Running with the night

April 24, 2013

asics1I finally bought new running shoes! I’ve decided to try to run a few road races (5k) this summer and since I haven’t run since the Achille’s tear I thought it might be a good idea to retire my venerable Asics in an effort to protect my feet. I remembered writing about them before and found this post from my old blog. Amusingly I mention that “they’re so old I don’t remember when I bought them.” And that post was from 2005! So I guess I was more than overdue for a new pair.

I found these new Asics on 6pm.com, which I discovered through dealnews.com. Buying shoes online may seem risky but these days it’s not hard to find reviews that inform whether a certain shoe runs to size or not. And they do fit perfectly, so I have no complaints about my shoes. My body, however, is not reacting well to the resumption of running. I seem to have underestimated the amount of work it will take to get in even half-way respectable running shape. Today I planned to run two miles and after a half a mile I switched to walking for a bit. I was huffing and puffing and since the bike path was infested with gnats I also ate quite a few bugs by accident. I thought my wind wouldn’t be a problem since I’ve been able to play some light basketball and soccer without tiring too much, but I guess I was getting way more rest during those games.

I did complete the two miles through a mixture of running, walking, running backwards, and running sideways. These last two I mixed in because I figured I need to strengthen all the muscles in my legs and wanted to hit the calves a bit extra. At this point I just want to achieve balance and good form. I’ll worry about speed later if all goes well.

 

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Does Not Compute

March 29, 2013

raspberrypi1

Welcome to a boring trip down computer memory lane. You might want to skip to the last two paragraphs if compuspeak puts your to sleep.

I’ve been nostalgic lately for the pre-PC era of computing. I discovered a site that has scanned issues of Family Computing Magazine from 1982 to 1989 and skimmed through almost all of those. After that I discovered Atariage.com and read even more about those older machines. I’ve also been reading retroGamer magazine and learned more about the machines that were popular in the UK during that time.

The 8-bit era of computers was remarkable in its variety. Each model differed in speed (back then CPUs had clock speeds in the single digit Mhz, roughly a thousand times slower than today’s computers) and RAM (64K was a lot back then) and storage was on floppy disks (if you ponied up the bucks, otherwise it was cassette). The processors also varied by model and were simple enough to understand their architecture. The MOS 6502 was very popular due to its low cost and found itself into the Apple ][, Atari 800, Commodore 64, and later in the NES game console. The Zilog Z80 was big in “business” machines that ran CP/M (and in the Spectrum in England), but the best 8-bit processor was in the machine the I owned, the Tandy Color Computer. While it was a bit weak in the graphics and sound chips compared to some of its competitors, the Motorola 6809 at its heart was an elegant and powerful design.

The 16-bit era followed with the Macintosh, the Amiga and the Atari ST. At this point IBM’s PC started gaining traction, but when the flood of PC clones started spawning left and right the competition between models quickly led to a price and feature war that droves PCs to the forefront of computing. When Microsoft finally released a version of Windows (3.1) that could compete with the graphical operating systems of the 68000-based systems it was game, set, and match.

I miss that era quite a bit. While people played games and wrote in world processing programs back then, a good percentage of people who used computers in those days actually learned to program. Software was hard to come by at times, so writing your own was often the best way to make a computer useful. But they were so limited in speed and memory that creativity was needed to make programs work properly. Magazines and the occasional book on programming (Radio Shack stocked a couple) were the only sources of information. The massive amount of info about these computers on Wikipedia today would have been a godsend back then.

Recently I’ve sensed a bit of that spirit in a hobbyist device that is inspiring people do do more with computes than stalk people on Facebook and watch YouTube videos. It’s called the Raspberry Pi and it consists of the little circuit board I’m holding above. It has HDMI video out (connected to my TV in the photo), 512MB of RAM, an ARM processor (like your phone), a couple of USB ports and an SD card slot (for storage). The best part is that its only $35. I’ve already tried a couple of operating systems and it runs well, if a bit pokey compared to my trusty Macbook Air.

I’m not sure what kind of project I’m going to use my Pi for yet, but I’m sure something will come to me. I bought a second one and gave it to an exceptionally bright student of mine. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his as well.

Addicted to heroines

February 10, 2013

heroinesI’ve recently noticed that my favorite characters is popular fiction tend to be similar in a lot of ways.

1. They’re almost always women or girls.

2. They are usually the smartest characters.

3. They are highly capable.

4. They don’t really fit in / they aren’t popular.

5. They don’t care that they aren’t popular.

6. They challenge societal norms and follow their own paths.

7. They have their own personal belief system.

Lisbeth, Hermione (doesn’t follow #6 as well) and Arya generally fit these criteria. Dagny Taggart (Atlas Shrugged) is also a good example as she’s bright, capable, principled and liberated. Elizabeth Bennett (Pride & Prejudice) also fits this mold, as does Lyra Belacqua (The Golden Compass).

