Grafik Intervention

Last night, Kathy and I stopped by a neighborhood in downtown San Marcos to see this:

The project was done by a typography class at Texas State University, and included this historical home, a neighborhood church, and an old jail. Students had researched the history of each of the structures, and then devised projected sequences that told about the history of and future plans for each structure. It was a surprisingly engaging way to learn a bit more about our fair city.

Read more details about the project here.

My Standoff with the Police

Last Saturday, I took three hostages.

I had gone to the apartment where my ex-girlfriend lives with her parents to find her and get her back. After four months of living together, she had moved out a couple of weeks earlier, and I was desperate to find her. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there, and as things got heated with her parents, her dad stepped up on me, so I shot him in the shoulder. Shortly thereafter, the police showed up. I guess I should have expected that, but it took me by surprise.

The police had a negotiating team with them who called me to try to sort the situation out. They kept trying to get me to release her dad. I probably should have let him go, but I was scared, and felt like I’d lose my leverage without him there. Besides, they kept promising me things and then going back on their word, so I wasn’t too inclined to cooperate with them. About four hours into the standoff, my girlfriend’s sister escaped out a window, and I panicked for a while, boarding up the apartment and trying to make sure that nobody could get in the same way she got out. But I guess I knew at that point that it was only a matter of time. After repeated requests, they finally put my lawyer on the phone, and after talking with him for a while, I decided to surrender. I stepped out of the apartment with my hands above my head about 6 hours after the whole ordeal began, and was immediately arrested. I’ll be going to trial in a few weeks.

None of this, of course, actually happened.

This was all part of a training exercise for various police negotiating teams, and I was only playing the role of a hostage-taker. My dad is an expert in such matters — he literally wrote the book on crisis management– and helped to organize this training exercise. When he was looking for participants, he sent me and my brother a note saying “I need actors to play emotionally unstable, biploar, hostage-takers on the 10th of December (Saturday). Of course, you two came to mind, immediately.”

While I wasn’t actually holed up in an apartment, I did spend about 6 hours on a phone, talking with various negotiators from the New Braunfels team and giving them a chance to exercise their skills. It was fun, but exhausting, to play the role of a frightened, intransigent, irrational man-boy for that long. The negotiating team did a great job, maintaining their cool while I was being quite bellicose and disagreeable at times, and working hard to establish rapport and empathy without validating the destructive actions my character had taken. I was nasty enough that I felt the need to, once the exercise was done, apologize to them all and individually shake their hands. To their credit, none of them took advantage of the opportunity to shoot me — a homicide that, under Texas law, I’m pretty sure would have been considered justified at that point.

Thanks to Dad for the opportunity to be a part of the shenanigans, and to the whole crew involved for putting together such an interesting day. It seemed like the teams got something good out of it, and my siblings and I certainly got a fun story to tell. And delicious breakfast tacos. (Ironically, feeding me tacos is just about the best way to keep me from taking hostages in real life, so the crisis would have been pretty short-lived in reality.)

Halloween Costume

This year for halloween, I decided that I wanted to do something that I had never seen anybody else do. After mulling it over a bit, I hit upon an idea I loved: I would be a stick figure.

Now, those of you who know me will recognize that I am far from a natural stick figure. How could I bring this off? Inspired both by Blue Man Group’s Utne Wire Man and by Lady Ada’s Tron Bag, I decided to use electroluminescent wire to create the effect I wanted.

Now, EL wire is something of a hassle to solder, due to its dual-core nature. If there was a way to avoid that, I wanted to know about it! A bit of strategic googling brought me to Glowire, a vendor that not only has reasonable prices on the wire, but also sells preassembled kits that included the driver electronics, battery holder, and all of the necessary fittings. I found 6′ lengths, which I figured would be perfect to do the head and torso, arms, and legs, and promptly placed an order.

Once I got the wire in, I ransacked my closet to find a long-sleeve shirt and long pants that I could make a mess of. I then got a beefy needle and sewed the wire in place using fishing line, which would it in place without obstructing its light. (Thanks to Liam and Abby for their help with the sewing.) While my needlecraft was a bit shabby, and I managed to secure one of the wires to the side of a pants leg rather than the front, I finally got it all put together and excitedly turned on the switches and turned out the lights to see how it came out:

Heck yeah!

