13 January 2019

Cold Days for Code Monkeying

I've taken and enjoyed a number of online courses in technical topics like programming and web technology, such as this example which I'm doing now. For no cost or a nominal fee, MOOCs often offer valuable means to refresh and update skills, providing opportunities to pursue engaging projects and inspiration for others. There's nothing like the satisfaction of building something and making it work. And, there's no better season for such indoor activities than wind-chilly winter days, so I've been doing that lately. Having been through this experience a number of times now, I find that the usual (or at least my usual) flow tends to fall into a sequence of four phases:
  1. The "how will I ever assemble this project" phase, associated with pondering, hesitation, and sometimes procrastination.
  2. The "OK, I'll get started" phase, setting up prerequisites and frameworks and assembling components to the reassuring point where a basic code skeleton operates.
  3. The "Check the boxes" phase, where I go through the project requirements and add support for them one or a few at a time. This usually breaks down nicely into a series of coding and testing sessions, each of which adds a few features.
  4. The "Cleanup and Embellish" phase, where I get rid of false starts accumulated during the prior phases and customize the overall result to add features that seem intriguing or add further capabilities.
After these steps, I'll submit the code, but it's not as if its grading is a primary goal. The point is the learning, and the enjoyment of the process that gets there.

07 January 2019

Making coffee: unit conversions in everyday life

We replaced our coffee grinder and coffee maker. This fact wouldn't ordinarily be blog-worthy; we've generally found these everyday appliances to have a useful life of a few years, after which point they don't seem to work as well. This replacement round brought a small puzzle and lesson, though. Our prior grinder had a dial setting, numbered in "cups", corresponding to the intended number of cups of coffee which a grinding cycle was intended to serve. I put "cups" in quotes, because it was intended to align with a corresponding measure on the same manufacturer's coffeemaker. I'd taken to calling them Arbitrary Coffee Units, or ACUs. I think that those "cups" may have been 6 ounces each, though our new coffeemaker designates its "cups" as 5 ounces. Clearly, either of those is smaller than the 8 ounces in a standard, measuring, unquoted cup.

But, our new grinder doesn't have a numbered dial. Perhaps to embrace coffee purists, other minimalists, or perhaps to avoid the cost of a timer mechanism, it just has an on-off switch. You put as much whole-bean coffee into the hopper as you need, and grind until it's done and ground. You wouldn't want to grind more, as the excess would go stale quickly. But how much whole-bean coffee do you need to brew a pot? One recommendation urged a large number of tablespoons of ground coffee, which seemed messy and inconvenient and still wouldn't answer the question of how many beans to process in order to obtain that ground result. A friend suggested their practice of weighing 66 grams of coffee to fuel their 8-cup coffeemaker - and, no, I'm not sure how large its cups are - but we didn't have a suitably precise kitchen scale and didn't want to add something else to the counter. I converted weight to volume by weighing a measuring cup with and without coffee beans on a postal scale set to metric, and found that an (8-ounce) cup of the coffee beans that I tested weighed about 72 grams, not too far off. In our kitchen for the moment, therefore, we grind a loosely-filled measuring cup of beans to yield 8 of our current ACUs and are enjoying the result.

11 May 2018

One viewpoint, four nests, three species!

I went for a hike with a friend at Mass Audubon's Rocky Hill sanctuary in Groton, MA, where I hadn't been for a while. Probably its major draw is the Heronry trail, which loops past an overlook on a pond with tree trunks that have established popularity for, as one might expect, their Great Blue Heron nests. When we looked out, we saw four nests. And, indeed, two proved to be occupied by GBHs, like so:

The residents of the third nest were, er, rather different...

Young Great Horned Owl with parent, looking rather sleepy in the late afternoon. That was an unexpected treat, but they are noted for their practice of "adopting" existing nests. Time to check out the fourth nest, somewhat further away:


And, it's an Osprey, perfectly situated to survey fish-hunting habitat. Four similar-looking nests, three species, viewed from the same spot at the same time! That's convenient birding! It may be time to rename the trail, though...

13 March 2018

Time change - didn't miss it!

I woke from a dream at 1:58 AM (EST) early on Sunday morning and looked at my clock to check the time. Naturally, I kept watching for a couple of minutes more, to see the switchover from 1:58 to 1:59 to 3:00 (EDT). The clock worked, as expected. More to the point, it was fascinating to note the fact that I woke up spontaneously at 1:58 to enable me to watch it. I'll generally wake up before an alarm when I've set one in order to meet some commitment, but I hadn't done so in this case and hadn't (at least consciously) declared myself as committed to supervise the clock's progress in, er, real time. Why and how did I wake so precisely? I accept that I must have a relatively fine-resolution body clock, but what tripped its alarm setting?

15 October 2017

The romantic past of telephony, revisited

I was fortunate to find myself in New York on the weekend of Open House New York, an annual opportunity to visit architecturally interesting sites that aren't always open to the public. I made a point of getting to the lobby of the AT&T Long Distance Building near Canal Street, to see the magnificent Art Deco renderings of golden-stranded Long Lines connecting far-flung continents and converging on the very building where I stood. Worldwide communication isn't the exotic (or expensive!) thing it was then, and is generally assumed rather than celebrated, but it was a treat to look back to a day when it evoked wonder and mythology and when switching centers were miraculous!


31 July 2017

Variable Dancer

I'm fortunate to live in an area where there are frequent bird and nature walks available. I often attend, and enjoy being able to benefit from the guidance of others with more spotting and identification expertise than I have. Yesterday's targets were dragonflies and damselflies, and I saw something land on the ground in front of me. It looked rather drab to my naked eye, but not so with a magnified view:


I thought the bright purple body was striking. Also, I was delighted to learn that this particular damselfly is known as a Variable Dancer. I wouldn't class myself as being even as good as Variable in that particular category. It could make for a fine album title, though.

08 July 2017

I hope this isn't a thing

So, I was entering household items into a shopping list on my iPhone, and one of them was toilet paper. After I entered this item's first word, one of the successors offered on the autocompletion bar was "selfie". I wouldn't have suspected that the resulting phrase would rank as highly popular, but I've been surprised before. I haven't asked Google in order to find out or to see what it might offer. Some things are better left unknown or unseen.