Don’t worry, be happy

January 26, 2013

happy-facesThis week I watched a documentary on Netflix that is in line with my thinking of late. Happy, directed by Roko Belic, illustrates the nature of happiness across the globe.

A few highlights:

People in general think that good or bad major events (getting married, losing a job) are far more important than they really are when it comes to overall happiness. In reality, the highs from these don’t last very long and neither do the lows.

Flow, or being “in the zone” is an important part of happiness. This can be achieved through exercise, sports, or even everyday tasks like gardening or cooking.

Acts of kindness and compassion, even if minor, make us happy.

The part of happiness that is determined by the circumstance of life (job, money, house, relationship) is a mere 10%. The rest is genetic (50%) and habit based (40%).

Cryptic Citrus

January 16, 2013

lemon-sliceIt’s been an interesting week. My bucket list post has influenced me a bit more than I expected and helped me focus on productivity. While I haven’t actually competed any of those 10 items, I’ve made good progress on a few that didn’t quite make the cut. I seem to have an unofficial 2013 list that I suppose I should organize (#1 will be organizing the list). In addition to these things (some of which are inspired by a fascinating book I’m reading), I’ve also done a couple of things I’ve never done before, and I’ve made two big discoveries that have impacted my life significantly… Evernote and the power of lemons. Yes, lemons.

 

 

Pail Punting Preliminaries

January 6, 2013

bucketlistI finally got around to watching The Bucket List the other night and enjoyed it (could Morgan Freeman possibly be more likable?) and like every other soul who watched that movie got to thinking about my own such list. I’d never written anything like this down before so I was curious to see if I could quickly list 10 things worthy of inclusion. That’s a long bucket list, I know, but I figure I have plenty of time (hopefully) to get them all done. So here’s my list (subject to change as I consider in more depth over the coming days/weeks/years/decades):

Tony’s Provisional Bucket List

1. Learn to speak another language proficiently (not Klingon)
2. Spend a significant block of time overseas living as a local (goes with #1)
3. Learn to play the guitar reasonably well (simple songs) and sing on key
4. Learn enough construction skills to renovate a house
5. Write a book good (lucky?) enough to be published
6. Take or audit at least one philosophy class
7. Learn to board surf
8. Design and build a house or building of some kind
9. Take a bar tending class and/or a cooking class
10. Learn to sail at an intermediate level

Feel free to share a list (or a partial list) in the comments section. Don’t be shy – life is short, after all.

die-hardMy family celebrated Christmas on Sunday this year, so when the time came for the actual Christmas Eve and Christmas Day there was no anticipation of the gathering that makes the holiday special. But even though that gathering is 90% of the total for me, I do have a few other minor traditions that complete my Christmas. I don’t bother with a tree or anything like that (bah, humbug) but I do watch what I consider to be Christmas movies.

On the 24th I started with the Kulla family Christmas classic, Die Hard. While it may not seem right for the part, it does take place during the holidays. Yes it’s a violent action movie, but it’s also very funny. Who can forget “Ho-Ho-Ho. Now I have a machine gun.”

The closer that night is also non-traditional, though perhaps less so. Love Actually gives the holiday a larger role than Die Hard, and I like the loosely connected multiple story lines. It has the usual romantic comedy silliness about fairy tale style love, but also some depth. My favorites are Colin Firth and the Portuguese girl and the little kid’s crush. Normally I despise little kids in movies since they can’t act and tend to be annoying, but this time it works.

Yesterday was the big day, and I treated myself to a trip to the theater to see The Hobbitt. I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings saga so I knew I’d like it. The theater was full and the movie didn’t disappoint. One thing I really like is that they didn’t try to “one up” the original trilogy visually, a mistake almost all sequels and prequels make. There were a couple of scenes clearly meant for 3D (I find 3D a bit distracting rather than enhancing) but they were brief, and one scene recalled the absurdity of Jackson’s dinosaur stampede in King Kong, but otherwise it was excellent and I look forward to next year’s installment.

To complete the double feature I fired up the projector last night for The Holiday. Yeah, another romcom (no, I’m not handing in my guy card). I’m a bit surprised that I like this movie so much considering I generally don’t like Cameron Diaz or Jack Black, but they’re both pretty good in this one. But what I really enjoy is the interaction between Kate Winslet’s character and old Hollywood writer. They give each other strength (or in her case, gumption) and that truly is a gift.

Before Midlife (and beyond)

November 8, 2012

Recently I’ve watched the movie Crazy Stupid Love a few times. It’s a very good movie with an excellent cast, and it’s a romantic comedy that isn’t formulaic (there are a few). All of the characters have flaws and seem like real people, and the story has a clever twist. And it has a (not too sappy) happy ending that leaves you in a positive state when it’s over. The only real problem I have with the movie is the perpetuation of the ridiculous “soul mate” concept that is already too widespread. It’s a silly notion, especially from a mathematical perspective.

