Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frustrated Ramblings

his is not my usual style, and I don't like posting things like this, but I've spent too much of today irked with various Google products. Below is a version of a post I made to a Gmail Google Group. I could go into more detail and try to get across how frustrated I am that Google is making it more and more difficult to do simple things simply, rather than the other way around. I can't even easily find a basic "feedback on our new product" option anymore, which is pretty disappointing.

Google, what happened? Back in 2004 when we all got Gmail for the first time everything was so friendly and thoughtful, and now I get the sinking feeling that users are being left behind in the interest of a shiny new future. Stop pushing so hard.

So here's a couple thoughts on the trial version of the new compose setup for gmail:

1) I've seen way, way too many people saying "whelp, guess I'll get used to it" about this and other gmail/google changes. This seems wrong: the UI should conform to user needs, not the user to the UI. While some people may prefer this new layout, it's not right for everyone. Which brings me to:

2) Not all messages are going to be short little snippets that should be composed in a mini window, tucked over the inbox, or even popped out. Many people compose complex, lengthy emails and require the space both physically on the screen and mentally by having the new message be the only thing visible.

On top of that, hiding all the controls makes it much more difficult to see what's available at a glance, remember to add links or formatting, and as other users have said, to glance at the send list to make sure a recipients work/home email has been selected.

Therefore, perhaps the new compose could be implemented more like the priority inboxes, as a choice that each user can make and switch between based on actual, personal needs.

More from, ParisLemon (who wants still less), GHacks (which refers to people like me as "advanced users") and some snarky people over here. You get the idea.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Orwellian syntax

he title of this post is a little iffy, but I think it works in a couple of ways. First, the content here is by George Orwell, therefore is by definition Orwellian, right? Secondly, his proposed overhaul of the English language (which we'll get to as soon as I'm done justifying and rationalising) is a bit on the totalitarian side, ergo, Orwellian. And uh, Thirdly... thirdly... oh yes, his criticism of the current state of prose essentially compares it to the sort of meaningless catchphrases found in 1984, where words cease to have any relation to their meaning and generally cause the downfall of civilisation as we know it.

That pretty much sums it up, actually, but a little context: I've just read George Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language. The essay alternates between lambasting several samples of [truly lousy] writing and prescribing a few guidelines to avoid further transgressions. It was written in 1946, so we can only imagine how pained Orwell would be to see the current state of the written word (probably including my own. erk.). I bet he and Hemingway would've gotten along in some ways...

And now, for my own reference and for yours, George Orwell's basic rules for passable writing:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Taken from the essay Politics and the English Language, 1946, page 156 of George Orwell, A Collection of Essays, Harcourt Brace, 1981. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Bountiful Update

gnoring the many iterations of the issues mentioned in the previous post that came up in the process of attempting to put together this post, here's a few more recent photos of one part of my garden. Somewhat recent. A few are from as early as March, when the bulbs had just started blooming, others are from mid-June, when the veg really started getting bushy.

vegetables, zucchini, garden, blossoms, fruit, growing, Virginiazucchini, leaf, huge, garden, NoVAIris, bulb, flower, garden, bloom, purple

I may regret hosting these photos on my own domain in a week or two when I find a longterm solution, but heck, I wanted to get posts up. The next post might just go back to using Picasa for sanity's sake. The entire blog may move as well, to make it easier to reference various directories.

...But this is a gardening post, and I digress.

cucumber, baby, fruit, tiny, prickles, blossom, vine, gardennew garden, seedlings, dug, amended, compost, raised bedrose, blossom, flower, bloom, renovated, organic, prunedharvest, bounty, cucumber, zucchini, winter squash, organic, fruit, Alexandria, VAgarden, bushy, crowded, raised bed, biointensive, companion, square footIris, flower, bulbs, division, March, bloom, Alexandria, VA

These are dated photos, so just know there's more growth, plus a second bed of veg not to mention a third bed of herbs. As soon as it's not so terribly hot the stack of bricks (all found in the yard) will become a small patio...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Technical Testing Tribulations

ay back in November I finally staked my claim on a corner of the internet by registering and hosting a website under my name. I had stalled for almost a full year, thinking there was too much I would want to research before pinning down a registrar/host. Turns out that was the easy part (once I realised I didn't need a slew of dedicated servers in the former Soviet Bloc).

