Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
User Journal

Journal: Football, Gardening, Health, and State of the "Circle" 52

Journal by dexterpexter

Football

I haven't watched hockey in ages, whereas I used to be a huge fan. Given that I don't see many games on television and horse racing season has a few months before it really kicks off, I decided to get back into football (that is not to say that I ever understood the game)...just in time for the last couple of games of the season. It was surreal watching one of my old favourites--Green Bay--play because Brett Favre is still in the game, which was a pleasant surprise. Needless to say, I was disappointed when they lost the game to New York, especially during such a cold game where they usually dominate. I guess then that I will be rooting for New York in the Super Bowl, although I am not at all confident that they can win. In fact, I will be surprised if they do. Anyone have any good, possibly unusual dip recipes that they would like to share? I don't think that I am going to host a Bowl party, but I would like something that would go well with my margaritas. :)

Gardening

Do we have any gardeners in the Circle? If not, then I will spare you my tales and hopefully triumphs this spring with trying to liberate myself from my local grocer's produce (and $4 a pound tyranny.) Otherwise, if anyone has a favorite place online to get their plants and seeds and would like to trade tips (I will probably be more on the receiving end of those), I would love to spark some conversation in that direction. In particular, I am thinking of trying tomatoes and peppers in containers this year (which may not produce much), and then lots of random veggies and herbs (to see what works) in a square foot garden. I am also interested in picking up a Meyer Lemon tree, and need to find a good place to purchase one. My real triumph would be if I could harvest the seeds from one year, and be able to produce comparable plants the next--such a hard thing these days. Also, has anyone here successfully canned their fruits and veggies, and would you share some tips? I have an embarrassing, growing collection of Mason jars (I can't explain some of my weird collecting habits) that would be up to the task.

Kicking the Pepsi Habit

I still drink sodas (now happens to be a particularly bad several-day run), although I would consider my "kicking the habit" endeavor successful since I do not drink Pepsi every day and I do not need caffeine as I did before. No more horrible headaches from caffeine deprivation. Although I am particularly bad about requesting Pepsi when I dine out or attend a party, it is a vast improvement from where I was; whereas previously I would drink nearly half a case a day, I can now go several days (and sometimes a week) without any at all. Likewise, I haven't indulged in my daily donut in a while, either; I have instead substituted oranges. I have started drinking a lot of cow's milk and orange juice (healthy in moderation, but my indulgence in both have been very much not moderate), so just tonight I tried Plain soy milk to try balancing out the equation. I was sure I would hate it, but its actually pretty good for a drink made from beans. I am still looking for good drinks without an unreasonable amount of (refined? processed? unnatural, I mean) sugar or high-fructose corn syrup--unfortunately I get bored with water easily, lemons aren't always accessible to dress it up, and I don't think that hot tea would stay very hot if I carried it in a thermos. I am open to recommendations. I think that I am slowly getting onto a healthier kick, which is a very good thing. Now, I just need to push myself to go for a walk every night again, and resume my rowing, and maybe I will get somewhere!

State of the Circle

How is everyone? I am particularly sad to hear that GeckoFood is feeling a bit disillusioned with the frequency of journal posting on Slashdot these days, and may be taking a break. He isn't wrong; those of us who have stayed seem to have become suddenly busy (or perhaps we were always occasional-posters, and our slow posting habits were mitigated by the frequent posting by others who have sense migrated to Multiply.) Regardless, I enjoy his entries (much as I enjoy the entries of most of the people on my Friends list), and am sad to see people fading away. I still believe that patience may eventually win the day. People are slowly trickling back to here from Multiply, so I hope that eventually we strike a nice balance.

The Almighty Buck

Journal: Hahahaha! Internal Revenue Service Phishing 3

Journal by dexterpexter

Apparently even the IRS couldn't resist the lure of a free gmail account. My question is: who gave the IRS an Invite? And who granted the IRS copyright protection? One of the more clever phishing scams, so I thought I would share. I think that this phisher would do better waiting until after April to throw this out there. :)

from Internal Revenue Service (tax-refund@gmail.com)
to
date Jan 29, 2008 6:40 PM
subject Notification of Tax Refund

                                            Notification of Tax Refund on your VISA or MasterCard Now

  Dear Citizen:

  After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity
  we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $203.59.
  Please submit the tax refund request and allowus 6-9 days in order to process it.
  A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.
  For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

  To access the form for your tax refund, please click here :

  ((LINK REMOVED FOR OBVIOUS REASONS))

  > For security reasons, we will record your ip-address, the date and time.
  > Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated

  Regards,
  Internal Revenue Service

                                                    *************************************************
                                          © Copyright 2008, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A.
                                                    *************************************************

At least the "Internal Revenue Service" (U.S.A, in case you were confused) signed their regards. Polite!

Edit: Added the gmail address back in, as it was eaten in HTML.

Java

Journal: Coffee Capitalism 10

Journal by dexterpexter

Even though I don't drink coffee (I grow it, I don't drink it), I read with great interest the article "Don't Fear Starbucks: Why the franchise actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses."

