August 2006 Archives

It's a podcast. It's a long podcast. It was actually fun to put together. If you're really not interested in Somalia - stick around past 2:35. The stuff about Somalia is good information, but sort of tangential. Listen to Somalia, College and Snobs [m4a format; iTunes recommended]. Depending on what y'all think of this one, I may or may not do podcasts in the future. Leave comments! (And if you're reading this on LJ, as always, I only see comments on the actual site.)

Creative Goals

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  • Taking 12 credits this semester, rather than my typical 15-20. Sensible. Sane.
  • Teaching two sections of lab. Still sane.
  • Was not hired for the position at the new Apple retail store in town.
Given that my schedule this semester has stabilized into something eminently sane, I should actually have some decompression time. So, I have a few goals for this semester:
  • School: Finish those labs from last semester. For real. All the way.
  • Design: Get the blog redesign project I started done. All the way. It's really mostly done - I just need to convert to templates and make a few more decisions about how to display archives.
  • Photo: Take 100 photos per week. I have a camera which it is reasonable to carry around (the Casio EX-S600EO) with a freaking 2GB SD card; I no longer have any excuse not to go crazy with the taking of pictures.
  • Photo: Enter at least one contest at DPChallenge per month. (Why not use that for inspiration?)
  • Video: Get approved as a video stock contributor at iStockPhoto.
  • Writing: Write a substantial piece of short fiction. I'm not talking about serious "literary fiction" - I'm not even sure I know what that means, actually - I just mean something longer than the look-at-me-we-all-have-ADHD flash fiction I can bang out in a single sitting. A plot would be good. Characters required. I'm thinking 3,000-5,000 words. (I just know that if I can get one done, I'll have loosened up the knotty problem of how to turn my ideas into words.)
  • Music: Finish one of the songs I have started. I've got about six sitting around, each with about half of the lyrics written, an idea of the melody line for those lyrics... then nothing.
I think the overall idea here is very much like throwing spaghetti at a wall; I want to see what sticks. I do a lot of disparate stuff, and seeing what holds my attention when I genuinely have time for it seems like a good idea. ...and then there's the lab thing, which I threw in there as my own personal guilt-trip. Any thoughts? Things I've mentioned to you or that you (knowing me like you do) think I want to be doing this semester that I've left out? Comment!

Open Letters

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Dear Apple, I love my iPod. I didn't realize how much I'd missed it. ...okay, maybe I did. The larger screen is love. Color? Even better. The software for viewing contacts and calendars is much improved. Request: please have a discussion with the person who decided it would be ok to make the middle button completely flat. I am now not only missing a piece of tactile feedback concerning where my finger is on the device, but it is difficult for me to press the button without jogging the touch-wheel. I have moderate-length nails which cause me no difficulty when I type, nor with the multitude of tiny buttons on the other electronics I own. They shouldn't cause problems with the iPod, either. xoxo


Dear Apple, I would very much like to have the iMac I ordered. I understand that you are v. busy and that this product is very popular, however, I would like to note that telling me that my product is going to ship late - and up to two weeks late, at that - the day after it was supposed to ship... well, let's just say I've made that sort of mistake before, and it didn't work out well. Don't worry - I still love you. <3


Dear Casio, Manual appears to be missing from box. Received something manual-like, but only four of the pages are in English; remainder appears to be repeated text in several other languages. Will admit interface is fairly easy to pick up, but you know how methodical physics is making me. Where are the equations? ^_^ P.S. Camera so pretty! Very thin! Must be staying away from the twinkies. Appears to have adopted my wardrobe.


