Monday, December 29, 2008

getting started?

I have a fear that I’m going to break my neck, or suffer from some other really bad injury if I attempt a headstand. This is why I’ve delayed attempting this goal. However, that fear may be irrational. So I’m going to take a stab at this, and go very slowly.

I also want to be able to do a handstand, which seems easier than a headstand to me. I found a website that recommended working your way from a headstand into a handstand, so perhaps the latter is more difficult. In any case, they suggested to get started by placing your hands on the ground next to a wall and stepping up the wall with your feet.

This evening, I did this with my face to the wall, and got to about a 45 degree angle. Then I rested there for about 30 seconds, and came back down.

I’ll try doing this on a daily basis. The idea is to get my nervous system to adjust to balancing in this way, and to test my upper body strength. I lift weights for strength training, but I don’t lift anywhere near my bodyweight over my head. I also have had some minor shoulder injuries. I don’t want to make those flare up, so I will proceed cautiously.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A story about "My French Coach"

by Ubisoft

I’ve been using My French Coach for two days and I’m already up to the rank of “First Grader”. I think I’m progressing so fast because I wasn’t ranked correctly in the first place. I also think it’s too easy to progress. For example, I might be exposed to a word ten times in various games, and then I’m assumed to have “mastered” the word. In fact, that’s not really the case. I may be able to pick the correct translation in a multiple choice quiz, but if I were asked to translate the word without any hints, I might be unable to. And if I did get it right, I might still get the spelling incorrect.

Despite that, I’ve spent at least 4 hours over the last couple of days playing with the gadget. So far as motivation goes, it seems to be working.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

finished The Traveller (rated 5 stars)

by John Twelve Hawks

I was only slightly disappointed when I finished The Traveller. I felt like the book was wandering a little bit towards the end, but maybe that’s my own fault for not reading it straight through. Regardless, I’m eager to get started on book two, The Dark River.

A story about "My French Coach"

by Ubisoft

I got a Nintendo DS for Christmas, along with Ubisoft’s My French Coach.

When initializing, the game tests you to start you at the correct level. I started at level 10, which sounds great! But they give that level a rank of “Pre-Schooler”. Oops!

I didn’t read the manual before starting, but jumped right in. I give the game kudos for how easy it was to start.

The software consists of learning modules and game modules. Mostly, I’ve been playing four games: word search (hunt for French words in a square matrix of letters); a whack-a-mole style game where you bop the critters holding the French word that matches the English word you are hunting; a multiple choice quiz game where you’re given an English word and a set of four French words to match it with; and a similar word match game called “Flash Cards” which isn’t really flash cards. In the Flash Cards game, you are given a French word, sometimes spoken and sometimes written, and then given a choice of four English words with which to match it. So the multiple choice game and the flash card game are similar, but differ in which direction you are translating to/from.

Will I become fluent in French by playing this game? I do not think so. However, I have found that my motivation in studying French is sporadic at best. In contrast, I know that I can obsessively play video games for hours. So much so, that I have stayed away from video games for many years, since I tend to be unable to play them in moderation. And indeed, in the last 24 hours of possessing this game, I’ve played it for about two hours.

My hope is that this will be a good motivational tool, to drive me to pick up my French text books more often. I think the interactivity will help in keeping me interested. Time will tell.

I have to be wary of the temptation to buy a “real” video game module for my new Nintendo DS. One of my nieces was playing MarioKart on her Nintendo, and I asked her to show it to me. It was quite a lot of fun! I can see myself ejecting “My French Coach” in favor of a mindless video game and never coming back to it. Maybe I could play just for a little while…

removing SBC Self Support Tool

A year ago I was using SBC/Yahoo high speed internet. That service was fine, but when I moved, it was unavailable in my area. So I switched to Verizon.

I never cleaned up all the stuff that SBC/Yahoo installed on my PC. This morning, I found a directory called "C:\Program Files\SBC Self Support Tool". In that directory was a program called "Uninstall.exe". When I ran that, a dialog box popped up, telling me to use "Control Panel" > "Add or Remove Programs" to uninstall. But the Control Panel did not show any sign of the SBC Self Support Tool.

