Website, Reboot

General ramblings about web coding, life and other stuff

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Transformations

Tunnel This weekend I attended a conference and it was arguably the best conference I’ve attended. And not really because of the content of the sessions, which was excellent And also not really due to the people I met there, who were wonderful. I think it was me.

Let’s back up a bit first. Lately, I’ve been working on working on, for lack of a better description, changing my view of and how I interact with the world. To ignore all the mental distractions, the constant chatter in my brain, the automatic negative reaction to things. To achieve a focus on the moment, the now, but also be aware of that focus and what I am thinking and feeling. This is right in line with mindfulness. Mindfulness. It’s amazing. Tell your friends.

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, maybe discussing some heated topic, and you’re so anxious to get your words out and respond that you don’t even hear (or listen to, for that matter) what the person is saying?

Yeah. That. I was that person.

I’ve come to realize that when I shut the hell up (in my chattering brain) and listen to what the person says, look them in the eye, given the 100% of my attention and truly appreciate what they are saying, that I seem to come out of it enjoying it more.

Oh, and it’s not easy to look someone in the eye. Really. Go through your day and see how often you really look at someone. And I’m not talking about all creepy stare at them and never look away. And I’m also not talking about glancing at their eye every now and then, but when they are talking to use it to show that you are paying attention.

That is a powerful thing. It shows respect and understanding. Even if you dont agree with the person, you can do this. I do this now. I found that with some effort that I can do it, with men or women, people who annoy me or people I honestly love. Doesn’t matter. And it’s amazing.

One evening, I met someone and we started talking, just chatting at the bar. We found we had something in common, something had happened to both of us that changed our lives. And I was able to listen and connect with this person. Setting aside all the distractions in the restaurant (and there were quite a few) and I truly and honestly enjoyed talking to this person and it really set the night off well.

Obviously this didn’t happen to everyone I met over the course of the weekend, but I found myself open to it and I like to think that I made some very good friends this weekend.

All through the conference, I was walking around with this stupid smile on my face. Walking up and talking to total strangers. This may sound like I’m making it out as being so easy, but it’s taken me a long time to get here. Years. Decades, maybe.

So that’s it.  This is what life is all about. You want the meaning of life. This is it. Honest connections with people. Bringing us closer using the things that we have in common rather than how we are different. Finally, there was this tweet that came across last week. It’s relevant. :)

[tweet //twitter.com/jergason/status/254641697328336897 align=’center’]

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me and 9/11

So inevitably as it will happen every Sept 11th from now until whenever, we will remember where we were on this day so many years ago when it happened, who we were talking, what street we were walking down, whatever, when a terrorist group flew two airplanes. AIRPLANES!, into the world trade center.

People will say things like “Never forget”, “Remember 9/11” and other platitudes that, to me, have come to mean less than nothing. What is there that we can never forget? How someone attacked our country? How people were killed en masse to make a political point?

What I will never forget is how 9/11 was preventable. How it was used as a tool by the political elite to consolidate power in the executive branch of our government. How it was used as a reason to spy on, detain, and curtail the rights of our own citizens in the name of “terrorism”. How in our paranoia and fear of dying (as if there aren’t worse things than death) allowed us to sit back and let our government do this because somehow it made us feel safer. How we went to war in a country where we had no business being in. How our government lied to us about this war, and further eroded whatever unity we had after the destruction of the towers. How this war brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy and further continues to destabilize our nation.

This path of us versus them (and I’m not talking about the U.S. versus Terrorists) has led us to a point in our history where if we don’t wake up, the terrorists will have won, but not because of anything they did. We’ll have done it to ourselves.

I’m sorry. Though I am still angry about the events of 9/11, of the friend I lost there and of the family members of other friends that were lost there, I’m even more angry about how it was used as a tool that hurt our country far more than anything else ever has.

So let’s get today over with. I’m done with it already.

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Labor Day Sentinels

So in honor of Labor Day (I guess it’s in honor of. Who knows?) we had some friends over to visit, have some food, share some stories, and play some games.

After eating and conversing as a large group, eventually the room split into two, with about ten people playing a raucous game of Cards Against Humanity and four of us playing a round of Sentinels of the Multiverse. I’ve played CAH a number of times and it can be a slow but hilariously funny game. So I decided to play Sentinels of the Multiverse because it’s just that awesome and I’ve been really wanting to play for a while now.

