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Last Build Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 06:00:30 -0700

Tue, 27 May 2008 12:25:27 -0700

I'm porting the blog over to WordPress. The new home is More details here. The new RSS feed is feed:

Julian Barnes' voice

Fri, 23 May 2008 06:00:30 -0700

Though I wrote a master's thesis on Julian Barnes' novels. I'd never actually heard his voice until today. Surprisingly, he sounds almost exactly like I would have expected him to. I've read a good many interviews with him, but I'd never heard one before now. This one is from several years back, I suspect, as most of the discussion concerns Staring at the Sun (1986). But most of the comments are about writing itself and Barnes' own way of going about it. Definitely worth your time, if you're a fan at all. It's 00:08:36 (hh:mm:ss) in length: stream or download. There's a transcript, too, but I can't figure out how to link it (follow the first link for it).

Thirty-eight Orbits

Thu, 22 May 2008 09:00:16 -0700

I didn't take the time to blog my birthday this year. I couldn't think of anything to say other than the obvious ("yo, it's my frickin birthday"). I updated my weird little universe via FaceBook, Twitter, and Google Talk status messages. And I got quite a few feel-good comments via those channels, which was nice.

Today, finally catching up on my feeds, I found this nice birthday tribute from Kat. Which leaves me thinking "aw, shucks, man" and wanting desperately to be in Hot Springs with a chilled six pack at the ready.

I wanted to give some quick thanks to everyone who passed on birthday wishes, phone calls, cards, and gifts. Specifically: Gina, Haden, Vicki, Sonja, Tom, Gary, Jarod, Shauna, Lisa, Donna, Kendall, Kristen, Kelsey, Debbie, Ed, Jack, Mr. Hall, Andy, Alun, and Megan. I think that's everyone (though, sure as I say that, I've missed someone).

It was a good one. Gina and I caught a movie, ate some cake, and basked in our continued good fortune. Thanks to all of you. Number thirty-eight was a good one.

The mysterious NZ() function in Microsoft Access

Wed, 21 May 2008 07:46:04 -0700

I need to write up a nice demo with examples, but here's the short version: if you are creating aggregate queries in Microsoft Access 2007 (though it should work in previous versions, too) and end up with funny math because Access won't subtract a null from a numeric value (or add one to a numeric value, or perform any other bit of math involving nulls), you can force it to treat nulls as zeros by wrapping your statement with the NZ() function.

In my case, I had two aggregate columns: 1) giftReceivedAmount, and 2) giftPledgeAmount (both sum aggregates) that I wanted to sum together in a new column called Total. Ordinarily, you do that in Access by creating a new column in your query and calling it something like this: Total: [giftReceivedAmount] + [giftReceivedAmount]. The bit to the left of the colon is the (arbitrary) name you want to use for the column. Everything to the right of the colon is the math to compute the result.

That works fine as long as the columns you are adding both have a value. But, if either of them is null, the result will also be null. To force it, you wrap each column reference with the NZ() function. The second argument indicates that you want the nulls treated as zeros. So the statement for the column looks like this: Total: Nz([SumOfgiftReceivedAmount],0)+Nz([SumOfgiftPledgeAmount],0).

The title of the column is a second "gotcha," as their titles in the Query Builder Grid don't include the "SumOf" prefix. But, since they're aggregated (i.e. the setting on the "Total:" row for each is "Sum"), Access refers to them by this (hidden) name. Leave it off and you get "You tried to execute a query that does not include the specified expression . . . as part of an aggregate function." If you switch to SQL view, you'll see that Access uses an AS in the SELECT statement to rename the aggregate columns (e.g. "SELECT Sum(tblGift.giftReceivedAmount) AS SumOfgiftReceivedAmount, . . . ").

Cutting down on the caffeine...

