Monday, March 31, 2008

What's Your Erdos Number?

I'm sure any mathematicians in the readership frequently enjoy the webcomic xkcd, but I'm confident that today's comic will be a special treat for them. (As always, be sure to hover over the image for the caption.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Enjoy the Contrast

I recently put up 4 posts without pestering you about my new car, so I figure it's time for a Mia entry. Actually, this post isn't so much about the Miata as it is about the contrast between my little sports car and the Ford Expedition owned by the family next door. Incidentally, the family consists of 4 medium-sized people and 1 tiny, tiny dog. Anyway, here are a pair of photos illustrating the disparity between the 2 vehicles:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Mikies: Firefly/Serenity Ed

Welcome, gentle reader, to the third aperiodic Michael Awards for Excellence in Whatever He Darn Well Feels Like. In this edition, I'll be considering Joss Whedon's tragically short-lived Firefly and its theatrical continuation, Serenity. (Note: This post contains significant spoilers.)

Creepiest villain, single: Adelei Niska.
Creepiest villain, multiple: Reavers.
Most attractive character: Kaylee.
Most attractive client of Inara's: the Councilor
Prettiest twin: Fanty.
Most dangerous Serenity crewmember: River.
Serenity crewmember who kills the largest number of unarmed people: Mal.
Funniest character, laughing with: Wash.
Funniest character, laughing at: Jayne.
Best couple: Wash and Zoe.
Most amusing love interest of Mal's: Saffron.
Most drunk-seeming actor: Jonathan M. Woodward.*
Most touching death: Wash.
Most sudden but inevitable betrayal: Allosaurus.
Best place to look for Jayne: his bunk.
Best place to find out what going mad feels like: Canton.
Best song: "The Hero of Canton."
Most difficult episode to watch: "Out of Gas."
Best episode: "Jaynestown."
Most intriguing thread left unfinished: Book's backstory.
Recurring character I would most like to see more of:  Saffron.
Shiniest gorram ship in the ruttin' 'verse: Serenity.

*Woodward is one of what Whedon calls his "hat tricks:" actors who appeared in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Oh, the Hairanity!

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Seasons 3 and later of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

I don't want to turn this blog into a pale imitation of Go Fug Yourself or The Superficial, but what is the deal with Alyson Hannigan's hair lately?

I mean, her 'do was quite cute---even sultry---in its various and sundry incarnations while she was portraying Willow on Buffy, even when she was playing Willow's vampire doppelganger or Willow Gone Bad. It's been attractive since then, too. While filming How I Met Your Mother, her hair has been pretty in both red and even brown. (Seriously, brown.) She's even looked cute in a slightly crooked ball cap and driving suit. But now she has these long, blunt bangs that hang down to her eyelashes. Not only does this cut look very 70s, but it makes me feel like I need to brush something out of my own eyes.

(By the way, I'll be sorely disappointed if I don't get a comment from Nick on this post.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Body

(Warning: If you haven't seen the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, don't go poking around to find out what I'm talking about. Trust me.)

Alison and I watched "The Body" from season 5 of Buffy tonight. Ugh. It was just as tough to watch this time as it was the first time I saw it. A truly excellent 42 minutes of television, though.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pug By Association

As I mentioned before, Newton's most frequent canine companions are a couple of pugs, and the pugs' owner has elevated him to the prized status of honorary pug. I've finally gotten around to posting some photos of the pugs in question. These pics were taken with Alison's new phone; I think they turned out pretty well.

Here's Newton with Sam Adams (fawn) and Jack Daniels (black).

This photo shows the trio with their other friend, a Cocker Spaniel-Brussels Griffon mix named Quinn:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Desperately Seeking Boost

Apparently, 50% of all my posts this year must be about my new car, so here's another one. This one has a twist, however: I'm asking for suggestions.

I'd like to install a boost gauge in the car, not just because it's cool, but because it would help me both to drive and to diagnose problems with the vehicle. In particular, the Mazdaspeed Miata sometimes suffers from a leaky bypass valve, which can result in decreased compression. I'd like to be able to tell if I'm getting the 8-or-so PSI of boost that Mazda designed into the car, or if I need to replace my valve. I might also want to add other gauges in the future: a voltmeter would be useful, as would an oil-temperature gauge. Shoot, if I went to an aftermarket ECU, I'd probably want a wideband air/fuel-ratio gauge, too.