After choosing DreamHost at the recommendation of a friend and a popular website (Lifehacker, who recently re-affirmed DreamHost's dominance), all I had to do was learn how to code an entire website. And not just any website, one that would display a photographic portfolio dynamically and interactively and [buzzword] and [so on]. Ok, so I haven't quite gotten to that part yet, but the site exists and is a decent placeholder.

pie, blueberries, tart, lemon curd
The holdup is that I'm the sort of person who can't just throw up something pre-fabricated and call it a day, I have to learn how to code the entire thing myself, learn databases and cascading stylesheets, from scratch. Maybe once I've done that I could take an easier route, but without understanding the background it seems too much like cheating. Besides, most of the point was giving myself opportunity to learn, given that my photos probably aren't going to start flying off the shelves (there are some up, but they, too, are placeholders).
poached, apricots, tart, pie, cheescake
So in the meantime I've just been using the web export feature in Adobe Lightroom (a god-send for those of us who like cataloging, integration with other applications and services and powerful but simple tools). The problem I'm leading up to is that I'd like to stop hosting the photos I use in blog posts on Picasa and move them all over to a dedicated storage folder on my website. Heck, someday I should move this blog there, too.
orange, chiffon, chocolate, meringue, pie
The problem is that to use a photo in a post, I need to have a link to the .jpg file that will never change, or at least use a relative link to just "/kitten.jpg" rather than "http:// blah/folderA/section56/kitten.jpg" and so on. So that's one solution. But I also need the photo to link to a gallery view on my website, so that the clicker can browse through other photos from my blog, and also use spiffy navigation controls to browse by keyword or just mosey back through other parts of my portfolio.

I'm not going to list how much of that I have no idea how to accomplish, because it's too overwhelming. But, I've written an entire blogpost about it now, so that will hopefully motivate me.

Oh, and the reason there are random photos of pie here is because they're hosted on my website, just... not very sophisticatedly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Progress report (somewhat redundant)

Here's a better look at the before and after of the yard. The "before" is from September 2011, the "after" from May 2012. It still has a long way to go, but it's starting to emerge. The current goal is just to get a visible, mostly grass filled lawn with beds along the fences. Once that's finished I can worry about perennials, edging, and so forth.

Photos are in two columns here, left column is old yard, right column is new yard.

In the process of going through the overgrowth, I've found quite a few established plants hidden in various places, some of which had clearly spread themselves from their original locations (irises, daylilies, butterfly bush?, daisies, periwinkle, lemon balm, mint, hot pepper bush, daffodils, crocuses, several rose varieties...). So far, I've also dug up around 50 bricks, which will hopefully become a small patio on which the firepit can live for the moment. Sometime in the future, the patio can expand and accomodate furniture, too. All of which necessitates my tearing up a mediocre patch of grass, leveling, laying bricks, tamping, filling... hopefully with a really cool pattern.

The left side still needs a lot of work, but at least there's some yard on the right side now. There's a grape vine over the bed in the back that I'd like to train up to replace some of the mulberry that's sneaking up the fence back there. And last week I took out the spare wild rose bush that was crowding the raspberries. Oh and one neighbor put up a nice privacy fence, too, so that looks better than the chain-link and provides well, privacy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How inner conflict makes dullards of us all

r something like that. Having never read Chekov previously and also having no historical context for his writing, what follows is an entirely off-the-cuff stream of thoughts relating to the short novel, The Duel (translated by Constance Garnett, as recommended by Hemingway).

On the surface, this seems to be a story about a bunch of locals with nothing better to do than squabble and moralise at each other. Since all they have are their own experiences and opinions and lack much depth, they are not terribly interesting or sustainable characters, but their observations of each other carry some weight to the reader.

Instead of just taking the situation at face value, it's also possible to see the conflict as a metaphor for the conflict within an individual. In particular, the two gentlemen who wind up dueling, Laevsky and Von Koren, might be representative of the conflicting aspects of a personality, two ways in which to react to the surrounding world. Both consider society to be broken and useless. Laevksy chooses to spend his life full of apathy and regret, avoiding engagement, while Von Koren displays aggression towards others in a misconstrued attempt to bring them around to his philosophy, and also toward himself in order to maintain his prescription of action.

By the time the characters reach the grounds of the duel, they have both lost their motivation and aggression and decide not to follow through. They are the dueling aspects of a personality: at great odds with each other right up until the critical point, when nothing comes of the whole business (and the deacon steps in! Don't get me started on spirituality). They continue on their paths and gradually make some changes in their lives, but the grand, driving force of pure dogmatism has disappeared.

So I suppose the lesson I took from this was that holding your ground and acting on/being true to your character is important to maintaining an identity and strong progression through life. Don't stand still or get lost in internal debate, but use conflict to come to new places in thought and in life. Or something like that.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Garden Variety Anxiety

uch to my dismay, Twitter has trained me to only have witty, entertaining thoughts in 140 character spans. This makes writing blog posts a humorless and rambly process, especially if I don't crank out a post immediately when inspiration strikes (whaBAM).

So now here I am, three weeks after starting an ambitious yard rehabilitation project (it's impossible to phrase that in any clever or alliterative manner. Cookie to anyone who can) trying to remember what I wanted to say about it.

