Back from Vacation

by Terry 8/28/2008 10:51:00 AM

I am back from vacation, camping on Lopez Island at Spencer Spit State Park with many of my friends in a big campout. There were thirteen adults and eight children. It was a fun trip with basically good weather, except a half day of rain the day before we left. Karen and I slept in a yurt with all of the kids. It was surprisingly comfortable and quiet with only a couple midnight trips to the bathroom for the kids. The kids played constantly all day, every day and basically passed out once we got them to bed. I hope we can do a similar trip next year.

Karen planned the trip, something she excels at, intentionally choosing a non-holiday weekend for the excursion. This meant we avoided some of the worst of the ferry traffic found on a holiday weekend where ferry wait times can be eight or more hours. I think of all the families that came on this trip, the longest wait was about four hours. This makes for a log trip even in the best of cases, but the ferry ride and destination can make it worth it.

I have spent time on Lopez Island off-and-on my entire life. Returning for an extended weekend was fun and it is good to see the island is still basically the same place. There is some new development in Lopez Village but the island is largely agricultural and seems to be staying that way, which is good on both points.

It was a good, relaxing weekend. I would recommend visiting the San Juan Islands if you ever have the opportunity.

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Personal

Differential Solubility Experiment

by Terry 8/20/2008 2:24:00 PM

Monday and Tuesday night I started working chemistry experiments with Kaitlin. I was working in the garage and Kaitlin started to get excited and beg to do some experiments. Wow, how can I argue with that! So, together we worked on lab 6.1, Differential Solubility: Separating Sand from Sucrose, from the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. I can call the whole event a success and a learning experience.

Most importantly, Kaitlin had fun, and I enjoy working with her. I hope her enthusiasm grows with time. At her age, currently eight, she loses interest in many activities after 45-60 minutes. This is typical with most kids her age, I have learned and see this when I teach martial arts and I was reminded of this while working the lab. In essence, I can do many experiments with Kaitlin, but I have to be mindful of how long portions will take. I may need to let her go play someplace else if an experiment ends up being a lesson in hurry-up-and-wait. Surprisingly separating sand from sucrose was an example of this.

I did the experiment using sand from a large bag of ‘play sand’ I purchased at a big-box hardware store. This play sand is low quality with coarse and variegated particle sizes and materials. That is, it is as much silt as it is pebble. When mixing equal mass of the sand and sucrose (powdered confectioners’ sugar, in my case), adding water and filtering the mixture, I noticed it took hours for the sand to drain. It held the water like a sponge. I expected this to a point, so I let the filter apparatus sit overnight and it was still holding water the next day. This really drove home the point on managing Kaitlin’s time when working experiments.

The end results are interesting. The play sand retained almost 5% of the sucrose mass, despite liberal rinsing with water. The increased volume of water meant it took much longer to evaporate the filtrate and recover the sucrose than if I could have used a third the volume of water. Again, this is another point to consider when working with an eight-year-old. The retained mass and the physical nature of the sand turned the filterant mass into a kind of candied concrete once I dried it in my small oven. Still, I call the experiment a success overall, particularly since all my masses are accounted for, within margins of error.

So, now I am looking at the same experiment again, with an eye toward timing and materials. The play sand is good for some further experimentation. I would like to know more about its composition, for example. However, I am looking at working with kids, ages 8 to 19 at the moment. I need to consider doing the same experiment with a very consistent and uniform sand source, like filtered aquarium sand, where the particles do not retain or react with the filtrate.

One thing I am trying to note carefully as I walk through experiments in the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments is the time it takes to complete each lab. This will help as I rework experiments for my ‘science club’ and in scheduling time.

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chemistry | Personal

Visiting the Great Wolf Lodge

by Terry 8/19/2008 12:22:00 PM

Karen, Kaitlin and I spent the weekend with friends at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound Washington (http://www.greatwolflodge.com/Locations/Grandmound/index.aspx). It was a fun trip. Kaitlin had loads of fun at the water park and playing MagiQuest (http://www.magiquest.com). Overall, I think it was a bit overpriced for what you get, but it was fun nonetheless. Given a choice between spending two and a half days at Great Wolf Lodge or Disneyland, I would likely choose Disneyland. However, Great Wolf Lodge is considerably closer to my home, and therefore a better and more likely option.

