Thursday, April 29, 2004

Gmail Update

If anybody reading this (whom I know) wants a chance to use Gmail, I have two "invitations" I can pass along. Drop me an e-mail.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Well, I've been using Gmail, Google's much-talked about new mail service, for a week or so now. Those of you who know me should know my "main" e-mail address, which I never publish anywhere, and never give to anybody but an actual human being. I have a couple of secondary e-mail addresses, which I feel free to ditch when I get too much spam. I recently got rid of My main two other addresses are at and I was intrigued, however, by Google's new e-mail service, so I thought I'd try it out. I was offered a chance to beta-test it, as a Blogger user, so I gave it a shot.

The 1 GB of space is nice. "You are currently using 0 MB (0%) of your 1000 MB." The main cool feature, though, is how fast it is. They use Javascript in a very creative way...basically, they load a whole bunch of information in your browser. Then when you click on an action, rather than contacting the server, they just re-write the page locally. Want to reply to something? Until you're ready to send, you don't actually need to talk to Google's computers at all. Opening a reply window can be done on your own computer.

I haven't really noticed the controversial context-sensitive ads. Well, in one case, they were, let's say, insensitive. I forwarded my work e-mail (whoops, there's another address) to gmail, and it placed ads on an e-mail a co-worker had sent expressing gratitude for the sympathy she had received on the death of her mother-in-law. That's not bad, in and of itself, except the ads were for "humorous greeting cards for all occasions." Oops. Looking closer, she had started her message with the salutation, "Greetings," which was presumably what the ad-bot keyed in on.

Well, I'm sufficiently happy with Gmail to give it a whirl as the e-mail of choice on that sidebar to the right. Of course, I'm obfuscating the address like I mentioned last year. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Haiku Tunnel

Last week we watched the movie Haiku Tunnel, which was recommended to us by Jon Kochavi last August. We put it on the TiVo wishlist, and it finally came up recently. It's sort of an "independent film" version of Office Space.

It's the story of Jacob Kornbluth (which is the actual name of the guy who starred in, wrote, directed and produced the movie), who temps as a legal secretary. When he "goes perm", he loses his motivation and starts to work on his novel rather than sending out some letters for a lawyer.

Since Christina has worked as a legal secretary, temped, and is working on a novel, she found a lot of familiar things in the movie. She often asked me to pause the movie so she could provide detail about the realism of the story. (Though it gets fairly ridiculous at the end.)

Anyway, in the unlikely event that you come across this film (say, on IFC), it's worth checking out.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Carmenere Update

Well, we ended up opening the Carmenere last night. One of the reasons we chose it was to go with the chicken we were having -- the label mentioned poultry as one of the foods with which it paired well. Indeed, although it was similar to a merlot, it was a much lighter wine. Christina, who prefers lighter wines, particuarly enjoyed it.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Wine at the Piggly Wiggly

Last weekend, when I was in Charleston for a math conference, I stopped by the grocery store to get some Diet Cheerwine. Imagine my surprise to find out that the Piggly Wiggly had a fairly decent wine selection.

Christina and I had seen it suggested on TV that grocery stores were good places to get wine bargains. Due to Maryland's liquor laws, it's rare to find a grocery store that sells wine in Maryland. I believe the law is that a corporation may only have one liquor license per county. In particular, there is one branch of Giant Food not too far from here that sells beer and wine. It's on my way home from work, but I never stop there -- they don't have an automated checkout, so it's actually faster to go out of my way to a different store.

We went there a couple of weeks ago, and the selection wasn't great. The few interesting selections were things we could get more cheaply at Corridor Fine Wine in Laurel.

The Piggly Wiggly, however, was a different story. I was looking for something to bring back to Christina, so I selected the Carmen Carmenere. As we had seen on another TV show, the Carmenere grape had disappeared from the vineyards of Bordeaux over a century ago. It was recently rediscovered in Chile, where it had incorrectly been labeled as Merlot. We're looking forward to trying it.

Friday, April 23, 2004

American Splenda

So Coke announced this week that it was launching a "low-carb" or "mid-calorie" soda named "C2". The news reports I saw first called it "low-carb," which was confusing. Basically, it's a semi-diet soda. "Low-carb" is just the latest trendy term that they're using. This brought up the question -- what's in it?

I'm at the point in my life where I don't need to be gulping down sugary sodas all day -- on the other hand, I do rely on a certain amount of caffeine to get me through the day. And I don't like aspartame (Nutrasweet). A few years back, Pepsi came out with Pepsi One, which replaced some of the aspartame with acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), a more modern and better tasting soda. I drank that for a while, but it's really only palatable when you haven't had enough caffeine to wake you up to realize what you're tasting.

There's another "modern" sweetener that's been gaining popularity -- sucralose (Splenda). As far as I'm concerned, it's a fine sugar substitute and is incorporated into such products as Healthy Pop Kettle Corn. A widely available sucralose-powered soda is Diet Rite -- sadly, though, it lacks caffeine. The same people make Diet RC, but the only place I've been able to find that is Arizona.

Sucralose is also the key ingredient in Diet Cheerwine. I've been drinking a lot of that. Unfortunately, that requires loading up the car with 20-30 cases of Diet Cheerwine on every visit to North Carolina. I think the closest place that sells Diet Cheerwine is about 3 hours away, in Virginia. Right now I'm down to my last case.

While a "mid-cal" cola is not a "no-cal" cola, given the marketing prowess of Coke, it should be more widely available. I hoped that Coke would see fit to use sucralose in C2, to provide me with an alternative to filling up on Vanilla Coke (mmm...Vanilla Coke) when there's no Diet Cheerwine at hand. Well as this article explains, they do use Splenda, but...