Dear UNO, Some of your computer lab rules appear to be unenforceable; others, not in line with your practices. For an example of the former, see the "offending, intimidating or harassing others is not allowed" rule. There are several people sitting within earshot who could potentially be offending me if I got offended by things like obnoxious laughs, clothing with religiously significant symbols, or the fact that anyone is actually looking for pictures of Lil Jon in a fashion that is not intended to be ironi-- wait, that does offend me. The guy next to me is seriously built, and would intimidate anyone except (perhaps) my sister. I would recommend retooling the language on your signs to be more meaningful. For the latter, look no further than your rule against attaching peripherals, when you have pulled USB extension cables through the holes on the desk explicitly for the purpose of making the attachment of peripherals easier. Perhaps these rules predate the addition of said cables. In this case, I recommend what is called a "revision". That's where you change content that is no longer correct. Helpfully yours, Erica
Buy (or blog!) NewsFire, get Inquisitor Free:
This weekend only, if you buy NewsFire, the most beautiful RSS newsreader on the Mac, you will get a free license for Inquisitor, the instant search extension for Safari that makes searching the web just like using Spotlight. Together, these two programs will transform your internet experience. This is a rare opportunity to get two top-notch applications for the price of one (saving 25%). Don't procrastinate - you only have two days! (Alternately, do you publish a blog? Write about this and I'll send you an Inquisitor license as thanks! Just be sure to email me with the details.)
No kidding. NewsFire is the RSS reader I use, and I recommend it without reservation anyway. If you're on a Mac and you don't use it, grab it now.
1. My mail is b0rked. This is something with the server. I don't know what. Send email to my first name (dot) my last name (plus sign) sperari (at) that domain Google has for mail. If you're missing any of this information, it's around on the site. If you can't work it out and you have a different address, give it a couple days, then try the address you have. 2. For those of you I haven't told, I had an interview Tuesday with Apple for a position at the retail store they're opening up out Village Pointe. They called today; I did not get the job. 3. Immediately after hanging up the phone after the phone call from the very nice lady at Apple who told me they'd chosen not to hire me, I got a link to an article telling me how miserable my life as a scientist is destined to be. Sam is currently working full-time and going to school part-time in order that I might be able to finish my degree sooner; I've recently been feeling rather insecure about the prospects of my being able to provide for us as well as he's able to. I'm simply not certain that my skills and physics degree will be marketable. I'm vaguely terrified that they won't be. Needless to say, the article (which makes a dozen or so of its ilk I've read) could have come my way at a more opportune time. 4. Sam and I have put in our orders for our tricked-out iMacs, complete with the discounted iPods. 5. I somehow torqued my shoulder earlier today, and it's extraordinarily painful. I'm hoping I can manage to get some sleep tonight. This is not an exhaustive list of everything on my mind, right now, but if you add it all together, it provides a decent picture of how today has colored my mood and my current reactions to ongoing foo. It also explains why I feel very much like being in bed. Good night.
At some point last year, Sam and I realized that spending more time together (which we want to do) isn't going to happen if it means doing stuff we don't enjoy much (ick). Fortunately, we both realized that we have stuff that we want to be doing that intersects at least one of the areas the other likes to do already. For example, I have some programming stuff I want to learn and work on, so we picked up these books to get me started:

So, we'll be working on that. We're also going to be getting Sam a camera, as he has an unexplored interest in photography. Here's the package we're looking at:

"Nikon D70S 6.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)" (Nikon)

"Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6G AF Nikkor SLR Camera Lens" (Nikon)

"Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X Pro DX AF Wide Angle Lens for Nikon Digital Cameras" (Tokina)

This is going to be utterly the yay. I can't wait to start working with him.

For a Grade

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Summer semester has been interesting. I've had a little time off, which has been helpful, but I haven't been idle; I taught a credit and a half of physics labs (about 50 in-class hours, plus 30 or so for grading, spread over four four-day weeks), did summer camp counseling (90 hours, spread over two weeks), and took two online courses through Metro. That's just the stuff that actually gets assigned hours; I've also started work on a couple of software projects, worked on a variety of graphic design projects (one of which you'll be seeing, shortly), wrote quite a bit, and spent time cultivating my relationships with friends, both meatspace and internet-based. Nothing I've done this summer has driven me battier than the online courses, though. I wanted to get these two courses - Black History and Human Geography - out of the way as cheaply and quickly as possible (one for lack of interest, and the other by way of protest); summer session online seemed the way to go. Human Geography has been a lot of inane things I already knew. Where people are, why people migrate, what people grow, geographic factors leading to success or failure, etc. The professor, while I'm sure he's very nice, has asked some of the most terribly slanted questions for homework I've ever seen. It's not nearly as bad as Black History, though. The questions in there, while nowhere near the repugnance level of some of the material in the Native American Religion class I tried to take to fill the diversity requirement (did you know that white women are perpetuating genocide by taking interest in Native American spirituality?), have frequently been of the "When did you stop beating your wife?" variety. I skipped one week of homework, half because I was ill, and half because I couldn't summon the self-loathing required to write the page-long essay on one of the two topics given. Even when they're not bad enough to skip, they're still awful:
  1. Analyze Jesse Jackson's presidential qualities. Would he make a good president? Why or why not?
  2. Do Black entertainers and sports figures have a responsibility to the Black community? If so, what?
  3. How does the Maya Angelou phrase "on the pulse of morning" describe African Americans in the 1990's?
  4. Analyze the most critical issues facing African American communities today. Why did you choose those issues? What can be done to address them?
  5. Write an essay comparing hip-hop music to the beginning days of Rock and Roll. Use plenty of web links to illustrate song comparisons.
I'm going to be answering the second one, as I have some things to say about the black - pardon me, Black community - but I was sorely tempted to skip this one, too. I'll post it here, too, if there's interest.