The water park was pretty cool. In western Washington, an indoor water park is really the way to go for year-round usability. From what I heard, there are plans to double or triple the size of the current park at the lodge. If this is true Great Wolf Lodge will be pretty spectacular. As it is now, the park size is good for about a one-night stay, provided you can arrive early or leave late on either side of the night you stay. The hotel is accommodating for this to a point, you need to check out by 11:00 AM but you can use the park for the remainder of the day. Likewise if you arrive early, you can use the park until your room is ready. This last weekend the hotel had near complete room turnover on a sold-out weekend, which makes it nice to be able to use the features even though you may not have a room.

Karen and I were a little underwhelmed with the suite. We shared a suite with our friends, a total of seven of us in the two-room suite; cozy, but not crowded. For a new hotel (about 4 months old, as I understand it) the room was in fair condition. The chairs and sofa were too few and not very comfortable to sit on, the floors were not well vacuumed (Karen found an old grape and bit of plastic in the middle of the room), and our bed frame was broken making the bed rather uncomfortable to sleep in. However, this is not a ‘resort’ hotel like the kind I have worked for in the past. This is a family-fun-park, not a Park Hyatt. Most of the amenities are not in the room. For example, there is no ‘bell staff’ hovering at the door, but there is an ample supply of baggage carts for use. A typical resort hotel would have the bellhops getting edgy if you used a cart without a tip; the opposite is true at Great Wolf Lodge. Still I would expect a little more in in-room amenities for what we paid.

On a good note, however, the suite had a small refrigerator, which was very helpful, as Karen has strict dietary needs that make eating-out less pleasant. We tend to eat organic, unprocessed foods and having the counter, sink and room refrigerator was a good alternative to eating at the hotel restaurants. For most people, the on-site food-service would be fine, if slightly expensive, but the in-room features made the suite a good option for us, making up for the other defects in the room. Other food options are limited without a significant drive, which cuts into your play time. If you can plan for this and suffer with the local food or bring your own you should be good.

My friend Richard told us about MagiQuest before we left. I was pretty convinced I would not spend the money to buy a wand and have Kaitlin run around the hotel for two days looking for paintings and other treasure-hunt objects to end with a five minute duel with a dragon on a video screen. It turns out it was good pay-up and do the quest anyway. This is largely because we spent two nights and we had exhausted ourselves on the water park. If or when the water park is expanded then it may not be the same, but as it is now, having the treasure hunt for Kaitlin and her friend were convenient, particularly since there were enough adults to help them. At age eight, Kaitlin is a bit young to be running about the hotel without supervision. Below age eight, the game is not really a good fit, and as an adult I was moderately entertained too, I was just too tired from being in the water half the day to really run with it.

If you are looking for a trip to the Great Wolf Lodge, I would recommend making the most out of the water park as you can, bring your own food if possible and make sure the kids have companions. I think the ideal stay is about one night if you can come early or leave late. Be prepared to spend money on food and other activities, relax once you get there and have fun.

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Tripping on my own feet

by Terry 8/14/2008 2:09:00 PM

Last night at work I made an error I do not think I have ever done in the last ten years of software development. I inadvertently overwrote production software with pre-production test code. I am a big advocate of using source control in software development for any size team, and I intentionally configured the system to force me to use distinct accounts, each with limited access and permissions. This normally serves me well, but not last night, particularly for one portion of my product. This one portion of code I inherited from another team and have had to rebuild it to fit into a new environment and new source control from a completely distinct origin.

I wear several hats at work; software developer, technical architect, system administrator, and change manager. I switch between these roles, sometimes frequently, during the course of a day, like when I release a new version of my suite of products into our acceptance test environment or production environment. Hence the reason for good source control, polished processes and compartmentalized access.

For this one small blob of code, what I have in production is not quite what I have in my source control and development and test environments, nor is any of what I have under source control history a match for the current production code. This is a bad place to be in my position.

As I was configuring a large change in our test environment last night, I made a final update to the test environment. I failed to notice the publication path was the production path (then one path without restricted access yet), which has a similar path as our test environment. I released the code and scratched my head for about three minutes until it sunk in what I had done.

The good news, what there is of it, is the code I released into test last night will complete the synchronization of the inherited code and place it completely into the better managed release cycles. Unfortunately, this new test code depends on changes not yet in production, so it out and out broke.

