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  • September 4, 2006

White Elephant

Almost every Labor day weekend for that last 4 years, we have gone over to the Spokane, WA area. One of the places we always make a point of going to is the White Elephant. Essentially a toy store for kids of all ages. It’s also located two blocks from a Salvation Army Thrift store so mom is happy too.

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  • September 1, 2006

Reading

I read a lot! I started reading (for pleasure) in College when I had a job working in a gas station booth on the swing shift during the summer with no good Calculus homework to occupy my time. I picked up one of Issac Asimov’s Foundation books to keep from going bonkers. Ever since, you can usually catch me half way through several different books. I’m reading about 5 right now. Consequently, my kids having acquired a love of books and can often be found throughout the house buried in some book. 

Anyway, I just finished reading a really good book. So good that I wanted to recommend it to others. David Bodanis, has written an awesome book titled, Electric Universe – The Shocking True Story of Electricity. David has selected some key discoveries (certainly not all) that have formed what we have come to know about electricity and how to harness it. Then drawing on the research he has done on the details of the people and places behind the events, David presents an extemely engaging narrative that draws you in as the story unfolds. David does a great job of describing the electronic processes involved in simple approachable terms that makes it an easy read for someone who is not an electrical engineer.

Anyway, I went ahead and subscribed to the Amazon Associate program to create the link on the sidebar so you can check it out if want. If enough of you buy it through the link I’ll get a gift certificate from Amazon to help feed my habit.

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  • July 17, 2006

Microsoft announced this morning that it is pulling support for private folders, which it had just recently released on the web. This seemed like a good time to mention a free software product that I have been using for a while that I believe is many times better.

TrueCrypt

Free Open-Source On-The-Fly Encryption

download: http://www.truecrypt.org/

TrueCrypt is really simple to use. After installing (which is optional for all you no-install fans) You merely create a new true crypt volume. The first decision you need to make is the encryption alogorithm. There are several to choose from. (AES, Blowfish, CAST5, Serpent, Triple DES, Twofish, AES-Twofish, AES-Twofish-Serpent, Serpent-AES, Serpent-Twofish-AES, Twofish-Serpent). Luckily TrueCrypt provides a detailed description of each so you can pick one that’s right for you. Next, you need to choose the size. Finally you need to specify a password. TrueCrypt will then format your volume with randomly encrypted data.

After you have created the volume you can mount it to any available drive letter. From there you just drag and drop the files you want to encrypt onto the drive. That’s all there is too it. When the volume is unmounted there is no way to get to the data until you mount it again. (which requires the password)

One of the neatest features of TrueCrypt is “Plausible Deniability.” I know that sounds kind of cloak and dagger but practically it means this. You can name your volume anything you want with any extension you want. So call it setup.exe or something common like that. If someone tries to run it it won’t work. If someone more savvy looks at a hex dump there is nothing in the file that would clue you into the fact that its an encrypted volume. If I kept sensitive customer data on my laptop in a TrueCrypt volume and my laptop was stolen. A hacker might figure out my administrator password (There are plenty of cracking programs available to do that) but they probably won’t notice a temporary file, or a bad setup.exe and think, hey there is probably secret data in there!

Moon from Celestia

I saw a post on Make today of a collection of high-resolution (2750×2300) image scans of the 30 color plates from Alexander Jamieson’s 1822 (almost 200 years old!) star atlas. Couresy of the United States Naval Observatory Library. I’m sure many can think of lots of ways to use this beautiful antique art.

Anyway, while perusing antique star charts it reminded me that I had come across a really cool little application recently that I haven’t heard much about. Celestia, written by Chris Laurel, is like Google Earth for space. Even if you are not an astronomer, this little graphics application offers the opportunity to see the galaxy in a totally different way.

This year, the first thing we did to celebrate Independence Day was complete our bunkbed project. During the last part of last year we bought outstanding online plans to build our own triple bunkbed for our three girls. We bought the wood using gift certificates we received over the holidays. On Saturdays in January and February we cut, routed, sanded and drilled the wood. In early March we primed it. Just last week we painted it and this morning we assembled it amidst much celebration.

Triple Bunkbed

For now we are using sleeping bags and camping pads, but we will get real mattresses eventually. Now we are heading over to have steak and shrimp with the family and then toward dark we are planning to go to the Chris’ home in unincorporated King County where we will “light the night fantastic.”

Recently we have had signs that a mole had made his home in our yard splitting his time between our vegetable garden and mom’s flower garden. Yesterday morning, Micah surprised us when he came to the door holding a live mole. Apparently the mole had come out of his hole and before he could get back in, Micah grabbed him.

Micah and the mole

Since then we have learned all kinds of things about mole. They squeak when you hold them. They eat their weight in earthworms everyday. If you are bit by a wild animal you need to call the state health department to see if that species is on the rabies list. The big one in Washington is bats! Luckily moles currently are not on the list.

Mole

Mole

Finally, we learned this morning that a mole can escape a 5 gallon bucket filled halfway with dirt. I didn’t think they could jump or climb vertical surfaces twice their body length, but I was wrong. So the mole is on the loose again, but we have an experinced hunter!