Quick summary of Sentinels, people play heroes who attempt to defeat the villain, which is represented by a deck of cards in the middle of the table. It’s a cooperative game, so you can share information and coordinate efforts to vanquish your enemy!

This was only my second time playing Sentinels and with the other players having never played before, we decided that I was the expert. Since the game is winnable with three or four heroes, we decided to play two characters each. Then someone else joined up, also a newbie, and she played one hero. So I played two and the other two people played one hero each. This is doable, I thought, four heroes against one villain. The game is also played in an environment, which influences the way the game goes. Hehe.

The environment we played on was Mars. And as we learned, Mars sucks.

The game is meant to be a fast game, 30-45 minutes, we got better as we went along. But in the end, it took us two hours to get our asses handed to us by Baron Blade and his minions. It was a slow, inexorable ass-whooping. Really. It bordered on ridiculous because it was just so drawn out. And I loved every minute of it. The game truly is fun to play and does have some interesting twists and turns.

For posterity, it was The Wraith, Bunker, Ra and The Visionary played by a bunch of noobs against Baron Blade on Mars.

Either way, I look forward to playing again. And more often, I think.

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I Made This

So. JoCo Cruise Crazy II is happening in a week. And I had this crazy idea of doing a cross-stitch (yes, it’s one of my hobbies) inspired by the work of weelittlestitches at Etsy and I came up with my own design for all 15, FIFTEEN, of the performers on the cruise. And I’ve been teasing people about it on twitter for weeks. So, after all is said and done, and before I get it mounted and matted, here’s what it looks like.

The full view of the project, before it's mounted and matted.

More detail...

Jonathan Coulton, Marian Call, Chris Collingwood, John Flansburgh, Vi Hart, John Hodgman

John Hodgman, Molly Lewis, MC Frontalot, Paul. Storm

Storm, David Rees, John Roderick, Joseph Scrimshaw, Paul F. Thompkins, Wil Wheaton

If you want to make your own version of this, I’ll send you the PDF of the pattern. Creative commons, you know.

I plan to get the matte attached by the friday before the cruise and bring it along so you can all see! And so I can get autographs from all of the performers. That’ll be a nice keepsake, eh?

–J

 

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Gumbo-making

I was originally going to email this to some folks, but I decided to post it here instead. I am a cajun. I make gumbo. There are many gumbos, but this one is mine. My gumbo is tasty and hearty and you will love it. There are no tomatoes in my gumbo. Ever.

Introducing: the roux

The roux is the most important part. 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, and up to 1 cup of oil, though you can get away with 1/2 to 2/3 cup. More on this later.

The prep

So, first, put on some shoes. You’ll be standing for at least 20 minutes. And before you start the roux, dice your veggies first. Onion, Celery, Bell pepper. I measure by dicing 1-2 onions (depending on my mood) and 1-2 bell peppers (about the same amount), and an equal amount of celery. Big dice, small dice, your choice. This is peasant food, but I like it chunky. Put them in the big pot. You know, the big one. You do have one, right? How can you make soup without one? Have a good 2-3 cups of water standing by, too. You’ll need more, but not til later.

Starting the roux

So, heat your heavy 12-inch cast iron skillet. You like to cook, I assume you have one. Do not use stainless steel if you can. Do not use nonstick, ever. Heat on medium to medium low. Medium will go faster but risks burning. Use a wooden spoon, the sacrificial kind, you’re going to seriously brown the end of it. Add the oil and flour. Start stirring.  It’ll turn into a paste. If it’s seems watery before the skillet is hot, you have too much oil, but that’s not the end of the world. You can skim it off later. The mix may start out a bit dry and crumbly, but the oil will thin out as it heats. If when the heat is fully on it’s still dry, add a bit more oil.

Stir. Keep stirring, really. Don’t stop for more than a second. Burning the roux is the quickest way to ruin a gumbo. It should be a bit bubbly if you stop stirring, but you’re not stopping, are you?

Are we done yet?

Has it been 20 minutes yet? No? Probably not. Keep stirring, switch hands. Your arms are probably getting tired unless you do this often.

Are we done yet? Ok, sure.

