Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox

Most people don't know this about me, yet, but I'm a nut about the history of stories. It all started when I read a copy of Grimm's fairy tales about 4 years ago. Many of the stories were very similar, or more commonly, shared and reworked elements. By the end, it felt like I was reading the same story over and over again. One story, in particular, was called "The Girl without Hands". At this point I was already interested in the symbolism in stories so while I was reading, I would sometimes go online to read commentaries on the stories. Anyhow, the commentary on "The Girl without Hands" was interesting, and took into account earlier versions of the story, which I found at the university library and read.

Anyhow, I'm always excited when I am able to recognize where a story came from. Like, how Bones, Psych, and House are all based on Sherlock Holmes.

A couple of months ago, I sat down with Ephraim and we watched "Phineas and Ferb: across the Second Dimension" and then, quite coincidentally, I then began my goal of watching all of the Sliders episodes. What I discovered was that the pilot episode of Sliders was basically the same story as "Phineas and Ferb: across the Second Dimension". In season 3, episode 27 (the 4th of the season) we have what is basically the story in Disney's "The Kid". Both episode's of sliders, interestingly enough, had the same writer.

Another story I've been seeing a lot of is Faust. I'd heard about Faust before, but I never really knew what the story was about until after I watched "Limitless", which I realized was related to the old deal-with-the-devil cycle of stories. ("Bedazzled" is another, more obvious, example, along with "Pinocchio".) Limitless, of course, was a tale intended as political commentary on the state of the economy. (It made a good point, but overall, I thought it contradicted itself in the end.)

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Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox

When Cassey asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I had just been thinking about what I wanted to do after I finished reading The Book of Mormon in French. I've been trying to do some language study each day during my commute to work, and I've been trying to combine that with my scripture study.

One thing I learned while reading the Book of Mormon in French, is that Isaiah still reads like Isaiah, even in a foreign language. Even though I normally have no trouble with Isaiah in English, I found that I could easily tell I was reading Isaiah by the fact that I had to keep my French dictionary handy. Usually I just keep it in my bag and maybe pull it out once or twice a chapter. By I had to look up a word practically every other verse or more whenever I found myself getting into a citation of Isaiah.

Anyhow, I just recently finished reading through Alma, and thought it was time to start planning for the eventual end of the book. I still have a small matter of months before I finish, but the follow-up plan could require some preparation.

Since starting the routine I've really only been through the Book of Mormon in Portuguese (as a refresher), and of course, I'm most of the way through the French translation. I chose French partially because I thought it might help me with Egyptology, and partially because I knew it wouldn't be extremely difficult. (It's just another simple romance language like Spanish or Portuguese. Latin... not simple; I've never gotten very good, but having learned Portuguese helps.) To follow up French, an obvious thought might be German. I'm also interested in Hebrew, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, Latin, Tagalag, or maybe Samoan. (Not to mention Old English, Middle Egyptian, or Mayan, which I don't think I could find much material for of the right nature.) In the end, however, I chose Coptic, which is obscure, but is descended from Middle Egyptian, which I know a little about and hope to know more about. It also has plenty of standard Christian writings available.

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Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox

Each year, neat things happen, and important things are written. Here are some important writings from 2010 (or 2009) that I have gotten around to reading this year and which you might consider for yourself.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

A solid victory for the Freedom of Speech, but hotly contested in the political arena, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is certainly one of the most important things to come out of this year. As I have told many, McCain-Feingold has been an irritant to me and was one of the primary reasons that I didn't vote for McCain, and even left the Republican Party (I'm currently an Independent, and no, I didn't vote for Obama). The main opinion has weaknesses, but the conclusion is solid. I couldn't concur more with Justice Thomas's opinion. The dissent of Justice Stevens struck a raw nerve. His dissent does a good job of exposing some weaknesses in the arguments of the majority, but he simultaneously expresses the very essence of what conservatives fear from government, and spends much of his 90 pages knocking down juvenile mischaracterizations of the majority position. It's 183 pages, but don't let that scare you off. After all, they use a large font. (Update: The opinion isn't on the Supreme Court website anymore. The currently linked version is formatted across multiple HTML pages and uses a different font. I don't know what the page count would be anymore.)