The trouble is, there are numerous places to put the gauge, but each location has significant drawbacks. Below is photo of Mia's dashboard, with potential gauge-mounting locations marked:

  1. It turns out that the "eyeball" vents of the first- and second-generation "Miatae" are a perfect fit for the smallest commonly available gauge size, 52 mm. So, I could mount up to 3 gauges in easy-to-read spots, indicated by the 1A, 1B, and 1C in the pic. One advantage to this location is that I wouldn't have to purchase any kind of mount(s), so my only expense would be the gauge(s). Another advantage is that the installation looks pretty clean. I could easily put a boost gauge in 1B and a voltmeter in 1C, and the setup would almost look factory. I also wouldn't have to cut any holes to run the leads; I can just route them through the vent ducts. That means that I could undo the installation without leaving any unsightly evidence. The downside, of course, is that the vent ceases to exist when you plug it with a gauge. I'd also worry about overheating the gauges when running the heater.
  2. I could purchase something called the ePod, which would allow me to mount 1 gauge on the steering column just in front of the instrument binnacle, as indicated by the 2 in the photograph. The upside to this location is that it makes the gauge easy to see. Also, since the ePod replaces an existing plate on the steering column, I wouldn't be required to cut any holes to run the leads; I could simply replace the OEM plate if I ever wanted to remove the gauge. The downside is that the gauge would block my view of the odometer and several warning lights. There's also a somewhat cheaper mount from SpeedHut that would do something similar, and would probably hold the gauge better, but it would require drilling a hole in the OEM plate. Of course, that plate could be replaced if need be...
  3. I could buy a 1- or 2-gauge pod that mounts on the driver's-side A pillar. The pod would let me put 52-mm gauges at locations indicated by the 3A and 3B. This location has the advantage that it interferes not at all with the functions of the other interior components. The main downside is that I'd have to ream holes in the A-pillar cover to route the leads and to bolt the pod in place. Even if I I wanted to use some cheesy, flimsy fasting technology like Velcro or 2-sided tape to attach the pod, I'd still need to run the wiring. Additionally, A-pillar gauge pods scream "ricer," which is not the look I'm going for.
  4. Several companies make 1-DIN panels for the radio/climate-control panel; the plates are holed to allow mounting up to 3 52-mm gauges. So I could put gauges where the non-too-visible 4A, 4B, and 4C are in the photo. At least 1 such panel angles the gauges toward the driver, which is certainly nice. The main downside is that I'd have to replace my schmancy Bose 6-disc-changing head unit with something 1-DIN-sized. Also, since the speakers are low-impedence models that work best with Bose head units, I might have to replace them, too. That's stating to sound very expensive, and I haven't even included the cost of the gauges. Additionally, the OEM head unit has the same matte-silver painted finish that the climate controls, door handles, and vent bezels have, and I'd rather not mess with the matching.
  5. What, 5? There's no 5 in the picture! That's the idea. I could also mount the boost gauge in the glove box, on the right hand side, pointed toward the driver. That way, I could use it for diagnosis---just open the glove box when working on the car---but not for driving. The advantage here is that the dash would look entirely factory and I wouldn't loose any functionality. The downside, aside from not being able to see the gauge, is that I wouldn't have a cool boost gauge in my cockpit. Sad.
So, I have plenty of options, it seems. But I'm not entirely happy with any of them. Your thoughts?

Madre de Dios!


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Booties! Not the Knitted Kind.

(This post contains unsolicited Miata content. Please feel free to skip it.)

When I purchased Mia, her interior looked like this:

I replaced the red-stitched, black-leather Mazdaspeed shift knob with a 400-gram, stainless-steel, aftermarket part in an effort to smooth out the shifting. That downside to this change was the that the knob no longer matched Mia's schmancy Mazdaspeed steering wheel and parking brake handle:

While browsing around a mazdaspeed-miata-specific forum, I discovered Redline Accessories, a little business in Poland, of all places, that makes leather bits for a large number of cars and trucks: shift boots, brake-lever boots, armrests, and so on. Redline offers a wide array of leather colors and thread colors, and they will assemble their goods with leather stripes, panels, or piping using multiple rows or colors of thread, whatever you want. So, as I'm sure you've guessed, I ordered up a black leather shift boot with a double row of red thread. The boot arrived after about a week---pretty fast from central Europe. The boot seemed to be quite well made; certainly it was much more solidly assembled than the flimsy, vinyl stock part. Here's the result of the installation:

I think the boot ties the wheel, brake, and shifter together very well, and the stainless knob now parallels the silver button on the brake lever. Here's a photo of the entire cockpit that gives you some idea of all the red bits in this car:

Anyway, if you are into this kind of thing, I encourage you to give Redline's site a visit

Book Review: Goblin War

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

The third book in Jim C. Hines' Goblin series, Goblin War, was just released a couple of weeks ago. Having enjoyed the first two novels, Goblin Quest and Goblin Hero, I had pre-ordered the third from Amazon. The latest book is a fast, fun read, so I worked through it in just a few days.

