Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Guess What I Saw Coming In This Morning?

Deer have made themselves at home at the laboratory where I work, which has invited mountain lions and other predators, as well. It's a pretty safe place otherwise, I'd wager, and people like to see them. Some, however, consider the deer to be nothing more than pests ("overgrown rats", as one fellow put it). Nevertheless, this cute little guy met me on my way in to work, bounding around its mother with carefree joy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu

Wow, in just my last post I mentioned how I was worried about uncontrolled disease dangerously hurting humanity, and now we've got the "swine flu" rampaging across the world. I don't think I'm going to mention rampaging killer robots any time soon ...

I'd like to say something along the lines of "the good news is ..." but I can't think of any good news. I just hope it gets contained pretty darn soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

10 (Science) Things On Which I Have An Opinion

So, I wanted to record for posterity a few things that I've been thinking about lately that are science topics on which I have an opinion. They're kind of out there, but it all depends on your point of view.

-- 1) I believe in global warming. I can't say that it is exclusively caused by human-derived factors, but I think it is a combination of these and the Earth's natural cycles. I believe that we (humanity) have likely exacerbated the natural cycle, and we will pay the price. The Earth, as a System, is far too complex for us to arrogantly assume we're the cause of everything, but certainly, I believe, we have monkeyed with the natural order of things.

-- 2) I believe that global warming will ultimately cause the polar ice caps to melt, and it will be disastrous to us all as the oceans rise. I also believe this will happen much, much faster than anybody thinks.

-- 3) I believe the universe is far too big to contain just us. It's a ridiculously naive assumption to believe that life could have arisen only on this world amongst all the uncounted worlds around us. It may surprise a lot of people to hear that I also believe this jives very well with my religion.

-- 4) I have no opinion about visitors from other worlds. If they have been here in the past, they clearly have very good reasons for keeping themselves hidden. I don't find it likely they've been here, but, as they say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

-- 5) I believe in something called convergent evolution. You are free to connect this point to any of my previous points, if you choose, but that's a discussion for another day.

-- 6) I believe that true social change in the world will come not from the technologically advanced countries, which have a tendency to be introverted, but rather from the many more people in the poorest of countries. There it is where war and other forms of strife will force changes in the way the world functions, and the "developed world", in all its hubris, will be forced to respond, not the other way around. (Okay, is this "science"? Sure, call it social science.)

-- 7) I believe the biggest threats to humanity come in two forms: death from above, and death from within. The former is my fear of asteroid impacts -- and it would be a crying shame if we could do something about it, but because of our stupidity choose not to put the infrastructure in place soon to do so. The latter is my fear of uncontrolled and/or uncontrollable disease, whether man made or not. Both forms give me the willies.

-- 8) I believe that technological development will continue to accelerate beyond anybody's wildest expectations, but I do not believe that an ultimate singularity where everybody "poofs" into higher intelligences will ever occur.

-- 9) Oddly enough, though, I do not believe that there will be some fundamental breakthrough that will change science as we know it within the next century. I perceive that our technological development will be along three lines: much, much smaller machines; much, much faster computers; and much, much smarter medicine -- the three being intimately connected.

-- 10) When "The Breakthrough" does occur, however, I believe it will be because it has been learned that we (scientists and engineers everywhere) had it all wrong. I believe that all matter and energy is connected in some unknown way. I believe gravity has something to do with it, but we just don't get it at the most fundamental level.

Well, that's my list. My opinions are mine alone, and likely to change.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

10 Blog Writing Tips

Okay, so I'm going to apologize in the very first sentence of this entry to those who may find offense by something that I say herein. Nevertheless, I've been thinking a lot about this topic ('cause, you know, my brain sometimes works randomly on things that are totally useless for the common good), and came up with a list of things that I wanted to record for posterity. Keep in mind that this list has absolutely nothing to do with content, just with layout and approach. So, without further adieu, here are ...

