John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Heading to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

October 27th, 2010

Now that I’ve got the camera, I’m going to really put it to use.  This weekend will be a nice trial run because on Friday morning we’re heading up to Virginia and on Saturday we’ll be walking along to see the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

What is it about?  Well.. kind of… sort of…

The first I heard of it was as a crazy idea posted to Reddit.  Someone had a dream of a Colbert rally mocking Glen Beck, and we all thought it was hilarious.

Well, someone else thought it would be something worth running with, and convinced a whole bunch of us to donate to Colbert’s favorite causes through – in hopes of getting their attention for the idea.  By the time Reddit had completed the self-planned donation marathon, people at the Comedy Central studios were starting to notice $$$ signs.

So what is it about?  It really is just a series of jokes being made about jokes (like Beck).

Oddly enough though, some people are taking this very seriously and some on the left have created a bit of their own controversy on Reddit about whether or not controversial causes should be represented or welcomed at the rally.  Specifically, it seems like a lot of people don’t want NORML to be there, even though the very idea behind NORML was that marijuana law reform is completely compatible with what we call normal day to day life.

In the meantime, I’m watching Colbert right now and he’s urging the audience to come dressed up in their Halloween costumes. So I really don’t know where anyone is getting the idea that this needs to be incredibly stuffy and held back.  I’m headed to D.C. for a fun weekend of political parody!

Anyway, I’ll be there in about a day and I’ll try to get as many pictures and videos as my memory card and battery can take.

Red cayenne peppers

October 20th, 2010

The red cayenne peppers are ripe – the green ones still need a little bit more time.

This picture was taken about a month ago.  By now, all of the peppers that are going to mature have been picked.  A few weren’t quite up for eating so I might save the seeds for next year just to see what happens.

These are really easy to grow, at least if you’ve got lots of sunlight and lots of rain.  This one sat in a little pot that I moved every week or two to maximize sun, and each plant in a five gallon bucket yielded about twenty spicy peppers.

And don’t be fooled – that small red cayenne does pack quite a hot punch.  I made the mistake once of cooking a sauce without removing all of the seeds, and I don’t know if my girlfriend will ever let me forget it.  From now on, I make sure that the seeds are long gone unless I’m planning to cook for one.

Since these peppers did end up coming in all at once near the end of fall, you might need a little plan about saving them.  I just bagged ’em up and threw ’em in the freezer, but you can also try drying them out for a pepper grinder; blending them in to a red pepper paste; or even blending with a bunch of vinegar to make your own home made hot sauce.  Dried ones should last a season, ones in the fridge are good for a month or two, and anything frozen will probably last you until long after the next crop has come in.

Street Nights

October 20th, 2010

When the night comes,
it creeps.

Every lantern
creates ten shades

And every star fails to light:

The corner,
the slither,
the rustling unknown.

A primal world comes back to life,
In the glowing shadow of man’s.

Butterfly Fight

October 19th, 2010

Two butterflies flutter about, competing for the attention and affection of a third butterfly. Be sure to check out the full screen for full detail – this one is in high definition.

I shot this one on a recent walk with the dog. I’m still getting the hang of this camera, but so far I’ve been pretty well impressed with the quality of the videos. Hopefully, I can find more content worth shooting!

Back online with a new design

October 19th, 2010

Like this small plot of land that the city calls a road, there was nothing here at this site for the last few days. In my rush to upgrade to a dedicated IP address and a new website design, I might have overlooked a technical step that added a few extra hours of delay to the DNS propagation.

Once I figured out something was up, though, Dreamhost had the tools and documentation I needed to rebuild my domain records for the new IP address. So after almost three years of hosting with them, I still can’t actually comment about their customer service team because every time I get close to putting in a ticket the automated system helps figure out what is wrong and points me toward the solution.

In addition to getting back online with my own IP address, I’ve also now got a new design on the site courtesy of the Theme Foundary. Now I can’t take any credit for this one because it is working great out of the box, but the last one I was trying to update had just fallen too far behind in terms of old functions and CSS rules.