Salt Lake City City Code - 2009-63 and 2009-64 (Ch. 10.04 and 10.05)

These ordinances made the news due to the support they received from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They're anti-discrimination ordinances focused on gender identity and sexuality discrimination. I thought them worth looking at as examples of what exactly it might take to do anti-discrimination right. I think they were worth the review.

The Utah Compact

The Utah Compact was mentioned in the Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during 2010. The Church officially supports the principles of the compact, and since immigration is such a big issue, I thought I would check it out. It's a tiny document. My initial impression is that I can't disagree with any of the points made, but that said I really think it misses some important points. This may be useful for addressing a general anti-immigrant sentiment, and maybe there is one in Utah, but my experience has not brought me into contact with a general anti-immigrant sentiment. The one thing that I think is useful here is the law enforcement section, because I believe the state/federal role in immigration is not fully appreciated in many quarters. (See: Harold P. Sturgeon v. William J. Bratton et al., Break the Cycle et al., Interveners and Respondents for more information.) However illegal immigration and the influx of people of ill will is what I think generally concerns people, and I don't think The Utah Compact, with all its hype, really does much to address these real issues. To me, it comes across as accurate in principle, but somewhat one-sided.

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Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox

While doing some indexing as part of the FamilySearch Indexing project recently, I came across the following name: Williã

To me it was a no-brainer that the name was William, but I suspect most people might have been inclined to mistake the tilde for a stray mark. However, the mark was no stray. The name Williã occurred 3 times on the image I was indexing, each time with a tilde over the a. The reason why I knew what it meant was because of the two years I spent in Portugal. Over there, (as well as in Brazil and other Portuguese speaking countries) the tilde is a very common mark. It is used as an accent mark which nasalizes a vowel/diphthong.

Since I was in Portugal, I had the opportunity to visit a lot of the old castles and read the old inscriptions, where I learned that the tilde was once a very common shorthand for indicating that a nasal consonant (m/n) was to follow. So, instead of writing "verano" (as you might find in modern Spanish), they would write "verão", but the pronunciation would have been the same as if they had opted to write "verano". I don't know how they pronounced it, but I always imagine the 'n' being very distinct. (I have recently noted that in French, the 'n' is still written, but is often very indistinct and has the effect of nasalizing the preceding vowel sound, having much the same effect as the current Portuguese tilde accent mark.) In such inscriptions you would often find this abbreviation used almost anywhere where there might be an 'm' or 'n'. However, nowadays the Portuguese only use the tilde in specific words and it is not considered a short-hand... that's just how the word is spelled.

I always thought of this as a purely Portuguese convention, so I was surprised to see the convention so clearly manifest in Essex during the late 1500's.

I was reminded of another similar short-hand that I'd come across a year or two ago in US census records of the mid-1800's. (was it Arkansas?) In this case I was trying to search for a Helen Cason who for a long time had been dodging me. I finally found a likely candidate in the 1880 census living as a niece of one John LeBass. So working with this, I set out to see how John LeBass might connect to the Cason Family. In my searching I came across what at first appeared to be a John Labop. However, the match was too good in other respects and what I quickly realized was that I was seeing an example of an old convention for writing the 'S', especially as part of a double-s. To be precise, there once used nto be two forms of the lower-case 's'. One was the form we are all accustomed to using today, but the other looked almost exactly like an lower-case 'f', so much so, in fact, that I've always had an extremely hard time telling the two apart. I was mainly accustomed to seeing the style in much older documents, but here it was. The funny f-looking 's' was used in different ways by different writers, but it would seem that the Germans eventually settled on using the f-looking 's' as the first 's' whenever two were required. This is the origin of the essetz, which is a funny combination of the two characters that looks like a capital 'B' with an open bottom: ß.

Anyhow, as it turned out, both the Cason's and the LeBass's had married into the Frost family. John's wife Volumnia Frost was the half-sister of Helen's mother, Mary Frost, and Helen had gone to live with her aunt and uncle after the apparent death of her own mother and father. The orthography, however, was the icing on the cake for me.

