Archive for the 'Life' Category

I’m a T-shirt designer!

…and I didn’t even know it! I might be the world’s first accidental T-shirt designer.

About a year ago (maybe longer?) I made a Rubik’s cube T-shirt on CafePress (the cube is in the superflip position, if you’re curious). We were going to do a bulk order from the mezzacotta shop, I wanted something extra and geeky to go with it, and I was in the middle of my cubing obsession.

Interest in the bulk order fizzled out, so I never ended up getting the shirt, and after a while I forgot about it.

Yesterday I got an account update email from CafePress telling me that I had $46.50 credit. What the hell? Where did that come from? CafePress’s purchase reporting system is… idiosyncratic, so I’m hazy on the details, but it appears that several people have bought my shirt. Based on the amount of credit, I’ve probably sold about twenty of them.


I’ll probably use the proceeds to finally buy my own shirt.


Home Alone

Tina gets all the fun blogging about food.

She’s out tonight, though, so it’s my turn. I’ve been reading the Julie/Julia blog, on the back of seeing the movie, so I felt inspired to do something French. Or, failing that, something French-inspired. Or, failing that, something involving butter.

I must admit, I’ve done very little cooking in the last year or two. Having a professional foodie in the house means that, at the best of times, the greatest benefit comes from Tina in the kitchen instead of me. Add to that the fact that our kitchen isn’t really big enough for two people at once; that she knows where everything is kept, and has the occasional desire to re-arrange things meaning that I, at any given time, usually don’t; and the general human tendency to start barking orders when someone else is doing something one believes one can do better oneself (thinking of Tina and cooking, of course, but I’m sure she feels the same about me and computers) and we have a self-reinforcing cycle whereby Tina exercises her tremendous cooking talents and I make sure to thank her profusely in between mouthsful.

But, as stated, tonight it’s my turn.

One of my fallback recipes, a step or two behind the ubiquitous stir-fry, is steak with mushroom sauce. If memory serves, Tina taught me to make mushroom sauce soon after we started dating. It seemed like it could be passed off as vaguely French and would benefit from butter, so it seemed like a good idea.

It occurred to me – and a quick Google search confirmed this – that a slosh of red wine would work well in such a sauce. Our wine collection is showing a bias from buying red and white wine in equal quantities but having a strong preference to drinking red – that is, we only had a few bottles of red, none of which I’d be sloshing around in a sauce without anyone to share it with – so I went down to Dan Murphy’s to pick up some cleanskins.

A quick aside about Dan Murphy’s. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with them. Apparently they put the screws on wine suppliers in regard to price and only deal in large quantities, which is fine for the big wineries but tends to work against small producers, and having a close relationship with at least one boutique winery I can’t, in good conscience, say that I support their business model. On the other hand, as a consumer, the fact that they’re cheaper than most other places, and that they stock cleanskins that go against the usual trend of tasting like vinegar diluted with kerosene, means that I usually end up buying booze from there anyway. Plus they’re a few minutes down the road.

So, armed with a 2008 “Reserve” Shiraz from “South Eastern Australia” and a sirloin from our (excellent) local butcher, I took a rare excursion into our kitchen.

Cooking off the red wine from the mushrooms

It turned out pretty well. I cooked the sirloin in butter (heh), then used the juices as a base for the sauce, adding the mushrooms and more butter (heh heh), some sage (of which we have an infinite supply), then the red wine, then after the wine boiled off, some cream. There were about a bazillion green beans in the fridge, which worked well with more butter (heh heh heh) and the overflow of the sauce.

The finished meal.

So there we have it. Sirloin in a creamy mushroom and cleanskin red wine sauce, with green beans and a glass of said wine.

I can do this food-blogging shit. Nothing to it.

(Oh, and the post title wasn’t just a cry of loneliness; Home Alone 2 was on TV while I was cooking. It’s actually better than I remember it. Which isn’t saying a lot.)


