GE Music Update

Here’s an update to the GE Music music player. Erik and Glenn have put up hundreds of new tracks! Wild stuff, and an incredible range of diversity, masterful treatment of lots of styles. Rock, jazz, heavy metal, orchestral, electronic; its in there. In addition to lots of instrumental tracks for TV shows, commercials, and the like, there are a few straight-up songs with vocals. Just leave on shuffle play for few hours for a mind-expanding tour of sensational sounds.

Go to GE’s homepage ( and click on “Music” in menu on the top. Or if you prefer, here”s a direct link ( to the player.

Fun With Chess

I’ve been having lots of fun lately teaching Lizzy chess. I’ve tried this before a few times over the last couple years, but she was mainly interested in the drama of the game (“Oh no you captured my knight!!!”) and then the captured pieces would make friends and collude to plot their escape, or the king and queen would go off and get married. Girls, go figure). Now she’s at an age where she can think in terms of groups of pieces and sequences of moves, attacking, guarding etc., so things are a lot more interesting. Perhaps most importantly, having a Nintendo has taught her it’s fun to play a game even if you lose again and again, because slowly building skill with the end goal of beating the boss can be rewarding in its own right.

I remember about that age – 7ish – being really into chess and playing mainly against my brother Martin. It seemed like the thing to do once checkers got boring. Our dad started us off but we learned fairly organically, playing game after game until we got pretty good. When we got older we studied it a bit, but I’m no great expert. Also, I haven’t really had anyone in my life in ages who was regular chess partner at me level, so it’s nice to have a chess partner, even a beginner. However all this said, we play fairly loosely, and I often spot her a few pieces, or even a lot of pieces, and give her hints on what might be a good move, let here take back moves and play out “what if” scenarios. Sometimes we’ll switch sides in the middle of a game. So we do get into some rather uncommon board positions from time to time.

One of them came up the other day when I had a king on the run with just a few pawns and a bishop. I moved onto a square that would normally be check, but the pawn that was threatening the square was pinned because if it moved it would mean discovered check for her side. So the question came up, is this a legal move? Is the pawn really threatening the square if it can’t move? Is the pawn considered to leave the starting square *before* arriving the end square, or is it in some sense simultaneous? I’ve never seen this situation before and wondered did I happen upon something extremely clever, or was I just breaking a rule? Since we had no immediate way to decide the question, I just moved somewhere else instead. My guess is it’s probably not a legal move or would have seen it used before.

Foundation’s Edge

Ah the joys of home ownership. Having things means having to fix things. Is maintenance a creative act? I suppose in the sense that it opposes destructiveness it is, and also that you may make something new along the way to fixing something old and broken.

Earlier this spring I noticed some cracks in the concrete along the foundation of the north side of my house. The concrete is below the siding, a protective/decorative layer that covers the actual foundation of the house. It’s a generally damp and mossy area, and in the spring sometimes puddles can form there. I suspect the cracks were initially caused by water freezing.

Meanwhile just outside out front door one rainy day, there was a mushroom growing from the bottom of the door frame! It turned out the wood down there was rotting cuz the weather seal had worn out and was leaky, so the end of this piece of wood was sitting in a puddle in the door jamb every time it rained.

A couple weeks ago I finally got around to tackling these projects. For the door, I cut away the old rotting wood, the bottom few inches of a piece that runs vertically on either side of the door frame. Then I cut a couple pieces of new wood to fit the void, glued ’em in to place and filled in the gaps and cracks with wood putty. Later that day I sanded of the excess putty and gave it a coat of paint. More paint and new caulk would have to wait for another day.

As for the foundation, I thought I could just put a little fresh cement over the cracks to seal it. But no. When I started to clean the moss and dirt out from the cracks, it became apparent the facing cement had separated from the layer underneath as big slabs of the stuff fell away. Some moisture had gotten up between the layers, and tree roots followed. So I ended up digging a trench along the side of my house to get to the bottom of the damaged area, and pulled of quite a bit of the facing cement. This took the better part of a day and I had only exposed the damage, not even begun to fix anything. What I though would be a quick fix turned into a major project!

From here things turned slow because I only have a little bit of daylight left in the evenings when I get home from work, and we were away the intervening weekend, so I had to break things down into bite-size tasks and do a bit each day. This worked OK for the front door. I ended up having to give it a few coats of paint for adequate coverage. It only took couple minutes to do the paint, and then wait a day for it to dry. Finally I was able to put down new caulk and the job was done.

