The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Inadvertent Michael Jackson Impersonation

Our neighbor tends to go all out on the Fourth of July, so there's no real need to go anywhere for a fireworks show. So when he and his friends started firing off their works, Bunny and I went outside to enjoy the show.

[He's got both kinds of fireworks!  Vertical AND horizontal!] [Talk about your bright ideas] [Ba-boom!]

Then this one is lit off:

[Compared to the prior one, that isn't a firework]

My reaction was pretty much: Hmm … wow that's loud, and large, and low, and oh XXXX XXXX that's going to XXXXXXX land on me get it off get it off get it off. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”


I've been in an explosion.

Now my hair caught on fire.

Okay, okay, technically it wasn't on fire, but it was singed, and man, singed hair smells horrible.


[It actually felt like plastic—very weird]

Fortunately, I suffered no burns, but I was lucky. It could have much much worse, which is a nice time for this little PSA:

[Amateurs: There's a reason professionals exist.]

I think next year, I'll watch the fireworks on TV from the comfort of an underground bunker.

Friday, July 08, 2011

“'Tis but thy sex that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not an XX.”

This past century, large portions of the American South have been consumed by an unintended side-effect.

I refer to the infamous “kudzu” vine, imported from Japan for its stunning erosion-control properties. This tactic worked: Crumbling riverbanks and hillsides were stabilized all over the South—but, then, everyone realized with mounting horror that this hardy legume is almost completely unstoppable anywhere protected from hard freezes, growing at the awesome rate of a foot per night and reaching heights of 100 feet. Entire abandoned houses have been observed to vanish under a kudzu carpet, over a summer growing season. It's now considered a pest; sometimes, an outright menace.

The plant can be used with caution, where its invasive side- effect is known and planned for—but the point is that it was deployed without understanding its full effects.

Laws' side-effects, likewise, can render them self-defeating (though, on the bright side, bad laws are easier to eradicate than kudzu): I'm going to explain, below, why recently popular marriage-definition legislation like California's November 2008 “California Marriage Protection Act” (an initiative state-constitutional amendment) creates kudzu-class unintended side effects its proponents haven't anticipated and will find horrific—in that they're going to end up mandating and legally sanctifying exactly the sort of same-sex marriages they're intending to ban.

Via Randall Munroe (which itself was via Hacker News), Kudzu and the Marriage Amendment

No, really!

The article outlines eleven instances where the “visual” gender doesn't match the actual “genetic” gender and thus, the laws outlawing same- sex marriages could force “visual same-sex marriages.” Way to go, narrow-minded legislators!

Monday, July 11, 2011

DIY cable managment system

Growing up, my maternal grandmother lived with mom and me. And she was always worried that snarled mess of cables beneath my desk (having two computers means twice the number of power cords, keyboard cables, video cables, mouse cables and serial port cables—a real rat's nest of cables) would spontaneously combust and kill us all in a huge conflagration.

Fortunately, that never happened, but still, it's very unsightly and recently, it's been bugging me.

[It's also a nightmare to sweep under there]

It's been bugging me since I came across this article about using a rain gutter as a cable management tool. It looked simple enough to implement (and it doesn't hurt that my desk has a wood surface) and why not?

All it took was a 3′6″ section of rain gutter:

[Fear the mighty gutter!]

$5.23 for a minimum 10′ section—they even provided the tools necessary to cut it to size, so I have enough gutter sections to do two more desks. And then some other associated hardware:

[The rest of the equipment]

Two rain gutter hangers ($2.35), two screw hooks (62¢ each) and two rubber grommets (98¢ each—wow, they're expensive!). Drill a hole through the hangers, use the grommets to line the holes:

[Instant hanging system]

which will be used to suspend the rain gutter beneath the desk:

[How the pieces fit together]

Then it was a process of screwing in the hooks on the underside of the desk and installing the rain gutter.

[We slide everything into place …] [… and instant cable tray!]

From start to finish (and this includes the trip to Home Depot during rush hour traffic) it took only four hours. It took longer to run the cabling than it did buying the items, but then again, there were quite a few cables (a couple of which I forgot what they did—I hate when there are extra parts after putting everything back together again).

[Look Ma!  No more unsightly cables!] [The Hanging Cables of Babylon]

Much nicer now. And easier to sweep under the desk. Not bad for $15 (and some sore knees).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

“Cowboys and Aliens”

Given all the sequels, remakes, and reboots coming out of Hollywood (not to mention some questionable inspriration—really? A movie based the Hasbro game?) I'm a bit leery of anything coming out of Hollywood these days.

I was even a bit wary of “Cowboys and Aliens even though its not sequel, prequel, remake or reboot (maybe—it is based upon a comic book but reading the storyline in the comic, it seems the movie went its own direction) but after a positive review from a source I trust, Bunny (who originally wanted to see the movie just from viewing the previews) and I went to the movies.

It's an odd movie—it's a solid Western, with Daniel Craig playing an anmesiac thief who stole gold from Harrison Ford, playing a cruel cattle baron, but then it turns into an alien invasion pretty darned quick (and for those of you who saw the trailer—everything in that trailer is in the first half hour of the film). Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford then team up with the remains of the town to hunt down the “demons” (as the aliens are referred to—nice touch) and save the kidnapped townspeople. And then it's a solid alien invasion story, albeit set in the 1870s. It's a film well worth seeing, if just for the solid performances from everybody in the film (although Sam Rockwell's performance reminded me quite a bit of his role in “Galaxy Quest” as the red shirt).

I only have two real quibbles with the film, and if you don't want anything spoiled, stop reading now. You have been warned.


The first quibble is the motiviation of the aliens. Any species that is capable of interstellar travel is not going to land on an inhabited planet just for the gold, especially when the indiginous inhabitants can violently fight back. There are probably other planets (or moons) in the solar system with enough gold and life (if any) that won't fight back, as it were. And even if they are here for the gold, why bother the local inhabitants anyway? Land, mine the gold, leave.

I guess they're just sadistic jerks, these aliens.

The second quibble is how one of the characters, who turns out to be an alien who's homeworld was destroyed by the first set of gold mining aliens, even arrived here. This character came here to fight the first set of aliens, but there's no indication of where its ship is, or how it got here, or anything. This is a smaller quibble than the first, but it's still pretty convenient.

But hey, it's a good film otherwise.

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