Here's what I liked:
  • The story is written mostly from the viewpoint of the goblin protagonist, Jig, so it shares his distinctly goblin-y outlook. This approach makes it quite different from most other works of fantasy.
  • The book is filled with dark and slightly twisted humor, which I often enjoy.
  • The new book isn't just a regurgitation of material from the first two. The story is bigger, there are probably more major characters, and one storyline follows conflict between gods. Neat.
  • One or two new "monster" species are included.
Here's what I didn't like:
  • I'd like to see Hines broaden his storytelling even further. In the second book, perhaps a third of the story was told from a another goblin's perspective. In the new book, only a small fraction of the story is told from any perspective other than Jig's. I'd like to see through some non-goblin eyes. Perhaps a dwarf's or an elf's.
Overall, I give this book 7.0 out of 10. It's a fun ride.

Theater Review: Capitol Steps

I somehow forgot to mention that, for our belated Valentine's Day celebration, Alison and I went to see the Capitol Steps. The Steps are composed mostly of former Congressional staffers, and they perform sketches of topical political satire, usually dressed as prominent political figures. Most of the sketches are musical parodies, but some are simple comedy skits, and they usually have a spoonerism-laden monologue at each performance. We found it quite entertaining.

Overall, I give the Steps 7.5 out of 10. If you live in the DC area and have any interest in politics,* you should check them out in person. If you don't live near the District, I believe you can frequently see them on PBS stations.

* I think the government puts politics in the water here, along with the fluoride, so I probably didn't need to include that second condition.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Miata + Autocross = Education + Entertainment

Now that I own a proper sports car, I've decided to learn how to drive it well. Thus, last weekend, I took 2 days of autocross school taught by the Washington DC Region of the Sports Car Club of America. The Level 1 (first day) curriculum consisted learning how autoX events are run, learning how to work the course, walking the course, instructed driving of the course, and solo driving of that same course. In the Level 2 class (the second day), we did some figure-8 and slalom drills in the cars, did more course work, and got to do a lot of instructed and solo driving on the course. Overall, it was a fun and educational experience. I learned quite a lot about performance driving, I got to see some really cool cars driven very hard, and had the opportunity to meet some friendly people with at least one interest in common with me. The downside was that the ratio of driving to working the course was well below 1, and the ratio of driving to total non driving time was even lower. Real autocross events are quite a bit less expensive, and include actual competition against similarly capable cars, but have even lower duty cycles.

Here is some of what I learned and some anecdotes about the vehicles in attendance. (I'll leave out the actual driving techniques, since those are had to convey in text.)

Probably the most important lesson I learned at the event was that the driver is far more important than the car. I knew this was the case before I attended the schools, but the point was demonstrated and driven home repeatedly over the weekend. With one exception, the instructor was always significantly faster in a car than the owner was. I guess that's why they're instructors. Additionally, one member of a married couple sharing a car was much faster than the other.

The corollary to the above lesson is that there's no need for me to upgrade my car or buy a faster one until I can drive it at its limit. Fortunately, I think the Miata makes a good basis for learning performance driving; in the words of one instructor, "it's a forgiving car, but still a very capable one." For example, being front-engined and rear-wheel-drive, it will oversteer, but it's more like the car is saying, "By the way, we're going a little sideways," than "I'm going to swap ends right now!"

My little Miata can be driven much, much faster than I had thought. The instructors drove Mia much harder and faster than I did, but even I learned to get comfortable with reaching the cornering limit of the car. On the shorter-than-standard instructional course, the instructors turned in times just over 34 seconds. My very first run was 46 and change, but I worked my way down to a clean run at 36.7 s.

I had 3 instructors in my car over the weekend. Every time a new one got in my car, he said something like "I love Miatas." This pattern made me feel confident about my recent purchase.*

One of the instructors told me that each autoX school invariably has 2 Miatas, 2 BMWs, and 2 Subarus. That was the case on the first day, if you count the Mini Cooper S as a Bimmer. On the second day, we carried over about 1/3 of the cars and drivers. That day was apparently an anomaly: the only "BMW" was a (different) Cooper S, though we still had 2 MX-5s (1 different) and two (different) Subies. (All the Subarus were WRXs or STIs, by the way. Big surprise.)

