This weblog is no longer being maintained. All information here has been ported to EclecticEchoes.com. This site (heupel.com/eclectic) remains only for archival purposes.

December 30, 2004

No, Really?

It’s official, a 15 year study, researchers have found that fast food makes us fat! Ok it fairness, they did figure out that those who eat fast food regularly weigh on average 10 pounds more and have twice the risk for type 2 diabetes. Still did it really take a 15 year study to figure that out? Maybe a 10 year or 5 year study would have suficed? Or maybe we should do a 50 year study, just to be really sure.

In other news, I don’t really know why, but I have been watching the Amazon Tsunami Relief page periodically — simply amazing! I couldn’t help but think about how the number would skyrocket if my bank (and everyone elses) would match those credit card charges…

Posted by Eric at 10:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

No Excuses

Donate to the American Red Cross Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Efforts  Button

I don’t know many people on line who have never bought from Amazon. Amazon is using their power for some real good too. They have made it so very easy to do the right thing and donate to the American Red Cross’ South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Efforts. You can use Amazon’s ecommerce engine — specifically their Honor System program — to make a donation from as little as $5 on up to whatever. Maybe match your last 3 months purchases of books, music and videos? No excuses left — it’s too easy.

If you want to donate to a different organization that is helping with the disaster recovery, Google has a Tsunami Relief page up listing a number of international charities working in the region.

If you can spread the word as well. Feel free to use the button in the left column on your own website, or in emails—whatever. It’s public domain.

Posted by Eric at 04:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 28, 2004

Eat the Apple of Enlightenment

I have been tempted to get an Apple before, but the costs involved have always persuaded me to hold off. While the computers themselves are more expensive than a similarly equipped PC — yes I know that’s an Apples to Oranges comparison (pun intended) — it’s also the cost of getting much of the software I use regularly re-licensed on the Mac: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Acrobat Pro, Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Navicat, Suitcase, etc. Of course I would not be able to completely get rid of the PC, while 3D software is available for the Mac, the investment in plug-ins etc. is simply too large to afford to move. In that field I am pretty much tied to the PC. But then that provides the opportunity to move more gradually to the Mac.

Considering all the software costs in addition to the apparent premium for Apple hardware, while I have been tempted, I could not justify switching—at least not without a decent test drive. Not having access to a Mac around here, and not knowing anyone in the local area who has a Mac, I decided to try out PearPC. Loading on the emulator itself and setting the base config file was no big deal. I created a 12 GB system drive for the Mac to use and loaded on a copy of OS X after I copied all three Install disks to ISO files. 

The installation took forever! I started it late on Christmas Eve and let it run. It ran all Christmas Day, and into the evening of the 26th before it finally needed the second disk. This afternoon it was finally completely done and “booted” into OS X. 

PearPC running OS X on my WinXP laptop

I hope that the 3½ days to get this done are very abnormal. Having said that, after actually playing with OS X for half a day…I want a Mac. My next computer will be a Mac.

After going through the OS X initial log-on process, I was able to check out a couple sites in Safari and IE Mac. I downloaded and installed Firefox, checked out the range of “i” programs and in general explored. The system was sluggish, but not so bad that it was unusable, much better than I anticipated after the 3+ day install. Is it a substitute for a real Mac? Well, that depends.

First off, the host computer will have a big impact. In this case I am using a Toshiba notebook with a 2 GHz P4. A faster processor and more memory will yield better results than I got, but I doubt that even the latest P4, Athlon or Xeon will give you a comfortable photoshop platform. If you want cross-platform, cross-browser checking, then yes. It works excellently for that. Cheaper than a year of BrowserCam (all you need to pay for is OS X) and no limits to how many captures you can do.

If you’re looking to do anything more than occasional cross checking though, it is quickly going to become evident that a real iMac or PowerMac will serve better, at least now. Taking a glance at “About This Mac” this P4 gives us a sizzling 200 MHz G3:

200 MHz PowerPC G3, 256 MB

PearPC has served it’s purpose for me — my next PC will be an Apple. Now I just have to figure out which one, and how to finance it. My main use will be Adobe’s CS Suite, Fireworks, Final Cut, DVD Studio and general web development (AMP mostly). A 17” PowerBook looks nice for transportability, but realistically I don’t do enough of that. Which leaves me looking at the PowerMac.

Posted by Eric at 10:05 PM | Comments (4)

December 27, 2004

Snow on the Rooftop

Now that’s a good snow. It started coming down around 3pm yesterday and finally ended around 9am this morning. In all we got about 5″. Naturally today we spent a good hour or so sledding, making snow angels and having snowball fights. We would have spent more time out, but we are all still recovering from colds.

