Blog-o! Notes from

Tue, 29 Dec 2009

This post is for those of you who enjoy that particular kind of humour derived from small children saying entirely inappropriate things in all innocence. Lucky for us we have a four-year-old, so we have plenty of that.

The other day Blake and the girls and I took the bus to the Ontario Science Centre. It was a chilly morning so while we waited for the bus we huddled together, the girls in between Blake and I, like penguins. Since I don't know what sound penguins make, I said, "Buck, buck, buck, bgawk!"

With that Cordelia squeezed out of our little cluster and declared loudly, "I got laid!"

The other morning Blake was brushing his teeth, and because we have small children, he wasn't alone. He has a tongue pierce, and part of its care and feeding is that you have to brush the stainless steel balls of the jewellery every day. So, that's what he was doing when Cordelia asked the obvious question, "Are you brushing your balls?"

"Yes. Yes I am."

"You should tell Mummy!"

This one is less inappropriate. The other day my friend Kat and I watched that "David after dentist" YouTube video for the first time—the one with the kid recovering from anaesthesia and saying silly things. Kat works with little kids and I live with them, and we didn't find the video particularly funny because kids say peculiar things all the time.

Case in point: Today, after a full day, then dinner, with her jammies on and her teeth about to be brushed, Cordelia asked, "Mama, is it morning or bedtime? I don't know when it is. I forgot!"

So yeah, "Is this real?" doesn't seem all that funny.

[Posted at 22:53 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 26 Dec 2009

Another year, another giant stack of books. Here's how it all boiled down in ought-nine.

  • Total books read: 66
  • Adult Novels: 16, of which six mysteries, and six for the book club.
  • Young Adult Novels: 4, two of which by Kit Pearson
  • Non-Fiction: 42, of which:
    • 9 books about writing;
    • 6 books about parenting;
    • 16 how-to and self-help (or psychology) books;
    • leaving 11 others.
  • Memoir: 5, three by Bill Bryson
  • CanCon: 12

I felt like I wasn't reading much this year, and I was right. Further, it wasn't my most profoundly intellectual of reading years. I only read four adult non-mystery novels of my own accord (the rest were for the book club). I read a bunch of non-fiction books, but plenty of them were "how to decorate" or "how to garden"-type books.

Interesting that I read three more books about writing than I did about parenting. I guess I'm getting pretty confident about the latter, but still petrified to take the plunge into the former.

Here are some standout books, in no particular order:

  • Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill is a beautifully written mystery.
  • A Handful of Time and A Perfect, Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson both made me cry, as did
  • Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn pushed me to raise my parenting game
  • Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples and Michael Browning was surprisingly profound and yet also provided me with lots of gross anecdotes for cocktail parties.
  • I called Everyday Survival by Laurence Gonzales as one the best of the year back in January when I read it, and I was right. It's astonishing in its depth and breadth, and the way Gonzales brings it all together is breathtaking. In fact, I can hardly believe it was so good—I'm going to have to read it again and see.
  • And a special mention to Getting Started As A Freelance Writer by Robert Bly for planting the seed of the idea that I might be able to earn a living at this thing I do for fun.

Next year I'm going to try and clear out at least half of the two feet of my to-be-read shelf before the end of May. I'm going to try and read more novels, and I'm going to strive, as always, to be a more attentive and thoughtful reader.

[Posted at 23:37 by Amy Brown] link

A while ago I read The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer, for book club, but I forgot to write it down and therefore didn't blog about it at the time. It's about a handful of New York mothers who variously work, don't work, volunteer, don't volunteer, bake, don't bake, have great marriages or disappointing ones. It's about the choices women make about work and life, and about how you sometimes find you've made life-changing choices without really knowing it at the time.

Unfortunately nothing happens in the first 92 pages of this book. There are chapters and chapters and chapters of character development and backstory until you wish you could step into the book with a handgun just to make something happen. Finally something happens, there's a couple of chapters of action, and the book ends. It's all a bit boring and I probably wouldn't have finished it, if it weren't for the book club. Ironically I didn't end up going to the book club meeting, but I bet it was a good one. We always have more fun talking about books we didn't like, and despite the slowness of the story, this book provided plenty of discussion fodder for a group of urban mothers.