While it wasn’t perfect, I was very happy with the effect. I went out through the neighborhood with Liam and his friend Charles to keep them company while they worked the front doors, and was delighted with the enthusiastic responses I got, ranging from “Hey, cool costume!” to “Mom, it’s the glowing man!” Excellent.

So, if I had it to do all over again, I’d do the sewing on a mannequin or have somebody wear the clothes to ensure that we were sewing on the right part of the clothes. I’d also love to figure out some way to make the lines straighter. But even with the imperfections, I think the project was a terrific success. Excelsior!

Tonight’s Excitement

The series of events:

  1. We offer to look after our neighbor’s dog while she’s away.
  2. Our neighbor deposits her keys with us and leaves town.
  3. Liam’s friend Noah comes over to spend the night with us.
  4. We go have spaghetti dinner with friends down the street.
  5. Liam, Noah, Maggie and I return to the house so that they can get chores done.
  6. While I’m sitting in the bedroom, Liam says “Dad! Come quick! Noah can’t breathe!”
  7. I run into the living room. My throat immediately starts burning.
  8. We rush everyone outside.
  9. Liam was worries about Noah, Maggie, and the cats, who are sitting in the front window looking at us.
  10. I hold my breath, go back in and grab the cats. We toss them in the tent we already have set up in the front yard.
  11. Kathy, Abigail, and Abby’s friend Ethan arrive. Kathy and Ethan go in for a moment and quickly get driven back out of the house by the chemical burning.
  12. We call 911, explain the situation, and have a fire truck and ambulance parked outside in about 3 minutes.
  13. After hearing about the situation, the firemen suit up and go inside while the paramedics talk to all of the kids and take their vitals.
  14. The remaining firemen quizz us about cleansers, chemicals, or anything else that might have been spilled. We can’t think of anything.
  15. One of the firemen asks whether we had pepper spray or mace. We answer “No” at first, but then remember that our neighbor’s keychain has some sort of black cylinder attached.
  16. Kathy asks the boys whether they had touched the keys. They assure her they hadn’t. Then she calls Maggie (who has gone over to the neighbor’s house) and asks her. She told Kathy that she had squirted out some of the contents, but had no idea what it was. Mystery solved!
  17. The EMS and firefighters wrap up. We sheepishly thank them and wave them on their way.
  18. Noah’s mom shows up to retrieve him.
  19. As Kathy is explaining the situation to Noah’s mom, she squirts the pepper spray again to demonstrate what happened, upwind from everyone, setting off another round of coughing, irritated throats, and amused recriminations.
  20. Our coughing ends. We repatriate the cats. All is back to normal at last.

Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion Project

Kathy and I attended the Pat Metheny show in Austin last night. We’d never gotten to see him before, and were familiar with very little of his music, but I was crazy to see this show once Barry Brake brought it to our attention. Why? The Orchestrion!

What is the Orchestrion? It’s a huge assemblage of instruments played by mechanical means — a player piano taken to crazy extremes. I’ve long been interested in non-traditional instruments and especially ones that are driven by electronics and machines, so this show was irresistible to me.

The performance was amazing. Metheny’s virtuosity on a guitar, both the normal version and the various “enhanced” ones he played over the course of the evening, was remarkable. The mechanical instruments were varied, beautiful, and fascinating, and a pleasure to watch and try to figure out how he controlled them. The only downside? It turns out that neither of us particularly like Metheny’s music.

But first things first. The instruments — my goodness, the instruments! He opened with a hihat with two solenoid-driven drumsticks playing it, as well as a set of finger cymbals mounted on a similar actuator. He also had some very cool four-stringed instruments with robot “fingers” that rolled rapidly up and down the strings and revolving plectrums that set the strings vibrating. There was a big marimba on each side of the stage with a mallet for every bar that played under computer control as well.

