Older blog entries for jfleck (starting at number 336)

user interfaces
Lissa and I are shopping for a new stove, which took us to into the Heart of Interface Darkness this afternoon (i.e. Sears).

On our old stove is a little analog clock with a timer. To set it, you grab the little knob in the center and turn it to show the number of minutes. This is straightforward and intuitive - one step, a fraction of a second.

The new stoves have digital clocks and timers. To set them, you push the timer button. Then switch to a second set of +/- buttons to set the time, pushing and holding the plus to get to the time you're interested in.

The new technology has made the interface harder to use for no discernable benefit whatsoever (except, perhaps, to the manufacturer, who I assume has been able to substitute a cheap microchip for the mechanical clock.)

Setting the oven temperatures seems to have generally followed a similar technological path away from ease of use and toward over-gadgetry, though there were still a handful of stoves with a simple oven dial.
Went by to see Mom this afternoon and she was out of her room and up at "the gym" - the physical therapy room. After a batter of leg exercises, my Mom the gym rat walked all the way back to her room. Did I mention how tough she is?

"That's right, folks, don't touch that dial...."

Ran across copies this evening of Zappa on Saturday Night Live, December 1976. Sigh.
The Scrabble dictionary is on line. Who would have known that "toea" is a unit of money in Papua New Guinea? (100 toea to a kina, 2.8 kina to the dollar.)

(Thanks to Megnut. Gotta remember to read her more often.)
Why is this the second-ranked Macarena page on Google?
Booties have changed my life. My feet are toasty warm on bike rides now (or at least not painfully cold), and I have a sleek and stylish superhero look as well. Ice monsters bow down before me! I am Bootyman!
Found a handy little script to fill the boxes in my gnuplot bar charts and redid my cycling graphs this afternoon. I'd been doing a whole bunch of stuff by hand to generate them, so I tidied it up and put it all in a shell script that handles everything.

Now I just need to figure out how to extract the data downloaded by my heart monitor into some sort of usable form. The software that came with it leaves a great deal to be desired, but it looks like all the datafiles are plain text, to I ought to be able to gin up something useful of my own. I think about software in a whole new way.
Tracked down a copy today of Watson and Crick's original Nature paper delineating the structure of DNA. The paper's second sentence must be one of the most successful bits of hubris in the canon: "This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest."
I blog elsewhere about cloning. (This is another one of those "which blog should I put it in"? things.)
xach: "Creeping batshit insanity" would be a great name for a popular music act. Unfortunately "Bowie" is already taken. (And for what it's worth, I'm convinced Bowie Poag is not real. Couldn't possibly be. Could he?
The luminarias are being readied (that's not my house but you get the idea) and Mom's been cleared to spend an hour up at her apartment tomorrow afternoon to open up Christmas presents. All is now right with the world.

Happy holidays all.
Mom Diaries
Mom's tough. It's a weird sort of toughness that I only recently fully grasped, because it's masked by this sunny "everything's going to be all right" disposition that could be mistaken for a persistent state of denial. But she's fine now. I mean, she's got a steel ball where the head of her femur used to be, and walking is still exquisitely painful, but she's really quite fine. The physical therapist said she'll be able to walk without a walker or even a cane.
Rambled long yesterday, out along the river with no particular destination in mind, just to be away from anyone I had to talk to about anything remotely important. Hooked up with a couple of speedsters for a while in a nice little train, but mostly I was solitary. It was cold and the trails were empty and aside for the inevitable frozen feet it was a delightful ride.

So delightful that I rode outdoors again this morning, never mind the looming snowstorm.

So there's this great quote attributed to Jamie Zawinski:
Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ``I know, I'll use regular expressions.'' Now they have two problems.
Substitute "perl" for "regular expressions" and you'll understand why I was thinking about that Saturday and Sunday while I wrestled perl temporarily to the ground. My problem was to create a reasonably comprehensive listing of "all the documentation in GNOME". (I'll leave the definitional problem to others, and simply say that I defined it as "all the documentation in the directory where I keep my GNOME cvs stuff".) Going through by hand seemed somehow wrong, so I tarted up a bit of perl to prowl the tree looking for things that looked like docs (and their accompanying omf files). I am totally ass at this sort of thing, so it took me far too long and was a thoroughly delightful experience.
blogs and truth
Sitting in the hospital cafeteria with Dad, Lissa and Nora, trying to explain blogs to Dad:
Me: It's like a daily journal, or a diary.
Dad: Do you tell the truth?
Me: (Pause) Well, no. That is to say, I don't lie, but I do leave things out. Is omission a lie?
Mom Diaries
Mom goes home today, sorta, to the health care center attached to the retirement apartments where they live. She'll be there for a couple of weeks doing physical therapy (i.e. learning to walk again with her new hip). It was such a relief to see her last night, still all crippled up in her hospital bed but looking strong anyway.
I had to leave.

A team of three nurses was moving Mom from the emergency room gurney to the bed in her new hospital room, and I knew it was agony. She is a strong woman. She never screamed. But I knew it hurt. Earlier the emergency room nurse had been asking mom for to rate her pain in a scale of one to ten. She said the pain when the moved her from the gurney to the x-ray table and back was "darn near ten".

So I just walked down the hall for a minute until it was over.

Mom fell yesterday morning while she and Dad were walking to Loyola's, a neighborhood restaurant, for breakfast. It's the place the cops hang out, and three of them rushed out, called an ambulance, and covered her with their jackets and stayed with her while she waited to be scooped off of the sidewalk and into the bowels of the medical system. It is remarkable - she broke her hip before 9 a.m., and before 5:30 p.m. they had given her a new one.

So Lissa, Dad and I spent the day in the bowels of the medical system, trying to help Mom cope with unimagineable pain and eating ice cream. And quietly thinking about and tentatively starting to talk about what happens next. People around us in that emergency room were in far worse shape, suffering from things that could end their lives. Mom's problem is closer to being a huge hassle than a threat to her life. Now we have to think through the hassle.
An Elvis number of two.
9 Dec 2002 (updated 9 Dec 2002 at 16:48 UTC) »
Saw a 1907/08 Picasso yesterday afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a big cubist nude, one of the handful he was working on during that pivotal year when he made Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. Understanding the context and importance of that moment in the push toward modernism a century ago makes the work incredibly moving. It's a beautiful painting, too, but it is tangible contact with its importance that gave me goose bumps.
It is, I suppose, a biologist's parlor trick.

In the lab at MIT Saturday afternoon learning some basic experimental techniques, and we had some down time while the DNA samples we were "studying" when through the gel electrophoresis reaction we were doing. Clare, the tech who was helping us, gave us each a little vial of salt water and told us to swish it around in our mouths for 30 seconds and spit it back into the vial. She added a chemical to break down the lipids in the cell walls to the vial (essentially soap) and the solution became viscous. Then she added alcohol to denature it and these little filaments began to appear - long strands of my own DNA. You could scoop it out and keep it if you wanted, which I did.
consumption and free software
Clive Thompson yesterday blogged his Washington Post review of a book called "The Support Economy" that argues that in modern industrialized, consumerized societies our identity is defined by our consumption. Mac zealotry is a great example of this. It occurs to me that one of the great attractions of free software is that one can also help create that which one consumes.

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