March 2007

  • Meme: 5 O’Clock Shadow – 30 March 2007


    5 O’Clock Shadow - 30 March 2007
    The camera in my Treo 650 seems to be dying by degrees, if the ever-expanding row of green pixels that appears on more and more of my photos is any indication. Perhaps the sheer manliness of my 5 o’clock shadow has begun to overwhelm the sensitive CCD. Can testosterone destroy electronic devices? The evidence would seem to suggest it can.

  • Sitestuff: I love SPAM, I hate spam.


    5 O’Clock Shadow - 29 March 2007
    According to the stats at MyBlogLog, has 23 readers, which sounds about right to me; there are also a handful of people who read the posts via the RSS feed, but I really have no idea how many. That’s not exactly a huge audience, but the number of spam comments filtered out by the Akismet plugin ranges anywhere from a dozen to several hundred on any given day; if you’re reading this, the comment spammers really want you to see their junk.Or at the very least increase their Google ranking for erectile dysfunction medication, auto insurance and naughty, naughty boys and girls.

    Today was a high-volume day for comment spam. The online pharmacies, insurance agents and purveyors of various forms of taboo (if not downright illegal) sexual practices attempted to hit with roughly 500 spam comments in the past twenty-four hours, only one of which made it past Akismet. Since I’ve been using the plugin, less than a half-dozen legitimate comments have been incorrectly trapped and perhaps two dozen spam comments have made it through the filter. Considering that Akismet has trapped more than twenty-one and a half thousand spam comments in the past two years, I’d say it’s a pretty good track record.

    There’s some concern that WordPress users are putting all of our comment spam fighting eggs in one basket with Akismet; the plugin relies on external servers to function, and a failure of those servers could result in a flood of unfiltered spam comments on thousands of blogs worldwide. Nasty! It’s a risk I’m willing to live with, though, as Akismet allows me to let people comment on without having to register or enter a CAPTCHA code.

    So, comment to your heart’s desire, all twenty-three of you. Akismet has your back, and mine.

  • Podcast: The Round Table, Episode 04-02


    The Round TableMick Bradley and Julia Sullivan went AWOL recently, leaving Chris Miller and I to record the latest episode of The Round Table. Undaunted, we interviewed Tee Morris, co-author (with Lisa Lee) of MOREVI: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana, co-author (with Evo Terra) of Podcasting for Dummies, author of Billibub Baddings and The Case of the Singing Sword and host of The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy podcast.

    Chris and I also had a discussion about Marvel Comics’ Civil War crossover series and the death of my favorite super hero, Captain America.

    Mick will be back for the next episode, but Julia will likely be absent for much of Season Four as she carves a bloody swath of carnage and destruction across northeast Ohio. In the meantime, give The Round Table a listen, won’t you? For the children?

  • Sitestuff: Oops. I broke it.


    5 O’Clock Shadow - 28 March 2007
    I really need to start keeping some sort of changelog for this site to make troubleshooting things like the current Slightbox issue a little simpler. Slightbox is the WordPress plugin that used to load images (like the 5 o’clock shadow pictures) in a nifty overlay “above” the main page when they were clicked. The key phrase there is “used to”, as sometime in the past couple of days the plugin stopped working. Instead of getting a nice, smooth image overlay, clicking on image links takes you to a new page containing just the full-sized image.

    I was already aware that Slightbox wasn’t working if the image link was embedded in a list, but now it doesn’t work anywhere. I don’t know if it’s a JavaScript problem, a conflict with one of the dozen other WordPress plugins I’ve got installed, or something else I’ve managed to screw up in my endless fiddling.

    The nice thing about the WordPress community is that plugin developers are generally happy to help when people encounter problems. I pinged Slightbox developer Taras Mankovski with an earlier issue I was having with the plugin and his response was not only quick, but correct. Of course, it’s one thing to say “your plugin is working but there’s a quirk that I can’t figure out” and an entirely separate thing to say “your plugin doesn’t work at all.”

