Archive for August 2012

August Hodge-Podge   Leave a comment

A picture I took of Sarah, the Cincinnati Zoo’s record breaking cheetah, was used on Wired‘s blog.

Picked out some new shoes (I went with the ones on the right).

Congratulations, Curiosity!

My car has a USB port, which allows iPods (and iPhones) to play through the stereo, and controlled through the buttons in the car. It also charges the device, which my wife’s phone needed during our trip. Looking for music, I saw this was among her playlists.
Cat Renamed this List
She explained that a cat walked on her keyboard at some point, and renamed a playlist to random characters (she suggested Eddy, but I think it sounds more like a Luna move). She has no idea what it was originally named.

One last note about the Dublin Irish Festival: they didn’t have Guiness, they had some stout that carried the Dublin Irish Festival name, but it wasn’t Guiness. How can an Irish festival not have Guiness?
Bad Stout

One more anecdote from The Wilds: we were walking by one of the staff as we got to the mid-sized carnivore center (where the cheetahs were). Her radio crackled to life, “There is a bobcat at…” They had to remove the bobcat, so it didn’t interact with the other species present. Still, it seemed pretty cool.

Cats love laundry day.
Cats in a Basket

Farewell, Neil Armstrong. A true pioneer and inspiration.
Wink at the Moon
Explanation

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Posted 2012-08-31 by Mr. Guilt in Hodge-Podge

Old-School Hurricane Tracking   Leave a comment

Hand Tracking Isaac (close-up)Growing up in Louisiana, hurricane season was well known. One thing that was semi-symbolic of it to me was hurricane tracking charts. In short, this was a map of the north-western Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico that could be written on, and longitude and latitude plainly marked. Popeye’s partnered with the local TV station to hand out maps at their restaurants. Office supply stores sold ones that were magnetic. Grocery stores printed them on their paper bags.

The first summer after we returned to Louisiana after my dad left the military, I tracked a storm on one of the paper-bag maps. I was nine years old. I remember calling my dad, who’s bachelor’s degree was actually in geography, to explain longitude and latitude to me (he told me later he then had to explain it to his coworkers). A crayon was a less-than-percise marker, but it was a way to spend a summer day.

There are still reasons why this is relevant. Paper and pencil don’t require batteries, and a radio can be powered by relatively simple (and easily replaceable) ones.

I decided to track Isaac “old school,” in part to show my daughter. It didn’t really hold her attention. I found a PDF of the chart from NOAA. I started with a pencil, but switched to a red mechanical pencil to make it clear on the chart. Doing this really give a sense of how the storm moves.
Hand Tracking Isaac

I’ll probably try again with my daughter–there is much to learn from this.

Posted 2012-08-30 by Mr. Guilt in Geeky, Interesting, Louisiana

Mini Muffuletta Rolls   2 comments

Mini Muffuletta RollsMuffuletta, my favorite sandwich, takes its name from the large, round loaf it is prepared on. If you’ve ever had something called a “muffuletta” at a place that described the meats and signature olive salad, but put it on on focaccia, you were not eating a muffuletta. There are some very evil places that do that (or at least used to), in spite of having Louisiana roots.

Living in Cincinnati, for me to get a good muffuletta without being groped by TSA, I have to build it from the ground up. Cincinnati is a great meat town, so that part is easy. However, the key components–the olive salad and the bread–have to be made by hand. Fortunately, I can find recipes for this. The bread is good for a number of other applications (my wife loves having turkey on it), so it’s a worthwhile investment in time. Still, I only make it from the ground up infrequently. Salami, capicola, mortadella, and cheese aren’t exactly health food.

Most of the places I’ve been to sell muffulettas in increments of whole, half, or quarter. With a bag of Zapps, a quarter is fine under normal circumstances–lunch on a random Tuesday. However, since I only get to have a muffuletta the one or two times I’m in Louisiana in a year, I indulge in ordering half (hey–I’m on vacation). When I make it myself, I cut a hunk for the sandwich I want at the moment.

