October 2004 Archives

Filler post

I realized that to have my fiftieth post be the one where my blog loses its anonymity seemed…appropriate. Therefore, I needed something quick to write about for post number forty-nine.

This image from the New York Times compares the graphic identities of the Bush/Cheney campaign and the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Interesting. If only the rest of Bush’s staff were as competent as his graphic designers.

Autumn haiku

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I just got back from the closing party at the Princeton Writers Block Garden. This has been a tremendously charming and inspiring place to visit during the few short months that it has been open to the public.

Weather-wise, one could not have asked for a more glorious day. It was sad that this occasion marked the passing of this garden, but sometimes there is beauty in sadness.

As such, I was moved to write a haiku. (God, did I just write that? Where the hell did nature-poetry–writing “Mr. Sensitive” pop up from?)

Warm sun, gentle breeze
Scent of spice exhilarates
Rustling leaves dancing

I spent over an hour and a half snapping digital photos. I will post a gallery of the best ones, hopefully, in a week’s time. For now, though, here is a teaser.

A young girl in a red butterfly costume sits in a garden of red flowers

I could not have asked for a more perfect combination of elements—a pretty girl in a red butterfly costume seated beside a reclining stone statue with a field of red flowers in the foreground. Too bad her eye ducked just behind the edge of her wing at the last moment.

Update 5/4/06: I removed the link to the PWBG site because it went away. It’s always a shame when another website just disappears like snow in spring.

Scariest Halloween Costumes

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If your kids (or you) still don’t have a costume for Halloween (nothing like the last minute), check out the following page for ideas (via Noctos and Wonkette).

2004’s Scariest Halloween Costumes

Nine Layers

In preparation for the imminent abandonment of this site’s anonymous authorship, I thought it appropriate to add my iteration of an autobiographical list meme that is probably at least a year old. I have no idea where it originated, but I first stumbled upon it at KlutzyGirl’s blog My Chaotic Neurotic Klutzy Life….

Here are the Nine Layers of Michael.

LAYER ONE:

Name: Michael (not Mike)
Birth date: September 6, 1972
Birthplace: Johnstown, PA
Current location: Kingston, NJ
Eye color: Bluish-gray
Hair color: Medium brown (although sometimes light brown thanks to Garnier Nutrisse 601)
Height: 6 foot 2.5 inches
Righty or lefty: Righty
Zodiac sign: Virgo

LAYER TWO:

Your heritage: Irish, Polish, German (Hungarian last name, though)
The shoes you wore today: Nike Air Zoom Vapor ID (custom designed at NikeID.com)
Your weakness: Dark chocolate (it’s bittersweet, much like life itself), Ben & Jerry’s Oatmeal Cookie Chunk, coffee syrup, my Mac, my TiVo, strong and intelligent women
Your fears: Loneliness, alienation, failure
Your perfect pizza: Everything (except anchovies or fruit)
Goal you’d like to achieve: Going back to get my Master’s

LAYER THREE:

Your most overused phrase on AIM: AIM??? Never touch it
Your first waking thoughts: Do I get up and exercise, or do I reset my alarm to get another hour of sleep?
Your best physical feature: I guess my eyes, not really sure
Your most missed memory: Looking forward to a future where all doors were open and anything was possible

Layers four through nine are after the break.

Blog Explosion

Yes, I have jumped on the Blog Explosion bandwagon, and I…can’t…stop…clicking. Help…me…

If you already spend far too many hours each day browsing blogs, “link slutting,” and updating your own blog; you will hate Blog Explosion—you will hate it in much the same way that I hate Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake ice cream (of which I have not had a single pint in about seventeen weeks).

After signing up, you earn “credits” for visiting the blogs of other members. It is just like a web ring, with a twist. You browse other Blog Explosion sites while a 100-pixel–high frame sits atop your browser window with a 30-second timer. Once the timer runs out, you can move on to the next site (if you want) to earn another half credit.

Every so often you can randomly win a “mystery prize” of between two and one hundred credits. Each credit guarantees that one person will visit your site. Many visitors will be so caught up in the clicking for credits game that they won’t stay much longer than thirty seconds, but you can “Blogmark” interesting sites to revisit later.

Um, I have to go now. Click. Read. Click. Read. Click. Read.

The Great Undecided

The great undecided…it was not too long ago that I considered myself among their number. In a previous post, I expressed my considerable displeasure over the sad selection of major party candidates.

