Sunday, October 31, 2010

Artist Day at work?!?

I had to miss artist night on Tuesday this week because of various things going on in my life. I'm actually considering putting it on hold for the month of November because there is so much going on. I really enjoy it though, and it does give me a break from my normal routine. I also have some fun artist activities planned. For example, the 8-bit Mike project is coming up, and I am very excited for that.

This week's activity was a little unusual because it was related to work. You see, I used to really enjoy programming and I would stay up late at night to work on various projects. I haven't been able to do that very much lately. I have a lot of interruptions at work and I find that I can't handle the context switches very well. I've found it does take me about half an hour to really get back to something I was working on after an interruption. I would say I get interrupted at least every half hour when I'm at work. Obviously, there is a productivity issue there.

The other interesting thing that's been happening lately is that my eyes get really tired. I think it's from using the 30" cinema display I have at work. But I've found I can't look at computer screens very much after going home after work.

So for artist day this week I did something that should be normal but has not been typical for me in the last few months. On Saturday, I put my headphones on, closed my email and IM programs, and just did some of the programming that I needed to do for work.

I was surprised how much I could get done without all the distractions. It was actually really fun too. It helped me remember what I really like about programming and why I majored in computer science.

There are some artistic aspects to developing software. There is art behind the code itself that is difficult to describe to someone who doesn't program. However, when you see well-written code it can be refreshing - like looking at a piece of art. Also, when you finally run your program and everything works like it should there is a great feeling like you've created something and it is good. I think developing can be beautiful. My employees would attest to this - my favorite question to ask them when they tell me they've completed their projects is "Is it pretty?". I love it when it is.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dishes Silliness

I recently had three new roommates move into my apartment. Ever since they moved in, I think I've done a decent job of doing my part around the house. The dishes was one area where I felt I was for sure pulling my weight. I loaded and ran the dishwasher a couple times a week. Actually, I started feeling that I was the only one really doing dishes, so I thought I would try an experiment.

One Sunday, my roommates and I helped cook some food for the young singles group we attend in our neighborhood. There were a lot of dishes left to be done afterward. I did the ones from the food I took and then looked around at what was left in the kitchen. There were a lot. I decided I wasn't going to do them. In fact, I decided I wasn't going to do dishes for the whole week to see what would happen.

The result was fascinating. Not surprisingly, the sink filled up. It was so full that I could barely fit another plate in it. It was disgusting. I was tempted to just load the dishwasher, but that would destroy my experiment.

The interesting thing was what happened at the end of the week. One of my roommates approached me and he was a little upset. He said he and another roommate had just done two loads of dishes and was bothered that I hadn't helped. I explained that I normally do about two loads a week. He said that he didn't see it and thought that I was being lazy.

I just thought it was silly that after one week things would be so bad. The most fun part about the experiment is that I don't use a lot of dishes at home. I have one cereal bowl and spoon that I keep in my room and I eat lunch at work. I often eat dinner outside because of other things I have going on. If I cook at home, I can usually last on the leftovers for a few days. So I really don't use much.

He did have a point - for that week, I hadn't done any dishes. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Artist Night 4a - Emptiness

Artist night 4 was was of the most exciting ones yet. I did absolutely nothing! No, not really, but the goal was to do nothing. This was fairly difficult for me since I normally try to keep myself busy. Here's how nothing went down.

First, I always have a lot of junk floating around in my head. I'm sure everyone does. I learned about mind dumps when I read through "Getting Things Done" a few years ago. I try to do a mind dump every once in a while and I've been surprised at how well they work for clearing all that junk out. Basically, all you do is write all the stuff you have floating around in your head down on paper. As soon as it's on paper, it's out of your mind and you are free to think about other things. My mind dump only took about half an hour.

Next, I put in my noise canceling headphones in. I bought them a while ago to use when I travel on airplanes. They're great for that, but they're also great for just blocking out all the extra noise in my house. So I put those in and then turned on some meditation music. After about five minutes, I found I couldn't handle the meditation music, so I turned that off and just sat in silence.

Then I did absolutely nothing. I just tried to sit there with a clear mind. It was very relaxing, at least at first. For the first half hour or so, my mind was clear and everything was happy. Then ideas started coming back into my head and I decided to explore them rather than force them back into nothingness.