I did an internet search and found a suggestion to use Windows Live Safety Center Cleanup. I went to their site, and found myself facing a T&C form, scratched my head about that, and surfed away to look for another suggestion. Fortunately, I found Todd George's instructions. The Uninstall.exe program requires the argument "SBC". So I ran it like this:

C:\>"C:\Program Files\SBC Self Support Tool\Uninstall.exe" SBC

and it worked. A dialog popped up telling me the uninstall was in progress. At some point I got another dialog telling me to shut down all browsers, which I did. I also got another message telling me

Uninstall was unable to remove the following folder -

C:\Program Files\SBC Self Support Tool\SmartBridge

Please delete it manually after Uninstall is finished.

After the uninstall was complete, I found that the "SBC Self Support Tool" directory was not completely empty. There's still a subdirectory called "MFSS" which seems to contain an html manual for the internet service, support tool, etc. I don't mind deleting that... the SmartBridge directory has a dll file called SBHook.dll. Maybe I'll just leave it there.

it really is "a wonderful life" (rated 5 stars)

by George Cukor

I first watched Holiday many years ago, and since then it’s my favorite Christmas film. It’s a simple romantic comedy starring two greats, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. But its message is resounding: money is a means to an end, and nothing more. On top of that, Holiday is bursting with cheer. It always amazes me that It’s a Wonderful Life, which is so dreary and depressing, enjoys such success in contrast.

Friday, December 26, 2008

oh... too many cookies

My sister made Christmas cookies. They were good, but I went overboard.
Posted by Picasa

Tank seventy

Total miles: 25526. Trip miles: 363.8. Gallons: 7.327. Price per gallon: $1.639.

Screen mileage: 53.0 mpg. Tank mileage: 49.7 mpg.

Two long highway trips. Not bad for winter driving!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tank sixty-nine

Total miles: 25162. Trip miles: 110.7. Gallons: 2.945. Price per gallon: $1.639.

Screen mileage: 37.1 mpg. Tank mileage: 37.6 mpg.

I tanked up early, since I was going on a long trip.

All of these miles were short commutes. There were a few days when a thick layer of ice had accumulated on the windshield, and I had to sit with the engine running, waiting for the ice to melt. This accounts for the relatively bad mileage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

over 220K

I did over 220K meters for the Holiday Challenge this year, amounting to just over $7 for Conservation International. I sputtered out today, since I went to a friend's house for dinner, which left me no time for rowing.

It was very motivating that my meters went towards a contribution to a charity. Usually I stop at exactly 200K and collapse in a weak puddle of sweat for a few days. If I have time I'll do a few more km in the morning...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

switched to digital television

I delayed as long as possible getting a converter box for my 10-year-old television set. But a few months ago, I finally applied for the coupon.

Getting the coupon itself was an adventure. When I applied, I was refused; they claimed I had gotten a coupon already. Not so! I had moved into my current apartment in May. I figured the previous resident must have applied for the coupons, and a simple appeal explaining the situation would do the trick. My appeal was refused without explanation.

So I asked one of my friends to apply for me and finally I got a coupon. I wandered over to RadioShack and picked up a $60 converter box. With the coupon, it came to $20, and I'm still ticked off that I had to pay anything at all for the continued privilege of getting broadcast television.

I found that when using a coupon, they record your contact information, and felt vaguely criminal since my info won't match that on the coupon... it should be interesting if the FBI comes knocking at my door.

The converter box has been lying around my apartment for the last two weeks, since I've been too busy to try it out. But a few days ago, I noticed that my tv had stopped picking up the local FOX station. I thought it must be a temporary glitch, and anyway they were doing reruns, so I just waited a few days. Then I noticed that this evening there was a new episode of House scheduled at 8 pm. So I tried picking up FOX again, and the signal was still out. After a quick search, I found that FOX has switched to digital early (reportedly by accident).

I didn't want to miss House, so at 7:45 pm, I fiddled around with some wires and got my converter box set up. Voila... but no FOX. I got a couple of new channels, which look like nothing very interesting, but FOX was missing. So I tilted my rabbit ear antenna in the direction usually required to get FOX, and tried the "EZ Add" feature on the converter box. And it worked! House is coming in clear as a bell, and I'm recording it on my video recorder as I type this. However, I've noticed that my video recorder has to be tuned to channel 3 to pick up the box's signal, which means I can't use the recorder's timer. If I can't find a solution to that, I'm screwed and I'll have to go buy a new VHS recorder. This is one new technology I could have done without.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

people... put your rss out there

It's been a major while since I checked out Moby's blog. In the usual internet manner (i.e. surfing from one link to the next), I found myself visiting over there today. It is mildly entertaining and his posts made me unrealistically nostalgic for my tenure in NYC. I thought it might be fun to obsessively track his postings, at least for a while, so I decided to add his rss to my feed.

