Archive for July, 2006

Rrrrruffles Have Ssssscorchmarks

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Burned ChipsIt’s really hard to eat potato chips when you have to actually look at each one before you shove it into your mouth. It kind of takes the fun out of junk food. This bag of Ruffles that we’ve been working on this week is filled with charred spuds. It seems like you get between four and eight of them every serving.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s usually as bad as this particular bag, but there always seems to be at least one chip that makes it through three or four rounds of the cooking process before it decides to finally follow the other normal chips into the bag. Hopefully you catch it before you eat it, but usually there will be one person in a group that ends up with the burned chip in their mouth. While generally funny for onlookers, the onlookee tends to be less amused, running for the nearest flavored drink to wash the flavor out.

That happened to me last night. It makes it very unlikely that I will be reaching for potato chips any time soon. I guess it’s healthy snacks for me from now on.

Now, where did I leave those mini chocolate donuts?

Super Woman Makes Super Cake

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Krissy makes preparations for cake decoratingKrissy had me find Superman’s logo so she could make a cake with the shield on it. The base coat of frosting is blue Cool Whip. The actual shield is made of red and yellow butter cream frosting. Krissy worked on this thing for about three hours total. She decided it would be a good idea to try and make the Cool Whip a little less squishy by putting the cake in the freezer. This worked out rather well. As time went on it got softer and softer, though.

The outline on the Superman cakeKrissy then transferred the printed design onto wax paper by tracing. The wax paper was then placed on the top of the blue Cool Whip. She used a hatpin to poke holes in the wax paper. When you remove the wax paper then the holes are left in the top of the cake to serve as a guide. She used a star-shape to fill in the yellow and then the red parts. The original idea was to finish off the cake with very dark-blue lines to emphasize the logo and make it stand out a little more. We couldn’t get the frosting a decent dark blue color, and Krissy was afraid to screw up the cake with squiggly lines that were supposed to be straight. I think it was a good idea to stop when she did. The cake turned out great.

Incidentally, this cake was a poke cake or, what some people call a Jell-O cake. She used a single 3 oz. package of strawberry Jell-O mixed into one cup of boiling water. This was poured over a 13 x 9 in. white cake that had holes poked about three quarters of the way through the cake and spaced at one half to one inch intervals. Then you pour the liquid concentrated Jell-O mixture over the top of the cake slowly. Try to cover all of the top of the cake. Allow the cake to cool in the refrigerator. After the cake has cooled spread Cool Whip over the top of the cake, and you’re good to go!

The cake was a success and everyone at work was very impressed by Krissy’s cake decorating prowess.

Superman Cake

Odorous House Ants Stink

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Swift brown ants scurry along their trail.They smell like rotten coconut to be exact. I know this because we have been attacked by the little things. When you crush them between your fingers they stink. You can’t just kill them and have them get the point, though. No, they just keep coming back. I followed the trail outside our apartment. I was hoping to find the colony and deal some Windex-powered mayhem thoroughly rocking their collective world. The trail led outside our front door, over to the stairs. They went under the stairs on a metal railing that holds each individual concrete step in place. Halfway down the steps they cut across the landing and enter a crack in the stucco. They then appear to go inside the wall and out near the ground on the outside of the staircase area. This trail then continues out toward the sidewalk that runs along the fence near the creek. They follow the sidewalk’s edge for about ten feet until they finally cut across the sidewalk at one of the spaces in between the slabs. They then went under the wrought iron fence and down the cement wall until I couldn’t see them anymore.

I sprayed around as much as I could, but killing workers is truly a futile exercise. While I was windexing the ants’ brains out one of our neighbors came out of her apartment. She and her friend were talking about me spraying the ants. She told me that she had really bad problems with ants last year and she loaned me some bug spray. I sprayed all around the front door and the grate housing our AC and our water heater. I’m going to call tomorrow and see if the maintenance man will dust around the building like he did last year.

These last two days have been record high temperature days, so it doesn’t really matter what we do, they’re going to come in to get out of the heat. Until the maintenance man comes I doubt we’ll have any relief from the recurring infestation.

