Tuesday, March 31, 2009


My neighbor had an excess of aloe this year, so he dug some up and offered it to me. I have them planted around the tree in the front yard, and the largest is in the herbs-n-more garden at the back, since it's a herb... sort of. Initially, they went very brown, but now they seem to be perking up, and some of the brown stems have even turned green again. I cut one of the brownish ones tonight, and there it was -- slime in the aloe machine! It was actually very good on the mosquito bites I incurred while propping up the netting on the impatiens and coleus. But the smell! I had no idea aloe had a smell. Something like a kitchen in a cheap Mexican restaurant. Maybe I cut it too low down the plant.
In other garden news, the peppers haven't died yet, some of the onions are hanging in there, and the coleus show signs of adaptation. All this is better than I expected. Maybe there's a glimmer of hope after all. Then again, summer is on the way. Arrrrgggggghhhhhhhhhhhh!
Got the truck last Saturday. Kathryn put it on her facebook status and it became big news. Lots of comments like "mid-life crisis", "it could be worse." As if I would think a truck could make me cool! That battle was lost a long time ago :) I just like the idea of grabbing an air mattress and heading for the state parks.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Garden Update

Hmm... well the peppers aren't looking so hot. Then again, they're not hot peppers :)
But check out these little guys. These are from the zucchini seeds I planted as an afterthought. Cute and fast-growing. And edible. The ideal plant?

One thing that's impressed me this year is how well seeds work. Of all the seeds I've planted, across flowers and vegetables, a very high percentage have germinated. Kudos to the guys who work on this. And to God, I suppose, for the original idea.

What? Me? A trucker?

I never, ever thought I would own a truck. I just figured I'm not a truck person. But as of Tuesday if everything works out I'll be the owner of a big 1995 F-150. Even test-driving it was a bit scary -- the sense of so much heft and engine power under my foot barreling down Hwy 6 at 50 MPH. But I need something more robust than my poor abused Camry to carry my loads of dirt and landscape timbers, and this truck seems to be in great shape and reasonably priced. Oh, and the camper top rocks! I want to try camping with it soon before it gets too hot. I'll need some "manly" curtains to go with this truck's macho exterior. Black velvet, maybe?

Dirt Day 2

Got dirt? This was quite a load in the back of the little Camry. You could see the rear end squatting on the way home from Lowe's :)
Kathryn helped, and we weeded and planted most of the coleus and impatiens from inside. Hopefully some of them will grow. The peppers that were left over from Dirt Day one are now huge thanks to Kim's magic bulbs. The ones outside don't seem to be growing, so hopefully they're busy making roots.

Friday, March 20, 2009

World's longest error?

Been playing around with hashtables (excuse me, "unordered maps") from the forthcoming version of C++. The use of templates here is truly impressive, as are the error messages that result if you do something wrong. On the right is an error I got while compiling. It's not something I contrived -- it's a real compile error. And no, you're not looking at multiple error messages -- that's a single error message. It's so long, the terminal runs out of space to display it. It's saying that you can't ask whether an iterator to a unordered map of has the same value as an interator to an unordered map of . This is perfectly reasonable. Trying to figure that out from the error message, though, is quite a challenge!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pictureless Mini-Update

Got to do this quick since I'm violating my curfew. Let's see.
Garden: Nothing has died yet. I'm amazed. After planting in perfectly pleasant weather, we had a cold snap, then heat, and still the little green peppers and onions are hanging in there. They don't seem to be growing much, but that might just be transplant shock.
School: nothing more really done on thesis work. Spring Break = working on homework set (not as hard as last time, but hard enough), and getting ready for test next Monday.
Other: started a diet (no particulars, just eating less calories). Started working out. Feel a little better. The Fog Index seems lower. Trying to sleep better (hence the curfew). Thinking about getting a truck or SUV for carting stuff and hitting the beach :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Planting Unpickled Pepper