Stir until the mix is dark rusty brown. We’re not looking for golden brown here. Deeper than that. Use your judgement, if you stop early, you’ll get a nice thick gumbo, but you may not have the real depth of flavor. If it smells burned, well, you can always start over.

When the roux is done, dump it into the soup pot with the veggies. (If you leave it in the skillet it will burn, of course.) It’ll sizzle and sputter, which is normal. You just dumped what is effective cajun napalm onto raw vegetables.

This does two things, it cooks them a bit and it cools off the roux a bit. Add the 2-3 cups of water. This will halts the cooking of the roux. It’ll be messy too, so stir it up some and get the roux and water mixed together.

Spice it up!

Add stuff to your taste. Cayenne, minced parsley, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, whatever you like, really. Then you can throw in whatever meats you want. Chicken, andouille, seafood, okra. Check the web for ideas. I usually go with chicken and andouille. If you do chicken, you can put what cuts you like. The meat will cook off of the bones and then you can fish the bones out later. That’ll give it more flavor, too, boiling the bones.

If you want to put in some boneless cuts, then you can add chicken broth instead of water. Again, add anything you want but you’ll need enough liquid to cover everything. This is a soup after all.

Darnit, now I’m hungry!

Good! Let it sit for a couple of hours while everything simmers. If you’re doing seafood, add it last as it tends to cook fast.

Finishing touches

See if you can find some filé powder. That’s the ground leaves of the sassafras plant. It’s a thickener and it’ll give even more flavor that’s almost unique to cajun cooking. 2-3 tablespoons will do the trick.

If there’s a lot of oil on the top of your gumbo, you can skim it off with a spoon. Especially if you put a bunch of chicken in there.

Steam some rice. Traditional is white rice, but I’ll forgive you for using brown rice for a healthier kick. Put some rice in a bowl, cover with gumbo. Soup-style, not rice-and-gravy style. Open a beer. Eat. Enjoy.

Lastly

If you’re curious, this is the recipe I work from. It’s more of a cheat sheet so I don’t forget anything. And, yes, it looks like a flowchart. At this point, I think it’s a good 17 years old, if not more. I can still remember being on the phone with my mom as I wrote it down…

 

 

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Differences of Opinion

What is it about our country (congress, first and foremost, but people in general) that seems to have us at odds with each other. Right now, we have congress with our entire country poised on the brink of what they say is financial disaster, and they have this lack of ability to come to a compromise and solve the problem that faces us. There’s a certain block of voters who are beyond adamant about getting what they want and they’re ready to bring the country to its knees if they don’t get exactly what they want.

Yeah? Exactly! A three-year-old child who’s going to throw a temper tantrum in the grocery store if he doesn’t get that toy he sees in the checkout aisle.

What happened to us that we are unwilling to compromise? To see the other person’s point of view? It’s almost as of the two (or three, depending on how you count) sides of the table in these debt+budget “talks” are having a holy war. My god is better than you god, so we can’t see eye-to-eye on anything. There is no room for compromise when you’re talking about such intense and overwhelming ideology.

And yet this sort of thing comes down to the personal level, too. I have a friend who has republican (for lack of a better term) take on things, used to like Glenn Beck, etc, and it’s impossible to talk to her about politics. She gets all bent out of shape about what the liberals are doing this and that and it’s just spewing the crap that she’s gotten from television. Yet there’s no possible way of getting her to see that we’re in this situation because one side or the other created this situation.

In another situation personally, someone in my life wants to believe X despite actions of his own that caused things to be the way they are. There’s no reason, no discussion, no compromise. Just “my way or the highway.” Well, can you guess which one I took?

Oh, as for my political views: I subscribe to no party. All of them are crazy. You have to sell most or all of your soul to get into Congress these days. So I don’t trust any of them to do what’s right for the country anymore. Who bought their souls? People with deep pockets. Corporations. Special interests who want only what they want and to hell with everyone else. Sounds familiar?

There was a time when our country did have differences of opinion, but we pulled together for a common goal. Now, this doesn’t happen anymore. I think we won’t come together until things are really, really bad again. Personally I don’t want to see it get that bad, but it will if we continue doing what we’re doing.