Caffeine addiction


I’ve been an on-and-off coffee drinker for a while – I go through cycles of drinking it and then avoiding it with a frequency of a couple of years. Normally it’s not a strong dependency, and it’s mainly a matter of circumstance when I start or stop drinking it.

Lately my coffee intake has been slowly ramping up, to the point where yesterday, when I didn’t have one, I had a faint headache and felt vaguely lethargic for most of the day. So this isn’t good.

The options now are:

  • Cold-turkey detox.
  • Gradually decrease my intake over a few weeks.
  • Go with the flow and keep drinking.
  • Intravenous caffeine drip.

Currently I’m on coffee #2 for the day, so it’s possible that the third option will win by default.

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Happy Apocalypse Everyone!

Tina woke me up this morning…

“Hey, I know it’s early, but see that red glow through the blinds?”


“I thought you might want to take some photos.”

Apparently some heavy winds overnight blew the entire colour red from South Australia over to Sydney.

Wherein I wake up on Mars

Edit: ZDNet used my photo! I’m very slightly famous!


Cate Blanchett injured on stage

Well it’s not every night you get to see Owen Lars hit Galadriel in the head with a radio.

We saw a preview performance of A Streetcar Named Desire tonight… well, some of it anyway. As near as we can tell, Stanley (Joel Edgerton) was supposed to throw a radio through a window, but fumbled it and hit Blanche (Cate Blanchett) in the head before picking it up and taking another swing. (Edit: At the window.) The show went on for a couple of minutes – it was the start of a brawl, so she was supposed to run off stage anyway (or if she wasn’t, they covered it really well) – before they called a break, and later announced that they wouldn’t be able to continue. There were already cameras outside the theatre by the time we left.

This will be a more memorable night than it would have been otherwise. Arguably I even found it more engaging. Not sure what that says about me. Hmm.

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Can’t sleep

Was trying to get to sleep, got mentally worked up about something, and now I can’t. Sleep, that is. So here are some random thoughts about nothing.

The phrase “I don’t know” can be used in two completely different ways that are almost diametrically opposed in terms of what the speaker is implying. Observe:

  1. “I don’t know why the sky is blue.”
  2. “I don’t know why people like Britney Spears.”

There should be different words for these.

I’ve been messing around with a kd-tree to find nearest neighbours in a vaguely secret thing I’ve been working on (not very secret, or even interesting enough to justify calling it secret, which I’ve now done three times, so it’ll be really anti-climactic when I link to it, which I will as soon as it’s public). Wikipedia says this about the performance improvement for nearest-neighbour search:

These asymptotic behaviors only apply when N is much greater than the number of dimensions. In very high dimensional spaces, the curse of dimensionality causes the algorithm to need to visit many more branches than in lower dimensional spaces. In particular, when the number of points is only slightly higher than the number of dimensions, the algorithm is only slightly better than a linear search of all of the points.

I’m starting to suspect that this statement is way too weak. My rough back-of-the-mental-envelope conclusion is that the performance boost only happens when the number of points is much higher than two to the power of the number of dimensions. I’m not confident enough in this statement to edit the Wikipedia article, but I’d be interested if anyone can explain why I’m wrong.

Mentioned Richard Buckland, lecturer extraordinaire, in an earlier post. Last week I took a few hours off work one afternoon to wander into one of his first-year uni lectures. It turned out to be one of the few lectures from this year that’s made it onto YouTube. (They’re all supposed to go up at some point, but anyone who’s ever dealt with video files knows that they have a kind of inertia or built-in procrastination field or something.)

After the lecture (actually, after the extension lecture that comes after this), I chatted to him for a while about some stuff, which has been mulling over in my head since then, and which I’m not going to say much about right now (what the hell kind of an introverted blog post is this)… um… yeah. More on this soon, maybe.

Finally started watching Firefly earlier tonight. I feel like I’m getting my geek credentials back in order.

