February 2009

Last night we attended the opening night of the intermediate school play called “The Diviners”.  Erin had a role of moderate size which we always find exciting.  They always do a comedy in the fall and a serious drama (in other words, depressing) in the spring.  This presentation was indeed depressing but you have to take it for what it is and it was a very good production for such young actors.    

We are once again the only parents willing to host the cast party which will be tonight so last night we hurried around trying to batten down the hatches as much as we could since we have very little time left to prepare.  I hope they don’t seize upon the idea of going into the back yard because I have not yet policed it for dog poop.  These being teenagers, if they found their way into that mine field, that’s all anybody would ever remember about the party.

The best idea we could come up with for decorations on the spur of the moment was to get out the nets of Christmas lights that I normally put on the bushes and staple them to the outside wall of the back patio.  It looks pretty cool so perhaps that will provide enough ambience to satisfy a bunch of 16 year olds.


Last night I visited a site that offered a downloadable mp3 of that annoying teenager-repellant sound that anybody older than 27 is not supposed to be able to hear.

I can hear it!

I guess that means my hearing is still good.  Or something.  It made me feel younger at any rate. 

It was indeed an annoying sound.

I’ve lately been trying to learn more software skills.  I’ve been doing software development professionally off and on for the last 20 years or so but I’ve realized lately that all of that stuff I’ve done at work is so narrowly focused and specific that it’s hardly useful anywhere else.  If you ask me to write a program that simply displays a photo on a screen, I would have no idea how to even start.

I tried to do that recently and was quickly humbled.

The trick is to find something that will allow you to do what you want but which will not cost a large sum of money.  Spending money on software is only slightly more fun and practical than buying lottery tickets and slot machine tokens.

What started me off on this tangent was the fact that even though I like Photoshop very much, it costs a fortune. I’m never really going to make that investment.  That kind of money for something that will become obsolete in a year is just silly.  All our excellent programming tools that I’ve used at various employers are likewise expensive.

I’ve tried lots of open source software and I am generally pleased with it.  Indeed, when I say that I used photoshop on something, I usually really mean that I used GIMP.  But I wanted something more because of my recent scanning activities.

I decided on C# express edition because a friend said it’s a very nice programming environment and the express edition is free.  With a little tutoring from my friend and some tutorials from a book, I feel that I’m off and running.

Every single negative I scan is wrong in the same way.  I’ve found that I can use GIMP to fix them right up and it’s always the same two operations.  Put together, they amount a lot of clicking which gets tiresome for hundreds of negative so this is a situation that is ripe for writing my own program to just do these things. 

I’m not there yet but I’m so close I can smell success.  I’ve had to teach myself a little image processing because if you know an image is low in contrast, you have to find an algorithm that will stretch the contrast.  Such things are well known but not usually done as a hobby.  Then there are the usual programming complications – getting files into and out of your program.  And of course, one quickly decides that it would be even better if instead of operating on one file only, you just operated on every file in a folder.  So the scope of things creeps ever larger.

But I’ve completed a lot of this so I should probably finish it up and then I’ll run it once on all my scanned negatives and that will be it.  Looked at from that perspective, it seems a bit silly but it does play up to my love of self-sufficiency.  It’s strangely similar to my motivation for changing my own brake pads or building my own furniture.  I guess I’m just a little weird but then I’ve known that for a long time.

I love weekends and this past one was especially productive.

We have the eternal issue that plagues everyone: if you go do what you think is fun, your home will become messy.  Mel usually does most of this and has expressed some displeasure at times at this state of affairs.  I therefore got up early Saturday and set about cleaning so that by noon or so, the house  was clean.  Erin had several things to do and had to get up early and be driven somewhere so the sound of the vacuum did not wake anybody up.

Erin is going on a mission trip with the church during spring break and so had to go spend the day at the church and learn to mix concrete.  At least that’s all I heard about the experience.  She then had to come home and get ready for the “Spring Formal”, i.e., the wanna-be prom they have before the kids get to the high school.  Just what we need – another thing that requires us to spend lots of money on clothing that will be worn once and that will tart our children up to tempt all the young boys which we all seem to agree beforehand is a bad thing.  Not that I’m bitter.

