30 April 2009

Playing for Change

A big thanks goes out to my Aunt Robyn for putting me on to this. No matter what your personal politics might be, you cannot argue that these guys are doing something amazing, artistically and technologically.

I know FZ was doing something similar before he died, only he was bringing different musicians from around the world to him.

My only critique is that it needs more trumpet ... I'm here when you're ready for me guys.

Check this out, check them all out:

In Memory of Magical Things

Stroll with me for a moment down memory lane. Years ago I found myself at loose ends, with re-discovered friends, looking for a place to hang out. We eventually found a length of polished wood to hold up, and it was called "Merlin's Tavern".
I was drawn in at first by the computerized trivia that you could play for free, but by the time Blaine (Brodka, until recently the owner of Merlin's) canceled the trivia, I had made acquaintances with the othe regulars. They were a fascinating crowd. Some of them rough around the edges, some of them incredibly successful, all of them just wanted to blow off some steam with a few beers and a game of pool. Some of us played darts on the electronic scoring soft-tip machine that had more plastic in its face that Michael Jackson.
There was a lot of laughter, and more than once someone's extended absence was noted with a simple remark that they were guests of the county. Like I said, a little rough around the edges.
After a lot of Molson, more "rocket fuel" shots than is strictly healthy for anyone, and plenty of free dinners courtesy of my Merlin's Card (spend $60, get $10 free food/drink!), I moved on, though Merlin's kept rocking for a few more years.
I drive by every now and then, and the place looks empty, the soul of fun and a few hours' escape from what life held elsewhere now gone somewhere else. The magic was gone.
I think I still have my official Merlin's Dart Team (yeah, what of it? I had fun) T-shirt in a box somewhere. I may have to wear it in memory of magical things:


Former Merlin’s Tavern to become liquor store
April 29, 2009

HAGERSTOWN — Washington County liquor officials on Wednesday gave the new owner of the former Merlin’s Tavern in Hagerstown permission to convert the business into a liquor store.

Lucktinny Soeung said after a meeting with the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, known as the liquor board, he intends to close the business this week to make renovations and reopen in about a month.

“We’ll have a carryout — no bar,” Soeung said.

He said he intends to name the business Summit Liquors.

The liquor board gave Soeung its blessing despite opposition from two local liquor store owners, who said the West End didn’t need another liquor store and a trend was being started by allowing bars to morph into carryouts.

On April 15, Mark Svrcek, owner of Captain Benders Tavern and Antietam Cafe in Sharpsburg, told the liquor board he wanted to convert the bar portion of the business into a liquor store, The Herald-Mail has reported.

A liquor board official said Wednesday that Svrcek’s request still is under consideration.

Blaine Brodka, the former owner of Merlin’s Tavern, said after the meeting he decided to sell the business because he couldn’t find competent help.

“I’m disappointed with the quality of employees that I’ve had,” Brodka said. “Over the last eight years ... I’ve had 180 employees.”

Brodka said he always tried to ensure Merlin’s maintained a good reputation.

The liquor board fined Merlin’s $400 on Wednesday for serving alcohol to an underage police agent earlier this month. That incident occurred before Soeung took over the business, a liquor board official said.

27 April 2009

Garden Ramble - Finally Something About Which to Ramble!

[Note: This is a long one kids, so be prepared]

"What is it with men and gardening?" the Mrs. asked me yesterday as we discussed our plans for the garden, driving home from church. "Is it because you can't have babies?"

