December 2002

How to get ready for the holidays

by Michael Alderete on 12/28/2002

I have five brothers and sisters, which can make holiday gift giving very stressful, so many gifts for so many people. Years ago we simplified, with a gift exchange where we drew names out of a hat.

Well, that’s how my siblings did it, when it was their turns to run the exchange. In preparation for this year, my brother mentioned to my sister that I had “more sophisticated tools for assigning gift-receivers to gift-givers,” to which I replied:

This is the difference from me and a normal person: I looked at the gift exchange as an opportunity to spend some time writing software. I wrote some scripts that would select people out of a pool, randomly match them with people, ensure you didn’t get matched with yourself, ensure you didn’t get the same person multiple times, ensure each person got selected X number of times, where X was the number of people you had to buy for, etc. I wrote test scripts to make sure that the random assignments were at least approximately random. I thought about adding notification routines, which would send out e-mails with gift assignments without my intervention, so I wouldn’t know who got who. But then I decided that was a little extreme, and it didn’t really matter if I knew. Plus I ran out of time, and had other things to do. Uh, like my actual shopping.

Now, if you think of this as a learning exercise, rather than a personal obsession/problem, it would almost be reasonable. And then you’d ask for the software, so you could use it yourself. Except I wrote it in an relatively obscure product called UserLand Frontier, of which only Tim L. might have heard of it, and none of you would actually pay for (it’s $899 these days, but it was free when I was using it). Plus it has a really steep learning curve, so even if you got the software free, you wouldn’t know how to use it.

I suppose that, with about 3x more work, I could turn it into a web site, and that might actually be fun (uh, remember, think of this as learning, not being weird), but I don’t have it on my list of things to do in the near future (i.e., before NEXT year’s holiday season).

So, long story short, if you do a gift exchange, I recommend a hat.

Now, before y’all start e-mailing me about my personality quirks, Rochelle already beat you to the punch:

Freak! Freak! Freak! It’s clear to me that I SHOULD be taking up more of your free time so you don’t continue to “waste” it ;->

Finally, before any Frontier fans get upset about the “obscure” or “steep learning curve” comments, remember that Frontier is a developer’s tool, and I was writing to my family, not a bunch of programmers. I happen to like Frontier a lot, but I wouldn’t give it to my mother!

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 12/15/2002

“Food usually tastes better if an animal died to make it.”

Sad, but probably true. One only has to compare french fries cooked in vegetable oil vs. fries cooked in duck fat, the way god intended. (An approximation is to compare McDonald’s fries of today, fried in vegetable oil, versus the fries of yesteryear, which were fried in rendered beef lard. Not that I’m advocating patronizing McDonald’s…especially now that their fries suck.)

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 12/15/2002

“Finally, a champagne brunch with enough champagne!”

(The “brunch” was actually a champagne tasting, i.e., lots of champagne, no food. We just happened to go there at noon, so “brunch”…)

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125 million years of Command-N

by Michael Alderete on 12/15/2002


(# Mac Users) * (Avg. Years on Mac OS) = # of person years where “Command-N” in the Finder created a new, empty folder in the current Finder window, instead of creating a new file browser window.

Rough approximation

(25 million) * (5 years) = 125 million person years


The Mac OS X “Finder” throws away approximately 125 million person years by switching Command-N to create a new file browser window.

I don’t see how this is justified. There is no improvement, just change for change’s sake (or NeXT’s sake). It’s even arguable that the average Mac user creates folders more often than opening new file browser windows, which means it’s worse, even for people who are new to Macs.

This is a Bad Thing. Tell Apple.

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Gerard Boyer

by Michael Alderete on 12/13/2002

Photos of our meal from Gerard Boyer are up in the photos section. This was the best meal of our trip to France, and the most expensive. We both had the fixed price lunch of the day, with the only difference being our desserts.

I felt badly about going to this 3 Michelin star restaurant in slacks and shirt, instead of my suit, but we’d just gotten it back from the fiasco with Virgin, and I hadn’t had time to unpack it.

They still treated us wonderfully, and the food was spectacular. I would imagine that at different times of the year, or during different economic times, the dining room is packed, but we were able to dine peacefully in a half-empty room.


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Ads I actually like

by Michael Alderete on 12/13/2002 · 1 comment

In the course of shopping for the parts for my replacement server, I had occasion to use Google quite a bit, searching for information and vendors. One of the things I noticed was that I occasionally found more useful pointers in the ads than in the results, I was actually clicking on the ads to learn more.

And then I was shopping for, of all things, popcorn. Not just any popcorn, mind you, but the popcorn, oil, and seasoning packs to go with our Whirley Pop popcorn popper. The combination produces popcorn that’s infinitely better than microwave popcorn, and virtually identical to movie theater popcorn (of which I usually eat two bags when I see a movie).

I had started at, which carries the popper itself, but not additional popcorn packs. So I searched Google for “whirley pop popcorn” and got a slew of results, none of which was actually useful in finding a place where I could buy the packs.

Ah, but the ads! Of course, the ads are from people who want to sell me something — something I want to buy! And indeed, there were about a dozen ads from different popcorn supply companies. I clicked through a few of them, looking for the right package, and placed an order at the third store I visited.

It won’t be every day that the ads are worth more to me than the results, but I sure am glad that someone has figured out how to make advertising valuable to those viewing it, instead of a pain in the ass to be avoided any way I can think of. Kudos to Google!
Replacement Server
Whirley Pop Popper

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 12/12/2002

Q: “So, do you want to hear about my new phone?”

A: “No, don’t tell me. I want to be surprised.”

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Wine corks are good for the environment

by Michael Alderete on 12/11/2002

In the past couple years I’ve read of a shortage of cork (the raw material) to make corks (for wine bottles), and seen some of the results in the marketplace, with rubber and composite corks becoming fairly common.

What I didn’t know was that the artificial corks are bad for the environment.

A recent article in the BBC explains that the decline of real cork is due to demand falling, not supply, and the ripple effect is causing considerable ecological damage.

It turns out that not only is harvesting real cork 100% environmentally friendly (the trees are not damaged, and the rest of the forest thrives), but as demand has slumped, cork farmers are cutting down the cork trees to plant alternate crops. Yikes!

So, the lesson for us is, drink more champagne, which only uses natural cork for a stopper.

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Quotation of the year candidate

December 10, 2002

“If I didn’t nag, Michael would do whatever he wanted.”

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Phoenix rising, and changing its name

December 10, 2002

If you use Windows, chances are you’re using Internet Explorer to access the Internet. Which probably means you’re being bombarded with really annoying pop-up ads, or worse, while you surf the web. I don’t have that problem, because I’m using Phoenix.

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Champagne markers are here

December 9, 2002

Latest photos from France (yes, I’m still working on this), of the stone markers used to indicate which fields belong to which houses. We passed hundreds of these while driving in the countryside around Reims and Epernay.

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No migration, yet

December 8, 2002

OK, so my planned migration from the dying server to the brand new server didn’t happen. I ran into some configuration difficulties, and I have a take-home final due in class tomorrow, so I’ve bailed. Expect it to happen next weekend.

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