T, or admin: "This is our coffee maker.  Have you ever worked in an environment with software developers?"
New guy: "This is my first time."
T: "They drink a *lot* of coffee, so we need to check this..."
First off, understand that my grandmother is a technophobe.  We've sat through rants about wikipedia (lots), about twitter (more), about anything internet-based.  She still uses the yellow pages exclusively if she needs to find a business nearby.  She has had an email account, under protest, for many years but never checked it.  My grandmother is NOT someone who likes computers, cell phones, or really any technology from about the last 20 years.

Except smartphones.  We gave her a hand-me-down smartphone a few weeks ago, and she *loves* it.  She checks her email.  She uses it to store her important phone numbers, instead of the little piece of paper she's had on her desk for years.  

She keeps asking questions about the phone  (How do I look up an address, or just a street name, on the map?  How do I compose email?)  She *found* a place selling window blinds ALL BY HERSELF in the phone's search function (and then wanted to know how to find it on the map if it didn't have an address listed).  It Just Makes Sense to her, in a way that the computer never did.  She herself told me earlier in the evening that this phone rewards figuring out/learning how to do something.  That she'd always thought it was much too complicated, but that it has completely changed her mind.

I. am. shocked.  I would *never* have predicted that she'd like the thing.  But *she* actually thinks it's far, far simpler to use than her old RAZR. And, mind you, this isn't that paragon of usability and intuitiveness, the iPhone.  It's a G1.  But it has gotten an elderly technophobe onto the Internet for the first time ever.  

I'm telling you, if a smartphone can change my grandmother, these things are going to completely reshape the world.  
My first name isn't *that* uncommon, but there's something of a dearth of people roughly my age with this name. So it's really rather rare that I get email that goes like this:
Thanks so much

And I'm disproportionately amused when it does.
I've got a 9-year-old who'd really like to get some dog contact. I've also got a household that's far from ready to get another dog. I was thinking of volunteering with him at a (dog-housing) animal shelter, but so far the only ones I've found have a minimum volunteer age of 16. I'd *like* to be able to involve him, but apparently may need some help finding the right place. Or else I need some help thinking of ways he can get the dog contact he wants/needs, preferably without our getting a dog & without a huge time commitment (I'd been thinking of 1 weekend/month sort of thing).

Thoughts are welcome, as are pointers to people who might know something. Thanks.
I don't *think* I've ever before gotten back from a doctor's appointment with the instructions "Google [OTC product]" in my written instructions.
So last week sometime, I was working on (yet another) Really Annoying Week Issue for my projects here. 

I found myself thinking of Seven Days from Sunday, which was always kicking around GG's house.  I haven't seen it around lately, so I went to find it: http://books.google.com/books?id=0tMEAQAAIAAJ&q=seven+days+from+sunday&dq=seven+days+from+sunday.  Sadly, it's no preview.

Minuteman? Nope.

OK, Find in a Library.  Sure enough, Harvard's got it.  But wait! There's more!  Per WorldCat: " illustrated by Don Freeman."  Um, would that be the Don Freeman who wrote/illustrated the Corduroy books?  Darn.  No easy way to find out in Google Books (it doesn't even *list* an illustrator, much less link same).  Though a bit of digging gets me the answer: yes. 

FURTHER perusal of that link yields another surprise: 1945 James Thurber, The White Deer, Harcourt-Brace

And from the snippets view, that's the edition I have.  (Yes, I've read it enough that I recognize the typeface from that tiny bit.)  How the heck did I not know this before?


So I went to vote in my city's mayoral primary today.  Whee. 

We use these scantron-type ballots, so usually you check out with the election volunteer, put the ballot in the machine, and all's well.  Of course, today our particular machine had lost power, or something; in any event, it wasn't working.

Apparently (according to a remote coworker who volunteers as a poll worker & who has developed cryptographically verifiable voting systems professionally), they're *supposed* to have a separate (backup) ballot box to cover cases like this.

Instead, we left our ballots face-down in a pile on the table, and a nice city policeman was standing by (5 feet away), watching the ballots until the machine could be made to work. At which point, in theory, the poll worker would feed them in. 

Oy.  At least it wasn't an *important* election.
It's also true that on the same evening I was reading Google Books: a Metadata Train Wreck, I was also reading Lindsey Davis's latest novel, Alexandria.  As you might expect, it's set in Alexandria, in Roman times.  And, of course, much of the plot and action center on the Library.  You know, approximately the first major attempt to gather together all the world's books.  (Many of which were apparently obtained by piracy, but I'll attempt to avoid implying any parallels on that particular score.)

Anyway, I particularly liked this bit, about duplicates and picking the best one (starts at paragraph 6), and (especially) this bit, which is of course in Lindsey Davis's inimitable style, but, I believe, still a pretty good summary of the situation:

"'Well, you know what happens with copying, Marcus.  Some scribes make a bad job of it.  At the Library, the staff examined duplicates to decide which copy was the best.  In the main, they assumed the oldest scroll was likely to be most accurate.  Clarifying authenticity became their specialism.  .... People who feel strongly say that a bunch of ignorant clerks are making ridiculous alterations to works they just don't have the intellect to understand.'"

It was almost uncanny, actually.  (Oh, and I'm deeply impressed that Davis and her publishers are allowing any access at all.  Go them!)

(I will also note that the scholars of the Library would be APPALLED by the word "metadata", good Greek-speaking, Latin-despising learned folk as they were.)

After reading Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck on Language Log, I suddenly realized that I've already put in my time listening to complaints about the quality of Google Books metadata.  Only, I put in my time before it actually happened.