I suppose there's some merit to that hypothesis; that a garden gives a man the opportunity to nurture a tiny seed into a beautiful plant, sometimes over the course of many years (I know I was happy to see that all of my perennials weathered the winter intact). I mentioned it in one of my early garden rambles last year, how it's in my blood. At least 3 generations of Murray men have been gardeners. The 3 I'm familiar with, anyway. It's what I gotta do, to borrow from Rod Farva.
But what of things horticultural, you cry! Cast off the reminiscences and the meta-physics, and get to the plants. Dammit man, you insist, what of your garlic?
And I reply, the garlic I planted, taken from cloves given to me by my father, is doing nicely. Better than expected, but thou the vegetable garden was planted first, let us begin on the front porch and then move to the back porch, the herb garden, vegetable garden, dog-garden, and the in-progress flower beds of the sidewalk. That last a mighty tale of heroism and long struggle.
But first, the set up. We went shopping for stock with which to garden yesterday after church. Home Depot gift cards were put to good use (Wedding presents - woohoo!) in purchasing flowers, and mulch, and plants, and potting soil. We bought pots at the Lowe's, since none of the Home Depot pots that we saw inspired us. Though while at Lowe's I made to take down an up-turned urn for closer inspection, and got a shirt-full of water for my trouble. The base of the urn makes for a capable holder of water itself. In the 95+ degree heat it made for a pleasant surprise, oddly enough. And a much-needed laugh, as heat wore us down. We returned home with our treasures, and set forth to work on garden things. I transplanted and planted as the Mrs. pulled and tore at vines and branch - more on her later.
The front porch will be gorgeous in a month, if I keep the window boxes and the hanging baskets watered. Flower seeds from last year that I gathered have been planted in the boxes out front, and shade-loving flowers (fuchsia and a mixed-pot) have been hung. The pony-tail plant that I inherited from Mrs. Krumpe has found a new home in a larger pot, and much needed. The poor plant was root-bound, so I freed up the roots and gave it a generous shot of water. Given the oddly arid nature of the front porch, it should be just enough water for the plant to get established in its new pot. We may add more to the porch; I may buy some more flowers as transplanting has found me with many empty square pots that would do very well out front. But that will be then. For now, let's move on.
The back porch is primarily a staging area for potting, transplanting, and plants in transition. It's almost like my own like plant hospital - much to her dismay. I try to make it look as decorative as possible, for a work area. Right now there's a hanging strawberry plant in need of planting, a window box with out a home with flower seeds, and a maple tree sapling that just sprouted. Inspired by my parents I want to nurture it and plant it in a corner of the yard, where I hope it will grow into a big tree. Well, a tree, period, really.
Stepping off the back porch and ignoring the patch of bare ground that I think is poisoned because grass refuses to grow there, we step into the herb garden. Perennial mums sprouted up, giving floral beauty (eventually) to these fragrant rows. Lined up behind these silent sentries (get it, mums, silent?) on the left is Peppermint, freshly planted rosemary (a mistaken purchase. I had a pot of rosemary from Dad that I will discuss later, for some reason I thought it was thyme.), lemon balm, self-seeded chamomile, oregano, chocolate mint, and then more flowers wrapping around to my butterfly bush (weathered the winter much better than the potted butterfly bush Mark I) and flower garden. Eventually - this week - along the fence I intend to plant sunflower seeds.
Walking back to the top of the right row you'll find freshly planted basil interspersed with cilantro and an anise-smelled leafed herb whose name, I am embarrassed to admit, presently escapes me. It smells like licorice, though. Old friends sage and Other Peppermint (spreading like the weed it is) are still strongly represented.
On the patio there is a new player, a nice wide yet low pot into which I have planted lavender, and transplanted my other oregano and the aforementioned rosemary, the latter two refreshed after wintering in the kitchen. Our plan is to move this large pot indoors come cold weather and have fresh herbs all winter long. We plan for a second pot to contain mints and other herbs suitable for teas (perhaps the lavender should have gone here?)For now, however, we must concern ourselves with vegetables.
Vegetables. Delicious, healthy, fun to grow! Yes, friends, the third year of the vegetable garden seems to be the most promising year yet. A path was dug, allowing for beds, compost was mixed in with soil that had been worked last year, and minor expansions were made to reclaim ground laid bare from creeping weed removal. Thus far radishes, lettuces, spinach, peas, and garlic have all sprouted and are in the process of sprouting (about half the pea sprouts are up. I am looking forward to fresh peas this year). Carrots and broccoli are taking their good sweet time. Ah! I bought crook-necked squash at the Home Depot yesterday, and planted those three seedlings, hopefully spaces far enough apart. Double hopefully that the peas and broccoli will grow faster than the squash so that they might share some ground. There is a patch of ground where I planted old seeds that didn't do much last year. I felt it was a waste to not even give them a shot, but nothing as of yet. Hopefully dad will have some peppers for me to transplant in soon, and this is the spot reserved for them. Otherwise I'll have to keep peppers potted until the spring veggies come out. I have to consider what to put in when the spring stuff comes out. Maybe additional peppers? Maybe beans? No, beans are too much work for too little return. I do want to get some onions in the ground, but I fear it may be too late for them and tat they'll have to wait until fall. Anyone have any thoughts as to what to put in the ground after radishes, carrots, and lettuce have come out? Dad will have good ideas, for certain. Oh! Maybe zucchini.
I know you're dying to hear about the hedge monster we're slaying, but first, some fun news from further into the yard. Yes, formerly the domain of dogs, dandelions, and not much else, I have decided to spruce up the back half of the yard a bit. My first decision was, when cutting the grass for the first time (what a jungle) this year I decided to not cut back those few clumps of grass that are of a wildly different species than the rest, looking almost ornamental (Though definitely accidental). It gives a garden feel to that patch of grass. At the back center of the yard I've put the bird bath, with the only working solar lamp, and a small garden that is kind of the step-child of gardens, but I plan to put some work into it after getting the rest of the yard into shape. But Rob - you say - won't we have to walk a potential mine field (try as you may, you never get it all when you have dogs). Nay, nay, I say, Nay! For the brick path that runs between herb gardens bisects the yard nearly to it's lengthwise extent. Alas it is covered with grass for half that length. Well, only about a quarter now. There's some back-breaking labor in the heat; digging up ye aulde sod that covers a brick path. I plan to have that done by week's end also, using the sod to cover the dead patches in the part of the yard that I wish I could just pave over. Hey, that's not a bad idea. Nah. So yeah, brick path all the way back, fun little garden (and eventually tree) and some ornamental grass. Finally, our own green monster.
Photos will show you the hedge that serves as privacy barrier between our yard-garden and the world. Those of you who have been to our house know of it. My parents have helped me tame it in the past. The Mrs. and I have spent long hours on weekends bringing it under control. This Spring our mission is to pull out the ivy (we'll never get it all), and put in flowers and mulch. Thanks to the ivy and birds nesting in the hedge above, the earth on this 37 foot long, 3 foot high, 60 degree incline on the side of out house is fairly rich. I don't plan to use any fertilizer, because this stuff is loam, baby. It's also, however, a pain in the arse to clear out, and apparently the city's auxiliary trash dump. Thus far we have found:
  • several plastic bottles of cleaning chemical, liquor, and soda variety
  • a complete set of metal flatware
  • pieces of plastic flatware
  • a basketball
  • the blades from manual edging trimmers
  • several pens (someone call Papermate, 'cos one of them still worked)
  • shards of glass bottle
  • cans of soda/beer
  • various food wrappers / plastic containers
  • a cassette tape of The Judds
  • a cassette tape of Mariah Carey
No one was nice enough to toss in any money. We've filled 4 yard bags with plant waste, and 1 trash bag with the trash listed above. We are about 40% done clearing the ivy and assorted mess. It would be nice to have the flowers planted by week's end, but this project might carry into May by a week or so. I was tempted to offer $20 to the kids riding by on their bikes to help out. I should make them do it for free because odds are some of the crap belongs to them (or their parents in the case of the flatware). As is the case in such gentrification projects, it appears that we are making homeless several spiders, roly-poly bugs, and centipedes. Likely a salamander or two, as well. Ants and worms are welcome to stay, and all the other bugs are welcome back once the mulch is in place. Especially the spiders. Better them there than in the house! I ask you, though - what possesses people to dump their garbage into a hedge like that? She's going to injure anyone she catches using our hedge as the Resh Rd auxiliary, and I don't blame her. We're putting a lot of work into this. We're putting a lot of work into the whole thing, and that's okay, because come some sultry August evening when the herbs are tall and the flowers radiant we'll sit back - tired from an hour's weeding and picking - on our porch and gaze into the West, into the garden, and feel a distinctly parental pride at what we've made.