Do you remember coffee consumption being so prevalent a decade ago? Fifteen years ago, the average person probably never entered a dedicated "coffee house" unless they really needed a cup of coffee (or were painfully artsy college students.) Most coffee was probably carried from home in a thermos, purchased from a breakfast diner or donut shop, or foully brewed in the break room. Sure, people have been addicted to morning coffee for a long time, but the coffee revolution is a recent one in my memory. Starbucks has made it trendy to carry around a branded cup of coffee--I guess that it took a big, commercial entity to market an $8 cup of machine-dispensed caffeine.

Starbucks is omnipresent on the street corners of most major cities in the United States. Conventional wisdom says that smaller coffee shops suffer when massive corporate entities open stores nearby. The article, however, contends that Starbucks has actually been a boon to many mom-and-pop coffee shops. "Strange as it sounds, the best way to boost sales at your independently owned coffeehouse may just be to have Starbucks move in next-door."

Some snippets from the article:

"Each new Starbucks store created a local buzz, drawing new converts to the latte-drinking fold. When the lines at Starbucks grew beyond the point of reason, these converts started venturing out--and, Look! There was another coffeehouse right next-door!"

"... when Starbucks blitzed Omaha with six new stores in 2002...business at all coffeehouses in town immediately went up as much as 25 percent."

"...if Starbucks can make a profit by putting its stores right across the street from each other, as it so often does, why couldn't a unique, well-run mom and pop do even better next-door?"

The article (found at the link above, and is about 2 pages long) doesn't completely glorify Starbucks, though. It recounts the techniques Starbucks has used to antagonize competitors, including pursuing competitors' leases!, and describes cases where people were forced out of the market. However, the article contends that this (the coffee shop failure, not the intimidation) is an exception to the rule (the numbers they cite regarding the success of running a coffee shop is impressive, if believable.) It also differentiates Starbucks from chain stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart, which can have devastating impacts on local markets.

An interesting read nonetheless.

Links

Journal: Addict. 18

Journal by dexterpexter

I made the decision earlier last week to kick the Pepsi habit. I will probably still allow myself the occasional reward of a tall, cold glass of carbonated crack whenever I join my friends at a fast food restaurant--because, let's face it, nothing goes better with a big helping of deepfried, greasy potato-like rectangles and a soggy burger than a refreshing papercup of high fructose corn syrup. But, if you believe everything people tell you, I will eventually find it too sweet to drink anymore and won't miss it at all. I would like to believe that, but it has been pretty rough passing by the fountain drink machines (my poison!), sporting my fake bottled water and a migraine. Six cans a day (or, at least two to three) owned me, and now I am paying for it ounce-by-ounce, migraine by migraine. Luckily, those seem to be subsiding. Would you believe that you can actually have migraines in the eyes?

Wow. I couldn't even imagine being a real crack addict.

After suffering through what I believe was a brief stomach virus (mmm...let me tell you that the post-Thanksgiving smell of rendered duck fat is the first thing you want to smell after praying to the porcelain gods and finally getting back on your feet), I found that caffeine withdrawal had kicked in. Afterall, I couldn't keep anything down for a day or so, let alone Pepsi. So, deciding that there's no better time to make one's self miserable than when one is already miserable, I made the move (again.) Sure, I have "kicked the habit" a handful of times now, but some sadistic need to remain awake for days-on-end (watching Cartoon Network? Just kidding.) has pushed me back to indulging in my own demons, and brought me right back to Pepsi (or worse). And right back to gaining weight. It is by no coincidence that I slimmed down each time that I gave up soda and then ballooned after picking it back up again.

Since my decision to kick the habit, I have had one glass of hot tea (it is practically genetic that I should have to drink some tea) and a few sips of someone else's Pepsi. The tea I don't mind so much (no sugar added to my brew!), but it is nonetheless caffeinated and will be kept to a minimum.

We'll see how well this goes.

The Almighty Buck

Journal: A little-known crisis 1

Journal by dexterpexter

Another Dexterpexter Friendly Reminder (TM) before trying to journal again like a normal human being...

There is a crisis developing--a problem that most people probably haven't heard much about. See if you can determine what these things have in common:

The United States is a leading producer of apples, second only to China, and nearly 60% of all apples sold commercially in the United States comes from Washington state. At least 55 million tones of apples were grown worldwide in 2005, collectively valued at about $10 billion.

The U.S. is the third largest producer of cotton, and is the number one exporter. Cotton is a $4.9 billion dollar money-maker. In fact, cotton could be considered a literal money-maker, as it is employed in the production of banknotes due to its survivability over pulp-based paper.

The world peach production is about 10 million tons, second only after the apple. The Georgia peach industry was valued in 2001 at $35 million. South Carolina's peach industry is estimated at between $30-40 million, and has a $100 million annual economic impact according to Southeast Farm Press.

The cranberry represents a major commercial crop for Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, Washington, and Wisconsin, and many provinces of Canada.