Last night around 2am I was out in front of the building when out neighbors got in from New York (after a 2 and a half hour drive turned into 6 hours). One thing led to another and I let one of our other neighbors visiting father borrow our parking spot in the Art Center. This morning he returned the parking tag before leaving town. When Tammy opened the door he said “Please give this to your father and tell him thank you.” 

I know I am prematurely gray, and in all honesty Tammy does look much younger than she is…but do I really look old enough to be her father? No wonder we have always had problems with people assuming I am a “cradle robber” or that I am actually Johann’s grandfather. In other places it led to people yelling obscenities at Tammy when she was pregnant and out with Johann alone. People, even some of the medical professionals we met during the pregnancy and delivery, assumed Tammy was teenager and I was her father.

Here in Mystic we have gotten many strange looks and we have been shunned by some until they discover that Tammy is really only a year younger than I am. While discouraging in many ways, it is also a telling way to find out the character of the people we meet. Those who allow their assumptions to prejudice them against getting to know us—well it’s probably just as well. It’s hard at times, but then we meet another person who accepts us as we are, not passing judgment on us because we look 15 or 20 years apart in age. When those people find out our real ages, they are genuinely surprised, but it usually in no way changes how they treat us, a very telling indicator of their character. Those are the people we want to know better.

Posted by Eric at 05:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2004

Someone's Confused

As I was out in front of the building last night, someone passed by and wished me a “Merry Candlemas”. I Returned their greeting with “Merry Chistmas” but as they passed I was utterly confused…did they actually say Candlemas?

Is this someone simply confused, or some warped attempt to rename Christmas to a more PC sounding holiday? Or maybe just someone trying to play mind games…

Posted by Eric at 12:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2004

Time to be Thankful

You may be familiar with Toby Keith’s song “American Soldier” which has become an anthem for our forces, especially those deployed. Last night as I was driving through Mystic, the radio started playing a song from my time in the Gulf. For some reason, I really lost it. Tears streaming down my face as I was driving over the bridge. By the time I got parked the song was over and I sat in silence in that freezing car for quite some time remembering people long gone and events I thought were long in the past.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard that song on the radio. In fact it’s been since I was there. Hearing it again brought back that flood of memories I have been wrestling with unknowingly for a very long time, and it made me realize something. I am damned lucky, and blessed.

And it’s time to give some of those blessings back.

I spent three Christmas holidays deployed in combat zones during my six years with the Army. They can be extremely rough times. I know from my family and my wife’s point of view they are also rough—in some ways even more so—for those waiting at home.

There are ways we can help support them—the men and women—whatever your viewpoint on the war or the politics of it all:

These are only a small selection of the programs that are available to support the soldiers and sailors, their families and the mission of rebuilding. They are a selection that I personally believe in. Supporting the rebuilding mission, supporting the soldier, putting a smile on their face by giving them a chance to call home, and supporting the families left behind.

Posted by Eric at 11:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2004

Busted Elk Day

Well, the best laid plans and all that. By 9am there was a good 2–3″ of snow on the ground and still coming down, but the wind was also gusting just above 15 mph and the temperatures were plummeting. By 11am the snow had stopped and the wind was gusting over 20mph and it felt like 2° outside. On top of all that Johann woke up with a sore throat. So it was not a fun day in the snow, but a day to cuddle up on the couch, sip tea and watch Noggin and Veggie Tales Christmas shows between naps.

To add to the “misery” some friends in the building were moving out today. They are in the Navy and this was always going to be a short stay. Still, it is hard to see them go. We all got on very well, and Johann and the two girls had some simply wonderful play dates. They stopped by to say goodbye and Johann lamented that he couldn’t give them kisses as usual because he didn’t want to make them sick. We’ll miss you S,R,J & L. Write/email when you get settled.

Having put off the shopping for most of a week, someone had to go out today and get at least enough for dinner. Since my work has slowed in immediacy at least, I leapt at the chance to get out of the house for a bit. I laced into my boots and jacket and headed to the local market where I received a few stares regarding my boots, a few compliments and one…well, let’s just say a definite vote of disapproval.

My best winter boots are from Idaho—actually they were made in Eastern Oregon—a pair of old fashioned hand-made “mountain-man” boots. Knee-high, fur-lined, rubber-soled, leather boots with antique US Cavalry lacing buttons. Do you want to know about comfort? Or warmth? These are warmer and far more comfortable than anything that I have ever had made out of the latest high-tech gee whiz materials guaranteed to protect to -20. They may have promised all that on the boxes but they never lived up to the promises. These hand-made boots actually deliver, and then some.

Ok, I guess they’re not “PC” I mean leather, fur and all that—oh, but the rubber sole is from recycled tires so that counts for something, right? They’re not going to win me any fashion contests either…but so what! They work!

