Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Back In Bank

There is an issue with the system where someone can see both my old identity and my new contractor identity. The old one does nothing, and is shut down. Yet it adheres to the standards everyone uses (first name, period, last name at bank dot net). The new one is id-number at bank dot net, which even I can't remember yet. I keep typing my old ID in accidentally.

I'm sitting four rows of cubes away from my old spot, but took the liberty of grabbing my old chair, copystand, and whiteboard. I went to the supply area to reclaim one of at least fifty staplers, one of which is my old one, but which one I have no idea. Yes, Office Space fans - they are Swinglines. It's a running joke about the drawer packed to the rim with Swinglines belonging to now-downsized employees. It's like extinguished torches on Survivor or stone tools in caves long empty.

There’s an Alan Parsons song called “The Three of Me” that seems appropriate these days (below). It’s basically about someone with multiple personalities, who isn’t quite sure if there are actually three of him or one, and how confusing it all is for himself and those around him. Looking at the words, I wonder if it means that there are three personalities, two of whom get it, and one who doesn't quite understand and keeps expecting the other two to show up.

As for being back at the bank, so much is the same and different concurrently, like that show Sliders I never watched. I keep thinking “this makes me feel like a ghost”, but I really don’t know what a ghost feels like. If I ever became a ghost, I’d probably think “this is like when came back to [the bank]”.

As for the bank's name, ten more months before I can say publicly where I am. Or who I am. In theory I could say one or the other, but since I'm far more likely to say who than where, I'll keep my legal obligations in mind.

The Three Of Me

There's a voice on the phone
Who just called in to say
"Mr. Jones isn't home
He'll be gone for the day"

So he pulls down the blind
To adjust his disguise
But it's all in his mind
Which he proudly denies

I turn the boat back from the weir
Where to go from here
I can't hide from each face I see
Looking out from behind them is me

I'm attempting to guess
What they meant when they said
"Mr. Jones and his guest
Won't be using the bed"

So if I take the rap
While they stay out of sight
I can spring from the trap
When the timing is right

One minute I think I know what I mean
The next I hear voices inside disagree
Why are they laughing at me?

So I pick up the phone
Someone's asking of me
Is the real Mister Jones
Mister One, Two or Three?

So I say that they're not
But it's not as I say
'Cos they're all that I've got
And I can't get away

As Alice waves us through the glass
Are we home at last
For tomorrow they'll be here you see
Locked away safe inside there with me

'Cos tomorrow they'll be here you'll see
Locked away safe inside they're with me

One minute I think I know what I mean
The next I hear voices inside disagree
Why are they laughing at me?

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Feeling Better
Much better yesterday. I almost feel completely normal today, though slightly weak.

I have the car, but Theo is working late tonight. I'm going shopping for stuff and I'm also going to get a card for my mom for Mother's Day and for Nicole for her birthday. I'm going to price some other stuff at Circuit City, as well.

Media Center of attention
Ideally, I was considering making a "Freevo" Linux box to store television, music, and pictures at the entertainment center. With A DVD-burner and some video software, you could really make this work quite well. There are problems, though, since you could not then play Windows games on the same system. In a perfect world, you would get a Windows XP Media Center Edition machine, but that's expensive. So I was considering a dual boot. Today I learned that the only video card (All in Wonder, $150) that seems to natively support the DVI interface for the television also includes Tivo-like software and video editing software. In other words, a pure Windows XP Home machine could do it all. For roughly a grand, one could assemble TIVO, DVD recording, DV video editing, PC gaming, MP3 library, and a photo library, plus all the PC stuff like web surfing and actual work, all connectable to the HD unit natively. This and a home theater with DVD and VCR built in (floor model, $400) and you would be set. All this plus the cable box in four simple silver cases. Incredible.

Apple already supports DVI natively on Powerbooks. If they don't support video recording soon, I suspect they'll be dusted again. We'll see.

Finding the time for space
With Theo working late all the time, even with my hours capped at 40/week, I'm not getting home in time to do much more than feed the cats and go to bed. The house isn't getting any cleaner. I am finally making progress on the Earth Return Vehicle design. So far I've pushed through the first parts.