Wed, 14 May 2008 06:26:24 -0700

I've been a rampant soda drinker all my life. As a kid and young adult, my flavor of choice was Dr. Pepper. In recent years, to fight the mid-life spread, I've switched to Diet Coke. I like the taste of soda, but, for me, it's mostly a caffeine-delivery method. I don't have too many fears about caffeine itself, but putting down all these sodas was getting to be ridiculous for a number of reasons:
  • Cost: remember when you bought groceries to save money? Seems like now they're almost as expensive as eating out. But keeping my supply of diet beverages was costing me quite a bit per week, so much so that I only bought them when they were on sale and stockpiled them in my garage. Grocery stores regularly put the twelve-packs of aluminum cans on sale at four for eleven dollars. That's about .23 cents per can, which is certainly cheaper than the .80 cents they cost out of a machine. But, when you're drinking six or more of them a day, it adds up. And it adds up a lot quicker if you forget to bring one and end up buying some at the Quickie Mart. The economy, after all, is in terrible shape right now. And I'm not alone in trying to find ways to tighten my belt.
  • Environmental impact: even though I recycle all of my cans (and I do mean all of them), recycling all that aluminum is still not nearly as efficient as simply not using it in the first place. The companies themselves spend a lot of energy carting the syrupy liquid around, and liquids are heavy. So, though I'm far fro the greenest person you'll meet, I started to feel genuinely guilty about this element of my overall consumption.
  • Sleep and health: historically, I always ramp up my caffeine consumption when I'm overtaxed. And the first few months of having Haden around meant that sleep was a luxury. I've never needed as much sleep as most people, and I have the ability to get by on very little for extended stretches of time when I feel it is necessary. And that--the loss of sleep--is bad for you, far worse than any side effects of caffeine itself. There's also the disturbing idea that excessive soda intake might be linked to bone loss and osteoporosis. So, even if that ends up being a wash, why risk it?
While going cold turkey has a nice tough-guy appeal, I've decided that the better bet for me is to reduce my consumption to a reasonable level and eliminate the cans by switching from soda to tea. I'm not great with fuzzy limits. So I decided that two cans of soda (or 32 oz of tea, as that's the size of the container in which I brew it) would provide a nice morning jolt. And, for the rest of the day, I drink water. As an added bit of convenience and energy savings, I found that you can cold brew tea. Most people do this with loose-leaf tea, but I find a few Lipton tea bags steeped in water overnight produces a perfectly drinkable tea that's ready for my morning commute.

So, I've been doing this for a few weeks now, and I'm feeling a lot better about it. In fact, tea is much more refreshing than carbonated drinks (so much so that I wish I didn't have to drink up the Diet Coke I've already bought).

Two Tares vids

Mon, 12 May 2008 11:44:03 -0700

A little ego-surfing this past weekend turned up two videos by The Tares (some mp3s here), a band I played in back in 1999. These are both with the original bassist and drummer (i.e. before I joined the band). But they're still fun. The first track is called "Corvairs." The second is "Waiver."

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Today is Gina's first Mother's Day

Sun, 11 May 2008 19:36:42 -0700

This pic is from back in March (we didn't take any today). But I wanted to post something to commemorate the day:


"There’s a pattern emerging here"

Fri, 09 May 2008 07:34:00 -0700

Hard-working Americans come in lots of educational backgrounds and colors (in case you didn't know). Hillary Clinton's current attempt at overtly dividing us into such neat, classist and racist categories is just one more reason she's unfit to lead the country. That and the constant lying, of course.

HC has done a good job, so far, of framing the debate in terms of Obama's weaknesses. But the framing is starting, I think, to break lose. Just yesterday--and for the first time--I heard a reporter on NPR question a Clinton handler about her lack of support from urban black voters and educated voters in general. What, after all, is the deal with that?

Of course, she'll just claim that she "misspoke." But it's a bit like the sort of misstatement a lawyer makes before the jury and then, when the objection comes, respectfully withdraws the question, knowing full well that the message was sent. We're seeing HC call out to her base here. And it's just as disturbing as it is when republicans do it. Obama has bases too, of course. But I'll take his rhetoric of unity over her rhetoric of division any day.

Netflix promo (again)

Wed, 30 Apr 2008 13:07:21 -0700

From an email today:
Dear James,

We're offering you a special opportunity to give your friends and family one month of Netflix service for FREE - that's twice the length of our regular free trial!

When they redeem their free trial, you'll get a bonus rental (up to 5 bonus vouchers per member)* at no additional charge. This limited time offer expires 06/15/2008 so forward this email today.

-Your friends at Netflix
I get these from time to time and always just give them away here. So, if any of you are not on the Netflix tip by now and want to check it out email/IM/FB/MySpace/Twitter/call/comment or otherwise contact me and I'll send you an invite.

TRS-80, Model III

Mon, 28 Apr 2008 08:22:26 -0700

I hadn't done an old-school computers wallpaper in a while, so I threw together this one honoring the computer I learned to program on in high school, the TRS-80 Model III:


Some details from and Wikipedia. If you want to get a hands-on appreciation for this one (or most of the others in the TRS-80 line), there's an emulator. The "Trash 80" was a computer only a mother could love, but I did learn some useful things on it.

I made a photoset on Flickr for this and the previous ones.