Today a lady asked if they were real leather. When I confirmed they were, she asked—as she reached down to feel them— “Ooh, what type of leather is that?” I told her and watched a look of absolute horror spread across her face. She stuttered that she thought “they would be Italian leather or some such, but never elk. How barbaric!”

I guess I didn’t handle the next bit very well. I laughed and replied in my best over-acted drawl “Well, gee ma’am I di’n’t know there was a huntin’ season for them.”1 She spat at my feet (in a market of all places! How barbaric!) and sped off to pay for her veal tenderloins and paté (I kid you not) while I continued the weekly shopping. Chuckling mischievously the whole while.

Of course I kept wondering…What the heck does she think Italian Leather is? Recycled traffic cones? Fine Italian leather is usually calf skin. Very soft and beautiful and usually worked masterfully, but certainly no more PETA friendly than elk.

All in all not the day I had planned, but somehow interesting all the same.

*1—Naturally, I mean no offense to anyone from, or descended from someone from Italy. Mi dispiace signor e signora. Vorrei augurarti Buon Natale!

Posted by Eric at 11:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

First Snow

Wahooo! Finally we have Snow! 

I’m sorry but if you’re going to live in New England, even on the coast, you should be able to count on having at least one good snow before Christmas!

I guess I had better get to bed ASAP as Johann will be wanting to have sled rides, snowball fights, make snow angels and snowmen and just about requiring snow now that we finally have some. It looks like about an inch. Hopefully we’ll get another two or three inches before it tapers off. Actually I hope it will continue throughout the day so I can get some nice winter images.

Posted by Eric at 02:18 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2004

Waffle Stix

Thanks to Cooking for Engineers — I love the way he presents recipes in tables — I got the family a new Waffle Stix Maker a few weeks ago for all of $7 — a one day special sale from Amazon. 

Our old one was one of those giant units that was a pain to store, and cooked one giant waffle that could be separated into 4 reasonable sized individual waffles. By the time we left Boise the latches that kept the top and bottom iron plates in place were weakening and we decided to get rid of it. This new one is much smaller and far easier to store. It even stores upright so it takes up almost no space. It is easy to clean and cooks waffles very well (for only $7 I had to wonder).

Johann absolutely loves the new waffle maker, especially since it makes it possible to make waffle sticks. We sat around the dinner table coming up with every possible — and some impossible — toppings to put on waffles. I think we hit the maximum sugar load with maple sugar, nutella, chocolate syrup, cinamon sugar, whipped cream and powdered sugar all on one waffle. All the while Johann devoured the waffle sticks.

Tammy and I had to laugh at the warnings throughout the “users manual” — they came just short of “Do not insert hands in waffle maker and close lid with the unit turned on.” Then there was the subtitle of the manual’s recipe section:“Imagine - waffles from scratch!”. Sorry, but I can’t imagine waffles not from scratch!

Posted by Eric at 02:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

Supplemental Results

What exactly are Google’s “Supplemental Results” ?
Anyone?

There seems to be lots of theories floating out there, but no real answers. One theory says it’s pages that are no longer linked in to a site, but I have a site that all the pages are linked, and have been, but all the results in an “in site” search show as supplemental results. They are dynamic and not friendly url’s – but then so are many other sites out there, especially ecommerce sites. Besides that is one frustration I have no control over…yet.

Another theory is that pages that violated Google terms, e.g., SEO keyword spamming or cloaking, end up in “Supplemental Results” hell. Well that certainly applied here. This site had been handed over to self-described “SEO Professionals” last May or June. The keyword spamming was rampant. I had no idea there was a longitude of “hot sauce, salsa, hot salsa, fiery salsa…..” but according the the old site’s <meta name=”geo.position”> tag there sure is. The “SEO’s” involved found every possible meta tag ever used (and a few I’m quite sure they made up!) and filled every one of them with some permutation of a 100+ keyword list. Then to be doubly sure they spammed it well enough, they also added the same lists as hidden text and in comments in the head and body of the page. Of course the first thing I did to the site was go through every page and remove all the SEO stuff. That was in September.

