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Oct. 9th, 2008

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Presidential appearance

I had fun at the Presidents of the United States of America concert last night at Stubb's BBQ. I managed to convince Yang and (more surprisingly) Johnno to join me. Although they played a few of their newer songs, they also did a lot of songs from their old 1995 album (Kitty, Lump, Boll Weevil, Peaches, Dune Buggy, We Are Not Going to Make It, Kick Out the Jams, Body, Back Porch). Below is a YouTube video I recorded of "Boll Weevil".

The opening act was local Austin band, The Black and White Years, though I only found their "Power to Change" song (which gets occasional airtime on 101X) to be notable.

Aug. 26th, 2008

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Cows have magnetic sense

Here's some interesting cow-related news that has just been discovered by using Google Earth images:

"Studying photographs of 8,510 cattle in 308 herds from around the world, zoologists ... found that two out of every three animals in the pictures were oriented in a direction roughly pointing to magnetic north."

"Cows are known to align their bodies facing uphill, facing into a strong wind to minimize heat loss or broadside to the sun on cold mornings to absorb heat, but the fact that the pictures were taken at many locations, at different times of day and in generally calm weather minimized the effect of environmental factors, the researchers said."

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-cows26-2008aug26,0,3764260.story
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Aug. 20th, 2008

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Roadtrip through the US south east

This past Sunday I arrived back in Austin from a 2-week roadtrip that I spontaneously decided to take. My goal was to visit interesting places that I had never seen before. In total I drove about 4500 miles in my Jeep Wrangler (and 18 tanks of gas). I got to meet up with Mike Woss (ex-coworker), Lucent (first IRL meeting with long-time d.net buddy), Mary Bass (coworker), and Rey/Swiggy (ex-coworker).

There were a few cities that I had hoped to go through (Atlanta and Birmingham) that I ended up cutting out so that I could spend more time in other locations. I could have easily have spent more time in most of my stops if I had more vacation time.

I bought a new Digital SLR camera (Nikkon D40) specifically for the trip, so I had some fun playing around with it at the same time. Snorkeling and night-time kayaking in Key West were both pretty fun. Visiting Kennedy Space Center was also pretty neat, since I had been involved with parts of the Shuttle missions but never seen the launch facilities. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park was also a great place to explore and hike around.




(Click pictures above to embiggen)


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Aug. 3rd, 2008

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iGive, you receive insecurity

I've been delaying the posting of this blog entry, but since there haven't been any new developments I thought I should finally post it...

iGive.com is a website that allows people to shop at popular e-commerce retailers and have a small percentage of the purchase sent to a charity that you nominate. In theory it's a nice idea, however I've noticed a few problems with their implementation, particularly in regard to the security and confidentiality of the personal information of members that sign up. distributed.net has been using iGive since 1997, though my opinion of them has been lowered as a result of this (and other actions that are not covered here).

iGive elected to belong to the TRUSTe "web privacy seal" program, which has the goal of providing some assurance to internet users that their privacy can be safely entrusted to a website. Most of TRUSTe's assurance comes from requiring websites to pay a certification fee and have a privacy policy that complies with TRUSTe requirements, but they don't actually seem to do their own auditing unless someone makes a complaint. There are other critics that claim that TRUSTe does not take a proactive role in monitoring or punishing organizations.

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TRUSTe recently made a blog post warning that "encoding an ID# in the URL or relying on another mechanism that can be changed by the user risks exposing data". I don't know if iGive qualifies as a "major consumer web site ... [that exposes] passports", but I'm sure they were at least attempting to aggregate the lessons from iGive's problems in that post.
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Jun. 10th, 2008

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Kayaking trails

About two years ago I bought a kayak and I've been using it every few weeks to explore some of the local waterways and enjoy the scenery. Here's a few Google Maps that I made of the places I've gone while kayaking around Austin recently.
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I intend to try some places further away from the city sometime soon, instead of repeating previous ones (as I have been). There's also some more local places to try on Austin Kayak's boating map. I also need to try out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Paddling Trails and some other paddling areas.

May. 25th, 2008

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Good fortunes

Freebies:
  • Johnkw and I attended an Agile Austin lecture on May 6 and I think there were about 80 people in attendance. At the end of the talk they drew random numbers to give out 3 door prizes, and he and I both won prizes. He got a book on agile development, and I got a license to IntelliJ IDEA (a commercial Java IDE based on Eclipse).
  • My XM Radio service is still receiving free radio after 5 months, since I installed it in January. I guess they don't retransmit their entire whitelist/blacklist of authorized radio IDs frequently enough to catch my short commutes.
  • My T-Mobile cell phone bill normally automatically charges to my credit card every month on the 23rd. Last month there was no April 23rd charge so I call T-Mobile and ask about it. They said that somebody else paid my bill in advance by phone (perhaps they entered the wrong account number), but they didn't know who or what credit card was used to do it. They recommended just leaving the credit and see if it eventually gets retracted. I did get billed on May 23rd, so I guess it was only a one-time freebie.
Lucky recoveries:
  • I went kayaking last weekend and as I was getting back on land, I apparently dropped my phone on the dock without noticing it. After finishing dinner at Chuy's and realizing my phone was missing, I returned to the dock and the manager there had luckily found and kept my phone. No damage either!
  • This week I've had the windows open ventilating Cowhouse rather than running the A/C, and naturally the cats like to sit by the open windows and look out. Apparently Jasper was leaning too hard against the screen window and fell out from the second floor to the ground below--I didn't realize he was missing until around 10pm. Using a flash light I quickly found him hiding under one of the bushes in the backyard uninjured.
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May. 11th, 2008

