About Anything

The personal blog of Al Stevens. Focus is overrated.

Archive for February, 2008

Spend more on food, live better and longer

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I just finished “In Defense of Food”, by Michael Pollan. Everyone who eats should read this book. It’s a refreshing, guilt-free look at how we relate to food. Most books I read, make me think a bit or add a bit of knowledge to how I think about other things. Books on nutrition turn me off. This book provided a completely new perspective on my daily meals. It’s short, easy to read, and often summarized with its openning line: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” There are many more memorable rules, phrases and ideas than the opening one, but I found the section “Pay More, Eat Less” the most provocative.  Acknowledging that better food costs more, Pollan suggests that we’ve traded food costs against our health. Since 1960, Americans have gone from spending 17.5% of national income on food and 5.2% on health care to 9.9% on food and 16% on health. I’d rather spend my money on better food.

Written by Al Stevens

February 24th, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Human Impact to the World’s Oceans

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Google Earth view of upper US AtlanticFor a really “big picture” view of how we are impacting the our planet’s oceans, download the KML file from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis: www.nceas.ucsb.edu/GlobalMarine

Load it into Google Earth and circle the planet. The data is the result of a study that concludes “over 40% of the world’s oceans are heavily affected by human activities and few if any areas remain untouched”. Our ecological footprint is not only large, it’s also very wet.

Written by Al Stevens

February 18th, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Starbucks Fresh Pressed

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I’m blessed. My local Starbucks (on Charles Street in Boston) is one of six that’s testing Clovers, single-brew machines that let the brewer control all the parameters that matter. I’ve now tried the Aged Sumatra and the Arabian Mocha Sanani. Both were more than worth the extra fifty cents Starbucks is charging — better coffee and, well… very fresh. According to the barista on duty today, there’s two other locations in Boston (Federal Street and Harvard Square) and three in Seattle that are testing the “fresh pressed” coffees.

There’s a discussion with lots more details on Starbucks Gossip at starbucksgossip.typepad.com/_/2008/02/starbucks-tests.html.

The Clover machine is described on the Coffee Equipment Company website at cloverequipment.com/whyclover/why_clover.aspx. They offer a service that gives you web access to your Clovers including what’s brewing on each. One can only imagine the Starbucks control center filled with real-time screens showing thousands of cups of coffee brewing all over the world.

Written by Al Stevens

February 15th, 2008 at 10:57 am

Simple Weather

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Weather’s important but I avoid using weather.com because of all the ads. Simple Weather is the way to go: www.simpleweather.com. A single page, crystal clear, shows the day and week in a glance. A search box gets you right to the forecast want, or you can add a “/zipcode” to the end of the url. Buttons, current conditions and forecast widgets can be made on the site and added to yours. A single ad is the only distraction — let’s hope they keep it that way.

There’s a wap 2.0/html version at: www.simpw.com.

For complex weather info (in the US anyway), I’ll stick with the National Weather Service (www.weather.gov). The Forecast Discussions show how the art mixes with the scienceto create those simple summary pages.

Written by Al Stevens

February 14th, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Posted in One Thing Well

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PuTTY gets tabs

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By the end of the day, I’ll have five or six PuTTY windows open, intermixed with other apps. Alt-tabbing between them is a minor hassle, but still annoying. The annoyance level crossed a threshold yesterday, so I went on a web search and found that someone else was driven came up with a solution: PuTTY Connection Manager. It corrals multiple PuTTY windows into a tabbed and paned frame. Arranging the separate instances is a simple drag and drop operation. In addition , it includes an encrytable data base to remember your connections, so that opening one and logging on is a single click operation. It’s downloadable from puttycm.free.fr.

To get encryption, you’ll need to download a separate dll and drop it into your putty connection manager directory. At the first start up, it asks you where PuTTY is, so make sure you’ve got it installed. Verson 0.6 is recommended. My first attempts to open PuTTY instances from the Connection Manager left them stuck in the task bar. There’s a timing tweak under Tools >> Options >> PuTTY. Setting it to 200 ms did the trick. Individual hosts also needed a bit of timing adjustment so that the username and password appeared were presented to the proper prompt. Right click on the connection and select configuration to adjust those.

Written by Al Stevens

February 13th, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Tom DeLay on global warming

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Maybe I never paid enough attention to this guy when he still had his Washington job. I caught his interview on Hard Ball last week. Chris Matthews asked him what he thought of global warming. His answer was something like “It’s arrogant to think that man can change climate.” (I didn’t have my tivo on, so I’m writing this from memory, but it’s pretty close to what he said.) This one goes to the top of my irony list — an indicted Congressman calling most of the world’s scientists arrogant.

It turns out this comment has been around a while — there’s a 2003 post on ZNet with nearly identical words: Tom Delay thinks he’s God’s man in Congress.

For an entertaining overview of DeLay’s career take a look at the entry in Wikipedia: Tom DeLay. It’s definitely not written by a member of his staff.

Written by Al Stevens

February 12th, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Broken Things

Free Icons

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I hate making icons. And I’m not very good at it — drawing something that looks professional on a 16 x 16 canvas is not a skill that I’m ever going to have. We needed some icons for a new web site recently and after a bit of searching found them — and more, almost 1,000 of them, available for free under Creative Commons.

They are available for download at: www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/

Written by Al Stevens

February 11th, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Posted in One Thing Well

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Batch File Renamer

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With a little command-line wizardry, helped if you’ve got Cygwin installed, you can rename a pile of files. Whenever I do a batch operation in Windows from the command line, I get nervous. I needed to rename several thousand files that came from a book publisher. They were filled with ampersands, parenthesis, spaces and other characters that can be unfriendly when transferred to a Linux-based web server. This little utility made renaming them easy. It’s now part of my can’t-do-without toolkit. I’ve only begun to exploit it’s full functionality.

It’s available for download at: cerebralsynergy.com/download.php?view.55

Written by Al Stevens

February 11th, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Posted in One Thing Well

Pure Text

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For years I’ve suffered through posting web content that was sent to me in MS Word format. A cut-and-paste from Word carried all of the Microsoft-supplied gunk that I’d then painfully edit out by hand. I eventually adopted the trick of cutting from the Word doc, pasting to Notepad, cutting from Notepad and then pasting one more time. It saved the cleanup steps, but was still a pain. I finally stumbled over Pure Text, a simple Windows app that removes text formatting from the clipboard. After I installed it, life got a little easier — and that’s what tools are for.

It’s free, available for download at: www.stevemiller.net/puretext/

After you install it, right click the tray icon, select “options” and check “Automatically run Pure Text each time I log on to windows.”

Written by Al Stevens

February 11th, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Posted in One Thing Well

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One thing well

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My collection of simple tools is growing. Most of the posts in this category are about techie tools that do only one or two things, but do them well. They’re specialized and make life at the keyboard easier, sometimes more fun and often less time-consuming. When I find a new one, after adding it to my own collection, I end up sending a few messages to friends and colleagues, but then I forget who I’ve informed and who I haven’t. So, I’ll start posting them here — along with a brief comment about why I like each.

Written by Al Stevens

February 11th, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Posted in One Thing Well

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