10 Tips to Making a Blog Readable

1. I've seen blogs with layouts that have backgrounds that "stick", so that when you scroll down, it stays put while the text moves up the screen. This, to me, is just horrible to behold. The human mind interprets the motion of objects that are in close proximity as a single entity. In three-dimensional space, things can have apparent motion that are dissimilar to each other and it looks natural, but only when there is a perceived depth of field. On a blog, a computer screen is two-dimensional, so if you move a flat screen of text, that which is immediately adjacent to it (i.e. the so-called "background") should go with it. So unless you have a more three-dimensional aspect to your blog and your text "floats" quite distinctly in "front" of the background, having a "sticky" background should be considered a total no-no.

2. References to pictures should go above the image that you are describing. This seems counter-intuitive for many, because in a fixed-page document you almost always put the caption below the image. However, a blog entry is not a fixed-page document. You scroll the blasted thing, and so as you're reading, you should refer to the image first in the text and then put the image in. That way you don't see a picture and think, "What is this thing?!" because you've been given context for the image before you actually see it. Even better, you should say stuff like, "This next picture is ..." so that the blog entry flows better.

3. For pictures inserted into a blog entry, you should be cautious about how you imbed them. For example, if you insert the picture to the right of your text, and allow text to flow down the left side of it, this is fine. But if your text is short and then your next image is hot on its trail, then you'll end up with a jumble of images that can overlap, and you could end up with poorly captioned images, orphaned sentence fragments, or, my personal favorite, the word that gets stretched across multiple lines one letter at a time. Therefore, if you allow the text to wrap beside your image (rather than forcing it to stay above and below it) you should be cautious when inserting multiple images.

4. Related to this, you should consider the "width" of your blog. For some users on low-resolution screens, things can get very crowded very quickly so that your images can end up crushed together and your text lost and confused. It is often a good idea to preview your blog entry in multiple widths before posting so that you can see what the visual result of your post may be before making it public. In this way, you can avoid the dreaded overlapping picture problem, which sometimes rears its ugly head in these scenarios. It is a good rule of thumb to not allow your text to wrap to your images if you have any doubt of the results.

5. If you have music that automatically plays when people go to your blog, there are probably a lot of people who resent you. The bottom line is that a lot of web surfing is done discretely during working hours, and if you have music that plays automatically when people go to your blog, you're doing them no favors. It's fine to have music, but at least have the courtesy to allow your visitor to choose to listen to it or not.

6. Your font color should be a darker color that will stand out if your background does not load properly. This does happen, even with the best of blogs, and when it does, the reader can be looking at an apparently blank blog entry if the writer chose white text for the color. Generally speaking, loud colors (sharp reds, bright greens) for a background is bad, and mild colors (any shade of white or pastel) for a foreground is equally bad.

7. Unless you specifically are creating your blog as an ode to your photo-taking awesomeness, your blog should not be littered with photographs. Even for blogs that record family events, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words may not include all the words that need telling. You need not post all ten versions of the snapshot you tried to take of your uncooperative child wiggling to get sand out of her shorts, unless, of course, that is the point of your blog entry. Far better, instead, to post the most embarrassing one for posterity and then describe the hilarity of the situation in your own creative words.

8. Which brings me to videos. Sometimes they are worth far more than a thousand words, but the writer of a blog should be careful about using these. They can't be printed out, so if you have the intent of ever referring to your old blog entries for historical purposes or to make a hard copy, video may be a very poor choice indeed.

9. Posting a blog entry just for the sake of posting should be avoided at all costs. Blogs are not and should not be confused with instant messenging, email, or twitter. Unless you've got something to say that meaningfully adds to your body of work, then don't say it! Really, it's okay. I know both of my faithful readers of this blog would forgive me if I didn't post for a while. I recognize I'm not the most interesting person in the world, and I don't have a personal need to keep these two readers amused every hour of every day. That's not why I write my blog, and I'm not famous enough to worry about it. So, unless you are, it's really okay to let your blog lay fallow for a while. There's enough inanity in the world without you putting your random one-liners in your blog. I'm occasionally guilty of this, and I hang my head in shame.