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Free basketball backboard hoop

Any local Austinites interested in an old basketball backboard hoop with chain net? You'll just need to install some kind of permanent vertical post in your ground someplace, and then you can mount this backboard to it.

Cowhouse came with one installed in the front driveway, but I have no use for it so I took it down.

I'll probably post this on Craigslist in a few days if no one's interested, but I wanted to give the people who know me a chance to claim it first.

UPDATE: I put the hoop in front of the house with a "FREE" sign on it, and it disappeared within a few days.

Apr. 25th, 2008

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Jury duty

So I got a summons to go downtown yesterday and participate in jury duty for my first time. I was actually pretty excited about the opportunity and was hoping that I would be picked to be on the final jury. Unfortunately, I ended up being juror candidate 22 (out of 23 present), and they ended up only needing the first 6. Regardless, I chose to stay and watch the trial since it seemed kind of interesting and my boss already had the expectation that I'd be gone the whole day.

@#&$@#!!
Apparently a lady was riding her bicycle on the Town Lake Hike & Bike trail in February and almost ran into a loose dog on the trail. She shouted some profanity ("expletive deleted") at the dog's owner as she passed, and some nearby bicycle cops happened to hear it and gave her a citation for disorderly conduct by disturbing the peace. The cops testified that at the time she was ticketed, the woman admitted to shouting the profanity and apologized for it.

The jury ended up finding her unanimously not guilty, despite the absolutely horrible job that she did while representing herself and not actually providing any compelling arguments. The testimony of the two bicycle cops was basically insufficient to get the verdict.

(At the time of the ticket, she supposedly claimed to the police office that the profanity was part of a story she was telling to a friend she was bicycling with. But there was no exploration of why a profanity in a retold story would have been more appropriate in a public area, or why she changed her excuse to now being because a loose dog was in the path, nor why shouting a profanity at the dog's owner would have been more justifiable.)

If the jury had found her guilty, they could have fined her between $1 and $500.

Apr. 20th, 2008

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Kaweah Pole House

My parents both retired a few months ago in December and have recently put their house up for sale, so that they can retire to Arizona. A few of my Austin friends (decibel45, dopplertx, snaxxx) got to see it in person when we went to New Zealand last year.

Part of the reason that my parents don't feel that the real estate market slump in California will have too much of an impact on their sale is the relatively unique nature of their house. It is a Japanese-inspired haiku house, which is a modern-day interpretation of a Japanese country house. It is supported entirely by long wooden poles that extend deep into the ground, and is made almost entirely out of redwood trees. My parents liked the design so much that they hired an architect to build it for them in 1981 on a carefully selected hillside in Pasadena, California. It would be impossible to build a house like it today in California due to recent construction regulations to reduce fire risk, plus the difficulty/expense of obtaining that much old-growth redwood.

Their realtors set up a little website with its own domain [1893kaweah.com] to host a description and some photos of it. My mom sent me some good details about the media coverage and open house interest:
"Our home was featured in the local Pasadena magazine as well as in the LA Times. The first open house had a lot of neighborhood people ... We had a couple serious parties. Our realtors (2 partners) were very surprised at the numbers showing up. The 1st [open house] had 175 coming through; our 2nd has about 100. It must have been a huge traffic jam since we got a phone call 1½ hr into the open house and the realtor sounded overwhelmed at the tremendous # of people going through the house!"

The house keeps itself very cool in the summer because of louvered windows that can open up along the entire bottom floor, and skylights and roof vents that open up on the second floor. All the hot air escapes at top vents and draws in cool air through the lower windows.

You can also see their house on Google Maps StreetView, though it appears that Google has mixed up some of the images if you move too far along the street. The realtor also has a bunch of photos on their website. I also have some of my own photos in my personal gallery. It's a little sad to think that the house I grew up in will soon belong to someone else though.
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Mar. 14th, 2008

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Fry's <3 AmEx

Finally after enough customer complaints Fry's Electronics now accepts American Express. I noticed the signs at the cashiers had changed when I stopped in last weekend at the Austin Fry's and the cashier confirmed it was true. A press release was put out just this week:
http://www.americanexpress.com/corp/pc/2008/frys.asp

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