I've got (I think) a pretty good case that I know how a bunch of those errors crept in, and a much weaker circumstantial case that beginning to negotiate with Google about scanning the library's books caused the circumstances that inevitably produced those errors.  Let me see if I can make those cases. )

So if Google Books metadata is a train wreck, well, the UofM set the switches, and set the train's speed, but Google incentivized running on time, not safety.  And now it has to clean up the mess, pretty much by itself. 
A nice little report on a nice little analysis of SSNs and how to guess them.  I particularly liked the bit at the end:
"She said many businesses have errantly rely [sic] upon or have moved to redact all but the last four digits of a person's SSN, the very digits that are most unique to an individual." 

So, of course the first 3 digits are based on the zip code from which your application was made (almost certain to be place of birth for those born after ~1988); the middle 2 digits are apparently semi-stable over long periods for a region, and the last four (!) digits are not only FAR too few to be a good hash, but are ALSO the ones most likely to be shown.


Overheard in the elevator this morning (c 8 am): "Oh, well, you have about, what, 20 more hours in today to figure it out."

I realize I'm a data-obsessed fool, but to me there's a very big difference between being 4 hours into the day and being 8 hours into the day (and therefore between having 20 or 16 hours left).  Or maybe I'm just a sleep-obsessed parent.  But that was strange.

One day at my last job (so at least 4.5 years ago), I was poking around in some code that hadn't been touched in years.  I came across a comment, in the middle of a function, that said, "today is 10th anniversary of tiananmen square tragedy," with the coder's initials.  I'd never met this person, or even heard of him. 

Anyway, I thought of that comment today.

...is a gas station in Norfolk, VA.  At least according to its credit card receipts.
Last week was school vacation week, and we flew to Virginia, through La Guardia.  Luckily for me, [livejournal.com profile] saxikath pointed out 3 days before we left that _The Potato Chip Puzzles_ was out.  (I failed to order it from Amazon the day it came out, but that was OK, because my Local Independent Bookseller had some copies on the shelf when we went by on Saturday.) 

Overall, I'd have to say that _The Potato Chip Puzzles_ compares favorably to the borrowed gameboy we used for the last plane flights--similar depth of absorption of 8-year-old, without the worries about battery life, finding a charger, or, this time, a jealous younger sibling.  )

Next time, could someone please remind me to print out the puzzle pdfs BEFORE we hop the plane?  

And it was a great vacation.  Good timing, too....


Apr. 15th, 2009 04:02 pm
An envelope.
To: Tooth-fairyland
Return Address: Under J Lastname's pillow-
[home address]

In the upper-right corner, a hand-drawn stamp of a tooth.

There's a note in there, with the tooth.  I haven't opened the envelope because all of this is written on the sealed-flap side, rather than the plain side.

(This follows a couple months of protests "I know it's you!  Stop talking about the tooth fairy!"  I deduce that my elder child is playing along.  It's still cute.)
More from _The Settlement Cookbook_:

Liver Juice
Cut the raw liver into small pieces and sear slightly in a pan, for less than a minute.  Place the liver in a square made of several thicknesses of gauze.  Squeeze out the juice.  Serve very cold with orange juice.  [Or, you know, don't.]

Irish Moss Lemonade
1/4 cup Irish moss [This cookbook is from Wisconsin--?!?!]
2 cups boiling water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar
[The rest is as expected from the title]

I also loved the (original!) scare quotes in this discussion:
"Vegetables of all kinds and especially the green, leafy varieties are rich in 'vitamins.'"

She assumes you've got a spider to cook in, too....

2 recipes after "Charocis for Seder" (and that spelling kind of threw me, actually) in _The Settlement Cookbook_:

Molded Sardine Appetizer
2 cans boneless, skinless sardines, large
1/2 lb butter
1/2 pint pimiento olives
Seasoning of lemon juice and paprika
Top of pineapple

Mash sardines with fork, add creamed butter.  Mix and season.  Set in refrigerator until firm.  Mold in shape of pineapple and stick pineapple top into top.  Cover sides with olives, sliced crosswise.  Let stand in refrigerator about 6 hours.  Serve with sliced lemon and toast points.  Serves 8 to 10 people.

Um, yeah.  Yum.
Today (already!) at work there's a reminder that Opening Day for the Red Sox is Monday, and that we should anticipate heavy traffic and plan accordingly.  Accordingly, it occurs to me to wonder how the first part of my commute (walking to the commuter rail station across the street from Fenway) is going to be this season.

A) The sidewalks will be more packed than usual, because lots of people have no jobs & nothing better to do than pick up a game.
B) The sidewalks will be less packed than usual, because people have no jobs & can't afford tickets.
C) The sidewalks will be more packed with people trying to sell off the tickets they already have because they need the money.
D) Regardless, the sidewalks will be even more disgusting than usual the morning after a game because the city has even fewer resources to devote to cleaning up.

Um, go Sox.
Last week, Bruce Schneier's Friday Squid Blogging pointed to a New Zealand (government) site where you can create a virtual squid.  My older child kind of liked it; my younger one is obsessed ("make a squid before preschool?" "yes, after you're dressed, if there's time").  It's sort of cute, though I wish the environment after you "release" the squid were more interesting and/or better done. 

This is the first squid that S created; he seems to have moved on to all-pale-orange squid lately.  I thought this one was cute, and have blatently stolen it for a userpic. 

... and I still think I'll be happy with it, but this gave me pause. "Berto says these results suggest that an office environment with more windows could result in higher productivity than a completely enclosed space."

Sigh.  Oh, well, maybe some nice nature photos or something.... (Come to think of it, I think that's why W got the nice one of the Grand Canyon several years ago....)
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