Rather than worrying about all that right now, this Titan WordPress theme is beautiful in the latest verions of Firefox and IE – and it looks pretty decent in Chrome, too.

Things have been pretty hectic lately, but I’m at least glad to have this site back up and looking sharp. There are a lot of things going on at the moment but I’ve still sit aside time to head to the Rally in D.C. at the end of the month, as well as Art Basel in Miami this December. Hopefully my camera and memory card serve me well, and I can bring back a whole bunch of interesting pictures (and video!)

Best Buy has Civilization V – CompUSA and Game Stop don’t

September 21st, 2010

It is oddly hot and humid for late September, so this is exactly the kind of day I didn’t want to spend driving all around town and walking across long parking lots.  Unfortunately, not all of the retailers here in Jacksonville seem to share my enthusiasm for Civilization V.

In total, I checked out two Game Stops and two CompUSA stores.  At the first three stops, no one working there even seemed to know exactly what I was talking about.  At the second CompUSA, an employee confirmed that they did not expect a shipment of Civ V.  Luckily, that store was just around the corner from a Best Buy and they definitely had plenty in stock.

Civilization 5 Box Fresh from Best Buy

They also had some of the collector’s editions, but I just can’t bring myself to drop $100 on a video game.  If you’re interested though, it comes with five metal figurines, a two CD soundtrack, and a hard-cover art book.  Now, I love to support Sid Meier, Firaxis, and 2k games for consistently delivering on my favorite franchise, but I figure I’ll be doing that with all the optional addons and expansions that are sure to come out as this game gets more developed.

Most people will probably be downloading the game online from Steam, but if you’re like me and you like to have a physical box, be sure to head over to Best Buy.  As an added bonus, the box is manufactured with the environment in mind, so you don’t have to feel too guilty for creating more material products.  It is not like I’m going to throw the box away or recycle it anyway, it is going on the book shelf as soon as I find some space!

Well it looks like the installation is just about all wrapped up.  I’m going to go get started on this game, and I might even be able to get a full review of it out in the next few days.  OK, maybe I’ll need a week!

Basil in a concrete block

September 17th, 2010

So we decided to build our raised garden bed out of the cheapest stuff we could find:  concrete cinder blocks.  The bed soil didn’t end up being much higher than the rest of the yard, but having a little barrier did help a bit when it came to retaining moisture and keeping the weeds out.

What I was really interested in trying though, was actually planting something in the spaces of the little holes on the concrete block.  Would they act like little pots?  Would the space be too small?  How would the water drain or collect in it? I started filling them in with sand on the bottom and a mix of sand and top soil at the surface – this lets most of the excess water drain down but right after a heavy rain it is still a bit soggier than the rest of the garden.

I tried a few combinations.  Oregano in rich soil did two things:  first it started drowning, and then it burned out when the sun got too hot.  On looking back, it seems I should have given the oregano the driest and shadiest place I could find.  Oops.

Chives didn’t do too well either.  Concrete does have a bad habit of amplifying heat around it, so they also dried and shriveled up when the sun got too bright.

At least one herb did enjoy the location, though:

A basil plant rooted in the space of a cinder block

And here it is from a few steps back, so you can see how tall it actually got:

A tall basil plant in a concrete block

Now I’m not exactly used to cooking with basil, so I don’t really know what to use it for!  I did manage to make a nice blackberry vinaigrette dressing, but otherwise I’m stumped as this is only one of about 6 basil plants that got this size.  It would have been nice if some of the other herbs would grow, but I’ll consider this a good start and some experimental proof that it is possible to grow herbs in the spaces of a concrete cinder block.  There is actually also a garlic plant that got to a slow start in the cinder block across from it, but it has been a little bit back and forth from sun burn and steady growth.  If it survives and delivers some garlic before the frost, I’ll be sure to share that picture as well!