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Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox

As many of my readers are likely aware, Jasher KO'd my laptop a few weeks ago, with a dash of liquid (milk), like it was the Wicked Witch of the West.

The witch took all her data with her.

I back up my code every once in a while, so I didn't lose much there (though I'd just created a new UML component that I think is now gone), however, family photos will be hard to replace. (Mom, we'll be looking into getting a copy of that CD we sent you for your Birthday, and anything else of that nature we might have sent.)

Anyhow, the old computers were not faring too well, but I just got my bonus at work, so we got a new computer for under $500, which arrived Saturday. I also picked up an external hard drive which I will be using to do regular backups. (I'll be keeping it disconnected and unplugged between backups in order to minimize the chance that an issue will be able to affect both hard drives.)

The new computer, oddly enough, came with Windows Vista, but that's just fine because that's what I had before, and I was quite pleased with it.

My old desktop was highly unstable, so it will be retiring.

Cassey's desktop picked up a virus last week, so I formatted and installed Ubuntu, which was trickier than usual. The Ubuntu install CD was complaining that it couldn't find a medium with a live filesystem. I finally realized that the CD-ROM drive I was using, was set to secondary slave, but that there was no secondary master. Windows hadn't been complaining, but it's not exactly a kosher configuration, so I figured Linux might have been having trouble with it. Once I got the drive switched to secondary master, things worked fine.

I've begun the process of restoring my code and setting up the new machine to do what I need it to do. However, we're also having Internet connectivity issues. We had these issues before, but it seems to have gotten worse. I think our recent rainstorm might have exacerbated an issue. The problem seems to be somewhere between my router and my ISP.

The front yard is getting prepared for grass and flower planting, and the back yard is being made suitable for Ephraim's upcoming birthday.

I've planted tomato, bell pepper, jalapeno, and onion seeds and I'm starting to see some sprouts, but I plan on waiting until after Ephraim's birthday to put them in the ground. If all turns out well, we'll have most of what we need for salsa canning this summer.

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Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox
Bird Poo in the Attic

A week ago, Cassey said she thought there was a cat in our attic.

I said "no way, it's just a cat on the roof".

I clearly wasn't keeping in mind the second law of marriage, which is, "the wife is always right". Sure enough, it wasn't long before I got a call from my wife while I was at work. Something in the attic had meowed at her and scampered away when she opened the hatch to peek in.

I'd never been in my attic before. I had many ponderings on the subject. I was certain the insulation was awful, and I was curious as to the state of the wiring and plumbing.

We have two attic hatches, one in the addition at the back and one in the original portion of the house, which is in the front. (Cassey's experience occurred in the addition.) I began my investigation last night by opening up the hatches and shining the flashlight around to see if I could get the attention of the cat (if it was still around). Nothing seemed to happen, so I followed this up by walking around the house looking for likely holes. However, all the vents were in good condition (and rather small for a cat), and nothing else seemed unusual.

After making these initial investigations, the real work began this morning. I rigged up something to allow me to climb up to the attic access hatches, and began in the front, as this was the easiest to get into. I discovered that the front did not provide access to the back and the insulation looked like lumpy gray foam. I expect it is ancient fiberglass. It doesn't seem to have been sprayed down. I didn't spend much time since the lack of connection to the back meant the problem I was investigating had nothing to do with the front attic.

The hatch in the back was harder to get into since it was smaller and located in a relatively open space. The tight access made me more nervous, so I decided to put a lamp up in the attic to provide a little more light. I also took a flashlight. (Cassey later sent up gloves and a camera to document my adventures.)

The first thing I noticed was that birds had evidently been there. There were droppings and feathers concentrated in a few different places. The second thing I noticed was that the insulation was awful... except for one spot where fiberglass insulation sheet had been piled up together. In fact, two packages were still largely intact.

Pile of Insulation

It looked like someone went up there intending to put down some insulation, but never got around to really doing the job.

