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Month: July, 2007

Learn me good

by Scott Smith

I have been struggling with programming languages. I really don’t want to program — yeah, that could be a problem. The outcome is what I want, to see the end-product make it from my brain to the screen.

For reasons I can’t talk about, I am forced to learn a programming language. Not just hack at some code, but really learn it so I can create something. This brings me today’s lesson: How do you learn?

Memorization is an issue for me. I can recite Joe Rudi’s stat’s from his playing days with the Angels, but can’t recall definitions of methods and arguments, not to mention when to use who and whom. This has always been an issue for me. One of the reasons this English major tried to ingest the language’s rules.

Do you know what I mean?

You read the best writers and you start to see the difference between sentiment and sentimentality. And the difference between descriptive writing and purple prose. I would struggle to explain to Madel why throwing a half-dozen modifiers in front of noun is a bad idea, I just know it is. Good teachers like McNally and Russo know this stuff, live this stuff and can teach this stuff. I can not.

Let me bring it back to geek things: How is it that I could pass every Microsoft SysAdmin exam on the first shot? Towards the end of my certification process, I studied a tenth as much as I did in the beginning. Microsoft server software made sense to me at some point — that was NT4 and Windows 2000 Server days.

I know it wasn’t the exam I mastered because Microsoft at that time was constantly changing the format. There was little similar between the Windows XP exam and IIS exam in terms of format or process — IIS exam used an adaptive algorithm, meaning the next question depended on getting the current question right and how difficult the question was.

At the time, I think I understood Microsoft server software on a different level. I never could tell you some upper-limit of AD objects or the like. Didn’t matter to me in my former position. It also required some sort of memorization. To my brain, Joe Rudi’s batting average and Frank Tanana’s ERA are important facts to memorize.

To fight my forgetfulness, I have turned to flashcard software (I’m using Mnemosyne). After a week, I can honestly say Ruby’s programming terms have not permeated my brain. Part of this is not doing what I have learned. The terms as applied to Ruby get jumbled and a class becomes a method and an argument… well, you get the idea.

Context is important. Doing is important. Only, when you’re first starting out, how do you make things coalesce in your brain? With the Microsoft stuff, I was taking the exams and working as a system’s administrator. For 40+ hours a week, I lived inside of server and workstation software.

I find it hard to reach the entry point with programming languages. After printing Hello World! to the screen, what’s the next step? Of course, I’m trying to learn web languages and you have to add in all the complexity of the web mix: HTML, JavaScript, web server software, CSS, etc.

Of course it isn’t programming that’s the problem, it is the learning method, understanding how you learn. I’d love to hear how y’all handle the new.

Where do You Hide Your Extra Zucchini?

by Scott Smith

Last summer I was sorely disappointed with my zucchini crop having planted it amongst the asparagus I didn’t know was there. Knowing what I know now about the space needs of asparagus, I planted more carefully this year and now have a bumper crop of zucchini.

I’ve been scouring the internet for tasty recipes with mixed results. Two members of my family are not big fans of zucchini, but I think I’ve found the perfect place to hide it from them…


chocolate zucchini cake

Mexico Works to Protect their Gastronomic Heritage

by Scott Smith

Mexico last year passed a biosecurity law designed to permit plantings in certain regions under controlled conditions to be set in the regulatory document.

The rules would likely prohibit farmers in regions that contain the oldest strains of corn from planting GMO material, Alvarez said.

Scientists have found evidence the grain was grown in Mexico as far back as 5,300 BC, placing it as the likely cradle of corn cultivation. The country has a huge variety of locally specific corn strains that farmers have bred over generations.

Despite that history, Mexico imports millions of tons of corn each year and was hard hit when grains prices rocketed in January as demand for ethanol fuel soared in the United States.

Reuters article.

Yard Sale in Hickory Corners

by Scott Smith

Yard sale in Hickory Corners, Michigan.

Date: 7/20/07 and 7/21/07
Time: 8a-4p
Where: 14415 S Kellogg School Rd, Hickory Corners, MI

Books (biz, creative non-fiction, modern lit), DVDs, furniture and much more.

Biofuels… errr, Agrofuels

by Scott Smith

An interesting article on the organization GRAIN’s opposition to plant based fuels…

I have to admit that I find the whole ethanol issue highly confusing. I can’t seem to get my questions adequately answered. I found this study which set out to contradict the claims that it takes too much energy to make ethanol in order for it to be considered a viable option (the fact that they had an agenda makes the outcome of their research suspect). Their results essentially say that we get twice as much energy out of a field of corn as it takes to produce. I guess that’s a little better than breaking even, but you have to use half of what you make in order to make more, so that doesn’t seem so great to me. I also wonder about the fact that ethanol is not a 1:1 replacement for gasoline. It takes more ethanol to create the same energy of an equal amount of gasoline.

CATO (also up to its eyeballs in agenda) offers this statement on ethanol. They don’t think a lot of ethanol as a solution to anything, listing eight lies told about the ethanol.

Lie No. 4: Ethanol is a renewable fuel. According to a group of academics from the University of California at Berkeley who published in Science magazine, only 5 to 26 percent of the energy content of ethanol is “renewable.” The balance of ethanol’s energy actually comes from the staggering amount of coal, natural gas and nuclear power necessary to produce corn and process it into ethanol.