As much as I enjoy CSL, other movies do a better job of examining the concept of love in a more thoughtful way. Arranged was very interesting in that the main characters were female teachers who were both going through the arranged marriage process (one was Muslim and one was Jewish). It was almost the opposite of the soul mate idea. They each had a limited amount of control over choosing their future spouse, and both were just looking for someone they could like and then figured that love would come with time.

More relevant for most of us is Before Sunrise, which was released in 1995. In this film a couple meets on a train and are together for less than a day before parting, and don’t know if they will ever see each other again. This idea of a relationship with a time limit is intriguing because their connection and shared experience will never be sullied by a breakup. They just have this wonderful memory to cherish.

Of course, such a well-writted and acted movie prompted a sequel, Before Sunset, which didn’t come out until 2004. In that film the characters have aged that nine years and we discover the impact of that one day on their lives. It’s an excellent follow-up that also ends in a cliffhanger. Well, in 2013 nine more years will have passed and we’re going to find out what our now-middle aged couple (the actors are just slightly younger than I am) has been up since that movie ended. Like the first sequel, the same director (Richard Linklater) has written the movie with the two lead actors. It’s titled Before Midnight and will be released early next year. Here’s to hoping that the snappy dialogue and on-screen chemistry has survived the years.

A bridge to somewhere

August 27, 2012

On Saturday night I felt like reading, but I wanted to do it in a beautiful place. So I hopped in my car and drove down to India Point Park. I’d never spent any time there, so before I sat down to devour a few chapters of Game of Thrones I walked the waterfront park. Despite the perfect weather, the park wasn’t packed full of people, but there were enough so that it felt alive. College kids playing frisbee on the green, anglers fishing, joggers with and without dogs, couples with strollers, and an art student drawing the lovely scene. I found a comfy spot under a tree and enjoyed the book. Finally the light started to fade, and sunset made the picture even prettier. I walked the pedestrian bridge over I-195 and then moved left down to the water. It seems that area is quite “happening” these days. Clubs and restaurants were busy and people were dressed up for a night on the town. The crowd was quite young, judging by the young women teetering on ridiculously high heels. Of course, I had no such intentions and walked against the foot traffic towards and under the bridge, where I took this shot with my phone.

The park renovation and the bridge were both part of the iway project, which appears to have been a success. Truth be told, I didn’t love this bridge the first time I saw it, but now that I’ve spent more time with it and seen different angles I think it’s perfect for Providence. Recalling the glory years but with a modern feel indicating a bright future seems just about right to me.

Links:

Friends of India Point Park

DOT iway project (could use some updating)

 

Sneak Peak

August 16, 2012

I’ve finished my latest game! It’s the only one I completed this summer (I had hoped to get at least two done). My rough start to the summer meant a lack of focus so instead of fighting that I let myself work on whatever I felt like working on each day. That resulted in a bunch of proof of concept type apps (will this idea work?) and now I have five or six apps in development that have a decent foundation. With the school year starting soon it probably won’t be until fall until I have another one done though.

Anyway, this app is called SumDice and it’s coming out for the iPhone very soon. It takes Apple a week to ten days to approve an app (which feels like an eternity) and I sent it in a few days ago. I’ll post an update here once it’s available. The app is free, which is only way for an indie developer to get it out to enough people without an ad budget. But don’t worry, I’ll still make some money. The game has ads in it, which is handled though Apple and can be lucrative if enough people are playing. Unfortunately, Apple recently changed their policy and won’t display ads in apps made for children, so Battle Times went from making a relatively small but ever-increasing amount of money to making nothing overnight. Because of this, you probably won’t see any cartoon characters in my games again for a while (they assume that means kiddie game). In addition I’m trying to “upsell” the game once players play it and (hopefully) like it. A “Bonus Pack” will be available within the game for 99¢ that adds features including a SuperDice mode with three dice instead of two and 12 buttons instead of 9. I tried that method with Battle Times HD (iPad) and it hasn’t worked out too well, but I blame that more on the interface (not linear enough) and audience (too young). If the in-app purchase in this one works I’ll modify the menus in that one to see if it helps.

To promote SumDice I’ve created the web version (click here to play) that required a bit of juggling and graphic modification since the iPhone version is “portrait” and web apps are “landscape.” Other than that it plays a lot like the iPhone game, except without some of the iOS-specific features like Game Center leader boards and achievements. I did manage to include the in-game mini-math-lesson. Look for it under “Options” as “Odds and Ends.” Enjoy!

P.S. I tried to embed the game on this page, but WordPress wouldn’t let me do that for some reason.