I'm gonna have to fix this situation. (Probably in the fall.)

The main portion of the attic did not evince any way for a cat or bird to enter. However, behind the pile of insulation was an offshoot which led out to the original roof. So, after shoving some fiberglass aside, I worked my way back to the eaves of the original house. Where I found some light streaming in from under the eaves of the original roof, where it connected with the new roof.

Source of the Problem

The lighting issues aren't apparent in the photo, but you can see how there could be a gap hiding under the eaves there.

I was able to find the hole from the outside of the house as well once I knew where to look.

I'm not sure how best to patch up this hole, but I expect I'll find some solution during the week.

My favorite part is that I have reason to hope to significantly improve the comfort level in this house before next winter.

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06/11: Some tidbits

Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox
Ephraim is now pretty competent at recognizing and sounding all upper-case letters, and I'm bringing in the lower case. I'll need to start giving him words in lower and camel case in a week or two. Reading is progressing slowly, but he enjoys the lessons and makes progress.

I've been quite pleased with Maine's passing of Question 1, rejecting same-sex marriage. It passed by a slightly better margin than our (California's) Proposition 8, even though the its proponents were out-funded by quite a large margin.

My programming has focused on The Glyph Project. I've been creating a tool to generate word pages to import into the wiki. I think I got it to a point last night where the pages that are generated are about what I want. I just need to break up the import files into manageable chunks of 100 pages or fewer to import. Once that is done, there will be lots of work to do to organize the words better than could be done automatically, extending MediaWiki to handle some of my unique needs, and adding words from other sources. Of course, I also want to automatically generate glyph pages as well. I think that job will be a little easier though.

Hopefully the reference material will be useful from the get-go. I definitely need something more than the short dictionary at the back of my textbook.

Jasher's talking is getting a little variety. Ephraim pulled out a Risk computer game recently and wanted to watch me play. After a battle, the winning team cheers, and Jasher would cheer along with them. (Yeah!!) It was the cutest thing.

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28/08: Sick Day

Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox
Today I have a cold, so I took the day off from work and approximately rested.

Despite being sick, I was able to knock out a few important chores I've had to do.

My big goal for today was to deal with my overfilled webmail. I only had 10MB of space allocated to my email account, and to deal with the issue, I'd decided to install my own webmail application on my website instead of using the one provided by my hosting provider. Unfortunately, things didn't go so well, and the application was having trouble trying to connect to the servers. While looking into the issue, I discovered that my hosting provider had increased the space available to me for email from the old 20 MB to 1GB. All I had to do was increase the allocation to my specific email addresses. So, now I have 100MB allocated to my primary email address, and my problem is solved.

After conquering my email issue, I attacked The Shtick Image Editor. I've made a lot of changes since my last release, but it has been almost 3 years since I've made what I have available to the public. Having recently gotten the splash screen updated with the new version number, and having, just this week, updated the license, I was ready to release. So, today I released what I had. The website needed a little fixing up as well, but now everything is running smoothly and The Shtick Image Editor 1.2rc1.

Apart from this, I also finally got around to depositing some checks of small value, and managed to get around to blogging for

Cassey made some great pancakes, and sloppy joes.

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22/08: A Jumble

Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox
Seeing as it has been a relative while since I last posted anything, this post is going to be a jumble. I've had plenty of ideas for posts, but the time to sit down and write has escaped me.

The first major problem was a flea infestation. The source of the problem was the front bathroom, where hoards of fleas were getting trapped in the tub and living short hungry lives. They didn't all get trapped in the tub, however, and we were suffering for it. On the upside, we got pretty good at flea catching. So, we sprayed and we vacuumed and we sprayed some more. I'm now happy to report that I haven't seen a single flea since Sunday, though, we're still playing it cautious, and I haven't really been in the front bathroom much either. (Last time I went in, there were very few live fleas.) My bites have been healing nicely.

The drivers for the flea infestation seem to be two-fold. First, we had a possum living under the bathroom (and perhaps dying there). Second, humidity has been up. Apparently fleas need a minimum humidity level of 70% to really do well. (Below 50% and they're in real trouble.) I now understand why we never had flea problems in the desert.

