February 23, 2005

How Cool Is This?

Design your own bitmap font online -- and when you're done, it produces a TrueType font file that you can save to your computer. Those clever Japanese ...

(via the sidebar of makeready.org, who got it from kottke.)

Posted by Kevin at 11:57 AM

February 22, 2005

Befuddled Guy Versus The World

There's a preview trailer up for an upcoming film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly -- between the fact that it's a PKD novel put to film and their choice to use rotoscoping versus straight-up live action, it looks interesting, to say the least.

But why why why put Keanu Reeves in the starring role? Is there some unspoken pact among the shadowy figures controlling Hollywood that he's the only possible man who can take the role of a dazed-and-befuddled-looking guy making his way through a futuristic world that may or may not be reality? The Matrix movies may have made umptymabillion dollars, but Keanu was hardly the key to their success. Plus, the scruffy beard he's wearing in the preview makes him look like Tom Green.

Now how long before somebody tries making a film version of Ubik?

Posted by Kevin at 01:12 PM

February 21, 2005

World-Record Transit Riders

From reading Ian Marchant's book Parallel Lines (a non-fiction work about the madness of particular breeds of railfans), I learned about people who set themselves the goal of travelling between all the stations of the London Underground (currently, there are 275) as quickly as possible. There's a website, tubechallenge.com, that sets out rules for the quest, provides a bit of history, and lists the official, confirmed-by-Guiness world-record times for fastest traversals (not only do people beat previous records, but the game itself changes from time to time as stations are added or closed). Geoff Marshall, one of the current co-record holders, has a webpage detailing his Tube Challenge exploits.

It seems no surprise that someone has done the same for the Hamburg system -- Der ganze Hamburger Verkehrsverbund in einem Tag. (Zany mechanized Google translation here.) He is fearless, travelling over Hamburg's entire transit map -- not just the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, but all of the local regional rail lines as well, for a total of 206 stations. He has analyzed the problem thoroughly; his Web page dissects all of the potential bottlenecks.

His first attempt, in January 2004, took 20 hours and 17 minutes (looking at the pictures, I wouldn't want to spend any more time in outdoor rail stations than I had to -- brrrr!); the second, in more temperate May, took 19 hours and 49 minutes.

Sadly, there's no such thing as a Guiness world record for doing the Hamburg system in the least amount of time; they only offer records for London and New York City.

Posted by Kevin at 08:06 PM | Comments (2)

Why Does My Employer Hate Freedom?

It's Presidents' Day today, but I have to work. By failing to honor the great men who have led our country, obviously my corporate masters hate America and hate freedom. However, since our vacation plan must have been designed by freedom-hating European-style socialists bent on undermining the work ethic -- at this point in my seniority, I get almost six weeks off per year -- I don't really mind missing this particular rainy, gloomy holiday. (Although if this were Europe, I'd get all of my time off plus every single esoteric holiday on the calendar -- feast days for little-known saints, anyone?)

Making work that much more difficult this morning is the fact that the fire alarm is blaring at the YMCA day care center down the street. At first, I thought that it was a burglar alarm, so I called the police department's non-emergency number; then I walked down there and discovered it was the fire alarm, so I came back home and called 911. I obviously wasn't the first person to do so, as the dispatcher's voice had a certain edge to it as she informed me that the fire department had already been there, determined that it was a false alarm, and was trying to contact someone to open the building and turn it off.

My first call was around 7 AM, and the alarm is still going strong over three hours later. We don't live right next door, so it's not so loud that the dogs are going crazy and we can't hear ourselves think -- rather, it's a constant low ringing that's just loud enough and is at just the right frequency to burrow into your mind and break all concentration.

Hopefully they can find someone who can come down and shut the damn thing off, but I'm guessing that the chances of digging up a YMCA employee on a holiday weekend have to be pretty low. How long before someone in the neighborhood decides to 'shut off' the alarm himself, like a car vandalized on a busy New York City street (scroll down to the comments) because its alarm has been going off for hours and nobody cares?

[10:45 AM UPDATE: They finally turned the alarm off, not fifteen minutes after I finished writing this. Obviously somebody out there was reading my blog.]