Heat Wave is a book "by" Richard Castle, the fictional protagonist of the TV series Castle. He's a well-connected mystery writer, played by Nathan Fillion, who shadows a sexy New York cop (Stana Katic) for research. The book is about a magazine writer who shadows a sexy New York cop for research. It was very disconcerting to read a book written by a fictional character, about a second-order fictional character who was clearly based on the first-order fictional character (who in turn is played by an actor who I follow on Twitter, providing yet another layer of reality/unreality confoundment). But besides that it was a clever and funny mystery very much in keeping with the TV show.

Another torturous read courtesy of the book club (it's been a bad year): Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn is a history of Santa Claus written as an autobiography, from the character's origins as a child named Nicolas who would be a bishop and later a saint, all the way to the portly elf we know today. Along the way Guinn explains how Santa manages to make all the toys and get all the way around the world so fast. He might explain some other stuff, but I stopped reading around the time Santa Claus convinced Queen Isabella to sponsor Christopher Columbus's search for a better route to India. The book is full of such Forrest Gumpian connections. The funny thing is, all the people that old St Nick befriends, including King Arthur, and Attila the Hun, share the same early-21st century belief system as Santa (and, I imagine, most of the readers of this book).

I love Christmas and I love Santa Claus—well, I don't mind him—but this book is simple-minded glurge. I would enjoy a real history of Santa Claus: how his story has changed throughout history, and what the changes mean in the context of their time. This is not that book.

[Posted at 23:37 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 21 Dec 2009

Greetings, visitors, and welcome to our funny little blog. Blog-o! is written by me (Amy)—I'm a stay-at-home mother who loves to read, write, bake, and blog about all of those things and anything else—and my husband Blake, who is a full-time work-from-home coder who likes to bike and eat my baking.

This blog is hard to put into a category—some days it's a mommy blog, some days it's a book blog, some days it's a coding blog, some days it's just an annoying self-absorbed emo blog. It's not what you'd call a focussed writing project. But it's us, and some people think we're pretty amusing. We'd love it if you stay awhile, poke around, maybe drop us a note. Enjoy!

(Note to regular readers: I wrote a guest post for Allie at No Time For Flash Cards and she was kind enough to link back to Blog-o!, so I thought I'd better say "Hi" to those nice people.)

[Posted at 23:08 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 20 Dec 2009
How folder modes work.

Earlier today, I was asked by Andreas Nilsson to give him a hand with a folder pane header bug he was trying to fix. In the middle of digging around in the code, I thought “I should really write this down, so that I can understand it later.”, and so here it is.

The main place we’ll need to change is in this object.

We start in the load method, which calls registerMode, to add the mode with its localized name. There is also a default list of modes, which will come into play later.

When the user chooses to cycle the mode, it calls the setter for mode, passing it the modename, which comes from the _modeNames list (which contains both the defaults and any newly-registered modes). Then, in the setter, if the mode is a default mode, it will fail the if-test, and get the localized name from the “bundle_messenger” string bundle. If it’s a newly-registered mode, they will have passed in a localized name which we will have stored in this._modeDisplayNames, and so we will use that.

The point of the bug is to switch the label-and-two-buttons to a dropdown menu, so at this point I think we should start with an empty menulist in the XUL, and in the load method add menuitems corresponding to the values in the _modeNames array. Then, in the registerMode and unregisterMode methods, we should add and remove new menuitems, which I’m hoping will just automatically show up in the dropdown. Finally, we need to change the setter for mode to not calculate the new name, but just select the appropriate menuitem set the mode attribute on the _treeElement, and call _rebuild(). At that point, I think we’re done, but only time will tell.

Okay, so this was really posted on Dec 22nd, but I wanted to back-date it so as not to bump Amy’s “Welcome” post off the top a mere day after she posted it.

[Posted at 16:45 by Blake Winton] link
Thu, 10 Dec 2009

While I was at the Toronto iPhone Tech Talks, I attended the OpenGL ES sessions by Allan Schaffer. Seeing the “Shock” demo was really inspiring, and caused me to want to try my hand at some simple OpenGL Shader demos.