After a few pieces with these instruments, he pulled up a curtain to reveal the rest of the Orchestrion. My first impression was that some enterprising high school biology student had taken a scalpel to Neal Peart’s drum kit, carefully dissected it, and then neatly pinned all its component bits to the wall. There was also a cabinet filled with jars containing varying amounts of water to produce different pitches when air was blown across the top, a bass and guitar that looked like they had been assimilated by the Borg, and a big collection of hand percussion being shaken by mechanical poltergeists. When they all got going at once (which they often did), it made for some wonderful mechanical musical madness!

Unfortunately, Metheny plays a flavor of music that, while technically amazing and probably fascinating to modern Jazz fans, didn’t do much for either of us. Melodies were rare, harmonic progressions often seemed a bit directionless, and we were left feeling a bit adrift in a sea of high-speed improvisations. We were, however, clearly in the minority, as the crowd was hugely enthusiastic and provided several standing ovations over the course of the evening.

But in spite of that, we found the show fascinating, enjoyed getting to see the Paramount for the first time, and had a great evening together.

Facebook and the Coming Zombie Apocalypse

My good friend Daniel Priest recently posted the following to his Facebook profile:

Daniel Priest is a tree climbing fool

I thought that it was important that the conversation that ensued be available for posterity outside of Facebook’s domain, so here it is. When the undead rise up, you’ll thank me.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 8

Fanny, apparently you’ve married a monkey. I bet he looks cute in a ten-gallon hat.

Jonathan Hunter, May 9

Trees are pretty.

Sean McMains, May 10

It’s good to know that when the zombie uprising comes and I need someone to hoist me into the upper branches of a magnificent magnolia to escape the zombies’ brain lust, you’ll be around.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Wow, I just learned that zombies can’t climb trees.

Sean McMains, May 10

Have you ever seen a zombie perched in a tree? Well, there you go.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

Matthew, Sean may have learned this from Shaun of the Dead. One of the characters, Diane, is able to escape the zombies by hanging out in a tree until she is rescued by the British Army.

Sean McMains, May 10

(Of course, I’m discounting the rare South American Arboreal Zombie here…)

Daniel Priest, May 10

The zombie lore on display here is sadly lacking. Zombies may not climb trees, but they do climb other zombies. And when the moaning, staggering pile of mindless undead under the tree reaches high enough…

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

The only thing I have ever heard of zombies being able to ‘climb’ is stairs. You would have to have a zombie staircase. That would pretty much never happen, since zombies are not capable of cooperating intelligently.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Zombies might be able to pull themselves out of their graves by using the bodies of other zombies if they were buried in mass graves, but to accept the possibility of anything beyond that I would have to see an example.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I think Matthew is onto something here. In order to make plans and such, one has to be conscious. But zombies aren’t conscious, so they can’t make plans. It’s logic.

The only way, then, that a zombie could get someone from a tree would be if it just so happened that a bunch of bodies and other artifacts were piled up in a a certain way and that zombie just so happened to make its way up that pile. But, as Matthew said, that would pretty much never happen.

Sean McMains, May 10

Jonathan: I call shenanigans on your logic here. How can you possible assert that zombies aren’t conscious? Certainly it takes consciousness to shamble and to cry “brains! BRAAAAIIIINS!”

I think you’re just a closed-minded lifeist.

Daniel Priest, May 10

Big sigh.

Let me spell it out here, since the bunch of you have evidently watched a total of about 25 minutes worth of zombie movie material. Zombies smell living human flesh up in the tree. The first zombies start moaning and clawing at the tree. Additional zombies are drawn by the moaning of the first zombies. As the mob grows, zombies at the middle of the pile are trampled, piled upon, etc. Over the course of the night this zombie mound gets higher and higher.

Y’all are the meat snacks in the film who climb the tree at the beginning of the night, look down at the zombies, and say something like “Alright, I think we’ll be safe here,” before being awakened in the middle of the night by a cold hand gripping your ankle, dragging you down to immediate dismemberment.

It’s when you think you’re safe that you’re in the most danger. When you think you’re in danger, well, you’re in danger then too. You’re never safe. Remember that.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Daniel,

It’s not the herd instinct that I question. It’s the sheer physics. I don’t believe everything I see in movies. Movies are unreal scenarios as we all know well.

Any movie maker who scripted the scene you’re describing would have to be ignorant of the problem. As soon as your hypothetical mound reaches the height of a human being, unless it is the width of a football field with a gradual grade, zombies have to climb. Zombies don’t climb. They walk.