Coke's product will apparently contain a veritable cocktail of all the sweeteners that could possibly grace a carbonated beverage. That's high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame (NutraSweet), acesulfam K, and sucralose (otherwise known as Atkins' favorite sweetener, Splenda).

Ironically, one sweetener missing is sugar, but that's understandable given the wacky sugar tariffs the US has in place. Given the present of aspartame, C2 doesn't seem to be a good alternative. Happily, the article also explains, "Pepsi Edge, on the other hand, contains high-fructose corn syrup and sucralose." So I'm looking forward to checking that out when it comes out this summer. And maybe Coke will see the light and ditch the aspartame...maybe by the time C3 comes out.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Books for Sale

I was looking at my bookshelf at work yesterday, and I realized there were a bunch of books I had bought while I was in grad school that I hadn't looked at in years. Since I can get most books I need through the library at work, and since I've been on a push to clear off my bookshelf (I've recycled a bunch of old journals), I thought I'd get rid of them.

But how? Well, I'm going to try an experiment by listing them for sale on Amazon.

The first one I have for sale is Differential Topology. I should have priced it lower -- I meant to undercut the other sellers. As soon as I can figure out how to drop the price, I will. This seems like a good way to clear off my shelves, make a little spare change, and get the books into the hands of people who are interested in them.

And if anybody reading this is interested in differential topology...

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

American Splendor

Christina and I watched American Splendor last night. It was an enjoyable movie. It's a weird subject: it's a movie based on a comic book based on Harvey Pekar's life. Pekar is in the movie in several different ways -- as an actor playing Pekar (the main way), as himself being interviewed, as an actor playing an actor playing Pekar in a play, in archival footage of Pekar on the Letterman show...

The movie, as you can imagine, plays around in interesting ways with frames of reference. As Christina remarked, it doesn't have much of a plot, though. I found it fairly enjoyable. It wasn't great, but it was worth a 101 minute running time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Hugos vs. Nebulas

In a previous post from 2002 that kicked off my Hugo-reading project, I wrote:

The Hugos are awarded annually by a vote of science fiction writers (as opposed to the Nebulas, which are fan-driven).

Oops. Turns out, I had that exactly backwards.


I guess it's time to start over again. I made it up to 24 Hugos. Looking at the Nebula list, looks like I've read 11.

  1. 1965: Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. 1970: Ringworld, Larry Niven
  3. 1975: The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  4. 1984: Neuromancer, William Gibson
  5. 1985: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  6. 1986: Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
  7. 1992: Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  8. 1993: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  9. 1994: Moving Mars, Greg Bear
  10. 1998: Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
  11. 2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Of course, there have only been 40 Nebulas awarded (to novels), so it'll be a shorter list to make my way through.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


Ah, the South. Last night, I went to a chili dinner hosted by one of the professors here. The directions took me into a relatively new housing development called "Belle Hall Plantation." I found myself turning on "Antebellum Lane" to get to "Old South Way." As I alluded to Friday, I find the nostalgia for the "good old days" down here somewhat frightening. I guess "Plantation" is supposed to convey lazy afternoons on the veranda sipping cocktails or some such...rather than slaves in the field picking cotton. Or if I'm suspicious enough, I would suspect it is supposed to convey the former for one set of potential home buyers and the latter for another...if you know what I mean.

If that's the goal, it didn't entirely work. As I approached the professor's house, I had to bring the rental car to a dead stop to avoid a couple of kids -- one white and one black -- happily playing in the street together. That's the weird thing about the South. For all the messed up racial symbolism, there's at least as much racial integration down here as there is in most of the North. I'm still glad I don't live on Antebellum Lane, though.

Friday, April 16, 2004


Another article that I saw in the paper today (which I can't find online) was about South African wines, specifically Fairview. Apparently, they have wine called "Goats Do Roam", which is a takeoff on the French "Côtes du Rhône". I like antipodean wine, so I want to try some of this, especially since the article said that they just signed a deal with an American importer. The fact that it upsets the French only makes it better.

Amusingly, this wine was on the menu at Vickery's, where we went to dinner for the opening of the math conference I'm attending. But hanging out with mathematicians put me more in the mind of drinking beer, so I passed this evening. I'll have to keep an eye out for it once it appears in my local wine store, though.


As I was reading the paper this morning, I was struck by how sad it was to see forces loyal to the previous regime defying the United States and refusing to acknowledge their military defeat. It also explained why hotel rooms in Charleston, SC, are so hard to come by this weekend. They're burying some Rebel sailors they dug up from a Confederate submarine. Ah, the South.

I guess I shouldn't make too much fun. They're a lot nicer down here than people are back North.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Pacific Peak Merlot

As I've mentioned recently, we've been expanding our knowledge of wine. One of the issues we've come across is that to get good wine, you have to spend a little bit more than you'd want to for a glass or two a day. So we've been looking for an OK wine to stock around the house. We've recently come across Pacific Peak Merlot, which is a fairly mild wine that Laurel's Corridor Fine Wine stocks in the "double" (1.5L) size. This newspaper column describes it thusly, "You can even taste a very slight hint of plums in this one. It's pretty light but has good balance and no major faults."

Sunday, April 04, 2004


Ben and I went to see Hellboy yesterday. It was very enjoyable in the don't-think-about-it-too-much-before-it-falls-apart sense that X2 fell into. The violence was a bit excessive, but the hundred or so 8-year-old in the movie theater with us didn't seem to mind.

Afterwards, we came back here, met up with George, Paul and Doug for some board gaming. We played the Settlers of Catan -- well, I suppose technically the Seafarers of Catan expansion. George doesn't play Settlers any more, so we started it before he got here. Unfortunately for him, he showed up about 2 minutes into what turned into a 3 hour long game. We then followed it with a game of Carcassonne.