Except, I couldn't find his rss link. I did a text search on his blog page, and the word rss does not appear there. Oddly, that was the second time today that I found an ostensibly commercial blog that I wanted to keep tabs on which did not supply me with an obvious rss link! I'm finding it hard to believe Moby doesn't want people obsessively tracking his postings. So Moby, please make it easy on everyone, and add an rss link to your list of bookmarks. I did eventually find it by looking for it in the html source, but I don't think most people are going to bother doing that.

let it snow

All that snow outside makes me wish I were on a ski vacation. I like snow, but mostly when it's in the French alps.

Around 7 pm the snow finally seemed to be tapering off. I read in the Globe that the temperature was going to take a dive tonight, hardening up the snow and making it more difficult to shovel in the morning. So I went out to clean off my vehicle, and shovel it out, which was fun, because I like shoveling.

Once I had my car unblocked, I looked at the wide clean space behind it, and, in contrast, the thick layer of snow blocking in the neighboring car. So I shoveled them out too. I figure this way, I'm less likely to come out in the morning to find my car blocked in by their snow removal efforts... At the moment I feel supremely accomplished and virtuous.

My left shoulder is clearly still a bit hinky due to my daily rowing regimen. I probably overdid it with the shoveling. Hopefully, after a good night's sleep, I'll be back in good form.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why it's taking me forever to finish consuming "The Traveller"

by John Twelve Hawks

OK, it’s not really taking me “forever” to read The Traveller. But it’s taking me longer than it should, because I am afraid to finish it. There are two reasons. It is just that entertaining, and when I finish it I know I’ll have a hard time finding anything else that good to read. Worse, what if it disappoints? I’m over three-quarters into the book. There have been some minor flaws which I can easily overlook, but it could be a sign of bad things to come. Will the denouement be thrilling? I am afraid to look…

200K and done!

I just completed the Concept2 Holiday Challenge! Easier than expected, no flus or colds to mess me up.

This year, Concept2 is donating some small change to a few charities for each 1K rowed beyond 100K. There are three charities to pick from. I chose Conservation International. So far, I earned $6 for them! Concept2 is donating up to $50K, and they're only at $18K as of today, so I'll keep rowing as much as I can until the deadline, to direct more money towards CI. Not that the other organizations aren't worthy, but CI is my favorite.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Daughters for Sale

I just finished watching Daughters for Sale, a segment on the PBS show NOW. The program chronicles the practice of child slavery in Nepal:
This week NOW travels to Nepal during the Maghe Sankranti holiday, when labor contractors come to the villages of the area to "buy" the children. There, we meet the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, which is trying to break the cycle of poverty and pain with an Enterprising Idea. They're providing desperate families with an incentive to keep their daughters: a piglet or a goat that can ultimately be sold for a sum equivalent to that of their child's labor.
It's a heartening story. Three cheers for Olga Murray, who started the work in Nepal that has led to thousands of girls being able to stay at home with their families. And cheers to all the people working for the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tank sixty-eight

Total miles: 25051. Trip miles: 436.7. Gallons: 8.685. Price per gallon: $1.679.

Screen mileage: 48.2 mpg. Tank mileage: 50.3 mpg.

Partly highway and partly short commutes to work. Temperatures have mostly been around 30 to 40°F.

When I had used around 8.5 gallons, the car gave a piercing beep and the last little square in the gas gauge indicator started blinking. It was alarming, although I suspect I had a couple of gallons of gas left. Fortunately, it wasn't long before I found a gas station with the lowest prices I've seen lately, so I could tank up.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A review of "JCVD"

by Mabrouk El Mechr

The first Jean Claude Van Damme movie that I saw was Timecop. In one scene, he leaped up from the floor to avoid electrocution, landing in a split on a kitchen countertop – in his underwear, no less (see it in the trailer). I became a fan instantly!

Unfortunately, that was my peak Jean Claude Van Damme experience – until today, when I saw JCVD. I like my mindless action and violence as much as anyone else, and that’s really the most I was hoping for, although I had read a short review which promised more.

