Monthly Archives: October 2009

Budget Day at Church

Today we’re working on the 2010 budget. It’s mostly the same as 2009’s, but we’re going to try to find places to cut.

The biggest problem with the budget is our bookkeeping. It’s good enough to keep checks from bouncing, but not so good I feel wonderful using this year’s actuals as a basis for next year’s budget. But there it is.

Installing Ruby on Snow Leopard

Thanks to my helpers at Google and Hive Logic, I was able to install Ruby on Snow Leopard.

It amazes me that so many Rubyists use the Mac, because it’s always a pain in the neck to get it set up right. You have to decide whether to use the stock version, or one from the MacPorts or Fink package managers. Note that your answer doesn’t just need to address Ruby but also the RubyGems extension library system. The problem with a black box is you have to trust the people who boxed it up.

Alternatively, you can just install from source, per the above instructions.

Robotic Spiders? Sign me up!

In a couple of years, the doctor will tell me that I’m old enough for a colonoscopy. When that happens, I hope this new technology is ready:

A new way to scan for diseases, including cancer of the stomach or colon, using a remote contol ‘spider pill’ camera with moving legs, has been hailed by scientists in Italy.

Experts believe the device, which is swallowed by the patient and controlled by doctors using a wireless connection, could transform the difficult and invasive process of diagnosing serious conditions.

The pill, which contains a tiny camera, is also fitted with tiny legs that can be activated remotely once it is inside the colon or intestine.

The Telegraph, via Slashdot.

Seven Pounds

I watched Will Smith’s Seven Pounds. It’s a pretty interesting movie. “Interesting” is such a weak word, I know — but I can’t pick a better one. I certainly can’t say the movie’s a feel-good joyride. How about “thought-provoking?”

Smith’s character is “Ben Thomas,” a man struggling under a burden of guilt, and, apparently, trying to make things better by helping various strangers.

I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I can’t say much. Let’s say, first, that I sympathize with the Ben Thomas character. I have to say that, because I disagree with what he plans to do to assuage his guilt. I approve of all of his secondary decisions, but the primary one I can’t support.

That’s what makes Seven Pounds so thought-provoking. It gives you a scenario and makes you think about ends and means, and whether one can justify the other. (What, for Ben, is the end? Is it helping strangers? Or is it the other thing, and helping strangers merely a rationale?)
Ultimately, the flaw with this movie is its presentation of despair as a valid option.

Give Me Back My Legions

I finished Harry Turtledove’s Give Me Back My Legions. It’s a novelization of the Varian Disaster — the defeat of Rome by German forces under Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. It’s certainly an interesting topic, and Turtledove has produced a readable book.

It’s not really a great book, however. It’s chief flaw is its repetitiveness. Every time one of the characters does something, they reflect on it. When it rains, the Romans complain about the weather. When they have a cup of wine, they think about how people back home water it. When they offer some to Arminius, he reflects to himself how much better beer is. Not just once or twice, you understand, but over and over and over again. I’d guess you could cut out half of this 300-pager. Or you could really tighten it up and cut it to an 80 page novella.

I haven’t read much Turtledove, so I don’t know if this is just his writing style. I noticed he doesn’t like complex sentences. He likes it short and sweet. It’s like Joe Friday. Terse. Succinct. That makes me wonder if he thinks he’s writing for children. (I really liked his kids’ books; more importantly, so did my children.) But that can’t be the case with Give Me Back My Legions: it’s not awash in sex and violins, but it deserves at least a PG-13.

More Car Troubles…

Today’s problem can’t be fixed with WD-40. Or even a can of brake fluid. It’s some kind of clutch trouble. At 115K, I suppose it’s due. But these repairs are getting tedious.

Later: well, the guy at the shop bled the lines, then (garbled) then bled them again. Now he wants me to drive it for a few days and see if that fixes it. No charge, so far. He’s trusting me, I guess, to come back and pay him when I decide everything works.

Fixed my car today

With WD-40, no less!

The ignition has been getting stickier and stickier. Yesterday I almost couldn’t get my key back out of it. So this morning, I gave it a shot of “the wonder drug that works wonders,” et voila!

A good thing. My car just turned 15 years old, and in the last couple of months I’ve had to repair the brakes and the radiator. I also had to replace the timing belt and the water pump. (The latter two were long-deferred 90K mile maintenance.) Adds up to about $1600 this year. Which isn’t too bad. That’s about $170/month in repairs and maintenance, which beats a monthly payment of $300 or more.