Tuesday, January 31, 2006

TiddlyWiki, and trying out wikis

There's nothing really new about TiddlyWiki, but I'm finally getting around to giving it a decent try, and I'm excited about it. Actually, it is kind of new, as it has a new 2.0 release that came out this month. I'm excited anew, though, because I have a killer app for it -- using my data on both Windows and Linux -- in my personal life, and because I inspected its data storage and I think I can convert my PIM info into a format that I can load directly into TiddlyWiki, which should be really neat.

What is it? It's a free personal wiki, basically. But it's more than that, as it uses AJAX tricks to make a web page into an application. The features don't sound that compelling until you try it out. It's an HTML file that you can use as a database, on any platform that runs a decent modern browser: so it's inherantly cross-platform. There's probably a lot of future application potential in that idea, but I'm mainly caught up in the fun of using this personally.

I make extensive use of a small personal database/PIM tool called Personal Knowbase, which I've owned for several years. It's one of my most satisfying software purchases. Knowbase lets me make simple log entries, which include titles and dates, and add keywords to them. It has nice keyword management features. Importantly, a topic can have any number of keywords. I use it for my personal notes so that I can drop into it any idea I have or anything I learn about, tag it a few ways, and feel confident that I can find it later. I mine it for story ideas and I use it as a journal.

But in recent years I've been thinking about making a change, because there were some features it lacks, that I wanted:
  • I wanted my data in a standard form that I could work on.
  • I'd love to be able to randomly display an old entry, so that old ideas could bubble up.
  • I might want to add new features to manage to-do lists in it. Knowbase isn't really suitable for that.
  • I'd like to be able to link different entries, and to include graphics.
  • Recently, and most importantly, I started using a Linux-based laptop in the evenings, so I wanted to be able to get at my data via Linux. It really makes me nervous when I can't get at my notes. :)

TiddlyWiki has advantages in all of these areas. When I say I wanted my data in a standard form, I really meant XML, but I think HTML is good enough. We'll see...the kicker is going to be whether I can convert my Knowbase data to use with TiddlyWiki. I think I can.

TiddlyWiki is really easy to use. It's coded in JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, so I have chance at understanding it. People have written extensions for it, so using and customizing it, I expect, will be a very different experience from Knowbase, which is more like a tiny niche product. TiddlyWiki has a following already.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I like this song: Down Among the Dead Men

I've been singing this song a lot lately. I heard it at the UT Madrigal Dinner for the first time; it was the finale song for the footmen (the male choir) in the play. I like it because the range isn't hard to master, and it's catchy. And it's an authentic drinking song dating back to at least the Revolutionary war.

After I heard it, I went looking for the lyrics online, and found this page, which also includes the music.

The chorus of this song is hard to resist, sung in a hearty tone:

Down among the dead men
Down among the dead men
Down among the dead men let them lie.

Then you read about it and you find out that "dead men" in this song refers to empty bottles littering the tavern floor. :)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Shiny ball of mud: I gotta make one of these

I bumped into this concept on the web yesterday: kids in Japan, apparently, enjoy a craft where you make a mud ball, and through a careful process, you can get it to have a hard, smooth surface that you can polish to a high shine.

What I love about this idea is the fact that, well, everybody can find some mud. But this thing requires discipline and/or the kind of free time that only kids usually have. The instructions I found included the step:

Rub your hands against the ground, patting and rubbing the fine, powdery dirt onto the sphere. Continue this for two hours.

I believe there are lots of pages about this craft. These mud balls are called "Dorodango" in Japan. Here's an article about it. According to this article, the professor who currently promotes the craft got the idea from kids who'd already started doing it. Then he wrote up a formal process that could be passed around.

So, I'd like to make one of these. But I know that any craft that takes a couple of hours of work will probably not survive my lifestyle. My kids probably need to be a bit older for that. :)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fishing for toys of toys

I started going fishing a couple of years ago. I've only been five or eight times. I haven't caught anything except one pitiful specimen smaller than my hand. This is just to say...I've got an interest in fishing.

Then Tanya bought me a handheld fishing video game to take on a road trip. It's got a reel, it simulates casting, and it vibrates when you catch something. It was a fun novelty, kind of silly. There were a lot of these fishing games on the market right now, by different manufacturers.

Then one week she showed me a toy she got for Ethan, a toy based on these fishing video games. It's aimed at small kids. It also has a reel and it vibrates, but it has no electronics. It works like a slot machine: when you spin the reel, you rotate an internal wheel with pictures of different fish on it. The pictures are hidden by a white screen. Then you press a button to stop the wheel, and pull up on a lever to see if you've caught something. When you do that, it vibrates to show that something's on your hook, then you pull down the same lever, which turns on a light, lighting up the screen and displaying the thing you've caught. It's a simple idea--and about as much fun as the LCD game with its randomized simulation of the fishing experience.

