Anybody want to join us?

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:09 pm

Alitalia has some cheap fares on flights to Italy and Eastern Europe this winter/spring.


Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:53 pm

I hope some kids come to our house to trick-or-treat.  Last year we got some, but not tons.  It seems like a lot of kids just go to the mall or something.  I guess that’s easier on their parents, but it doesn’t have nearly the romance of dodging door to door, hoping people can see your costume under your coat, trying not to slip on the ice.

It’s not icy tonight, which is good.  It turned chilly today, but the skies are clear.

Maybe Denny will post the pictures of our Halloween costumes soon, the ones we wore last weekend.  They were pretty rad, I thought.  I won’t tell you what they were yet, because I want to do a scroll-down reveal.


How not to build a website

Filed under: — Aprille @ 5:38 pm

There’s this hotel I think we’re going to stay in for our first night in Rome (we’re arriving in the evening, after closing hours for the apartment booking service).  It’s gotten excellent reviews, is moderately priced, is located close to the train station but not on the seedy side, and generally seems like a good choice.

However, their website is one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen in terms of style over substance.  It’s just terrible!  First, there’s a splash page with a big, slow-loading Flash video.  Then, once you get bored with it and hit Skip, the main page isn’t much better.  It too is Flash-based, and while I don’t have any problem with Flash per se, it needn’t be the basis of every single page.

Despite having the flags of different nations, which is a common way to signify that a page is available in multiple languages, it’s actually not very multilingual at all.  For one thing, clicking on a flag won’t get you anywhere.  You have to click on the name of the language under the page, which generates a little roll-over animation of the word.  Also, the names of the languages are all in Italian.  That’s not so bad for Inglese, but I bet there are a lot of German speakers out there who would be looking around for the word deutsch instead of tedesco.

Also, if you do manage to find the language you were looking for, it only helps a little because a good amount of stuff is still in Italian.

Please note that I am not taking the position that everybody should bow down to English speakers and cater to their every whim.  Half the fun of going to another country is trying out one’s language skills, and I love Italian and speak it decently (though probably as much through enthusiasm and flirting than true mastery).

I’m just saying that if their goal was to make a website that is useful, easy to navigate, and appealing to a wide audience, they failed big time.

Still, I guess we shouldn’t fault them too much for valuing style over substance.  After all, Italy is the country that brought us this:


My future holds a new computer

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:18 pm

I ordered a new computer!  I am very, very excited.  I hope it turns up before my conference next week.  It would be fun to give it a trial run on the road.  I also ordered 2 gigs of RAM that I’m going to install myself (because it was a lot cheaper than buying it from Apple).  I chose the white 13″ Macbook with the 2.0 GH core duo processor.  I like the looks of the black one better, but it was more money for not really much more computer, especially one I up my RAM.

I’m looking forward to it.  Latoya served me well, and she also taught me the important lesson of backing up my data (actually not a problem because I did always back up my most important stuff offsite, and Denny was able to retrieve pretty much everything else), but it’s time to move on.

It has a built-in iSight camera, so you may have to deal with lots of pictures of me making weird faces until I get over the novelty of that.  And I don’t expect that day to come any time soon.


EDUCAUSE’s letter to Blackboard

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:59 pm

I don’t know how many of you are interested in higher-ed IT issues, but this is a really provocative situation. To sum up: there used be two major corporations in the course management systems (CMS) game, Blackboard and WebCT. There are also many smaller companies and open-source initiatives providing similar products and services. The U of I has been a customer of WebCT, supported by my group, since 1997 or so; a few years ago, we started supporting Blackboard as well, upon the request of a college that had been using it and found the cost of supporting it too high.

It ended up being inefficient to support two systems, so a couple of years ago, we initiated a process to settle on a single system. We expected it to be either WebCT or Blackboard, since it was a cross-campus decision and those were the products our users were familiar with, but in the interest of making a well-informed decision, we opened the RFP to other companies as well.

Much to most people’s surprise, including our own, we ended up choosing Desire2Learn, a young Canadian company. The product isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than WebCT and Blackboard in a lot of important ways.