Questions and (If You’re Lucky) Answers

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

Sometimes it feels good to give advice. Sometimes I just like answering questions. If that sounds like you then you’ll love the two websites I’m talking about today. The first is an automated approach, the second is human-driven.

Remember the game 20 Questions? Some brilliant people have created an automated version of the popular guessing game. It learns from the people that play so it gets better and better all the time. Each time it is stumped it learns a new item because it asks you what you were thinking. It seems amazing sometimes when it comes up with what you are thinking out of seemingly nowhere. Take the following exchange I had for example. The item I was thinking of was a spider web. Note that the questions are presented in reverse order as each new question goes above the previous ones, so start reading at the bottom.

Question Mark

Q17. I am guessing that it is a spider web?
16. Can you buy it? No.
15. Does it move? No.
14. Does it come in many varieties? Yes.
13. Is it a body part? No.
12. Have you seen one in real life? Yes.
11. Does it serve a purpose? Yes.
10. Is it fluffy? No.
9. Can it change size? Yes.
8. Is it man made? No.
7. Can you order it at a restaurant? No.
6. Does it eat cheese? No.
5. Can you control it? No.
4. Is it a metal? No.
3. Is it colorful? No.
2. Is it used for entertainment? No.
1. It is classified as Other.

The second question and answer site,, is almost useful, but not really. It’s kind of like a game, but you could ask serious questions. The premise is that you are able to ask the Internet a question and get responses back. I asked it a question, and you can answer it, because, in case you didn’t realize it yet, you are part of the Internet. If you are in the mood for rapid-fire opinion offering you can use the answer-o-matic and it will present all of the questions to you that the site has and let you answer them for as long as you like. I recommend you log in so that your answers are saved in your profile and you won’t get asked the same question twice. It’s also a good idea in case you want to ask the Internet a question yourself!

I suggest you try one or both of these sites. The one asks you questions and the other lets you ask questions. Post your results in the comments, I’d love to see what you come up with.

How to Lose Your Job on National TV

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Check out this 100% real, purchase functional katana (read: wallhanger sword).

Air Conditioner Finally Functional

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

After having three different people come and look at the AC, the electrician determined that the problem lay in a faulty light switch. Apparently all the power to the AC is routed through this switch that’s on the wall behind the panel where the compressor is. The electrician connected the wires directly to one another, bypassing the switch, so we could have use of the air conditioner until the maintenance man can get a new switch installed.

So it only took five days to get the problem fixed. But it wasn’t too hot in those days. I’m just glad that this happened now instead of in the middle of August. That would have been much hotter, I think.

Now it will be nice to get a good night’s rest and not wake up every twenty minutes covered in sweat.

Graphing Logarithms using the Ace of Base Formula?

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Well, no, not really. But I did have “It’s a Beautiful Life” inexplicably stuck in my head in class today; inexplicable, that is, until I realized that the words “Change of Base” were being bandied about all day. (If you want to know what the change of base formula is you can click here, but be careful because following this link may cause blood to shoot out of your eyeballs. Thankfully Wikipedia comes to the rescue with a concise and non-ugly presentation of the change of base formula.) But there are more important things to consider about my Algebra class.

We took a test on Friday and nearly three quarters of the class did not finish the test. We got our tests back and the mean score was somewhere near 50%. How could so many students be struggling to the point of failure? Consider this sample from my test.

Example of overly strict grading

I got every part of the answer right. The table is correct. The graph is correct. I failed to show how that (1/3)-2 is equivalent to 32. But the next step was performed properly. Such a simple calculation as taking the reciprocal and squaring it is an autopilot operation to me. I tried my best to meet the draconian “show all work” requirements set by my teacher, but according to her I skipped a step. I guess I skipped it twice, so that’s why I lost two points for a correct answer. Okay, let’s take a look at the next problem.

Example of overly strict grading

How? Maybe I followed the directions and used my calculator’s graphing functionality? And insects? I leave off the word “insects” on a math test and I lose 2 points? What the heck!? And these were the questions I got right!

