around, having decided to seek better shelter for eating lunch.

We descended back into the trees, ate lunch, and quickly hiked down. The snowshoeing experience is definitely one that I'd repeat, though I must say that once I left the trail it got REALLY, REALLY difficult. I was out of breath trying to climb literally 10 feet up a slope. Crazy!

So that was our adventure, more or less. Fun times, and I'll definitely be doing it again.

Happy New Year!

Monday, January 01, 2007
It's 2007! Time to make a bunch of resolutions for how I'm going to be for the next 365 (and beyond!) I hope both my readers have a 2007 that beats the hell out of their 2006!

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