As a veteran, it is hard for me not to find great fault with John Kerry’s post-Vietnam anti-war activism and atrocity allegations; watching Kerry’s 1971 interview on the Dick Cavett show turned my stomach. On the flip side, I take issue with the Bush administration’s appalling treatment of our reservists and national guard troops. The men and women who put their lives on the line for this country deserve far better than multiple extensions of their tours of duty in Iraq and the issuance of “stop-loss” orders that prevent soldiers from leaving the service even though they have fulfilled their commitments.

I feel, though, that after carefully listening to the debates (all 6 hours and 16 minutes), and voraciously reading every article that I could find about the candidates, I can approach Tuesday with confidence that when I cast my vote, the candidate that I am endorsing is indeed the better person for the job.

Who am I voting for? Well, I’m from New Jersey, and some polls give Kerry a thirteen point lead over Bush in this state, so my choice of candidate really only matters to me personally, and that is the only one who is going to know who I voted for.

Not that I have much confidence that my vote will be properly counted anyway….

Adventures in e-commerce

Back in early August, I blogged a bit about how I was remodeling my master bedroom. I painted the walls, bought a mattress and foundation set, purchased curtains, found and assembled wall-hangings, and so on. Things were going swimmingly until I hit a massive roadblock—the bed. For those who don’t possess the patience to plod through my ponderous posting, the punchline is that I still have not purchased a bloody bed.

Early on, I made the decision that I wanted a California king, rather than an eastern king; four extra inches in length may not seem like much, but every inch counts when one’s legs are dangling off the edge of the mattress. The problem is that you cannot find that size of bedding in east coast brick and mortar stores. Thanks to Google, though, I found a California-based online store who was selling the perfect wooden California king sleigh bed. I loved the finish (walnut) and the design; it was in my price range; and they offered free shipping.

I placed my order on July 29 and received a phone call from a sales representative the next day. Had I clicked through the large “Free Delivery” graphic on their online store’s main page, I would have realized that said offer only applied to locations within a fifty-mile radius. So “Sue” informed me that shipping would be extra, and they had never shipped before all the way to New Jersey, so she would have to get back to me with the shipping charges. Fair enough.

A week went by, then another few days. I tried calling (no toll-free line, grrr), but only got Sue’s machine. Sue finally got back to me with the bad news. They refused to drop-ship the bed because a previous customer’s order had been damaged this way. In-home freight delivery was the only option, at a cost of over $300. She said that she would try a calling a couple of other shippers, but the extra week of waiting that took up proved fruitless. I, of course, balked at the shipping price, and said that I would call her back with my decision.

Cooking to Hook Up?

I noticed that a few bloggers had taken the What Kind of Girl Are You? quizlet (via LiL, via wolfangel, via Profgrrrrl, etc.). The quiz is actually a sales vehicle for a book with a somewhat intriguing premise, Cooking to Hook Up: The Bachelor’s Date-Night Cookbook. After taking the “for guys” version of the quiz with a hypothetical girl in mind (Indie/Progressive hybrid), I actually bought the book. (I needed something to push me up into “Super Saver Shipping” territory after adding Jon Stewart’s America (The Book) to my cart.)

Cooking to Hook Up cover

Cooking to Hook Up presents ten categories of women—Girl Next Door, Party Girl, Athletic Girl, Academic Girl, Progressive Girl, Indie Girl, Granola Girl, Career Girl, Uptown Girl, Gourmet Girl, and 45 hybrids. It then recommends a number of dinner plans tailored to each “type” with varying levels of difficulty.

Once you get past the title and the questionable notion that a potential significant other could be so neatly categorized, Cooking to Hook Up is an eclectic, novel collection of fifty dinner menus, music suggestions, and even footwear recommendations (?). One advantage that this book has over other cookbooks I own is that it focuses on the entire meal, including recipes for each course, food prep pacing tips, and what to grab from the liquor store. While I have, on occasion, caused a few mouths to water with my culinary prowess, I have little experience planning a multi-course meal because I am usually cooking for myself and only bother putting substantial effort into the entrée, so I really appreciate this aspect of the book.

While the book is pretty specific about recommending certain meals and approaches for certain categories of women, I imagine that it would be no great tragedy if one prepared, for example, “Pesto Swordfish over Capellini” (a Progressive Girl dinner) for an Academic Girl. The key here, it seems, is not to get too hung up on the book’s theme and just have fun with the gastronomic experimentation.

Going beyond the recipes, the book even dishes out apartment preparation advice that ranges from the useful (proper place settings), to the obvious (scrub down your bathroom from top to bottom), to the ridiculous (throw or lock away any stuffed animals because she will assume they came from a previous girlfriend).

The book, optimistically, does not end with dinner. The “Florentine Omelet” (another Progressive Girl dish) looks like it would be quite the yummy breakfast in bed.

