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Highways

Monday, October 1st, 2012

So I’m picking up apples. The old tree, the centerpiece of my yard, had produced a small number of mature apples for the first time in a very long time. This was probably because I’d watered that side of the yard before they banned sprinkling this year. I decided to take a break. I sat down under the old apple tree, sweat sliding down my forehead. I looked down. The hose I had used to attempt to keep my plants from desiccating in the summer heat snaked through the grass in front of me. Upon it, ants weaved to and fro avoiding the long trek through the jungle of grass which would otherwise be their path. I had a moment where I considered the intelligence of these insects and their use of the hose as sort of a superhighway and then it hit me.

squirrel highway in the sky

No, it really hit me. An apple had dislodged from the tree. As if it had been guided by the most perfect aim of a human hand, it landed squarely on the crown of my head. I was stunned.  I saw stars.  Far from considering Newton’s laws, the first thought which crossed my mind was only an idiot would sit under an apple tree that was dropping apples.

I thought of this place. This is a view from Google maps. It’s not easy to tell what you are looking at. It’s a metal pipe. As I recall it was about six feet in diameter and at its highest point over the water it was about twenty feet down.

the pipe

It’s not far from the place I spent my “Harry Potter” years. My parents moved there when I was eleven and until I moved away for college I spend countless hours in the swamp surrounding this area. This shot was taken in the winter and it must have rained a lot. This image gives you no impression of how lush the swamp was. It was filled with marsh marigold and smelled of skunk cabbage. There were reeds that made perfect spears. Not the kind that would do damage but the kind young boys would spend hours hurling at each other because they might as well been made of Nerf. I must have crossed the pipe hundreds of times. At first it seemed scary. Measuring it now it appears to be at least 160 feet long. All I knew then was once you were about halfway it seemed like you were a long way from anything to hang onto. It’s funny how later on we used to run across it. There was probably a good 12 inch “path” on top where you could get good footing without sliding. I vaguely remember one of my crazy neighbors riding a bike across at one point. I only fell off of it once. It was a very windy day. I was leaning into it and then it suddenly stopped. I readjusted my balance only to feel another large blast and I realized I was going over. I landed on my feet though and had I not sunk a good foot into the muck I imagine I might not have walked away from the fall.

Looking at it on Google, there is a house in what used to big a large open field on the other side. In the early summer I can remember spending hours picking and eating small wild strawberries from one end of the field to the other. They were sweet and busting with flavor unlike the seedy tasteless variety that grow where I live now. Later it was in that field I experienced what I consider to be my first ‘real’ kiss.

I have an iPhone I used when we wrote our game but I also have a Samsung Galaxy S2 which I use as my phone. I find it surprising one of the things I enjoy about it the most is sitting outside this summer listening to audio books. Recently my wife and I were out in the back yard late in the evening listening to Ready Player One written by Ernest Cline and narrated by Wil Wheaton. In these times where everyone is so involved in copyright legal issues, it struck me how you could write a book like that and not have to worry about it but if you tried to make an actual implementation of the OASIS much less a movie of it, it would be nearly impossible. The book is completely full of references to copyrighted material.

Anyway, it got pretty cool out. I ran a long extension cord out into the yard and we plugged in some electric throws to keep warm. It got pretty dark. When we decided to go inside I picked up the extension cord and commented to my wife how cold and slimy it was. As we got up toward the garage and into the light I realized the extension cord was covered in slugs and my hands were covered in slug slime. The slugs had found the electric superhighway through my yard.

Oh, I almost forgot. Something to make you say awww…

Smart Machines

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I was watching this TED talk today on machine intelligence.

It always strikes me how people say the singularity or omega as he calls it, is twenty or thirty years out.  I guess I should point out, that is when machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence (in case you didn’t watch the video). As he mentions, no politician is talking about it.  However, I think the impact will come much sooner. It got me thinking about the Jeopardy where the computer ‘Watson’ competed.

When I was looking for that video, I ran across this explanation of the really big mistake Watson made. Yesterday we were sitting outside after going to the vet to get more fluids for our cat, (giving them has gone very smoothly so far in case you were wondering). I said to my wife “Did we remember to get the needles?” She said “Noodles?” It was totally out of context, of course, as we weren’t talking about the vet or the cat. Anyway, humans do this too and machine intelligence has already progressed to the point where most of us could be replaced it’s just a matter of it being more cost effective.

Writing a game for Androids and iPhones really makes me think how odd it is that suddenly everyone is walking around with a supercomputer in their pocket. BashTheBankers wasn’t really the game I wanted to write. It was a game I felt I could write given the resources at my disposal. I think it’s a fun game but I haven’t yet published a free (advertising supported) version and there is so much free stuff out there. It’s hard to get noticed no matter what you do. If you have never seen kickstarter it is a site where people crowd source their projects. I suppose in hindsight I realized if you can’t get a large number of people excited and funding your project there, you might as well come up with another idea because people are not going to see your game unless there is some internet buzz about it.

