saturday, april 29

my favorite press release headline to date:
pick 'n' mix or off-the-shelf gantry robots —
the choice is yours.

Thursday, April 27

The index cards have a new home now: a larger box, meant for the 5x9 size, which came with a set of tabbed alphabetical dividers. Pure chronological storage, I realized, would limit searching to brute force methods.

I now mark each new card on the long edge with an underlined title and a creation date:

[an example card: mice (slight exaggeration)]

The datestamping seems worthwhile. Aside from being a key piece of information about any given task, contact, etc., it also allows the cards to act as an index into dated notebook pages, and simplifies any search for a topic referenced on a given date.

The actual mouse count now stands at nine, for those of you keeping track at home. Some may be repeat offenders, since in two instances I was too lazy to walk any further than the driveway before releasing them.

On reflection, there is only one mouse I am certain hasn't returned, and that is because I dropped it three miles from the house somewhere in the course of:

— taking the car to the end of the driveway to open the trap
— noticing oncoming headlights
— imagining the sort of conversation that results when a cop sees you bending over a ditch shaking something at 1:30 in the morning next to your running car with the Nebraska plates just after the bars let out
— deciding to turn onto the road
— driving past some completely trashed old guy stumbling along in the opposite lane
— taking said guy the 9 miles to Longmont.

I'm a licensed plumber and an electrician, the guy kept saying. Got me a job waiting in Texas.

lines

Sunday, April 23

duct tape & bailing wire again

So I noticed that it would be trivial to write these pages in wiki-like markup by calling a bit of WalaCode. This is useful because it could obviate thinking about HTML: Writing an endless string of <a href="..."> tags, typing in entities for quote marks and ampersands, all that stuff.

Unfortunately, Wala.pm's markup is less than ideal for use in VimEditor. For one thing, it has a naive expectation that everything will be on a single line, regular paragraphs included. This works ok in a browser textarea, but it's not much fun elsewhere. It also doesn't make for very pretty HTML, which matters more to me after a few hundred hours of staring at really awful machine-generated markup. (View source on this entry and you'll see what I mean.)

This has given me the sense, though, that I ought to re-write p1k3 so that I can pass off text to whatever arbitrary subroutine or module. As is, things are sort of ad hoc and badly generalized. I've got a zillion of these kinds of things:

 # this takes care of wiki markup, badly
 while ($everything =~ m/<wiki>(.*?)<\/wiki>/s) {
     my $block = $1;
     my $parsed_block = WalaB::wiki_page_to_html($block);
     # good god, why am I doing a substitution here?
     $everything =~ s/<wiki>\Q$block\E<\/wiki>/$parsed_block/s;
 }

Ugly, although not half as ugly as it gets in the version that converts everything to LaTeX. And there I have the thought that most entries really ought to be stored in some format that can be gracefully translated to just about anything else, and the concurrent thought that writing something that looks like XML by hand is no fun at all. I start wishing again that I had learned how to program somewhere along the path to that history degree.

I'm worrying about this at all because (or at least on the pretext that) Elizabeth wants a site, and I can't decide whether I ought to give her something like Wordpress or roll my own full-sized system out of the bits and pieces lying around here.

As usual, what I am actually doing is focusing my attention on the irrelevant minor details of a weak technical framework I scarcely utilize. I am an old man, leaning over a workbench in a dusty garage, pathologically arranging three screwdrivers, an incomplete socket set, and a wide assortment of rusted bolts into new configurations. Periodically I pause, inspect my work, and begin anew. The world takes little notice.

Friday, April 21

zapus hudsonius preblei?

Today's open question: Is, in fact, the rodent seen below, nervously sharing a canning jar on my living room floor...

...with the dry noodles I placed as bait in the live trap...

...actually a (threatened!) Preble's meadow jumping mouse like the one pictured in the below (public domain!) US Fish & Wildlife Service photo?

Seeing them side by side, I'm sort of inclined to think that my mouse (now freely roaming a brush pile several hundred yards from here) is actually a deer mouse of some sort. The ears seem larger, the underbelly whiter, and the variation in color on the back less pronounced. Still, I'm not sure. Further research may be in order.

Incidentally, did you know that deer mice sing?

thursday, april 20

should be a good day to be in boulder
says junior
on account of the holiday
holiday?
i ask
there is a pause
oh yeah, i say
that's right.