Probably the rarest vehicle present was the 2003 Caterham Seven Superlight R, which was in attendance on Day 2. Caterham---pronounced "Kate-er-am"---owns the rights to Colin Chapman's design for the Lotus Seven, and they've been selling and refining the design for decades. The Sevens are extremely tiny, only about 1350 pounds, and have no bumpers, crumple zones, or airbags. Thus, they can only be registered in the States as kit cars. As you can imagine, they handle and brake very well, and, since one can spec one's Caterham with up to 260 brake horsepower,** they accelerate like nobody's business. I think the Caterham put in the fastest times of any stock car, in the high 29-second range. The build quality on the Seven was quite disappointing, however.

My favorite car at the even was the 2004 Lotus Elise, which was there on Day 1. The Elise weighs just under 2000 lbs, is powered by a Toyota Celica engine (actually made by Yamaha) tuned to put out 190 bhp. Almost all unneeded weight is removed--the interior is just the exposed aluminum chassis and some carbon-fiber dash and transmission-tunnel bits, thought the workmanship is top-notch. The bodywork is gorgeous, and did I mention it was Chrome Orange? Aside from all that, the Elise comes with all the DOT-required safety equipment, a removable but well-sealing top, and a small trunk. Thus, it's almost as practical as my Miata as a daily driver. Anyway, the Lotus ran times just a bit slower, than the Seven, I think.

If the best looking car at the event weren't the Elise, then it would have to be the 2008 Corvette Z06. I must say that the edgy bodywork of the C6 'Vette has really grown on me, and the extra intakes on the Z06 make the car look mean. I was almost afraid my little Mia was going to get sucked up if it got too close. The Corvette was unable to really use all its power on the very tight course, and it was hampered by a footprint nearly as big as a Mustang's---see next paragraph---but it's comparatively light weight and sophisticated suspension enabled it to turn in times almost as low as the Lotus'.

Two modified late-model Mustang GTs were there, and I must say that autocross is not the Mustang's element. The course was way too tight for it to use all it's power, and its mass (around 3500 lbs), footprint, and crappy live-axle rear suspension meant that it couldn't brake or handle well at all. Even in the hands of an instructor, the cars were only turning in times of around 39 seconds.

There were 3 different Honda S2000s over the 2 days. Each was silver. (I think 90% of all the S2000s I've seen have been some shade of silver. That's fine, they look good in that color.) You might think of the S2000 as a slightly higher-performance Honda version of a Miata. You'd be wrong. They are much faster cars, which partially explains their substantially higher prices. Stock Miatas with 1.8- to 2.0-liter engines, even my turbo-charged one, are classed in C Stock, while the S2000 is placed 2 classes up, in A Stock. By comparison, the Lotus and Z06 are classed in the fastest stock class, Super Stock. (I think the Caterhams are classed as Prepared or Modified, even when straight from the factory.)

The car that turned in the fastest times was a modified Mitsubishi Evo IX. In the hands of the owner, who was faster than the instructor, it turned in times as low as 29.1 s. And man was it loud!

So, I'm sure you're bored with all my car blather by now, so I'll stop writing.

* On a related note, a semi-recent Question of the Day over at Jalopnik also makes me feel good about owning Mia. They asked, "What's the best real-word driver's car?" A few comments suggested various BMW 3-series cars, a few suggested the Mini Cooper S, and a few suggested various Imprezza WRXs or STIs. Numerous other cars were also put forth, but probably the most common submission (and the choice of the Jalopnik staffer who posed the question) was the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

** Until the ridiculous 500-bhp V8-powered Caterham goes on sale.

Knitting Update

Well, here is my promised update on my knitting projects. In getting the pictures ready for this post, I realized that I have done quite a lot of knitting recently! Here are some of my favorite recent projects:

Baby Booties

Two of my friends have had baby boys recently, so I made two pairs of these adorable baby booties. Seriously, could these honestly be any cuter? I think not. I also made a matching hat for one of them. The other got this toy elephant that I knitted. It was kind of a challenge, but it turned out really well. I was quite proud, but stupidly did not take a picture of it before sending it off to the recipient. Oh well!

The Purple Sweater

I started knitting this and it was going so well! I had finished all the pieces, blocked them, I had sewn the front and back together and knitted the collar. Then I went to sew on the sleeves, and I made a small mistake. The sleeve was on kind of crooked. No big deal! I lifted up the piece of yarn I had used to sew the sleeve on and snipped it, causing the sleeve to come off neatly so I could do it again. Except...that's not at all what happened. The front and the sleeve started to unravel! I had snipped the WRONG PIECE OF YARN. I am still really annoyed with myself about this, so I have not yet gone back to fix it. I'm warming up to the idea, but now it's spring and I won't get to wear it until next year. FRUSTRATING. Honestly, though, it shouldn't be such a big deal. It is knitted with really chunky yarn, so it knits up very quickly. Also, I get to use these giant needles that make me feel like a tiny child. Check it out:

What on earth is this thing? It smells like a knitting needle, but it's WAY TOO BIG to be that!