Posted by Kevin at 10:23 AM

February 18, 2005

An Offer We Couldn't Refuse

Yesterday while driving around, I had the radio tuned to KPCC, one of our local public radio stations. Between programs, they had a pre-fundraising blurb: donate now, before our regular fund drive begins, and not only do you still get a free-gift tchotcke, you'll be entered into a drawing to win a $1,000 shopping spree at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena! (This is an old-fashioned shopping spree, too -- no "we'll give you a gift certificate and you can visit our website"; they open the store for you alone for one hour, and whatever you can pick up during that time, you get.)

We'd been talking about making a donation to public radio for a while now, but this was the straw that broke the camel's back. Now we're entertaining unrealistic fantasies about how we'll spend our thousand dollars.

So, all of you should give money to public radio -- but if you want to give to KPCC, wait until after March 9th, so as not to dilute our chances in the contest!

[KPCC is another item for the 'you can't go home again' file: I was wondering why it sounds so different from how I remembered it, and after a little Googling, found that it was essentially purchased from Pasadena City College by public-radio powerhouse Minnesota Public Radio in 2001 and switched to MPR's standard mostly-talk-and-news format. So all of the locally-produced, eclectic programs -- like the hour of old-time radio, the show that played nothing but German music, or that other show that played nothing but pipe-organ music -- have all disappeared or scattered to other, smaller stations.]

Posted by Kevin at 11:18 AM

Renovation Porn (or, "Thank God We're Not Doing That!")

Living in a hundred-year-old house naturally leads to thoughts of restoration and renovation.

So far, we're purely small-time renovators. We've changed some light fixtures. We've replaced almost all of our normal light switches with period-look pushbutton lightswitches from Classic Accents. We've replaced some of our el-cheapo brass interior doorknobs with glass knobs from Emtek (purchased at HomeAnnex.com -- we looked near and far to find a source for glass knobs that wasn't charging exorbitantly outrageous prices, and HomeAnnex was by far the lowest).

A pressure to Do Something more elaborate has been building; our most likely candidate is the back bathroom, marked now by its warping and separating Pergo-knockoff floor (who puts a wood product like that in the bathroom?) and corroding el-cheapo brass (sense a theme here? A lot of the replacement hardware is of the 'what was on special at Home Depot that week?' variety) fixtures. We'll probably make it over using an age-appropriate turn-of-the-century 'sanitary' look -- with white hexagonal tile on the floors, white beadboard or "subway tile" up to mid-torso level on the walls, and period-looking fixtures (white porcelain with nickel or chrome).

Our timetable is pretty lax; so far we've mostly been looking at books and Web pages, occasionally saying "oooh, I like that". We've already bought some fixtures that we like -- a mirror, a glass shelf, a wall-mounted drinking glass/toothbrush holder -- that are now sitting in their boxes. I guess that once we acquire a critical mass of boxed-up fixtures (or something that's too big to ignore, like a new sink), then it'll be time to begin.

And being a geek, thoughts of renovation lead to (endless amounts of time wasted ...) browsing the Web, where I've found a community of old-house-bloggers. Seeing these people at work has given me a newfound thankfulness for the solid condition of our house -- we have the luxury of contemplating a bathroom remodel right out of the box, rather than beginning by replacing our foundation or rewiring the entire house. Although I have to admit there's a certain amount of envy involved, too -- it seems like it would be a lot of fun (albeit the really-hard-work kind of fun) to take a house down to its bones and undo the legacy of generations worth of bad remodeling. But I know that if we were taking on a project like that, we probably wouldn't be living in Southern California; it's not that there weren't plenty of bungalow fixers on the market during our housing search, it's that the fixers were priced a hairsbreadth below the already-fixed! In an area where you're already blowing all your cash on the house, you'd have to pick pretty carefully (or be independently wealthy) in order to have enough money left over to properly take apart and reassemble the house afterwards, too.

(Some of my favorite old-house blogs so far: House In Progress [their house came with 70 years worth of junk inside -- check out their "What on Earth?" section!], Casa Decrepit, 1912 Bungalow, and Fixer-Upper. Also interesting/useful is the message board on the Web site of American Bungalow magazine. [We've become subscribers!])

