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Steven D. Brewer's blog

Last week of summer

August 24, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

It's the weekend before the last week of the summer. I was stressed coming back with only two weeks to get stuff ready, but the first week went pretty well. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm starting to feel like I have things under control.

Today is my birthday. I'm planning to go to the tomato festival at Red Fire Farm. I mentioned to a lot of people that I was going there -- I think Tom and Ella are going to join us, but it seems that most people are busy doing other stuff. Too bad for them.

Yesterday, I saw something that mentioned that there was a survey by McDonalds at The Lost Ring. It's all about their branding. The marketing types believe that everything is about "adding value to the brand" and they're trying to see whether sponsoring a game like this adds value to the brand. I tried to answer the questions honestly, but I think the idea that business is about leveraging the value of a brand to convince people to buy crappier stuff than they would have on their merits is just stupid. I'm sure they would say that its just good business. The weirdest question was something like "What does it say about McDonalds that they would sponsor an experience like The Lost Ring?" My reply was along these lines: "That's like asking, 'what does it say about amphibians that when you lick their skin you have a hallucinogenic experience.' I would answer (1) it's an enigma and (2) it says more about the problems inherent in global capitalism than anything about McDonalds."

Teasels

August 23, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

DipsakoI love teasel. As an ecologist, I should hate teasel because it's a pernicious invasive species. But I don't. I love the spiky branches and the lavender flowers. Lucy mentioned she had seen some teasel near the elementary school, so when it looked like there might be seeds, I went over and got some to plant at the corner. They're easy to get: I just held a ziploc bag under the cones and tapped on them, collecting showers of seeds with each tap.

One corner of our property has high hedges (burning bush -- another invasive species) near the road. At the edge, we planted some hostas (another non-native species). I thought having teasel between the hostas and the burning bush might make a nice three-level effect. Today, at lunch time, I turned over the soil, chopped up the weeds that were growing there, and planted my teasel seeds. I watered them immediately and again after dinner. Now, tonight, I can dream of the teasels I'll have in a couple of years. Its a guilty, sinful love, but I just love teasels.

Posted pictures

August 18, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

I posted pictures from my St. Croix trip to flickr and ipernity. I'm particularly pleased with these two pictures of a baby mongoose. I didn't take as many pictures this time around -- too busy. Lots of good memories, though.

Back in Amherst

August 16, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

We are home from St. Croix. On our last morning on-island, we went swimming, packed up, and felt sorry for ourselves. Buzz and his crew left around 11am. Our flight was later in the afternoon, so we drove out to Butler Bay and then stopped at the Sunset Grill for lunch before driving to the airport. Due to bad weather in Miami, our departure was delayed a half hour from St. Croix and a half hour from Miami to Hartford. We ended getting home around 3am. I'm really glad, I didn't promise anyone I would come into work on Friday. I found plenty to do besides. We picked up Penny from Valley Inn for Pets. She was all wiggly and very happy to see us. It's cute how she can wag her tail with her whole body. Afterwards, I drove down to Holyoke to pick up our vermin from Tom. I got to show him pictures from the trip and play with Ella too. We went for lunch at the Artisan's Cafe and had a good chat about on-going projects.

The trip to St. Croix was successful by almost any measure, but it was busier than in the past. Having so many family members there meant that I was spread kinda thin. Both Phil and Richard remarked on how little time they got to spend with me -- we were always in big groups with kids and neighbors around too. Still, they both enjoyed visiting the island and sound like they'd like to return.

Buzz and I made good connections with people regarding our proposal. Several people are excited about it. I'm hopeful that we'll made it happen.

Busy in paradise

August 15, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

Having family here has made paradise busier than usual. Still paradise -- just busier. Today, I took Phil up to the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute. It was a fascinating place. We had lunch and chatted with them for an hour or two. That was between doing mongoose things. The mongoose population seems low -- in spite of having twice as many traps as last year, we're catching relatively few mongooses. We've seen more feral dogs than usual. Tonight, we're planning to catch bats. Tomorrow, we're planning to do the Cruzan Rum Distillery. We're having a great time!

In St. Croix

August 7, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

Ra?pegoWe arrived in St. Croix in good order on Saturday. Our flights were uneventful. We found our rental car where we expected it. We arrived at the cottages before they were quite ready to check us in, so we went to the grocery store and put in some supplies. Philip and Richard arrived on Sunday, and we've been enjoying the sun, sand, and waves.