According to the National Honey Board, over 174 million pounds of honey, valued at over $157 million, were produced in the United States in 2005. North Dakota led honey production with $27 million of product. California followed with $25 million, South Dakota with $13 million, Florida with $12 million, and Minnesota with $7 million.

So, what do these things have in common? It is Honeybees--that's right, honeybees. Confused? Bear with me for a moment.

Commercial pollination services utilize Apis mellifera, or the Western Honey Bee, to pollinate crops such as apples, peaches, cotton, and cranberries. The USDA has estimated that 80% of insect crop pollination is attributable to honeybees, which pollinate millions of acres of U.S. crops every year. According to a 1999 Cornell University study, honey bee pollination contributes $14.6 billion annually to U.S. agriculture alone.
According to the National Honey Board, just to pollinate California's approximately 420,000 bearing acres of almonds--just almonds--it takes an estimated 900,000 to one million colonies of honey bees. That's a lot of bees!

Bees obviously play a very important part in agriculture, and have a significant impact on worldwide economies. So why is this important enough for me to journal about? Bee populations, both commercial and feral, aren't doing so well. Their populations are plummeting, and that stands to affect the worldwide economy. This isn't meant to be alarmist as the effects won't be seen overnight, but this is an issue of which more people should be aware

Reduction in the worldwide honey bee population is a bit of a mystery, but some theories as to why they're disappearing in such numbers include: pesticides, mite infestations, viruses, and displacement.

You see, honey bees are extremely susceptible to the chemicals used in pesticides (which are used to protect the crops against non-beneficial insect populations), and will distribute contaminated pollen throughout the colony. Also, poisoned worker bees will sometimes die before returning to the hives, thus leaving the colony to starve.
Mite infestations have also presented a unique problem. A type of mite which lays its eggs in the airways of the honey bee was blamed for the near-depletion of the honeybee in British Isles. In the 1990s, honeybee populations were further devastated by an infestation of the Varroa Mite, which has been implicated with causing the Deformed Wing Virus, a deadly RNA virus.
In 2006 and 2007, Colony Collapse Disorder (which may be caused by the mites and virus but is still mostly unexplained) ravaged honeybees worldwide as the worker bees in many honeybee colonies disappeared without explanation.
Isolated bee populations, to a lesser extent, have died as a result of native flora which is being displaced (for example: there is a type of orchid in Brazil which produces a scent that is used by male bees to attract female bees. Without the orchid, the bees will fail to effectively mate. With handicapped populations, pollination of the fruit of Brazil nut trees will be limited, causing a notable shortage of Brazil nuts. These are used to produce artist paints and lubricant for clocks.)
Non-native insect populations create food competitions, and could also create displacement of the western honey bee.

Honey bees do much more than simply pollinate our landscaping flora and pollinate our fruits. Among other things, they can pollinate:

Cofea Arabica, better known to you as your morning cup of coffee and a major money-generator in South America.
Flax, which is used to make linens.
Sunflowers, which also produce latex, which can subsequently used to make latex gloves.
Clover, which is used to resurrect depleted farm land, feed livestock, and generate honey.
Buckwheat, which is a promising treatment for Type-II diabetes, and has become increasingly popular for celiac-stricken people who enjoy bread and beer but can't process the gluten.
Canola, commercially produced in North Dakota not only for cooking oil, but also as a promising component of biodiesel fuel.
Hazelnuts, which are imported by Australia to the tune of 2000 tonnes annually and is a very important ingredient for both the Australian Cadbury company and the Italian company Nutella.
Grapes, used in the production of wines.
Shea Butter, which is the moisturizer often found in your lotions and conditioners.
Sanfoin and alfalfa, which is used as a forage crop to fee cattle and other livestock.
Not to mention cilantro/coriander, pepper, onions, shea butter, cherry, all spice, avocado (a major cash crop for California), cucumbers, soybeas/soya beans, sesame...the list goes on.

Besides just being helpful in pollinating the above and any other flower-producing plant, honey bees are considered absolutely essential for the production of vanilla and for the production of cocoa. They are also considered essential for pollination of squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and zucchinis. One to two colonies of bees are usually required per acre of produce.

So, here is my plea:
If you aren't allergic to bee venom, please consider bee-friendly landscaping (be careful not to plant invasive flora, though) when you plant next year, and don't pull out the death-spray when a Western/European honeybee wanders near. If you live on a farm or have lots of land, you might also consider encouraging bees by placing objects for the bees to nest inside of.

Honeybees generally are not aggressive, with exception of the Africanized Honeybee which tends to be more defensive of its colony. As Africanized Bees supposedly make pollination management more difficult (they tend to uproot and leave without much notice) and because they are indeed more collectively-defensive of their colony, they should not be encouraged. If your children run barefooted in the clover in your yard, they may step on and get stung by an unsuspecting honey bee; usually, though, when a person is stung by an "aggressive" bee, they misidentify the honeybee as the culprit when they've actually disturbed a yellow-jacket (which isn't a bee at all--it's a type of wasp), a hornet, or a "sweat bee."