10. What is your purpose to writing your blog? You should know your purpose, and your purpose could be as random as you are. Nevertheless, if you set up a blog with a definitive theme, you should stick to it. After all, a blog is a blank canvas on which to create something representative of who you are or what you are trying to communicate. For example, I keep a separate blog for family history -- which is the purpose of that blog. In my case and for this, my personal blog, I am a random, sorta-intellectual (i.e. nerdy), family-oriented kind of guy, but generally speaking, the purpose of my blog is to serve as a journal (since I'm really bad about writing in a real one) and to be a vent for things that bounce around in my head. Sorta like this blog entry ...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Oh, What Do You Do ...

... during the kids' spring break? Do you sleep until 9 am? Do you bicycle ride and read a good book and play on the Wii all day? Is that what you do? So do I ...

;)

Ah, I love vacationing at home. Now that the kids are older and I have a wife that can't sleep in even when she tries, she loves me enough to let me sleep in. I can't remember the last time I slept until 9, and yet I've done it both of the last two days! This may not sound really late to you, but bear in mind that I usually arise just after 5 am, so this is big. It won't happen the next two days, of course, but I'm happy with what I've had!

As for the bicycle ride yesterday, I ended up taking a hot bath last night to soothe my slightly weary legs, and this morning I found that I lost a pound and a half, despite eating a lot of high-calorie foods (Thai dishes for lunch and a very tasty ice cream bowl at night). Strange how a sudden burst of exercise can cause your metabolism to sky-rocket. I am so hungry right now ...

My wife has been doing a lot of shopping, too. She gets the most done whenever I'm home and can watch the kids. Taking the kids with her when she shops means that things take four times as long (four people = four times as long, by the way), so when she's on her own, she can be far more productive.

We did intend to do a bit of gardening and to go to the beach, but the weather hasn't been cooperative. It's been cool and threatening to rain (though it hasn't actually rained, yet **grr**), so those things don't seem too practical. Nevertheless, it's nice just to be home with the family.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Long Ride

Today we decided to go bicycle riding with the kids. Our city has a very extensive network of bicycle paths that criss-cross the valley, and we've never really explored them before. With my daughter recently learning how to ride a bicycle, and my oldest son itching to go on a long ride, we decided to take today and do it. The kids are out of school for spring break, and I took a vacation day. On top of that, we have a bicycle trailer that my youngest son has been wanting to ride in for a long time, so everything just made good sense.

My wife, however, has an aversion to riding bicycles. When she was a child, she had a bad accident (a downhill spill that broke a tooth) that she never really got over. Having no desire to join us, we figured this actually gave us two good benefits: 1) she could do a little shopping while we were out, and 2) the rest of us could ride wherever we were inspired and she could pick us up wherever we ended up. This actually worked out very, very well.

We started our little excursion at the bike path near our local Lowe's store. About 1-1/2 hours and five miles later, we found ourselves over by a shopping center with a McDonalds. I decided to call my wife and tell her we planned to stop to get an ice cream cone, when she announced she was actually right by there doing some shopping. She also told me that she had coupons for free scoops of ice cream at Cold Stone's, so we quickly diverted and joined her there.

I thought that the ice cream and the long ride would have satiated them, but we were surprised that they wanted to keep going. I was up for it, so back on the bikes we went to head towards where we started. We took the shorter route this time, and made it in about half an hour, but when we got there, the kids still weren't ready to be done! They wanted to keep going to visit the church we attend and then to go home, so I called my wife to tell her what we were doing (she, too, was surprised by their endurance) and then we kept going.

When we got to the church, I was afraid they were pretty well done again, as the rest of the trip home was nearly all uphill. To my surprise, they were still wanting to go! So, off we went. It was a long and exhausting ride, but they did phenomenally well, even my daughter, who is still pretty new to the bicycle riding thing.

The funny thing is that when we were about a quarter mile from home (just prior to the steepest part), my wife came up behind us in the van. Her timing was great, as my daughter really was out of steam by then, and my youngest son, who had so happily ridden in the bicycle trailer all those miles, announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Those two were loaded into the minivan to make the rest of the trip home, and I rode (and walked some) with my oldest son the rest of the way. When we arrived home, we were tired, happy, and satisfied with the day's experience.