Posted by Kevin at 09:20 AM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2005

Happy Birthday To Me

So I had my 30th birthday a couple of days ago -- I don't feel particularly older or wiser yet, though. It was a good day -- Shelby lavished me with presents in the morning; that night, we went to dinner at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant -- an Orange County classic!

The festivities aren't over yet, though. My 30th party is this Saturday at our house -- the second party we've thrown at the new place, after our housewarming in November. If you got an invite and haven't RSVPed yet, let us know if you'll be there!

Posted by Kevin at 05:38 PM


(Click on either picture for a larger version of that image.)
New tiered sleeping arrangement lets you fit double the number of Beagles into the same amount of couch space!

Scout has certainly picked up a lot of bad behavior from watching Digory -- jumping up on people, begging, etc. -- but I think that this is the first thing that Digory's learned from watching Scout. Scout jumped up on top of the couch to look out of the window, and the lightbulb went on in Digory's head. This afternoon, the top of the couch has been the only place he's wanted to sleep. It's cute for now, but I think it might be a bit hard on the couch if he decides to take it up as a long-term habit ...

And just in case there's any doubt about who's living in this house ... our Beagle mailbox topper, a housewarming gift from my parents that I finally got around to installing today.
Posted by Kevin at 04:56 PM | Comments (1)

February 08, 2005

Stop The Madness

When we were in Hamburg, we didn't have a car, and we very seldom regretted not having one. Our neighborhood was structured so that many things we were interested in -- grocery stores, restaurants, Shelby's language school -- were within walking distance. For things that weren't walkable, we had a myriad of transit options -- bus, subway, and commuter rail.

Now that we're back in California, we use our car to get everywhere, because that's pretty much our only choice. And there are a collection of interests arrayed to make sure that remains the status quo. This week OCTA -- Orange County's transportation agency -- announced that it was pulling the plug on CenterLine, a planned 9.3 mile, $1 billion light-rail line through the center of the county. Right-wingers and NIMBYs everywhere cheered to hear that this socialist boondoogle was going down to its death.

But then -- then! -- OCTA announced that in CenterLine's place, it wanted to pursue BRT, Bus Rapid Transit -- a system in which buses have their own dedicated traffic lanes -- a move that produced this masterpiece (registration required, but you could always use BugMeNot) on the editorial page of the Orange County Register, our local 'paper' of record:

There's much that can be done to enhance traffic mobility other than mass transit. Roads and streets can be widened, off-ramps improved, new freeways and toll roads built and so forth. But the responsible agencies need to want to do these things. Steeped in anti-car and environmental dogma, government transportation planners too often don't believe in doing them.

Do these people actually exist in the same Orange County that the rest of us do? We've already got streets that are six or eight lanes across. We've already got freeways that are ten or twelve or fourteen lanes across. Insane people are proposing to extend the 57 freeway on top of the Santa Ana River. But yet, everytime I go out during rush hour, I thank God that I get to work at home, because there are so many cars out there that driving is downright unpleasant, if not jammed-solid impossible. I think that we've already reached the point of diminishing returns where it's only a matter of time before anything new that we build -- no matter how wide it is, no matter what technological marvel of a metering system controls the flow of cars -- is completely jammed and we're back to square one again.

Not only will we be spending hundreds of millions on road projects of ever-decreasing utility, but for these streets and freeways that have already been widened as far as they'll go, making them any wider is going to destroy just as many, if not more homes and businesses as any commie-pinko light rail line or bus transit corridor ('homes and businesses would have been lost along CenterLine's right-of-way!' was another cheerleading point for the Register) -- still, somehow, that's all a-okay.

It seems to me that some people who've been steeped in pro-car and anti-transit/anti-environmental dogma need to wake the hell up. Shouldn't we be increasing our options while we still have the luxury of doing so?

Posted by Kevin at 09:01 AM

February 06, 2005

Scout The Tattletale

Yesterday I was outside working in the back yard when I heard Scout barking. Fearing that some kind of dominance struggle that needed my intervention was taking place (to my paranoid mind, every interaction between Scout and Digory is now fraught with undertones of dominance and needs close supervision), I ran around the corner to find that ...