Cooking to Hook Up won’t quite supplant my favorite cookbook on my bookshelf, but I can’t wait until my diet has run its course, and I can try out a few of its recipes, preferably sharing them with an Indie Girl, or a Progressive Girl, or an Academic Girl, or….

200 things list

Browsing the archives of the personal blog of MT-Blacklist creator, Jay Allen (who BTW is moving back to San Francisco from Budapest after becoming Six Apart’s official Project Manager for Movable Type), I came across his iteration of the 200 things list.

I am not sure where the list started, but I have seen it on quite a few blogs over the past month, so I couldn’t resist giving it a go. Items that I have experienced (as of this posting) are marked with bold text. Although, seeing what isn’t bolded on lists like these can be just as interesting.

  1. Bought everyone in the pub a drink
  2. Swam with wild dolphins
  3. Climbed a mountain
  4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
  5. Been inside the Great Pyramid
  6. Held a tarantula.
  7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
  8. Said “I love you” and meant it
  9. Hugged a tree
  10. Done a striptease
  11. Bungee jumped
  12. Visited Paris
  13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
  14. Stayed up all night long, and watched the sun rise
  15. Seen the Northern Lights
  16. Gone to a huge sports game
  17. Walked the stairs to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
  19. Touched an iceberg
  20. Slept under the stars
  21. Changed a baby’s diaper
  22. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
  23. Watched a meteor shower
  24. Gotten drunk on champagne
  25. Given more than you can afford to charity
  26. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
  27. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
  28. Had a food fight
  29. Bet on a winning horse
  30. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
  31. Asked out a stranger
  32. Had a snowball fight
  33. Photocopied your bottom on the office photocopier
  34. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
  35. Held a lamb
  36. Enacted a favorite fantasy
  37. Taken a midnight skinny dip
  38. Taken an ice cold bath
  39. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
  40. Seen a total eclipse
  41. Ridden a roller coaster
  42. Hit a home run
  43. Fit three weeks miraculously into three days
  44. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
  45. Adopted an accent for an entire day
  46. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
  47. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
  48. Had two hard drives for your computer.
  49. Visited all 50 states
  50. Loved your job for all accounts

Last 150 after the break…

Autumn in Pennsylvania

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Autumn leaves create some glorious vistas in western Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, my visit missed the season’s peak by a couple of weeks. Many of the trees are already naked, but there is still quite a bit of beauty to be found.

Woodland pond

The photo above is a small pond, a short distance up the road from my parents’ house.

Broken water wheel next to waterfall

This waterfall and once-functional water wheel sit at the edge of what used to be a trout fishing lake, where I worked a couple of summers during high school. The harsh elements have not been kind to the water wheel, though, splintering its rotten wood.

Look out, Travis Pastrana*

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Below is a shot of me riding a Honda CR-250. It’s actually my brother who is a motocross racer and AMA member. I am just a poseur. Still, it was fun to tool around on the bike for a while, even if my right shin is now a bit bloodied and banged up. I guess riders wear boots for a reason.

Michael rides a Honda CR-250

*For the uninitiated, Travis Pastrana is a nationally-renowned professional motocross racer.

Time capsule

Visiting my parent’s home is always a surreal experience. I usually only get back there a couple of times per year.

As the only member of my family to have relocated, I always feel like somewhat of an outsider when I return. Everyone welcomes me with open arms, of course, but as I observe the inter-personal relationships of those around me, the feeling that “I just don’t belong there” always lingers in the back of my mind.

Some things have changed. My parents have finally cultivated a friendship (it only took them more than twenty-five years), and they publicly act like teenagers in love. There has been some minor remodeling in the house, new appliances, etc. The formerly sleepy road in front of the house now sees a considerably increase in vehicular traffic.

So much more, though, remains the same. Smells are the same. My younger brother still lives at home. My old bedroom remains a monument to my childhood, albeit with over a decade of additional accumulated clutter.

Rummaging through bedroom drawers, I came across a cache of love letters from when I was seventeen…scary stuff. The following 80s flashback is courtesy of “Chel,” who loved quoting song lyrics in her letters.

 If language were liquid
It would be rushing in
Instead here we are
In a silence more eloquent
Than any word could ever be
    “Language” — Suzanne Vega 

What’s in a name?

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As mentioned in my last post, I am in Pennsylvania, having attended a family wedding. Trips back to one’s birthplace can often be times of reflection and self-discovery, and it was during a conversation with my paternal grandmother that I learned something rather shocking about my family’s surname. It is a fraud.