Wednesday, April 19

Today, I spent slightly less than 3 dollars on a little plastic box and some 3x5 [[IndexCard|index cards]]. I then tacked a length of string to a shelf on the wall opposite the computer desk, and found a jar of miniature wooden clothespins. (I had to ask Elizabeth. They were in a plastic tub with multicolored squares of felt, dyed wooden beads, pipecleaners, and wooden cutout horses.)

index cards on a string

Each card is datestamped for later sorting, and contains one or more of the things I ought to have in mind and usually don't: Tasks I have accepted, people to communicate with, money which should be moving one direction or the other, several root passwords. Cards which might require further action hang to the left of the string.

closeup of index cards on a string

The little plastic box (not pictured) is intended as long term storage for outdated cards. It may eventually be replaced with a larger container suitable for adding photographs, newspaper clippings, and other detritus.

The index cards bring the count of my important information storage systems to at least 9, also including 20-25 notebooks (primarily a series of [MoleskineNotebook|Moleskines]), p1k3 (both a date-based [http://p1k3.com/all archive of entries] and a [HomePage|wiki]), a gmail account, a set of unix mailbox files read via mutt, an overflowing cork bulletin board on one wall, 4 sets of bookshelves, and /home/bbearnes on wendigo, my aging home computer.

Other storage is not even remotely systematic: cardboard bank boxes full of college papers, stacks of CD-Rs, audio tapes, the decaying steamer trunk which holds an appreciable percentage of my family's extant historical documentation.

This is not a tenable position.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, I can hear mice skittering through the stove and underneath the dishes.

Tuesday, April 18

I have been reading some of Buttercup Festival this evening. It is a work of staggering beauty.

Monday, April 10

State Radio at the Fox earlier tonight.

sunday, april 9

palm sunday

today we started
cleaning out the flower beds
picking up sticks in the yard
talking about what vegetables
would fit in all the pots and
makeshift frames full of
dirt scattered around the property
i don't know why we should
go to all this effort
we're only renting the place
after all
and that not for much longer
still the sun is shining
and maybe it just feels better
to do work that is not owed
to anyone in particular
the last time i had a garden
it was maybe 10 foot on a side
the dirt was full of concrete,
broken glass, cigarette butts
& odd bits of metal
it yielded a couple dozen tomatoes
a few ears of corn — this
was considerably better than
i had expected
my roommates at the time
were almost deliberate in
their failure to water the
plants when i wasn't around
and the following year they
pre-emptively bought cheap
concrete paving tiles and
turned the entire plot
into a patio.

friday, april 7

daylight savings

every morning of this week
the kitchen door window
has been a perfect rectangular
bounding-box for the black tracery
of dead tree branches
backlit by sunlight
on the hill.

Thursday, April 6

Adele writes that she has finished a second installment in the (continuing?) saga of Yell'en. The art is excellent.

a scene from yell'en 2

You should go and read it.

Wednesday, April 5

Today I had an interview, sort of, for another short term data-entry gig. This one at Free Speech TV.

This is in the way of becoming a trend, though actually I suspect that my First Observation on Employment, "You are not cool enough to work in a record store.", will come into play and they'll hire someone else. A shame. They seemed nice.

more: observations

Monday, April 3

Today, I was back in a temp job that exists because of a badly designed interface to a mediocre database. I spent the bulk of my time acting as a physical conduit for a 6 digit identification number: Reading said number from a listbox on one part of the screen, and typing it into a search field a few hundred pixels away.

I have actually done this set of tasks, more or less, for this particular organization in the past. Even if I hadn't, the whole process would be familiar. Most of the data entry I've ever encountered is basically the same (though there's considerable variation in the decency of the people who will pay you to do it).

Data entry tends to be built on the sort of task that just hasn't been automated yet. For some real-world jobs — such as transcribing human speech from tape, or assigning physical delivery addresses in an office building to newly delivered cardboard boxes — this is because automation would require strong AI or factory-scale robotics. For most of the ones I encounter, it is because I — your humble narrator, the wage slave between the keyboard and the monitor, my pale skin awash in the dead glow of fluorescent lighting filtered through textured plastic, reeling slightly from the haze of permanent marker — act primarily as an organic patch on some series of logical/procedural/design stupidities, inefficiences, and malfunctions.

There is something about the prevalence of this kind of work, and that of its manual labor near-equivalents, that fascinates and horrifies. It is work as pure waste energy, all but a tiny residuum of effort lost in the perfectly unnecessary.

Sunday, April 2

I suspect that the worst thing that ever happened to the physical act of writing was the moment it was decided that schoolchildren should be given enormous, clumsy fat red pencils with which to trace letters onto mushy, unpleasant pads of newsprint. Do you remember those things? At the age of 6 or 7, was there any more perfect tactile harbinger of the intellectual and spiritual process of education? Other than the time that kid pushed me into a desk just after the Pledge of Allegiance and I had to go get stitches?