To make matters worse, as part of another transition, my backups for this one portion of the production environment are not current, and may be gone. I recently change the hosting platform to new servers, twice in the case of the problem code, all with new backups. The old backup files are likely gone, or exceedingly difficult to recover. The new backups are not configured yet.

There is a happy ending. I do have source control and while it did not match exactly what is in production, it was close. I restored to the closest match I could find, made changes to match production functionality, rebuilt and published to my production environment. Life is good again, and life will be better yet in a couple weeks when I release a full version of all related tools with fully synchronized versions. The release processes also includes full backups of all affected parts, so I have a real recovery option should an error occur.

If there is a moral to the story, it is this; Source control is good, backups are better and access control is vital.

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computing | Personal

Vista Video Editing

by Terry 8/12/2008 1:28:00 PM

I played with video editing last night, building a DVD for a fellow martial artist. Michelle is a Black Belt candidate at DMW Martial Arts. Among the requirements for getting your black belt is providing video documentation of forms, sparring skills, self defense and board breaks. Two reasons for this are to demonstrate proficiency of basic skills and create a visual record to review and look for improvement.

I am not skilled at editing video; I just use what I have. It is not great, but it works. Sort of.

I recorded the video on my hand-held JVC Everio GZ-MG37U recorder. It has a built-in 30 GB hard disk which stores a wee more than 7 hours of 720i HD video. I can plug the camera into my home computer’s USB port and transfer the files and away I go.

The JVC camera records video into an MPEG-2 derivative file format with a .MOB extension. I never really understood why it uses that format. Renaming the file will allow it to play in many players that do not recognize the .MOB extension. However, the files also do not have the correct 16:9 aspect ratio and instead play in an 4:3 aspect ratio, giving the video a squeezed appearance. That was an irritant until my friend Steve told me about SDCopy. SDCopy is a simple utility with basically one useful function; it copies the .MOB files to .MPG files and simultaneously sets the bit-flag on the destination file to indicate it is in wide-screen format.

With the files all coped to an .MPG format with the correct aspect ratio, I opened Microsoft Movie Maker on my Vista PC. I have mixed feelings about Vista. I am frankly disappointed with Microsoft about Vista. But that is another topic. Movie Maker, however, is a disappointment all its own. It works, but is it is not a great.

For what I need though, it works well enough. I have about 21 video clips to basically place titles on, and then make a DVD from it.

This is where it gets really odd to me. To make a DVD with Vista, you save your Movie Maker project and open the Vista DVD Maker. DVD Maker is about the most feature-poor DVD utility I have ever used. Oh, it works, but it does not offer much of anything. Why not include DVD Maker operations in Movie Maker? I mean, ‘Movie Maker’ implies it makes movies…

It is important to understand that DVD Maker is pretty feature poor at this point. My 21 video clips had to be saved into 21 Movie Maker project files for the DVD Maker process to work close to what I would hope. It took me about 45 minutes to same all the Movie Maker projects with the correct titles. Thankfully, I was not concerned much about editing. It was a fast process and I got into a routine of creating a project, inserting the clip, title the video and save the project – lather, rinse, repeat.

Then I open DVD Maker. I insert the 21 Movie Maker Projects and sorted them into my preferred play order. I spent a few minutes getting the menu options selected, saved the DVD project and told it to make the DVD. About forty minutes later I had a fresh new DVD and I am good to go. I just did not get what I expected; scenes.

Scenes are where the DVD video is divided into segments. Watch most any DVD movie and you will find a menu option on scene or chapter selection. DVD Maker takes each Movie Maker project as a separate scene, which is exactly the behavior I wanted; a simple menu to play the entire sequence as a single movie, and a scene selector to get to specific clips.

DVD Maker has no scene editing capabilities. You get what it gives you. It gives you about 18 scenes, maximum. Remember I have 21 scenes. DVD Maker essentially combines some clips together, retaining the detailed order, to give you 18 scenes. When I first looked at the DVD menu on my home DVD player I had a moment of fear thinking the video lost a few important clips. It turns out they are still there, but you have to select a scene before where you may be looking, then play that and skip ahead in the video.

Overall, for a quick and dirty bit of video production, it got the job done. The JVC Everio camcorder has grainy video when used under florescent lighting and my DVD has somewhat confused scene options, but the task is done. If I need to I can take it to the next level and fix it using other editors, although I do not know what I would use, perhaps a Mac. The JVC software I have is buggy but I may try that before I run out and buy a new workstation. Either way, Michelle has her video requirements complete.