What I found was very interesting. I have some very big anger issues lurking around. I'm not really an angry person at all, these just might be things that I have bottled up and left to rot. I think it would be interesting to try and address these things. I'm still deciding on the best course of action. I believe that anger is helpful. At least, it helps me to know that something isn't right. I don't think it's right release your anger on someone else, but I think it is helpful if it drives you to do something to correct a problem. In the next little while, I'll see if I can come up with a good plan for addressing the issues I've discovered.

Overall, I think it was a spectacular night. I don't often encounter the dark side of Mike (unless it's been a few hours since I've eaten, then I get impatient and grumpy, but I think that's understandable). I wonder if the angry Mike can be creative too, there's an interesting thought. I'll explore that later.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Google Fail

Let me start by saying I really like and respect Google as a company. I use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Voice, and (of course) blogger. I also recently activated my Android phone. Once in a while, the services won't be available for one reason or another, but for the most part, all of these services work pretty well.

However, I've run into two really big frustrations lately. The first was with Google Chrome. I still use Firefox as my main browser. There are some annoyances with it, like when it decides to use all of my CPU for no apparent reason. But it works pretty well for me and I like all the development tools it has. I thought I'd give Chrome a try because I like other Google products and wanted to have the automatic bookmark syncing.

I decided quickly that I couldn't use it. Aside from the fact that there are fewer plugins for it, there was one particular issue that drove me crazy - when you use the address bar, you can't type a partial URL and have it find the full link you're looking for. For example, at work, the main site I develop on is I don't want to have to type that in every time I visit a page, so I'll just type 'login' or whatever. Firefox finds the login page from my history and gives it to me as an option in the drop-down menu. Chrome does not. I think it's silly for a search company not to be able to do this. I'm even more bothered by the fact that there has been a trouble ticket open for this issue for over a year. It looks like the issue is finally being resolved, but that is a little ridiculous to me.

Problem #2 came with my Android phone. I thought I'd use the Google Voice application on it and I installed the latest version. I noticed that there were some things weird with it - sometimes it would take hours for it to notice new text messages. Even worse, when I did get texts or voicemail, it would take a very long time to open the application and view the text - sometimes 30 or more seconds. Then when I'd start typing a response, the phone would slow down to a crawl and type maybe a character every other second. Again, I noticed that there were other people who had opened a thread on the issue. And again, no fix after weeks. It's horrible. I had to downgrade to the previous release (which works great).

So I'm starting to question my faith in Google. Do they have any quality checking at all? I've heard they hire some pretty smart people. Maybe they only care about their code and creating new applications and don't care about feedback from their users. Maybe they should leave their applications in Beta forever like they used to.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Artist Night 3b - Chocolates

I finally got a chance to mold some chocolates tonight. I remember making these things with my family when I was a lot younger. It seemed so much easier back then. Then again, this is the first time I have molded chocolate in more than 15 years, so I shouldn't have expected it to be super easy.

I bought the molds from Amazon (my favorite store ever) and they arrived last Saturday. I even tried to get ones that looked like what we had when I was younger. I bought the melting chocolate at an arts and crafts store close to my house.

I tried a double boiler and the microwave to melt the chocolates. The microwave worked, but the boiler seemed to work much better. It also kept the chocolate warm and melty while it was being put into the molds. My favorite part about the double boiler was that I got to look at this:

A bowl full of warm, melted, chocolatey awesomeness. It smelled really good too. I was tempted to pick up the spoon and shovel it into my mouth. But I refrained. (That is a scene from another story that's running around in my head though.) It was also really fun to play with. When it was warm, I could spoon a whole glob of chocolate into the air. It would solidify just a little bit so it kept its shape. When I wiggled the spoon though, it would liquify again and drip back into the bowl. Fascinating.

Painting the chocolate was the difficult part. I only bought brown and white pieces thinking that food coloring would work for the other Halloween colors that were needed. It didn't work quite as well as I had hoped. One drop of the food coloring totally changed the melted white candy from a smooth, melted consistency to a dry, crumbly mess. That really surprised me. Adding a lot more melted chocolate to the colored crumbles finally made it useful again. Next time, I'll just get the colored candy bags.

Painting the molds took a lot longer than I was planning. You need to color all the parts you want colored first. Then you freeze the molds to let the chocolate solidify, then you can fill in the rest of the space. All the molds had lots of details that could be filled in, but I didn't have the patience to do all of it. In the end, I only used three colors - orange, black, and white. But that worked pretty well for a lot of the Halloween molds.

This ghost shows how they turned out. It's definitely not perfect, but who cares? I actually like how his eyes turned out a little crazy. If I had more time, I would have gone with a white ghost and a black background. Oh well, at least I have more ideas for next time.