With grading like this I shouldn’t be surprised that I need to get 88% on the rest of the quizzes and tests in the class just to pass. I’m tempted to go drop the class, but I switched the grading to credit/no credit a couple weeks ago, so I guess I ought to just finish it up and give it my best shot. At least it will help me when I take the class again. Oh, and there were some people that learned today that no matter what they do they can no longer pass the class. They seemed really happy about their plight as they grabbed their belongings and stormed out of the class. I wonder how many people will end up passing. I’m guessing less than one quarter of those that started.

Is CleanFlicks *$@#ed or What?

Sunday, July 9th, 2006

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch says sanitizing movies to delete content that may offend some people is an “illegitimate business.” According to a CBC article, Matsch ordered CleanFlicks and three other similar companies, to immediately stop producing, creating, and renting out edited films. I had heard before that they got around the issue by legally framing it in such a way that individuals were really buying movies and then requesting CleanFlicks remove the content on their behalf. Apparently this method of circumventing current copyright laws doesn’t hold water anymore.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) should really step in here. It would be a great way to get politicians and religious groups on their side for once. Copyright holders have been granted far too much power recently. One of the goals of the EFF is to rollback the legislation that has made copyright in the United States a losing proposition for both consumers and the culture in general. These directors, including Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, and Martin Scorsese, are arguing the same thing. According to a DGA press release about the ruling, Michael Apted, the president of the Directors Guild of America, had the following to say:

As creators of films, we oppose giving anyone the ability to alter in any way they choose, for any purpose, and for profit, the content of a film that we have made, often after many years of work. Directors put their skill, craft and often years of hard work into the creation of a film. These films carry our name and reflect on our reputations. No matter how many disclaimers are put on the film, it still carries the director’s name. So we have great passion about protecting our work, which is our signature and brand identification, against unauthorized editing.

Is this fair use? According to Judge Matsch it is not. I can’t see any reason why this is not covered by fair use. The discs are bought by the company, so the directors and everybody else involved in the film industry get their money and people who are willing to pay for this service get to watch movies they would never see otherwise. No one is hurt. Everybody wins. But that’s not good enough for the directors. They want everyone to watch the movie their way. Next thing you know they will make it so you can’t watch the movie unless you have 5.1 stereo surround sound, since that’s the way they intended the film to be viewed. What about locking out black and white TVs, or TVs that aren’t big enough? Does this sound absurd to you?

Think back to the days when all rented and purchased movies were on VHS tapes. Imagine there had been advertisements for other movies placed before the actual movie you wanted to watch, which was often the case on rented tapes. Now imagine that the fast-forward button didn’t work while playing that portion of the tape. Sounds pretty absurd doesn’t it? Well, DVDs have been doing this for years.

The directors hail this as a boon for them and their creative talent. They claim that this editing is unauthorized and that the films will now be viewed the way the director intended. Well, what about those movies that are released later labeled as the director’s cut? Does this mean *gasp* that the original version of the film was not the director’s original vision? You mean sometimes the movie we watch has been edited in ways the director did not intend? This is often done after focus groups watch the movies and respond unfavorably to certain aspects of the film. So this means that the movie studios can edit the films in ways that don’t represent the director’s vision. So producers and executives can alter the films for commercial gain, but individuals can’t pay a third party to edit a movie to their specifications?

I think people should have the right to fair use. I think this use falls into that category. This use is especially “fair” because the movie industry gets more sales from this activity than they otherwise would. I know a number of people who own copies of “scrubbed” movies that they would never own uncut version of.

Where does all this leave CleanFlicks then? I don’t know. This ruling was only made on July 7th 2006 and no mention of it has yet been made on the CleanFlicks website. They are still taking new signups, so maybe this somehow doesn’t affect all of their business model. I just hope that they make it through this.

