Archive for April 2013
Forbes magazine used a photo I took in their post “Return Free Tax Filing? Sure, With an Insanity Free Tax Code.”
Time for Spring Cleaning!
We went bowling at Star Lanes.
My wife’s work laptop seems to have WiFi issues–it keeps disconnecting for no clear reason. She had an important project, so, under the supervision of the Hacker Ninja Princess, we improvised.
I made French toast with the Hawaiian bread, which is now what I regard as the best bread EVER for that particular dish. I took a photo of my plate, before syrup and butter, and put it on Instagram. Then my wife did me one better, with whipped cream and berries. My daughter, however, had the prettiest plating yet.
In Last week in Slate, Tienlon Ho wrote a piece titled “Can You Live Without Google?” He described the impact on his life when he was locked out of his Google account, due to one file on his Google Drive that may have violated Google’s Terms of Service (sounds like legitimate security work may have been confused with hacking). By access to his Google account, he lost access to files he was working on in Google Drive, his calendar, mail, photos, and even his primary phone number. He learned just how dependent he had become on Google.
In the last five years, mobile computing has become the dominate player in our computing landscape. These devices allow us to access data everywhere, and make us less dependent on one machine. By storing data in the Cloud, it doesn’t matter if you happen to have your laptop, SmartPhone, or tablet with you, your data is with you, and has the current version.
While consumers may be able to build and maintain a private cloud, consumers typically are using an offering from Google, Microsoft, or another provider for low- or no-cost. Unfortunately, as Mr. Ho discovered, it also puts you at their mercy. The provider controls the terms of service, and, as we discovered with Instagram, they can change them on a whim. Or, the company could go out of business, or simply decide to discontinue the service (such as with Google Reader). Add to that the periodic security breaches that seem to occur.
Depending on cloud services exclusively can put your data at risk.
I do see the usefulness of these services, but I also take steps to protect myself. Most of my actual data is stored on my personal systems, with automated backups.* There is little that is in the Cloud that is not also on these systems. Case in point: while I use Flickr to store my photos, the original files (both the shots from the camera and the version ultimately “published”) are on my laptop, and backed up. While it would make a mess of my blog, I would still have the photos, and could find a way to rehost them. It would be extremely inconvenient, but not catastrophic. Likewise, I synchronize cloud services to local applications where possible (as opposed to relying solely on the web interface).
The one bit of good news is that Google makes a point of letting you pull your data out as you need to. For a long time, there has been a team called the Data Liberation Front. Their mission has been to provide Google’s users a way to easily pull their data out into a portable format for no incremental cost. This can either be through Google Takeout, to pull out large amounts of data, or some other export or synchronization. For instant, there are clear instructions to export or sync your Google Calendar. While other cloud providers may not put quite this level of thought into allowing their users from moving away, there generally is some level of official or unofficial advice given, and, failing that, clever people on the web who can offer suggestions and tools.
It is one thing to have the ability to pull data out. In order to ensure you don’t find yourself in Mr. Ho’s situation one day, you need to have an explicit backup as part of your standard regime. For some things, simply syncing them with a desktop application will capture the data for you. Other things, such as Google Documents or Flickr photos, may require a more explicit action. Once you develop a technique, you will also need to understand the required frequency. For my needs, weekly may be adequate; if Google Docs is where you do most of your work, daily may not be frequently enough.
(It appears that if you have a Cloud storage app, such as SkyDrive, Dropbox, or Google Docs, the local copy happens automatically. It’s even backed up automatically as part of my local backup system.)
I’m not suggesting that Cloud services should not be used or even relied upon. However, if you value your data, it is important you consider what you would do if the service becomes unavailable. Do you have your data? If you have not given though to that, it is time that you do.
*I admit that I need to improve my off-site rotation, but that’s another story.
The house next door to our has been for sale for most of the year. I noticed the other day, however, someone moved in.
A bird has made a nest in the transom–perhaps my friends with an ornithological bent can let me know what kind.
I have no idea if there are eggs in there, though it seems likely. I hope that, if there are, they are allowed to hatch before the house sells or the real estate agent decides to evict the new (winged) family in Columbia-Tusculum.
Seven years (and countless miles) ago today, I got my Habanero road bike. It’s my favorite vehicle (titanium or otherwise).
(Mama Guilt: gave you seen a prettier bicycle?)
When I ride, I probably obey traffic laws more so when I do in the car. I don’t speed (more a function of my strength than self-control), travel in my lane, and stop at all red lights. I’m guilty of a few “rolling stops” at stop signs, but that is pretty much my only real sin. I can’t say I’m quite so good in my car–my speedometer seems to find itself to the right of the posted limit. Relative to miles traveled, I am a better citizen on my bike than in my car. In fact, a recent study shows that cyclist, overall, are the same way.
