Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

December 30, 2006

Web related notes

Filed under: Personal,Technical — cec @ 10:19 pm

Two web-related notes:

  1. I’ve just migrated the Piedmont Wildlife Center’s website from a bunch of php webpages (the only reason for the php was to include the template) to the Drupal content management system. I’ve also added in the Coppermine photo gallery to keep our pictures. I would have used gallery2, but it kept dying due to memory errors with the database.  I’m guessing our ISP has the ulimit set to small.  Overall, the updates went pretty well, the biggest headaches were taking us out of a table based layout into the (more) modern world of CSS. I kept the current look and feel, but the CMS should make it easier to change in the future. But for now, at least I can distribute the web updating responsibilities to others 🙂
  2. Does anyone know how to get WordPress to do better detection/blocking of comment spam? It’s killing me. Fine, I’ll go google for it.

From the department of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”

Filed under: Social — cec @ 9:57 pm

I’m reading the collected writings of Ben Franklin from the Library of America (yes, all 1600 or so pages of it), and I ran across the following passage:

It is remarkable that soldiers by profession, men truly and unquestionably brave, seldom advise war but in cases of extream [sic] necessity.  While mere rhetoricians, tongue-pads and scribes, timid by nature, or from their little bodily exercise deficient in those spirits that give real courage, are ever bawling for war on the most trifling occasions, and seem the most blood-thirsty of mankind.

That was written almost 240 years ago and yet is a perfect description of the op-ed writers in today’s papers (e.g., George Will, Charles Krauthammer, etc.).  I would say that Franklin’s prescient, but since people don’t ever change, I’ll settle for ‘keen observer.’

December 29, 2006

the right tool for the job

Filed under: Personal,Plumbing — cec @ 4:17 pm

Back in September, I was doing a fair amount of plumbing. I installed a water filter, new hot water heater and an acid neutralizer. I never mentioned it, mostly because I couldn’t bear to think about it, but the stupid neutralizer never did work right and I finally just bypassed it in the water line. The problem seemed to be that I couldn’t get the fittings right, so they leaked and filled the neutralizer completely up with water. The instantaneous pressure in the line caused by turning off faucets in the house would then create a huge amount of pressure in the neutralizer and the top would pop off.

Today, I went out and bought a pressure tank to absorb that excess instantaneous pressure. But I couldn’t find my old standby for getting it installed: QEST fittings. Instead, I finally bought the PEX fittings: barbs, rings and the $100 crimping tool. That let me get the 1″ MPT to 3/4″ PEX fitting for the neutralizer instead of the crazy set up I mentioned here.

I’ve got everything connected and so far, so good. There’s even a 3″ head of air in the neutralizer that should limit the effects of any instantaneous pressure that the pressurizer doesn’t take care of. The really nice thing was how easy the crimping tool is to use. The parts are also cheaper and given the amount of plumbing I seem to do, that’s a big help.

December 25, 2006

HR should be so proud

Filed under: Funny — cec @ 5:31 pm

HR should be so proud


if only I had known…

Filed under: Funny — cec @ 5:29 pm

Wow – the 10 most dangerous toys of all time.  If only I had known, I would have had Christmas presents for my nieces (just kidding mom).

The scary thing is that I remember most of these.  The disappointing thing is that we never owned any of them.

December 19, 2006


Filed under: Photography — cec @ 9:54 pm

Some mornings I should just plan to be late for work. This morning was probably one of them. While driving in, I kept getting distracted by how beautiful everything looked. No, I wasn’t high, it’s just that the light was so gorgeous that the most mundane, and even ugly, objects looked beautiful.

Perhaps I should explain. When you’re interested in photography, you quickly learn that it’s all about light. The amount, the color, the quality, the reaction of your film to it – it’s all about light. The ISO number for your film is all about light, go from ISO 50 to ISO 100 and you half the amount of light you need to make an image (aka, you can use a faster shutter or smaller aperture). Open your lens up one stop, e.g., from f/11 to f/8 and you’ve just doubled the amount of light reaching the film (f-stops go up by the square root of 2, but they related to the ration of lens diameter to focal length so the area of the lens doubles). Change the speed of the shutter and you affect how much light reaches the film. By working all of the doubles and halves, you can attempt to achieve the effect you want given the limits of the light you have. For example, when I shoot water, I often want a slow shutter speed which necessitates a small lens aperture. But sometimes when there is too much light, even the smallest aperture won’t get you a slow enough shutter.

Beyond the technical aspects of recording the light, the light itself has qualities. Mid-day sun is usually awful. The angle of the sun means that it passes through a minimum of atmosphere and very bright and harsh. Beyond that, the light during most days is bluish. You usually don’t notice this for the same reason your office florescent lights don’t look green – your eyes have a white balance algorithm that makes my digital camera blush. Your eyes adjust and present a normal looking image to the brain.

But this morning, the light was special. This morning we had a front come through, so there were clouds in the west and above us while the sun was rising in the east. No blue reflected from the sky. Plenty of atmosphere for the sun to travel through. A nice dark gray sky as background to all objects. The result was gorgeous, golden light. I could have sat for hours watching it on the trees, the grass, the ugly warehouses downtown. Everything it touched lit up.

