Monday, March 3, 2014

Building a DIY walking desk with a $200 treadmill

Two years ago I decided to get up off my butt and stand at attention while working. But while my DIY standing desk helped my posture and attention span a bit, it didn't make up for the fact that as someone who works from home, there's a lot of inactivity in my routine. It's just that now I was spending time inactively standing around instead of sitting.

This year I decided to take the first steps toward getting more exercise into my daily routine: I picked up a cheap treadmill and converted my standing desk into a walking desk.

When I put together my standing desk, I didn't want to spend a lot of money on specialized hardware. So I bought an Ikea tabletop and some extendable legs for less than $200.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Garlic scapes, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries

The strawberries came, and they've almost gone. While most popular strawberry varieties are called "June bearing," most of our crop matured in May. There are still a few stragglers here and there, but it looks like we're done with the big juicy strawberries.

That's okay, because I've developed a taste for smaller berries... but at least one of our plants has a tendency to produce strawberries that are more tart than sweet. They're still pretty tasty, but since I can't remember which plant it is that does that, or which berries, every time I bite into a tiny berry I have to wonder if it's going to be sweet or tart.

While the strawberry plants are winding down their berry season and sending up new leaves and runners to make it through the next year, other plants in the garden are starting to come in nicely.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The year of the strawberries

Last spring I planted 4 strawberry plants in containers in the rooftop garden. As the weather got warmer and the plants took root, small flowers started to appear. But following the advice of pretty much everybody who talks about growing strawberries, I resisted the urge to let those flowers bloom and pinched them off in hopes that the plants would direct their energy into setting down a stronger root system, survive the winter, and offer a larger bounty of berries during their second year.

It looks like that gamble might pay off this summer. When I saw most of the leaves of the plants wither, turn brown, and crumble away like dust in the cold weather, I had my doubts. But a few months ago new green leaves started popping up. And a few weeks ago the first flowers started to appear.

Now it's early May, and strawberries are popping up all over. They're still green and won't be ready to pick for a while, but it looks like strawberries may be one of the plants that can thrive in the microclimate on our rooftop. Unlike peppers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shada: the Douglas Adams script for Doctor Who finally feels complete

Before writing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams was a writer and script editor for Doctor Who. But he's only credited with having written a few episodes -- one of them was never broadcast.

That's because production of Shada was interrupted by a BBC strike and parts of the episode were never filmed. In the 90s Shada was released on video with actor Tom Baker (the 4th doctor) filling in the blanks through narrative. But it didn't quite do justice to the story.

And as writer Gareth Roberts suggests, even the original script by Douglas Adams might not have really done justice to the story. It was hastily written and Adams later expressed relief that the episode was never completed.

But Adams was apparently fond of some of the ideas in the story, which were later recycled and used in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Roberts has retold the story in this novel by working from the original script but fleshing out many scenes and details, letting us get further inside the character's heads than would have been possible on screen, and working in a medium without a special effects budget.

He's also done a pretty decent job of borrowing Adams's style of combining humor and suspense in a rapid-paced adventure.

More than 30 years after Shada was originally written and not-quite-finished, the novelization of the story tells the tale in a way that's not only more satisfying than the incomplete video that was eventually released... but which is actually more enjoyable to read than many Doctor Who stories are to watch on screen.

For anyone who's spent time watching Doctor Who during the Tom Baker era, it's also hard not to picture Baker and co-stars Lalla Ward (Romana), and John Leeson (K-9) thanks to the pitch-perfect dialog in the story.

Interestingly, I just noticed that Shada has also recently been released on DVD, along with bonus materials including documentaries, behind-the-scenes videos, and a 2003 audio production of the story.

Doctor Who - Shada by Gareth Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Casual Vacancy review: JK Rowling's follow-up to Harry Potter isn't magical, but it's a page-turner

J. K. Rowling has a way of creating fictional worlds that feel reel and filling them with characters that seem to take on a life of their own. The plot is almost beside the point... but by the time The Casual Vacancy comes to a close, it's hard not to feel something for the cast of mostly unlikable characters as the consequences of their actions (and inactions) unfold.

While the Harry Potter stories were told largely through the eyes of one character, in The Casual Vacancy, Rowling puts us into the heads of virtually every major character... and those heads aren't particularly pleasant places to be. The fictional town of Pagford is filled with self-centered residents who are invariably incapable of empathizing with those around them.

The narrative deals loosely with intrigue on the local council as folks debate whether or not the poor neighborhood that sprouted up adjacent to their little town should be the responsibility of Pagford or of the larger city over the hill.

But really The Casual Vacancy is an exercise in exploring how a bunch of self-centered individuals can have a profound impact on one another's lives without necessarily realizing it... so in that sense, I suppose it's a somewhat realistic, if very pessimistic tale.

It's also a demonstration that Rowling knows how to keep you turning the page to find out what happens next, even when there's no magic involved.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jury Duty

Monday - Jury Selection

The prosecutor had a story to tell: One night, two years ago, Joe S was at home when his friend John M came over for a little bit. Joe's wife Deanna S was at a family picnic with their 2 year old son. She called when she was pulling the car up to the house at around 10:30, asking Joe to come out and get the sleeping kid from the car and carry him up to the third floor bedroom.

So Joe get up, goes and gets the kid from the car, carries him upstairs, puts him in bed, and turns around -- and sees two guys in the room, pointing guns at him.

They start to ask him to give them all his money, and Joe recognizes one... despite the fact that the alleged burglars are wearing bandannas that cover their mouths and noses and hats and/or hoodies that cover the tops of their heads. "Tommy," he cries out. "Why are you doing this?"

According to the prosecutor, a struggle started. One of the burglars pulled out a baseball bat and hit Joe over the head several times. Hard.

Hearing the fighting, John runs up the stairs and tries to open the bedroom door, but the handle is stuck. A moment later the door opens, and out comes one of the assailants. John gets hit in the face. Fighting continues.

When police arrive on the scene later, they find blood all over the house, including blood in the living room where much of the fighting allegedly took place after the door opened, and a trail of blood running up the stairs.

There's no doubt that something happened that night. Joe was taken to the hospital by ambulance and had to have surgery on his brain. After the operation he was in a coma for a week, and had to remain in the hospital for another 4 weeks. He still has an enormous scar on the side of his head, and when he touches that side of his head it squishes like a soft piece of fruit.

But we weren't there to figure out if something happened. We were there to determine whether there was enough evidence that "Tommy" was one of the assailants to find him guilty of multiple criminal counts including burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, and illegal possession of a firearm.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Book review: The Day The World Discovered the Sun

The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of VenusThe Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus by Mark Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the early 18th century astronomer Edmond Halley determined that the Transit of Venus represented the best opportunity to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun... and from there the size of the entire known solar system.

There was just one problem. Venus crosses the Sun (as seen from the Earth) only twice every 125 years or so. Halley made his proposal in 1716, but the next Transit wouldn't be until 1761.

The Day the World Discovered the Sun traces the adventures of several teams of astronomers that fanned out across the globe to track the next two Transits in 1761 and 1769 in order to better understand our place in the Universe... quite literally.

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