Someone pointed out the frangipani caterpillars. They eat plants that have toxic sap and sequester the poisons, hence the warning coloration. They're immense and very striking. If you pick them up, they thrash violently, which is pretty scary.

We've put out traps for mongooses. This afternoon, we'll go back out to the field to see how many we've caught.

So far, all is going perfectly.

Drutex

August 4, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

A few weeks ago, I was asked if the Biology Department could support a faculty member who wanted to have an instance of Mediawiki set up with an extension that could render TeX. Over the years, I've had several people want capabilities like that, but it hasn't been a high enough priority to actually set it up. I met with the faculty member and, after a few minutes discussion, it sounded to me like what they really needed was Drupal that could render TeX. And it turns out that there's a Drupal module for that: Drutex. I set up a test instance to play with it, installed the module, and began testing.

The first big challenge was to install a working TeX implementation for Solaris. I couldn't get texlive2008 to work -- dvipng would segfault reliably. I found tetex3 at sunfreeware that worked. OK.

The next big challenge was that drutex didn't know how to work with the private file uploads mechanism in drupal. I switched to public and that worked. OK.

The instructor wanted to be able to get tex and pdf versions of the documents, but it appeared that the module was using the wrong path to build the URLs for those. I fixed that. OK.

I finally had a more-or-less working install and let the instructor begin exploring it. We haven't figured out how to include graphics. It looks like it can only render one page of TeX -- it only shows you the last page and the others are AWOL. It also doesn't seem to render some things, like colored text. Finally, it doesn't like it when you choose a different template to render with -- not sure what's going on there. It looks like the module really needs a maintainer. As if I needed another full-time job.

Facebooking

August 1, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

A year or two ago, a former student invited me to set up a Facebook page, so I did. I didn't really pay much attention to it, but every so often I would see an old friend show up and find me in Facebook. After the trip to Montreal, I had a bunch of people add me to lists in Facebook and, it being the summer, I took some time to actually look around a bit.

The interface of Facebook is clunky and irritating in some ways. When you search, it frequently shows the same entries over and over again mixed together in different orders -- to show more advertising or something? Clunky. You also can't organize your profile page as thoroughly as I like. At the same time, some of the stuff is really cool: being able to drag blocks around on the profile page is astonishing.

I found some people who I haven't been in touch with in years and added them as friends. Although I'm always reminded of this. You never know what people might say.

Between adventures

July 31, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

This week has been a weird pause between the summer's adventures. I've been absolutely busy at work, trying to work through the backlog of stuff that happened while I was away and to try to get stuff in place for when I come back and need to get ready for the semester.

After much effort, I found a pump that, hopefully, will prevent another flood in the basement. We've had a pump that works OK -- as long as there's someone there to turn it on. And then turn it off before it burns out. I found a Flotec "Intellipump" that is supposed to recognize when its in water and turn itself off when its not in water. It turns itself on periodically and, if it finds itself in water, it pumps the water until its done. If it finds it doesn't have anything (or enough) to pump, it turns itself back off before the motor burns out. The first one I got at the store, however, would only run for about 15 seconds. I called the support line and they tried to tell me that the problem was the output hose. Eventually, I convinced them to give me a reference number to exchange the pump. When I went back to Home Depot, the girl was SO HAPPY that I had a reference number -- evidently most people ignore the piece of paper with a huge stop-sign on it that tells people to call the support number before returning the pumps and get angry with her. The second pump has worked great -- so far.

My home network was broken when I got home. It hadn't come back up properly after the power outage before we left. Eventually, I got it working by resetting to defaults on my wireless router. Since then, I've been trying to get all of the stuff reconfigured: getting the wireless settings right, setting up the port forwarding stuff, setting up DHCP for the internal server, etc. A bunch of stuff, I set up 7 or 8 years ago (after a struggle) and am now trying to remember how the damn thing works. What a PITA.

Penny

July 31, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

We took Penny in for a checkup in advance of getting her boarded and they found a growth on her chest. The biopsy suggested it was a mast-cell carcinoma. Yesterday, they operated to remove the tumor. She came through the operation all right -- she has a long incision, 3 or 4 inches up and down her chest, held together with staples. When she came home, she was pretty woozy, staggering a bit from the anesthesia. But she was hungry, which seemed like a good sign. This morning, she is better, but still looks very tired -- dog tired, no doubt. We're trying to coddle her as much as possible.