However, one of the downsides of that approach is the soft inside is exposed to air, hastening it becoming stale. My wife also favors doing sandwich on buns rather than sliced bread. So, I decided to make sandwich-sized rolls.

I started with the basic muffuletta recipe I use (from my favorite Louisiana food blog). It really doesn’t take that much longer than any of the other breads I make. The first divergence takes place between the first and second rises. Instead of “Punch the dough down and shape into a flat round about 9 inches across,” I divided it into ten rounds about 2-3″ across. The total dough weighs in at about 750 grams; I shoot for 70-80 grams each.

(The picture lacks sesame seeds, which is in the original recipe. I was out of sesame seeds.)

I let the next rise go for the stated hour, and do the egg wash. I do the initial bake at 425 degrees for seven minutes. After lowering it to 375, I let the baking go for another 10-15 minutes. This first time, I took the internal temperature with an insta-read thermometer, looking for 190-200 degrees. The “until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped” was the key confirmation for me.

What came out of the oven was a great bread that was great for sandwiches, and had a great texture. Even the next day it was wonderful. This may become my standard bread for non-grilled sandwiches.

Posted 2012-08-30 by Mr. Guilt in food, Recipes

Think About Your Flash   1 comment

IMG_3108The photo to the left was taken by my daughter in the Night Hunters exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. The big, white blob was actually caused by another visitor who was taking a picture with a flash. It is a symptom of a problem I see at zoos: using flash for photography of animals, especially in nocturnal houses.

My daughter encountered the small issue with this: the glare produced often messes up photos. Be it your own flash, or someone else trying to take a picture, the glare makes the photo practically useless. A similar effect can be seen with other lighting at the zoo (you can occasionally be seen in my photos), but it is typically lower intensity, and predictable. Usually, you can work around it to some extent.

The bigger issue, to me, is kindness to the animals. Nocturnal animals are designed to let in as much light into their eyes as possible. Look at a cat’s eye: the pupil can grow to be quite huge. It can reduce down to a slit (rather than a circle) so that, in conjunction with eyelids, the amount of light allowed in can be fine-tuned in daylight. A layer in the eye known as the tapetum lucidum maximizes the use of the light that enters the eye (it is also what causes their eyes to “glow”). In an exhibit like Night Hunters, the animals are using a large portion of this capability.

And then some idiot decides to trigger a camera flash right at this delicate instrument. I’ve seen the animals wince in discomfort, or go hide in the back of the enclosure. It really is not a nice thing to do.

I’ve heard the argument that, if the zoo didn’t want people to take flash photography, they’d put up a sign. Perhaps. However, there is such a thing as “human decency.” Is your snapshot worth causing these animals such discomfort?

I don’t use flash when taking pictures of any zoo animals (and even limit my use of it with my house cats), especially in exhibits that are meant to minimize the amount of light reaching the animals. To do otherwise just seems mean. Given that I view taking such pictures as part of my hobby and advocacy, I optimize my equipment for such environments (camera, lenses, and software for post processing), take the time to learn how to use it, and spend a great deal of time practicing. While I know most people may wish to make the investment in the equipment, they can take the time to learn how to make optimal use of what they have. Read the manual! Watch a tutorial video! Take the time to practice low light photography. These skills can be transferred to other situations. It is, in my opinion, a worthy investment in time.