I guess the first thing would be "hire a dang landscaper with a backhoe," if you can. The yard I'm working with is (according to 0.13 acres, maybe half of it taken up by the house, but with a good sized front yard and considerable backyard. When we moved in, all but maybe, maybe 20% of the backyard was either underwater or overgrown. I wouldn't want to lose the topsoil by having heavy machinery rip out the overgrowth, but regrading would be easier, nay-doable with something more efficient than a shovel.

del ray, alexandria, yard, flooding, overgrown, landscapingdel ray, alexandria, yard, flooding, overgrown, landscaping

Anyway, having thrown my back out doing too much of that by hand (and the upcoming birthday doesn't make me feel younger, either), I'm going to wait for it to actually rain again before reevaluating the drainage situation. I improvised a rain garden with existing daylilies and added irises, bee balm and a willow stick which will hopefully sprout (they always do when I don't want them to...) and a little slope and dip for water to accumulate in.

del ray, alexandria, yard, flooding, overgrown, landscapingdel ray, alexandria, yard, flooding, rain garden, permeability, overgrown, landscaping

Mostly, the rest of the work is ripping out vines (english ivy, poison ivy, virginia creeper, roses, that variegated purple flowering thing and whatever else) and hopefully getting grass to grow. The new lawn needs to be tilled and aerated, but there are so many roots and bricks (which is great, I'm planning a patio, too, but at 30+ bricks randomly strewn around the yard under the grass...) I'm not sure a rototiller is a good idea.  So for the moment, turning over a new garden bed, an existing one and getting my seedlings in will take top priority.

seedlings, indoors, transplant, Virginia, Alexandria, Johnny's

After all of that, I'm (understandably, I hope) anxious about getting everything to grow. The addition of (free!) composted horse manure that I lugged up from Lorton (yes, by myself, in contractor bags, in my little honda) should be enough to improve the soil and feed the plants. For exciting realtime updates, just follow the hashtag: #gardenvarietyanxiety. 1

1. Note that because twitter is stupid, the hashtag isn't searchable. Yet.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Etymology, or, Seeing the trees for the forest

eautiful.         Pronunciation:  /ˈbjuːtɪfʊl/
Forms: beautefull, beutifull, beutyfull, bewtifull, bewtyfull, beuty-, butyful, beautifull, beautyfull, beautiful, beautifull.
Etymology:  < beauty n. + -ful suffix. Occas. compared with -er, -est, usually with more, most.

A.2.a.  Affording keen pleasure to the senses generally.
A.3. Impressing with charm the intellectual or moral sense, through inherent fitness or grace, or exact adaptation to a purpose. 1
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.2
beautyn.   Pronunciation/ˈbjuːtɪ/
Etymology:  Middle English bealte,  beute, < Old French bealtebeaute,  biaute,  earlier beltet, modern beauté, (cognate with Provencal beltat,  beutat, Spanish beldad, Italian beltà ) < late Latin *bellitātem, < bellus beautiful: see -ty suffix1.

I. abstractly: 2. That quality or combination of qualities which affords keen pleasure to other senses, or which charms the intellectual or moral faculties, through inherent grace, or fitness to a desired end; cf. beautiful adj. 3.

   A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow's wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.
   I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.
   The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another run St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.
   I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil. 3
1. "Beautiful, adj. and n." Second edition, 1989; online version December 2011. <>; accessed 26 February 2012. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1887.
2. Baudelaire, Charles. "L’Invitation au Voyage." Online version 21 mars 2012 à 15:42 <éme)>; accessed 30 March 2012.
3. Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner, 1964. Print.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Photos of phood: Nougatine Pastry Crisps

ood lord.
I haven't posted since the holidays! The horror! Much didn't happen, then much did happen, and now I've got several drafted posts to get out and need to decide which go first. So instead, here's a couple photos of the most recent baking incident.

Earlier this month I had a request for palmiers as a birthday gift, so I [somewhat foolishly] bought a log of Amish butter from the local butcher. Foolish because 1) I neglected to notice that this was *salted* butter, something I never use and 2) it will always smell like butcher shop to me. Also probably 3) 2lbs of butter was more than I needed and more expensive than the perfectly good Cabot at home, but heck. Anyway, I had half left over and the fastest way to get rid of butter is in a 1lb butter package in pastry, SO:

pastry, nougatine, almond, caramelMade puff pastry dough. ... only then did I go through a few recipes and realise that everything called for ingredients I didn't have (and I try to bake only with things on-hand, otherwise it would become a huge expense very quickly), fruit and cream and whatnot. Palmiers really only use butter, flour and sugar, which makes them very convenient. Eventually I found a recipe for an assembled dessert from the Ritz involving sort of a pastry sandwich around a cream/fruit filling from the Pie and Pastry Bible (I know, I know, big surprise, I'm using the book again).

pastry, nougatine, almond, caramel The pastry discs are simply slabs of the dough rolled out thin and baked between cookie sheets to keep them flat. However, the secret (or not) addition is the nougatine crumble which tops them. I doubled the original recipe for this (figuring it can go on yogurt and stuff, too) and got a nice sheet of almond filled crunchy caramel. With a crumbled spoonful of this sprinkled on top, the pastry rounds become cookies with slightly chewy caramel and nutty almonds on top. Easy enough, attractive, and so flakey you can barely pick one up.