Home

July 29, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

I am home, finally, for a few days, before we leave on the next adventure. This summer has been excessively busy. The network was not reliable at the campground and, after the power outage, wasn't working properly at home either. Furthermore, we got home to discover that the basement had flooded again. I waded into my office and stood in the water for half an hour debugging the problem with the basestation. At last we had connectivity, though its not very good -- we're dropping packets for a second or so every 15 or 20 seconds. Once things dry out, I'll need to check again, but it may be a problem somewhere else in the system. Or it may be that my aging base-station is finally on its last legs.

In spite of the problems, its good to be home and I'm looking forward to sleeping in a real bed again. We stayed in a camper, which was actually quite luxurious, but it wasn't like sleeping in a real bed.

lolsteven

July 26, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

Camping

July 26, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

I had a great time at the Esperanto Congress in Montreal. It was the best one I've ever attended -- even better than the incredible congress in Brazil two years ago. While I was there, I spoke with a number of journalists and am quoted in this one.

We wrapped up on Friday. I had intended to drive straight to meet the family on Saturday, but decided to go home instead to help the family get packed up and drive (and to let Alisa do my laundry for me. :-) So I hopped in the car and came home.

As soon as I got home, a thunderstorm rolled through and took out the power. I hadn't even finished checking my email at work. The power didn't come back on until 4am, so that made it difficult to pack and the lack of air conditioning made it difficult even to sleep. Furthermore, we discovered that the windows on the car were left open in the diluvian downpour, so the seats of the car were soaked. On Saturday, we eventually got the car cleaned out and packed, but the network never came back up, so I still haven't gone through my email.

After our great trials, we arrived at the campground near Lake George on Saturday afternoon. We're staying in a comfortable trailer with the relatives staying in two adjacent trailers. I had been a bit concerned about the trailers and whether they would comfortably accommodate someone of my girth. It appears, however, that modern trailer designers recognize the growing diameter of Americans and so there's no problem.

The relatives arrived late -- around 10pm -- and I stayed up long enough to greet them and help them unload their vehicle. Immediately after, however, I went to bed exhausted. The stress of the week in Montreal coupled with the long drives and poor sleep the night before left me completely drained. A few days of relaxation in the campground will be very welcome.

At TAKE

July 20, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

I've arrived in Montreal for TAKE. I'm staying in a student dormitory at UQAM. I'm doing most of my blogging this week in Esperanto at my Esperanto-USA blog. Montreal is a really interesting place and the pace of the congress is such that we have a fair amount of time to explore. I'm enjoying that my time as vic-president is coming to an end. Someone saw the notes I took at the board meeting and asked, "Don't you want to be secretary?" Yeah, right.

Going to see WALL-E

July 12, 2008 by Steven D. Brewer

Yesterday morning, everyone was talking about WALL-E. Alisa and Daniel had gone to see it when the first opened, but Charlie and I didn't go. I'd just taught him how I make tortilla soup and we wanted to stay home and savor it. I tried to call Charlie to ask him if he wanted to go, but I didn't get an answer. I figured he was busy playing WoW on Lucy's computer.

For years, I had a home server set up in the basement, running either linux or openbsd. At one time, they provided real services that I depended on, in terms of routing or firewalling or offering file services. Lately, the only service I've been using was Muppyville, so when Lucy got her new computer, I shut down the server, installed Muppyville on her computer, and set it up to be the server. When I logged into her computer, I could see that the WoW application was running. But how to get a message to Charlie?

I figured maybe I could run an applescript that would pop up a dialog box. I tested it on my workstation, but it didn't work -- I got some error about no interaction being allowed. I did a google search to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong and discovered some pages that explained how to use the speech synthesis from the command line. So I crafted a few messages to Charlie: "Hey Charlie! Want to go see WALL-E? Call me! [...] Hey Charlie! Call me or I'll keep pestering you!" Eventually, when it became clear he didn't know who it was, I sent a message which included my name and he called me. It had totally freaked him out.

Lucy thought it was one of the funniest things she ever saw. Charlie initially thought it was someone in WoW talking to him, but couldn't figure out how someone would know who he was. Lucy was still chuckling about it this morning.

We went to WALL-E for the 4:30 matinee. It was great! The reviewer at Salon panned it, saying, "The gloss of preachiness that washes over "WALL-E" overwhelms the haunting, delicate spirit of its first 30 minutes." I didn't get that at all. I think that if it had tried to preach to people, it would have ruined the story and it worked because it didn't try to.

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