Well, this movie delivers. If you need convincing, go read the review at the Washington Post. For someone who is a fan of both the martial arts genre and French film, as I am, JCVD is a dream come true.

for the younger crowd (rated 3 stars)

SPOILER ALERT - this review contains some plot details that you might not want to know if you plan to see the movie.

The Day the Earth Stood Still was only mildly entertaining. It might be more enjoyable for children and teens, or anyone who hasn’t seen the original 1951 movie.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen the original, and I recall liking it. The remake requires way too much suspension of disbelief. The aliens come off almost as dumb as the humans, which I don’t recall in the original.

I refreshed my memory of the original by skimming the synopsis at wiki. In the older movie, the aliens’ motives were more convincing – a fear that humanity would become a danger to alien races. In the current movie, the vague rationalization is that humans are destroying the earth, but the aliens don’t give a strong reason for caring about that. It’s something like “we’re going to kill all humans in order to save the other living species on the planet, and besides, humanity’s going to extinguish itself anyway.” This goes way beyond deep ecology. And they’ve based their conclusions on a perfunctory study of the human race… Another giant plot hole.

Worst of all, in the remake we never hear the magic phrase “Klaatu barada nikto.” Major, major flaw!!

Is it worth seeing this in the theater as I did? Well, if you are going to see it, see it on the big screen, to get all the spectacle (try to ignore all the blatant product placements). Go for a discount matinee, like I did. But if you’re waffling, I’d say don’t bother. Rent the original instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I’m just slightly behind schedule.

My left shoulder started bothering me after rowing about 2K yesterday, so I had to take it really slowly. Today it seems much better. Hopefully, the rest of the Challenge will go smoothly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


as of yesterday. Feeling confident!

December 2008 - The Traveler

Yesterday, while I was out Christmas shopping, I stopped at a Barnes and Noble to look for a book for December. I hate shopping, and a visit to B&N seemed like a nice reward.

All the recent economic and global turmoil had put me in the mood to read something apocalyptic, paranoid, conspiratorial. However, the touchscreen kiosk was occupied, so I couldn’t even attempt a search. Instead, I just wandered the fiction aisles, looking for something to hit me.

I finally found it at the end of the science fiction area: The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks (who is appropriately mysterious himself).

So far, the book is exactly what I want. Here’s a snippet from p 8, a conversation between the protagonist and a psychiatrist:

Maya still remembered his confusion when she called him a citizen.
“Well, of course I’m a citizen,” he said. “I was born and raised in Britain.”
“It’s just a label that my father uses. Ninety-nine percent of the population are either citizens or drones.”
Dr. Bennett took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and polished the lenses with a green flannel cloth. “Would you mind explaining this?”
“Citizens are people who think they understand what’s going on in the world.”
“I don’t understand everything, Judith. I never said that. But I’m well informed about current events. I watch the news every morning while I’m on my treadmill.”
Maya hesitated, and then decided to tell him the truth. “The facts you know are mostly an illusion. The real struggle of history is going on beneath the surface.”

I am currently cackling with glee at my luck in having struck such gold! Hopefully, the book will not disappoint.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tank sixty-seven

Total miles: 24615. Trip miles: 404.5. Gallons: 7.368. Price per gallon: $2.039.

Screen mileage: 55.2 mpg. Tank mileage: 54.9 mpg.

Almost entirely highway miles, at temperatures around 30 to 40°F.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tank sixty-six

Total miles: 24210. Trip miles: 109.3. Gallons: 3.508. Price per gallon: $1.899.

Screen mileage: 41.0 mpg. Tank mileage: 31.1 mpg.

Short commutes; tanked up before a long trip.

pumpkin pie

pumpkin pie
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

And here's the pumpkin pie. It is fresh out of the oven here, all puffed up.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

apple pie

apple pie
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I volunteered to make two pies, one pumpkin and one apple, for the family dinner this Thanksgiving. This is unusual for me; usually I just arrive and eat (my excuse being that I have a long trip).

This is the apple pie. The crust is made with butter. It looks really good. But I can't break into it. It's so unfair. *sigh*

Monday, November 24, 2008

tough this year

This year, there are only 29 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ll be traveling at least 3 or 4 of those days. In addition, I got sick last Friday, and I’m still suffering from it… which means I haven’t had the energy to even hop on my rowing machine yet, this season. This is not going to be easy!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

vengeance (rated 3 stars)

by Neil Jordan

The Brave One is a simplistic, fantasy vengeance movie. Jodie Foster plays a woman who is brutally assaulted, along with her fiancĂ©, who doesn’t survive the attack. The story follows her as she tries to deal with surviving the event.

