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June 30, 2008

From Nicole to Ted

I got my first letter from Nicole yesterday. Unfortunately it was just after I had mailed my fifth letter to her (every Saturday so far!), so our communications are substantially crossed. In the letter she included my name in Armenian letters and signed it with her name in Armenian letters. Since I type my letters on the computer and I know that there are fonts built in to Windows with Armenian (unicode fonts like Arial), I started trying to figure out how to incorporate some Armenian letters in my letters.



To create these letters on the web you have to know the 4-digit unicode number of each letter. Nicole's letters are: 1350, 1387, 1391, 1400, 1388. Each number has to start with an ampersand and pound and then end with a semicolon. It helps if you increase the size of the font.

Ted (1359-1383-1380)


To do the same thing in Word 2007, you have to use the hexadecimal version of the number. You just type it in, then you highlight the 4 letters and press ALT+X. The hex codes for Nicole are 0546-056B-056F-0578-056C. For Ted it is 054F-0567-0564. In previous versions of Word I was able to hold down ALT and then type in the 4-digit decimal number. When I let go of ALT the character appeared. Using Character Map is practically useless for this exercise.

It was helpful to refer to this page which lists all of the letters and codes as well as this page which includes the sounds each letter makes.

Now I need the word for "uncle."

June 29, 2008

Nice Picture

I was leaving the house today and there was a really neat butterfly on my purple cone flowers. In fact there were two of them. So I went back in the house and got the new camera, set it to macro, and tried it out. I don't think the butterflies liked the infrared autofocus, but they hung around long enough for me to get this one.


It seems to be an American painted lady, Vanessa virginiensis, in the family of brushfooted butterflies. It looks very different on top than on the underside of its wings which you see here.

I liked the picture so much that I cropped it and added it to my banner pictures at the top of the page. The pattern of the red-tipped flower spines is pretty dramatic up close along with the butterfly's pattern.

June 25, 2008

Signal Loops

We've been packing up stuff for our move at work this week. As part of that I've been going through trade magazines and catching up before throwing them out. One kind of interesting article concerned research into traffic detection loops in roads. As someone who rode scooters for years, I can attest that traffic signals that use detection loops can be very frustrating because the motorcycle doesn't always have enough iron in it to trigger the loop that sits in grooves cut in the pavement (even worse for bicycles). Therefore you get stuck at a red light that won't change until someone else drives up behind you (or you run the red light under the "malfunctioning traffic light" justification).

This article talked about changing the sensitivity of the loops, but it also pointed out that the best chance you have of being detected is to be right on top of the wire, whereas I guess I believed you should be in the center of the loop itself. Being in the center is actually one of the worst spots because it puts you the maximum distance from both sides of the wire loop.

Some signals use some kind of radar on the signal head itself that is pointed at the lane and therefore "sees" traffic waiting. The advantage there is that when you repave (every 5-10 years) you don't have to reinstall loops that typically get torn up or buried in a paving opeartion. I think those would be better at detecting motorcycles and bicycles too.

. . . and into the recycling bin it goes!

June 10, 2008

Light Bulbs

Tonight I went to Home Depot to get some 60 watt compact fluorescent bulbs and some 25 watt bulbs for my ceiling fan (which takes 3 lights and was down to 1 that worked). They had a special on the fluorescents: a 4-pack for $4.88. And they weren't even encased in a hermetically sealed consumer-proof plastic clamshell, nothing but cardboard. They're actually 14 watts and give off 60 watts of light (I wanted 75-watt equivalents but it was either 100 or 60). The stupid little fan lights use 25 watts and won't last nearly as long. And they cost almost as much: 4 bulbs for $3.68.

June 9, 2008

Your Mileage May Vary

Before filling the Mazda with gas, I figured I should have a range of about 360 miles on a tank of gas. That's 30 mpg times 12 gallons of gas. But as the fuel gauge sunk down, it looked like I wasn't going to hit 360. In fact I hit about 300 miles before the low fuel light came on. It took about 12 gallons to fill it which meant that I had only gotten 25 miles per gallon. I thought maybe the first tank wouldn't get good mileage or maybe the dealer hadn't really topped off the tank. But realistically I should have gotten much better mileage since a lot of the miles were on the highway between the dealer and on a trip to Athens for Michael's birthday.

So I was antsy as I watched the progress of the second tank. When the tank was half empty I had gone less than 150 miles. Some fuel gauges are off. As I got to a quarter tank and with gas prices expected to spike soon, I went ahead and filled up. With 197 miles on the trip odometer, I was hoping for about 7 gallons of gas to fill the tank. But soon it reached 8 gallons (down to 25 mpg) and then didn't stop until 8.8. I entered the numbers into my calculator right away and was disgusted: 22 miles per gallon.

Obviously from my posts on car shopping, mileage was very important to me. Based on user comments on internet forums, I was expecting 28 mpg and hoping to get 30 (the number Consumer Reports gave as the overall expected mileage), well above the EPA city estimate of 24. 22 is simply not acceptable (20% less than the 28 I expected), but I'm pretty much stuck with the car.

I think I will take it in for service and see if the dealership can find something wrong with it. Maybe one of the tires isn't spinning or the brakes are stuck or they left the oil out.

June 8, 2008

Text Message Spam

This weekend I got a series of text messages from 678-315-xxxx. It started with "Hey what's up?" Then I got two copies of the picture below (do you know this girl?). Then I got a longer message "Hey wesley its kirstin on ericas phone...im at the lake hizouse with her, and I don't get service down here...sorry..iloveyou"


I have no idea who this person or this number is, so I can only assume it is some kind of spam. There may be a chance that it is not since it is a local number. I don't know what Verizon charges for a text message (used to be 10 cents, now may be 25), but this spam has cost me (actually Jeb) from 40 cents to a dollar already.

June 2, 2008

New Camera

I wanted to get a digital camera before my trip to Ireland this Summer. Susan has a compact camera, so I was wanting something with a powerful zoom. I narrowed my choices down to two cameras: the Canon SX100IS and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4K, both around $230. Neither has a viewfinder and instead rely on the LCD screen on the back. Both use SD cards. Both are 8 megapixel cameras with optical image stabilization and 10x zoom lenses. The Panasonic's lens varies from 28mm to 280mm while the Canon was 36 mm to 360 mm. That means the Panasonic can take wide angle shots, but the Canon can zoom things in closer. I liked the wide angle feature because sometimes you can't back up far enough to fit something in the frame. From reviews I found, both cameras were ranked pretty highly and people on Amazon liked them.


Jeb said no question I should get a Canon. Consumer Reports seemed to rank the Canon a little higher, but Panasonic's repair history was better. The Panasonic is a little more compact and weighs a couple of ounces less than the Canon (9 oz. vs. 11). The Panasonic looks better too and I was leaning that way. Finally today I got the latest Consumer Reports which ranked the Canon higher than the previous (but very similar) version of the Panasonic. They also liked a Sony, but the Sony uses Sony memory sticks instead of SD cards, which was a deal breaker for me. The deciding factor was probably image quality and the Canon had the edge, getting a half full circle from Consumer Reports while the Panasonic got a neutral circle (one increment lower). Also, one thing I thought would be good about the Canon was it uses 2 AA batteries while the Panasonic uses a unique internal battery. But people were saying the battery life of the Canon was very short and the Panasonic was amazing. Consumer Reports, however, said they could take hundreds of pictures with 2 AA batteries, so that seems to be a wash (though I bet CR used some kind of super AA batteries that I am too cheap to buy).

So tonight I went ahead and ordered the Canon. It comes in silver or black and I got black.