My daughter, just learning to ride her bike, did take two spills where she got a little scraped up, but she's a tough little one and wasn't going to let a few scratches keep her from riding her bike some more. She did give me a few scares, though, when she fell over a few times towards the busy street. She was pretty wobbly and kept running into things, which would have been amusing if it wasn't so wince-inducing. By the end of the day, though, she really had learned some very good lessons, and her skills as a bicyclist are greatly improved.

My oldest son, however, a fine bicyclist, did take off a few times and left us behind. On two occasions, he actually was far enough away that I couldn't see him, and I had to get grumpy with him about that. After the second time, I reminded him about the buddy system (a big deal in the cub scouts) and he was much better after that.

At the beginning of the excursion, I wasn't sure how long they would last. I feared that my daughter would fall down (which she did, a lot) and decide to give up, or that my youngest son's patience would wear thin. Neither of these last two things happened for the many hours we were out. I think we went over ten miles, no small feat for kids that size in hilly terrain. The weather was beautiful (slightly overcast with a cool breeze) and the bike paths were great to explore. There are still more paths I'd like to try out, but next time I want to find a map so I can know better how to avoid the major roads.

I, however, am worn out. I think I'll sleep really well tonight. Maybe I'll go take a bath and soak for a while ...

It was a great day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Constellation Concept

There's an awesome video at this link. Strangely enough, it makes me want to buy a drum set ...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

4!

My little man is 4. My third-born child is 4. He's 4. He really is 4. He has 5 fingers on each not-so-little hand and he holds 4 of them up and tells me how old he is ... 4. 4! I'm amazed, astounded, beside myself, and redundantly repetitive.

But, wow, he's gotten so big. Our lives haven't worked out quite the way we planned it, as we actually intended to have another child a few years ago. So, here we are with "just" the three kids, and our youngest is 4. 4! (Sorry, I kind of have to repeat it as it isn't sitting too well.) Our little baby, no longer is. He's a walkin', talkin', mess-makin' machine who is fully self-willed. He can argue with us, lie to us (though he doesn't, really), and fight with his siblings (which he does with gusto -- that kid can hold his own).

He is extraordinary and we feel very blessed to have him. Sometimes we wonder how he can possibly be related to his two stinker siblings. We know he is, though, because, well, I was there when he popped out of the same mom as the other two.

He is so good-natured. that he surprises us all the time. He says "thank you" for his dinner, even when he doesn't want to eat it. He says "please" for things right before he takes it from you.

He is the happiest little guy that I've ever seen. He giggles at the drop of a hat (or the approach of a ticklish finger) and just loves to play pretty much anything. He always wants me to come and sit with him in the play-room, and while he hasn't really learned how to play with people, he certainly does want you in close proximity. He's awesome. And I totally love that he still fits so nicely on my lap and wants me to read to him all the time.

Yesterday for his birthday, I took off work and we had a fun day together. We took him to the park where we had a "birthday play date" with a bunch of his friends from the ward. It was strictly low-key, and my wife made cupcakes to give to everybody.

It was windy and cold, but we still stayed there for two hours (and I got sunburned). He had a great time, and I must have pushed him on the swing for fifteen minutes towards the end with him giggling the whole time. Granted, I had my "claw" out ready to tickle him every time he came forward, but still ... he's so awesome!

Afterwards, he wanted to go to "Old McDonalds", so we did and he downed his chicken nuggets and fries (can you believe kids meals are, like, $4.50 these days?!). Then we did a bit of shopping together, just he and my wife and I. It was quite fun. Afterwards, we retrieved his sister from school, then an hour later his brother, and we stayed home that evening just enjoying each other's company. He wanted pizza for dinner, so that's what my wife made for him, and after opening gifts it was all toys all the time. One thing he really wanted was a "Woo Hoo" train, from "GeoTrax" fame. Why "Woo Hoo"? I have no idea, but that's what he wanted, and he was absolutely ecstatic to get it.

Finally, at the end of the day, he was exhausted, but happy, and went to bed with a smile on his face.

It was a great birthday, and I was happy to have been able to take the day off from work to be with him. I like to be there for all my kids, but if he does end up being our very last child, I definitely want to make sure I don't miss anything. He is worth every second I can spend with him.

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