Archive for March, 2009

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium)

Sunday, March 29th, 2009
Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Full Stem in Vase

At left is one of my [many] favorite flowers.

If I’m not mistaken in my specificity, it is the Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium), a flower native to Southern Africa.

The red pincushion flower is generally available year round as it is a long-lasting, woody stemmed, bloom that is apparently quite easy to cultivate in a hothouse environment.

In general, I’m trying to keep our house with at least one random bouquet of fresh flowers in a prominent area at all times. With our local farmer’s market, this has proven to be quite easy and, given California’s climate, there is always some locally grown bloom to be had.

But, I do like to occasionally mix things up with a bit of a bloom from something grown on other than this hemisphere. Fortunately, there is one vendor at the farmer’s market that has the occasional bit of imported oddity and, thus, I brought home a red pincushion for the first time in a long, long time.

I first met this particular flower when we lived near the corner of North, Milwaukee and Damen in Chicago. Yes, a six-way intersection. One of said corners was an amazing florist shop that continually stocked random exotica as if it were roses.

The blossoms are simply fascinating. Inordinately complex with thousands of little bits all arching together to form an almost alien like bloom.

In the photo at left, the blossoms are illuminated by bright sunlight streaming in through our kitchen skylight.

Perfect light with an interesting flower sounds like a great combination for a bit of a photo study….

Read the rest of this entry »

Scrabble and Minding Your Z’s and Q’s

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Gruber picked up on the recent or pending change to the official Scrabble dictionary to allow the words za, zzz, and qi.

Seems people are upset because of how this makes it so much easier to play said letters and pick up big points, since the z and q tiles are worth 10 points each.

I don’t get it. Or, at least, this smells like a rehash of yet another change is scary, let’s pretend this hasn’t happened 18 bazillion times before without the world ending story.

Certainly, za and qi make it easier to place the z and the q. But you still have to be lucky to have said letters at the same time that a bonus square — triple letter/word, double letter/word — is open to the left or top of an a or i with nothing on the other side. It happens, but not as often as, say, the ability to dump a j on jo.

And zzz is a non-issue. There is only one q and one z in a set of Scrabble tiles. Thus, to play zzz would require both blank tiles and you would have to play it to the top or left of a word that had a free a at the beginning or end. More likely than not, given two blanks and a z, it’ll be easier to play zoo, zoa, zone, or any of a number of other four letter words with a z in it.

Holy crap. I’m turning into a Scrabble geek.

Major App Store Scrabble Update

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I have always been a fan of Scrabble. When I was a wee lad, I used to play scrabble with my grandmother. She hated to lose any game she played, but she let me win most of the time.

When iPhone 2.0 shipped, Scrabble was one of the first games I purchased. The 1.0 release was a great standalone implementation and that still stands across all releases.

Beyond a generally intuitive user interface with pleasant graphics, the game features great standalone play. The AI is well balanced, with difficulty levels that are quite nicely tuned. At the most difficult level, you have to play equally as defensive as offensive to be able to win.

The first major update added Bonjour based play. Great for playing against someone who you would likely be better off sitting in front of the real game. However, clearly the foundation had been laid for serious online play.

And with yesterday’s release, Scrabble’s online play is here. Electronic Arts added full integration with FaceBook. Once you log into FaceBook via the Scrabble game, you can easily browse available games, create new games, and join existing games. When creating or joining a game, there is a sort of “time span” hint available– should the players expect the game to take an hour, an evening, or days.

Not surprisingly, there is also an in-game chat. However, the chat does not offer any spelling corrections as doing so would mean that you could use the chat to cheat at the game!

When playing another human, the game adds a couple of in-game features not available when playing the computer. First, there is a dictionary which lets you look up words, but offers no suggestions. It also displays all valid two letter combinations, just about the only hint in the game.

Better, though, is the Teacher button. After any play, hitting the Teacher button first shows your play in red and then shows the optimal points play in green. The source of many a Doh! moment, but it will definitely improve my play over time.

Excellent stuff!

(Oh, and I did go on to lose that game. My opponent started the game with a 98 point, 7 tile play and, thus, it was catchup throughout. I did manage to briefly pull into the lead, but had a few Doh! moments late in the game that ultimately cost me the victory.)

I am finding that the game joining functionality seems a bit broken at times. It doesn’t consistently find available games and sometimes lists games that are already in play.

Tom Bihn’s Bags & Customer Service

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Nearly 7 years ago and after spending years searching, I finally decided upon a backpack and computer bag. Specifically, I picked up a Brain Bag backpack from Tom Bihn along with a Brain Cell for my computer that snaps into the Brain Bag.

Best. Bag. Ever. Beyond being well made, the design focuses on usability. All pockets are easily accessible, secure, and the zippers are all stitched such that your stuff stays dry even in heavy rains.

After 7 years of medium to heavy use my only complaint is that the damned thing still looks new! Not even a stressed seam, much less a hole, rip, tear, or other defect. I’m only complaining because I have no reason to buy a new bag from Tom Bihn but, damnit, the new designs are cool!

Beyond making great bags, Bihn’s customer service can’t be beat. Twice, I have “lost” 1/2 of the buckle for the waist strap on my brain bag (“lost” as in “n year old slides it off and hides it somewhere, never to be found”).

Both times, I contacted Tom Bihn and had replacements within days. The first time, they drop shipped me one, no questions asked and no $$ paid. This last time, I insisted on buying something to at least cover the shipping. Now I have an awesome little strap extender thingy and they dropped in both a replacement piece and an entire extra buckle, just in case.

Awesome products. Awesome company.

Now, if they would just make a camera bag….

Fatblogging: Walking the Infinite Loop

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Remodeling during the winter has been unkind to my girlish figure.

Terribly coincidental, my Mii rolled onto the screen in Wii Fit this morning.

Step #1. Do something. Anything.

A 10 minute walk a day around the infinite loop is, at the very least, a start.

Today (3/19) was 2x around the infinite loop. Next week, the cycling to/from work begins, assuming I have finally shaken this stupid early spring cough (can’t tell if I’m ill or this is just allergies).

And I got an unexpected hour of gardening in late on 3/20. Need to photo-document the unbelievably dangerous device we use to turn fava bean plants into the best green fertilizer ever.