I had known that our name was shortened after my great-grandparents expatriated themselves from Hungary. Erroneously, I had assumed that this happened during the immigration process (my mother’s maiden name was similarly butchered). Not so.

It makes sense why native Hungarians don’t recognize my surname as being Hungarian. Our family’s real last name is actually Muzsai (pronunciation: muzs-a-i; m, u as in duke, zh as in azure, a as in law, i as in machine; accent on the first syllable). However, the really implausible part of the story continues after the break.

[Sidenote: I’m not bothering as much with the veil of anonymity anymore; it wasn’t as effective as I had hoped, considering the uniqueness of my background.]

From Garden to Keystone

This evening I’m driving 250 miles west across central New Jersey and into Pennsylvania to attend a wedding. Hopefully, my plumbic foot doesn’t earn me another speeding ticket (unreasonably restrictive laws are meant to be challenged with a bit of civil disobedience).

I’m taking a digital camera, so I should have some photos to post of the place that spawned yours truly.

Love of the Claddagh...the betrayal

In August I first mentioned that I had started wearing a Claddagh ring. As described in that post, there are three ways to wear the Claddagh, and each has a particular meaning. On a whim, I chose to wear the ring flipped around (with the heart on the inside and the crown outward) even though my heart had yet to be won. The ring had no patience for my dishonesty, and it chose a moment that day when I was not paying attention to “slip off treacherously.”

Like all keepers, I was unwilling to fully abandon this ring. Since I am unlike Isildur or Sméagol, who, once betrayed as such, could not just fire up a web browser to replace what was lost, I was able to place an order for a second, identical Claddagh ring. It arrived this past Tuesday…but this ring now is already planning an escape from its new master as it slides loosely about my finger.

The real explanation is that my significant weight loss drastically altered my ring size. Also, with the crown pointing forward, the ring has an even easier time getting over my knuckle. This had not really occurred to me until I placed the second ring upon my finger. It seems like nothing fits me any more; who would have thought that losing weight would have a down side.

May the best man (?) win

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With less than a month to go before the presidential election, and feeling less than enthusiastic about the choice of major party candidates that awaits us, I felt it my civic duty to give Bush and Kerry another chance and watch the debates with an open mind. Unfortunately, each time I attempted to watch the debates, my cynicism and disgust overpowered my channel-changing finger.

Thanks to my iPod and the iTunes Music Store, I have a second chance to experience the debates. As a public service slash marketing gimmick, Audible.com has been providing free downloadable audio recordings of the debates. Armed with my Pod and the Griffin iTrip, I have been working my way through these recordings during my morning and evening commutes; these candidates are much more tolerable in small doses.

2004 Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates
(links should open inside the iTunes application)

[Update: Third presidential debate added.]

2004 First Presidential Debate: Bush Vs. Kerry (9/30/04)
2004 Second Presidential Debate: Bush Vs. Kerry (10/8/04)
2004 Third Presidential Debate: Bush Vs. Kerry (10/13/04)
2004 Vice Presidential Debate: Cheney Vs. Edwards (10/5/04)

New Jersey’s late placement in the primary schedule left its proud residents (among others) disenfranchised during the last two presidential primaries. It is hard not to be just a tad bit angered by this; however, I will save my frustration with the primary system for a future post and instead dive off my soapbox into a pit of insanity. As a service to my readers, I decided to scour the net and compile a list of alternative presidential candidates for the 2004 election. Candidate quality and/or site quality diminishes as one moves down the list. Party affiliation is listed where known.

Water in the Toxic Garden State

This morning I swapped out the filter in my shower head for a fresh one. I have been showering with filtered water for a few years now. I’m not normally too much of a health nut, but municipal water has always kind of disgusted me. I refuse to drink the stuff, mostly because of the awful taste, but also because I just really don’t trust the chemicals put into the water. (Of course, because I drink over a gallon of water per day, my coworkers often see me lugging 2.5-gallon jugs of spring water into work every week.)

…so back to showering. A few years ago, my mother had heard some radio program about the dangers of alum and chlorine added to the drinking water at municipal treatment plants. So I did some search engine research, and what I found scared me enough to invest in a filter. I won’t post any links here, but I encourage the curious to do a Google search on “chlorine” and “water.” During my own search, once I got past all of the chlorine industry lobby group sites, some of the online reports, although biased, raised enough uncertainties for me that $70 for a filter seemed a small price to pay “just in case.”