The Western honeybee is a very beneficial insect, and is pretty important to our economy, despite working behind the scenes.

Source: Pretty much every wikipedia article that has anything to do with honeybees or agricultural products.

Announcements

Journal: [Dexter Friendly Reminder (TM)] Canned Foods 5

Journal by dexterpexter

In a state of emergency, could you keep your family alive inside your home for a week?

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter's icy grip is slowly closing in upon us. It is responsible to have extra, non-perishable food on-hand in case you should find yourself homebound and possibly without power. You should have an alternate means for cooking your soups and canned vegetables, and a manual can-opener is a must. It is easy to get into survival mode when you see hurricane devastation or earthquakes on the television, but don't forget that a bad winter can be an easily ignored danger.

I cleaned my pantry today and noticed that a lot of my canned foods have expired. Most of it is probably fine to eat, but there were a few cans in there that scream botulism. In particular, there is a single foul can of unspeakable food (that would be disgusting even if it were fresh) that has followed me from pantry-to-pantry for probably seven years and that I hang onto as some sort of pathetic inside joke with myself. There are also less obvious things that I purchased just last year, such as my canned oranges, which were unexpectedly already nearing their expiration dates. (This does not include the canned octopus, however, which is guaranteed fresh until 2010!) Anyway, this is a Dexter Friendly Reminder (TM) to clean out your pantries and stock up with new before winter.

Ready.gov suggests that you have at least one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days in addition to at least three-days worth of non-perishable food. Besides soups, consider that peanut butter is a great-tasting, high-calorie food that could come in handy in times of emergency, doesn't need heating, and isn't likely to freeze.

If you are going to take advantage of grocery sales for Thanksgiving, now is a great time to build up a stock of soups and other canned foods. And, if your children's school has winter canned food drives, now is a great time to pick up some extra cans at great deals and feed the hungry.

(I have a few more of these that I would like to post over the next several days, and then I will get on to more personal, state-of-Dexter posts.)

The Gimp

Journal: The one with the waggely tail... 11

Journal by dexterpexter

I visited the animal shelter today, hoping to come home with a new companion.

Instead I came home crying.

I am not someone who easily shows those emotions, but I honestly broke down there in front of the shelter staff. To see a terrified dog (more precisely, many dogs) crouching in the back of his kennel (admittedly fairly nice kennels), abandoned there because his owners "put in new carpet" or "the old dog didn't get along with the new dog/cat/child," I was angry beyond words.

Those pleading barks, asking for nothing more than some pats on the head in exchange for unconditional love...

Input Devices

Journal: [Restaurants] Fashionable Substitutions 6

Journal by dexterpexter

(Probably part of several entries to come)

"Can I have the fettuccini alfredo and Caesar salad, except... could you substitute the fettuccini with a spaghetti noodle, and then instead use the tomato sauce with a bit of pesto. For the salad, instead of Caesar dressing, may I have the olive oil and pepper dressing? On the side, please. Oh, and instead of a roll, could I get a breadstick with a bit of parmesan cheese grated on top? Oh yes, and for my drink I would like a coke, with lemon, and a few cherries stirred into the drink. And half-ice please. Oh, and could you add a bit of rum to that?" - As might be heard in a restaurant

A favorite means of celebration for my family and friends is to visit a nice restaurant. In addition, my friends and I enjoy sampling food from different cultures (well, the Americanized versions of their dishes, I suppose) and do so as a means of socialization. So, I find the occasion to be in restaurants quite often. Not a boon for my beltline, but a wonderful opportunity for people watchers such as myself.

This is where I was introduced to the concept of ordering off of the menu, and since then I have been very attentive to when people do this. Growing up, I never experienced this phenomenon; you either saw something that you liked on the menu, or you dined elsewhere. I am not talking about the very-understandable situation where a member of the party has medical or religious dietary restrictions (from gluten sensitive, lactose intolerant, IBS, peanut sensitivities, acid reflux...to the food must be halal or vegetarian...I have known people with many unavoidable health and religious concerns), but recently it seems that the menu-substitutions are requested because people are just simply... picky. Or does it go beyond that?

It certainly goes beyond the health-conscious "can you substitute the chips for steamed carrots?" or even the condiment-particular "can I have that without the cream sauce?" but has evolved to choosing a menu item, and transforming it to something that isn't on the menu at all!" You can observe this at the coat-and-tie Italian restaurant, and even watching someone order a Quizzno's sandwich. In restaurants that, unlike a good Sushi place or similar, doesn't arrange their menu to easily accommodate this.

Picky, perhaps...but doesn't picky usually translate to one substitution, rather than creating another meal entirely? And why, when people make the substitutions, is there a sense of smugness...a curl of the lip in a half-grin, a look around the table, and a nod? Is it now chic to order off-menu?

I don't just see it amongst my varied parties (in fact, I would say I see it probably less-so in my own party, although there are Certain Individuals who I anticipate will make at least one substitution in their meal), so I can't believe that it just happens to be that I have gravitated toward these folks; I can hear it amongst parties in the restaurant all around me.