... Digory, having lost track of me and become bored, had found a box of Kleenex and dragged it outside. He looked up guiltily, with a mouth full of Kleenex and with a crushed box and shredded bits of tissue around his feet. Scout was standing on the porch, looking at him and barking even louder now that I'd come on the scene -- "See? I told you that you were going to get it!"

Daaaaaad, come quick -- Digory's being baaaaaaad!

Our little tattletale!

Posted by Kevin at 04:39 PM

February 05, 2005

Quotable Quotes

A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.

-- Ogden Nash

Digory is that dog, and our door is that door. He loves his new backyard, but not for too long -- Wait! Am I missing out on something going on inside?

Posted by Kevin at 10:54 AM

February 04, 2005

Orange County versus The OC

Via Metroblogging Orange County, I was led to this article from The New Zealand Herald(!) on what life is like in the real Orange County versus what's depicted on the TV show The OC.

It's clear that the author spent her time in an alternate-OC (Newport Beach? Laguna?) that bears no resemblance to the Orange County I'm used to -- an OC where everybody is driving Porsche Cayennes, drinking lychee martinis, getting cosmetic toe-shortening surgery, using vegan condoms, and can take seriously admonitions like "mini antlers! Wear them instead of gold anchors or horseshoes, which are so last year." Does the author live here? Or did she just visit? And if so, how long? Is a crowd of teenagers somewhere in South County still giggling over just how badly they were able to put one over on the gullible foreigner?

I'd be tempted to write the whole thing off as a fantasia if only it weren't for the fact that a yurt in Costa Mesa is home to one of the hippest (according to what I read, at least) vegan restaurants in Orange County.

We'll have to get around to watching an episode of The OC one of these days just so we can see what the heck everyone else is talking about (actually, first we'll have to get around to getting cable/satellite/whatever -- that one kind of fell off of the to-do list). For all of the Orange County natives who've spent their whole lives saying "oh, I come from ... near Los Angeles" (or "I come from ... near Disneyland") as an answer to "so, where are you from?" every time they leave California, it looks like The OC may have finally put us on the map worldwide -- but if this is what people will think about when they think about us, maybe being from "near LA" isn't such a bad deal after all.

Posted by Kevin at 08:38 AM

February 02, 2005

Digory, Day 4

No new pictures for today (yet ...)

Our new boy has got a voice on him when he gets upset. Unlike Scout, who's got kind of a wimpy bark, and who doesn't bay (that deep-throated Beagle woooooooooooo ...) much unless she's really worked up, Digory's got a more traditional-sounding deep-voiced Beagle bark, and he's already done some baying -- he's got the lungpower to sustain his woooooooo pretty well. I can't wait to see what happens the first time he sees a squirrel or something else he thinks that we can go hunt. Fortunately he doesn't bark all that much -- he gets upset when we leave or when we come home, but that doesn't last very long. He hasn't been barking when he goes in his crate at night; he was barking to get out this morning, but I think that was set off by Scout, who's turned into an incurable morning barker.

He was a good boy for most of yesterday -- but around the end of the day, he tried to get dominant on Scout (including a few attempts at humping -- which reminded us that we need to make sure that Digory is in fact neutered, since that's one piece of his paperwork that was missing ...), and she was having none of that. I think that we just didn't tire him out enough, since I didn't do the walkies or the marathon run-in-the-yard session that we had the day before.

He's almost learned "sit" -- it happens sometime, but not all the time. We're hunting around for a trainer so that we can teach him some of the other things he should have learned by now.

[2 PM UPDATE: After input from our readers -- plus an "aha!" moment of our own -- we realized that there's a really easy way to tell whether or not Digory's been neutered, given that he's a male dog and all. Given that he is indeed missing -- ahem -- some original equipment, now it's clear that Digory's just a humping enthusiast, rather than a dog who's trying to accomplish something. This is what I get for writing an entry before I'm fully awake in the morning ...]

Posted by Kevin at 08:17 AM

February 01, 2005

Even More Dogblogging

It's a sunny day here in Anaheim. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Posted by Kevin at 11:44 AM