One thing that I did notice, though, is that with the filter, my hair became much softer and less brittle. I have always been spoiled by the water in my parents’ home. They live in rural Pennsylvania; they have well water; and they regularly have that water tested for toxicity levels. Before I got a filter, every time I would visit my parents, I would be surprised by how different my hair felt after a few days (even when using the exact same shampoo and conditioner). My hair would adopt such a soft, fine texture that I often could not resist touching it. Of course, once I returned to New Jersey (or North Carolina, etc.) my hair became stringy and brittle again. The other thing I noticed was how easily soap stayed lathered when I showered in my parents’ home.

Basic training

Basic training…given my background, one might assume that I am referring to basic combat training; however, this time I speak of basic Windows training. A failure to master the rudimentary skills related to manipulation of the operating system can be a significant obstacle to someone who wishes to expand the scope of his or her computing skill set.

Eleven of my twelve students returned this week; the twelfth had let me know ahead of time that she would have to miss the second session to attend a funeral. Last week was all lecture, but this week was mostly hands on. I had requested that access to Notepad be restored and for the library’s techs to install Mozilla Firefox. After wowing my students with the tremendously useful Web Developer extension for Firefox, we moved on to Notepad.

To speed things along, I had prepared an HTML document with the DOCTYPE, namespace, and character encoding already filled in. It never occurred to me that navigating to a web page and saving the linked file to the desktop would eat up more than fifteen minutes as I stepped them through the process twice and then had to walk around individually assisting the stragglers. Needless to say, we got less than halfway through my lesson plan. It may be a couple of weeks before we even get to CSS.

Procrastination

I need to finish writing up the handout to give to my students tomorrow evening; unfortunately, I love to procrastinate. The work should take less than a couple of hours, but completing a task in a timely fashion so that I can move on to another endeavor without the lingering fog of said task chronically enshrouding me just seems unnatural.

After work I went shopping for a new fall jacket, but, alas, our local malls suck, and I didn’t feel like driving down to Oxford Valley. I guess I was just spoiled by the “valet parking mall” when I lived in North Jersey. Returning home empty-handed, I found a jacket I liked via Google.

Then it was time for a visit with my PlayStation 2, which in no way is as sedentary as it sounds. I have been playing the home version of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) for a couple of years now, and have lately incorporated almost daily sessions into my workout routine.

DDR Extreme cover DDR Max 2 cover DDR Max cover Dance Dance Revolution Konamix cover

DDR and my trusty Bowflex have helped me to finally break though the double-century weight mark this week, so I also plan this weekend to celebrate by turning the gas line back on to my stove (it has been off since I started my diet), finding a recipe that I have never cooked before on the web, and feasting for a day. I’m actually an excellent cook, but when you are calorie counting, microwaving a 300-calorie Lean Cuisine is so much simpler.

IconSurf and favicons

While glancing over my site’s server logs, I noticed a referral from a site with a somewhat interesting raison d’être. IconSurf.com scours the web for favicon.ico files. Favicons, for the uninitiated, are those sixteen pixel by sixteen pixel icons that sit to the left of the URL in the toolbar Address Bar of most modern browsers (they only show up in Internet Explorer for Windows after a site is first added to the Favorites menu, though).

IconSurf’s pages load bit slowly, since by default each page grabs and displays 250 random favicons culled from over 175,000 sites. Yes, IconSurf is technically a bandwidth thief (so if you have hotlink protection configured on your host to block ico files, they won’t show up on the site); however, such a transgression is forgivable given the coolness of IconSurf’s purpose.

It is fascinating to see how successful some web authors are at representing the theme of their site in just 256 pixels (or 1024 pixels if they have included 32-pixel icon resources).

What, you say that you still don’t have a favicon adorning your site? RAILhead Design has a pretty decent favicon creation tutorial.

Warning: Some random favicons harvested by IconSurf may be NSFW.

Cross-platform iPod fun

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As the proud owner of a fourth generation iPod for a little over a week now, I am finding my white and silver precious to be a tremendously useful little device. Aside from its obvious function as a portable music player, a function that it executes admirably, it serves as a handy rudimentary organizer (calendar and contacts) and is great for shuttling large files between work and home and across platforms.

Just this past week, we had a customer who needed to move some large video files on a USB-only Windows laptop to a Firewire-enabled Mac. Using the iPod and both dock connector cables (USB-2 and Firewire), this wasn’t a problem.

My iPod was initially formatted for Macintosh (HFS+), but Windows can’t read HFS-formatted volumes. So before transferring over my music library, I plugged the iPod into a Windows system, ran the setup software on the install CD, and reformatted the drive for Windows.

While most features on a Windows-formatted iPod work flawlessly on both Windows and Mac OS systems, there are a few small drawbacks to formatting an iPod for Windows. This is because the iPod software, by default, chooses to format the iPod’s hard drive as FAT 32.

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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