Shortly after we made that decision, we heard the news that Blackboard had acquired WebCT. Giant 2 consumed Giant 1, and now Blackboard has something like 90% of the CMS market.

Earlier this summer, at the Desire2Learn conference no less, we learned that Blackboard had been granted a patent, and Blackboard subsequently sued Desire2Learn for infringing upon it.

The patent is extremely broad; I won’t go into the details here, but it basically patents course management systems as we know them, the paradigm used by WebCT and all the little companies, including Desire2Learn.

This ignited an uproar in the higher ed IT community, not only because its groundwork is shaky, but because it goes against the spirit of collaboration so prevalent in the academia. It has the potential to ruin Desire2Learn, which is a small company that could be financially destroyed by a drawn-out lawsuit. It also makes other small companies nervous, and it makes people disinclined to innovate for fear of litigation.

EDUCAUSE is an organization dedicated to furthering technological advances in higher ed; they generally keep their noses out of vendor squabbles, so it’s extremely notable that they took a position on this issue.

Read their letter to Blackboard. It’s effing scathing (at least by polite standards).


Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:50 am

A question: why is it more acceptable to talk about babies’ bowel movements than adults’?

When I read the blogs of people with kids, I am genuinely interested in hearing about the inputs and outputs of their children. Maybe not everybody enjoys that kind of reading, but I do. It doesn’t offend me in the slightest. Other things that don’t offend me: breastfeeding in public, South Park, and the comedic stylings of Sarah Silverman.

But man, you write one descriptive paragraph about the results of a day that included high fiber cereal and whole wheat pasta, and nobody wants to hear about it.

Some of you may know that I’m writing a book. I warn you: the very first chapter includes an explosive bowel scene. It’s not graphic or anything, and I think it’s integral to the plot, but it seemed polite to let you know.

(Seriously, it’s comedy gold.)


A quarter century later

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:37 am

The rainy drive to work this morning triggered a memory of my first really scary nightmare.

I don’t know how old I was, but probably 2 or 3. In my dream, I was in my dad’s gold Pinto in our driveway, and my dad had run inside to do something and left me in the car. The car started going by itself and took off uncontrollably, veering down South Duff Avenue (a pretty busy street in a commercial area of Ames). It was raining, and the traffic lights were drippy, stretchy blurs, and I remember passing the McDonald’s and seeing the lights and sign all deformed. Everything went blobby, and it was very scary for little me.

I suppose it was a very early manifestation of abandonment anxiety (not that my parents would have ever let such a thing happen to me) and a fear of being out of control. Either that or it was just a random scary dream. I generally subscribe more to the theory that dreams are our brains trying desperately to contextualize the signals that are always getting bounced around. That doesn’t mean they can’t give you quite a fright, though.

The Spanish word for nightmare is pesadilla, or “little heavy thing.” That seems like a pretty good descriptor; it’s heavy in that it can really drag you down, even though you logically know it’s not real, and thus, small.

It’s funny that something so seemingly inconsequential from when I was a toddler can still elicit that kind of response in me. It makes me think of my toddler friends, like Maxwell and Daphne and Ava and Aidan, and I wonder what kind of experiences they’re having that will influence their entire lives.



Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:30 pm

When I was grocery shopping the other day, they didn’t have any fresh tomatillos, so I bought canned ones for the tomatillo sauce that goes on my burritos.  As I made the sauce last night, I thought, “Oooh, I hope this is as good as fresh tomatillos, because it’s about a billion time easier.”

Sadly, it’s not.  It’s too salty and lacks a certain brightness.  Oh well.

Here’s a little self-indulgence

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:43 am

Copy if you’re so inclined.  It’s a boring morning.

