Monthly Archives: October 2007

A Microsoft-less World?

So, I’m preparing for my clean install of Leopard, which should arrive early next week.

Microsoft Office on the Mac stinks.  It is slow and eats up tons of memory.  It is just incompatible enough with the Windows version to be annoying.  It is the only major app that I have which is not yet Universal Binary.  And, while the next version of Office for Mac will be Universal Binary, it will drop all Visual Basic for Applications (macro) support.

But, I get Office documents all the time.  Actually, Virginia Tech is more heavily steeped in Microsoft Office than any other university I have ever known.  So, I’m not sure that I can drop Microsoft Office.  But, some of the VT forms I use all the time have macros and hence won’t run in the next version of Office, anyway.

What might work is to install OpenOffice and/or iWork for everyday use and then put the Windows version of Office on my Parallels Virtual Machine.  I’m pretty likely to give this a whirl for a while, anyway.

Oh, just found this post explaining in some detail why the Microsoft Mac Business Unit (MacBU) is dropping VBA support.  It makes me feel slightly better about the reasons behind the change (basically huge, scary, hairy legacy code), but I’m still not sure that I really need any Microsoft Office in my life.

Driving Environmentally…

I linked this article about hypermilers in my feed the other day, but I’ve been meaning to comment on it.  I hadn’t heard of hypermiling before, but I think it is awesome.  Bizarre, but awesome.  Granted, the people described in the article are insane, but it’s good to have a passion, right?

In any case, while I’m not willing to shut off my engine, draft 18-wheelers, or annoy other drivers to improve my fuel economy, reading the article has definitely caused me to pay more attention to the way that I drive and the impact that my driving might have on the amount of fuel that I use.  I think the main things to take away from the article in terms of real world driving tips are (1) avoid using your brakes when possible and (2) accelerate from a stop slowly.

It’s also interesting that the main subject of the article doesn’t really seem to care about the environment, in general.  He just thinks we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Burrito Redux…

Over three years ago, I bemoaned the lack of a burrito place in this town. Well, this fall a branch of Moe’s opened up downtown. The Burrito Blog doesn’t care much for Moe’s, calling it “the height of Moe-deocrity.” I don’t disagree, really, but it’s all we’ve got, okay?

I would like to remind my readers that burritos are the perfect food. They taste good. They often include all four food groups. They can be healthy, well balanced meal – or not. They come in a nice, compact, edible package. And, did I mention that they taste good?

I could probably eat a burrito every day. Maybe more often than that. Moe’s is expensive though. And frozen burritos from the grocery really don’t satisfy. (When you heat a frozen burrito, you inevitably destroy the tortilla, which largely defeats the purpose, as far as I’m concerned.) I’ve been thinking about making a big batch of burrito filling (probably chicken, rice, beans, salsa, and cheese) and freezing it in individual containers. Then I would reheat the filling, heat the tortilla separately, and combine. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Yes, I am obsessed. But in a good way.

Exploding Task Queue…

One of my favorite books on time management is Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster, who also has a very nice blog here. (He hasn’t been posting much lately, but there is much of value in the archive.)

In the book Forster makes a point which is both common sense and a deep result in queueing theory: If tasks come onto your task list more quickly than you complete them, then you will never catch up. Actually, Foster does a better job of operationalizing this principal: If, on average, you accept more tasks in a day than you complete in a day, then you will only fall further and further behind.  (By “more” here I don’t mean the number of tasks, but the amount of time/effort that it will take to complete them.)

I clearly need to reread his book, because I’ve been doing a smashingly good job of falling further behind lately.

On a side note, queueing is a very nice word. How many other English words contain five vowels in a row? Not many.


There is a bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate which has already been passed by the House that would close a loophole that allowed Seung-Hui Cho to buy the weapons that he used to kill 32 innocent people here last spring. It is a bill which is supported by the National Rifle Association (among others); it seems absolutely certain to pass, if it ever makes it to a floor vote. Basically, it gives states incentives to report those who are adjudicated for mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used to do background checks on people who want to buy guns. Since it is already illegal for these persons to buy guns under federal law, this is really just closing a loophole, since most states currently report criminal offenders to the system but fail to report those who are committed to a mental institution or compelled by a judge to receive treatment (as was the case with Mr. Cho). This bill might not have prevented the tragedy of April 16, but would have at least made it more difficult for Mr. Cho to obtain his weapons.  But the bill is currently being stalled by a hold placed by one senator: Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

For those of you not versed in obscure Senate rules, any senator can place a hold on a bill. This hold is, essentially, a threat to filibuster. It can be overcome, but it can take a considerable amount of the Senate’s time to overcome such a threat (unless the Senator is bluffing), and so many bills get held up for a long time by these holds. (Perhaps I’ll write more about these rules later, as I think they are fascinating and even perhaps useful on occasion.) But, I think it’s time for the Senate leadership to make Coburn (a Republican) put up or shut up on a bill with such broad support.

At the same time, Senator Chris Dodd (a Democrat) announced last week his plans to put a hold on the Senate FISA renewal bill because it grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally gave the government telephone records without a warrant. Will the Senate leadership (Democrats, remember) honor the hold of their colleague Senator Dodd, as they have the ridiculous hold of Senator Coburn? Rumor holds that there are plans to disregard Dodd’s hold and force him to stage a filibuster on the floor of the Senate. Good grief.

Shameful. Completely shameful.

The Dark Side of My Purge…

I mentioned previously my ongoing efforts with regards to purging stuff, particularly from my home office. This is generally a satisfying experience, and it has real benefits including regaining space and increased energy.  (I literally have more energy now than I did before I started casting off stuff.  I can’t prove causation, but the correlation is there.) But, there are two dark sides:

  • First, every load of stuff I carry away from the house represents money wasted. I’ve gotten rid of several loads of books – first to a used bookstore (which paid next-to-nothing) and the rest to charity (which at least gave me a good feeling and a tax deduction that probably exceeds what the used bookstore would have paid). My most conservative estimate of the original cost of those books, though, is well over a thousand dollars. In reality, it was probably much more. I got some value from those books, but they obviously weren’t favorites, or I wouldn’t be getting rid of them. I could have gotten just as much value if I had taken them out of the library. I’m not buying any more books, unless they are not available from either of our libraries (university or local public library) and I really need or want them. And that’s just the books.
  • Second, I always feel the weight of my environmental impact when I cart away a load of stuff. I keep telling myself that the point of impact was when I first acquired the stuff. For the most part, this is true. But I worry that I might be pitching something that I could use – leading to even more waste when I repurchase the discarded item.

The thing that mitigates these bad feelings for me (in addition to the benefits mentioned above) is the hope and belief that purging this stuff is actually teaching me something about the wastefulness of my consumerism and that these lessons will reduce my consumption in the future. I sincerely hope that this is true.