Monday, June 27, 2005

Full House

I just finished "Full House" by Stephen Jay Gould.

I'm a fan of Gould's writing - he manages to bring together very different subjects and weave them in a very interesting tale. Most of his books (that I've read) are collections of his writings in Nature. He wrote some 200 essays.

This book, however, is not a collection, but instead an explanation of a "eureka" moment he had in looking at extremes in surviving cancer, evolutionary trends, and the disappearance of batting .400 in the major leagues. You might think those three things have nothing to do with each other, but Gould shows you how they are all a product of focusing on extremes and using them to show trends that do not exist.

The baseball example (I know, baseball is boring, don't get me started) is interesting because the sport really hasn't changed in 100 years. Plus, baseball is all about statistics. In the 20's and 30's, batting .400 was not uncommon, but since then, nobody has batted over .400, rarely even approaching that goal. People often attribute it to the idea that batters just haven't gotten any better - whereas the pitchers/fielders/everyone else has gotten better. Gould lays out an argument that shows the disappearance of .400 hitters is actually a result of the entire sport of baseball getting better. Batters have averaged .260 (more or less) for 100 years, and the bell-curve distribution of batting averages has just gotten tighter (the standard of deviation had gotten smaller). As a result, both the "best" and the "worst" are closer together than ever. The same thing can be shown for fielding, pitching, etc. etc. It's almost enough to make baseball interesting.

The evolution example involved "debunking" the commonly held idea (by biologists even, I'm not talking religion) that evolution is a continual process toward greater complexity. What else could be more obvious, right? Humans arrived at the end, we're more complex than the rest of the animals.

Well, when you actually look at the numbers, breaking it down evolutionary branch by branch, there is no trend toward complexity (nor toward increased size, or anything else). Evolution appears to be random. Given a species that leads to several other species, half tend to be smaller/less complex, and half tend to be bigger/more complex (bigger and more complex are not going hand-in hand, just showing the two yardsticks by which things were measured). The complexity is just a natural result of the fact that the extreme "right tail" of the bell curve will be more complex.

Gould presents to example of a drunk man staggering in the street. He starts off at the wall, he has a 50% chance of staggering 5 feet toward the gutter, and 50% chance of staggering toward the wall. Given enough time, he'll *always* land in the gutter 30 feet away. Just like you're bound to flip a coin and get 6 heads in a row (about one time in every 32 trials).

He goes on to say that the chances of getting human-like intelligence is super small (my words). He cites several points in the fossil record that show how one or two species going extinct would have meant humans (all mammals) would not have ever been. Also, if it weren't for that asteroid that caused the death of dinosaurs, the tiny mammals would have never had the chance to grow more complex. Dinosaurs commanded the earth for millions of years - the tiny little rodents certainly weren't going to oust the brontosaurus or t-rex.

Anyway, "Full House" was a very good read - shedding new light on ways to look at statistics - that you have to look at the full picture, and not just extremes to come to conclusions.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Electric Fly Swatter

So, I'm "working" from the Morning Star Cafe in Seaside right now. They've technically closed, but the music is jamming and they're in no rush to kick me out. Plus, I get to sit on a leopard print couch with monarch butterfly pillows, so they're going to have to drag me out of here.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing is that some of the owner's girls are trying to kill flies with a fly-swatter. Now, it's not your ordinary fly-swatter, it happens to look like a small, plastic tennis racquet. But wait, that's not all. It is electric!

Yes boys and girls, you no longer have to hit the flies against something, you can just sweep them out of the air with a tiny little zap. I've gotta find me one of these things.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Shout Out

On Monday, Portia came down to Corvallis for dinner. It's always a good time when friends come to visit.

I grilled up some yummy kebabs and made a tasty (yes, strong) mango margarita. Not my best margarita ever, but very quaffable.

You see, that's the service you get when you visit us. No "chicken soup from a can" or "Kraft macaroni and cheese" - fresh, local foods, freshly prepared by yours truly (and or Mary).

We cook for meat-eaters as well as vegetarians. Kosher meals ... we're not outfitted for that kind of cooking - pork is just too yummy.

So, stop on by for a visit. You'll get a wonderful meal and a shout-out on my blog.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Teeth hurting

My teeth have been hurting lately.

I had a bunch of work done in the past two months, a gold crown and a porcelain crown(?) on #14 and #15 (upper left side).

Well, that's great, but now the tooth I presume to be numbered #13 is aching when I eat, as well as it's matching sister on my lower jaw (no idea what number). Those two teeth are also sensitive to pressure - so I'm still mostly eating on the right side of my mouth. sigh...

