Pew Pew Laser Blog

Code. Glass art. Games. Baking. Cats. From Seattle, Washington and various sundry satellite locations.

Past Blogs

Review - Bad Astronomy.


I usually read two or three books simultaneously, not a single book as I may have led to you believe. Usually, I have a novel to read during lunch, and some non-fiction to read before bed (generally something scientific, gastronomic or historical). I may also have a technical book to read during my ever so rare downtime at work.

Last week I also finished my bedside book Bad Astronomy, by Phil Plait. Plait considers and corrects common misconceptions about earth and space sciences with a crystal clear and entertaining tone. Bad Astronomy may well be a spiritual predecessor to Mythbusters - author Plait and Mythbuster Savage are friends.

I especially encourage you parents of young children to pick up Bad Astronomy so that you can provide the correct and scientifically sound answers to their little questions. How many of you actually know why the sky is blue? I didn't, before I read Bad Astronomy.

Review - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.


I finished reading Susanna Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last week, and I can strongly recommend this delightful tale of 19th century magicians. Strange and Norrell was delicately crafted, extremely well written, and every character was strong and consistent to their nature.

The copious footnotes throughout the novel may seem excessive to the reader. But I thought that the footnotes were a very clever method of exposition that avoided long discussions with a know-it-all character. (Hermione, I'm looking in your direction.)

Not only is this one of the very few books that the husband read before I did, but it also one of his rare forays into something other than science fiction. In fact, I would classify this book in the fantasy category; as I would most of Neil Gaiman's work. One day, I do hope I'll convince him to give the delightful Jhereg series a try - but he's adamantly opposed to presence of dragons. (Though they were mentioned, no dragons participated in Norrell and Strange's adventures.)

The "What Changed" Method of Troubleshooting.


Last month at the office, Photoshop suddenly became very very slow to launch and open new documents. It was really quite unbearable. In fact, I had even noticed that Word was slower to launch, but that wasn't as much of a problem as Photoshop, which I use all the time. I happened to complain of this to our Creative Director, and he said that it was the new printer driver for the brand new office copier/printer, and I should set my default printer driver to the PDF Writer.

I never would have figured out that the new printer driver was causing all of my trouble. Even when I was doing tech support for printers, if a customer had complained to me of a slow computer, I never would have thought to try a different driver.

But I did switch the default driver to the PDF Writer, and then Photoshop continued zipping along as it had in the past. Until the next day, after I rebooted the computer. Sadly, it turns out that our IT group sets a user's default printer each time a user logs in. So I had to remember to re-set the default printer to the PDF Writer each time I logged on, or suffer with a very slow Photoshop.

After two weeks of this, I wrote a ticket to IT, asking that if they could not fix the new printer driver, to please stop messing with my default printer setting. The response I got back indicated that fixing the issue was a low priority item, and I should not reboot my computer so often. Sigh.

The good news is that just yesterday (3 or 4 weeks after I wrote the ticket), we have a new company printer driver. I am happy to report that both Photoshop and Word launch acceptably fast with this new driver.

More Women Speakers.


Last year, I attended a few of a series of monthly web design talks. During drinks after only the first or second talk, one of the organizers of the talks said that they needed more women speakers, and did I have something I'd like to speak on? The organizer's theory was to be that if women were speaking, more women would attend the talks.

I declined. I didn't feel that I had any unique topics that the group would be interested in, and I certainly didn't feel I had any great technical chops worth speaking of. I suppose I could have cobbled something together about building web pages for optimization, but I was doubtful that the topic would have been interesting to the group.

The 'more women speakers' idea rankled me. I assure you, I judge the value of a talk by it's content outline, and perhaps the 'cache' of the speaker - certainly not the gender of the speaker.

In fact, 'woman speaker' has a certain air of amazing spectacle to it. Think about the terms 'woman astronaut', 'woman engineer' and even 'male nurse'. The very inclusion of gender in the term makes it a spectacle.

Testing CMSs.


At work, we've gone through a lot of CMSs (content management systems) in the past several months looking for one that would work for us. We already have an excellent and perfectly functional working website driven by PHP, with it's own images, content areas and stylesheets.

We tried Alfresco first, but it was slow going. Alfresco seemed to require too many server resources and configurations to get it running. For quite a while, it seemed that we were tantalizingly close to having a workable setup. But there was always some new problem, and eventually we pulled the plug.

Next we tried EZ Publish, which had a very desirable set of features - but we had similar issues as with Alfresco. It took a long while to get set up, and we also had trouble keeping it running. On issue in particular occurred on two completely different installs. At least this time, we were able to perceive the fail, and we pulled the plug sooner.

My support folks were easily able to get a Joomla installation up and running, which was certainly an improvement over the previous options. But I spent quite a long time trying to figure out how to get anything done. Joomla's documentation spent a long time claiming it was easy to use, but I found it rather difficult to figure out. It seemed to me that Joomla wanted to teach me how to make a website, Joomla's way. I've been a web developer for years - I already know how to make a website. I see no reason to learn Joomla's way. Though Joomla offered a ton of features (bling, even) each feature had to he handled Joomla's way. Joomla may be a good option for a technical person without web dev experience. For my uses, but I was quite relieved to give up and move on.