Feed Me

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I use a fantastic RSS reader, NewsFire, to read most of the blogs and webcomics I bother with. I was starting to get to the point where I was having to choose between reading Livejournal friends (the compulsive friends page refresh does take time) and getting anything else done - much less, you know, reading anything else. Now all my LJ people are safely programmed to beep at me when there's something new and exciting going on, even if it's friends-only. (There's a way to authorize within the news reader. 's good.) I can keep up and still get stuff done. This is the appeal of the RSS reader, and RSS feeds in general. RSS feeds are not without detractors, though, particularly in the web comic field. The Order of the Stick creator Rich rejected RSS a couple of years ago based on the fact that seeing his comics in an RSS reader allowed fans to circumvent the website and the advertisements for stuff that let him get paid, even though RSS feeds can include those same ads. Tatsuya Ishida has never commented on RSS (that I've been able to find using my Awesome Google Powers, at least), but I still have to get Sinfest through an illicit feed. Meanwhile, comics like Penny Arcade and Piled Higher and Deeper opt for no-comic RSS feeds, in which the reader is told there is a new comic, but the comic itself must be viewed on the (linked) website. They're encouraged by syndication sites like Comic Alert, who says that linking to the image directly hurts artists and publishers. Listen - I'm all for comic creators getting paid. If your work is good, that'll happen, though - and I'll bet it happens more with RSS than otherwise, even without ads in your RSS feeds. People reading your comics through RSS reduce your bandwidth expenses, for one. People reading through RSS read every day, reliably, getting hooked on those tough long-term plot arcs - that's two. A good, hooked reader is twice as likely to go to your site on their very own just to seek out that merchandise you're so desperate to sell. And at the end of the day? If you're not totally annoying about it (read: flashing, shoot-the-monkey-win-an-iPod ads), an ad or two at the bottom of your RSS feed would not be objectionable. The bottom line is that I don't have the time to click through and read every one of the 37 sites (including 7 web comics*) I read in a separate window. If they aren't published in a way that makes them convenient for me to read - i.e., with full content - I'm unlikely to continue doing so. (Mitigating factors exist, such as friendship.) So come on. Give me the comic, or the whole article, in your RSS feed. If there's something else you've just got to put in there - ads, disclaimers, whatever - do it, but do it already. Alright? Otherwise, you've lost a reader. * It seems sort of awful to link to all of these comics that are doing things I don't like, while not linking to ones that do - especially since, in the age of Google, a link is almost a vote. The web comics I read are: Dinosaur Comics, PVP Online, Questionable Content, Savage Chickens, Sinfest, Toothpaste for Dinner, and XKCD. Read them. They're good.
Visualize a sheet made of rubber, stretched tightly in all directions - flat, smooth, essentially featureless. Now imagine a heavy sphere, like a marble, placed on the sheet. Imagine the smooth, uniform, gradual depression in the sheet, the gentle curve in the material. Juggling this set of images, now add another: another marble, shooting across the surface of the sheet, leaving its own impression on the surface as it moves across. See in your mind this second sphere roll close to the first - just glancing off the very edge of the transformed sheet. Replay this in your head, sending the second marble closer and closer to the first, until the second marble can no longer escape the impression of the first, instead finding a circular path about the first. If in your head, you can conceptually extrapolate this image into three dimensions, you will have a vague picture of our current understanding of gravity; the marbles are massive bodies, like stars and planets, and the sheet is a two-dimensional slice of space-time. Gravity, as we understand it, is a distortion in space-time caused by these massive bodies. A conceptual framework like this is not necessarily a practical or necessary framework for everyday use, though. Einstein's elegant space-time distortion is still taught years after students learn the Newtonian model, because while Newton's model has the fundamental failing that it says nothing about what gravity actually is, it does give a simple mathematical framework for calculating the effects