Picked up a cheap-ish tablet laptop in an online auction a few weeks ago. It’s ex-lease or something. Not the ThinkPad that I really wanted, but a good starting point considering that I’m not entirely sure why I wanted it at all (at least, now that my career as a webcomic artist has been definitively shut away in the Closet of Things that are Unlikely to Happen). Anyway, it is really, really cool.

I installed Xubuntu on it. Xubuntu has come a long way. I’m not entirely converted away from mainline Ubuntu yet, but for a lower-performance machine – and in a scenario where screen real estate is particularly valuable and can be conserved with a panel that behaves well on the side of the screen, which is an act Gnome hasn’t quite gotten together yet – it behaves very nicely indeed.

We did a Magic 2010 draft at Mr Shellshear’s place last Friday. For me, it really captured the feel of old-school Magic. I’ve enjoyed Alara block, but one thing that bugged me about it is that mono- or even dual-colour decks were a non-option. I’ve always thought that one of the big appeals of the Magic mana system is the ability to choose between the breadth of a multi-colour deck and the smooth focus of a mono deck. In fact, I think one of the crucial moments in many a beginning casual player’s Magic education is when he (or she… but let’s face it, it’s probably he – apologies to Michelle and Kat) manages to corral enough cards of the same colour to make up a deck.

For me, many years ago, it was a green deck. Its theme was the somewhat high-concept “every green card and forest I own” and not much beyond that, but the payoff of freedom from mana problems is an experience I’ve never forgotten.

Alara block’s three-colour theme was an interesting design area, and would seem to have been a popular one, but it turned mana fixing from optional to mandatory. It changed the game from one where multi-lands and whatnot were one of the ways of getting your spells out reliably – the other being to focus on one colour, which is an interesting, flavourful, and personality-reflecting decision – to one where they were the only way. That took something away from the game in my mind, and I’m happy to be back on solid monocolour ground again.

Okay, I think I’m out of random thoughts, and am starting to get vaguely sleepy. G’night all.


Christmassy Goodness

Ah, Christmas morning.

Things have changed since we were kids and spent the better part of the day ripping paper off things. This morning, we went into our living room and sat on our couch.


This wasn’t supposed to be for Christmas when we ordered it back in… probably August. But they were out of stock and had to build it and ship it from Italy, and it ended up arriving on December 23rd, so… Christmas it is.

I can’t describe how much I love this couch after sitting on beanbags for four months.

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Further descent into geekdom

So I installed BSD for the first (successful) time yesterday.

My setup at home, as of a few weeks ago, was as follows.

  1. Wireless router with four Ethernet ports.
  2. My laptop, running Ubuntu, which generally connects via wireless.
  3. Tina’s second-hand desktop, also running Ubuntu, with a PCI wireless card (because at the time it seemed cooler than running a long Ethernet cable).
  4. A server that stayed on most of the time, connected to one of the Ethernet ports, running some mutant Xubuntu-like monstrosity that had been upgraded half a dozen times. SSH and BitTorrent from the outside world were directed here. The machine itself was a Pentium 3 or something, chosen because it could get away with just a heat sink over the CPU so it was pretty quiet and (I think, although I never actually measured it) low-power.
  5. My gaming rig, now essentially obsolete, but still with the best video card in the house. Dual-boot Windows XP and Kubuntu, connected via Ethernet.
  6. A couple of random boxes that I used for now-defunct projects and haven’t bothered to get off my desk yet.

Tina’s desktop (3) had had a slightly flaky hard drive for a while. A few weeks ago it finally gave up and refused to boot, although it was still mostly readable. I have a few spare drives lying around and could probably have just swapped it out, but on an impulse I bought an ex-lease box from an online auction instead. Pretty cheap too – $235 including delivery for a Pentium 4 3.0 GHz, 2 gig RAM, DVD writer. Yeah, there’s a risk with buying stuff ex-lease, but at a price like that I’m not arguing.