    On the bright side, I did fix an annoying glitch that caused the right sidebar to be rendered improperly in Internet Explorer (which I only noticed because IE is the standard browser at work). I knew that the culprit was italic text and when I Googled Internet Explorer italics CSS, the first hit was a page that described the IE/italics bug and provided a simple solution. That’s because I used the very same page when I was stomping out a similar bug in my own early attempts at WordPress theme design. I dashed off a quick note of thanks to Bruno Fassino, who wrote the page, and he sent me a note indicating the the problem has apparently been fixed in IE 7, but other italics issues have been introduced. Par for the course with IE, it seems.

    Maybe if I just stopped fiddling with things, everything would be fine, but that’s just not my way; I’m going to keep adding new plugins or replacing the ones I already use with updated versions, tweaking the sidebars and the comment form and the page layout because it’s fun and interesting, even if I do wind up breaking stuff now and again.

  • Non Sequitur: Sinuses!


    5 O’Clock Shadow - 27 March 2007
    Ah, Spring. ‘Tis the season of high pollen counts and rapidly fluctuating temperatures. Today eighty-five, tomorrow forty-three. My sinuses hate it and for the past few days have been making their displeasure known.

    Saturday wasn’t bad, but Sunday put me through the wringer. The pressure was so bad that I was in bed by 7:00, which is nearly unheard of for me. I stayed home from work Monday and today, but I think I’ll be back on the job tomorrow morning at the crack of 9:30.

    I’ve been popping generic DayQuil and NyQuil for the past three days and today I decided to try something my mother suggested: NeilMed Sinus Rinse. This basically involves squirting four ounces of warm water/sodium chloride/sodium bicarbonate solution up each nostril and giving the old nasal passages a good rinsing.

    Now, I’ve had water up my nose before; pleasant, it ain’t. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to squirting four ounces of anything up my nose, especially given that the product instructions quite clearly indicated that the solution would be exiting via either the other nostril or the mouth. Yummy!

    I do have to admit that despite my trepidation, the process was entirely painless and not at all as disgusting as I anticipated. Sure, there was salty water spilling out of my nose and mouth, but it didn’t feel like I was drowning or like I had accidentally snorted water through an ill-aimed strawIt’s been known to happen.. Turns out that squirting plain water up your nose is extremely unpleasant, but the solution completely eliminates that nasty burning sensation.

    So that was an hour ago. I’m still a little drippy at the moment, but I suppose that’s to be expected. We’ll see if adding the rinse helps with the Spring Sinus Curse.

  • Meme: Friday’s 5 O’Clock Shadow


    Five O’Clock Shadow - 22 March 2007
    Today’s five o’clock shadow was aged two hours because at the appointed hour I was hip deep in the Windows 2000 registry and nobody wants to see that.

    I actually had some stubble this morning, but decided to shave before leaving for work, despite the fact that I was running about an hour late. The day started off with a bird stuck in the chimney and a trip to the drug store to pick up some cough medicine for Kyle, who is a bit under the weather at the moment.

  • Friday’s Feast for 23 March 2007


    Rob over at UnSpace has been doing Friday’s Feast for as long as I’ve been reading his blog and this particular set of questions appealed to me for some reason. I generally shy away from this sort of thing but I’m going to make an exception for Friday’s Feast this week. Whether I participate in the future will depend entirely upon my whim.

    Who is your favorite news anchor/reporter? Why?
    I liked Peter Jennings for a lot of reasons, most of them silly. My wife had a crush on him. He was Canadian and I enjoyed picking up on the little accent cues. He had a combination of earthiness and earnestness that really endeared him to me.

    Name 3 foods that are currently in your freezer.
    I’m pretty sure there’s salmon in there, but I won’t be eating it. There are also steaks and boneless chicken breasts, which I will happily consume when the time comes.