Speaking of kickstarter I thought this was funny. [Edit] Oh well, it appears that link no longer works. It was a kickstarter project to buy kickstarter; maybe they didn’t think it was funny.

And, finally something to make you say awww…

 

The reading equivalent to an optical illusion

Monday, February 6th, 2012

from Matt

I’m Back

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Just a short post testing to see if everything works after the upgrades and such. Stay tuned for a real post soon.
J

What Happened

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

I’ve had a number of emails asking if I had stopped writing this blog. I really never meant to stop. It’s just that spring came and in addition to all the normal things to do like putting in a garden, everything around here started breaking. I mean my lawn mower, refrigerator, garage door, and computer just to name a few. Also, I’m getting a lot of web design work. Anyway, since people have been asking I thought I would say I’m still here but since the frost is coming, I have a lot of things I need to do before we squeeze a ton of houseplants in here. I’m probably not going to get back to writing at least for a few weeks yet. You might check back and hopefully see something then. I don’t know if I will get the chance but I was also hoping to do a site re-design based on some of the things I have learned or at least fix some of the things I have learned to fix which appear differently depending on your browser.

So, check back in a while and thanks for the nice emails and comments.

J

The Death of a Companion

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Amy 1991 - 2008
Amy 1991 – 2008

I know a lot of animal lovers read my blog. Among other things, I put up a lot of cute animal pictures and funny animal stories. I generally choose to try to write about positive things. However, the following story is a sad, sometimes graphic description of our recent loss of one of our cats. At the same time, it is a celebration of the joy and companionship living with an animal can bring to your life including the challenges. I just felt I should warn you.

If you don’t want to be sad, just look at the pictures.

Click here to go on.

The HHR

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

“Is it a toy car?” he asked. It was a reasonable question. The guy responsible for selling us an extended warranty for our new car had just asked us how many miles a year we would be driving it. I told him probably less than 9000 miles a year. We just don’t drive much. So the idea of buying a brand new car was probably not practical. On a typical day it just sits in the driveway depreciating. How we got there was a long process.

It started when my wife was going to Denver for training. We owned two old Chevys. They were both 1991 models which had gotten to the point where they weren’t very dependable. I had discovered by accident one day the door keys would open either one of them. My van had over 235,000 miles on it. I wanted something dependable to drive while I went car shopping and decided to rent one. I called Enterprise and explained to Travis I needed something with a lot of legroom. I had met Travis before when my wife rented a car and I knew he was not as tall as I am but still a fairly tall guy. He set me up with a 2008 Chevy HHR.

It turns out my problem with cars is not so much legroom as it is the distance between my knee and the steering wheel when my foot is on the brake. Really, it’s when I move to the brake because if my knee hits the steering wheel on the way it could prevent me from stopping quickly. We were looking for a car I could fit in, we could afford, and something which got reasonable gas mileage.

I must have tried on 50 cars. The Scion, a really boxy looking vehicle, has a lot of leg room on paper but I only had to sit in one for a second to realize I couldn’t drive it. I even sat in a Pontiac with a telescoping steering wheel and adjustable pedals only to realize it was designed to accommodate shorter drivers not taller ones. Sometime in the last 17 years that extra couple inches I needed had been designed out of pretty much every vehicle out there. There was one exception. I fit quite comfortably in a Nissan Maxima that had a telescoping steering wheel which moved well away from my knee. The problem was it had a lot of miles on it and was expensive, about $20,000.

At that point, we began to focus on the Chevy HHR. We looked at a 2006 in a nearby town. The salesman offered us a good price on it. In hindsight, we probably should have just gone for it. It had a few dings and a rather strange orange stain on the carpet. 2006 was the first year the HHRs were manufactured. Starting the following year Chevrolet upped the drive train warranty from 60 thousand to 100 thousand miles. I had replaced the transmission on my van but it was well over 100 thousand miles so it really wasn’t much of a gamble for Chevy to do that.

One thing I was interested in was the enhanced safety package. HHRs come with just about everything standard. Air conditioning, power windows and locks, most of the things that used to be optional come with it. We drove a good distance to look at a 2007 which had the side and curtain air bags just to find out it had been sold the night before. I think the turning point came when we looked at a 2008 with 18,000 miles on it. After taking it for a test drive and waiting through the whole sales process the guy offered us $250 off the price listed on the internet about $18,000. At that point we decided to see how much a brand new one would cost.

It turns out because my wife works for a GM supplier, we get a discount. Currently GM is now offering everyone GM worker prices which would have been a little cheaper. One thing about it is it is like buying at Carmax where there is no negotiating. They just take the price of the car and knock it down a prescribed amount. HHRs are not very expensive to begin with.

Chevy HHR under $20,000

Chevy HHR under $20,000

I thought because we were buying a new one, it would be relatively easy to get one with only the options we wanted. Not so, because it is the end of the model year there aren’t that many out there. You may have heard Chevy is having a hard time selling cars but it turns out this particular one is enormously popular. Chevy calls it an SUV but it gets pretty good mileage. The E.P.A. rates the car at 20 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. I’ve been driving one for about two months now and my average mileage is 28 mpg but I tend to drive like a little old lady because I’m used to my van.