two bodies will have on each other as they pass. The formula essentially says that the magnitude of the gravitational force between two objects is proportional to the mass of both objects, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance they are from each other. The effect is a function of two quantities - the masses - and distance. Both models of gravity tell us that two masses at a sufficient distance from each other will have essentially no effect on each other. They have very little way, even supposing a sudden dose of sentience, of determining that the other even exists. The events required to make these two bodies aware of each other are simple, straightforward, and yet desperately unlikely. The two masses must simply travel close enough to each other to move through the other's sphere of distortion, or sphere of influence. For an orbit to exist, the two must travel close enough for one to become trapped in the circling path about the other. For an orbit to be broken, some external force, strong enough to overcome the distortion, the mutual attraction, must push one object at an appropriate angle, such that it is not simply immediately recaught in a circular path about the first. And if that should happen, freely moving through essentially empty space, the two semi-sentient objects should eventually move out of range such that they are essentially where they began - without knowing that the other truly exists; out of influence range, out of touch. Think about that for a moment. Every single day that we make a phone call, or jump on one of these magic internet boxes, or watch a television show from the other side of the world, we violate in a limited, human way one of the most elegant laws of the universe. When we write a letter, we confirm the continued existence of our mass with one a thousand time smaller than ours. To be human is to have incredible power; the simple facts of our memory and indomitable will allow us to continuously confirm that which we have seen - that which has frightened us, that which inspires us, that which we reject, and most importantly, that which we love. Distance does not equal absence. (Cross-posted from All Write Already. Also, credit is owed to Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe for a good deal of the visualization/metaphor for the physics bits.)
Go watch today's "the show": it's poignant, insightful, and it starts its morning with a bowl of Sugar Tits.
Sam and I, after much waffling this evening, decided to visit Firebirds for dinner. Sam and Jess recently had dinner there, and both seemed very pleased with the place. Which is great; at the price point, you should expect excellence. Firebirds lists prices for dinner as in the $12.95-$23.95 range. Our typical dinner out tops out at the bottom of that range, unless we're having top-dollar items (steaks, seafood), in which case we get into the $18 range sometimes (though I'll note that you can get a damned good steak around Omaha for $12.95 - you just have to know where to look). Seating and Service We were seated promptly upon arrival, though it became apparent after a minute or two at our table that our waiter wasn't notified that we were his very promptly; he seemed surprised that he was going to be serving us. He did take our drink orders quickly and deliver them as quickly. When he returned to take our order, the one concern I had was that he seemed put off that we were ordering non-appetizer items to share. I can chalk this up to imagination; the service we received was otherwise unremarkable, but also unobjectionable. Food For our appetizer, we selected the Lobster Spinach Queso at about $9. The claim:
A spicy blend of lobster, baby spinach, wood smoked tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese. Fired in our ovens, then topped with a chunky pico de gallo salsa made from scratch in our kitchen. Served with tri-colored tortilla chips.
The reality? First of all, it was not spicy in the least; the cheese was rather unfortunately more suggestive of melted Velveeta than pepper jack - perhaps a side effect of the other ingredients. (Velveeta has its place; it is not in a $9 appetizer. I'm not saying that's what they used, either - just that the flavor spoke nothing of the pepper jack cheese they claimed to have used.) The spinach merely seemed to make the cheese come out in stringy clumps, rather than adding real flavor. (Similarly, I've seen spinach used effectively in dips - just not here.) The lobster was fine, but as I'm not crazy about lobster, it seemed like an expensive ingredient put in a $3 dish to justify a $9 price. Speaking of which, it was a $9 appetizer; I understand that the menu clearly says that it's served with tortilla chips, but I think this is a serious mistake. Bring me some veggies or some thin-sliced, toasted bread - you pick what kind. (Joey's Seafood & Grill gets this exactly right with their Crab & Artichoke dip at a buck or two cheaper - charbroiled garlic toast, yum.) Moving on, we then split a Caesar salad (about $6). The claim:
With shaved Reggiano cheese and chile dusted croutons.
Reality: It did, in fact, have those ingredients, and others - though if the croutons were chile-dusted or not, I couldn't tell. Overall, it tasted like a Caesar salad I could easily make at home with one of those Caesar salad kits - even the dressing tasted like it was straight from a packet. Come on, guys. Surprise me. Astound me. Make your salad dressing in-house - it tastes better, and for $6, you'd better do that or put something more substantial on my salad than a single cheese shaving and some (maybe) chile-dusted croutons. I'm talking protein here, guys. Meat. Do it. Or don't, and sell the salad for a couple bucks less. Finally, the steak - a 14 oz. New York Strip at about $23. We elected to get an extra potato and split this, as well. The claim:
14 oz. hand-cut aged Black Angus strip steak trimmed extra lean, lightly seasoned and wood grilled. Served with a loaded Colorado Russet baked potato or seasoned steak fries.
Reality: Oh, boy. Where do I start? First of all, I was not at all impressed with the cut of meat we got. Not only was it not trimmed extra lean, it was easily the fattiest strip I've had in memory - not the melty, edible "flavor fat", either - gristly, tough, flavorless fat. (This is my favorite cut of steak; I'd say I put down two a month, on average, so I know my strips.) It was also the least tender I've had in memory, and the least juicy. I order my steaks medium rare, unless I know something about the place (like a tendency to under- or overcook them). It came out with the right colors - a warm red center, uniformly brown on the outside - so they were cooked right, which leaves me puzzled. Why didn't a nice, thick, aged Angus strip, cooked medium rare, leave my plate a juicy (but delicious) mess? The other unfortunate bit is that it was delivered to me lukewarm on the outside. The only times my steak should ever be served to me less than hot on the outside are if I order it rare, or if I paid $8 at a crappy diner. In both cases, they should both be considerably warmer than this one was. What was right about the steak? Well - it was cooked to the right level of done-ness. Also, the parts I could chew had an incredible flavor - my compliments to whomever seasoned it. I ate approximately four ounces of the seven ounce half steak on my plate. The potato was fine; I can't comment much on it, as I was already full from the other items and could only eat a few bites. All in all, the food was alright. Good, even, at a certain price point. Our bill came back at about $45 for two drinks (a soda and an iced tea) and the appetizer, salad, steak meal and the extra potato. That's steep for food that's alright - it's even steep for good food. My recommendation is to give Firebirds a pass. If you want to go out for a good steak, skip the dressing up and go to Texas Roadhouse. They've got a killer 12 ounce Kansas City Strip that I'd pay $23 for any day - and it'll only set you back $15. (And try the top shelf margarita with Patron Anejo, too. Best. Margarita. Ever. ...tied with Sam's.)

Originally uploaded by Erica Tesla.
Sam took a handful of photos of me after karaoke tonight - this is by far the best. It is, in fact, the best picture of me taken by anyone, ever. Thank you, Sam.

Yes, we do in fact go to karaoke. On a fairly regular basis, even. I did (Fiona Apple - Fast as You Can) and (RENT - Out Tonight); Fast as You Can is the first song I ever sang at karaoke, several years ago at Buffalo Wild Wings, and I don't think it's my best. Out Tonight would be better if I'd learn one of the bridge-y part melodies a bit better, but the style is much, much more in line with my vocal abilities.

Is it notable that this photo was after a Starburst and two Starbucks-and-milks? If ever there was a drink that could turn me into an alcoholic, coffee liquer and milk would be it. It's just... comfy, and tasty. Yum.

(I'm not an alcoholic, as it were; I spread my alcohol consumption out over many hours, drink about twice a month, and only drink stuff that tastes good, rarely managing to catch a buzz. I never got the drink-to-get-drunk thing. And I still make sure I have a designated driver. Take notes, kiddies.)

Now, to do some homework and get some sleep.
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