Friday, May 26, 2006

I borrowed my neighbour's pressure washer today, and it was fun! First, it's a water toy. Second, it's a power tool. These are two great things that go great together. It's a gas engine, thus loudish, and the spray nozzle is long so both hands have to hold on (one holding down the handle the whole time, which can get fatiguing but that's the worst thing about the job).

My red patio paving tiles were covered in scum prior to this afternoon. Scum came particularly from the eaves of our house, which drain dirty rainwater right on to the patio and then across the tiles to the azaleas. But even away from the path of the scummy rainwater, it was still dirty and black because the drainage is terrible and it rains a fair bit here in winter. I curse the previous owner of the house who designed the eaves and patio this way -- it looks good but isn't as functional as you'd think.

Using the power washer on this blackened, scummy patio is like spray-painting in reverse. With each stroke of the DirtBlaster® rotating nozzle it was as if I painted the tile its original colour. I discovered if I moved the spray nozzle quickly enough over scummy tiles I could see a spiral pattern, proving to myself that this nozzle indeed rotated somehow, although it circled so fast that the water output looked like the surface of a cone. It was like having in my hands a magical staff that fires a cone of cleaning.

After the red tiles, I moved on to the blacktop driveway, the concrete front sidewalk walk, and the back walk. Things got a little messy there, in the tight corner between two sturdy wooden fences, the ground was dirty and the power washer sprayed mud right back out of this corner and onto me. As I finished up I considered turning the power washer on myself, but concluded that a real shower would probably be more satisfying. I looked around for other things to clean, considered whether bushes and trees and wooden sidings needed power washing, and regretfully turned it off and returned it to the neighbour. Until next time.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

You won't find me talking about cooking or touting cookbooks much, so pay attention. Cook's Illustrated The New Best Recipe is a different kind of cookbook. You think you know how to make basic french toast? I thought I did. As it turns out, I had only a dim clue, and I needed to use less eggs, much more milk, some flour, vanilla and sugar. I haven't had this book for very long, I don't cook often, and I only cook for myself, as the man around the house prefers not to eat my cooking (probably for justifiable historical reasons). But every few weeks since getting this cookbook I've tried a simple recipe. Here are my results so far:

  • The french toast: amazing. Getting the inside custardy, and the outside not to taste like fried eggs, is a total win. Their way is not noticeably harder than doing it my old way. I even cheated by using the wrong bread (nowhere in the recipe did they even admit to the possibility of using wheat-and-7-grain bread) and it was still terrific.

  • Pasta tossed with oil (and a little garlic, parsley, etc): Very good and relatively easy, a solid recipe though perhaps not mind-blowing. I don't have much to compare to because I wasn't in the habit of making pasta without a sauce before.

  • Chicken cutlets: amazing. Brining chicken naturally takes longer, as does preparing the liquid, flour mix and bread crumbs to dip in. But holy fowl, does this make the most tender piece of chicken I have ever eaten, inside or out of a restaurant. Ever. I was worried because the breast meat seemed too moist when I started to eat, but the liquid was clear and the meat was cooked -- it was just that juicy. Again, I got this result even with a little cheating: I used frozen meat, mostly thawed by the time I turned it into cutlets. I only ate one piece fresh out of the frying pan and that was the one that caused the religious experience, but the cold or reheated leftover cutlets were also highly worth eating.

I guess the deal is that this cookbook explains so much -- not just explaining exactly what to do but why, for example what effect omitting some ingredient or step had in their tests -- makes up for me being the kind of cook who may sometimes take a few shortcuts. I have better guidance about what kind of shortcut really matters.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Colby Cosh points to this article on making more roads in Dhaka off-limits to rickshaws. Opponents of the proposal point out that rickshaws carry 54% of the city traffic using less space than private transport does, and that when more roads are put off-limits to rickshaws, their drivers' incomes dip significantly downwards. Overall, I have to say that it's nice to see reasoned debate on the topic of public transport including not only government-managed public transport but also privately-organized public transport. In most North American cities, it's easy to forget that there are many other kinds of public transport beyond the city buses and subway systems.

For a few years I worked downtown, on the close edge of the shopping and financial districts and right near a subway stop. But for various reasons the subway didn't work for me and I took the train. The problem with the train was that the train terminus was a long walk from the office (25 or 30 minutes) and I didn't like biking downtown. City buses were slower than walking! Sometimes I'd wait for a city bus for twice as long as the supposed period between buses, and then of course the next thing I'd see would be a packed full city bus with one or two empty buses stuck behind it (quite stuck, as these buses used overhead wires for power, and couldn't pass one another). Even after catching a bus on-time it was a toss-up whether it would actually move faster than a pedestrian. One day I noticed the jitney.

The jitney is easy miss despite the fact that it's an unusual vehicle, an ancient royal blue shuttle bus with big white amateur lettering. It goes from the train to various points downtown and back to the train. It only operates during prime commute hours and its schedule is carefully tailored to the train schedule. And it goes fast, taking alternate routes when necessary, changing lanes and sometimers letting passengers off on the left of a one-way street if the right side is too clogged. It took 5-10 minutes to take the jitney from the train to the office, was never late, and it cost the same as the city bus.

The problem? It was illegal. It's illegal to offer a jitney service to multiple passengers in most North American cities. That system allows public buses/subways and taxis to monopolize in-city public transport under limiting rules. It would also be illegal for somebody to run a private commuter bus service up and down the major highway here, and the public systems haven't integrated their services enough to do so (or perhaps have decided not to offer a more attractive option, so as to push people towards public commuter trains). It would be hard to change the status quo although some people are thinking about it.

I hope countries that still have creativity and open competition in public transport are wiser than North Americans. Keep those rickshaws on the road!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Finally I can prove that this is still a knitting blog, too. I lost a hard drive and I lost the data cord to my camera (separate events). These together made me have to do a bit more work than usual to post pictures and edit pages. But finally I've posted a couple pictures of stuff finished in March on my knitting page.

Also in my Flickr set, there's a related picture of my cat. Related to knitting. Well, she always helps me when I take photos of my knitting. This time I helped her take an even closer role, that's all.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jackrabbit is now a full Apache project, and Jackrabbit 1.0 is released. Jackrabbit is a reference implementation of Java API called the Java Content Repository (JCR). A repository that stores JCR can be used to store arbitrary data, just like a database can, but it's more flexible. Instead of storing data in tables, a JCR repository stores data in a hierarchy of nodes and properties. JCR can replace JDBC in many applications that require a structured repository.

Cosmo uses JCR to store shares, calendars, events and other resources. The reason we use JCR instead of a database is because JCR has a more flexible data model, and because a hiearchical data model is closer to the data models of iCalendar and the Web. There are lots of applications today that use databases when hierarchical storage would be a more appropriate model, but databases are so standard that it's still going to take a while for this alternative to gain ground. It's important to have a standard API for accessing this new kind of repository, so that a server implementation doesn't get locked into one back-end.

As with all new technologies, the reality still falls slightly short of the promise.
  • Cosmo has had to compensate for performance issues, particularly if a node has many child nodes. Flexibility has a cost, though I expect this will be improved over time.

  • JCR implementations are still rather new and I'm not aware of much interoperability testing, so we don't expect we would actually be easy to replace Jackrabbit with another JCR implementation and just have Cosmo work. Still, it wouldn't be terrible either.

  • According to BCM, both the XPath and the SQL query syntaxes that JCR provides didn't quite suffice for doing the kind of date queries we do, so BCM had to work around JCR to do time-range queries for calendaring. This kind of trick, bypassing the standard API to use the repository's own non-standard API, obviously makes the replacement issue more difficult.

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