Flowers and Blood

I went to buy some flowers yesterday (having taken Good Friday off), because I have some nice vases at home, and I decided that I liked having some cut flowers around the house.

I picked out a few loose flowers, including one of Sylvia’s favorites, the Stargazer Lily, and had them make up a nice arrangement for about $25:

Good Friday Flowers

…and then while I was at the flower shop, I saw a bloodmobile ad for a blood drive at the church where I go to vote, so I went down there to check if they could fit me in, and they said, “Sure!”, so I made an appointment, took my flowers home and came back and donated.

It was the first time that I’d given blood where they take a double-size donation of red blood cells, separate out the plasma and return it to you for you to cherish.

Here’s a picture of the ALYX machine, separating my blood into flavors. It has three pouches on the left, and you can see the whole blood going into the right-most pouch of the three, the red blood cells being accumulated in the middle pouch, and the plasma on the left waiting to be fed back into me. Technology!

ALYX Blood Donation

They do it all with just the one needle in your arm, and an automated blood pressure cuff. First the cuff presses down, and the right-hand pouch fills maybe quarter-full or so with whole blood, and ALYX works on separating it into parts into the other pouches, and then at some point the cuff lets up, and you feel a chill as the left-hand pouch is emptied and the plasma is returned. Then it repeats for maybe four or five cycles. Takes about 10 minutes longer than a regular donation, but with all the paperwork and waiting and so forth, it’s a huge win all around to get what is effectively a double donation in so short an additional time.

Seriously, though, I can’t imagine (or can barely imagine) thinking about that problem and saying, “Sure, we could build that!”

Crucible

…so the air conditioner failed on Saturday, and Sylvia and I had an absolutely horrific weekend — so hot, and so humid.

I’ve never seen the cats flatter — stretched out for maximum surface area. Our fluffy cat, “Bitey” (possibly the smartest of the lot, and certainly the fluffiest) quickly learned to hang out in the bathroom exclusively…all that cooling tile. It was kind of funny, every time we wanted to use the bathroom, to find her there, stretched out on the tile.

Still, she was perhaps the only thing in the house that was more miserable than her owners. We tried opening a few windows at night, but couldn’t leave the doors open because our front screen door is down, awaiting delivery of its replacement, and the house has so much thermal mass that it doesn’t end up cooling off until about 5:00am. Bitey, at least, had the advantage of literally being able to sleep in the window.

I had left a message with the folks who had serviced our A/C a year ago, but when I called them back at opening time, 08:00am this morning, they told me that they still had jobs left over from Friday, and they couldn’t promise me anyone before tomorrow morning at 08:00am. So I had them pencil me in, and set about looking for another outfit to call.

Several of the places that I called just answered the phone with “Hello?” You’d think that beggars wouldn’t be choosers, but I want just a little more professionalism than that.

I ended up calling Mountain Electric, who wanted a $75 diagnostic fee for coming out, which they would refund if the work was ordered. This actually sounded reasonable to me, and the flip side of that policy was that they could be here today! All righty, then. Cancel the first guys. The mountain men showed up at 4:30pm, went up on the roof, and came back down directly, having diagnosed a failed motor of some description — $575 to replace.

We gave them the go-ahead, and after about 2 hours total, they were done. Call it four man-hours, plus the cost of the part. I’m satisfied with the price.

One interesting thing was that they brought a large patio umbrella up on the roof with them, so that they wouldn’t have to be working in the blazing sun all day — brilliant.

And the house is cooling down! Sweet, merciful Jesus.

iPhone

So the question to be answered was: can a WordPress blog (my blog, in fact), be updated from an iPhone?

And the answer is…yes, and no. I could edit text, and take photos, but I couldn’t upload photos — I had to e-mail the photos from the iPhone to an actual computer, and then post the photos from the computer. Of course, I haven’t updated WordPress to the latest version, so perhaps those later versions can do it, but it might just be a browser limitation in the iPhone, too.

(I had tried this last night, and seen a couple of weird problems, but then I saw those same problems on my desktop this morning, all of them related to using WordPress’s “Save and Continue Editing” button, which I never use, and had just accidentally pressed on the iPhone.)

At any rate, here’s a picture of Maya Cat, a.k.a. “Bitey” (who has to have two different medicines every day to avoid liver failure), which I was able to take, but not upload, with my iPhone:

Maya Cat, a long-haired calico, is resting its head against the base of a lamp

She’s just sleepy, here, not unwell. She’s actually quite a playful, active cat. She has a trick of staring at you like a daemon until you relent and tease her with a feather on a stick.

Great News About Circuit City

…and here’s some terrific news from Forbes about how Circuit City’s rotten mass firing of experienced (and higher-paid) staff, in favor of untrained teen scum, has totally failed!