    If you were to have the opportunity to name a new town or city, what would you call it?
    There are a lot of factors I would take into account when naming a city: Natural landmarks (Welcome to Big Phallic Rock, Population 11,215), Cultural Heritage (Perkele Hills, Est. 2007), Vanity (Welcome to Salanton, The Narcissism City), and of course, Star Wars (Mos Eisley, A Hive of Scum and Villainy Since 1977).

    Main Course
    What will most likely be the next book you read?
    Fool Moon by Jim Butcher.

    What’s the first thing you notice about the opposite gender?
    The first thing I notice? That they’re the opposite gender. Generally it’s the presence of breasts that clues me in to this distinction. Am I really so shallow? In that respect, I certainly am.

  • Meme: 5 O’Clock Shadow


    Five O’Clock Shadow - 21 Mar 2007
    Evo Terra is the co-founder of He is also a podcaster, author and cult leader. He is not the handsome devil pictured on the left; that would be me.

    Why do I have a picture of myself up next to a blurb about Evo Terra? Well, it turns out that Evo and I have a couple things in common:Not a cult. There’s a simple reason I don’t want to be a cult leader: lack of fashion sense. I can barely color-coordinate my own wardrobe in the morning; I sure as hell don’t want to be responsible for telling hundreds upon thousands of my followers how to dress. facial hair and blogs. Recently, Evo began posting a daily picture of himself taken at 5:00 and tagging it (of all things) “5 O’Clock Shadow”. Always looking for an excuse to post more, I immediately glommed on to the idea and decided to do it myself.

    Well, not immediately. I meant to start snapping 5:00 photos with my camera phone last week, but shadow time invariably passed quietly each day and my bescruffled visage remained uncaptured. Yesterday I remembered to take a picture with my camera phone as I was leaving work shortly after 6:00.

    Five O’Clock Shadow - 22 March 2007
    The thing is, it takes me two or three days to grow a proper 5 o’clock shadow, and even then my stubble is sparse and patchy, like the grass in my backyard. I didn’t shave this morning, so today’s picture is actually two days worth of growth. Careful when you’re clicking on it; I don’t want anyone losing an eye.

    Seriously, my stubble is so sparse that it doesn’t even show up in the pictures. I’ll need a better camera before I revisit How Not To Grow A Beard Month in November.

  • Game Night: 20 March 2007 – Arkham what?


    The International House of Johnson was full of gamers last night! Miscellaneous G™, Chris Miller, Gus and Jeff (another new addition to the crew) assembled for Game Night. We didn’t get started as early as planned, so we ditched Arkham Horror in favor of something a little lighter: Chez Geek 3: Block Party from Steve Jackson Games.

    Chez Geek 3: Block PartyChez Geek is an absolute riot. The players are all roommates in a single apartment, seeking to goof off as much as possible in order to win the game. The prime commodity in Chez Geek is Slack, which can be accumulated through such activities as surfing the Net, sleeping, watching television and the even-popular nookie. There’s also Slack to be had through conspicuous consumption — buying books, booze, food, weed and other stuff — and just hanging out with friends.

    Each player has a Job that defines his or her Free Time, Income and Slack Goal. Some Jobs, such as the Slacker, have loads of Free Time but very little Income while Jobs like Corporate Drone offer a high Income but not much Free Time. Cards granting Slack or inhibiting a roommates’ ability to acquire Slack are played from the hand, which is replenished at the beginning of each turn.

    We played Chez Geek twice; once with four players and the second time with six. The first game was over fairly quickly, but the second went quite a bit longer.

    Game One

    • Security Guard (me) – This guy doesn’t have to spend Free Time when he plays Sleep cards. That’s a nice perk; unfortunately I didn’t draw a single Sleep card the entire game.
    • Slacker (Jeff) – Truly shiftless, the Slacker sacrifices Income for Free Time. He can play a lot of Activity cards each turn, but his low Income makes for some pretty pathetic shopping trips. He’s kind of like the brother-in-law who crashes on your couch for six weeks after Spring semester, playing Xbox instead of getting a damn job.
    • Tech Support (Chris) – This poor sap is the polar opposite of the Slacker; the tech support rep has an above-average Income but almost no Free Time. On the bright side, he can play Computer Games or Surf the Net without using Free Time.
    • Web Designer (Miscellaneous G™) – Not a bad gig, if you can get it. The Web Designer gets a Slack bonus whenever one of his roommates plays a Surf the Net card.