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Fear Induced Tyranny

by Terry 8/12/2008 8:10:00 AM

This morning I read on Robert Bruce Thompson’s web site his comments [ttgnet.com, MakeZine.com] on an article in the Worcester, Massachusetts, Telegram; Chemist allowed to go home, sans his lab. Apparently, Mr. Deeb, a retired chemist had a chemistry lab in his basement, conducting experiment possibly in support of patents he owns. His lab was seized after fire-fighters responded to an unrelated call.

Pamela A. Wilderman, Marlboro’s code enforcement officer, said Mr. Deeb was doing scientific research and development in a residential area, which is a violation of zoning laws.

“It is a residential home in a residential neighborhood,” she said. “This is Mr. Deeb’s hobby. He’s still got bunches of ideas. I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation. … There are regulations about how much you’re supposed to have, how it’s detained, how it’s disposed of.”

Mr. Deeb’s home lab likely violated the regulations of many state and local departments, although officials have not yet announced any penalties.

Because Mr. Deeb is being cooperative, he is not being charged. Not yet.

The comment, “I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere”, is pure fear and ignorance.

You see, we ain’t sure if he’s done wrong, but we’s sure can’t let him have this stuff. It may be dangerous and we don’t think he’s qualified.

So, without apparent warrant, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has executed some hidden authority to dismantle and dispose of Mr. Deeb’s personal property and, while doing so, look for possible violations of some regulation or zoning law.

To my understanding, typically a zoning violation is met with a request to become compliant before the authorities step in. Stepping in and looking for violation is disturbing at best.

Whether this is tyranny or not, I cannot say for sure, as I do not have all the facts. Greg Laden contrasts this in his comments. At the very least, it is a slippery-slope case; once the powers-that-be step on this slope, the slide down begins.

Karen, my wife, suggested, strongly, I should at least discuss my desire to build a lab in my garage with the local fire department. I am glad I did so. I met with a couple of firemen and the fire chief for half an hour discussing my plans, providing the list of chemicals and quantities I would likely have an storage plans. They were encouraging and supportive. I accepted and implemented their recommendations. Meeting with the fire department gave me some sense of relief that my local fire department and officials are still sane.

I certainly do not want to have what happened to Mr. Deeb happen to me. But I will not bow to fear.

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chemistry | Opinion | Policy | Snoqualmie

Martial Arts and Science Posts

by Terry 8/7/2008 3:43:00 PM

I posted a few report-like pages today on martial arts, building a lab and starting a science club. Okay, martial arts and home chemistry is not exactly a natural match, but I am what I am. The purpose of the report pages are to record slow-change commentaries which are not well suited to a daily, or somewhat daily, journal.

BlogEngine 1.4.5 is a significant improvement, which helps. I am better able to edit and manage site content than I was before, which was a factor in creating stand-up pages for certain topics. A page hierarchy is a little easier to put together. The improved functionality is why I created my martial arts and home science reports; they are maintainable.

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chemistry | Martial Arts | Personal

A Bum Ankle

by Terry 8/7/2008 3:42:00 PM

I sprained my ankle last week, simply walking down the stairs no less. I sprained the same ankle two years ago and the doctors said had I done it any worse I would have needed surgery to fix it. I have not since had the same flexibility or strength with my left foot. I have tried deliberately in the last couple months to work my ankle and stretch it out and build strength. I think I was making progress, which is why, I am theorizing, I reinjured it so easily.

My theory is that I have been stretching and gaining flexibility I had lost. This gain of mobility is not always uniform and parts of my ankle move better than others. When I walked down the stairs my foot flexed in a way it had not previously been able to flex and the less flexible portion of my foot tried to move more than it should have. It was not happy.

So, I find I am more grumpy than normal and I cannot workout as I like. I will try a light workout tonight, before the Leadership class I have to teach. If I fair well tonight, I will try tomorrow afternoon as well.

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Martial Arts | Personal

I Updated to BlogEngine 1.4.5.0

by Terry 8/5/2008 10:16:00 AM

BlogEngine 1.4.5.0 released this week. It is a much improved version of 1.4.0, which seemed to be ridden with bugs. This is a short post to make sure it works.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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