The company has floundered after experiencing a devastating third quarter loss, reported last December 21, of $207.3 million, or $1.26 per share, from $20.4 million, or 12 cents per share, the same period of 2006. The losses came after Circuit City fired 3,400 experienced workers to replace them with lower-waged workers.

Oh yeah, and if you bought Circuit City stock on the strength of that earlier report (that they were just massively and deliberately laying off older and more experienced staff, in favor of a crack team of doofi), then I’m really, really glad that your stock has plummeted to a quarter of its year-ago value.

Read about the layoffs, in The Christian Science Monitor:
“When a layoff is the reward for experience”
April 16, 2007

Read about the losses, in Forbes:
“Circuit City Fights To Keep Current”
February 26, 2008

Losing Weight: Throw Out Your Dishes

…well, don’t throw them out. They’re probably nice, and throwing them out will make you sad. But put them where you won’t use them everyday, and go out and get some slightly smaller ones. I guarantee you that this is so powerful that after just a week of eating off of your wonderful new smaller plates and bowls, you’ll be as excited about this as I am.

People are no damn good…at estimating size and portions. They’re subject to all sorts of visual illusions, and two are particularly notable:

1. If you give people larger plates and bowls, they will fill the plates and bowls with 20% to 30% more food, to make the plate look right. And they’ll still eat most of that food, in either case (eating 92% of it, on average).

The thing is, larger plates make food look small. I remember when we got our big plates and bowls several years ago (the classic Fiesta pattern), and thinking to myself, “Wow, those cereal bowls are enormous!” But right away, I started filling the bowls with about as much cereal as they could hold, with room for milk. Any less just didn’t look right.

2. Give people short, wide glasses, and they’ll serve themselves more than if given narrow, tall glasses. We’re just built to give more emphasis to height than to width.

I read about all this in Mindless Eating, and it just sounded so right, particularly in the light of my cereal experience, that I ran out to IKEA and bought inexpensive smaller plates and bowls:

Old Plates: 10 1/2"
New Plates:  9 1/2"

Old Bowls:   6 1/2"
New Bowls: < 5"

Plus, the old bowls’ walls were almost vertical, going staight down, while the new bowls have a more spherical, classic bowl shape. They hold much less than the old bowls.

The effect, back at the house, was immediately apparent.

How about a scoop of ice cream? A nice scoop of ice cream in one of the old bowls just looks sad (I would usually put three scoops in those bowls, though I could imagine someone drawing the line at two), but in one of the new bowls, a single scoop looks like the happy, delicious treat that it is.

Or oatmeal? I always used to make a double serving of oatmeal (and think of that: every morning!), because the bowl just looked wrong, and empty, with only one serving. I can’t even fit a double serving of oatmeal in the new bowls, and the single serving looks terrific in there.

And the plates are working just as splendidly. I’ve gone back to putting a single chicken breast on my plate, (alongside its vegetables, of course), instead of feeling as if it’s not really enough if there aren’t two.

Even when the effects are less pronounced, if all that happens is that I put proportionately less food on the plate, did you know that the 9.5-inch plates only have 80% of the area of the 10.5-inch plates? That’s math, baby! And 20% less food.

And did you know, back in Grandma’s day, dinner plates were smaller, just like the people?

I’m going to have to take pictures to adequately convey this. Coming soon!

Container size really, really implies portion size.

Our Fine Host

I recently began a campaign to learn Ruby on Rails in earnest (more on that later).

The hosting company that I had been using does not directly support Ruby (though I’m free to install whatever I want on the VPS). So, I tried that, and it worked for a while, but then my little learning-Ruby project kept locking up whenever there was an extended period of inactivity. I actually tried two different servers, from two different companies, both with the same result. There was speculation that Ruby wasn’t noticing that MySql had dropped its connection, and I tried various proposed fixes, but to no avail.

I ended up moving to RimuHosting.com. They’ve been supporting J2EE-based sites for four years, and Ruby-based sites for six months, so I had them install a JBOSS (J2EE) stack and a Ruby stack on my VPS, and so far, everything’s been working great. Ruby is so new that I’m a little bit on the edge, running Fedora Core 6, Apache 2.2, PHP 5.1.6, MySQL 5.0.27, and Rails 1.2.1, but as I say, so far, so good, and the staff could not have been more helpful.

They’re based in Lovely New Zealand, which raises interesting support questions — at least, in my mind, because although of course they offer support 24/7, I imagine them to be more highly staffed during their ‘regular working hours’.

But what are those hours? New Zealand is 20 hours ahead of California (or, thought of another way, four hours behind, but tomorrow). So when I get home from work and want to work on my project, they’re still at work, ready to help, in full force. And when I’m here on Sunday, why, they’re already at work on Monday. And of course, many, if not most or all, of their servers are based in the U.S., (mine is in Texas, presumably at RackShack), and they naturally have support staff based here, too.