I was disappointed because I was expecting something more complex from Jodie Foster. Not that she doesn’t do a good job acting the part. However, in her “prosecution” of the criminals that she meets (with unrealistic frequency), her character has an omniscience which is completely lacking in reality… she (and the viewer) are always completely certain of the guilt of the people she kills. This kind of certainty is rare in real life; and even when it happens, one person’s certainty is no guarantee of their correctness. That’s the reason that vigilantism is generally a bad thing, and we’re better off with our admittedly flawed justice system.

Is it interesting that a woman is playing the role of vigilante? I suppose so. I don’t think I would have bothered watching the movie if it had been about a male vigilante; but in that case, I wouldn’t have been expecting more depth either.

The redeeming feature of this movie is its realistic portrayal of the impact of violent crime on its victims. The manner in which Foster’s character completely changes is very believable, although the rest of the plot is not.

[Edit: After watching the movie, I checked out a few interviews with Jodie Foster about the movie. She compares it to Straw Dogs and Taxi Driver. If I had known that, I would have been expecting something very different... and also might not have bothered to watch. Those two movies are classics, and alas, The Brave One is not.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A review of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a suspenseful page-turner. Although it deals with some lurid sex crimes, I didn’t feel the topic was exploited.

The characters are pretty well fleshed out, but I was disappointed to meet yet another fictional character with eidetic memory. Here, it really wasn’t even necessary as a plot device. Despite the quibble, I’m adding Larsson’s other books to my reading list.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I walked to and from work today. That's two days down and twenty-eight to go. It was a bit chilly, in the forties, but bearable.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tank sixty-five

Total miles: 24101. Trip miles: 364.5. Gallons: 7.423. Price per gallon: $2.099.

Screen mileage: 49.2 mpg. Tank mileage: 49.1 mpg.

Mostly short commutes.

view from the trail in lincoln

view from the trail in lincoln
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I did a two hour hike of the trails through Lincoln Woods today. This is a view across a field south of the DeCordova. The clouds only parted for a short while; most of the hike was gray, windy, and cold.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

view of boston

view of boston
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This is a view NNE in the vicinity of Rattlesnake Hill along the Skyline Trail. That's Boston off to the right.

skylne trail

skylne trail
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

For a change, I did a hike at Blue Hills Reservation today. It was cooler than yesterday, and I only spent about 2 hours on the trails.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

From the DeCordova I hiked over to Walden. The round trip hike took about three hours.

The weather was abnormally warm, so I hiked in my shirtsleeves. That was nice. However, the rain had made the leaves slick and I hiked more slowly than usual. Despite the caution, I did wind up landing on my butt just once.

Towards the end of the hike I got a weird stabbing cramp at the top of my right foot. It went away and came back again. What's that about??

Two Big Black Hearts

Two Big Black Hearts
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Here's another look at Jim Dine's Two Big Black Hearts, creepy as ever. Chakaia Booker's "No More Milk and Cookies" and "The Conversationalist" are in the background. I kinda like those.

Butterfly Effect

Butterfly Effect
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I did another hike starting from the DeCordova today. Had to go take another look at Butterfly Effect. I like the look of the concrete as it starts to dry out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Whoo! I got to the polls twenty minutes after they opened. There was a wait of about 30 minutes, not so bad. Very exciting!

Now I really feel like I have to go find a Starbucks to get my free cup of coffee...

Monday, November 03, 2008

view from Midstate

view from Midstate
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This was taken near Crow Hill Ledges, yesterday.

The sky was nice and clear, but it was a bit too chilly and windy for my liking.

seasonal shrine

seasonal shrine
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I hiked for 3 h 10 min along the Midstate Trail, yesterday. I did a section along Crow Hill Ledges to Redemption Rock. The trail was unusually busy. I passed 4 or 5 small groups of people.

I stopped to visit the shrine on the way. Someone has left a couple of pumpkins at the site, giving it a festive look.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Joseph Wheelwright Listening Stone

Joseph Wheelwright Listening Stone
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Listening Stone is not one of my favorites, but yesterday I found it weirdly mesmerizing. The bright red autumn colors are in stark contrast to the stone, which makes this view more interesting to me.