At any rate, Erin had a grand time at all this.  She has a friend whose parents are wealthy for reasons that I admire:  lots of very hard work.  They are very down to earth folks and are very quick to share their ample resources with a lot of kids which I appreciate.  Rather than have their daughter and their friends all driving cars at night in clothing they are not particularly comfortable in (and most of whom have only been driving for a month or two), this family rented one of those imitation trolley things to take all the kids to the formal. 

All her friends showed up at this house hours beforehand to get dressed and to get all excited about the event.  Us parents showed up at some point and made pictures and then the trolley arrived to trundle them all to the school.  The trolley waited and took them all back to that home for an after-party.  I got to know the Dad that night and his first priority was watching the punchbowl like a hawk.  He had arranged everything so that everybody had to come in and out of one door and most rooms were blocked. He wanted to be able to see everything from one vantage point.  Nothing out of the ordinary was going to happen to his little darling and for that I admire him.  He invited Mel and I to stay and help and we did.

While all this was going on Saturday, I not only cleaned the house but managed to burn up our vacuum cleaner.  I noticed that it was making a strange sound and stopped to examine it – I noticed a plume of smoke coming out of the housing and this marked the end of my cleaning.  I guess we’ll be buying a new vacuum soon.  I had to borrow one from my in-laws; it’s an old Kirby from approximately 1967 and it is still going strong.  Not only does it vacuum the floor, he has attachments that will allow it to spray paint.  Seriously.

I also spent some time in trying to install an iPod adapter onto my new car’s factory radio head unit.  For the first time in my life I was compelled to call technical support.  I was delighted to get a helpful guy on the other end who straightened  me right out but by then, I had lost the light and my patience.  I took up the task again Sunday morning and finished with flying colors.  Now I can plug my iPod into my car and listen without having to use one of those barely-workable radio things.  Why all high-end car music systems do not come with auxiliary inputs now, I’ll never know.  But then it was many decades before I bought a car with an actual CD player in it so I guess the automakers are just slow to upgrade.

I also managed to scan many photos this weekend as well as change the always-problematic light bulbs on the front porch and do some cleanup chores in the garage.  All in all, it was time well spent.

In addition to the mission training, Erin has several things all coming due at the same time so she was on the edge of exhaustion all weekend and will be for this coming week.  In addition to the formal (which she was helping organize and decorate for) and mission training Saturday and Sunday, she has this mock-trial thing on Monday and the play at the end of the week. 

So while I was enjoying my string of minor accomplishments, she was working herself to death.  It will be a long week for her. 

The car I bought was formerly owned by a smoker so I paid a detailing shop to destinkify it with their “ionizer”.  I don’t know what that is but it does get the smoky smell out of a car.  On that I can recommend it.  I don’t think that I would recommend a detail job though – I paid $150 for both the detail job and the ionizer and the detail job could easily be done by my in a few hours for a great deal less.  But the smell is worth paying to get rid of.

I’m making phenomenal progress in my scanning project although it’s only because I sit and scan mindlessly while doing something else.  That’s cool.  I’m over halfway done and just finished a ringbinder.

So far I’ve really been liking the new car so today I wanted to take a road trip – just go out driving.  We headed north and ended up in Skiatook, OK where we knew of a really good mexican restaurant – Senor Salsa.  We had a late lunch there and drove around the countryside listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” on the radio.

Skiatook has an ancient main street like most small towns but unlike most rural areas they have a store that sells spy gear.  All sorts of surveillance electronics.  To say that this was unexpected is a huge understatement.  Collinsville also has a nice old main street but its stores are limited to the “Tastee Freez” hamburger type store and barber shops.

Mel kind of wanted to go to the mall but I firmly refused.

I can accurately report that the norther Oklahoma countryside still looks like winter is here, which I guess it is.

The car is nice.  I look forward to installing an iPod adapter so I can get my podcasts back.

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