I realize now why he raised the weight limit so much for the contest. The original Zubrin plan has the crew module weighing 7800 kg. This cabin must hold the four person crew for between 180 and (in an emergency) 680 days. This may sound reasonable, until you consider that the Apollo command module, which held three people for 14 days, weighed 5800 kg!

Unfortunately, we can't just leave everything the same and redesign the cabin. If the cabin weighs three times more, the stages get heavier as well.

I'm pushing through text for now. I have "@@" in place of any missing math. I'm also working on the spreadsheet for some elements, like the cabin mass. Eventually I'll work out the minimum the cabin can weigh, and do the rocket equasion backwards to find what I need. That really means the report needs to be written in a matter of a week or two.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Strep or Not Strep
I spent the weekend in some misery. A sore throat became stabbingly acute, and Sunday I went to a doctor. Today, sometime, I’m to get a call on my cell phone telling me if it’s strep throat or not. If it is, I’m to take antibiotics and stay home a day (too late for that one – I’m already at work and Theo has the car). If it isn’t – skip the antibiotics and tough it out. I picked up the antibiotics preemptively last night so there would be no delay between diagnosis and treatment.
(4PM – I called them – it isn’t. Now I have useless antibiotics – at least I’m ready if the plague breaks out in the next couple months.)

Theo needs the car to finish her root canal at 1PM this afternoon. Knowing her, she’ll still work late afterward.
(6PM – She is, and still no word on when we’re going home.)

HD’s Golden Age

We got the HD cable installed Saturday. On the one hand, I’m really impressed with the few channels that it supports. On the other hand, I’m deeply disappointed it’s STILL not full 1080i or whatever resolution. If you run it in default mode, it’s high res, but only fills part of the screen. You have to blow it up to match the edges of the screen. Many local or network HD signals also letterbox either the top/bottom or the sides to compensate for a non-proportional image. The bad news with them doing so is that you can’t readily crop off the excess by adjusting the picture.

There are two channels – INHD1 and INHD2, which show nothing but HD programming and without much pattern other than consistent quality. In the course of an afternoon you could see a concert, a movie, and footage of shuttles looking back at earth or planes flying through the Grand Canyon in beautiful detail. In some sense, it’s like the single TV station in Alaskan towns that are blocked in by mountains and cannot pick up outside signals except by satellite. Those towns can only afford a single station broadcast point, so this station cycles through the best of all the networks without much regard for affiliation. With near 24-hour daylight at some times of the year, watching prime time at midnight is not such a bad thing.

There is undoubtedly a benefit to only putting the best programming in the most expensive format. If you happen to have HD now, you are lucky to have stations this good. As the price comes down, undoubtedly we will see the overall quality drop. As it stands now, Apple is supporting HD production in the latest prosumer video editing software. Now if they’d just settle on an HD DVD standard, it would all become open to everyone with roughly $10K - $20K to throw at the problem.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the golden age of HD by dozing off to Grand Canyon footage and drowning the pain signals from my tracheal wounds in visual beauty.

Perhaps it’s already happened. Later, they played Lynard Skynard live. While I respect them as a individuals and as a band, there is something wrong about this so early on. It’s kinda like when Country music first came out on CD. It seemed such a waste, especially considering what Country music was like at the time, to increase its longevity or fidelity. They had barely gotten Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project and other things out. For this music and for Classical, the full range was never experienced after the fourth vinyl listening until CDs arrived. Yet several months later, here is Alabama singing about there being stars in the Southern sky while archives of Yes and King Krimson remained on LP only. As for Alabama lyrics, I was unaware that the Northern sky lacked these bright objects. It seemed like they should have waited at least a year and got more classical and classic rock out the door.

Allstate One More Week
My start date back at the bank is May 10, which gives me one more week here.

Something I’ve failed to mention. For two of the three weeks here, they’ve piped hit music of the Sixties through the present into the restrooms. I suppose it’s better than what you normally listen to in a restroom. While the person in the next stall is having a final argument with last night’s dinner, you can pretend you are at a 1970’s wedding reception.