Posted 2012-08-29 by Mr. Guilt in animals, Photography, rant, Zoos & Aquariums

Wright Brothers Memorial   Leave a comment

Just a couple miles from the National Museum of the United States Air Force is the Wright Brothers Memorial. It overlooks Huffman Prairie, where the Wilbur and Orville Wright refined their airplane.
Wright Brothers Memorail
While the first flight took place in North Carolina, most of their work on the airplane was done in Dayton. The North Carolina license plate really just needs to say “We Have Windy Beaches.”
Plaque on Wright Brothers Memorial

Posted 2012-08-28 by Mr. Guilt in Aircraft, Ohio

Crew Compartment Trainer   3 comments

We went to the National Museum of the United States Air Force today. We saw a few old favorites. For instance, I’m physically unable to walk by a Blackbird, my second favorite vehicle made of titanium, without taking a picture of it.
Blackbird

I also got a decent shot of the MiG-29.
MiG-29

I always like “The Spook,” a logo associated with the great F-4 Phantom II.
Scud Seeking Phantom

But we were there for space artifacts. The museum has the capsule from Apollo 15, the only moon landing whose crew were members of the Air Force.
Apollo 15

They also have a space-worthy Mercury capsule (though it never flew).
Caitlin & Mercury

We got a late start today, and only had a half-hour at the museum before it closed. However, on August 22, the museum received a now-retired Crew Compartment Trainer.
Crew Compartment Trainer 2

The Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT) was used by NASA to train astronauts for missions on the Space Shuttle.
Crew Compartment Trainer 1

We actually got to see it this spring, when we went to Space Center Houston. However, we got to go much closer to it today.
Crew Compartment Trainer 3

The CCT is somewhat of a consolation prize, in lieu of an actual shuttle. While I think the allocation of the shuttles was done in an extremely inappropriately, the docents I spoke with had a good attitude about it.
Crew Compartment Trainer 4

The museum is raising funds for an expansion–a fourth hanger. This will include the presidential aircraft collection, a section dedicated to global airlift capability, and a space section. The CCT will make its home in this space section. Visitors will be able to walk up and peek inside, to get a sense of what the shuttle was like.
Fourth Hanger Model

Posted 2012-08-27 by Mr. Guilt in Aircraft, Ohio

Improving E-Mail   Leave a comment

My frustration with e-mail is well documented. It’s a great way to quickly convey information, but people just aren’t great about how they use it. The challenge many have is that, at work, they get literally hundreds of e-mails a day, only a fraction of which are actionable. I’ve gone on a improve-my-email binge the last few months. A few things I’ve done:

Only Include People Who Have Actionable Tasks I try to limit the size of a distribution where possible. If a recipient does not have an actionable task in an e-mail, I don’t put them in. There are cases where I know someone needs to have something for informational purposes. I use the CC line for this–sparingly.

The SmartPhone Screen Rule E-Mail is increasingly consumed on devices other than computers. This, in turn, has driven people’s behaviors. One suggestion that was made to me in this vein is the “SmartPhone Screen Rule.” When mailing someone at the top of the org chart, assume they may only read one or two SmartPhone screens worth of information. So, in the first five or six sentences, I try to explain what I need and why. I may put further detail after this, but the first paragraph should capture the key action required. I think of it like an executive summary on steroids. This has had the beneficial effect of forcing me to focus my writing.

Avoid Attachments Where Possible This is another case where the use of SmartPhones drives behavior. While sometimes, due to the size of the document or the nature of the file, it’s not possible, I try to not put an attachment. Instead, I’ll paste in the relevant excerpt. This makes it simpler to read. Even if I’m on my laptop, I’d prefer not to have to pick through a document.

Avoid Forwarding Threads Often, someone will forward me a thread, with a request at the top of it. I’ll reply back, asking for key information to execute the task. The response is “it’s in the thread.” Rather than make someone pick through several iterations of back-and-forth, I’ll format the information in either a new e-mail, or, if I think the context may be useful, at the top of whatever I forward. In addition to not forcing the recipient to pick through all the details, I know my intent is captured.

Optimize the Subject Line As the day goes on and I get busier, the subject line is what I look to to tell me if it is worth opening an e-mail at that time (or at all). It is important that this one line captures the content of the e-mail.

Ensure the Subject Line is Distinctly Meaningful I manage a data center. An e-mail titled “Data Center Question” might be meaningful to a project (which has only one data center work stream), it does not stand out to me (who has many projects asking about data centers). Avoiding a subject that, to the recipient, is generic.