    The game had a promising start for me. I made a call to my buddy, Mr. Enthusiastic, and he was more than happy to come over. Then I went shopping for some booze, in the form of a White Russian (I do love the Kahlua).

    Alas, Mr. Enthusiastic is a fickle fellow; he bounced from one room to another throughout the game, taking his 2 Slack with him. Any time a roommate managed to acquire 3 or more Slack in a turn, they had a good chance of wooing Mr. Enthusiastic away from another player. Before the first turn was over, Mr. Enthusiastic was long gone from my room. To add insult to injury, he was replaced by Can’t Handle It Guy, a pantywaist who rendered my delicious liquor completely useless.

    Thanks to a couple of lousy die rolls, I didn’t get rid of the booze-inhibiting Can’t Handle It Guy until late in the game, and I never really recovered from the initial one-two punch I got in the first turn.

    Meanwhile, Jeff the Slacker was feeling the pain of having almost no Income. He discarded a couple of high-price items, including the Wide-Screen TV, but managed to Surf the Net (giving Miscellaneous G™’s Web Designer bonus Slack) and score some Cast Party Nookie.

    Chris managed to hold his own, playing a couple of Surf the Net cards, using his Free Time to shop for Used CDs and then coaxed Mr. Enthusiastic out of my room.

    Unfortunately, all the net surfing proved to be our undoing; every click of the mouse added Slack to Miscellaneous G™’s total. A couple of turns, some Power Outage Nookie and a bottle of Old Ragnarok later, the Web Designer was only one point away from victory… and then Mr. Enthusiastic showed up with two more Slack points. Game Over.

    Game Two

    • Corporate Drone (Jeff) – This all too familiar lackey makes a lot of dough, but has very little Free Time. He’s also got the highest Slack Goal of any Job in the game.
    • Waitstaff (Chris) – Ah, food services. You work your butt off trying to make a buck, but in the end your fortune falls to the whim of the diner. Income for this Job is variable, like your tips. On the bright side, the Waitstaffer gets one bonus Slack for every Sleep card he plays.
    • Envelope Stuffer (Laura) – It’s not the most exciting Job in the world (nor the best paying by far), but it has its benefits: the Envelope Stuffer doesn’t use free time to play TV cards.
    • Bike Messenger (Miscellaneous G™) – The nice thing about being a Bike Messenger is that Free Time and Income are perfectly balanced. The not so nice thing is that they’re both pretty low. The Bike Messenger also gets a bonus for playing Weed cards.
    • Graphic Artist (me) – The money is decent, but Free Time is almost nonexistent. Why does the Graphic Artist get a bonus for playing Weed and Cigarette cards? Who knows, man? Who knows?
    • Pizza Delivery Driver (Gus) – Like the Waitstaffer, the Pizza Delivery Driver’s Income is variable. He also gets a discount when purchasing Food. Yum!

    This game had more of a Screw Your Neighbor feel than the first round. We had two additional players and everyone was more than happy to stick it to their fellow apartment-dwellers.

    Chris managed to make himself a target early in the game by amassing a lot of Slack very quickly. Victory was well within his reach, so we all started ganging up on him. Laura hit him with cards that blocked his attempts to Sleep and anyone with a TV card in their hand was quick to cancel most of his other activities.TV is unique among the Activity cards in that it can be used to cancel an opponent’s activities. “I think you’ll watch History Science Theatre Y2K instead of going shopping…” or “Going to get some Nookie? I don’t think so. Looks like you’ll be watching a marathon of The Why-Files.” They’re good for thwarting attempts to play high-Slack cards, but they still give the thwartee one Slack point.