We went to a local dealership where we met a woman named Lane Kessel. Lane spent days trying to locate a HHR with the options we wanted. The HHR comes in a panel model, a turbo charged model, and an LS or LT trim. We had been looking at LTs. The main difference between an LT and LS is the power seat and the radio. There was some debate as to whether the manual seat might go back an extra inch or so due to the lack of a motor. I wanted the airbags. Actually because of my height, the airbags would probably injure me more than help me from what I have read but I wanted them for my wife.

The interior

The interior

One thing I liked about Lane besides the fact she spent so much time trying to find us the vehicle we wanted was she had a degree in chemical engineering. At my age, being stuck in the mid-west with a lot of technical college degrees, I probably should sell cars too. After about a week Lane found one 250 miles away which was close to the car we wanted.

One thing I found amusing was there is a salesman at that dealership named Max Price. The head of the repair department is named David Banner so even though I laughed, I refrained from making any Incredible Hulk jokes. I’m sure he has heard them all.

Most of you are probably driving cars built this century so a lot of the things I find odd about it you are probably used to. It locks and unlocks my doors for me and turns on the headlights. The radio stays on when you turn off the car and you can use the windows until you open the door. I guess the one thing I would really like it to do for me is drive.

The HHR we ended up buying had a number of options I probably wouldn’t have bothered with but the rebates pretty much covered the cost of them. It has the chrome trim package and running boards. They do enhance the look but I joked my van has the chrome trim, it wasn’t an option, that’s just the way they built them back then. The car has a retro look and I suppose the chrome and running boards go with that.

One of the things I do when people look at the car is start it with the remote. Chevy has really learned from competing with the Japanese to not offer too many variations on the cars to save cost. If you get an automatic transmission the remote start comes with it. Actually I did consider a Honda or a Toyota but aside from the fact I couldn’t fit in them, they are considerably more expensive. The HHR gets good mileage, offers more room, seems really solid, and doesn’t cost much. They also seem to hold their value as used ones were not that cheap.

OnStar built into the mirror

OnStar built into the mirror

The car comes with OnStar so it has its own phone number. It Emails me once a month to tell me how it’s doing. One thing I don’t like about the OnStar is they put it at the bottom of the rear view mirror. I normally have raised the rear view mirror on my cars so it doesn’t block my view to the right. With the wiring for the compass and OnStar I can’t do this on this car. They could have put it on the top of the mirror and I don’t think it would have bothered shorter drivers. Using the phone is a little odd because you feel like you are talking to your radio. The car also has rather wide window pillars. They also block your view to the sides.

The HHR has wide window pillars

The HHR has wide window pillars

The information display in the car tells you the instantaneous mileage, average mileage, tire pressure, oil life, coolant temperature, outside temperature, and has a couple trip meters. I used to have a car with a trip computer and I get a kick when I’m coasting and it says I’m getting 99 mpg. That’s one thing about driving it I’m still getting used to. When you take your foot off the gas it just goes and goes. I have to learn to start coasting a lot farther back when I have to stop.

The storage space in the HHR

The storage space in the HHR

The car is somewhat versatile. You can fold down the back seats. We have taken it camping and after having a van it seems small. We got the roof rails so I need to get a car top carrier for it.

A strange icon

A strange icon

I found this icon in the back. Having designed a lot of icons in my time, I know it’s difficult but if this was on a boat, it would mean something completely different.

It’s a nice car and it’s nice to drive something new. I miss my old van though. I really thought it would make it to a quarter million miles.

Oh, and here is your funny cat picture. It’s my Maggie who passed away in the spring a year ago.

Life in the gutter isnt so bad

Life in the gutter isn't so bad

Comments

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

O.K. I’ve installed a tool which is designed to prevent automated spamming in my comments. I have re-enabled commenting on the blog. We shall see how it does. Some posts may still have commenting turned off because I did it on individual posts before it got so bad I had to do something more sophisticated.

Click on the ‘No Comments’ or ‘Comments’ link below any post to leave a comment.

Hope to hear from real people!

Busy, Busy, Busy

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Hey, sorry I haven’t had time to post. I’m off to check out yet another car. Just thought I’d take a second to link you with to this little gem.

Lady spins on an escalator.

I can’t believe it never occurred to me to do that.

Whoops!

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

I started writing a post and then my wife called. She is out of town on business and happened to view my site using Internet Explorer. I normally use Firefox. I knew Explorer did not render my page exactly as I intended but when I had checked it, the differences were marginal. Now I find the links do not look any different than the regular text unless you mouse over them. My apologies to the readers who use that browser. I was about to post but I spent the day in the garden and I’m starving from the exercise.

I’m off to find some food and hopefully will get the problem fixed and write a post later on.

You can download Firefox for free by clicking HERE.