The possums were hanging around because Sassy's food was available. Sassy, however, has not been seen in weeks, so we have stopped making the food available, and I haven't seen a possum in about a week.

Another busy point is my front yard. I've been diligently watering it and spraying herbicide on anything green that appears. It seemed a pretty endless effort until about today. It has been a few days since I last sprayed, and normally, I would expect to see the yard speckled green, but instead greenery has remained all but undetectable. I'll spray down what I can find tomorrow, but I'm really pleased at the progress.

Our garden has seen better days. A few days ago I noticed a couple of mounds in the garden area. I suspected gopher at first, but upon closer inspection, the ant activity, placement, and shape of the mounds led me to conclude that ants were responsible, which didn't really worry me that much. Nevertheless, the plants were looking a little wilty. "Probably just getting near the end of life", I thought.

On Wednesday, we had a neighbor in the ward over for dinner. Upon seeing the mounds his first thought too was gophers. I explained my ant theory, but he said that ants didn't make mounds like that. I replied that they surely did, but since my experience was only with ants in other areas, and since the plants were looking like the weren't getting enough nutrition, I began to believe I had a gopher.

The next day, I disconnected my hose from the drip system and set the little drip timer to "On" so that I could flush out the gopher... but nothing happened.

That's when I made an important discovery. Someone had turned off the water. We figure it was probably Ephraim, but who really knows. The main thing was... we now knew what was wrong with our plants.

So, do we have a gopher, or is it ants? I still don't know. I haven't seen any mounds suddenly appear indicating a gopher. I haven't seen any stalks chewed through.

I've been having regular lessons with Ephraim lately. I decided that to make any progress on reading, he needed to get his vowel sounds down better, and now he seems to know those for the most part. He also seems to know the difference between a letter and a word rather solidly, so that when I ask him what the word is and point to the letters, he sounds them all out rather than just picking one. Still, it's pretty slow going.

A couple of good sites I stumbled upon:
Linguistic Puzzles - Challenging and fun puzzles for the linguistically inclined.

OK... the other article is now demanding registration, which is pretty lame. (The paper was originally written in 2006... did my stumbling it have that great an effect on its popularity?) It's a scientific paper which describes a kind of pseudo-faster-than-light effect in certain materials. It was highly sensationalized in the science news pieces I read, but when it comes down to it, it seems the pulse is simply being deformed. The author himself clarifies that no information travels faster than light, and having read the paper, I agree, but still people seem to be making a big deal about it. (Actually, I have my doubts that any light is actually traveling faster than light. I think there are some obvious questions they not only failed to address, but failed to ask in the conclusion, where one typically speculates on interesting follow-up research.) Nevertheless, I mention it because it's interesting to me. I saw some very similar deformations in my simulations of similar gaussian pulses traveling in the heliosheath and it gives me pause. (We were attempting to replicate unexpected observations by Voyager 1. I don't really think our results were very interesting for that purpose.)

Anyhow, that's a jumbled summary.

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Category: Sundry
Posted by: seanmcox
As of today, I have been called and sustained as the new Assistant Stake Clerk over finances.

Anyhow, that is what it is, and I'm excited to learn more about how the Stake operates.

For a while now I've been meaning to get to some blogging, but I've been so busy that it just hasn't happened.

I set a few goals for myself this past week, to try to get my house into some better order, and while I haven't accomplished all of my goals, there is certainly an improvement. One of the two bird of paradise stumps in our front yard is now removed, the yucca stump that I've been working on in the back yard is now completely out, I've made progress cutting up, and stacking, the yucca stalks that I felled before starting on the stump, I've done some caulking around the kitchen sink and bath tub (I've determined that some leaks in those vicinities were probably due to old/bad caulking rather than bad plumbing), and I've done a few other little things. I really need to review, and possibly redo my caulking, but I like to think that things are better than they were.

This week, my sister-in-law gets married, so I probably won't get as much done, but I still have a couple of things that I want to do.

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