Examine your life ten years ago: 

Oct. 1996

How old were you?  19
Where did you go to school?  L’Università d’Iowa
Where did you work?  I had a couple of tutoring gigs and taught English to Mexican immigrants.
Where did you live?  Currier Hall, 2nd floor, Iowa City
Where did you hang out?  The Java House, Gabe’s, Gunnerz
How was your hair style?  I think it was a little past my shoulders and blonde.
Who were your best friends?  Aside from my Always Friends (Sarah, Sara, Ruby, Emily), I spent the most time with Jeff and Tina, probably.  I think I hung out a fair amount with Buffy that year too.
Did you wear glasses?  Nope.  Well, I had some super-glamorous rhinestone sunglasses, but no prescription lenses.
Who was your regular-person crush?  I believe I had the hots for this guy Dave from my Italian class.  He was a good dresser but not very good at Italian.  It turns out my cousin Laura now knows him in St. Louis, completely separate from me.
How many tattoos did you have?  Zero, same as now.
How many piercings did you have?  Just the ears, same as now.
What car did you drive?  I was rolling Katoonis, my 1991 Geo Prizm.  Good old Katoonis.
What was your worst fear?  Well, duh.  My own death and the deaths of loved ones.  What else is there?
Had you been arrested?  Nah.
Had your heart been broken?  Just in the melodramatic teenage sense.
Single/Taken/Married/Divorced/Bitter?  Single, I guess.  Dating but nothing serious.

And now…

October 25, 2006

How old are you? 29
Where do you work? L’Università d’Iowa (though I call myself a freelance writer when I’m feeling preeny; I make a little money off it but not enough to quit my dayjob)
Where do you live?  In a house on the east side of Iowa City
Where do you hang out?  In a house on the east side of Iowa City.  Seriously, I’d rather be at home than anywhere else, unless it’s an exotic trip.  It seems like I spend a lot of time at work, too.
Do you wear glasses?  Still no, except for sunglasses, and my sunglasses nowadays are rhinestone-free.
What is your hairstyle?  Dark blonde, about chin length, some layers.  Curly or straight depending on the weather and if I blow dry it or not.
Who are your best friends?  My Always Friends remain.  Other good friends are Denny (of course), Alyssa, and Jamal.
Still talk to any of your old friends?  Absolutely.  I’ve lost touch with some, which is a shame, but I’ve kept in touch with a good number too.
How many piercings do you have?  Earlobe 1 and earlobe 2.
How many tattoos?  I don’t like tattoos, at least for me.
What kind of car do you have?  Donatella, my 1999 Chevy Prizm.  I also sometimes drive Jim, Denny’s VW Passat.
What is your biggest fear?  It never changes.
Have you been arrested since, if so, how many times times total?  No, I am a nice lady.
Has your heart been broken?  Depends on how you define it.  I have felt some pain, but fortunately not nearly as bad as some people have felt (such as the death of close friends or family members).
Single/Taken/Married/Divorced/Bitter?  Married to the kindest-hearted person I’ve ever met.  Lucky me!



Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:49 am

Generally speaking, I am a thrifty person. I take great joy in finding bargains. I don’t remember the last time I bought an article of clothing that wasn’t on sale, except for maybe socks or underwear or something.

That said, I do enjoy high-quality experiences in life, so I don’t mind splurging occasionally on an amazing meal or a travel opportunity. Still, even when I’m in a splurging frame of mind, I do try to find good deals. For example, we traveled to the Caribbean for our honeymoon during the off-season, and we were able to get a nice hotel for a reasonable price. Likewise, when we went to Norway, it was via a killer deal on plane tickets. We also rented an apartment instead of staying in a hotel for most of the trip, which cut costs, and when we had to be in a hotel, I found a discount club to join that knocked the price down.

All this is just background to help you understand my dilemma. I love to travel, and I’m not cheap, just thrifty. It pains me to pay a lot when I know that if I just looked hard enough, I could find a better bargain.

So here’s the dilemma.

As I may have mentioned, we have some weirdness in our flight schedule for our trip to Rome (but I shouldn’t complain, what with it being a free flight). We have an eight-hour layover in Stockholm on the way over, and we have to stay overnight in Copenhagen on the way back. That’s not a problem necessarily, because I’ve heard Copenhagen is very nice, but it raises the hotel issue. We’re renting an apartment in Rome (cheaper than a hotel! right by the Roman Forum!), but of course we need to find a hotel for the night in Copenhagen, ideally near the train station so we can get back to the airport fairly easily.