After removing all the “SEO” keyword spamming, the site got cleaned up quite a bit, all the FrontPage cruft was removed — how many font declarations does it take to style a single &nbsp; — and the layout was converted to XHTML and CSS. In general, while the look of the site was left alone — for now — the site is much improved. The home page (www.salsaexpress.com) has been reduced to 30% of the original’s download size and all the subsequent pages have been reduced by 60—80% as well. All that savings from getting rid of the FrontPage markup and moving to XHTML + CSS. The savings there has translated well in much lowered bounce rates from CPC ads and organic search results. I can’t even imagine how the site must have felt at 33.6Kb. It must have been downright painful.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I have to refine and pare down the CSS and continue the XHTML transition to the last pages. Optimize about 2200 images and improve the textual content. (Well, I will not be doing all that but enough of it as the rest of the hard working people in this small company are busy with day to day operations, phone sales, shows, etc…)

Now if I could only get the Google results to show and get rid of the “Supplemental Results” thing at Google. I am trying to be patient…

Posted by Eric at 09:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2004

Mystic Tugboat in Snow

A year ago I took a picture in a blizzard of Mystic’s wonderful tugboat. A number of people have asked if they could use it for Christmas Cards, holiday postcards or advertising. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike license.  If you are unfamiliar with the CC licenses, this particular license means that for personal uses you are free to use it and modify it as long as you give me proper credit as the photographer.

Having said that, I would like to ask for one copy of whatever you produce. This is not required, but I would like to see how it is being used. Also I would not refuse any donations to fund my next lens purchase.

If you would like to use the image (or any of my other CC licensed images) for commercial purposes please contact me.

I have uploaded the full resolution jpg and tiff versions to the server. Please leave a comment with your email or email me if you want the tif format and I will send you the location. (I would publish it, but I am worried about the bandwidth a bit…this is an 18+ MB files after all, besides after doing 1.8 GB in traffic last month for this site alone….)

Posted by Eric at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2004

National Geographic & Firefox

I was ordering the last of my son’s Christmas presents for the year, and decided to go ahead and get him some of the National Geographic Video’s he enjoys so much.

Two problems came up — first the Really Wild Animals series has moved to DVD. Only they are not all available on DVD, and the set they do have on DVD in no way matches either of the VHS sets from before. We already have the first VHS set of 6 videos. The DVD set would replace 4 of those. The second set—the one we were going to buy—has 4 more episodes, 3 of which are on the new DVD set. I have a real problem paying to get the 4 VHS tapes, when I can get the DVDs for a lower price. But because they don’t even come close to matching the previous sets with so much overlap—but not complete.

I would really like them to just be honest about it. Make the same set’s available on DVD, or make a super set with the whole bloody series available. If they had matched the current sets. I would buy the next set in the series for my son, and then when the tapes from the first set wore out (he watches them an average of once a week) or when his birthday comes round we would replace them on DVD. I would have even budgeted for the super-set for him — that would have been worth my drinking “French Roast Coffee” for a week or two.

Then I couldn’t even add the video’s or DVDs to my shopping cart in Firefox. I verified cookies, security setting, all Firefox options, Windows security options. Went to Salsa Express and placed an order — worked. Went to Amazon to order — worked. Cleared all cookies, cleared cache, shutdown Firefox and restarted it. Tried again. No luck again. “View Page in IE” worked. Now that really bugs me.

Posted by Eric at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 07, 2004

Chili Thanksgiving

A lot of people (locally and online) have asked what we had for Thanksgiving. Because of our schedule—vacation the week before, work and preparing for a craft show the week of, and a craft show the weekend after—our Thanksgiving was rather unconventional. Locally the conversation generally goes something like this:

  • Them: “So how was your Thanksgiving ? How did you fix the Turkey?”
  • Me: “It was very nice, busy bust very nice. We didn’t have turkey, we had chili.”
  • At this point there is generally a look of utter confusion, followed by shock, and denial.
  • Them: “Oh, Turkey chili?! How was that?”
  • Me: “No, beef chili. It was very good, not too spicy, but very tasty.”

At this point they are either so confused or so far outside their comfort zone that even though I have just thanked them for asking and asked how their Thanksgiving was, there is usually a pregnant pause followed by a “oh, fine…look at the time…got to go. We’ll see you later.”

Speaking of the chili did you ever hear the joke about a tourist named Frank being invited–last minute–to judge a Texas chili contest?
(try the one at stevedanforth.com if you’re unsure—I have to warn you though, while hilarious, the joke is PG13 for language) 

Tammy knows I haven’t been able to find a halfway decent bowl of chili in the past 8 years (since we left Texas) so she decided to surprise me with the chili for Thanksgiving. She used a chili mix (Mr. Hogg’s Hot Championship Chili) from Salsa Express, to create a wonderful tasting chili with enough spice to get my attention and respect. Not hot, but not mild either. Good mix of beans and meat. Tammy claims that, while one bowl was for her very hot, if she had tried a second bowl she would have soon turned into Frank. For her it was almost too hot, but not quite.

For her first Southwestern chili Tammy hit a home run. Best Thanksgiving Dinner I possibly could have had!

Posted by Eric at 11:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack