Sunday, September 30, 2012

Parenting 23 months: So much to explore

I want to learn more about dinosaurs

As T has been getting older, he has become a lot more mobile. That means he gets exercise. He goes to a neighborhood park every day and runs around with Grandpa. (Which means he is slowly leaning out. Weight is the same, but not as puffy everywhere like he used to be.) And he can choose what to spend his time looking at some more.

Dinosaurs are becoming a big thing. Early exposure was through Ni Hao Kai Lan!, as this is the title character's favorite thing. But now we have regular trips to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. And because Pittsburgh had a dinosaur everywhere period (like Chicago did one summer with cows), it is easy to find dinosaur things all over the place.

Here is a blue patriotic dinosaur

Other toys are Legos (he is getting the hang of his Duplo blocks) and trains set. Fortunately, he has not discovered branding, so we can get away with generic things.

Here is a bridge for the train

His playtime is becoming more varied as well. While he used to like to dance to Sound of Music and other videos, now he tries to sing. Of course, he only sings the words he knows and pauses for the other words, so it takes a while to figure out what he is singing sometimes. But sometimes it is rather impressive the words he does know.

Vocabulary in general has been picking up. We were worried about the iPhone use. But it turns out his favorite app has been a flashcard app, and he is actually learning the words (meaning he uses them outside the app). Animals, foods, vehicles, and shapes have entered his vocabulary. And he can somewhat read one of his books, "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" It gets fun when he improvises based on something in front of him. Once he was looking at a picture and went around the picture using the "___ ___, ___ ___, what do you see? I see ____ looking at me!" formula.

Socialization is still slow. He likes to play with the kids of the neighborhood, because they are old enough that he is like a moving doll to them. But he does not play with kids his age (ok, that is pretty rare anyway). While he likes going out with us and he will go off and explore (e.g. in museums or stores) he does not like crowds and gets pretty clingy around them.

Next up, the two year point!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Forcing a patina on a carbon steel Mora knife

I got a new toy in the mail. A Mora MG Companion. Mora knives are known as inexpensive, but reasonable quality, fixed blade knives for outdoors or light utility work. I used to have a Benchmade Fixed Griptilian knife to serve as my very-hard-to-break knife. But while it has been pressed into service to do such tasks as batoning wood and much food prep, reality is I don't do the kind of camping where a good quality, reasonably thick fixed bladed knife was useful. And instead of it languishing in my car trunk, I identified a worthy owner who has started outdoors excursions worthy of it. And I replaced it with the MG Companion.

The Mora MG Companion seems to be the successor to the Mora Clipper. Known as the cheapest quality fixed blade knife for use in outdoor survival (meaning light woodwork and food prep for backpackers and hikers). Also very light, so lightweight backpackers who wanted a fixed blade knife (because of strength and safety) would either get a small neck knife or a Mora. It is everything expected. Lightweight, handles like a rugged kitchen utility knife. And cheap so I don't worry about beating up on it. One problem. It has a carbon steel blade. This is ok in the kitchen where you can clean it right after use, but in the outdoors it is susceptible to rust. One way to handle it is to make the steel oxidize on purpose before it can rust. That is a patina.

Mora MG Companion as received

There are a lot of descriptions on how to do such a thing in the internet. Other than use (because it would develop a patina naturally, if you used it for a few years and prevented it from rusting first) the way is to apply acid to the knife. While blood works (from meat!), normally you find fruits. Popular food items to stick a knife into include apples, oranges, and potatoes. Another way to do this is to apply vinegar. And this is what I did.

1. Apply vinegar to a lanyard. I used the strap from a conference ID holder. I put a small amount of rice vinegar into a bowl, and used the lanyard to take it out of the bowl.
2. Wrap lanyard around knife blade
3. Wrap knife in a paper towel (to keep from making a mess)
4. Wait one hour.

 And voila! a carbon steel knife with a patina. So instead of shiny steel, it is a grey-blue-brown pattern. And I had to sharpen the knife when I was done. I think I rather like the fact that it is not shiny anymore. Some internet forums comment that the resale value on the knife will drop, but for a < $20 knife, that is not exactly a consideration. Especially since I have every intent to beat on this every now and then. So now, this knife lives in my car, ready for going hiking on a moments notice, or being around when we need another knife to cut food (without scaring everyone when I pull it out!).

 Mora MG Companion with rice vinegar patina

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review: PostgreSQL: Up and Running by Regina Obe and Leo Hsu

PostgreSQL: Up and RunningPostgreSQL: Up and Running by Regina Obe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compared to most books that introduce a full featured relational database management system, PostgreSQL: Up and Running is surprisingly short. It achieves this by being focused on its purpose, and doing it well. It is aimed at someone who knows a little bit about databases, although not necessarily a full featured client-server one, and brings them up to speed on both database server administration in general and PostgreSQL administration in general. It continues to introduce you to features that makes PostgreSQL special, making this a very valuable book to someone coming in to PostgreSQL from some other database, whether that database is simpler or a peer competitor. And since my background is from simpler databases, it works for someone like me.

First, this is not a book for someone who knows nothing about databases. Things such as database design, basic database concepts, and SQL is not covered, with the assumption that you get this knowledge somewhere else before coming here. (In my case, I learned on MS Access and SQLite) So what someone with this background may not have is how to work with a server based database management system.

This also has many sections that discuss some special features of PostgreSQL. The one that I thought was most interesting was the fact that you could write functions in one of many languages. Since I do much of my technical programming in Python, seeing how it is done was intriguing. (I've known that PostgreSQL has PL/Python, but the descriptions that I had seen in the past were obtuse and I had no idea how it would work.)

But this book also knows where to stop. Once I understand a topic to a base level, I'm used to looking to the web to learn more. And the authors consider the PostgreSQL Online Journal as an extension of the book, introducing an advanced topic, then pointing the reader to a quality source as a step in learning more. One advantage of this is that it keeps this book from becoming an intimidating door stopper.

In short, PostgreSQL: Up and Running has decided it will serve as a market that are not complete neophytes, but only bring people up to the point where they are better served by a rich set of advanced resources available on the web. And since this is probably a pretty good description of me, I found this to be a very good resource.

Note: I received a free electronic copy of PostgreSQL: Up and Running as part of the OReilly Blogger Program

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Sunday, September 02, 2012

A new (to me) Black & Decker Workmate 125.

My latest toy. A Black & Decker Workmate 125. We got this from a garage sale from someone down the street. The only thing he did with it was to take it out of the box. All the parts were still in the bags. When I looked at the instructions, I was not surprised. The instructions were almost unusable. (if you want to try to put it together, I suggest looking for the video on YouTube first). Like many reviewers, I found that many of the parts don't fit quite right, and there is a pin on the handle that adjusts the jaws that I don't really have in (a awl from a Swiss Army Knife works here in a pinch). Now, my wife says, I have to use it.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Book Review: Introduction to Regular Expressions by Michael Fitzgerald

Introducing Regular ExpressionsIntroducing Regular Expressions by Michael Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the first time I've tried to learn Regular Expressions. But other than some basic syntax, it never clicked. But I think this book provided the kind of introduction I needed to get me to not just know the syntax, but to get an understanding of how regular expressions work and how to learn its power. In short, it is not a reference, but a book that teaches me how to learn. And that is what I had not had before.

I've come across regular expressions on numerous occasions in the course of figuring out how to do tasks in various programming languages and tools, but I always found the idea of actually learning it daunting. And when opportunities came up, I generally figured out some Frankenstein combination of tools, functions, and macros that could get the job done.

What Michael Fitzgerald did was not to just give the mechanics of regular expressions, but his exercises lead you through exploring how it works by adding (or subtracting) various expressions so you understand the effects of each feature that is being put to use. The chapters add concepts that demonstrate the power of regular expressions that go well beyond the simple searching that many text or word processing packages use, starting with basic searches and pattern matching and adding markups, boundaries and anchors, back references, groups, alternatives, character classes, unicode, quantifiers, and lookarounds. Each step built up understanding and by the time I got to the last chapter I realized that I actually understood much of the new (to me) concepts that give regular expressions capabilities beyond search and replace that I was used to having in my tools.

Another useful feature of the book is the introduction of numerous tools to help work with regular expressions. He covers a few websites that help test regular expressions as well as features or add-ins for a number of text editors. He also covers how regular expressions are used inside some Unix tools such as grep, sed, and awk.

One thing that is confusing are various dialects of regular expressions. As he goes and switches between websites, Fitzgerald mentions that some of the features don't work in all the websites or tools covered. But he does not explain how to tell the difference. I half remember hearing about various dialects of regular expressions (for example, Fitzgerald mentions that grep does not have full capabilities) but some identification of this may have been helpful, so you can match the various tools you are using with the development environments you work with. So instead of observing that different tools are different, he could have identified some major dialects, and matched the tool to the dialect of regular expression (e.g. grep, perl, java, javascript). Even better, pick a dialect for the book, state up front that the book is based on a single dialect (in keeping with the fact that this is a pure introduction), and identify key areas where dialects may differ as you go.

Overall, highly recommended introduction to regular expressions. In my work in data analysis, I am at the point where I realize that I need to be able to process text automatically as the volume is too much to make doing this manually practical. I already surprise my colleagues with my ability to automate much analysis (they generally use MS Excel). Regular Expressions will enable what is indistinguishable to magic.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book as part of the O'Reilly Blogger program.
Introducction to Regular Expressions by Michael Fitzgerald

View all my reviews I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program