21 April 2009

Ending the Embargo

I swore I'd never go to a Trek convention. Sure, I've seen just about every minute of Trek that ever aired, and I've read more Trek novels than is recommended for a sane person. But I always kept it in the house. I never let it hurt those I love; so why would I want to go to a trek convention now?
Partly because of the curiosity of what I might see, the deals I might find (I'm always on the look out for a good deal), the photo-ops. I might actually be able to compose a decent shot or two - you look at the photos from these things and you'd think that these people have never heard of off-camera flash, or even bouncing the light.
And that's why I have to go. The pictures. Not the mechanics, but the subjects. The stars. The people we as sci-fi watching nerds all love, love to hate, want to be, or want to be with (watch some TOS, and your hailing frequencies will be open, allright) are up on stage, or at some table, signing autographs, hugging sweaty nobodies in ill-fitting and poorly sewn costumes, and generally looking uncomfortable.
I'm not white-knighting. I don't plan any major SAVE THE STARS campaign. I'm willing to bet the money's even pretty good. But something about the way they look in those photos just doesn't sit right with me. Our idols reduced to common men. Heroes of our youth (and, let's all be honest, not-quite-so-youth) brought down to our level. Not even do they appear to be treated as celebrities, cordoned off from the rest of us by assistants and security and velvet ropes. Plastic folding tables, sharpies, and glossy prints from 30 pounds and a decades past. Is the money worth being on display? They just look borderline miserable to me.
Except when they are on stage. Then they come alive. I mean, they are actors, after all. The photos while they are on stage, performing, reminiscing - the fourth wall ephemeral but still there, almost in phase with our reality (to borrow some technobabble).
Or, I'm completely off base, projecting my own feelings into some inopportune moments captured in jpg format; faces in transition from listening to a smile of warm recognition of a shared experience. Maybe it's too a bit of my naivete that I'm unwilling to part with: I know they are just people working on a sound stage, but in a deep part of me I want it all to have been real. So I want to go to a convention to see for myself. While I'm there maybe I can take some decently lit photos, and capture the moments that I'm hoping I'll see.