Has anyone else noticed this? Is it, in fact, fashionable? If you are part of wait staff at a restaurant that experiences this often, do you mind sharing how you go about calculating a new price for the meal? Do you charge for the original item, and when the substitutions are extreme enough to resemble something else on the menu, do you suggest the alternative item, charge for the alternative, or simply serve the customer without saying a word? Do you think this will eventually shift the restaurant industry to have a "create your own meal" type of menu? Do you think this is a bit offensive to the cook, at least at non-chain style restaurants where you can truly find passionate chefs?

Slightly unrelated, my mother used to always order fries without salt from the fast food restaurants, at least when the fries looked a bit...flimsy. A bit inconsiderate of the cook staff, but it always assured her (and the next several people in line) fresh fries. She would walk around the corner to the condiment line and add her salt there.

Education

Journal: Teenage Pregnancy and Truancy 10

Journal by dexterpexter

A 14 year old girl in Pennsylvania joined the ranks of countless teenage mothers; but, instead of throwing her hands up and becoming a leech on society, a stereotypical high school drop-out, or abandoning the child, the girl attempted to continue high school and her part-time job, as well as take responsibility in raising her child. This is quite admirable for a teenager. Now a 16 year old mother of a two year old, the girl maintains dreams of going to college to study Criminal Justice. She is described as an "exceptional student."

The girl's mother is on disability and has four children in total. There is no mention of a father (in either case of the girl or her mother), and one might assume (there are few details on the matter) that the girl's family is not at all well-off, and child care may already be an issue.

There are days when the mother cannot (for one reason or another) or will not (this is unclear) watch the 16 year old's son. There are days when the boy is sick and the girl must take the child to the doctor, and on these days the 16 year old must miss school. This is the rub; the high school is now moving to charge the girl under truancy laws after missing lots of school. It is suggested that the girl is otherwise an "exceptional student" who maintains her grades despite her lack of attendance.

[Under the district] attendance policy, parents are given legal notice of a first truancy offense after three unexcused absences. Additional unexcused days can lead to fines or imprisonment.

However, under Pennsylvania's Compulsory Attendance Law, there is an exception for absences due to mental, physical or "other urgent reasons." ...

In the School District of Philadelphia, for example, students are allowed to miss only four weeks after giving birth before they must return to classes.

The school district officials do not recognize teen parenting as urgent reasons, and this is undoubtedly within their right. There is a standing policy against truancy, and the girl is clearly violating this policy. I suppose one could say that they are under no obligation to make an exception in this case. There is also mention in one article that the girl has "missed 211 days in the last four school years," which is more than a fair amount of school, and also covers two more years than the girl has had a child. However, I am not so ready to condemn this girl.

They have encouraged the girl to pursue home schooling or switch to a Vo-Tech which has day care. I question, however, the wisdom of taking an exceptional student with lofty college dreams, who is otherwise statistically at-risk for being a drop-out, and encouraging them to leave school or move to vocational training. Certainly the latter option will be better than the former; from the description of the girl's mother having four children and not being able to watch the girl's two year old, I doubt she is in a position to provide an adequate education. Also, apologies to those of you who are home schooled or who provide excellent home school care for your children, my experience with friends who received home schooling and clearly spent more time on whimsical pursuits rather than developing a good foundation in the basics and who treated school as a second-thought to their hobbies (or their parents' busy day), I am not impressed with what home schooling sometimes has to offer (recognizing that there are many exceptions), and certainly do not think it a good solution in this case.

That said, I have conflicting thoughts on this. The girl clearly made a mistake and is paying the unfortunate consequences (sometimes life sucks and you do have to live with the consequences of decisions made in youth), and I am very, very wary of lawsuits in which the ACLU quickly jump on the offensive because they haven't proven themselves to have much in the way of discretion. There are clear, laid-out policies in this school district, and the district is enforcing them; it isn't as if they are making these up as they go to punish this particular girl. However, knowing of a nearly unemployable and now-pregnant high school drop-out who is setting herself up to be a leech of society and quite the stereotype, as I look at these girls side-by-side (admittedly my being more familiar with the one than the other, only knowing about one of the girls what the media portrays of her), I see night and day.

Is it wise to put "the Rules" above the good of a student? If the girl is indeed maintaining exceptional grades in spite of a lack of attendance, is she truly being hurt by her truancy (beyond the obvious missing-out on socialization and learning the lesson of having to sit through unnecessary things sometimes just because you have to) enough to justify threatening to take the child away from an otherwise-responsible teenage mother, and is taking her out of school permanently a better solution? And what does that say about the school district itself if, despite such obstacles in this girls education and her missing so many days, that she can maintain her grades? Are there no Churches or special-interest groups in the District willing to step in and help the girl with child care, and help the girl achieve her goals toward which she has worked fairly hard? What sort of influence will taking the girl out of school have on the child, who is now arguably statistically higher at risk for taking a similar path? And then, if she does continue with her high school education and makes it to college, how she plan to handle child care then?