An interesting consequence of this was that there is a population of ants who make their home under my front steps. When I sealed up the repaired area I must have blocked of the way in and out of their home, because that night I opened my front door and there were dozens of ants in the space between the front door and the screen door, and some were making their way into the house! We sprayed the area and put down ant traps, and that was pretty much the end of the ant party. They have found a new way out, because yesterday I saw a bunch of ants climbing around the side of the steps near my rose bush.

With the foundation it took better part of a week to clean the area and apply a layer of patching cement just to cover the crakes that were left when all the bad concrete was removed. So two weeks after I started I put down a whole new layer of facing cement, a job that took the better part of a day and was not really a whole lot of fun. Finally last night I put down the patching cement to seal the joint between the old and new cement. So we’re in the home stretch now. The only thing left is to refill the trench with dirt.

Of course this leads me straight on to the next project. I want to get some dirt to fill in the low spot so rain water will flow away from my house rather than form a puddle. While I’m at it, there a few paving stones around the area that were left over from when I built my patio. >I want to buy a few more and make a proper little foot path. I hope to get this done this fall.

Summer Camping, Part II

We just got back from another weekend of camping, this time in the opposite end of the Catskills, with our friend Seth and his daughter Erin, and our friends the Blickers, and bunch of friends of theirs. We’ve been doing this a few years now, and it seems to get larger every year, so we’ve dubbed it Blickapalooza. More hiking, canoeing, hanging around the campsite making fires, cooking food, singing songs and drinking beers. How can you complain? Well this trip was too cold for swimming, and hikes we took were kinda short, but we had lakeside campsites and I got to do a lot of canoeing with Michelle and Lizzy. And it rained Friday night, but at least the fire kept going and then the stars came out and our new tent stayed dry, so now we know it rocks!

Also, after years of never practicing guitar and having only a basic knowledge of simple chords and a repertoire consisting mainly of Neil Young songs, I’ve decided for what I do it actually sounds pretty good, and it might be worth it to learn some more chords and some new songs, so I’m thinking of getting a new acoustic guitar to replace the one I got for trading an old boom box years ago. That guitar is amazing in that it has almost no wood at all in it, but it still has a great bright tone. Unfortunately neither the action nor the intonation is very good, so it’s a bit hard to play.

We took tons of pictures. I think Lizzy took about 20 just of Erin’s feet. Here are a few to start with; a more complete gallery will follow on sometime later. Most of the feet pictures will be removed as part of the curating function.

Fun with Flex

Things have been getting interesting at the cartoon factory lately. I spent most of July working random little projects, mainly fixing bugs and filling for colleagues who were out on vacation. But now I have a new project to get into. It’s a mass personalization area for our site. And I get to do it in a whole new development envioronment and platform, Flex. So I’ve been learning Flex, checking out the docs and tutorials, and trying some experiments. For someone like me Flex is pretty cool, cuz it’s basically Flash: The Next Generation. It’s much more developer- (as opposed to animator-) centric, and shows a heavy influences of J2EE. The IDE is the Eclipse platform, and it uses ANT build scripts and all that. Like Flash it’s centered on the ActionScript programming language, and introduces a new markup language MXML, which allows for rapid scripting of UI’s, and some basic but nontrivial behaviors like event mapping and data binding. It has a massive amount of pre-rolled objects and common plumbing built in, too.

So I’m off to a good start, but it doesn’t take long to get to the point where MXML is not sufficient and you have to use good ol’ Actionscript. Still, the level of built in support out of the box is pretty impressive. I know tutorials are generally designed to show off a product’s strength but this one is pretty cool: I built a feed reader for my blog in only an hour or so. You can play with it here:

And the best thing about it is that the source code for entire application is only half a page long.

So stay tuned, I’ll let you know sometime this fall how the project turns out.

Summer Camping, Part I

We just got back from a weekend of camping in the Catskills with our good friend Nick and his family, and my brother Martin and his girlfriend Kathleen. The weather was great (no rain!), and we got to do some good hiking, swimming and canoeing, and lots of hanging around the campsite making fires, cooking food, singing songs and drinking beers. Ahhh, good times.