The Shawl

I began knitting this for my grandmother, but now I'm worried that the colors aren't her at all. When it was not yet knitted, the yarn looked like it had lots more green in it, but now it seems mostly yellow. Oh well...I guess we'll see what she thinks. This project suffered from a minor setback, too. At some point I actually looked at my work and I realized that I had switched sides at some point. What I mean is that there is a front and a back to this garment (one side looks like it's inside out), and halfway through I had switched, so both sides had, well, both sides on them. It was not good. So, I had to un-knit about half of it (why couldn't I have noticed earlier? *sigh*). I managed to salvage some of my work, though, which was good. This is a lot of the same stitch over and over, though, so I took a short break and I am now working on this:

My First Socks!

Check it out! I have one and a ...uh...third?...socks! Socks are kind of a big deal among knitters. Everyone seems to think they're really hard to do, but after you have knitted a small toy elephant, socks are not so big and bad. I have enjoyed knitting these...the contrast from the sweater is pretty funny. If it felt like I was knitting with railroad ties on that project, these needles feel like toothpics!

Anyway, that's all I have for now. I think I might try to knit some more exciting socks next time...some kind of fancy pattern, maybe. I have decided that I like socks!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unfinished books

I have always been quite a voracious reader. I get lost in books...when I'm really into a book I pretty much tune out everything around me. One time in elementary school we had a fire drill during free reading time. Now, free reading time was way cool because we all got to read a book of our choice, but most importantly we could go anywhere in the room to read. We didn't have to stay at our desks. So, I decided to lie on the floor of the carpeted area of the room under a table. Cozy, yes? Well, when the fire alarm went off, I was so absorbed in my book that I honestly didn't even notice what was going on. I stayed under the table, unnoticed, happily reading away until my teacher came back to the room searching for me when I didn't show up in her head count. I got in big trouble with the teacher (who thought I was lying and had just decided to skip out on the fire drill), but my mother, who was used to my incredible ability to tune out the world while reading, just shook her head and sighed when she was informed of my misbehavior. She did, however, vow to quit buying me books at some point because they were, in her opinion, a waste of money since I read them so quickly.

I like to think that my tastes are quite varied. I love all kinds of books...horror, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction, classics, chick-lit, graphic name it, I'll probably read it and enjoy it. That's why it is rare for me to run across a book that just doesn't grab me. It's a pretty short list, but here are the ones I can think of off the top of my head that I just didn't care for:
  • The Red Badge of Courage - I had to read this in high school and it was pure torture. Mostly what I remember of it today is that I just wanted to smack the main character the entire time...what a whiner!
  • Brick Lane, by Monica Ali - I was briefly a member of an ill-fated book club that I never made it to a meeting for and this was the book we were supposed to read. I did finish it, but it was work. I think it was meant to be character-driven rather than plot-driven, but I didn't really feel for the main character at all, so it didn't really work for me. Plus it was just damned depressing.
  • The River, by Edward Hooper - This is a nonfiction book about the origins of HIV. Usually I love this kind of thing, but this book should have ended a couple of hundred pages before it did (it is loooong). The author offers up an interesting hypothesis and some evidence supporting it, but then kind of veers off into weird conspiracy-theory-land.
But, see, I actually finished all of those books. Even though I hated them. Some part of me just wouldn't let me leave the book unfinished, so I slogged through them and breathed a sigh of relief that I could finally read something else instead when they were over. I think this is some weird personality flaw of mine that I can't NOT finish a book. I mean, c'mon! It's supposed to be fun, right? Reading for pleasure is supposed to be just that...pleasurable! It's not an assignment! (OK, except for The Red Badge of Courage...that was an assignment.)

...which brings me to the current book I'm reading. I had this cool themed book-block all planned. I read Persepolis and Persepolis 2, then I was going to read Lolita before reading Reading Lolita in Tehran. Cool, huh? Well, I plowed through both Persepolis books in about two days (they're awesome, by the way) and then promptly went to read Lolita, but....I hate it. It is not at ALL what I had expected. From all the cultural references to it, I guess I thought it was going to be...less sick. I kind of expected some kind of taboo mutual attraction between a middle-aged man and a a high-school aged girl. Instead, for those who have not read it, it's actually about a pedophile who has, his entire life, been attracted to girls about 9-10 years old. Mostly, so far, the book has been about him stalking one girl in particular (Lolita). Perhaps it takes pedophilia for me to get turned off enough on a book to actually not finish it. I'll keep you posted.