Perhaps my dental assistant will clear things up for me when I go back, but I'm kind of tired of going to the dentist office. Of course, had I gone in to get #14 taken care of earlier, perhaps #15 wouldn't have needed to be treated.

Switching gears, the dentist does have more high tech in their office than I do at work. While you're getting worked on, you can watch TV, a movie, see pictures of your teeth or the x-rays. Slick.

Now I just need to be able to download one of their fancy pictures of my gold tooth. They could use biometrics to restrict access to the appropriate page. I'd just scan my teeth in (as opposed to a fingerprint) and I'd have full access to my records. How cool would that be? Now I just need to get a tooth scanner.

Weekend of digging

Wow, so many things to report on this weekend.

I put together a yummy chicken dish - a variant on a recipe my mom gave me: raw chicken parts (thighs usually, bone in is just fine), 1 C soy sauce, 1 C white vinegar, fresh ginger 4 each of 1/4 inch slices, 4 garlic cloves, and 1 star anise. You can, of course, vary the quantities as you desire, but the rule of thumb is 1:1 soy to vinegar. Throw it in a covered pot (crockpot) and bake 1 hour at 350, or until the chicken is done. The meat falls off the bone, and it's super yummy. You can cook it longer with no ill-effects.

I started drinking my new batch of rootbeer. I made it last weekend, using Hoptech's concentrate #2. Perhaps I did something wrong, but the rootbeer is pretty uninspiring. It doesn't taste bad, it just doesn't taste much like rootbeer. The flavors are all very muted, which allows the flavor of the ale yeast to come through (not a positive thing in my book). Still, it was very satisfying to take a cold bottle of something I made out of the fridge, pop the flip-top off, and drink the lightly carbonated drink in the heat of the day. And this batch has a little bit of head as I added some of the foam enhancing solution.

Mom and dad came down this weekend to help us do more prep work for the path. With their help we dug out almost all of the path (I finished the second patio on Sunday), broke down the little playhouse (t'was infested with termites), planted the front bed, and spread 4 yards of compost-soil mixture. Except for some touch-up digging (to correct the grade), we're done with the digging. We just have some little projects before we start laying gravel. We need to replace the supports for the roof of our deck, bury some hoses for watering, remove a board that used to support the back deck, and relocate a downspout and it's sewer connection.

I figure we dug up around 5 yards of dirt on Saturday, which expands to 7 or 8 when it is loose soil (as opposed to packed earth). What the heck are we going to do with that much soil? Well, it's lying in a big pile in the corner of the yard. Later on we'll use it to level out the back yard, which suffers from a pretty steep slope in one corner. But, that project will have to wait until the fall at the very earliest.

Some time soon, I hope, I'll put up some pics of the progress. Perhaps then, Paul will be able to visualize all the work we've done. He complained that his visualization surely didn't match reality.

I watched the most excellent movie Riding Giants after the long day on Saturday. This has to be one of the best movies I've watched in a long time. I've always been fascinated by surfing, and this flic does an amazing job of showing the history and characters of big-wave surfing. And, of course, the surfing footage just blows you away. I cannot recommend this movie enough - go out and rent it right now, or put it in your NetFlix queue.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Short Ride

I got all gussied up for the Tuesday night sponsored by Cyclotopia.

Again, there were just two other guys riding, Glenn and a guy I'll call Cream-Puff. Glenn is the co-owner of the shop, and Cream-Puff is a guy who is almost always on these rides (named because he rides the Cascade Cream-Puff race, and I can't remember his name).

Unlike last time, these guys were here to ride. Glenn had other duties tonight, so we were just in for a short ride, up the road and down Dan's trail. And it was a fast ride. I averaged 11+ mph for 20 miles, and I'm sure they averaged more because they had to wait for me at all the intersections. My ego-boost for the evening was catching up with a different three-some who were riding up. I passed two of them, the third looked like a frenchman ready to ride the Tour de France.

Going down Dan's I got another ego-boost because I could almost keep up with Cream-Puff - something I've never dreamt of before. The ego crumpled when I learned his front tire had tool low pressure and he had to be careful going around corners so that he wouldn't roll the tire off the wheel. I've ridden with too low pressure in the front, and it's no fun.

No epic ride, just a short one that avoided the rain-storms. But, I got out of the house and rode up to the top of Dimple Hill faster than I've done solo.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Patio Project Day Two

Well, today was day number two.