By the time enough zombies have pooled to create a nice pleasant hillside stroll to the top of my tree, the US Marines have arrived and helicoptered me out of the joint because it has been three days.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

I never said zombies weren’t conscious, for the record. I don’t care if they’re conscious. They’re not capable of cooperating intelligently.

Ross Richie, May 10

SIGH.

Okay, everyone take notes. THIS IS HOW IT REALLY WORKS (points to Priest for trying):

ROMERO ZOMBIES: are mindless. Priest’s example is true there.

RUSSO ZOMBIES: are smart, capable of thought, can wield tools, etc., and can talk to you, crying out for brains. Those zombies will climb that tree, no problem, and this is NSFW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPc7c4W6btY&feature=related

Or, as you can see in this clip, they have the ability to try to talk to you and smash through the trap door in the attic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD8_GFEO-HY&feature=related

For those taking notes at home: Russo and Romero collaborated and created the genre in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, got into a Lennon and McCartney-esque squabble, split up, and individually created competing zombie franchises, hence creating seemingly conflicting rules to how the zombie mythology works.

Ross Richie, May 10

Amateurs. I love you guys.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I was going to let Daniel have the last word, but I can’t let this go.

Romero zombies wouldn’t be able to climb trees, as Matthew has demonstrated. And if we’re talking about Russo zombies, then you wouldn’t be silly enough to climb a tree. So, it doesn’t matter what kind of zombie we’re dealing with. They wouldn’t be able to pluck you out of a tree.

Ross Richie, May 10

HOOO-KAY. Didn’t wanna play this card, but looks like I’ll have to.

Everyone that’s published (i.e. poured 10s of thousands of dollars into) a series called ZOMBIE TALES that is a signature part of your corporate identity, raise your hands.

Now that we’ve gotten that outta the way… (HARSH!)

Romero zombies will get you in exactly the way Daniel laid out. They’re a swarm monster, and the swarm will pile up and attain height….

RE: climbing a tree in a Russo flick, if you’re willing to hide in an attic, you’ll hide in a tree. And they’ll climb it, while crowing about the need to snack on your brains.

LOVE YOU JONATHAN, MEAN IT!!!

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I feel like I’m in crazy town and Ross is the mayor.

Everyone that had a normal childhood (i.e. played outside with other children instead of rotting away in front of the television box while eating pork rinds) that is a signature part of your personal identity, raise your hands.

Romero zombies COULD get you in that way, but they don’t swarm fast enough. The Marines would rescue you first.

I wouldn’t hide in the attic, so I also wouldn’t hide in a tree.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 11

Pouring 10s of thousands of dollars into zombie literature doesn’t automatically make you right. In fact, it might make you stupid. Oh snap.

I am grateful for this broadening lesson, however.

I know very little about zombies, but I do not accept statements merely on the basis of varying and respectively unquestionable zombie traditions. I am trying to learn by questioning everything and using careful reasoning. In this way I hope to one day truly be a philosopher.

Daniel Priest, May 11

Ross–thanks for the input. What did you think of World War Z?

Jonathan–I think you’re right. You aren’t the sort to hide in an attic or tree. I think you might be the zombie imitation sort, try to make your way into the countryside by walking, moaning, etc. like a zombie, thereby escaping notice. Good luck with that.

Matthew–Physics of zombie accumulation. We assume a maximum slope of 45 degrees and a cone height of 40 feet. Sean specified the upper branches of a magnificent magnolia. In the thin alkaline soils of central Texas <i>Magnolia grandiflora</i> will attain a height of no more than 50 feet, so if we’re in the very upper branches the zombies would need to be approximately 40 feet high to be in ankle grabbing distance. This is an absurdly generous estimate of both tree height and sturdiness of upper branches, btw. But I’m a generous guy.

The zombie cone will have a volume of approximately 67000 cubic feet. Assuming an average zombie volume of 10 cubic feet, you’ll need 6700 zombies to arrive during the night. If zombies shamble at 4 miles an hour every zombie within 32 miles could conceivably arrive within the course of the night. And there’s a hell of a lot more recently dead and/or soon to be bitten and infected people within 32 miles of San Marcos, Texas.