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  • June 6, 2006

Whilst perusing my favorite homepage I came across 2 stories that are really interesting. I feel the ich to post something today, probably because it’is sunny in Seattle and I am trying to avoid work.

First, scientist believe they have discovered the oldest astronomy computer. How cool is that. I’ve often wondered how different life would be for me if I had be born out of time. Would I have been a mediocre farmer with an incredible untapped talent? It’s reassuring to know that computers, in one form or another, have been around for a long, long time.

Second, a different set of scientists believe figs were likely humans’ first crop. Now fig newtons have always been one of my favorite kinds of cookies so this doesn’t really surprise me. However, the article stated:

“These figs, however, do not produce seeds and can’t reproduce on their own. Reproduction can occur only if humans plant shoots. Thus, the existence of the figs means that husbandry was taking place.”

What I really wanted to know was how a plant that can only reproduce with human intervention can exist billions and billions of years while humans evolve to the point of being able assist them in reproducing. Does anyone else worry about these kinds of things?

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  • June 2, 2006

 Our families favorite restuarant opened a new location in downtown Redmond. While we were only the second ones there. I’m sure we had several first among use. First soy sauce dripped on the table. First rice spilled on the floor. First nose and hand prints on the glass windows. A good time was had by all. Here is a before and after shot I took with my cellphone.

Before

after

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  • May 31, 2006

RSS Feeds

While enjoying the Memorial Day weekend on the Oregon coast, I came across this scene and just started laughing.

Aside from the work that I have to do for a living, which most would say is considerable, I’ve been buried in too many cool things to do. So to bring you (notice singular, I don’t expect I have a huge following) up to speed here is what I’ve been upto.

First, I’ve installed Office 2007 beta2 and have been trying to use it as my RSS reader. I’m sure with all the eye-candy the new version of Outlook will appeal to many, but I was looking for something that would make my life easier. I originally sought out the beta after hearing it mentioned on an episode of The TabletPC Show podcast. The feature mentioned that sounded so cool was that the new Outlook would not only scan your RSS feeds, but download the actual webpage as an attachment so you could read it offline. I thought if that was possible, I could consider taking public transportation to work. The reason I don’t now is that it takes me 15 minutes to drive to work, but for some reason our public transportation system require 45-75 minutes and two bus changes to accomplish this feet. If I could use that time to read my feeds then I wouldn’t be wasting the time. Anyway after days to wrestling, the beta version of Outlook will indeed download the webpage and save it as an attachment, but there is no way to display that attachment in Outlook. It’s just like Microsoft to go 95% of the way to an awesome solution and leave the last 5% hanging. I guess if I was an entrepreneur I could get rich doing the last 5%, I just don’t have the time.

Within all this, one of my favorite little companies goes and acquires the US portion of a company that owns a graphics program I’ve been dying to try out. DAZ Productions is one of the few purely internet companies that I have ever been a repeat and delighted customer of. I’ve been a Poser user since version 3, back when DAZ was part of Zygote and Poser was made by MetaCreations. Anyway, MetaCreations imploded after Kai Krause (an awesome software architect, best remembered for Kai’s Power Tools) left in 1999 and his legacy of fine graphics packages were scattered to the four corners of the internet. But that is a matter worthy of a much larger post altogether. Since then I have continued to use Poser as it passed from hand to hand and along the way became a loyal and repeat customer of DAZ Productions. I have an Outlook reminder that fires every Monday morning to remind me to go out and download the weekly free model there and in the past I have joined the Platinum Club for a year so I could buy a bunch of models at fantastic discounts. Anyway, the first thing DAZ did after acquiring Eovia was to celebrate by selling Hexagon for $1.99 to all existing Platinum Club members. After downloading the trial version. I reinstated my Platinum Club membership for another year ($99.95) and got my copy of Hexagon. For those used to doing surface modeling ala Wings3D, Hexagon rocks! Then DAZ announced that they were selling Carrara for $99 (after Platinum Club discount), I was in heaven. Now, with Hexagon, Poser and Carrara, I have an arsenal of 3D Modeling tools, not to mention a slew of free models that DAZ gave me for renewing my membership, plus more that I bought with their $35 voucher.

To top that all off, I’m becoming a Second Life addict. I read a blog from my favorite Co-host of my favorite podcast where he said he had bought land in SecondLife. So I have been hanging out at his place, building and scripting. At one point I started working on a skyscraper, but I quickly hit his prim limit and was stopped at the first floor, I don’t yet understand what that is, but I’m learning. Anyway, I left him an orb with a greeting card, but as near as I can figure he hasn’t seen it yet. It’s still there, so he hasn’t deleted it. I don’t want to make it so big that you can see from space or anything so I guess I’ll just have to be patient. Aside from that I’ve been wondering around (you can cover a lot of ground with a teleporter) like a Pack Rat collecting virtual copies of every free model, texture and animation there is and then spending hours organizing and sorting and culling duplicates. I’m sure this behavior is OCAR related but I can’t help it.

So this turned out longer than I thought, but there you go. That’s why I haven’t been blogging recently.