Rick Brown moving Butterfly Effect

Rick Brown moving Butterfly Effect
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I went for a hike yesterday in Lincoln Woods, starting at the DeCordova. I was very lucky to catch the artist Rick Brown rearranging his sculpture "Butterfly Effect"! At least, I think that's Rick Brown doing the rearranging. Since he was busy I didn't want to interrupt the process by asking him to be sure.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tank sixty-four

Total miles: 23736. Trip miles: 332.2. Gallons: 6.827. Price per gallon: $2.559.

Screen mileage: 52.3 mpg. Tank mileage: 48.7 mpg.

Mostly highway miles over vacation.

The car got an oil change yesterday, just before the fill-up.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween cupcakes

Halloween cupcakes
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I also went to a church fair yesterday, and scored these Halloween cupcakes. They must have been homemade... they were delicious!

DeCordova Museum

Two Big Black Hearts
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Yesterday, I did a short hike through Lincoln Woods. I took the trail that passes to one side of the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. I like these "Two Big Black Hearts" by Jim Dine, even though they are kind of creepy.

another view from Gilbert Lookout

another view from Gilbert Lookout
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I think this was looking SE, but I could be all wrong!

view from Gilbert Lookout

view from Gilbert Lookout
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Gilbert Lookout

Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

The climb to Gilbert Lookout is pretty steep near the peak, and it's not well marked, but it's well worth the effort. The view is glorious. Plus there's this very cool marker. I would recommend against trying the climb in wet weather, however.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This is a view from the top of Bromley, where you meet up with the Appalachian Trail. There's a tower you can climb to get a great view, and a ski lift up here, too.

fall foliage in Vermont

fall foliage
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This photo was taken along the Lye Brook Trail.

Vermont vacation

Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I managed to get in a fall vacation to Vermont a few weeks ago. The weather was nearly perfect, and the foliage was just about at peak.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Walk to work for 30 days over the next year

I live about two miles from work, so the walk is not difficult, but it is time consuming. When walking, my daily commute time goes from 20 minutes to one hour. However, walking is a good stress reliever. In contrast, driving increases stress levels.

It has been difficult convincing myself to add an additional 40 minutes of commute time to my day, when I have little enough time already. However, I can afford to do this once in a while – 30 days over the next year certainly seems possible.

Today was Day 1. I did the route faster than expected, at a pace of about 4 mph.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tank sixty-three

Total miles: 23404. Trip miles: 310.2. Gallons: 6.259. Price per gallon: $2.999.

Screen mileage: 52.6 mpg. Tank mileage: 49.5 mpg.

Highway miles, on vacation.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A review of "The Handmaid's Tale"

by Margaret Atwood

I wanted to like The Handmaid’s Tale. Unfortunately, I found it ferociously boring. I suspect that Atwood was trying to relay the incredible boredom that comes with oppression, but she did it too well.

The protagonist is extremely weak, so much so that I didn’t care about her, or become absorbed in her story. Stuff just happens to her. In fact the only thing she initiates involves a silly and unbelievable “love story” which is tacked on near the end. I suppose the love story may be an ironic commentary; presumably the protagonist has some form of Stockholm syndrome.

I suppose some might argue that she was strong, because she was a survivor. That might be my perspective if this were a real, living person. But this is fiction, and I want more from my fictional characters than what was given here.

I’ve been trying to read more about this book, to discover if there’s any underlying meaning or symbolism that I’m missing… so far, zilch. It is what it is.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tank sixty-two

Total miles: 23094. Trip miles: 446.9. Gallons: 8.535. Price per gallon: $3.479.

Screen mileage: 54.7 mpg. Tank mileage: 52.4 mpg.

Mostly highway miles, again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

scary foam

scary foam
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

While tramping around Lincoln woods, I noticed that a number of trees had a little pile of foam down at the bottom of their trunks. The lump of foam in this photo was about the size of my fist. I noticed some foam seemed to be running down the tree bark, in a thin layer, as well. It literally looks like soap foam. You might speculate that someone went through the woods tossing soap on the trees, after all, people do the craziest things... However, here are my top ideas for what produced the foam:

1) It's something produced by the tree itself, possibly in defense against an insect.
2) It's produced by a tree frog.
3) It's produced by some insect.
4) It's produced by alien invaders, and we'll all soon be assimilated. Or get our brains eaten.