20 April 2009

Four Things

It's meant as an email forward, or maybe a Facebook Note - I'm drawing a conclusion with the Facebook, because I'm a bad person and haven't made the time to play with it in a while. Been too damned busy with the school work. Anyway, rather than email this to everyone, only you 4 or 5 people who actually read this non-sense I call a web-log can share in my answers. Maybe after finals I'll get on the Facebook and make an update pointing out this link. Oh yeah:

1.Four places that I go to all the time:
-My Secret Lair
-Higher Ground
-to sleep

2.Four people who e-mail me (regularly):
-Chris M.

3.Four favorite smells:
-The smell my parents' house has when the sun really warms it up for the first time of the year, right around early to mid-May. I catch that same smell in my own house, right by the front door, on warm sunny mornings.
-Cooking Smells
-Clean dog / puppy

4.Four other places I would rather be right now:
-Anywhere they're serving very large, very cold margaritas - Don't judge me
-Still in bed

5.Four people I think will respond:
-The other 2 people who read this thing.

6.Four TV shows I watch:
-Better Off Ted

Here's what you are "supposed to do":
Please don't spoil the fun. Hit 'forward,' delete my answers, type in your answers and send it to a bunch of people, including me. It's only SIX questions. Please take the time. Thank you.

Here's 4 things you can choose to do:
1. Reply to this post and leave a comment with your answers, and share this post with all your pals.

2. Make your own web-log post and share the link here as a comment.

3. Facebook it (is Facebook a verb yet?)

4. Read and move on with your life

18 April 2009

What is the Matrix, Neo-Office?

Through a series of convolutions that you all have come to now as Rob-esque (Robian, Robbiestyle?, whatever), I run NeoOffice, the OS X optimized version of OpenOffice(.org - what is the deal with that nomenclature?).
I had, until last night, kept an old copy of MS Office V.x on my system as an insurance policy even though I greatly preferred NeoOffice. Last night I took the plunge and uninstalled MS Office off my system, partially fortified by third party conclusions in an aticle I read about a staunch PC writer whose editor had him running a mac for a fortnight. Overnight while I was sleeping, apparently my mac fell into a coma. Likely because I never reboot and I am an OS tinkerer. Old habits die hard, right Jared?
Point is I'm working on a huge project and I couldn't remember if I'd saved my final round of changes (at 11:30 last night), so I was resigned to losing some of what I'd typed.
Not So! NeoOffice recovered it all for me, formatting and everything, where any copy of MS Office(Word) that I've ever used recovers a half garbled mess along with what you were lucky enough to save before the fall, uhm, crash.
My conclusions? You all need to go buy Macs (iMacs, Mac Pros, MacBooks, Mac Minis, if you have the cash how about a MacBook Air?) and install NeoOffice to do your work. Virtual Box will fill your needs for any filthy Windows work you need to do (like MS Project - SIGH).
Just a little advice and a love letter to some hard working FOSS programmers out there. Looks like I owe you a donation! Someone hold my feet to the fire on that one, these guys need donations as much as publicity. Because I am a publicity MACHINE.
Right, back to my project.

15 April 2009

Hot Coffee

This is something that I have pondered off and on for a couple of years now, usually while driving somewhere so that it's forgotten by the time I get anywhere it's safe to take notes:

Why does coffee begin to cool more rapidly after you take that first sip, even in an insulated travel mug?

Does the backwash force more circulation and therefore energy loss
Does the increased ratio of air to coffee inside the mug lead to more rapid loss of energy?
Is the reduced volume of coffee related to that (e.g., less energy-holding coffee to share and contain the energy)?
Is it a psycho-sensory effect brought on by the mouth's heat receptors becoming accustomed to the greater heat of the coffee compared to the ambient temperature of the mouth?