The base XCode OpenGL ES Application template sets you up pretty nicely for some simple experimentation, the only things that gave me any trouble were:

  1. remembering to set the identifier to ca.latte.whatever so that I could build, and

  2. remembering that the OpenGL ES 2.0 path only ran on the device, so of course none of the changes I was making were showing up on the simulator1, and finally

  3. Figuring out that depth was position.w, and not position.z. (Did I mention that I’m a bit of a newbie at this?)

Anyways, after it was all up and running, I made the x and w co-ordinates vary on a different period than the y co-ordinate, and now the square moves around in 3 dimensions in a pleasing (to me) way.

A pretty square.

Since this is intended for me to play around with shaders, I’m not going to bother updating the OpenGL ES 1.0 code path, but if you’ve got an iPhone 3GS, or a 3rd generation iTouch, feel free to grab the code at BitBucket, and play around. I'll be adding branches and tags and keeping it updated as I play with new stuff.

  1. Rune let me know that Open GL ES 2.0 is supported in the latest version of the simulator. I guess I must have been testing with an earlier version of the SDK, or XCode, or something. 

[Posted at 13:16 by Blake Winton] link
Fri, 04 Dec 2009

A while ago I read the latest Kathy Reichs: 206 Bones. You know, if it were up to me, I wouldn't bother with Kathy Reichs. I really only read them because my mother reads them and it's nice to talk about them with her. Anyway, I guess I must like them well enough because I do read them. In this one our feisty heroine finds herself trapped in a tomb, struggling to remember how she got there and find out how to get out before it's too late! The mystery was mysterious and satisfyingly resolved, but my very favourite part of the book was right at the end, when Reichs let her character, Tempe Brennan, stop talking in sentence fragments for a heartfelt paragraph about the field of forensic anthropology. It was clear that it was Kathy Reichs talking, not Tempe Brennan, and equally clear to me that I would rather read a book about Reichs than about Brennan.

A Handful of Time by Kit Pearson. Twelve year old Patricia is sent from her home in Toronto to stay with her aunt and cousins— strangers to her—at their lakefront cottage in Alberta, while her parents sort out the terms of their divorce. Unable to get along with her cousins, she explores on her own and finds a pocket watch which takes her back in time to when her own mother spent her twelfth summer at the lake. Patricia divides her summer between her mother's childhood and her own, and discovers how to connect with her cousins and with her present-day mother. A Handful of Time is a beautifully written book with believeable, rich characters and a satisfying ending. Also, it made me cry. A keeper for the girls' bookshelf.

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinov is a stats book. I love stats—I really should have done stats at school, if any math—but it's hard. The human brain is not wired to understand risk and probability. The good news is Leonard Mlodinov makes it much easier to understand. This book goes over a lot of the basic principals of probability: sample space, the law of large numbers, bell curves, standard deviation, chi-squared. All that is the build up for what this book is about, which is how much more stuff is random than we think. Humans love to tell stories about the world, and when something apparently significant happens we would rather construct a narrative about why, than recognize that whatever it was was probably statistically inevitable, or at least not caused by whatever we're attributing it to.

This was one of the books I bought myself for my birthday, and I'm really happy to own it because it provides such good explanations for so many stats concepts, and despite being fascinated by statistics, I need to constantly refresh my understanding of it. Having this book on my shelf will make that a much less painful experience.

Speaking of bookshelves, my to-be-read shelf is two feet long and I committed to reading most of it before attacking my to-be-read list at the library, which is 50 books long (the maximum you're allowed to place on hold) or my to-be-read list on my computer, which is fifteen books long. (It would be longer, but I deleted it by accident a couple of weeks ago.)

As I say, I committed to reading most of the books on my physical bookshelf, but then I realized I'm not all that interested in reading a lot of them. Most of them are books that other people have given me to read, and I'm not excited about them at all, not in the way I'm excited about the books on my lists. I've got a dozen or more not-exciting books between me and the exciting books I want to read: that's not right. I've decided I'm going to sit down with all those books and reevaluate them. The ones I'm not interested in I will pass on, with no guilt. Life is too short to read books I'm not excited about.

How do other people manage their to-read lists?

[Posted at 22:58 by Amy Brown] link