I feel extra pressure to obey the law while on the bike, especially when there are cars around. If I have a legal right to be on the road, taking the lane when required, then I have an obligation to follow the law. I also know that every minor infraction–every stop sign rolled through, every right turn on red without a stop–is justification in a drivers mind that cyclists just don’t follow the rules, even if a car doing the same thing would go unnoticed. Why do I have to share the road with these scofflaws? Is it fair that we’re held to a higher standard than cars? No, but it’s reality. It doesn’t even count the times that we are held accountable for things that aren’t really in the law (“don’t you have to use the bike lane?”).
For this reason, I get upset when I see cyclists, especially ones who look like fair-weather ones, making flagrant violations of the rules. Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve seen cyclists going the wrong way on a one-way street. Once I was a pedestrian at the park; another time I was on my bike. I called out to them–in both instances, they made it clear that they knew, but didn’t care.
This makes me infuriated. This behavior makes it that much more likely there will be a letter to the editor of the paper, or someone shouting at me as they drive by, or worse. It is a legitimate reason for drivers to hate us. It’s hard enough to own space on the road without that. It’s especially annoying when it’s folks who only ride on really nice spring days, as those of us who put in thousands of miles, regardless of it being near-freezing in February or in the nineties in August are cast in the same lot.
So, I ask that if you ride, please make sure you understand the rules of the road, and try to follow them. For the most part, they are the same rules you have to follow in your car. Not only is it the right thing to do, you are showing cars that bikes belong, too!
I’ve had a fear I’ve been in a bread rut. It’s been challah…challah…Irish soda bread…challah…French bread… I really wanted to not be a one trick pony. So I’ve been looking for interesting breads. While I can find almost any bread recipe I want on the Internet, I have to know what I want. Now that is a challenge!
On the Foodies Night In chat a few weeks ago, Red Star Yeast provided a link to their Pinterest board. Jackpot! Scores of breads to try, with pictures and everything!
The first candidate was Hawaiian Honey Bread. The recipe was interesting, and I knew my wife had gotten it in the past. So, I went to work. I was rather surprised–there were only two fifteen-minute rising sessions before putting it in the oven. Challah, by contrast, rises for an hour and forty-five minutes. But, it appeared to rise like I might expect, so I was comfortable putting it in the oven.
After about ten minutes in the oven, my wife called to me. “You might want to pull the racks out of the oven.” It came out, and I was quite surprised.
We pulled it out of the pan, and studied it a bit. How were going to cut it? I decided to split it down the middle.
It turned out it was almost six inches high.
The bread was good–I probably could have pulled it out about five minutes earlier, as the bottom was a bit overdone on the crust. The interior was fluffy. The egg content will likely mean it will brown well on a grilled cheese sandwich…if I can figure out how to cut it for that purpose. Next time, I might try to do a more loaf-shape on a silpat.
Given that it is relatively quick to make and a good taste, I think this will enter our rotation, and help resolve my rut.
About two weeks after Beso and Luna came to live with us, we got them a Dream Curl, a combination scratching post and jungle gym. They all love it, but it was beginning to show its age.
We’ve been keeping our eyes open for a replacement. We noted at Petsmart today that the Kong Wave Scratch and Play Roller was on sale. We decided it was time for an upgrade. Toy addict Beso was the first to check it out.
He really dug it, and was anxious to show his sister how it worked.
She got the hang of it pretty quickly.
Eddy showed up to see what was going on.
…and got his turn.
Thus, my cats got a new place to hang out.
We went to the zoo today, for the annual Zoo Blooms event. Where last year, where a mild winter left us without blooms, it was a colorful spectacle.
Of course, the main reason I go to the zoo is to see the animals. The first animal I took a picture of was a little wallaby.
The black bear was having a nap.
The Siberian lynx, however, was watching everyone.
One of the clouded leopards was on a pedestal.
She was bathing herself, in the “cello” pose.
A black-footed cat was watching what we were doing. He seemed concerned about what was up.
Miss Lop-Ears the caracal napping on top of some rocks.
Mama fishing cat was, too.
We went outside to see what was going on. I’ve been fascinated with tigers a lot lately.
Springtime is when snow leopards usually have cubs. I have no information, and snow leopard Renji has been dozing the last few times I’ve been to the zoo. Fortunately, Nubo makes a great pillow.
Two reptile animal ambassadors were out today. Periwinkle was a blue tongue skink in the Night Hunters building.
Tallahassee the alligator was hanging out in the gift shop. We’ve seen him before.
It was an absolutely gorgeous and colorful day at the Cincinnati Zoo!
The same day my mystery box came in, I got another package–one I was expecting. Pilot Pen was having a contest on twitter. I happened to be at a Cincinnati Cyclones game, where my daughter’s choir sang the national anthem (not that I was tweeting during my daughter singing the national anthem*). I entered, and won! Multitasking at its finest.