What are your thoughts? I am still not sure what to think.

Quoted or referenced articles can be viewed here:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07097/775926-85.stm
http://www.wgal.com/news/11826267/detail.html
http://www.thestatesman.net/page.news.php?clid=8&theme=&usrsess=1&id=153423

Graphics

Journal: Cognitive Psychology and Art: Artists See Differently 4

Journal by dexterpexter

Ran across an interesting article here.

The article describes a comparison of the eye-movements of a trained artist against the eye movements of a psychologist when looking at--and attempting to memorize--a work of art or photo. The purpose of the study (investigating the eye movements of each) was withheld from the subjects, and they were instead told that the study was on pupil dilation. The four photos presented demonstrate these comparisons.

Even more interesting is this observation, which in my experience is very true:
Art teachers have noted that when beginning students attempt to draw accurate portraits, they tend to exaggerate the size of key features: eyes and mouths are too big relative to the size of the head. Trained artists learn to ignore these temptations and draw the world as it really appears. Even world-famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci have had to resort to tricks such as looking at their subject through a divided pane of glass in order to render proportions accurately.

The article concludes thus:
So why do artists look at pictures -- especially non-abstract pictures -- differently from non-artists? Vogt and Magnussen argue that it comes down to training: artists have learned to identify the real details of a picture, not just the ones that are immediately most salient to the perceptual system, which is naturally disposed to focusing on objects and faces.

This isn't a new concept, but its an interesting read nonetheless. I suppose this differentiates the art most people hang in their homes (purchased from your average home interior decor store) which usually portray a single major object or two in front of a second-thought background (and is usually quite derived) from art created for artists or through expression by a trained hand. "Art-art" tends to create interest, and is more complete and refined. Decor art is often there to support a theme--for example, a rooster-themed kitchen might feature a painting of a rooster standing against a single-colour background. Each has its place, of course. But making the jump from singular focus to bigger-picture is quite a challenge.

Editorial

Journal: My Horrible Dog, or WTF? 12

Journal by dexterpexter

I love her, I do. But she has an inherent streak of mischief in her that has exploded since becoming an only-dog. I don't pretend that dogs are geniuses, but I am becoming increasingly impressed and frustrated at the lengths my dog goes to be a Bad Dog.

It isn't a training process anymore; she knows that she has done wrong and has concocted schemes to try and get away with her exploits, and would succeed were it not for her 'tell,' a special wrinkling of her face and a squinting of her eyes that linger hours after her misdeeds. I detail only some of her exploits here, yet I have still managed three typed pages.

For the TIVO minded among you, you may skip to the end to find what led to this entry. For the rest of you:

Welcome to the world of elicit doggy behaviour.

-------------------------

Houdini
My dog is sometimes lovingly referred to as Houdini by those who know her best. At our previous home, it took only walking into the backyard to understand this point. With wire wrapped along the top of our fence to prevent her climbing out, chicken wire stapled and buried along the bottom to prevent her digging out, and a six foot fence to keep her from jumping out, we thought we had finally foiled her, and the neighbors probably thought we were crazy. Then, after carefully watching as we came and went, she learned to unlatch the gate. So, we had to lock it.
Still, despite our best efforts, she would find yet another way out. Once, she was caught scaling between the six foot privacy fence and another vertical object so that she could jump over the privacy fence. We chained her. So, she found a way (not always successful, but occasionally so) to unlatch herself from her chain. I should also mention that she has escaped from her seatbelt harness, cross ties, and is pretty much a wash when it comes to wearing medical paraphernalia because she slips right out of it. When I 'shipped' her via plane once, I half expected her to have gotten out of her crate before landing. Despite my wiring the door shut.

Like the raptors testing the fences in Jurassic Park, the clever girl always found a way out. I should loan her out to prisons!

I don't mean to give the impression that she was desperately trying to run away. Most of the time, she would terrorize the neighborhood cats by trying to befriend them, and then return to our stoop within a short amount of time. Getting out was simply a challenge she had to beat, or a means to carry out some mischief and come home. Her mother did the same, and her mother became a three-legged dog as a result. Funny what misfortunes looking wolf-like can bring.

Taking Inventories for later Thievery
After tearing down her cable running line through sheer might (her mother was bred to pull--you can imagine what walking her is like), she became a mostly inside dog. Not the best situation considering she is effectively a farm dog at heart and gets antsy, but it works. Now she has taken to letting herself out of her room. Not a terribly difficult challenge compared to the previous backyard setup, and the obstacles I set up in the house are mostly futile attempts to slow her down.

But, when she lets herself out, she also helps herself to every bread product in the house that isn't carefully protected. What drives her to eat bread, I will never know, but I thought it particularly odd that, when given leftover bratwurst, she ate the bun first and then ate the meat. I suspect that she has climbed onto my counters looking for bread (ugh, animals have no business around food preparation surfaces), and I imagine that its only a matter of time before she starts opening cabinets and I have to get child protection locks, assuming that she won't defeat those as well. She found her way into the pantry the other day, when I didn't quite close it. She pulled down a bag of tortilla chips, which she discovered that she didn't like. I can see her subtly taking "smell inventories" of the kitchen, making little doggy mental notes on how good the food might be if and when she sneaks in there. We have to put our potato chips and bread up high, in the cabinet with the glasses. My beautiful white teacups are displayed beside French bread. Who rules this house, anyway?