If only 3 zombies spot us initially, and each of them with their moaning alerts only 3 additional zombies, each of whom alert 3 more, etc, and each of them does so within 30 minutes (again, very generous–in an urban setting far more zombies are likely to hear, and much more quickly), then we could conceivably have 20,000 zombies at the tree within 5 hours.

Not that they’re all going to come for us–there are presumably other equally tasty people in other trees–but I think the plausibility of the scenario has now been pretty well established.

Jonathan Hunter, May 11

Daniel, I thought you would know me better than that. I’m not the imitating type. I’m the joining type. I wouldn’t hide in a tree or attic because I would rather become a zombie and come after all of you myself. I’ll admit that I don’t understand how the conversion process works, but that would be optimal.

Ross Richie, May 11

MCMAINS!!!! MCMAINS!!!! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, MCMAINS!!!!

Sean McMains, May 11

Ross,

If my studies in Zombie Lit. have taught me anything, it’s that the person who sets himself up as a pompous authority figure will be among the first to be devoured by the ravenous hordes.

Thus, by erecting yourself as an authority figure — a verb I here find particularly apt, given your apparent desire to turn this into an exercise in comparative phallic metrics — you have thrust yourself — verb, ditto — into the head — noun, ditto — of the line of victims.

Sean

P.S. New personal best for oblique naughty jokes in one sentence! YES!

Sean McMains, May 11

Daniel,

While I’m loathe to give offense to the very person on whom I will be relying to save me from the apocalypse, I do find a few of your premises troubling:

1. A 45° slope seems singularly optimistic, especially with modern, low-friction synthetic clothing. Perhaps this would be reasonable if the zombies weren’t wearing much (not unreasonable in San Marcos), or were wearing clothing with natural fibers that would have a higher coefficient of friction. I would hold that a figure closer to 30° is likely. That would give us a radius for the cone of 69′, and therefore a volume of 199,427 cubic feet.

2. 10 cubic feet is an absurdly large figure. Consider that human bodies are approximately as dense as fresh water, as shown by the fact that many of us can sink or float in a pool depending on how deeply we breathe in. Water weighs 62.4 pounds/cubic foot. American men average around 180 pounds, women around 140. Thus, a 160 pound “average person” would have a volume of around 2.56 cubic feet. (Alternately, think about how many foot-square boxes Steve Buscemi would fill at the end of Fargo.)

Thus, with the new figures, we’d need 77,901 zombies to build a sufficient pile.

3. Your zombie-alert figures presuppose that zombies’ communication is at least sophisticated enough to convey bearing and distance over miles. I’m not sure how much nuance one can pack into the word “Braaaaiins…”, but my tentative experiments this morning with my coworkers aren’t promising.

Alternatively, perhaps zombies work like ants do, and leave a pheromone trail to food sources. This bears further investigation.

Ross Richie, May 11

McMains — the new popular variant in horror is that they can SMELL the living.

Doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to me, but characters in THE WALKING DEAD smear themselves with zombie smell and sneak past the zoms undetected. The horror community’s glommed onto that and adopted it.

Of course, all this goes out the window if you are loyal to Romero, who established the zoms are getting smarter in LAND OF THE DEAD, where they begin to use tools. LAND OF THE DEAD zoms would be able to scale that tree, no problem. Hell, they’d prolly grab some power tools and just cut it down…

In the trailer here, you’ll see they reference “they’re thinking, they’re communicating” and there’s a brief clip of them using a machine gun, so maybe it’s all moot, they’d just SHOOTCHA OUTTA THE TREE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atXJB9luiko

Attack of the Meme: 25 Things

Over on Facebook, there’s a rash of “25 Things About Me” posts going around. While I’m usually reluctant to wax that narcissistic, I do secretly love to pollute the air with self-centered ramblings as much as the next guy. (Plus, several people have now tagged me in their 25 Things lists.) So, if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, here are “25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about [me].”