Altogether, it was a really fun artist's night. It probably would have been better if I had more sleep the last two nights, but what can you do when stories and characters are running around, wreaking havoc in your mind?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Artist Night 3a - Writing

I had a unique experience Sunday night that made it so I got hardly any sleep. I had an idea for a story come into my mind and it wouldn't let me sleep until a few scenes had played out over and over in my mind. I should have taken the hint and started writing the story down, but instead I just jotted down some of the main scenes.

Monday came along and it was a horrible day. Work was fine, the people there were fine, it was just that I got even more scenes playing back over and over in my mind. Normally, that would be fine, but these scenes were actually terribly sad. Worse still, they got continually sadder throughout the day. I'm not normally an emotional person, but there were seriously a few times during the day when I really wanted to cry.

The fun part came Monday night when I couldn't sleep again because of even more ideas. I figured that if I couldn't sleep then at least I'd get something done. So I tried out another one of my artist night ideas and started writing the story out.

I wrote the first chapter of the story. I think it is horribly sad. The best part is, I know it will get even sadder as the story progresses. My goal is to make myself cry with this book, then I'll know I did something right.

It definitely needs work, and I don't think I'm ready for any kind of feedback right now, so don't ask to read it. Maybe one day you'll get to! For now, it was just a great artist night and I hope I can actually get some sleep tonight.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Last week, I finally broke down and bought a Kindle from Amazon. I'd been debating it for a few months. It arrived at my house on Wednesday this week, so I've only had a few days to play around with it. I'd have to say, it's freaking awesome!

I put off purchasing one for two main reasons. First was that I'm usually at home when I'm reading. I have bookshelves filled with books at home, so I didn't really *need* a portable reading device. For some reason, I thought it would only be useful on trips.

The second reason was that you can't check out books from the library or lend your books to friends if you get them from the Amazon store. That really bothered me because I don't like to pay much for books. I usually only read them once and so I like to get them from for free from the library. That's also nice because I can return them when I'm done and not waste shelf space.

Those were silly concerns. First, the Kindle seems to be even more convenient than a printed book. For one, it's a lot thinner and takes up a lot less space. I can put a whole library on this little device and it wouldn't take up shelves and shelves of books. It would be a lot easier to move than boxes of books as well. I also found I can read much faster when I can just click the next page button rather than actually flipping the page. Strange, but true.

There's also tons of free content available. Many of the classics are available online or through Amazon for free. I've already loaded this Kindle with more books than I can probably read in the next year and I didn't pay for much of it.

In short, if you do read much at all, you should buy one. If not a Kindle, then get something else. Simplify and stop collecting stacks of books.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Artist Night 2! The Mall

Artist night this week did not go as planned, but it was still great fun. I had scheduled to go take some pictures outside. I had even timed things just right so I would be outside to catch golden hour. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and it was rainy outside. So Plan B was implemented. However, there was no actual Plan B planned, so it was a spur of the moment plan. I went to the mall to walk around and take some pictures there instead of taking them outside. It didn't turn out too well because some of the stores didn't like people taking pictures inside. And I felt too creepy taking pictures of people without them knowing. It was still an interesting night. I'd count it as a night of exploring the art of marketing.

The most fascinating thing for me at the mall was the weird advertisements that the stores had. Here's an example:

This was at a clothing store. I don't understand how dressing up a male mannequin in three pairs of pants and caution tape would help them sell their clothes. Let's try to sell clothes by having the mannequin do it wrong. I imagine wearing three pairs of pants would be dreadfully uncomfortable. Plus, it's not like you can display all three at the same time, it's only the outer one that people see.

I think the shoe store was pretty silly as well. All the graphics in the store showed the top half of their models. None of them showed shoes at all! How does that help you sell shoes? They should have been pictures of happy people wearing the shoes. Pictures of smiling people can be used for selling just about anything. I took some pictures of that store too, but they turned out too blurry.

The next interesting part for me was to observe the strange things that stores sell. Here's two of my favorite. They're favorites because they're so awful. (Thank you Tai Pan Trading for selling these wonders.)

First, we have a golden head. Not just any head, a slightly misshapen and fairly ugly golden head. You can also get a matching beaten up golden cup to go with it. I can imagine seeing this type of thing at Universal Studios, but not at a home decor store. If you're selling this kinds of stuff, you also need to sell a leather jacket and whip to go with it. I wonder if people actually buy it. I hope not.

