Friday, June 25, 2010

Window Shopping for Computers

My capacity for wasting time on computers seems to be boundless. I would love to make a new one. My latest guilty pleasure is hopping over to the Microcenter web-site and putting together a shopping cart of all the components I need. It's a good thing the store is more than an hour away, in Cambridge. (And that when we lived just across the river from it, I never even realized it was there.)

I've worked out a bare-bones but expandable system for $387 right now. That means using an old keyboard, mouse, and the bulky old CRT monitor from our Dell Dimension (circa 1999) with its faded color, but since I already own all that stuff, it makes sense to use it for as long as possible.

What it comes down to is, I absolutely don't need another computer for anything; it's not like I actually get any proper work done on the machines I have, so introducing another one into the mix is actually going to make me less productive. The main point of the exercise would be the pleasure of putting the thing together and getting to tinker. There's almost nothing I enjoy more than mucking about in the guts of computer hardware. I'm not sure why this is, but we all have our particular fetishes, don't we?

So if I truck up to the city and come back with a station wagon full of PC components, my pleasure's going to last me five hours, maybe ten. A pleasure bought at the cost of about $40 an hour. I suppose there are more dear and destructive dissipations. This one will even leave me with a fully up-to-date computer that can run Kubuntu with all the shiny bells and whistles on. 

But given the state of my house, the free time and money should really be going towards glazing putty and roof shingles.

I know what I'll do, since the anticipation's always greater anyhow. I'll jot down all the component product numbers and check back in a month to see how much cheaper all those electronics have gotten. And I'll hang around on Mandla's blog, Motho ke Motho ka Botho, looking for more ideas on how to hack my old Sony Vaio into another perfectly good machine I don't really have time to use.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Sunlight Map is a Pleasure and a Comfort

I love this desktop wallpaper application that shows a projection of daylight across a satellite photograph of the world, and auto-updates it every 30 minutes. (It updates the cloud data every three hours.)

It reminds me of my small place on a small planet; it's easy to forget that we're spinning about at such astonishing speeds for ever and ever. It's satisfying, somehow, to say, "well, the sun is setting across Norway and Brazil right now, and the Mongolians are just seeing the dawn;" also, to give shape to our longer summer days with the projected sinusoidal curve of shadow, and to watch it invert itself as the seasons change.

Kind of neat how it works.  This is why I love Linux; lots of good folks making interesting things and sharing them.  I couldn't find a similar application for Mac or Windows.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Little Roofing to Prepare for a Lot of Roofing

I put the roof on the chicken-house addition to the Wife's barn yesterday, which was my contribution to this rather ambitious project.  (Not an ambitious project as building the barn itself, which she did with some proper builder help a couple years ago.) 

She's really perfectly capable of doing this work herself, except that she's afraid of heights.  So, any time she's in a building mood, I know that there will come a time when I have to be the ladder man.

There's so much I don't know about roofing, but I managed to unroll the tar paper and then hammer in 18 courses of shingles, score and bend some aluminium flashing into approximately the right shape, and then top that off with some siding and enough caulk to, hopefully, keep the water out. 

When you don't know what you're doing but you want to make it look like you do, there's nothing more masculine and confidence-inspiring than running a bead of caulk.

All in all, a good dry run for the time this fall when we've got to replace the rotting wooden shingles on this 300 year old house, and perhaps a great deal of the plywood or whatever they used before plywood, underneath.  When it rains, the leaks are manifold.  And roofing contractors want some serious money to take care of our problems for us. 

The good news is -- and this came as a great surprise to me -- even though I may not know a good deal about roofing, all of the instructions for doing it properly are right on the packages of shingles.  The same way there are instructions for properly applying paint on every can, and for changing your oil right there in the owners' manual of your car.  You don't have to call a contractor or check the internet or attend vocational school to learn this stuff. 

You can just buy the product and read the directions.  It really is deceptively simple!

(Although my aching legs and back would beg to argue.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Close, But No *Ding*

This will no doubt be all over the typosphere within a couple of days (we are by no means the fastest group on the internet) but so far I only see it on boingboing, where I discovered it.

Michael Winslow takes us through the history of the typewriter using only his voice and a couple of microphones.  It would be cool to see the actual machines for comparison (and leaving out the carriage return bell seems like a major omission), but the faces he makes while he works are priceless.

History of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow from SansGil—Gil Cocker on Vimeo.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I actually sat through the entire 20 minute video.