Archive for February, 2004

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This ’n That

February 24, 2004

Just a few quick bullet items:

  • President Bush had some great lines in his speech last night. Here are my two favorites:
  • “The other party’s nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions. They’re for tax cuts and against them. They’re for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They’re for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They’re in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that’s just one senator from Massachusetts.”
  • “They now agree that the world is better off with Saddam out of power. They just didn't support removing Saddam from power. Maybe they were hoping he would lose the next Iraqi election.”
  • Last night I took Isaac and David sledding at Roby Park in Nashua. David has become quite the daredevil, which was surprising, because the last time we went sledding, he pretty much didn’t like the big slopes at all. (In fact, he used to beg to go to a nearby school for sledding that was about as thrilling as watching golf.) The slope at the park was mostly ice, so we got some great speed, and proved without a doubt that the best way to sled is to use David or Isaac’s smaller sled in front of mine, allowing me to hold onto the back of theirs and providing excellent steering.
  • Earth to the Palestinians: Want to get anything you want? Stop blowing up innocent people. One isn’t exactly going to garner sympathy by creating busload after busload of noncombatants killed by suicide bombers.
  • My team leader, Brian Cortez, gave us a milk crate full of model rockets and accessories. We will be repairing some of his old models (an X-16 looks particularly cool), and hope to have him present for its re-launch after so many years.
  • At work, I’ve been learning and working with the Jakarta Struts framework, which has been both challenging and fun. The only gripe is the number of “silent failures” that occur (a code-500 server-side error with absolutely nothing in a log file is not exactly easy to diagnose and debug).
  • The new commute is awesome. It takes me only about 45 minutes to take the kids to school and then get to the office in the morning, and I can get home in as little as 20 minutes. Even with slightly longer work hours due to the new project, family time has improved dramatically.
  • The new house, with the entire first-floor in an open layout, is also very good for family interaction and activities. I also have to thank Nichelle for her graciousness in allowing the Lego collection to stay out for days at a time.
  • Speaking of Lego, the new family room has enough room to spread out and build, and we are developing the habit of spending Saturday mornings building with Lego. It’s been great, although I’m still missing one box of miscellaneous Lego that got shuffled in the move.
  • Speaking of Lego, I have to commend them on their customer service. I e-mailed them a suggestion on improving the Lunar Lander set, by using gold visors for the astronauts (instead of the clear ones provided), and they sent me six of the gold visors for free.
  • Moving out of state costs money! (God has provided all that we need, but we have spent quite a bit on car registrations, new licenses, new insurance, new cell phone services, etc.) It seems one has to spend money to save money. (Our car insurance will drop about $125 to $150 per month. Our new cell phone plan will save us up to $100 per month. Gasoline savings will amount to about $100 per month. School tuition is cheaper. Now, if I could just get out of donating 5% of my income to the State of Massachusetts … but the law on that isn’t likely to change!
     
  • The Route 3 widening is a few months behind the schedule that had been listed on their FAQ until a few weeks ago. They are now promising a “substantial completion” by May of 2004, instead of February. Still, that is not very far off.
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    New Arrivals at the Wilcox Home

    February 18, 2004

    No, we’re not having another baby.

    For a long time, Isaac has been begging for a second pet. He has had his crested gecko, Kim, for quite a while now, and has done a good job of taking care of it, and has wanted a snake. (Nichelle just bought a juvenile corn snake, named Jaden, but I do not yet have any good pictures of it, although there are a few on my friend Mark Sohmer’s BLOG.)

    I told Isaac if he saved up half the money for his new pet, I would chip in the other half, figuring it would take a while for him to save the $60 or so he would need for his half payment on a decent pet snake. Well, we stopped at the reptile store, R.J.’s Exotics, on the way home from church, and Isaac fell in love with a Pink Zebra tarantula, which was only $30, of which Isaac already had saved $15. He named it Chandan, which was on our list of gender-neutral names.