Denny is a big fan of modern design, and Scandinavian styles are generally very much to his liking. I found a hotel that looks awesome: right near the train station and Tivoli (ironically, also the name of a place near Rome we might visit), super-modern and cool looking, well-reviewed on my all-time favorite travel site, TripAdvisor. It also has a suite designed by famed Danish architect/designer Arne Jacobsen. The suite is probably too rich for our blood, but they offer tours of it if it’s not in use. The bad news: the hotel is pretty pricey.

I usually believe in the law of diminishing returns when it comes to hotel rooms. It’s possible to drop a gazillion dollars on a place to spend the night, but once you cross the threshold into the “clean and safe” category of hotels, you stop getting your money’s worth. I personally am happy at a decent hotel as opposed to an opulent one; I’d rather spend my money on food and museum entrance fees and possibly one of those leather jackets they have in Italy that are so soft you think you could eat them with a spoon. There are several other hotels in the same proximity to the train station that look like they’d be just fine, for a lot less money.

But on the other hand…we’re flying there nearly free. We’re renting an apartment instead of a hotel to save money. Rome isn’t an outrageously priced city. This is probably our last international trip for a long time. Maybe we should just go for it and have our last night be posh.

If pressed, Denny would probably say to go with the cheaper place. He is, ahem, thriftier than I am (though he’s not a cheapskate either). But I know he’d love it if we stayed at the cool modern place. We’ve discussed it only briefly, when I went downstairs and pestered him while he ran on the treadmill last night, so his opinion remains undivulged. Maybe I should just pay for it myself and consider it a birthday present for him.

What to do? The hunt for Danish discount clubs continues, though I suspect it might be hard to find one where it would be worth it for just one night. It would also be cool to find some kind of club where I got discounts on pastry danishes. Dream, dream, dream.


Monday poetry

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:31 pm

Here we are again.

I didn’t know what else I was going to say until I realized that the line above could be the first part of a haiku.

Here we are again.
The merry-go-round goes fast.
It’s less fun with barf.



Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:43 am

Denny’s parents and brother are arriving this evening and spending the weekend with us.  I’m not sure what all we’re going to do yet.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the weather is going to be super-great, so outdoor options might not be ideal.  I still haven’t been out to the apple orchard yet this year, though it may be getting too late, considering it’s already frozen.

Today is my coworker Dave Priebe’s last day of work.  He is a good fellow and we’ll miss him.  The blow is slightly softened by the fact that he picked a good spot for his going-away lunch.

Anybody have any big plans for the weekend?  Any good movies playing?  Denny and I finally got around to seeing Little Miss Sunshine, which I enjoyed a lot.  I liked how Steve Carrell held his hands and arms when he ran.


Results, but not

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:12 pm

I’m not going to talk about Project Runway because Emily hasn’t seen it yet, except to say (and this is not a spoiler) that I think it was a decent decision.  I didn’t have a strong favorite among the final four, and besides, after all this exposure all four of them will have a future.  So…it’s fine.  Whatever.  I hope the winner takes advantage of the opportunity and does cool stuff.

The cheesecakes turned out well.  It ended up being a smaller party than I’d anticipated, so I brought leftovers to work, and they were gone fast.  It seems like Jeffrey (peanut butter cup) was most popular in the informal taste test, followed by Uli (fruit swirl), then Michael (chocolate with ganache–maybe too rich?), then Laura (plain).

I’m not going to comment on whether or not that was similar to the actual results.  *clasps hand over mouth and makes “mphmhmmph” noises*
In less delicious news…

For those of you who are concerned, my toe hurts less than it used to.  I have also been upgraded from “thinking about it makes me physically queasy” to “thinking about it is okay, though looking at it is still pretty gross.”


Oh, my toe

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:26 am

Warning:  this story is gross.  I strongly advise you to stop reading right now if you are the queasy type.  It’s not gross in that it involves zombies eating squishy brains or anything; it’s gross in an “I can imagine exactly what that’s like, and it’s awful” kind of way.