Unfortunately, they had things even stranger than the golden head combo. Like this thing. If you've ever wanted a wing on a post, now you know where to get one. Oh, don't worry, they're not likely to run out of them. They have a shelf covered with about 20 of them, so they're not likely to run out by the time you get over there.

Additionally, you can buy an ugly old fashioned wooden wall clock shaped like a boat propeller. There's a whole stack of those as well. They were even on special (imagine that).

The mall wasn't all bad. I found two things that really made me smile. First was this most excellent t-shirt. Hello Kitty as a zombie? how can you get any better than that? I'll tell you, have a couple variations of Hello Kitty as a zombie! If I had a girlfriend, I'd get her one of each. (Two or three of each if she really wanted it.) I'm tempted to get one for myself, just for the heck of it.

Finally, there was the chocolate store. I LOVE chocolate and I hadn't noticed this one before. It's probably been there for years, but as I've said, I don't go to the mall very often. They sell packages of chocolate that you can melt to put in molds. That's going to be my artist night for next week actually. I bought some Halloween themed molds which should arrive sometime soon. I can't wait. It also reminded me of my chocolate making friend who I get to see this weekend. Sweet!

That's it for this week. The mall is definitely an interesting place. If I were more courageous, I'd post some of the more interesting pictures I took. Let's just say people are very interesting. Especially when they don't know people are taking pictures of them...

And just for fun, I found another interesting site when I was checking my spelling of the word 'awful.' Check it out here:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My most interesting date ever

This happened about a few months ago, but I thought it warranted a post because it was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

I met this girl online, let's call her Ms. T. It seemed like we had a whole lot in common. We both work at business schools, both got MBAs at the University of Utah, we had similar interests, had similar goals for the future, and were pretty close in age. I thought it she sounded like a decent match at least, so I asked her to go to dinner one night. She said that she liked Mexican food, so I found a decent Mexican restaurant close to where she lives and set the date up. Picking the restaurant was probably my first mistake.

So the time came and I met Ms. T. at the restaurant. I could tell something wasn't quite right from the beginning. It was like she didn't want to look at me or even talk to me. She answered questions with one word answers that didn't give me a lot to work with. When we got to our table, she started on the chips and salsa as fast as she could, probably so she didn't have to talk to me. I thought this was really strange and just sat there wondering what I had done in a few minutes to make this girl hate me. About 20 minutes of this passed and I was starting to think of ways to escape.

After about 20 minutes, she finally asked me a question. She asked how old I really was. This was odd to me because I had already told her online, but I answered and said "29." She seemed relieved a little bit and started to open up a little more. She told me that I looked like I was around 22-23 years old.

Her next question was even more surprising. Again, I met this girl online and she had seen some of my pictures. There shouldn't have been any surprise about my appearance right? Well, she asked what my background was, specifically if I was Mexican. I had to say no, I was just a typical American. I have a mixed background - mostly European with a little bit of Native American. When I finally convinced her of this, she seemed even more relieved and opened up a little bit more.

The rest of the dinner was pretty much normal, thank heavens. It was very interesting though, she was the one that liked Mexican food, she even spent a lot of time doing a study program in Mexico and had learned a little Spanish. She asked for some specific Mexican dishes, which they didn't have on the menu, but which she knew the Spanish name for. So that was her background, but she seemed very offended because she thought I was a young Mexican boy asking her out.

This date was very interesting to me because I haven't felt that kind of discrimination in a long time. I also don't know what in the world she was thinking. She had all the information to start with, none of it should have been a surprise. It made me start to ponder about how silly people are.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Silly computer

I was working on installing Ubuntu on a computer at work today and ran into a couple interesting errors. I've installed various versions of Linux on various machines and have never seen errors like this. I had to run the install five or six times and in the end, I wasn't successful at getting that particular machine to run it.

The first error came from Ubuntu itself. The install kept saying that either the hard drive or the install media was bad. It could have been the hard drive, but I've used the CD on other machines without a problem. After a couple of other error dialogs, I eventually saw this screen:

Don't worry, the installation is at 123% but it will finish soon. I like how the progress bar still isn't full. I wonder what it would eventually reach - 150%? 166%?

The other fun message came when I looked through that computer's BIOS settings to see if there was anything strange with the drive. I found this screen:

This one is just plain silly. I had just rebooted the computer and entered System Setup, so how am I supposed to change the password? Not only that, but it's telling me to power off the system to enter System Setup. How can I do that if the machine is powered off?