I still blog here, too, I swear!

Hello everyone. Sorry I have been the non-blogger for so long! I have just been kind of unmotivated to blog about stuff lately, but I decided to share some of what has been going on with me with the rest of the world.

Aside from school stuff, mostly what I have been up to lately has been extremely domestic. I have been knitting lots of stuff and I have been on a really big cooking kick. First up: the cooking. I thought I'd share a recipe that I sort of made up recently. I was trying to replicate a recipe for Greek chicken pita sandwiches that a friend had brought over one night when we were doing a potluck-style dinner. It was really good, but unfortunately for me, it was a Let's Dish meal, so she didn't have the recipe to share with me. So, I searched for Greek chicken recipes on the internet and tried to incorporate the most common elements in all of the recipes into my own crock-pot recipe. Here is what I came up with:

  • 1 pgk boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 - 1.5 lbs)
  • 1 Tblsp olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • about 3 Tblsp dried oregano
  • 1-2 tsp vinegar (white or red wine vinegar will work fine)
  • juice of 1 lemon, plus 1-2 tsp of zest
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in the crock pot. Cook on low for about 4-5 hours until chicken is cooked through. Add a little water or chicken broth (about 1/4 cup) if chicken is getting too brown. You might just add this up front if you plan to not be around while it cooks.
  2. Shred the chicken with 2 forks
  3. Serve on pita bread with feta cheese and some pepperoccini if that's your thing.
I like to serve this with a Greek salad on the side. Yum!

Stay tuned for knitting's too late for me to deal with taking pictures right now, so I'll catch you up on that later. Good night!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sport Stacking

Alison and I had dinner at our favorite local Indian restaurant tonight. I notice a couple seated at a neighboring table, each member wearing a T-shirt printed, in part, with "Maryland Sport Stacking Championships." I wanted to ask them what it was, but Alison persuaded me to ask the internet, instead. It turns out that sport stacking is an activity in which individuals or teams stack plastic cups as quickly as possible. Hunh. I don't think I'll replace CrossFit, cycling, inline speed skating, hiking, or any of my other exercise activities with this "sport."

Movie Review: Juno (2007)

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Alison and I saw Juno a coupletwothree weeks ago. The film follows a high-school girl (Juno) who has discovered that she's pregnant as she decides what to do about her situation.

Here's what I liked:
  • Ellen Page is excellent as Juno, and I also enjoyed Michael Cera as the father of Juno's baby, and Olivia Thirlby as Juno's best friend.
  • The script is very clever and quite funny. Juno's dialog is especially enjoyable.
  • Juno's decision whether to keep the baby, give it up, or abort it is not cast in political terms; it's just her personal choice.
  • The music really adds to the film.
Here's what I didn't like:
  • I honestly can't think of anything I strongly disliked about this film.
Overall, I give it 7.5 stars out of 10. If a funny movie about a teenage unwed mother sounds like something you'd might be interested in, go see it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Rubber

This post is another update on my new MX-5. If you'd rather not wade through the prose, you're certainly welcome to scroll down to the photographs. If you have no interest in the latest news on Mia, perhaps you should skip this post entirely.

As planned I put new tires on the Miata. The stock tires were Toyo Proxes 205/40R17; the new ones are Yokohama 215/40ZR17. This seems to be a popular model and size with the Mazdaspeed Miata owners on Plus, they are Japanese, which seems appropriate. There are a host of pluses and minus associated with the new, larger size. I won't bore you by listing them---well, maybe later---but I will say that I'm pretty happy with them so far. Here are a trio of photos of Mia with her new shoes. These shots also show her in her natural condition: top down.

In other Mia news, I've taken to parking with the fancy cars at the far reaches of the largest lot at the lab where I work. Most days, there are a (Z4) M Coupe, a Z4 convertible, an M3, and an RX8 parked at the end of the rows in that corner. My little Miata is probably feeling a bit self-conscious in that company. I happened to have my camera with me a couple of days ago; here is a photo of Mia with one of her friends from work.


Happy Pi Day everyone! Why not celebrate by eating a pie? Be careful to pick one with the right ratio of circumference to diameter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tomato Attack

It seems that a remake of 1978's Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is in the works. Who ordered that, you ask? Some producer named M. Dal Walton III.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Minor Criticism of Technique

Can anyone throw a punch worse than Sarah Michelle Gellar?