Again, my ambition was a bit more than my capacity to shovel dirt.

I was able to dig out the rest of the patio area next to the sliding doors. This certainly was the hardest part to dig out. The sprinkler soaked dirt was a bit easier to dig out, but there were still some sections that took a lot of work to chip away 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch of soil. The dirt was so hard that when you did manage to slice off a small chunk, the shovel left a shiny, mirror-like finish on the remaining dirt. This is not your mom's potting soil.

It also happened to rain last night, and rained off and on throughout the day. Not only did that make digging in the mud a little less fun, it also meant that the light and fluffy soil I'd tilled the day before had turned into a very gooey, waffle batter-like layer of sludge.

Long story short, I ended up digging out and carting away over 2 cubic yards of dirt. That's half a 11 foot diameter circle, 4 inches deep. That's over 5000 pounds of soil. I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

I figure the rest of the digging will go much faster because I won't have to deal with the super-hard soil. Hopefully things will dry out a bit so I may have the chance to use the rototiller again.

What does one do with a bunch of extra soil? Mound it up in the corner of the yard that slopes off sharply, right behind the tiny little playhouse we never use. I almost started tearing that thing down, but figured I shouldn't get too distracted. I've already got a pretty big pile of boards and clipped branches that need to be hauled off to the dump - a few more boards wouldn't have mattered.

But, back to the soil, we might need to put a retaining wall in on the south-west corner. For now the dirt will just sit there, unrestrained. Like my appetite for blueberry peach cobbler (yes, I ate the last bit tonight).


New neighbors moved in behind us. The previous couple left 4-6 months ago (he was in the military) and the house has been vacant since then.

The new neighbors look nice enough, they must have a kid because they have a bunch of brightly-colored plastic play things, but I've not seen the rugrat yet. Oh, and I think they must like hasenfeffer because they have a bunny the size of a small beach ball in a cage.

They also broke out the pink flamingos on sticks yesterday. Mary was a bit aghast, though I think she secretly wants them for our front yard. I'm planning a midnight reconnaissance mission sometime soon.

And, crazy lady (CL), from the house to the east, showed up today. She talks a lot and doesn't really listen. Her rose bed is totally overgrown with weeds and the mint is tall enough to hide the aforementioned large rabbit. Evidentially, CL was in an accident when they were in Africa last year. She didn't say what happened, yadda yadda yadda, she was in a wheel chair for many months and just got back on her feet a little while ago.

She came over to see the beginnings of our patio/path plans and talked up a storm. After a few minutes of talking at us, she excused herself and talked all the way back to her house, and began talking at her roses. She's contemplating tearing them all out to put something in that needs less work. Hopefully she doesn't mean more mint.

And, to our west, grandma finally showed up. She'd been gone for 4 months or so, taking care of a new grand child on the east coast. Her husband has been here, all alone, tending to the roses. They do have some of the prettiest roses I've seen in a while. The bushes are nearly exploding with flowers.

To the west of grandma, the empty lot has been getting a little bit of attention. Yesterday, two guys installed a pole with an electrical box, so we may have some new construction going in soon.

We don't really speak to any of our neighbors, as one is crazy, another doesn't speak English, and the third just moved in with the flamingos... I wonder what they think of us.

Patio Project Day One

Yesterday was the first day we really began prepping for the cobblestone path and patio. I'd hoped to get a little further than we did, but I'm often a little more ambitious than realistic.

I got the entire side yard and front path area rototilled. The old rototiller we got from Mary's parents rumbles and bounces around, but it does the job nicely. It's old (old even when Mary's parents got it) 5 horse power machine with tines in the front. Last week, Miles and I debated the virtues of front tine versus rear tine in rototillers. Of course, you couldn't fill a thimble with our combined experience with rototillers, but it was and interesting discussion nonetheless. True to common wisdom, our front-tined rototiller bounces around some and is a little tricky to handle. Luckily, I'm big enough to control it - and I've gotten good enough that I can come within two inches of the house/fence.

Of course, about half-way through it all, the rototiller broke.

Yup, just broke. A set of wheels/pulleys on a single bolt just popped off. Without it, the rototiller wouldn't do anything but make engine noise. Fortunately, for me, the engine still ran (b/c I know nothing about engines). I took a look at the newly liberated parts and saw that the bolt holding them on had worn down like a table leg on a carpenter's lathe. A section about half an inch long was worn down to the diameter of a toothpick.