So far, the little Ruby learning project, the blog, and the gallery are all running well on the new server. Next up: get everything else off of the old servers and consolidated to the new server, and get those other servers shut down!

How I Bought A Mattress (“Sears has Everything!”)

When our son Sean moved out, I immediately moved my office and my Bowflex into his old room, which was the larger of the non-master bedrooms in our house. But then there was the question of what to do with the old office room, “the littlest bedroom”.

We sometimes have friends who stay late into the night, and we’d like to be able to offer them a proper bed, in case they’d like to have another drink, or just don’t want to bother to tack against the traffic currents for 50-odd miles, this being Los Angeles. And we had a spare twin mattress left over from Sean’s youth. So, I moved some furniture around, and plopped the old mattress on the floor. “There!”, I said to myself, well-satisfied.

Unbeknownst to me, I was not to be the only well-satisfied creature in the house. Some errant cat, or cats, viewed the new mattress, resting gracefully on the floor, and thought, “Behold! Look at this fine, enormous cat box that The Human has seen fit to install. This is something more like it! I”m going to urinate on it immediately, as a kind of Baptism!”

So I sadly had to apply, and reapply, the magical enzymatic cat pee odor defuser solution, and even stood the mattress on its side (later leading to Queenie being briefly trapped), and eventually decided that if we had a real, new mattress, with box springs, and a frame, and sheets and all, the cats might conceivably pick one of their many, many other Official Cat Boxes for their ongoing cat box-related activities.

But first I thought that I’d check Consumer Reports, with which I have an on-again, off-again relationship, to see if they’d have anything useful to say this time. In fact, they said several interesting things: (1) People ask them more often about mattresses than about any other topic, save automobiles, (2) It’s pointless to give ratings on mattresses – I couldn’t even find any ratings – because people’s opinions are just too personal, (3) It’s important for the people who are going to be sleeping on the mattress to try laying on it, in a variety of positions, for at least 15 minutes. This is almost always good enough to make a decision that won’t vary from the decision that you would make after keeping it a month. (4) Department Stores very often have Huge Sales on mattresses, and you can save Big Time by waiting for one. This last is the big one: you can save $1,000, easy, easy, easy, by waiting for a sale.

This last caught my eye. I had been thinking of going to Sit ‘n’ Sleep, but then I thought: “Hell, Sears has Everything. And they probably don’t sell a lot of mattresses during the Christmas Buying Season. If I were going to have a sale, I’d have one now.” So I went to their web site, and Behold! They’re having a 50% off sale on most mattresses through 12/15/2006.

I went to a local Sears, and lay me down on plural twin mattresses, eventually choosing a Sealy Union SE Plush Pillowtop II Twin Mattress and associated box springs, frame, and headboard, for $625. I picked that mattress because some of the others felt crazy soft and unsteady when you sat on the edge, and some felt a little firm even to me, and it’s my thinking that a lot of the individual variations have to do with a person’s weight, and I weigh more than many, many other people. So, I picked one that, at least, didn’t feel Too Firm to me.

The headboard that I liked was discontinued, but they had one at the store, and it was 10% off for being not-quite-new. I walked back to the car with it, and was amazed (and relieved) to find that it fit into the Saturn easily.

The delivery cost me $65 and was non-refundable, and the date, for some reason, didn’t take, either because I was shopping on a Sunday, or had requested a Sunday delivery, or perhaps had an inept salesman. I’ll call tomorrow to try to arrange the delivery. They’re supposed to take away the old mattress, too.

But hey, $500 saved, supposedly, by finding a department store that was selling the thing On Sale, instead of unluckily blundering in during one of the rare times when they weren’t. That pays for a lot of years of Consumer Reports.

Office Overhaul: Hitachi 500 GB Deskstar SATA Hard Drive

I have a groovy 2 terabyte RAID array on order, and as part of that, I had ordered a nice Hitachi Deskstar 7200 RPM, 500 GB (actually more like 465 GB) Serial ATA drive, featuring a 16 MB data buffer, and (especially!) a three-year warranty.

But then my old friend, Industry Figure Curt Welch, who has apparently owned and operated hundreds of such drives, issued stern warnings to only use similar drives in RAID arrays, and I already had two Seagate Baracudas and this Hitachi Deskstar on order. Rats!

On the other hand, the Users drive on my PowerMac was almost full, so it was a great excuse to swap in the new Deskstar there. It actually replaced an earlier, smaller Deskstar, which had given perfect service.

The PowerMac and the drive are both so well designed that the whole operation was pretty effortless.