A banana pepper in the garden

September 14th, 2010

So the new camera is great at taking pictures inside, which is actually kind of rare, but it has a little bit more trouble trying to figure out what I’m trying to focus on when I am outside in the garden.

On my first round of attempts, I only got one really good photo of the garden:

Actually, looking at it again I think that thing is just about ready to be dinner.  When the color shifts just a shade or two closer to yellow, the peppers on these plants have been incredibly sweet and juicy with just a nice little bit of spice.  They’re great for a stir fry or even just eaten on their own.

That first battery charge is the worst

September 14th, 2010

So I finally joined the rest of America today – I finally got myself a digital camera. It is a Canon SD1400 IS and I have to say from what I’ve seen so far it is pretty slick:

The camera is pretty tiny but it is a powerhouse too.  Even at 14.1 megapixels, I should be able to fit about 2,000 pictures on my 8 GB memory card.  Even at 720p high definition video, I can still record more than an hour of 30 frames per second.

Theoretically of course, because as I hinted in the post title here I haven’t actually got a chance to use it yet.  Since a lot of rechargeable batteries depend on that first battery charge up to set the pace for their useful lifetime, I’m going to test my patience one more time with a little bit of charging overkill.

Now, I’m going to have to learn how to use this thing too, but it looks like for most of my purposes all I’ll need to do is point and click.  In fact, I chose this model because it seemed to be the best one for taking pictures indoors when you’ve got no clue what you’re doing.  Aisling assures me that if I’m serious about quality, all digital photos should go through PhotoShop before publication, but I’m hoping that this new gadget will be “good enough” in the automatic mode.

Anyway, I think it is time to stop rambling and get back to work.  That first charge though, it is a killer!  I can’t stop thinking about how much I’d rather be taking pictures.

Civilization 4: Colonization is buying us time until Civ 5

September 13th, 2010

Civilization’s latest sequel is on the way to stores this month, and the anticipation is high. Since I was introduced to the series when the third installment came out, I’ve been playing this game through all of its various sequels and expansion packs. You’d think that the same old concept would get tired after a while, but the quality of the strategy and competitive game play seems to only improve with age and refinement.

What really keeps the Civilization game going, in my opinion, is that each expansion or update is a significant departure from the tactics of the prior incarnation. For example, when Civ 4 first came out it seemed like early military conquest was the only way to get ahead – but by the last expansion “Beyond the Sword” you’d actually have a good shot winning with religious, cultural, and scientific strategies. Eventually it does get a bit predictable when you’re playing against the same person and the same computer algorithms, but that is where Civ 4 Colonization comes in.

In the Colonization scenario, you start off with two settlers (one is a worker and one a soldier) aboard a small ship headed to the new world. With the blessing of your king and early tolerance from the natives, you are tasked with setting up a colonial empire that is not only self-sufficient but also profitably exporting resources or even more valuable finished goods that can be fashioned from those resources. As you sell those products back to the European markets, you can hire more specialists to farm food, catch fish, or even build more of those manufactured goods like cigars, coats, and cloth.

Of course, money alone doesn’t make a revolution. Once you’ve got a decent trade economy set up you’ll need to put some specialized politicians in the town hall to whip up colonial dissent against the king. As your citizen’s patriotism rises so does their productivity – and the king’s fear. As the king gets paranoid he’s going to have to raise taxes in order to fund a larger army…

The final step then, is to build or buy enough guns so that you can field a force large enough to defend your cities and destroy the king’s counter-revolutionary army. The first player to eliminate all of their monarch’s ground units wins the game – and if no one declares independence the victor is declared as the player having the most points at the end of a set number of turns.

As the game goes on, all actions related to exploration, political exchange, trade, and military add up points for your founding fathers’ bars. If you collect the appropriate number of these points before your opponents, you’ll get the opportunity to trade those points in for a special leader who gives your colonies a specific advantage like extra liberty points, better resource production, or even free units. While these aren’t essential to winning, the person who gets first crack at the political founders usually has a strong advantage when it comes to who declares revolution first!