He's a Racing Pug

Lately, Newton's favorite canine playmate is a fawn pug named Sam Adams. Sam's adopted brother, a black pug named Jack Daniels, is prematurely crotchety, and prefers to be the fun police rather than a playmate. As a result, Newton has been spending a lot of time in the company of pugs over the last few months. We're pretty confident that he has started to believe he's a pug. Indeed, Sam's and Jack's owner, Angie, has made Newton an honorary pug. She even invited all 3 of us to attend a local pug meet-up.

At the meet-up, there were about 20 full-blooded pugs, a puggle, and a chug. And our Bichon. We told some of the pug owners that Newton was a rare long-nosed, curly-coated, white pug. I'm sure they bought it.

Newton had a blast. I think he chased or was chased by every other dog there. And chase, as you may know, is his favorite game. It was clear from the play that, if Newton is a pug, he's the fastest pug alive; given the amount of up-and-down jumping and over-the-shoulder looking he was doing, it was obvious that he was only running at half or three-quarters speed. I told another owner that he was a racing pug. When we got him home, he slept soundly on the couch for about 6 hours. It was a successful outing.

Run, Forrest, Run!

I put CrossFit to another running test today. Because of sub-par weather and our recent acquisition of a Concept 2 rowing machine, I haven't run since September 26, 2007. Seriously, my running shoes haven't been on my feet in almost 6 months. Today, I ran the same just-over-5-km route I followed in September. The course took me 3 seconds longer than last time. I'm pretty happy with that result, especially since I'm just now recovering from influenza and was recently unable to work out for 2 weeks.

Attention Adults in Need of Training Wheels

Attention. If you are riding your bicycle more slowly than a person can run, please do not weave lazily from side to side, so that pedestrians who are in a hurry can pass you. That is all.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Dogtionary

One thing I've learned from living with Newton is that dogs have a much wider vocabulary than I had realized. It's not the case that retrievers only bark, hounds just howl, toys only yap, and basenji just yodel. Each dog produces a number of vocalizations based on its mood or the concept it wants to convey. I'm sure each dog has its own dialect, but here's a brief translation of some* of Newton's vocabulary.
  • Chuff: There are people outside the door and I'm not sure I like it.
  • Bark: There are people outside the door, and I don't like it.
  • Frustrated grumble. There are people outside the door, and I don't like it, but you've told me to be quiet, so this is all I can get away with saying.
  • Sleepy chuff. There are people outside the door, and I'm not sure I like it, but I'm too tired and comfortable to get up and chuff at the door.
  • Yip. Someone has knocked on the door, and they must be here to play with me, so let them in, let them in!
  • Sleepy yip: I'm asleep and dreaming about playing.
  • Whine: You're boring; play with me.
  • Agitated whimper: I can see a person or a dog outside the sliding glass door, and I really want to play with them.
  • Excited growl: I'm FRAPing or wrestling with Michael, and it's so much fun. Look how big and tough I am!
  • Angry snarl: That pit bull mix is actually trying to hurt me. I'll teach him not to mess with me. **
  • Suckle: I'm asleep and dreaming about being a nursing puppy.
  • Nearly ultrasonic chirp: You're leaving me home alone at an unexpected time. Don't go!
  • Howl: A fire truck or ambulance has just passed within 30 meters of me while running its siren, so I'm going to sing along. ***
That seems like quite a wide repertoire to me. I bet Newton would do very well on the Doggy Aptitude Test. At least on the verbal section.

* I'm sure I'm leaving out one or two vocalizations.

** I've only ever heard this once. It's not entirely compatible with Newton's persona.

*** I've only heard this twice. Alison, that lucky girl, has heard it thrice.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Here, gentle reader, is an unasked-for update on my recent automotive acquisition.

I've decided that this car should be personified as a female, since it's both pretty and curvy. This is my first vehicle that I've a assigned the feminine gender.* I took Michelle's suggestion and decided to name her "Mia." This name is not only a truncation of "Miata," but can also be pronounced using the Japanese syllabaries, the kana.

I installed a stainless-steel Buck Diamond grill in the car's "mouth" to protect the otherwise undefended radiator, intercooler, and associated plumbing. You can see this new part in the following photo. For comparison, notice how you can look right in at the intercooler in a stock MSM.

In this next pic,** you can see the huge wheels and ridiculously low-profile tires that came stock on the 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata. (The 2005 MSM came with wider-spoked but otherwise similar wheels made by the same manufacturer.)