I have a hunch this is mathematically solvable using thermodynamics equations, but I think we all know that doing the experiment is more fun than just working some problems. Not that I won't use math to verify my results. I will also conduct a lierature review to see if anyone else has done any work on this phenomenon.
Here's the experiment:


Repeat three (3) times (Weak, normal, strong brews) making coffee as defined here:

A. Weak Coffee - 1 scoop Less than # of cups in pot
B. Normal Coffee - # of scoops = # cups in pot
C. Strong Coffee - 1 scoop Greater than # cups in pot

  • Drip Coffee maker with pot
  • Water (enough to fill the coffee pot)
  • Ground Coffee (enough to make 3 pots of varying strength)
  • 2 matching ceramic coffee mugs
  • 2 matching insulated travel mugs
  • 5 thermal probes


1. Brew a pot of coffee.

2. Pour coffee into all 4 mugs.

2.1 Return pot with remaining coffee to burner.

3. Seal travel mugs.

4. Insert probes into all 4 cups and the pot of coffee.

5. Record initial probe readings.

6. Wait 5 minutes, then record new readings.

7. Take a sip from one ceramic and one travel mug - the other 2 mugs are controls.

7.1 - exclaim about how hot the coffee is.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until the cup of coffee is empty. (For extra fun make a note of when you no longer feel it necessary to perform 7.1)

Expected Results

The open ceramic mug that is sipped from will lose temperature quickest, followed by the sipped-from travel mug, then the open control, travel control, and the pot. Possible confounding variables include variable air temperature, strong/variable air movement, presence of sweetener (we are conducting this experiment with black coffee), and for step 7.1 the relative sensitivity of the experimenter's mouth.


Feel free to offer constructive criticism, replicate this experiment and send me your results in tabular format to lefthandrob at gmail, or point me to where this very thing has already been done. This is FOR SCIENCE!

p.s. - Save all those used coffee grounds; they're good for your compost.

10 April 2009

It feels so much later...

Why do semesters always end in fevered frenzies to completion? The papers come due, the finals are offered, projects are critiqued. Does anyone REALLY do their paper weeks before it's due?
The good news is that I finished the first of 2 papers and that the second will hopefully be a lot easier. I also found time last night to deploy the compost I started last Spring and get most of the vegetable garden planted! I mean, some of the stuff is either old seed or experiments (let's see if I can get some potatoes to grow), but most of the seed I bought last Summer and spent the Winter nice and dry and not overly cold. A week or so should tell the tale.
If the old seed or the potatoes fail to sprout, more room for peppers and squash when it comes time to plant those favored vegetables.
Can I tell you the satisfaction I felt shoveling that compost out onto the garden beds (looks like a pair of graves for 7' tall people lacking headstones right now), knowing that it all started as garden, yard, and kitchen waste? I'm going to start saving my apple cores and orange peels from my lunches to deposit, knowing that come next Spring I'll have the best kind of fertilizer - effective and FREE.
Does compost count as an Open Source project? I mean, I control what goes into it, other people can contribute, and it doesn't cost me anything. Have I spent too much time this week reading up on FOSS? Probably.
I do know that this brief evening's planting coupled with the promising shoots already coming out of the ground (mint, sage, chrysanthemums, lemon balm, chamomile, oregano, other flowers...) means that in another couple of weeks and with another round of seeding the various pots that your fondest wish will come true and you'll have another season of Garden Rambles to share and enjoy!
Seriously, it feels way later than not-quite-midnight. Happy Easter! Go Jesus!

03 April 2009

Quick Hits Before Work

We went to the store last night, and one of the items on the list was some hair jelly (O reference where art thou?) for me. I haven't bought any hair fixatives in a long time because the last time I bought some there was a great sale so I stocked up, and then I went through an au natural phase. Hey, you are that curious, or else you wouldn't be reading this, Q.E.D.
Since I couldn't find any Dapper Dan around I examined my other options. I had almost decided on one particular tube of follicle goo when reading the label I took note of the warning to keep it out of eyes. The last time I check my hair is pretty close to my eyes. Not that I have a habit of rubbing my eyes with gooey hands, but who knows what might happen when one is half asleep? I did not purchase that brand.
I did however purchase a competing brand which I am using for the first time this morning, and I can still smell it.
In other news, I had a clever though yesterday morning on my way in to work: I then completely forgot it by the time I sat down at my desk to scribble it down, so if you see any errant clever thoughts floating around that look like they might be mine, let me know? Thanks!
Finally, School ends for me 4/26 (until Fall semester). Mark your calendars.

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