In any case, this requires further investigation! BTW, I did not poke, prod, or otherwise disturb the foam. I know that if I did so, the alien would leap out of the foam and eat through my abdomen in a heartbeat.

[Close, but no cigar. Turns out the most likely candidate is slime flux, also known as wetwood.]

Lincoln woods

Lincoln woods
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Yesterday was a big driving day. I spent 7 hours in the car in order to attend a family get-together. The get-together was fun. The driving - not so much.

As if the universe were colluding against me, it rained pretty much all day long today. I am not averse to hiking in the rain, but I felt worn out from yesterday's drive. So I only did about 1.5 hours in Lincoln Woods. This is a nice view of the trail running off into the mist, near the DeCordova Museum.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tank sixty-one

Total miles: 22647. Trip miles: 465.8. Gallons: 7.996. Price per gallon: $3.499.

Screen mileage: 57.8 mpg. Tank mileage: 58.3 mpg.

Mostly highway miles.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A review of "Walden"

by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s Walden is a classic, no doubt about it, and worth reading twice. The best chapters are the first and last, “Economy” and the “Conclusion”, in which he exhorts us to spend as much time as we can doing what we want, and not what others expect of us. If life is too costly, just stop spending money and go live in the woods, he says. And that’s what he did.

However, he did cheat a little in doing this himself. He went to live on a friend’s land. Back in the 1800’s, how many poor people had friends who would let them squat on their property? How many people today could do this? I think it’s easier said than done.

Further, he completely ignores the fact that many people have health issues which are quite costly to treat. He himself suffered from tuberculosis, and died at the early age of 44. Would he have lived longer if he had had more money to spend on treatment? Perhaps money was not an issue for him, since a successful treatment for tuberculosis had not been developed in his lifetime. But it was for many others with treatable diseases, and continues to be today.

These are the main flaws that I see in Thoreau’s arguments to live simply – they are unrealistic in some respects. I give the book four stars because of these problems, and also because it’s overly lengthy and could have used a strong editorial hand in trimming some of the last chapters, which got rather boring. Despite all that, I still find his views very appealing. And now that I live close to Walden Pond, the book is made richer than it was for me originally, because I can “put a face to the name” of local features like Lincoln Woods and Flint’s Pond, and towns like Fitchburg.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A story about "Walden"

by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau on the energy crisis (p.270):

It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age and in this new country, a value more permanent and universal than that of gold…. In this town the price of wood rises almost steadily, and the only question is, how much higher it is to be this year than it was the last.

I’m still slogging through Walden; the last few chapters strike me as downright dull!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I was lucky to notice this small snake along the trail. It kept very still, and I might have easily missed it. It was very small, taking up no more space than my outspread hand.

I have not been able to identify it. My best guess is that it is a juvenile something. Possibly a juvenile northern water snake or a juvenile black racer.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I did about 11 miles on the Midstate Trail today, covering the region from Sampson's Pebble to Paxton Road roundtrip in about 4 hours, for a pace of about 2.7 mph.

I don't much like this section of trail because the trails are wide and converge with trails that seem intended for motorized vehicles. Today, however, I didn't run into that kind of traffic. And there are some nice views. The area around Browning Pond is beautiful.

I saw this milkweed plant closer to Paxton Road.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

duck herding

duck herding
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

For me, the high point of the Garlic and Arts festival was the duck herding demo. One of the little runner ducks in this photo wound up missing some tail feathers when the collie became overenthusiastic. Poor duckie!

pulled pork

pulled pork
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This is some of the good food that I sampled at the Garlic and Arts festival. Delicious pulled pork sandwich with BBQ sauce, garlic baked beans, and homemade rootbeer. Incredibly good!


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

There were some fun demos at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts festival. I like watching capoeira dancers, and these people were pretty good! (Seeing them reminded me that I've made no progress towards my goal of doing a headstand - even a handstand would be something!)

red russian garlic

red russian garlic
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I went to the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts festival, today. I had no idea there were so many kinds of garlic...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the circuit board

click photo to enlarge 
This is a very blurry photo of the circut board. Counting from the left, there are four circular copper-colored dots. The on/off switch is, I believe, the little rectangular doohickey to the right of the fourth dot. It may be connected to the fourth dot in some way.

Having gotten this far, it was discouraging to abandon the cause, but that's what I did. With nothing obvious to try, I just left the monitor in a corner, and went out to get a new one.