    David has been begging for a pet, too, and the store gave him a couple of goldfish (they raise them as feeders) for free. He is thrilled to finally have pets of his own, and named them Luke and Kyle. (Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn are characters in the Star Wars Jedi Knight series of games.)

    I have to admit, this tarantula is pretty cool.

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    Computer Problems

    February 13, 2004

    Last night Jedi Academy started acting funny. When playing a sound, the sound would start repeating, and the screen would freeze. Usually, after a few seconds, this would correct itself, but a couple of times, the graphics would get distorted (even after exiting the game), and only a reboot would fix them.

    As time went by, this got worse and worse. Eventually I ran through several of our games, and all of them that used advanced 3D graphics had the same problem. Some would freeze and stutter often (Dungeon Seige), a few would show the graphics problem right away (Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast; Star Trek Voyager Elite Force), and a few would work for a while (Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy).

    In addition to testing, I reinstalled the video drivers, sound drivers, and DirectX. The operating system is behaving just fine, and we're up-to-date on virus definitions and doing nightly scans. The problem seems to occur only with stuff that uses high-end 3D rendering, but isn’t confined merely to openGL, as far as I can tell. The DirectX diagnostics all ran perfectly.

    Other than losing the ability to play our favorite games on that machine, this has triggered abnormally high levels of anxiety for me.

    I suspect our video card has developed a problem, but am welcome to alternative suggestions.

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    Lessons in Rocketeering

    February 2, 2004

    [doug]This should also satisfy those of you who want pictures of our new house.(Well, not really, but there’s a picture of part of one room.)

    Phil Luchon gave “The Boys” (which includes me) an Estes complete model rocket kit for Christmas. We got permission from Pastor Miller to use the church ball field for launching (try that in Brockton!), and got two flights up on Saturday. The first photo above shows David when it was his turn to launch. John missed out until the next day due to what I thought was bad batteries, but turned out to be a dud engine. So, I bought fresh batteries, and some extra rocket engines, and we planned to have another try at it on Sunday.

    Sunday included the regular church service, a pot luck feast (dinner is too small a term for it), and an early afternoon service. We had a guest speaker, a pastor from Arkansas who is being interviewed to become principal for the Christian School. There was a lot of teasing about the weather and his accent—Pastor Miller has a great sense of humor, and both services were a lot of fun, while being spiritually fulfilling as well. Bryan Harrington may be interested to learn that his Temperature Conversion Chart got read from the pulpit.

    After the afternoon service, we went back out to launch the rocket again. After discovering that the engine, not the ignitor or batteries were to blame, John got as near flawless a launch off as we’d seen so far. Then I decided to put in a size B engine….

    The flight was spectacular. The B engine took off with enough power to send the rocket at least a couple of hundred feet into the air (we haven’t done the triganometry on any of our flights yet), leaving us cheering, “Wow!” and gazing awestruck at the power demonstrated by the rocket’s flight. (The blast was hot enough to mis-shape the steel splash plate where the engine fired.)

    Unfortunately, the chute deployed at an altitude high enough to carry the rocket about 100 feet downwind, just enough to get tangled in the top of a tree at the edge of the church property. Despite John’s bravery (see the second image above), he couldn’t get a decent grip on the branch it was on, so the nose cone and parachute are still up in the tree, until we return with some rope or a saw. Thankfully, we shook the body of the rocket (which is not weather-resistant) loose, and that is safely at home.

    That evening the church hosted a SuperBowl get-together, at which I dropped John off, while David, Isaac, and I built with Lego. (See the third photo above.) You can see that our new family room has more than enough space to spread the Lego boxes out while we build. The pinball machine and pellet stove are in the background, as are sundry other items that have yet to be unpacked. Nichelle is going to kill me when she sees which photo I’ve posted, but the fun is worth it.

    While I was at it, I put up a newer photo of Naomi, for her many fans.