Anyway, it turned out to be a good decision ’cause the server (4) died about a week later. Actually it may have already died, I hadn’t been using it much, and it had been temperamental for a while, but it was a couple of weeks ago that I finally realised it wasn’t booting at all. It’s had some other hardware issues too, so although I like the fact that it’s so quiet, I don’t really trust it to keep working with a new HDD.

So I got a new hard drive ($125 for a 500GB IDE drive?! That’s like 25c a gig), stuck it in Tina’s former desktop, and installed FreeBSD 7.0 (which came out last week) on it. I spent most of Sunday coming to terms with the little differences between BSD and Linux, and getting a few things up and running.

Thoughts so far? It feels more responsive than Ubuntu, although I’m probably going to switch to a lighter-weight window manager than Gnome; maybe Enlightenment, if I can get my head around it. I’m trying to SSH to it at the moment from work, and the connection keeps dropping, although that could just be my ISP going through one of its IP-address-shuffling frenzies. Will have to keep an eye on that. The central configuration of nearly everything in rc.conf seems really elegant, although I’m sure there are quirks that reveal themselves over time. I’ve installed a couple of things with ports, and it seems quite powerful. The whole system feels much more like a coherent whole than Linux.

So is there a world of pain waiting for me just around the corner?

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Over the last few months I’ve sunk quite a few neurons into learning to solve Rubik’s Cube. Don’t ask why; it just seemed like a useful skill to have. You know, in case I’m ever… trapped in a… stack of… interlocked shipping crates… with revolving doors. Or something.

Anyway, in the last couple of weeks I’ve gained a sort of ultra-narrow celebrity status because of it. I’ve drawn some attention on a few occasions – once when we had a guest speaker at work who’d co-written a book on the Cube; once at a friend’s place; and once in a cinema. (Yes, a cinema.) It turns out that this is one of those few instances where a mark of an uber-nerd coincides with a really cool party trick.

The technique I use to solve it is roughly the Heise method, which I settled on because it’s touted as not needing any memorisation – that is, instead of learning a bunch of algorithms of the form “if the cube looks like this, do these 14 moves”, you learn the general techniques and then apply them. That idea really appeals to me, although I did find that the shortest path to learning to actually solve the thing still involves memorising at least a couple of algorithms (in particular, a corner 3-cycle and a corner twist).

There’s a bit of a catch-22 when you’re learning a solution for the first time. The problem is that you want to be able to experiment and see what a sequence of moves does. But by far the easiest way to see what effect a sequence has is to do it on a solved cube. So you get to try exactly once, and then you have to somehow get to where you started. So you either have to (a) have a very large supply of solved cubes, (b) remember exactly what moves you’ve done and reverse them flawlessly, (c) get someone else to solve it every time you mess it up, (d) learn a different solution first, or (e) painstakingly follow the instructions for the method you’re trying to learn every time you mess it up. That last one is the most obvious, because you should be learning as you follow the method, but it’s also the most contrary to learning general principles instead of rote sequences. That’s why I ended up memorising a couple of sequences instead of fully embracing the purist path.

These days I can generally solve it in under 2 minutes if I’m paying attention and haven’t had a drink yet. There are a few places I can go from here. The Heise method has a bunch of advanced techniques that I haven’t really gotten into yet. The Petrus method is similar for the first few steps, so I’m trying to absorb some of the techniques from that, in particular some of the block-building patterns. And some of his speed tips are really cool – I’m going to practice doing a corner twist using Triggers.

Solving a cube in 16 seconds would be a really really cool party trick.

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Church crawl

Yesterday I went on a church crawl (”like a pub crawl, but with churches”) with a friend from my former Christian days. We got around to four different services before lunch. He’d planned more for the rest of the day but we both had things to do in the evening that came up at the last minute.

Videos were taken and reactions were recorded, but we won’t be making them available just yet. I might put some isolated thoughts down on (virtual) paper before then. There’s a good chance we’ll do it again, so it might have to wait until the whole lot gets edited together.

Quick spoiler: I haven’t changed my mind about anything. :)


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