OK, so this morning I was getting ready for my run in the dark.  That is, the getting ready was in the dark; I don’t run in the dark, but I get changed in the dark so as not to disturb Denny.  I keep my socks and running shoes downstairs by the treadmill so as not to get confused about right/left issues in the dark.

I was feeling rather smug, because I woke up naturally about five minutes before my alarm went off, which meant that I would get to run at a slower pace and still cover the same distance.  It’s always nice when that happens.  It’s easier to face the morning at a gentle jog than a bat-out-of-hell gallop.

Aside:  you know that toenail fungus commercial where the creepy little troll guy lifts up a toenail like the hood of a car?  I warn you, this story is going in that direction.  You should probably stop reading now.

I was leaving the bedroom (or maybe it was the bathroom; it’s all a hazy mist of pain in my memory now), and I ran the door over my left big toe.  Up goes the toenail!  Out squirts the blood!  Yelp goes the Aprille! I wasn’t sure how bad it was until I got the lights on and examined it.  There was (is) a big crack down my toenail.  It hasn’t fallen all the way off yet, but once it does (and it undoubted will; as much as you try to tape these things togehter, they never fix themselves), I’ll be out about a third of a toenail.  And not the top third, either, where it would grow out all nicely:  it’s the right third.

I got it cleaned and bandaged up, and I hobbled downstairs.  Thinking to myself “you are crazy” the entire time, I put on my socks and running shoes, thinking I’d just give it a try, since I wasn’t going to get back to sleep anyway.  Oddly, jogging was less painful than walking, probably because most of the impact is on my heels and not my toes.  I got through my morning mile-and-a-half surprisingly easily.

The rest of the morning (and it’s still not even 8:30) hasn’t been so great.  Most of my shoes have high heels, and I didn’t want any extra pressure on the toe.  I found some flats, but it’s still no picnic when the top of my toe bumps the inside of the shoe.  I wish it were still sandals weather.
Oh, and I stubbed that same toe on the oven while I was making lunch this morning.  Crappity crap crap.

In better news:  New Lost tonight!  Project Runway finale tonight!  Cheesecake tonight!


White chicken chili for dinner

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:05 pm

It’s not even terribly cold out, but it’s grey and gloomy, so I’m happy that I have a crockpot full of white chicken chili bubbling away at home. Here’s how you make it.

White Chicken Chili

  • 1 recipe chicken stock or a few quarts prepared stock

(sort of time-consuming but easy: just fill a big stock pot with water, a couple of quartered onions, several cloves of garlic, whatever other vegetables you have around like celery and carrots, some peppercorns and bay leaves, and one package of bone-in chicken parts. Simmer for 45 minutes or so, then remove the chicken and separate it from the bones. Put the bones back in and reserve the chicken for later. Simmer for several more hours, strain, chill, skim the fat, and you’re done.)

  • 1 bag of white beans, like Great Northerns or navy or whatever you like. A bag is a pound or so, I guess.
  • 1 can green chiles, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, diced (or more if you like it hotter)
  • a cup or so of corn
  • a couple of teaspoons of cumin
  • a healthy sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • reserved chicken from stock-making, or about half a pound of cooked chicken, diced
  • Toppings of your choice: I like smooshed up tortilla chips, sour cream, salsa, cilantro, and cheese
  1. Sort through the beans to pick out any little stones or other crap. Soak the beans overnight. Discard soak water.
  2. Add stock, beans, chiles (green and jalapeño), corn, cumin, cayenne, and salt to a slow-cooker. Cook on low all day.
  3. Add chicken and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve in big bowls with lots of room for toppings. This freezes well and is good as leftovers, too.


Project Runway finale food

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:52 pm

I have an idea for what I’m bringing to the Project Runway finale party.

I have these 4 smallish springform pans, so I’m going to make 4 small cheesecakes, each one of which representing one of the finalist designers.