This matches what I’ve always been told about ethanol. That its too expensive to make and that it makes air cleaner in the same way that electric power does: by moving the dirty part of the process somewhere else.

One of GRAIN’s major issues is what the new push for grain based fuels will do to the truly poor of the world. They report that the governments of developing nations are actually pushing people off of their land in order to use it for agrofuel production (GRAIN objects to the term ‘biofuel’ because of the misleading positive spin ‘bio-‘ gives it). Millions of hectares around the world are being made available through deforesting and other destructive methods (CO2 emissions anyone?). On top of that, farming creates as many CO2 emissions as our global travel needs do. So, what are we saving by jumping the gun on legislating grain based fuels?

E85 and gas mileage: Where lies the truth?
facts about ethanol

Working Without a Net (or an Ice Cream Maker)

by Scott Smith

I’ve been wishing I had an ice cream maker for a long time now. I love homemade ice cream, but ice cream makers are pretty pricey and not high on the list of our actual needs, so, I was stuck with store bought. Until…


Sunday night I made the base for my chocolate gelato (which is a fairly inexpensive, simple recipe as far as frozen confections go since it’s pretty much milk, chocolate and cornstarch) and put it in the refrigerator to cool completely. Yesterday I followed Alan’s (of ma’ona) directions for making ice cream without an ice cream maker. The results were fantastic and I’m thinking about starting on peppermint ice cream this rainy afternoon.

Indiana Let’s BP Take a Big Dump in Lake Michigan

by Scott Smith

For a while, back when I was into quilting, or thinking I’d like to be, I went to a huge quilt show in Indianapolis. I still remember my favorite quilt because it actually spoke to my personal Indiana experience. It was called “Indiana Memories,” or something very close to that, but instead of the obligatory rows of corn and tractors that so many people associate with Indiana, it was two little girls in bathing suits playing in the sand on the shore of Lake Michigan. Those are some of my happiest childhood memories; Splashing in the waves, climbing dunes and building sand castles. I also remember the ever present Industry on the skyline.

BP, who has a refinery in Whiting on the Lake, is considered to be a progressive company. I honestly don’t have enough facts to make any proclamations to the contrary. They have these really, really cute ads that make me want to buy gas from them and feel good about it, but that’s what ads are supposed to do. I suppose it wouldn’t be sales effective to show those cute little cartoon characters shoveling up this mess…
BP oil spill in Alaska

But back to those Indiana beaches… in exchange for 80 whole jobs, the powers that be in Indiana went ahead and gave BP a permit to dump 54% more ammonia and 34% more sludge into the lake than they already were. It just makes me sad to see the Lake going backwards in water quality for a handful of jobs.


Green Squatters

by Scott Smith

I’m a little late in posting about this. Barb! sent me this article about a group in Lafayette, Indiana (Purdue University Alliance of Libertarian Socialists) that has started planting food on a piece of property that doesn’t belong to them. Their idea comes from the 17th century English group, the Diggers. This idea of creating social equality through access to food and the abolishment of private property was also practiced in the 60’s by the San Francisco Diggers and, I think, is similar to the Fallen Fruit project I blogged about back in June.

John Slavin in the Lafayette Journal & Courier

I’m still not ready to abolish private property rights and give my land away, but I can’t help but find the idea of access to public spaces for the growing of our own food appealing.

Local Food Restaurants and Farmer Markets

by Scott Smith

First, is it Farmer’s Market or Farmer Markets? I can’t quite decide. Localharvest.org uses Farmers’ Markets.

There are a couple of restaurants in our area — we’re between the cities of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek — that make it known they use locally grown food. Does this affect your decision to eat at that restaurant?

I’m not so sure how much of a part it plays in my decision process. I think where is it, parking situation, are there GFS boxes being pulled out of the owner’s Cadillac, and have they made me sick on a previous trip. For some reason, my tummy doesn’t like eating out much, and as my wife says, I’m a delicate flower.

I do equate restaurants using local foods as better. If I’m going to the trouble of putting deodorant on and taking my ball cap off, I want to eat at a decent place. I figure if the chef is cutting deals with local farmers, they care about the food a bit more. It’s harder to deal with many small operations than a couple of big distributors. Riskier too, I should think.

I don’t leave my cave much, but I wondered how other people feel about local food.

My other thought was farmers’ markets. Do you shop there and think you’re getting better produce or a better deal? Is it an altruistic decision? In Chicago and Philadelphia, I didn’t think about whether it was local food or not. I liked the idea of a mall of cheese, meats and produce. Out here, I haven’t attended a good farmers’ market. Perhaps Robinson has some insight she could share in the comments.

Links to our local food restaurants — Food Dance and Journeyman.

Journeyman photo

Science Shows Organic Foods ARE Better for You

by Scott Smith

“The levels of flavonoids increased over time in samples from organic treatments, whereas the levels of flavonoids did not vary significantly in conventional treatments,” said the researchers in a recent issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Alyson Mitchell, from the University of California, and her co-authors say this is because of ‘over-fertilisation’ by conventional farmers. Flavonoids are produced by plants when they lack nutrients so for those crops given a large supply of nutrients in the form of fertiliser, there is little need for the natural production.