And it really weirds me out. It's a strange thing to make a toy of...a simulation of a simulation of a real experience.

I found the Playstation bass fishing game to be fairly enjoyable too...I like the fact that it lets you see what's going on with the fish. The mystery of whether there are any fish out there to catch really bothers me. I like to fish in places where I can see some fish in the water, but it hasn't helped me catch anything.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The dream of the big bomb

When I was little I used to have nightmares about a football-field sized bomb, black, rounded, and shiny, like a big egg half-buried in the earth....actually, the inflated tent over the UT football team's training field is a darn good approximation; just paint it black.

It was surrounded by a white picket fence with children walking around it, tapping sticks in the fence, making a clicking noise -- the ticking of the bomb. Used to frighten me a great deal.

I can only conjecture that this had to do with overhearing something about the atomic bomb. I know that that was a recurring nightmare and it bothered me a lot.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A graphic tale of office horror

In September 2004 I was working at 360Commerce. We had the usual magnetic access cards. They gave us neat spring-loaded belt clips...the kind where you have a little cable attached to the card that winds up automatically on a spindle, so that you can grab your card, swipe it against the reader, and then it returns to your belt. I love those things.

But I didn't love them so much when I went to the bathroom one day, sat on the toilet, did my business, and then stood up. As I raised my pants with one hand and pressed the flush lever with the other, my arm brushed the belt clip and it fell off and right into the toilet while it was in full power-flush -- the kind of whirlpool only those office-building toilets can manage. Before I could react, I saw my access card, cable, and spindle spiral down the drain like a startled snake making a getaway.

But that's not the worst of it, of course. The building was set up so that the bathrooms were in a central zone that the public could get to -- and you had to use your access card to get back to your desk. So I had to immediately go tell my sob story to the receptionist and beg for a loaner card.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Like manna, the notes floated down from above

One night back in 2004, we were putting Ethan to bed (he was 7) and he went postal on us and we took away several days worth of Playstation. He was still mad going to sleep, but he was quiet because I'd told him if he said a word he lost another day. Ten minutes later I'm downstairs watching TV and talking, with great animation, to Tanya. Our couch is against the stair wall. I hardly notice that a piece of paper floats down from above and lands on the couch.

It was a note from Ethan -- very well-written, too -- that said something like "Why did you take away my Playstation for doing nothing?"

We're laughing, we punish him for getting out of bed, but we're laughing.

Then Chloe (5) starts doing it, but she's not angry at us. She sends us sweet notes that say things like C h l o e with the C reversed and the e rotated. She sent us two more that we couldn't really read; we could make out letters but they didn't spell anything.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Knifeboy and Knifegirl

Oddly enough, my kids tend to talk about super heroes. Now why would that be? Here's a note from May 29, 2005:

Chloe Invents Knifeboy and Knifegirl

Chloe tells me today: They can make knives all over their bodies, sharp things. They fight NoisyMan, the bad guy. He has a weakness to knives.

(Chloe was 5 at the time.)

The day they start taking pants

Back in 2003, I was working contract at Dell, in the big Parmer Lane buildings. Walking down one of the big, new halls, I saw a black knit shirt on the floor next to a pillar. That place is really clean and empty so the shirt stuck out. One of my more flippant coworkers was nearby, we were both looking at the shirt, and she said, "That means somebody's walking around without a shirt."

I said, "Yeah, the muggers around here are just terrible." Then we both kept walking in the same direction. I turned to her and said, "Man, the day they start taking PANTS is the day I'm outta here."

This reminds me: this is yet another good reason to have emergency pants (see Sluggy Freelance, http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=020408).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Inappropriate Pictures at Wal-Mart

So I'm at Wal-Mart with Chloe, 6, following me around in a desultory way. And we go through the men's underwear section. I don't think we've done that before, because like a lot of guys, I don't really believe you ever need to buy new underwear. And Chloe starts yelling:

"That's not what you look like!" (referring to the many pictures of men in underwear, on all the packages.") Granted, I don't look like any of the underwear models, but now's not the time for a discussion of how I didn't fulfill the GQ promise of my youth. I laugh and try to get her to shut up, since I don't want what I look like being broadcast at 400 decibels, and who knows what she might say next. Then:

"Agh, I don't want to look at this! I can't handle it!"

So we leave the aisle, and she says to a passerby: "They've got inappropriate pictures in this store."