Laura:  Plain and simple, New York cheesecake
Michael:  Smooooth chocolate
Uli: Raspberry-peach swirl
Jeffrey: I haven’t decided for sure on him, but maybe something nutty, or maybe something that includes aspects I didn’t make, like mini peanut butter cups.  Get it?  Because of the controversy that he might not have done all his sewing?
Michael’s still my favorite personally, but I’m not sure I love what I’ve seen of his collection.  I don’t really have a strong favorite right now. I just like cheesecake.


You are my friend? You are found out.

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:46 pm

I was looking through my site stats, one of the most interesting parts of which is the search terms people use that lead them to my site.  I found several of my friends’ names in the search terms.  If you are one of the people listed below, people are stalking you.  Not counting me.

* Katy Baggs (3 searches)
* Denise Dooley (2 searches)
* LaToya Clarke (not actually my friend, but it is the name of my late computer–2 searches)
* Nick Beary (2 searches)
* Sarah Wentzel-Fisher (1 search)
* Kate Crall (1 search)
* Katy Obert (1 search)
* Sara Stevenson (1 search)
* Emily Olson (1 search)
Other funny searches:

* “famousness is good”
* “people trapped in quicksand”
* “hiking topless” (imagine how dangerous tree branches could be)
* “Denise Dooley naked”  (Whoa, Denise!)
* “buttcrack showing jeans”
* “Periodic table baby clothes” (no idea, but I want some)


Denny’s last day at work.

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:02 pm

Today is Denny’s last day at AT.  It’s kind of sad.  He’s excited about the new job, but he’s been here a long time and made a very good go of it.  His boss is especially sad to see him go.  We went out for a going-away lunch today, and his boss made a very touching toast about how good Denny was to have around, both professionally and personally, and how he will be missed.

Even our grumpiest coworker came along.  That’s how much everybody loves Denny.

I’m sad to see him go, too.  I’ve never worked here without him before.  I hope I don’t forget all my skills.  He’s promised to come back and have lunch with me pretty often.  He’s going to have to, because I’m the one who packs the lunch.


Ray Kurzweil is my hero

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:20 am

Oh, man, that keynote was wonderful.  It filled me with a great sense of optimism about our species and the advances we can make in technology and biology.  We hear so much negative news, about how this new cancer and that e-coli and this terrorist and that bird flu are all going to kill us, and maybe they will, but if the patterns of progress continue, there’s a good chance that they won’t.
I don’t know if Mr. Kurzweil is 100% on target, but even if he is 10% right, we humans are going to do some amazing things, and soon.  It’s all about exponential development, people.  Now I want to read his books.

What to do in Dallas when you’re Educaused

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:29 am

I’m at the second full day of the conference now. Last night, I was telling Denny about my day, and he asked me who the keynote speaker was. I told him it was someone from Google, and I tried to remember his name. “Vin… Vincent…”

“Vinton Cerf?” Denny asked, agog. I nodded. “He invented the Internet!” said Denny. To clarify, he invented TCP, a protocol that is the basis for Internet interactions.
Nobody mentioned that about him yesterday, though the guy introducing him did take a potshot at Al Gore. However, during his talk, Vinton Cerf actually gave props to Gore and mentioned some legislation he passed as a senator that helped develop the Internet as we know it. He also said he thinks Apple is doing it right, the way they store data that associates it with the app in which it was created. He also took a stand against global warming and suggested that we as a nation could make great strides in science and technology by applying the same sense of fervor and competition to combatting global warming as we did during the space race/Sputnik days.

He was a cute old guy, and he wore the ceremonial academic robes of the Balearic Islands, which bestowed an honorary degree on him one time. It involved a funny, multicolored fringe hat.

This morning’s keynote is by Ray Kurzweil, who looks to be a little nutty (but in a good way). Excerpted from the description of the session:

“The nature of education will change when humans merge with nonbiological intelligence. We don’t yet have communication ports in our biological brains to download the interneuronal connection and neurotransmitter patterns that represent our learning–a profound limitation of the biological paradigm we now use for our thinking that we will overcome.”

Denny says he’s kind of a space cowboy (edited to add: actually he’s more of a biospace nerd. To be fair, Denny didn’t actually call him a space cowboy; I extrapolated that phrase from his description). I guess that’s suitable for a tech conference in Dallas.

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