And, wouldn't you know it, the local hardware store had recently closed down and moved away. So I headed to Philomath to find their hardware store. Walking around a hardware store always makes me feel a little more important and knowledgeable than I am. Guys just belong in hardware stores, so, by association, I'm more manly because I'm in one. Two dollars and ninety-six cents later I walk out with my little bag of bolts and a squeeze bottle of chalk.

Was I able to get the rototiller back together? Yup. It successfully bounced me around the yard for an hour longer.

Then the task of actually digging up the yard began.

Mary and I discussed the size/location of the paths and patios - we're going to have a LOT of area to cover with the cobblestone.

Except for under old deck, and next to the driveway in the front, we won't have to remove more than about 3 or 4 inches of soil.

I started digging away and immediately hit bedrock near the back doors. I couldn't rototill everything under the awning because of a PVC drainage pipe. And the soil there hadn't seen moisture since 1995. And I don't have a pick-axe. After nearly bending my shovel blade I decided to water the area - of course I would have been out there all night if it weren't for Mary's suggestion of using a sprinkler. I shoveled a bit more outside the deck area and found myself spending more and more time "thinking" about how this was all going to work out. After one round of "thinking" I had an actual thought to quit for the night and clean up.

I started the sprinkler (using the handy-dandy timer) and went in for the night.

Now I'm just procrastinating heading back out. The rain has stopped and I actually see blue sky, must be time to work.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Bummer Dude

Chris King moved to Portland, but they're not yet doing factory tours. The nice lady on the phone said they weren't completely moved in yet.

While I'll gladly wait for a factory tour, her excuse that they haven't completely moved in yet seems a little fishy. They moved to Portland in January of 2004, and produced their first part (in Portland) that month. I'm confused how they can be producing products for a year and a half and not be moved in...

CEOs blogging

The CEO of Intel (Paul Otellini) is "blogging" on an internal web page at Intel.

He started last December, and has done one post a month. I guess it's nice that Paul is trying to reach out on a personal level to people, but the whole thing comes off a little stilted. He only posts twice a month, and the layout is horrible.

But, worst of all, there is no RSS feed.

CEO of one of the richest hi-tech companies in the world, and he doesn't have an RSS feed.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

One year anniversary.

I've been posting for a year now. Happy birthday BFW!

What have I been blogging about in the past year? The same old crap.

Broken rear wheels, awesome rides, rants about people at work, etc.

One thing has changed, I'm totally hooked on RSS, and as my second post shows, I didn't know about it when I first started.

Perhaps I'll turn a new leaf this coming year, but I doubt it. I'm pretty predictable.

Tuesday Night Ride

I went on my first Tuesday night ride, hosted by Cyclotopia.

Only two other guys rode, Mike (one of the owners) and a free-spirit named Chris. I'd ridden with Mike before, he and Chris seemed to know each other pretty well. Lucky for me, neither of them were speed demons, so we cruised around Mac forest without killing ourselves.

Total ride time, 2h30min, 22.5 miles. A nice distance, and a nice pace.

Now, the ride itself was most excellent. We rode two trails I'd never heard of, the first was Funnel Cake, which dropped in off one of the dirt roads that passes Extendo. Funnel Cake was nice and windy, with a pretty steep section (about the second steepest dirt trail I've ridden). The trail conditions were perfect tonight - no longer muddy, but not so dry that things turned dusty. The trail ended with a pretty long bomb down a narrow trail - reaching over 20 miles per hour (the end of this reminded me of Newton Road in Forest Park). Very cool.

We then leisurely climbed up some roads, ending near the top of the road we'd originally came in on. Mike pointed out the start of Innuendo, a trail to take down to Extendo - but that was not for tonight. We continued on down the road and hit "Rock Slide". Evidentially, "Rock Slide" is a good winter trail because the rocky trail stays rideable in the winter. It was fast tonight, and I made all the log crossings. This one wound a bit more through small trees, making me very glad I had my sunglasses on to protect my eyes. Another great trail.

We then rode up the path to Upwards and down Extendo - my favorite, readily accessible trail in Mac forest.

Riding with these two guys was good because I definitely got pushed faster than I would have normally ridden. I definitely rode Extendo faster than I have before.

Now I just need to charge my light so that next time I'm prepared for when we stay out past sunset.

All that riding, and I wasn't even completely pooped at the end.

Bling Bling Baby

I got my bling-bling today.

Tooth #15 is now capped with a shiny gold crown. It's far enough back that you can't really see it unless I open my mouth nice and wide, but it's there. Now I can finally floss my darned teeth.