  1. I’m not a particularly good musician. My sole gift is that I have a good ear, which makes it pretty easy to pick up new instruments and to play along with other people. I have not, however, ever been disciplined enough to get excellent at anything musical.
  2. I have eaten rattlesnake, squirrel, cactus, beaver, alligator and elk. All on a single pizza. The part about the pizza is a lie.
  3. My favorite toy when I was young was the paper feed mechanism from a Xerox machine I had pulled out of a dumpster behind my Mom’s office.
  4. I once sang for a crowd of hundreds of people wearing only a towel. (Well, with boxers underneath.)
  5. There is a spot on my head that doesn’t grow hair because of a fight my brother and I once had. (He is now among my closest friends.)
  6. I often struggle with my faith, and have a measure of envy for my friends to whom it comes easily.
  7. I have worked variously as a house cleaner, a cellist, a driver, a math tutor, a writer, an ice cream cone maker, a bass player, an actor, a computer game programmer, a singer, a recording engineer, and a theater lighting tech.
  8. I have a tremendously smart and talented bunch of friends of whom I am often in considerable awe. Some of those friendships are now numbered in decades — a fact that brings me no end of pleasure.
  9. I’m occasionally tempted to get Leviticus 19:28 tattooed on my arm. (You’ll have to look it up.)
  10. The time in my life I was the most viscerally frightened was when standing on top of a telephone pole, getting ready to leap to a trapeze on a ropes course. Even with all the safety gear, I find heights utterly unnerving.
  11. There is no doubt in my mind that marriage has made me a better person.
  12. I don’t have an ideal job, because there are too many things I’m interested in and would love to spend time doing: photography, writing, humanitarian work, music, building kinetic sculptures, being a Mythbuster, and even a bit of computer work (which is what pays the bills now).
  13. I am profoundly grateful that I don’t always get what I deserve.
  14. I have a (sometimes annoying) habit of trying to turn nearly everything I touch into a musical instrument in some way.
  15. I think it’s so fascinating to see how each of our kids turns out that I have a hard time understanding parents who drive their children to succeed in one specific way.
  16. I’m unusually sensitive to noise, and often shut down after about 10 minutes in a noisy place.
  17. I love physics, and have read textbooks on the subject for fun. The dance of creation is a thing of amazing, baffling, hypnotic beauty to me.
  18. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was about 10. It was a great story, but I found it hard enough going that I was secretly disappointed that my dad didn’t throw a party for me when I finished the first volume.
  19. I have a terrible memory for personal details, dates, names, etc. As a result, I completely forgot my own birthday one year.
  20. When I was 9 years old, I believed that everyone around me was an alien and that, as the only human, I was the subject of an elaborate experiment. (Self-important little blighter, wasn’t I?)
  21. In spite of various friends’ efforts, I’ve never developed an appreciation for distilled spirits. They all taste like cough medicine to me.
  22. I currently have over 15 kinds of hot pepper sauce in my kitchen, some of which stand a good chance of killing you if tasted undiluted. (Blair’s Sudden Death Sauce: 500,000 scoville units. Compare to Tabasco’s 2,500.)
  23. I’m disappointed that Esperanto never caught on.
  24. I fractured my coccyx about 15 years ago while sliding down a hillside on a piece of cardboard and encountering a sprinkler head. Because the break healed oddly, I can’t comfortably sit in one position for more than about 10 minutes.
  25. I believe that 80’s music is not only the best music in human history, but it’s also the best music that it’s theoretically possible to produce in our space-time continuum. (Though when the LHC comes online again, all of that may change.)

Twitter Status Board

Several months ago, I noticed that one of the nearby offices was using a whiteboard mounted outside their office door to keep people informed of their comings and goings. “That’s good communication!” I thought to myself, “but my team is made up of geeks. Surely we can do something nerdier!”

Thus was born an experiment with Twitter that is yielding some good results. It began with our six-person development team: programmers who were interested in participating set up a twitter account and began posting what they were up to through the day. We subscribed to each other’s updates and easily keep a finger on the pulse of the team’s activity. (This was especially helpful when working off-site or stuck in meetings.) In addition to the standard Twitter functionality, we also wrote a little Rails app that uses Twitter’s APIs to build a replacement for the old-style In-Out board. People can pull up the status screen from a web browser or look at a monitor we stuck in the window of one of our cubicles to see at a glance who was around and what they were up to:

Status Board In Situ

Status Board In Situ

After a month of voluntary participation, we had a meeting to discuss whether it was worth keeping up, and decided that the minimal effort required to improve our communication was well-spent. We’ve been using the system regularly for several months now. (One interesting side-effect that I’ve noticed is that it helps me to keep on task a little better: when I post that I’m working on ticket #726, I feel a little guilty if I’m not actually working on it!)

