Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Monday, 11 March 2002

# 7 PM


Six hours of sleep just doesn't cut it. Even with caffeine. I've got to chase all over town taking back crap furniture and getting better furniture, but ugh.

I'd like to know how Perl has managed to get by for so damn long without real file handle variables. Yah, there's IO::Handle, but if you look, it's just creating references to uninterned symbols and feeding them to open. I understand this will be fixed in Perl 6; maybe in another decade or so I'll be able to write for that language and ignore backward compatibility. But I'm not optimistic here.

# 5:30 PM

my sister the interior decorator

Dara came up and spent the weekend here, mostly helping me clean up the apartment in ways that I should have done when I moved in. For instance, on Friday the living room closet was crammed full of cardboard boxes containing things I'd neglected to unpack after moving in. Now all the things are unpacked and either put away or queued to be put away. (I have to sort through some of them still.) The closet is being used to store organized and accessible stuff. The junk is on its way to junk stores and/or recycling centers.

She also gave me a bunch of advice about how to reorganize the apartment to make it more livable. We didn't have time to implement most of it; for instance, I did not buy a new bed and turn the futon into a sofa. I've got interesting pieces of fabric to hang on the bare walls in the bedroom, ideas for rearranging the living room and kitchen, and a few more things besides.

I did not actually clean the apartment. That's for after everything gets put away properly. Hopefully I can get all the work done in time to throw a party next weekend, as has been contemplated.

culture clash

We didn't spend the entire weekend rearranging my apartment; we went to see Culture Clash at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. This was their new show, Culture Clash in Americca, which is a rapid-fire tour of the country taking a look at various marginalized and not-so-marginalized groups of people, by cariacture. It's really amazingly good. I don't think I can do a coherent explanation, and unfortunately this was the last weekend of the show, so I can't exactly tell you all to go see it yourselves. Oh well.

shoddy furniture

One of the things my sister insisted I do was replace the metal IKEA "closet organizer" rack (which seems to have been discontinued, feh) that I'd been using as a clothes bureau, with a Real Clothes Bureau. I kinda liked the closet organizer. It wasn't ever going to fall apart on me, and I could get most of my clothes in it no problem. Dara decided it was too ugly to be seen out in public (not that anyone but me ever goes into the bedroom, but it's the principle of the thing). So we went to find a bureau. One case of sticker shock later, we wound up buying a pair of "Stackable Organizer Cabinet" kits from Bed Bath and Beyond. This was a mistake.

First off, they turn out to be a lot smaller than the display model made us think. In toto there are four drawers, each of which can barely hold the same amount of material as a standard paper grocery bag. This is roughly the same as the IKEA rack, but that had six drawers. So, I now have a more aesthetically pleasing bureau, but a permanent pile of clothes next to it.

Second, well, it's cheap particle board, and having put it together I have no confidence that it won't fall apart in short order. The drawer bottoms are fiberboard, nailed in place, from the bottom so you can be utterly certain that they'll tear out under load. The frame is screwed together, but only weakly; they seem to have tried to make the poor customer's life easier by drilling the screw holes so large that the threads just barely bite into the boards. And of course the nails split the particle board every single time.

The $250 Cost Plus bureau that gave us sticker shock is starting to look like a good deal at this point.

hey zack, how do you get thousands of foam peanuts into a beanbag chair?

With great difficulty. Not quite as much difficulty as the last time I did this, but only because I sort of know the drill this time.

If you look closely at a block of styrofoam, you can see it's made of thousands if not millions of foam pellets all stuck together. Imagine them not stuck together; that's what's inside a beanbag chair. After about a year of continuous use, they get squashed, and the chair becomes limp. Then you go to the friendly local foam-padding store and ask for a refill, which is just a big sackful of pellets. These pellets are bigger, about a centimeter in diameter instead of 2mm like the originals. I think this is so people don't go totally insane trying to clean them off the floor when, not if, they spill.

Okay, you have your beanbag with its double zipper open, and you have your sack of fresh pellets. Your mission is to get all the pellets into the beanbag. There are several hurdles. First, the pellets have effectively zero mass and accumulate static like electrons were about to be discontinued. This means they stick to everything, except, of course, the inside of the beanbag. Second, the opening in the refill sack is much larger than the opening in the beanbag. Therefore, you cannot simply stuff the sack's mouth into the beanbag and pour. (It only now occurs to me that I could have cut a smaller hole in the bottom of the sack.) Third, the pellets do not flow; they pile up wherever they land. It is therefore necessary to shake the bag while pouring, to prevent them from backing up into the opening.

My technique is to roll an old poster into a cone and use it as a crude funnel. This works relatively well. I have to stop every so often to shake the bag, but at least they don't spill all over the floor. I still don't have a good way of forcing the last few dozen pellets, firmly stuck to the sides of the sack by static, out.

this bears repeating

Patrick Neilsen Hayden, posting commentary on Cory Doctorow's weblog:

I've found it very useful, when sorting out what I think of some administration policy in the military or diplomatic realm, to ask myself:

  1. If I can easily imagine this being done by President Gore,
  2. How I would feel about it if it had been, and
  3. What I would do if I woke up tomorrow and found I had been transformed into a gigantic insect President of the United States.

(And no fair answering (3) with "Well, I wouldn't have got us into this position in the first place!" Current political leaders don't get to blow off tough decisions with that, so neither should I.)