So here they are. What used to be big fish in small pots are now plankton in a raised bed -- a doubly-mixed yet internally consistent metaphor. The peppers are in the ground! So are the onions, though not so you'd notice. I was a bit worried about leaving them today, thinking they might get fried, but they looked fine when I got home. My goal was that the temperatures they're in now are about the same as the temperatures they had inside, though they will get more sunlight. We'll see if anything comes of it. The hardest part was getting all the concrete blocks (kind of) straight. I've Americanized the teeth. I'm mostly waiting until Fall to plant Kim's kind donation of beans and lettuce, but I did stick a few zucchini seeds in since these supposedly mature quickly enough that they will be ready before the hottest part of summer.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Old Election Posters

I love looking at historical posters and imagining what the mindsets were of the people who made them and the viewers who saw them. In the 1840 election campaign, it was sufficient for William Henry Harrison to portray himself as an ordinary farmer, complete with plough and log cabin. It's interesting to compare this to the formal portrait of Harrison on the Wikipedia site. You'd never guess from the Wikipedia portrait that he'd ever dirtied his hands in the soil. Obviously the "eagle" image was a big deal in American politics since it appears on many election posters across time, including the next one from William Jennings Bryan, part of the 1900 election campaign. The iconography here is dense and far more complex. On the bottom left, a female figure in white, presumably Columbia, wields a hatchet against an octopus whose limbs represents various different special interests groups. On the bottom right is a reference to the then recent Spanish-American war, and continuing conflict in the Philippines. Bryan accused the incumbent administration of imposing an American colonial dictatorship over Cuba and the Philippines in place of the previous Spanish colonial dictatorship. The two bells at the top of the poster read "1776 Liberty" on the left, and "1900 No imperialism" on the right, presumably an attempt to contrast the American fight for liberty against American "imperialism" in Cuba and the Philippines. Beneath the bells, the phrase "no crown of thorns, no cross of gold" is a quote from a then-famous 1896 speech by Bryan, denouncing attempts to move to a gold standard, back in a time when a silver dollar really was (partly) silver. Harkening back to the old idea of farming as the heartland of America, there's a rooster, and a plough, though in reality by 1900 America was becoming increasingly industrialized. Finally, in this very crowded visual image, there's the blind figure of Justice, and the Statue of Liberty.
Phew! Our final image is from the 1904 campaign of Eugene Debs. Like the Bryan poster, it's filled with images, but the images represent a quite different picture of America. Here are the farmer and the industrial worker joining together to cast their ballot above a pilaster that reads "workers of the world unite." Unlike Bryan's poster, which proclaims abstract moral issues ("liberty, justice, humanity"), Deb's America is a sweaty place, full of industry. From the bottom right we see a locomotive rushing forward into the future; a weaver on the loom; a miner; a farmer (but not a single farmer like Harrison, or a single plough, like Bryan -- rather several farmers working together behind a team of horses); a machinest; a foundry merrily belching huge plumes of smoke into the air; and a ship perhaps representing sailors or international trade. And what is up with Hanford's necktie? Obviously it's meant to imply "I'm not one of those toffs -- I'm a working man, like you." Despite the appeal to the working man, however, Debs garnered only 3% of the vote.

Fresnel lens

Meant to post this earlier. While I was stuck in Angleton on Tuesday, I went to see the Brazoria County Historical Museum. While I wouldn't call it a tourist spot exactly, they did have a nice collection of reproduction election posters, some dating to the very early days of Texas. I love this sort of thing because you can see how ideas of how to "sell" a candidate evolved as time went on. Early posters are obvious and direct, and so are the "campaign songs" -- specially written for the campaign. As you move towards 1900, the posters become far more elaborate and make extensive use of iconographic details. Hmm... think I need a separate post for this. You also get to see how much quirkier the US used to be. For example, the 1860 election campaign was famously presaged by the Lincoln-Douglas debates over slavery. But I didn't know that neither Lincoln nor Douglas had any electors on the ballot in the state of Texas (or anywhere else much in the south).