You can get a similar effect when the sun sets as a front moves out. Clouds in the east, low sun in the west. The colors are slightly different, there is more red (see the picture below), but it’s still beautiful. Even on days when I don’t have a camera with me, it’s enough just to enjoy the light.


two signs that you need a week off work

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 8:13 pm

1) you get home from the office Christmas party and are in a mood to see the movie, Office Space
2) you go to sleep and dream about co-workers

gah – i really can’t wait to get through the next two days

December 17, 2006

New books

Filed under: Personal,Photography,Social,Technical — cec @ 5:56 pm

I had a chance last week to read a few books, all of which I would recommend in some fashion or another:

National Geographic’s “The Ultimate Field Guide to Photography” This is a very good, basic field guide to photography. It covers a huge range of subjects and, not surprisingly, has some beautiful photographs. The book covers both film and digital photography, editing, archiving, composition, and has a great inspirational chapter describing Robert Clark’s photographic travelogue using only the camera in a cell phone. My only complaint about the book is that it covers too many topics, but not much in depth. It’s a great book for a beginner, but there wasn’t too much I hadn’t seen already.

“Peopleware” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This is apparently a classic on productivity in an IT environment. It was written in 1987 and then revised in 1999. The book is an incredible look at projects, teams and what makes them successful. DeMarco and Lister worked in the software development industry, but their insights are applicable to any IT field. They start by describing IT and other knowledge based environments and how these are different than classical manufacturing environments, noting that we need to manage IT workers differently than we would in other environments. The remaining chapters are organized into parts: The Office Environment on how the environment affects productivity (hint: cubicles are not the way to go); The Right People on the need for good (and different people), how to cultivate them, and keep them (given the high costs of turnover); Growing Productive Teams which discusses how to get good people to jell into even better teams (unfortunately, there aren’t good ways to encourage this – other than to avoid killing teams); It’s Supposed To Be Fun to Work Here whose topic you can figure out. The last part is the update for 1999 – Son of Peopleware. In that last part, the authors note that they stand by everything they wrote 12 years ago, they reinforce certain topics and provide suggestions to implement some of their original ideas.

This really is a great book on management in IT and it actually quantitatively confirms many of my personal feelings about management. My plan at this point is to re-read it while taking notes. There are things in here that I think we need to address in my current job – keeping in mind that even the authors think that you can only tackle one of the problems.

“The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Gregory Boyd. A while back, I wrote about the separation of church and state. In that post, I briefly mentioned that such separation was good for religions. Gregory Boyd takes this much further and discusses how keeping religion out of politics is good theology. While he never uses the phrase “separation of church and state,” as a pastor, he presents an extremely compelling case for it. The book came out of a series of sermons Boyd gave in the run-up to the 2004 election. He and other pastors at his church were under significant pressure to promote certain candidates and positions. After he gave the sermons titled, “the Cross and the Sword,” about 1,000 people (20%) left his congregation.

The book and the sermons dealt with two kingdoms, that of the cross and of the sword. The kingdom of the sword represents nations and political entities. That of the cross represents the community of Christians and what they are called to do, which is primarily service to others (as demonstrated by Jesus in the gospels). Boyd goes on to describe how the early church emphasized that conflating political power with Christianity was idolatry. This changed in the 4th century when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity after winning an important battle. Since then, the church has often tried to grow through political power.

Boyd then describes current efforts to “take America back for God,” and proceeds to destroy the myth that the United States was ever founded as a Christian nation. He goes through the litany of beliefs from those whom state this and systematically refutes them. For example, he points out that the preamble to the Declaration of Independence is more indicative of deists and followers of the enlightenment (which the founders were) than it is of Christian thought.

Finally, Boyd goes through a number of very difficult, current questions and discusses the, in his mind, appropriate kingdom of the cross perspective. Not surprisingly, the answer is never to legislate away that which you don’t think is moral or Christlike.

All in all, a very important perspective on the importance of the separation of church and state. I highly recommend it.

December 12, 2006

that’s just not right

Filed under: Personal — cec @ 8:30 pm

The new dog (Sierra) seems to be fitting in well.  She’s looking up to the older dog (Darwin) and learning all sorts of new things.  The cutest is something we call “kicky foot,” where she’ll periodically stretch all of her legs by kicking them back one at a time.

The one I didn’t expect to see was her lifting her leg to pee.  I’ve never seen a female dog do that before.  Dog owners – is that normal?  or is it (as we suspect), just not right?

2007 Yellowstone Calendar

Filed under: Personal,Photography — cec @ 6:53 pm

For the past few years, I’ve put together a calendar using pictures I took in Yellowstone. In 2004 (for the 2005 calendar), I was very excited about the project and used only photos I took that year. Last year, I had to raid prior years (it wasn’t the best Yellowstone trip for pictures). This year I think I can pull enough decent pictures from our 2006 trip.

The pictures I’m going to use for the 2007 calendar are posted here. I need to crop a couple of the bird pictures, but the rest should be okay.

Now I just wish I had started earlier. 🙂

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