But to be honest, my inner anarchist would like to see that happen. Just to see what happens. I feel I’m in a pretty good position overall and could weather another 5 or 10 years of economic misery in the country, but it would be hard to watch others have a much harder time than me. Who knows, it might happen anyway if things in congress continue going nowhere.

–J

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Plus ça change…

I have recently come to the conclusion, or I am being painfully reminded of a certain universal constant. That is, the only constant in life is change. If things aren’t changing something is wrong. Really wrong. Don’t believe it? Try this, think about you job. What happens if you stop learning? Stop trying to do new things? Stop stretching yourself beyond your boundaries? Stop changing? You stagnate. You get stuck. Passed over for promotions. Yes, I’m being a bit extreme, but there’s a grain of truth in there.

Ok here’s another. There’s a joke I read somewhere “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Funny. Ha ha. But we wouldn’t be nostalgic for how things were if they hadn’t changed.

Take the weather, which is always changing (catastrophic events aside, like tornadoes) What would we do with ourselves if we couldn’t complain about the weather? Think of all the opportunities for small talk that would be missed or bore us to death.

That’s life! And we wouldn’t have life without change.

So my life is changing, as it has for the past two years, give or take. What gets me is that why the changes seem so huge. Big, life-altering, change-your-retirement-plans, the future-is-not-as-you-thought-it-would-be changes. Things that make you look back and reevaluate… everything. How did I get here? What motivated me to do this or that? Did I really cause that to happen? How do I make up for it? How do I fix it? Can it be fixed? All the while trying not to beat yourself up over it because at the time you thought you were making good decisions, analyzing all possibilities and doing what was right for yourself, but in the end, you were, for many years, an ignorant 15-year-old who thought he knew everything.

And looking back, you want to smack yourself in the forehead. *smack*smack* Twice. Three times. Yes, some of the catalysts of change are myself, but sometimes it seems like others just come from nowhere. And coping with all of this at once can be a daunting task at a minimum.

You look around and you see people, friends, coworkers who have good lives and don’t have these problems and you say to yourself “Gee, they have it easy and I have it hard. Life sucks.” But every now and again you meet someone who seems to have it together on the outside, but on the inside things are all screwy and you have to step back and reassess and remember that comparing yourself to others is a dumb thing to do. Maybe most people just handle the things life throws at them better than others. Can I do that, too?

Life is change. Anything who says different is… lying?

But still, does it always have to be so hard? Where’s the change for the positive? Sooner or later, the dealer has to deal me an ace, right? Right? Bueller?

 

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How big is space?

Last week, I attended a NASA tweetup at their headquarters here in Washington, DC. It’s been fun seeing how their tweetups have changed over time. They’ve definitely gotten bigger and people are becoming friends through it, which is really, really cool. NASA broadcast the tweetup live, in which Colonel Douglas H. Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels) talked to us about his experience aboard the International Space Station, tweeting from space, being the first FourSquare person to check in from the ISS and generally his experiences aboard for 163 days. A Hundred and Sixty-Three days! See the video here: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDlx2N6fpM4

During the tweetup, of course, people were on twitter like mad. During it, I posted a question:

How do you describe the hugeness of space in only 140 chars on Twitter? @astro_wheels did by posting pics on twitpic!#nasatweetup

These were some of the very clever and funny responses:

@LeslieFraraccio like Leary did, it’s a big bowl of spaghetti

@keshavkiran as huge as freedom of thought and imagination

@Ma2tew It’s Fu#king HUGE!!

@sadiecarnot It’s a 1st yr exam question: Describe the universe in 250 words. Give three examples…

@rhpteradactyl one question. Where does space end. And what’s on the other side? I guess that would be two questions duh

@AKposthuman “How do you describe the hugeness of space?” 10^500 potential universes with different physics on top of our Multiverse.

@bhagwandave staring into the eye of God

@solar_bud “you might think it’s a long way down to the shops, but that’s really nothing compared to space” – Douglas Adams

@notoriousgranma Yes, and they were amazing!

@thazmrplaya2u “Infinite”, there, I did it in 8 characters.

@phillypa800 HUGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

@madridvk The place where the Light gets old

@whiteops “To infinity and beyond”?

But this one is my favorite:

@Blackfireink I belive that Douglas Adams said that “Space is big. I mean really BIG!”