The wheels are 17 by 7 inches, and the tires are 205/40R17. The tires are rather worn and should be replaced soon. I'm planning to put some 215/40ZR17. The new tire size will put a little more rubber on the ground and add a bit more protection for the wheels. The speedometer error should go from about +5% to +2.5%. The new tires also have a slightly higher speed rating.

Incidentally, you can make out the Rex in both pics above.

I seem to have solved the shifting issues I mentioned earlier using a 3-stage approach. First, I replaced the shift knob with a stainless-steel aftermarket part massing about 400 grams from TWM Performance. The momentum of the weighted knob helps smooth out any notchiness in the transmission. It's not a huge effect, but it is noticeable. I next replaced the fluid in the tranny with Redline MTL, which also seems to have smoothed things out a bit. Lastly, and most importantly, I've simply become accustomed to Mia's foibles.

Here are photos of the interior of the car with the red-stiched Mazdaspeed shift knob and the stainless TWM part:

One more bit of Mia(ta) news: In preparation for the SCCA autocross school I'm going to next weekend, I've had a performance alignment done, using camber, toe, and caster parameters taken from If I only knew how to drive, I'm sure it would make a huge difference.

* I usually personify inanimate objects and animals of unknown gender as male, which I don't find surprising, given my own masculinity. What I do find unexpected is that Alison also personifies these things as male. Hmm.

** I apologize for the lighting in this photo. The sun was setting as I took this shot today, and I did the best I could.***

*** It would be more accurate to say that my autofocus, autoflash camera did the best it could.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Newton Returns

I'm embarrassed to admit that we haven't posted any photos of Newton in quite some time. I mean, what's a blog without unsolicited pet pics? I believe this deficiency has come about because Alison is posting all our Newton stories and images to the dog forum she frequents. As you probably guessed, this post is designed to address the urgent need for more puppy pics on increasingly inaccurately named Industrial-Strength Science. So, here you go:

Hey hey hey, Michael, go poin poin point that thing at someone else. I'm tire tired.

No no no. Seriously, man. I'm take take takin' a nap here.

Nyom nyom nyom. Oh, sock sock socks are the best.

Oh, hey hey hey. Is this yours? 'Cause cause cause, it's real real really good.

Nyom nyom nyom.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Mikies, Angel Ed

It's about time I burdened my readers with yet more unsolicited opinions in the form of some kind of best-of list. That's right, the time has come for the the Michael Awards for Excellence in Whatever He Darn Well Feels Like, Angel Edition. (Note: this post contains significant spoilers.)
  • Favorite vampire: Spike.
  • Scariest vampire: Angelus.
  • Scariest puppet: Angel.
  • Character who evolves the most: Cordelia. (Honorable mention to Wesley.)
  • Least favorite member of Angel Investigations: Connor.
  • Least favorite couple: Gunn and Fred.
  • Couple that made the least sense: Wesley and Lilah.
  • Most touching death:* Fred. (Honorable mention to Wesley.)
  • Best-introduced character: Illyria.
  • Most fabulous demon: Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan.
  • Best sideways storyline evolution: Angel Investigations moves into Wolfram & Hart.
  • Best grudging friendship: Angel and Spike. (Honorable mention to Spike and Illyria.)
  • Actor who does the best job of playing multiple characters: Amy Acker.
  • Favorite non-Buffyverse television series that has more than one member of its cast appear on this series: Firefly.
  • Best one-gag character: Numfar.
  • Best love interest for Angel: Nina Ash.
  • Funniest character: Spike.
  • Most attractive character: Illyria.**

And, the moment you've all been waiting for...

  • Favorite character: I'm going to have to get back to you on this one; there are many factors to consider.

I'd like to read your comments on this topic.

* There's much more competition here than in the corresponding category on Buffy, mainly because no main character returns from the dead on this show.

** I believe I'm noticing a trend here.

Monday, March 03, 2008

White is The New Black

Has anyone noticed this trend in the last 3 years or so? Everything that used to be considered coolest in black---electronics, cars, bike bits,* the Stig---is now continually popping up in white. I'm not certain I approve of this trend.

* Grip tape, saddles, shoes, shorts, even tires.

I'b Sig Episode II: The Illness Continues

The illness I reported last Monday tuned out to be influenza.* After a visit to my doctor on Wednesday and staying home from work nearly all last week, I've started feeling better. It's clear, however, from my last few attempted workouts, that I'm a long way from well. Ugh. This sickness is really starting to impact my lifestyle.

* Apparently the flu vaccine I received this season did not include all relevant strains.

If Only There Were a Series Called "Vampire Willow"

Now here's indecency legislation I can get behind.