Monthly Archives: August 2007

Let Sleeping Lizas Lie

This is Liza yesterday morning at 7:23 am. She went to bed at 8:30 pm.
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Of course, last night she was up at 3:30 starving. She then proceeded to sleep until 7:30 this morning. She woke up cranky because she had managed to roll over in such a way that her legs, heels up, were sticking out between the crib slats while her top half was still mostly facing toward the ceiling. I’d be cranky too if I woke up that way.

We Are Back Online

Hey, we’re back! It’s been an interesting twenty-four hours. It appears lightning struck some three inches from our house, found the cable line, and thought, Hey, I bet there are sweet sweet electronics in there for me to munch on. And, lo, it was so.

As things go, this could have been so much worse. All four of us were in the kitchen eating when Zeus decided he’d had enough of our lip. As reported earlier, Misty could smell the ozone, and had she or I been standing at the sink, it’s possible we could have been struck. Our house could have caught fire, which, when coupled with the stifling heat and driving hot rain, would have been just swell. I was out in it for a minute to make sure no flames were leaping merrily on our roof, and let me tell you, I’m glad I didn’t have to wait out there while fire engine sirens dopplered towards us. We also didn’t have air conditioning for thirty minutes, until I got smart and went outside again and flipped the breaker next to the a/c unit.

We’ve had a fun time figuring out what all went wrong. My old CRT monitor in the office had a nice corona effect on it that went away after degaussing, but was otherwise fine. Misty’s and my computers lived through it. The Linux box was less fortunate, though all it lost were the on-board PS2 and ethernet interfaces. The cable modem was toast, as was the wan side of our wireless router. Our TV’s gone, or at least the part of it that turns electrical signals into video, so if anyone wants a very large and power-hungry Philco, have I got a deal for you. Two different repairmen told me not to bother doing anything with it other than perhaps turning it into an art installation piece. The seven-year-old TiVo likewise is dead, and the magic smoke came out of our D-Link streaming media thingy.

While we have a large pile of useless electronics in our living room right now, we’re all fine, and all we lost were conveniences. Geof, Jon and Ashley, and Jeff have all come through in our hour of want, loaning equipment and helping me convince the Linux box to ignore the smoky-smelling ethernet port in favor of the old ethernet card I shoved down its throat. I’m not happy about what happened, mind you, but we’ve come out of it okay, and we’ve been again reminded that we have the bestest friends around.

Now who wants to explain this new-fangled HDTV thing to me?

“I could smell the ozone in the kitchen.”

Hello, all. It’s probably always a bit alarming when I’m posting instead of Stephen or Misty. I just got off the phone with them, and they were having me help them figure out a recovery plan after a lightning strike hit the house. No fire, everything’s okay, the kids are fine.

The quote in the title? That’s what Misty said to me. As you might expect, I think every breaker in the house tripped. What did go down: most everything cable-related. Looks like the lightning strike took out their TV, TiVo, cable modem, etc. We were strategizing how they’d go forward on getting things fixed; I think they’re gonna borrow one of my TVs for a while, and maybe one of my TiVos. It’s all good. But I just wanted to let everyone know about it in case you were trying to have electronic communication with Stephen or Misty for the next day or two—things aren’t gonna go real smooth.

Eli Rocks Chuck’s House

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Yes, that’s Eli kicking his dad’s butt in the water pistol game at Chuck E. Cheese’s this morning. It might be expensive entertainment but it’s cool on the 105° day.

Faking Knowledge Using Google and Wikipedia

Maybe you were participating in a discussion on a blog when someone made a joke about Rowling’s latest book, Harry Partch and the Order of the Hobos. Ha! ha! everyone else said while you stewed in a broth of incomprehension. Maybe someone said, “Hey, you’re a physicist, right? Can they really get enough energy out of 3He from the Moon’s regolith to make it worth doing?” Or maybe you want to write a blog post about the US health care system, but you don’t know anything about the subject.

That’s the problem with living in the age of information. There’s too much to know, and the amount of stuff to know keeps growing. Pop culture, internet culture, cultures other than your own, scientific discoveries, political events, historical events — it’s like trying to take a sip of water by standing under Niagara Falls. There’s only one thing to do: fake it. Learn enough to bluff your way through conversations and to figure out where to go to fill in gaps in your knowledge.

Thankfully, the Internet has given us charlatans two wonderful tools. With Google and Wikipedia, we can fake knowledge about many subjects. It’s as if we are all Thomas Friedman, only without the giant moustache. The trick is to know how best to use these tools, especially if we later want to learn enough not to have to fake knowledge.

Google

“Google?” you’re asking yourself. “Is he kidding me?” I am not. For one thing, not everyone uses Google when they should. For another thing, there’s more you can do with Google besides just typing in some words and looking at the results on the first page. The first-page approach is fine for easy searches, but to fake knowledge of more obscure topics, you may have to go farther.