In addition to these posters, they had a (real, not reproduction) fresnel lens from an old lighthouse that was demolished to make way for a Dow chemical plant. The picture doesn't do it justice. It's an amazing and beautiful construction. Looking at it, set against a wall with no light source inside, you can see nevertheless how it picks up the ambient light (this picture is taken without a flash, and the room was dimly lit to help preserve the older documents). It's a great demonstration of theory and practice coming together -- the mathematical properties of the lens giving the practical benefit of a maximal use of the amount of light available. Sweet!
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Dirt Day One

Well, the green peppers are about to hit the growing light and they're huge for the little 3" peat pots they're in, so I thought it was high time to get some dirt to do the little vegetable plot I've been planning. I've got a bit more work to do to get the plot ready, but now at least I have the soil. The onions are no longer in good shape. Maybe I should have planted them earlier. Maybe it just wasn't a good mix putting them in the same tray with the peppers -- the peppers seem to be quite happy while the onions have developed a fungus. The impatiens and coleus are doing well. I have a couple of good-sized (for the pot) impatiens that I might try out in the near future. That will require Dirt Day Two - Revenge of the Spaghum Peat Moss.

I was planning to get all my dirt delivered in a big batch. But the company I contacted had a 3 cu. yard minimum, which is more than I need, and they charge a hefty delivery fee. Plus I get whatever they put in the mix, and I have to figure out how to deal with 3 cu. yards of dirt in my driveway. If I do it bag by bag, I can work on the garden incrementally, and I get to choose different mixes for different areas. We'll see. I haven't made the big commitment yet -- the veggie patch is only 20 sq. ft; the area at the bottom of the garden is 128 sq. ft.
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First flowers

These are from the crossvine I planted a few weeks ago. Honestly, I'm very surprised to see them. The crossvine is doing great despite being unceremoniously dumped in the dirt with no soil amendments beyond a sprinkling of slow-release fertilizer. The strawberry bush is doing OK, putting out some little leaves and buds despite being in deep shade pretty much all the time. Native plants rule!

Life is good (sometimes)

I'm down in Angleton, sitting in a Whataburger having just finished my "Breakfast on a bun," listening to good music and checking out slashdot. It's just me, the staff, and a group of retirees reading their papers. There's a big sticker on the window that reads
One nation

(I've tried to approximate the font typeface as best I can). There's a flag on a flagpole above the words that sticks down and divides the word "One" from "nation." An oblique reference to the civil war, perhaps?

Kathryn is doing jury duty and so is safely esconced in the rather intimidating Texasy Art Nouveau county courthouse. On the back of the courthouse there's an interesting frieze pictured above, presumably depicting the primary activities of the county at some point in its history. The area around the courthouse is well kept and pleasant to walk in. Really, it's a pity that something so nice is only experienced by most people when they do jury duty, or pay parking fines. It's worth my while to come down here every so often, just to be somewhere different from the places I usually go.

Wow. Just looked up, and the population of Whataburger has changed completely as I've been writing. There's now no one here over 45. How odd. Just like this blog entry. OK, enough being random for now.

Something accomplished, something done :D

Just finished the first homework set for class. Took me long enough. But mixed in with the relief of being done, I must admit I'm a little proud of what I accomplished. Maybe the set was hard, and maybe it wasn't, but it demanded a use of Math skills I haven't exercised in years. And now that I'm done, I realize that I've missed this sort of intellectual challenge. For all the agony and frustration that make up trying to prove a theorem, there's an amazing reward at the end (if you ever get there). What you've done is right. Not just "feels right." Not just "sounds good." Not just "industrial-strength," or "professional quality." No, this is really and truly right. Perfect, in its way. And so the moment of proof is, in a sense, a perfect moment. The joy of proving something has an eternal feel to it - you are echoing back to the universe what it knows to be true about itself. With your finite and imperfect hands, you have grasped a piece of what has always been true, and always will be true. And in this moment, it does not matter whether there will ever be an use for what you have proved, or whether anyone else in the world understands what you have done. The only thing that matters is the joy of the sequence of thought expressed in the notations on the piece of paper in front of you. And that is what Math is really all about.