Evil Air Conditioner Shenanigans

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

Last night I noticed that it seemed a little warm in the apartment. We were watching a TV show, so I didn’t worry about it much at first. I got up and took a look at the thermostat and the temperature was 76°F even though the AC was set to come on at 73°F. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. The last time this happened things sorted themselves out, but those who know me might recall one of my favorite sayings, Davis’ Dictum (for which I happen to have to reference; I would appreciate any help finding one, though) which states that “Problems that go away by themselves come back by themselves.” That’s why I don’t get all that excited when I’m trying to fix something and it starts working again without me knowing what I did to fix it.

All through the night the temperature steadily rose. I opened up the windows to try and keep things cool. There was almost no breeze here last night so that didn’t help much. We’re fortunate in that we have a fan. It was really humid in the apartment, but that fan at least made it bearable and possible to sleep.

When I woke up this morning I checked the temperature: 80°F. I looked online at the thermostat manufacturer’s website and tried all the troubleshooting tips including bypassing the thermostat altogether by crossing the three wires that trigger the AC to power up. None of this worked. I thought I might be able to figure it out like I did with the Evil Light Switch, but I couldn’t, so I called the on-site manager and let her know our problem. She paged the maintenance man and he was here within twenty minutes. He began by switching all the breaker switches off then back on again (which was the first thing I had done as well) then got to work on the AC itself.

He opened the panel that houses the AC and poked around at it for about ten minutes. Then he put the panel back on, got up, and told me that there was no power getting to the AC at all. He proceeded to inform me that he would have to contact the company that manufactured it and that it would not be fixed until at least Monday. Well, I’m not one to shoot the messenger, so I hid my disappointment in his verdict and thanked him for his time and his quick response.

According to today’s high should be 85°F and tomorrow should be 82°F. I’m almost glad that Krissy and I spent five days in Arizona this last week because my body has learned what hot really feels like and doesn’t seem to mind the current temperature of 81°F too much. I was trying to keep the heat out by closing the windows and blinds, but the temperature inside finally reached the same as the temperature outside, so I’ve opened up everything again.

I don’t particularly relish the idea of being without the AC for the rest of the weekend, but I feel worse for our friends who will be here on Sunday night for dinner and Monday night for Family Home Evening. Let’s just hope they can get it fixed before FHE.

Automated Aggravation

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

A local drugstore recently installed two self-checkout terminals. Last night was the first time I had been there since they were installed. The terminals were each being used as Krissy and I walked up to one of the checkers. In a loud voice that could be heard from the back of the otherwise quiet store the pre-recorded female voice coolly, but resolutely, announced, “Card not accepted.” The woman at the first station kept canceling and retrying her checkout. After numerous rejections she pressed the help button.

“Would you like assistance?”
“Help is on the way.”

Then she waited. While she was waiting the man at the second terminal finally gave up and pressed the help button.

“Would you like assistance?”
“Help is on the way.”

It was at about this time that the woman in front of us had her card rejected. The cashier called for a manager to void the transaction. The visibly flustered manager eventually made his way over to void the transaction. Then he went to help the man who was having trouble with the self-checkout. He tried pressing all sorts of things and even used his key, but even though he failed the machine announced, “Please take your receipt. Please take your change. Thank you for shopping.” The manager gave up and pulled out the man’s single purchase from the bag that had concealed it. He then placed it forcefully on the conveyor belt behind our purchases. It was a box of home pregnancy tests. The man didn’t look like he was too excited about having this item on public display. Most of the customers in the store were now watching the manager and the other woman at the self-checkout. While this was happening the woman’s self-checkout station beeped again.

“Would you like to keep waiting?”
“Help is on the way.”

This made her sigh. It was not a sigh of relief, but an aggravated sigh of frustration. The manager was busy helping the other customer and by this time our cashier was ringing up our selections. While scanning our items she got the woman’s attention and asked, “Do you want to cancel your purchase?” The woman then turned around and exclaimed, “No! I’m Canadian and this machine won’t accept my postal code!” A cashier at the other end of the row of checkout lanes raised her hand and indicated she could help the next person in line. It was at about this time that our credit card was declined. Krissy tried it again a different way… still declined. I think they must have been having problems getting cards processed. As we walked out without our purchase I heard our cashier call her manager to void the transaction. He was exasperated, but I didn’t see what happened because we were out the door.