“Piped” is an interesting word in this context. Perhaps it’s a verbal throw-back to the times when people called a hotel desk via a metal pipe with a voice cone on each end, and “rang the phone” by blowing through a whistle stopper in the far end of the pipe. I’m not sure of where this technology started and ended, but I remember seeing it in a Benny Hill sketch years ago. At one point, there is a fire in one room (with smoke coming out the pipe) and a flood in another (with water coming out). Naturally, he connects the hoses together and yells, “Hold on, Missus! Help is on the way!” into the smoking pipe.

Recovery and Hippie Drinks
I’ve been drinking what could best be described as Hippie Health drinks at work these days. One, called Odwalla Superfood Micronutrient fruit juice drink, contains Spirulina, which I tend to like the effects of, and other such algae along with fruit juice. The overall effect is like drinking fruit juice with lawn grass clippings, which I thought was amusing until I read more of the label and found it actually DID contain wheat and barley grass pretty far down the list of ingredients. Which reminds me, the cats need Kitty Grass, and soon.

Both these drinks are like lawn/fruit milkshakes and are very soothing on a rough throat. The label says: “Odwalla was started in Santa Cruz, California by three musicians with a vision for a better planet. After 20 years, they continue that vision, bringing nourishment from the fertile soil of the nation’s fruit basket, straight to your soul.” – It kinda says it all, doesn’t it? Guys who have dropped more acid than pencils are trying to feed my soul with grass clippings from the nation’s “fruit basket”.

One could make similar tart remarks about they hippy lit on the back of Numi tea bags, which I’ve kept for several years just for their shear new age giggle factor. It seems James Lileks’ Gallery of Regrettable Food will continue to prosper for many years to come.

Later in the afternoon, I went to the gift shop in the next building to try to find supplies in case Theo was working late. I realized, in my attempt to find a non-acidic drink that would be better for my throat, that apart from milk and water, no such non-alcoholic drink seems to exist. Unfortunately the Odwalla stuff is in the now-closed café. Oh well, there’s always V8.

As you may have guessed, I have a love/hate relationship with hippie culture. On the one hand, the music was great, even a lot of the stuff I disagreed with. The intention to have a clean landscape and solar power are ingrained in me as a rural conservative, and ironically the only two groups really pushing this stuff in the late seventies were rural conservatives and hippie leftovers.

Rural conservatives, how do I define us – where do I begin? Dad, perhaps. During the fuel crunch of the late Seventies, there was a trend in farming to read Mother Earth News and dream of designing a still to make ethanol for the tractors from the very crop you used the tractors to harvest. It closed a loop, so to speak, and stuck it to the Arabs in a single burst. The land taken out of production to make the ethanol wasn’t truly out of production, because the mash by-products were excellent feed for livestock. One could also purchase wind power systems for the price of a typical pole barn, or diesel generators the size of truck beds that could run for years without stopping (and being diesel, would run on that same ethanol if you could make enough of it.) These systems, solar power and heat, and so on started to dot the landscape in rural areas and were built by more independent-minded farmers. Dad was one of them. When I was 12, I knew how to run all the chemistry to process alcohol from corn, and had done so in a commercial-scale operation in one of the buildings. By 13, we were planning a wind-plant with a 100-foot tower, and after dropping that idea we experimented with a diesel generator.

Dad is very much the World War II generation, Republican Rotarian banker Christian conservative. But he recognized the value of the concept of a commune. He made a distinction between what he called “moral communes” and “immoral communes”. The former could simply be the barter arrangement farmers had shared for thousands of years and that we shared with some of our neighbors. The later is what he called the hippie lifestyle, which spoke of beauty but mostly got stoned. From what I’ve read on the other side of the fence, that’s pretty accurate.

As you may have guessed from the length of this entry, I’m still waiting for Theo to get off work.
7:05 update – she’s en route. Time to post this puppy. Alas, no time to discuss Arcosanti.

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