One way of going farther is to tweak what you’re searching for. If you’re searching for a phrase, like part of a quotation or a snippet of lyrics, put quote marks around it. That makes Google look for pages that use the words as a phrase, instead of having the individual words scattered like shotgun pellets throughout the text. Exclude words from your search by putting a minus sign in front of them. For instance, a search on “kitchenaid mixer” returns very different results than one on “kitchenaid mixer -buy”. Change the order of words in your search or use different tenses and see what new results you get. People have a tendency to type near-sentences into Google, like “good science fair project for fifth grader”. Mix it up: “fifth grade science fair project”. Replace “fifth” with “5th”. Throw in synonyms or related words. Give the Google algorithm a shake and see what falls out.

What if you’ve got some results you like and want additional similar results? Google has anticipated your needs. For each result, Google gives a “Similar pages” link that lists other pages that Google thinks are similar to the one you’ve chosen. Google will also let you restrict your search to one website using the “site:” syntax. Let’s say you were looking for information about how accurate the TV show Jericho was about nuclear fallout and Google gave you a result from tvsciencesucks.com. You could see what else the site had to say about Jericho by doing a Google search for “Jericho site:tvsciencesucks.com”.

Eventually you’ll need to move beyond Google in your quest for more knowledge. The easiest way is by browsing sites that Google has uncovered. Follow those site’s links. Wander through other sites and see what turns up. You can even leave the web entirely and ask individual people for help. Look for people who seem knowledgeable and email or even call them. Asking experts for help is an art of its own. Instead of talking about how you should find and approach people, I’ll point you to Cherie Priest’s excellent How to Talk to Strangers.

Wikipedia

“Wikipedia?” you’re asking yourself. “What’s to know? Type something into their search box and you’re done!” Well, not quite. Wikipedia’s search is so-so, though you can overcome that with judicious application of Google’s site: search, and you can find related information by clicking an article’s hyperlinks and seeing where that leads you. But the big concern is how much you should trust an article’s information.

That’s a problem no matter where you get information from on the web, or even off of it, but the “pedia” part of Wikipedia’s name can trump common sense and make you treat Wikipedia’s information as if it had been blessed by Calliope herself. The good news is that Wikipedia gives you hints about how good an article’s information is: the discussion and history pages.

At the top of every article are tabs that lead to to the discussion and history pages. The discussion, or talk, page is where people who’ve been editing the article discuss additions to, deletions from, and contentious parts of the article. If you want to see this in action, take a look at Al Gore’s talk page. An article’s talk page may list things that aren’t in the current version of the article because people have been arguing over them. You can go back to Google and do more research about those disputed facts and form your own opinion.

The history page lets you see every version of the article and compare any two versions. Using that, you can see evidence of edit wars, where different people keep adding and deleting parts of the article. You can recover information that might be useful but that was too divisive to be left in.

All of this emphasizes that Wikipedia is no more a final destination than Google is. Wikipedia is great for giving you an overview of a topic and helping you figure out what questions you should be asking, but you’ll need to go elsewhere for verification. Use the external links at the bottom of articles to go to other sites and continue your research.

Even though Google and Wikipedia won’t answer all of your questions, they’ll get you over the hump of abject ignorance. And in some cases, what you learn from them will be enough for your immediate needs: faking knowledge.

Liza Does It All

I posted about the busy weekend the family had but not about Liza’s busy weekend. Saturday morning she rolled over from her stomach to her back. She did it three times in a row and grinned at us the whole time. I don’t have photos because I was too busy actually watching her do it.

But here’s a cute photo of her anyway:
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Today she rolled from her back to her stomach so I guess she’s already partially mobile. Everyone told me girls were faster at stuff than boys. They weren’t kidding!

She also learned to reach for and grasp things this weekend. As evidenced by this photo:
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Following the weekend, she slept for almost two days straight. All of Sunday night, pretty much all day yesterday and most of the day today.

On to the next big breakthrough, she can now get her thumb to her mouth consistently. Which leads to the final, and probably most important, breakthrough of all. She just put herself to sleep in her bed with no help from either Stephen or me. No rocking for an hour. No screaming. I just put her in the crib for a moment so I could go to the bathroom and a do couple of other things before I gave her the night time feed. When I went to check on her, the fish mobile had stopped, she had her thumb in her mouth, and she was sound asleep.

For parents that’s the promised land. And I can see it on the horizon.

Busy Weekend

We didn’t have a busy weekend planned. It just sorta happened. Saturday, Stephen concocted things in the kitchen and then we had some folks over to taste test. While we were doing that, the power went out for about an hour. We left to go get some dinner and then ran some errands. We returned to clean up the mess we had left in our haste to leave the hot house.

Sunday was morning o’ church. I spoke both services. Stephen taught Sunday School and we kept the nursery for second service. It was only Liza in there, so not as bad as it sounds. After church, we went for lunch with friends, ran a few more errands, and then home for chores. Crashed last night at 10 pm. Maybe today we can get some rest.

Busy Weekend Photos
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Eli in the Pool this Morning
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(As usual, the captions were written with LanaBob! in mind. She always laughs at my jokes.)