Of course, people walking by quickly noticed the screen and asked whether it could be expanded to include other people as well. At my boss’ requenst, we put together another status screen for use at the department’s front desk, where the people there can quickly ascertain whether a call can be transferred or a visitor directed back to someone’s office. It looks like this (with strategic blurring to protect the unwitting):

Front Desk Status

Front Desk Status

The color-coding is done by preceding a status update with “IN:”, “OUT:”, or “OFF:” (for those times you’re working but not at your desk), a feature of our status board app. While some of the folks around the department were initially a bit skeptical, they have quickly become enthusiastic once they use it for a day or two. The front-desk folks decided that they’d rather have timestamps than the “x hours ago” notation we’d originally used, so we tweaked the app to better meet their needs.

We’re still refining our software (I need to make the caching smarter), there are at least two other Status Board applications under development in the department (using Javascript and FLEX), and I now quickly hear about it if something goes wrong with the system. It should be interesting to see where this thing goes over the next few months! (If there’s interest, I can clean up the Rails code and open-source it once I finish the caching improvements.)

SuperNerd!

Last night I posted to Twitter:

Watching a Nova show on string theory. (It was a requirement to maintain my supernerd certification this month.)

This morning, my friend Jeff presented me this, created in cooperation with his wife Fazia:

SuperNerd Certificate

This of course immediately became one of my new favorite things. Be sure to appreciate the seal and the signatures!

Random Shiny Things

Jason Young mocked me recently for not having updated for a while, which, of course, hurt my feelings deeply. (Oh, wait, that’s right — I’m a guy, and therefore don’t have feelings. Sweet!) I’ve not been in a writing frame of mind lately, but do want to keep up with our family happenings. Some recent items of note:

Against all odds and sanity, our zillion-year old Ford Escort, which had 169,000 miles on it when the odometer stopped working a year and a half ago, actually passed its state inspection. To celebrate, Kathy gave it a spiffy new hood decal, and I’m planning to reward it with an oil change.

 

Death Defying Escort

Death Defying Escort

 

Emily has four canvases in an art exhibit at Piece You Up, a local urbanwear/gift/art shop at 243 N. LBJ. There was a reception on Sunday where visitors had a chance to meet the artists and where her work was well-received She’s already making far-reaching plans for her earnings.

   

Maker Faire follow up: here’s a bit of the video that I took at the Faire, including the entirety of the grandest Diet Coke/Mentos demonstration I’ve ever seen:

 

Million-Dollar Idea follow up: Here’s a sample Old West sonogram I did for one of my friends:

Hernandez Sono

Hernandez Sono

I just picked up Fallout 3 and, being a big fan of both the earlier games in the series and of Oblivion (which used the same engine), have been enjoying it a great deal. (If you don’t know what Fallout 3 is already, and don’t want to think me an even bigger nerd than you already do, don’t bother following that link.)

A couple of weeks back, the library where I work had a fire. Fortunately, it was fairly contained in our break room and the storage room adjacent, but we got to evacuate the building for several hours and admire the firemen in all their gear. There were no injuries and fairly minimal property damage, though the break room still has a pretty distinct stink to it.

I got to lay down some pennywhistle tracks for an album that some friends are putting together. It’s fun to get to do some of that in a semi-professional capacity, though I always forget how demanding recording can be, even in short bursts. (It’s probably easier if you’re not a sloppy player by nature!) Also continuing to join in for Irish Sessions at the local coffee shop, and play the occassional gig with The Patio Boys.

So, that’s what’s up with us. How are things with you? Work going OK? How’s the family? That outfit looks terrific on you, by the way. No, seriously! I don’t think it makes you look fat. Well, yeah, horizontal stripes and all, but you really carry it. Honestly!