Couch Potato, and Covering Her Tracks
After letting herself out and ransacking the kitchen, she curls up on our couch while we are gone. Upon returning home and opening the front door, you hear the tell-tale click of her pawnails on the linoleum as she leaps over the afore-mentioned obstructions I have placed in her way to discourage her roaming. You find her lying in her room on her pillow, stretching as though she has been sleeping the entire time. Only she has her tell-tale guilty look her face, and one of the couch cushions is appreciably warmer than the other, featuring a light dusting of fur. And don't forget the 'Guilty Face'! I stayed downstairs one day, and secretly watched this unfold (to be sure) before my very eyes. Ilovedexerpexter came downstairs, and the couch-occupying dog zipped into her room, where I could see her lay down onto her pillow, and look asleep. This indicates that she knows that she is doing wrong. How does one train that out of a dog?

Ransacking
Lately she has taken to carrying random things (things she was never interested in before, since she was never really the kind of dog that likes to carry things around in her mouth) back into her room. I have found black socks (why black? Ask her.) and various food containers amongst her "things." But it goes beyond her "shopping," and has expanded to other rooms in the house. We were especially surprised to find our winter gloves and hats strewn about the family room, and our checkbook on the floor. She never tore things out like that before! Congratulations, I have a teenager? Hmmm.

Tonight, though, took the cake.

Sneaking
She is more accustomed to my daytime exploits than my shorter nighttime outings, so after unexpectedly being out for eight hours the other night, I hurried through the door to let her out. Only she wasn't in her room. Boy was she going to be in trouble! Where was she, though? No tell-tale click of her pawnails on the linoleum. No sheepish dog coming around the corner, laying down in a submissive position for being caught out of her room.

Nothing. No dog, no noise.

I go from room to room, calling for her and replaying the day frantically in my mind, reassuring myself that there was no way that I had let her out to relieve herself without letting her back in. Of course I had let her back in. Yet I hear nothing. Was she somehow stolen? Be reasonable now, I thought; your dog isn't THAT awesome, and your door bolt was engaged.

I finally open up the door to the master bedroom (we keep the door closed) and there she is, looking guilty. I look around the room and take my own inventory:

Half a bag of potato chips. Gone.
Half a bag of wheat thins. Gone.
Crumbs from said items. Everywhere.
Bed infiltrated and covered in crumbs and dog hair (have a rolling fit, did we girl?)
Stuff strewn about? You betcha.
Pot pie container. Where the hell did that come from?

How in the world did she get in there?

A couple of possibilities. The least likely is that she let herself out of her room and opened up the door to the bedroom, then shut the door behind her. Although she has the afore-mentioned ability to manipulate gate handles, I think the master bedroom door knob is outside of her capabilities, and she wouldn't purposely shut the door behind her.
The most likely possibility is that at sometime, probably when I was changing clothes in the closet, she sneaked into my bedroom and hid in the corner without my noticing. She was locked into the bedroom (when I shut the door to lock her OUT) when I left, and somehow I neglected to do my usual, last minute pleading for her to be good, so that it was not noticed that she wasn't in her room. Finding herself in the fortune of being locked inside the Forbidden Room, she gorged herself on potato chips and crackers while sprawled out on my king-sized bed, and then apparently ventured into the master bathroom to drink out of a not-so-clean toilet (as evidenced by the very-apparently reduced water level.)

Then, upset at having been left for so long and filled with large quantities of toilet water, she proceeded to soil my carpet. WTF?

Ahhh. You choose your friends not for who they are, but in spite of who they are.

User Journal

Journal: Multiply (Clarification) 10

Journal by dexterpexter

Some of you asked what bothered me about the Terms of Service, and others got the impression that it was only the 'intellectual property' concerns that turned me off. While yes, that was a contributor to my decision not to join the mass migration, that wasn't the only concern. I have decided to outline my concerns here:

1) Ownership of Uploaded Media There is, of course, the Giving-Away-Your-'Intellectual Property' line in the agreement that has been mentioned several times. Not a big problem for most, but consider that your pictures and art and music are fully licensed to Multiply for use if and when you upload stuff, for whatever reason. Derivative works are covered, too. A lot of sites have these terms nowadays, but its still something to be aware of before you upload anything you might wish to control later.