Use Action Words I was a bit put off the first time I saw an e-mails titled “RESPONSE REQUESTED: Blah blah blah.” However, I’ve come to like that technique. It helps with prioritization. So, I put in phrases such as “INFORMATION REQUESTED,” “ACTION REQUIRED,” and “FYI” at the front of the subject.

Evolve the Subject Line If the e-mail starts talking about Site One, and the subject says “Parts for Site One,” you’re doing good. But, over the course of the discussion, it may spin into a discussion of Site Two. In that case, update the subject line. This way, folks involved only in Site Two know to pay attention.

Separate Thread If multiple actions are spread among distinct audiences, create separate e-mail threads. This helps limit what a given individual may have to read to understand what is required.

Know When Not to Use E-Mail Sometimes, the discussion becomes too complicated for an e-mail. By providing instant feedback, quick conversation, in person or on the phone, can accomplish things more quickly.

Any other suggestions for using e-mail more effectively?

Sabertooth Cat   1 comment

For the last day of summer before school starts again, I took my daughter to the Cincinnati Museum Center, at Union Terminal.
Union Terminal

They had a few exhibits about the saber-tooth cat, a prehistoric felid that is no extinct.
Sabertooth Cat Skeleton

I believe this is a member of the smilodon genus, probably smilodon fatalis. These lived in North America, going extinct around 10,000 years ago. In all likelihood, prey animal went extinct around the same time.

They had models of several prehistoric animals on display including this sabertooth cat.
Sabertooth Cat Model

The model suggests that most baby cats are cute!
Sabertooth Kitten Models

Posted 2012-08-22 by Mr. Guilt in cats, Cincinnati

Checkup   2 comments

Today, the kittens had their first annual exam. This is really the first time they have been out of our house in about a year. I was a little worried about how they would react.

The worst case scenario would be Eddy. He hates the vet–violently. Literally violently. The doctor has to tranquilize him before a checkup. They have to put on leather-and-steel gloves that go up to their shoulders to administer the sedative. I worry that his care won’t be as good as Maggie’s, as I am very reluctant to take him to the vet.

We put Beso in a soft carrier we recently purchased, and Luna in a hard one. I was worried Beso would freak out, as he’s the more timid cat. However, halfway to the car, Luna started the most pitiful yowls you ever heard–very surprising, since she usually chats with us using very confident chirps. Beso was Mr. Chill. The only peep from him was walking from the car to the waiting room, by a busy street.

Luna’s mewing continued in the waiting room. The carriers were placed next to each other on a bench. Beso went over to the door of Luna’s carrier and calmed her down. Our named was called, and we decided to let Beso go first. He was excited to check out a new room.
Beso at the Vet

Beso weighed in at thirteen pounds–he is a big Seiberian tiger. The vet commented about how pretty he was to a technician, and how well behaved he was. He was happy to have the doctor listen to his heart, pet him, or even get his shots! Instead of hiding, he explored the room a bit too eagerly.

Luna was far from Eddy levels of discomfort–she simply slipped away and hid in the corner. She didn’t protest her checkup. The doctor commented on her soft, sleek coat and muscular frame. She took her examination and shots well. When it was time to go, we decided to have her share a carrier with Beso.
Beso & Luna in the Carrier

Luna was much clammer on the drive home, and they both seem no worse for wear. I’m very proud about how Beso took it in stride–very much in keeping with his mellow demeanor. Eddy smells the vet on them, and seems rater annoyed by that. He’s hissed at them more than once since we’ve been home. I’m sure that will clear up in a day or so.

Posted 2012-08-21 by Mr. Guilt in Beso, cats, Family, felis silvestris catus, Luna

Art for All: Union Terminal   Leave a comment

Art for All: Union Terminal
Mademoiselle Jeanne Gonin, 1821, Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres

Posted 2012-08-21 by Mr. Guilt in Art for All, Cincinnati

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