Actually, this is perfect, because I trust the Hitachis a little more than I do the Seagates, so it’s nice that the Hitachi is being used in the non-redundant application, whereas, if one of the Seagates fails in the RAID 5 array, I’ll just pop another one in.

Office Overhaul: LinkSys 10/100/1000 Gigabit Switch (SD2008)

As the second part of a major office overhaul, I’ve replaced the 10 MHz hub that used to infest my office with a Gigabit Switch from LinkSys.

For those of you who don’t know, a switch is much more than a hub. Hubs are basically a big piece a wire: they immediately retransmit any electrical signal that comes in from one port onto all the other ports. But a switch is essentially an active bridge between each of its ports: it has all kinds of smarts.

First of all, each port can operate at a different speed than the others, so if you have a mixture of slow and fast networking devices, you can just merrily plug each one into the switch and be happy — each port will operate at maximum speed.

Secondly, this switch autosenses everything: speed, wire polarity (you don’t have to worry about wether or not you should be using a crossover cable), and whether or not the other end supports full-duplex transmission (if it does, you can carry up to twice as much information).

It has source learning: it notices which MAC addresses are on which ports, and when a packet is received which is destined for a particular MAC address, it only sends the packet to the appropriate port, thus reducing needless data collisions.

And it’s fast! (“non-blocking”, to use the term of art): it can transmit gigabit streams without pause on all ports simultaneously. And if it’s transferring data to other slow devices, it doesn’t block I/O to fast devices just because I/O to a slow device hasn’t finished yet.

LinkSys is Cisco’s home and home office brand, and is incredibly solid. It’s working great for me so far.

You have to use at least Category 5e cables to get the gigabit speed, Category 5 cables on 100 MHz ports, or Category 3 cables on 10 Mhz ports.

A happy result: I wasn’t sure whether or not my PowerMac supported gigabit speeds, and the report from “About this Mac…” was not encouraging; it reported a 100 MHz port. But I said to myself, “I’m almost sure that it was supposed to have a gigabit port — it’s probably just reporting its current active setting.” And sure enough, tonight, when I set up the new network and rebooted, the Macintosh is happily reporting a full gigabit.

All that is to the good. The bad? Allow me to quote my Amazon.com review: “Geez, the unbelievable fan noise! It really is, as another reviewer put it, as loud as a 10-year-old PC. I’d actually put it as loud as a 20-year-old PC.”

Right now the switch and the PowerMac are the only two devices on the network that can talk to each other at gigabit speeds. (But mark the sequel!)

$84.99 from Tiger Direct at Amazon.com


18 March 2006 – Hey, the fan noise on this unit has diminished substantially; it’s a completely blameless and happy unit right now. And the box is still cool, really cool (as in, not even warm).


2008 – The original switch above died on me in late 2006. I replaced it with the five-port version (SD2005), and that switch is great! No noise. I guess there are some thermal trade-offs to trying to put 8 ports into a little box.

Office Overhaul: IOGEAR MiniView Micro ‘USB PLUS’ KVM (GCS632U)

I have two computers in my office, a Mac and a PC, and for a long, long time now, I’ve been making do with a dual-ported display that is shared between the two computers, and entirely redundant keyboards and mice. But it’s a big hassle, and I only had amplified sound with one computer, while the other was left to fester with its built-in speaker.

All that has changed. I’ve installed the IOGEAR MiniView Micro ‘USB PLUS’ KVM (keyboard / video / mouse) Switch [plus audio!], and it’s working great! With a double-click on my keyboard, my screen, USB keyboard, USB mouse, and audio all flip to the other computer. I really didn’t have room for two keyboards on my desktop; this is so much nicer!

IOGEAR makes all different kinds of flavors of this device, so be sure to look at all your options before you pick one.


UPDATE (21 Feb 2006): Wow, a lot of people on Amazon are complaining of poor audio quality and lockups with this unit! I haven’t noticed either yet, but I’ve only had the thing for a day or two. Check back at this space for a report after I’ve had it a month.


UPDATE (23 Feb 2006): Well, it’s locked up (ignoring the keyboard) after only a few days’ use, so that’s remarkably cruddy. Serves me right for buying something spur-of-the-moment from an end-cap display at Fry’s.


UPDATE (25 Feb 2006): I checked out their support site, where they mentioned that keyboard lock-ups on KVM switches that are powered by the USB port’s power could be due to not receiving sufficient power over the USB bus. I had had the KVM switch plugged into a USB hub, rather than a main USB port on the Power Mac, so I rectified that, powered off all of the computers involved, powered them up again, and it’s working again. We’ll see how it works, now that I’ve made its life simpler.


UPDATE (02 Mar 2006): No, it’s locked up again; it’s garbage.