2) Lifelong Agreement? If you notice, there is a clause that says that while you can cancel your membership or Multiply can terminate your membership, the agreement remains in effect even after you've terminated the relationship. Is that even enforceable? This is one of the oddest caveats I've seen in a user agreement; it may mean something else entirely, but it seems to imply that you're signing a lifelong agreement. Typically termination of a contract ends the contract. You might also notice that Multiply, like standard services, can change the TOS at anytime and as long as it is reasonably displayed, and you're bound by those terms just by virtue of your continuing using the service (and be honest, how many of you read the TOS frequently enough, or even when the change is clearly announced?) Should they change the terms to something contemptible (but legal), and you continue using the service then quit the service once you become witting of the new terms (which have already been in place up to that point), this suggests that you will still be bound by those terms, whatever they may be.

Also notice the line that states that not only do you accept the agreement by becoming a member, but you also accept the agreement just by using the site. Use is not defined. Is simply visiting the initial webpage deemed "use"? Again, though, this is not an unusual Term to see in an agreement, but it is certainly less tidily written than most.

3) Requirement to Post Real Information I know that this is quibbling, really. As a part of the registration process, you are prompted for your First Name, Last Name, email address, Date of Birth, Gender, Country, and Zipcode. The terms of service state that you must provide current, complete, and accurate information, and maintain this information. Although I can appreciate this requirement, especially when framed by the litigious nature of corporations these days, and the idea of anonymity on the Internet is laughable anyway, I appreciate sites which recognize that you might prefer to write under a pen name or (faintly) protect your meatspace information from sale to third parties. I know that most people simply lie in these fields anyway (I am sure that you, too, have no less than twenty birthdays or zipcodes), but the requirement is in the Terms no less.

Also, it explicitly forbids the creation of profiles representing people, places, or things (nouns!) that are not you, an "individual person" and seems to suggest that again, secondary accounts, bands, etc. are right out. Again, not unreasonable to restrict the way that accounts are used, but some of the fun of these sorts of sites includes befriending off the wall accounts, organizations, clubs, or even inanimate objects. It is also restrictive of authors or artists who choose to use alternative identities (pen names), and wish true to the contract.

4) Auto-charging for new Subscription? Not that I usually subscribe to sites, but for those of you who do, you would do well to notice that a subscription is not limited to just the subscription period, but is auto-renewed at what appears to be the new/current rate at the end of the period, and that while they will try to process your cancellation within 72 hours, it appears that even if you provide notice before the renewal date, if charges are applied before Mutiply can "reasonably act," it is non-refundable. I am not sure why cancellation wouldn't be automatic or taken care of within 24 hours with a good computer system, but these warnings are in there nonetheless.

5) Unauthorized Linking Issues? There is a reference to unauthorized linking to the site (which "will be investigated," by the way), and although it is seated in the section about commercial use, it doesn't explicitly limit this to commercial entities. Furthermore, it is said in near the same breath as civil and criminal legal action. This section of the TOS needs to be tidied up.

6) Requires Javascript to Use Upon loading Multiply.com, I am warned that javascript is required for using the site. Although this does not preclude me from using the site, I am slightly annoyed that one can't enjoy the internet using simply HTML these days. Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy the freedom that blocking javascript affords.

Although the User Agreement is awkwardly written, I have to admit that most of its terms are standard for sites today. I have agreed to much more restrictive TOS. However, they are worth noting. Considering that right now I don't see a need to join the migration, my issues with the site (however small or quibbling they may be) simply added to my reasons for not leaving.
Again, I am glad for anyone who stays, and I am sure that I will keep up with some of the folks who go. I have been on the outer reaches of the 'Circle' anyway, so its not like I am forging some major protest about it, but I figure that it can't hurt to present my slight misgivings about the TOS. :)

Hardware Hacking

Journal: [Ask a Subset of /.] Comparison of Home Heating and Cooling 3

Journal by dexterpexter

I am interested in the opinions of folks who have lived both in houses with natural gas heating, and in homes with heat pumps. I am particular about ambient temperatures, and have found natural gas heating perfectly comfortable. However, I notice a trend toward heat pumps in homes, and wonder how someone might compare the two. Feel free to offer your opinions about either, but please clearly distinguish if your experience is mostly limited to one or the other, because people tend to adapt to find one or the other perfectly bearable, and I am looking for a comparison (albeit subjective) by someone who has considerable experience with both.

Of particular interest, how do the maintenance of each compare? Price of heating/cooling? Efficiency? Any clear advantages of one over the other? If given the choice of one or the other, which would you prefer? Have you ever modified your existing heating to have one laid in lieu of another?

Thank-you in advance!

Announcements

Journal: Multiply 8

Journal by dexterpexter

Unless the 'Terms of Use' change at Multiply, I do not believe that I will be joining you folks. I may change my mind in the future, of course, but in the meantime I plan to remain at the 'Dot.

Additionally, while it appears that I have not submitted anything to Livejournal in well over a year, I suppose I should also start frequenting that account again, so please feel free to friend me and I will return the gesture, as most of my posts tend to be Friends-Only. However, I imagine that the bulk of my attentions will be spent on Slashdot, however deserted it may become.

For those of you who are leaving permanently, I wish you the best of luck; it is a shame to see you go. Don't be shy about sending an occasional email to let me know how you're doing.

Is a person who blows up banks an econoclast?

Working...