On the one hand, I was loathe to buy a new Dell monitor because of my bad experience with this one. However, I do really like the look of the Dell monitors. And I hoped that if I bought a Dell, I'd be able to afix it to the Dell swivel stand that came with my old one. I really like the swivel stand.

I found a relatively cheap Dell (about $220) at Best Buy. It's a widescreen 19-inch flatscreen monitor, and so far it is satisfactory.

I do not like widescreen monitors, and would have bought a regular monitor, but I couldn't find any other kind at Best Buy! I find widescreens are only an advantage when viewing tv shows or movies online, and for any other computer use they are disadvantageous, since you get less vertical real estate for viewing email, web pages, text files, and general coding purposes. Oh well, I can deal with it.

Meanwhile, I have to figure out what to do with my old monitor. I hate to junk it, since it's relatively new. In fact, it may have been still under warantee, but I couldn't find my papers for it (this is what happens when you move). I tried to find an authorized Dell repair shop in my area, but so far I can't even figure out how to find any authorized Dell repair shop. So my monitor is in limbo.

Do I really need to say the legal stuff again? Perhaps. Kids, if you try this at home, it's your own responsibility. If anything like mayhem, death, or broken fingernails result, it is not my fault!

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the buttons

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Once the screws were removed, I could finally free the plastic lip from the monitor casing. Here you see the buttons. All of the buttons look the same, except for the on/off button. The on/off button is empty; the others have a small slightly raised bar down the middle.

At this point, I was stymied, unfortunately. It appears to me that the difference between the on/off and the other buttons is deliberate. It doesn't look like anything broke off the on/off button; there is nothing clearly missing.

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detaching the circuit board

click photo to enlarge 
Finally, I reached the area of the lip just around the row of control buttons, with the on/off button nearest the corner. Here I found that it was impossible to fully remove the lip.

As shown in this photo, the buttons are covered by a small circuit board, and the circuit board is connected to the monitor with a small ribbon. At this stage in the disassembly, I did my best not to disturb the ribbon, but it was difficult because the ribbon was the only thing connecting the lip to the monitor body.

I was stuck. The circuit board was fastened to the lip with a set of 5 teeny tiny Phillips (crosshead) screws, and I didn't have a set of teeny tiny screwdrivers. So I gave up for the evening.

The following evening, I stopped off at RadioShack. RadioShack used to be much more geek friendly, but I think they may have decided there's a broader market in the general public, and that it would make sense to devote more shelf space to standard appliances like cell phones and televisions. At least, this place didn't have the huge variety of technical tools that I was hoping to find. (I looked for a real spudger, but couldn't find one. Where does one get a spudger?) However, they did have several sets of teeny tiny screwdrivers. I bought a nifty set of six miniature Phillips-head screwdrivers, ranging from 1.4 mm to 3.5 mm, and hoped one would do the trick.

As you can see, one was just right - the 2.0 mm size did the trick. Removing the screws was surprisingly easy. I'm pretty bad with removing screws and have a habit of stripping them, but had no such problem here.

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popping the fasteners with a spudger

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Here you can see that I'm halfway done with removing the lip of the monitor. Popping the fasteners got much easier once I moved around the first corner.

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removing the lip

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Here's another blurry photo, as I make my way around the lip with my letter opener.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

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attacking the front

click photo to enlarge 
I searched the internet for information about getting into a Dell flatscreen monitor, but there was precious little info. I finally found a page at Fixya that described how it can be done. Delli Llama wrote:
...After UNPLUGGING the monitor and removing the stand and the 4 obvious screws in the back, turn the monitor onto its back and placing your palms against one side of the monitor, and using your FINGER TIPS, gently pull back the plastic lip away from the LCD screen. Move along the lip, doing this a little bit at a time...
This gave me the idea of attacking from the front.

I tried just using my fingertips as suggested, but you must have fingertips of steel for that to work. Eventually I resorted to my letter opener, which serves as a makeshift spudger.

This somewhat blurry photo illustrates where to insert the spudger. I was surprised that it worked, since the seal looked incredibly tight.

Oh and obviously, the monitor was unplugged while doing this. I am not so stupid as to attempt disassembling electronic equipment while it is plugged in. In fact this monitor had been unplugged for a couple of days. I recall that CRT monitors should be left unplugged for some time before attempting to work on them, and I'm not sure if the same caution applies for these new flatscreen things.
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