I’ve been a fan of Pilot pens the majority of my life, starting with the Better Ballpoint that occupied my pocket throughout high school and the Pilot Varisty which was among my first experiences with fountain pens. I’m also a huge fan of the Vanishing Point (which is also sold under their Namiki line), which should be the subject of another post. Pilot is an innovator in other areas, including their G2 gel ink, as well as the B2P, which uses recycled water bottles to form the housing for the refill.
Fountain pens use liquid-based inks, which as been used for millennia in dip pens. Ball point pens, starting in the Fourties, use an oil-based paste that lacked the vibrancy and smoothness of liquid ink, but was cheaper and more convenient. Rollerballs brought liquid ink to the ball tip, and gel inks improved this form. These offered the flexibility the ballpoint form offered, but did not last as long, or dry as quickly. I also find that the refills tended to be larger than ballpoint refills, or have a very short life (a D1 gel refill only lasted about six months; I’ve never had a D1 ballpoint run out of ink).
The Acroball is one of the new ball pens that use a hybrid ink. These inks are designed to provide the smoothness and vibrancy of a liquid or gel ink, while offering some of the benefits of a ballpoint. I have to say, on the paper, it definitely hits that mark. The two I was sent by Pilot have black ink, which is always an interesting color for me. For such a basic color, I’ve seen significant variation (more-so among fountain pen inks). Writing, it feels smooth like a good rollerball, and the ink does deliver on the vibrancy. Note the comparison to a variety of ball pens.
The ballpoints definitely have the duller appearance, and some of the roughness comes through. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell a significant difference between the gel, liquid (rollerball), and hybrid inks. I haven’t had a hybrid pen long enough to speak to their life, but I did do a “smudge test:” I made a dot, then immediately brushed my finger over it.
The rollerball and the fountain pen definitely had a smudge; the hybrid and ballpoint did. Obviously, had I given the liquid inks a chance to dry, they would compare more favorably, but that wasn’t the point of the test. The hybrid ink, at least in my initial impression, struck that middle ground between the ease of use ballpoints offer, and the nice appearance of a liquid or gel ink.
The ink is the impression left by the pen, but how does it write? With fountain pens, how it writes is the whole package: the part that touches the paper stays with the body. What you get is reliably known. Ball pens, on the other hand, are split in two the refill, which contains both the ink supply and the writing tip, and the body. As noted, the refill goes across the paper quite smoothly, comparing favorably to rollerballs.
The body, however dictates the balance of the pen in the hand, and the comfort of the grip. I confess, that I didn’t find the body of the Acroball anything to write home about. It has a rubberized section where it is gripped. Perhaps it is my taste, but I really didn’t care for that. The balance was OK for the type of pen. Aesthetically, I did like the white body with the colored accents. I think the engineering of the pen focused on the refill rather than the body. It is not bad, and I’m sure I’ll write with it.; it just does not compliment the writing experience promised by the refill.
Overall, I think the Acroball is a neat pen, and is a great introduction to hybrid ink. I definitely will look for it when refilling ball pens, and may look for options to use these refills that better suit my tastes. Definitely a cool pen!
*I was busy being a dorky dad, videoing my daughter (and her choir) sing.
Most folks are familiar with the Chinese Zodiac, if only though placemats at Chinese restaurants. In 2011, by the Western calendar, the world entered Year of the Rabbit by that reckoning. The Vietnamese Zodiac mostly follows the Chinese one, except they don’t use the rabbit. When Tết was celebrated that year, it was for the Year of the Cat. As it turns out, many wonderful cats were born that year. For instance, snow leopards Renji and Nubo were born during the Year of the Cat, among other cats.
Most importantly (to me) were two kittens born on April 15: Beso and Luna! My “kittens” are now two years old, still chasing after toys in kittenish ways (if not with kittenish sizes).
The first time we saw Beso, he was laying on his back in a hammock. We joked about him being kind of a laid back “surfer dude.” That personality has persisted. He is the most toy-oriented of any cat I’ve ever had, always ready to chase after a puff ball or birdie.
Money spent on toys is not wasted on this cat.
He is also a big cat. Some of it is that he’s…ahem…”fluffy.” However, it is also muscle. I joke that he’s an Amur tiger (the largest felid), and a description I once read, of the Amur tiger’s “heavy grace” is apt.
He is a handsome cat.
In this house, no box goes unexplored, no device uninspected, no window not looked out of, at least not since Luna joined the family. Every time I think I’ve seen everything that a cat can get in to or show interest in, she proves me wrong. I think it’s her hacker-ninja-princess nature.
She’s a pretty cat, on the smaller end of “average.” She is healthy and athletic.
Eddy remains the kittens’ mentor, and he and Beso are clearly a coalition. I often see them bathing each other, or stalking after something (even if it is a water facet).
Happy birthday, Beso and Luna! May you have many more with us!