Next I tried out Drupal, which was also easy to install. I found Drupal incredibly easy to use - I started grokking how it worked right away. In direct opposition to Joomla, Drupal's features are directly related in the language of web developers. Drupal has also got tons of features, so it's probably the way we'll go.

Though it had a smaller feature set, I was also able to have a play with CMS Made Simple. It was reasonably easy to use - again, I walked right in and quickly figured out how to do stuff. It's not as popular as Drupal, and CMSMS's smaller feature set will probably put it out of the running for this project, it is something I'd consider using in the future. I love CMSMS's bold statement on their homepage:

If you are an experienced web developer, and know how to do the things you need to do, to get a site up with CMS Made Simple is just that: simple.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.


I was very excited for the release of Puzzle Quest Galactrix, a spaceship themed puzzle game with role-playing elements for the Nintendo DS. Galactrix is the sequel to last year's underdog smash hit Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. This first Puzzle Quest, Warlords, was excellent - it was so infectious that I played it through twice. I've been playing Galaxtrix for a couple weeks now, and, alas, this version is not so good.

First off, Galactrix has an updated puzzle grid. Instead of Warlord's square Bejeweled-clone grid, Galactrix has a hexagonal grid where new gem's fall from any one of the six directions. I rather like the system - it's a bit more challenging than the old. But it is also less strategic, and much more random.

Secondly, Galactrix's mini-games just aren't as engrossing as with Warlords. The asteroid mining is pretty engrossing, and selling the mined materials reminds me of Dope Wars, as the prices vary at different locations. You can also craft items, but first you need to find a plan for the item, so I find it much more limiting than the more freeform mechanism available in Warlords. The rumor minigame isn't very interesting, and serves only to reveal backstory. I find the haggling mini-game to be rather tricky, and I usually just skip it since I have a ton of money.

Third, I've already maxxed out my character's level (50, for those of you who are counting). And just like in the previous version, I feel a little stuck with the level-up decisions I've made. I keep wishing for more Red Energy - there's nothing like direct damage for blowing up another ship.

Finally, there's a ton of loading between screens in Galactrix. It's really irritating. Every time I go from one screen to another, even into my inventory, I have to wait a few seconds while the game loads and saves my data. The loading quite tedious, and I'm quite sure that it could have been "fixed" somehow. There can't possibly be such an impossible amount of data to load that all that delay is necessary.

Galactrix is pretty good, but it's not great. Really, I would have been happy with Puzzle Quest II if it just had more of the same as Warlords. Ah well. It still helps to pass the time on the bus.

Almost Free Crepes.


A few yellow signs promoting a Saturday block party in our neighborhood were hanging around this week. I thought they were pretty cheap looking, but the husband pointed out a website on them - so we couldn't tell if it was some kind of marketing event or not. We resolved to check it out after going to the gym, we found that it was, indeed, a marketing event.

This "block party" was promoting a new quad of "townhouses" that had finished construction just up the street. I say "townhouses" because the units were 3 stories with the small footprint that is typical of townhouses, but they were actually free-standing houses with no shared walls. We toured the inside of the homes, and they're very very nice, but just very very small. The first floor has an entryway and a 1 car garage. The second floor has the kitchen / living room. The kitchen was beautiful, with small glass tile accents and a super wide window just above the sink. In fact, the all of the windows were huge - showing off the great views of downtown and Mt. Rainier, and letting tons of light into the rooms. The third floor had 2 bedrooms and a single bathroom - very well designed, but small.

I imagine that these homes would work for a single adult, but would be very cramped for even a small family. The advertised price is "from the $300s" - even $380,000 is a fantastic price for owning a home in Ballard. Seattle's home prices are suffering less than some cities, and Ballard is one of the better-off neighborhoods..

In addition to touring the houses, the "block party" had a firetruck and firefighters, a Zip Car kiosk, and free crepes from Anitas. (Well, the crepes weren't really free - the developer of the houses surely paid for them.) Yum - we love Anita's! I had a peanut butter and banana crepe, and it was delicious. And, much lighter on the calorie scale than those tricksy pancakes.

Back to the Fold.


Last week, I went to Seattle's Central Library and got my library card. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that this is the first library card I've had in several years. For someone who reads as much as I do, I really feel as if I should have had a library card in Seattle. Or even in Beaverton.

I decided that using the library was an excellent way to get one or two new recipes without having to purchase a whole new cookbook. I placed a hold on Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen which finally came in, so I will go pick it up tomorrow. I'm very excited to try the Butternut Squash soup with Thyme Creme Fraiche. I'm hoping it's the same very excellent soup we had at Teatro Zinzanni last fall. Leave a message if you'd like me to get you a recipe out of Douglas' book.

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