    Laura and Gus were also formidable opponents, and both had victory within arm’s length multiple times. Gus was taking full advantage of the Pizza Delivery Driver’s discount on Food cards; he was able to play several of them for free, but his feeding frenzy was cut short when Hungry Girl invaded his room and raided the fridge. Laura, in the meantime, was proving to be quite the lush, downing both a White Russian and a bottle of Old Ragnarok. She combined her love of libations with an affinity for NT Server Doccos, certainly an odd combination. Even so, she didn’t quite manage to drink her way to a win.

    I suppose I should blame myself for the outcome of the game. In my final turn (how could I have known), I played Chinese Fire Drill, forcing all players to pass their hands to the player on their left. This left Gus with a couple of my cards that he quickly put to use, but we were all still keeping an eye on Chris, who looked to be on the cusp of snatching the golden ring.

    We should have been watching Jeff, whose turn fell between Gus and Chris. Sure, he had an impossibly high Slack Goal and almost no Free Time at all… until he got Gus’ hand. Jeff played Get a Life, giving him three Free Time but preventing him from playing Sleep or TV cards. He also played Jonesing and stole some of Gus’ yet-unscarfed Food. The rest of us had been so intent on stopping Chris that we had little left in reserve to stop Jeff. He stole, shopped, and sexed his way to a seven-point, game-winning Slackathon and all we could do was watch.

  • Random Stuff for Tuesday, 20 March


    Test sites for WordPress themes display several standard elements so theme hunters can see how things like images and bulleted lists look on the page. As it happens, I’m in the process of tweaking the Blue Zinfandel theme and I’ve got a few random things that I wanted to talk about, giving me the perfect opportunity to put the theme through its paces and solicit additional feedback.

    1. I picked up a copy of Fool Moon today, the second book in Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. I tore through the first book, Blood Moon Storm FrontEDIT: Blood Moon? Where the hell did that come from?, over about two days when I was on vacation in Michigan, so I’m going to start Fool Moon as soon as I finish Eragon, which I’m about two-thirds of the way through.Liar, liar, pants on fire. Technically, I started reading Fool Moon while I was waiting for my General Tso’s Chicken at the China Express.
    2. My father was featured in a documentary that has (I’m told) aired twice in Finland. Laura and I got a copy of the 50-minute DVD in the mail yesterday. I think I’ll talk about it a little more once I’ve had a chance to watch it again.
    3. Laura’s birthday was Sunday. If you’ve been paying attention to My Twitter, you’ll know that my gift to her was food poisoning. I also got her some foul-tasting (but pretty) tea, a birthday card that looked familiar because I gave her the exact same one sometime in the past couple of years, flowers that were supposed to be a surprise but were anything but, and a couple of movies on DVD.
    4. Who’s the Man?
      Kyle was sick a couple of weeks ago, but he’s feeling much better now. Actually, the entire Johnson household was under the weather; Kyle was the only one who didn’t seem to realize that he was sick. He had a cough and a runny nose, but was acting for the most part like nothing was out of the ordinary. If Laura and I were too slow with the tissues, Kyle would wind up wiping snot all over his face. Bleah.
    5. I didn’t watch the entire premiere of The Riches on FX, but I did see the second episode last night. Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver are both very good, and the show has a dark side that didn’t come across in the ads that drew me to it in the first place. I like what I’ve seen so far, though.
    6. On the topic of new shows, I also enjoyed the premiere of Raines starring Jeff Goldblum. The show has a very cool concept (cop talks to the victim of the homicide he’s trying to solve) and I really like the way Goldblum plays the character; Michael Raines has all of the quirks I associate with Jeff Goldblum, but he’s definitely more ruthless and edgy than I expected him to be. I appreciate that.
    7. Rae promises that Robin Hood will get better with the next episode. The first three episodes weren’t bad, but they could certainly have been better.
    8. I don’t think I like the default styling for ordered lists. Expect tweaks.
    9. It’s Game Night. I’m hoping to play Arkham Horror, but I’ll be happy playing pretty much anything.