Sunday, April 25, 2010

The gift that keeps on giving

Two years ago, I wrote a program to download the archive of the Thinking Aloud radio program, and put it onto cheap mp3 players from woot. I gave several of these away as Christmas gifts. (This is as close to giving something "handmade" as I'll ever get.)

My sister in law Lisa liked it enough that she requested an update when she finished all the original episodes a few months ago. I had my original code, but BYU changed the format of their archive -- a lot. I ended up having to learn enough lxml to do the job since BeautifulSoup was now puking on something. But I got it done, and started transferring files to Grant via a free Dropbox account, 2GB at a time. (This turned out to be only about 6 months' worth of weekly-ish shows, since they are inexplicably encoded at 320kbps, 10x what you need for a non-musical podcast.)

But, there was a problem: something in the new shows didn't agree with the firmware on the [now] ancient Sansa player I'd given Lisa. It would play a few seconds and then give up. So after weeks of fruitless troubleshooting, Lisa sent me the Sansa with a package of birthday gifts.

I couldn't get the Sansa to play the new files either, but if I re-encoded the files with lame everything just worked. As a bonus, as long as I was re-encoding I could cut the bitrate down to 32kbps and with the addition of a cheap 2GB microsd card, I could fit the entire show archive up to the end of 2009 on it at once.

But first, BYU had changed their archive format again, and I hadn't kept the files that I'd already transferred to Grant. So I rewrote my downloader for the third time.

This is a long way of saying that: I am a pretty awesome brother in law. And, this totally makes up for the flowers on Lisa's birthday being delivered to the wrong address the first time.

P.S. to Lisa: I left the Sansa where Isaac could reach it and he ate the foam off your headphones. So that is why it will be coming back with a different set, than what you sent it with.

P.P.S.: more for my own use than anything else, the magical transcoding invocation was
find . -name "0*" -print0 |xargs -0 -n 1 -P 2 lame -a --vbr-new --abr 32 --lowpass 15.4 --mp3input --quiet


  • I'm old enough that I still reflexively hit the spacebar twice after a period.
  • Rachel: "I think Isaac is more stubborn than Matthew and Melissa combined." Matthew: "I'm not stubborn at all!" Cue disbelieving laughter from his parents.
  • Sometime in late March or early April, Matthew learned to roll his eyes when his parents say something dumb or obvious. He's been rolling his eyes a lot.
  • Isaac kept trying to climb into my lap while I was signing legal papers. I thought he was being affectionate. No: he just wanted my pen.
  • I'm lying on the couch with a blanket over my head. I hear Matthew approach: "Dad?" I ignore him. "Dad?" I ignore him again. "Dad?" I decide he's not getting the hint, and answer, What? "Dad, what does this thing go to?" I reply that first, I can't see the thing with a blanket over my head, and second, do I look like I want to answer thing-questions now? "No?" Great moments in parenting.
  • I was teasing Matthew that we were having boiled monkey brains for dinner. He didn't believe me. Then I told him that Rachel and I ate snails on Friday night. He didn't believe that either; truth is stranger than fiction.
  • Isaac really liked the Richard Scarry VHS tapes Rachel got, but then our VCR died. I torrented some to our ps3 to replace them. Kind of amazing that VHS-quality rips are only about 0.5GB/hr.
  • Filed for an extension on my federal taxes again this year. Rachel was not pleased, but last year was my easiest return ever: called the IRS around September, had them fax all the forms they'd received about me over, filled them in on the return, no sweat.
  • My toddler-level French is mostly pretty good -- I picked up a surprising amount by osmosis when my father was speaking to my youngest sister. But I lapse into English with Isaac when I am frustrated with him, because I haven't heard enough examples of idiomatic French for those situations. Guess Dad was more patient than I am.
  • Dad: explains how to demonstrate CO2 density by pouring it over a candle. "Matthew's old enough to enjoy that." Me: "I'm not sure how Rachel would feel about Matthew and flames." Dad: "Are you kidding? I was playing with firecrackers when I was five!" Me: "I'm not sure Rachel will find that line of reasoning convincing." (On investigation, Rachel is "probably" okay with Matthew lighting a candle, with supervision.)
  • I started using Google Calendar but I still get surprised by appointments because I draw the little boxes on the wrong days.

Matthew likes public speaking

Originally uploaded by jbellis
Matthew likes to volunteer to give talks in Sunday School. I guess he likes the attention, but his mom and I are tired of it, because we (well, mostly Rachel) do 90% of the work preparing the talk.

This time I sat him at the table with a paper and pencil and told him to get started. He complained and complained about how he couldn't do it. "If you don't want to prepare a talk, volunteer to read a scripture or say a prayer instead," I told him.

Rachel rescued him eventually, but with luck that will be enough to get him to think twice next time.

The fair that wasn't

Originally uploaded by jbellis
We drove to downtown San Antonio yesterday for the King William Fair, part of Fiesta. We thought it was supposed to run from 5 to midnight, but when we got at 6 there the traffic looked like this: all heading out the way we were going in.

Turned out it had run until midnight yesterday, but today it was from the morning until 5 PM.

To add insult to injury, the kids were hungry and all the local restaurants had closed, except for a very second-rate hamburger joint that was the 4th place we tried.

The mother of invention

Originally uploaded by jbellis
One of the neighbor kids, Franco, tied a rope to his jeep and was giving wagon rides with it. Isaac and Melissa both loved it.

In the car

Originally uploaded by jbellis
Isaac is an optimist. Whenever I tell him, "on monte en voiture!" [time to get in the car!] he can't wait to get in, because maybe I'm going to let him drive.

99% of the time, of course, I buckle him in his carseat, and he kicks and screams. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm the king of bait and switch.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Easter was lovely this year. The kids were up well before the crack of dawn (how do they do it?) and were dancing all over the house. Melissa and Matthew raided their Easter baskets while waiting for Isaac and Daddy to get up, but I made them eat bananas and boiled eggs before candy. Isaac got the first shot at the egg hunt with Matthew and Melissa pointing the eggs out for him. It didn't last long. Once Isaac realized that there was candy in the eggs he plopped himself down and started shoveling candy in his mouth. At that point we set Matthew and Melissa loose to find their own eggs and approximately 1.5 minutes later they'd found all 50. As usual, the Easter bunny left a new tooth brush in each basket. Smart bunny.

We took them to the church to hear Conference hoping that the atmosphere would inspire them to listen to at least part of it. Isaac was ready for a nap though, and bored so either Jon or I spent the majority of the time in the hall entertaining him. Matthew was asked later by Grandma Linda if he heard the Conference address. "Yes, my mom made me." Sigh. Perhaps all they'll learn right now is that it is important to their parents. Hopefully the rest will come later. The afternoon session we just listened to over the internet while the children played and were able to hear much more of it.
For dinner we had our traditional "Easter rolls." I made up some dough and placed a large marshmallow in the center. When cooked the rolls are hollow and sweet inside. Jonathan was explaining to the kids that the rolls are like the empty tomb- Jesus was no longer in the tomb because he'd been resurrected. Melissa took a bite of her roll and exclaimed, "There's no Jesus in my roll either!" Theology is a bit lost on 4 year old thinking. :)
9 Years and Counting
Jonathan and I just celebrated our ninth anniversary on April 6th. Aunt Andrea and Uncle Jeremy watched the kids for us so we could go out to celebrate. Thanks guys! Here's to many more great years together!
Working from home
As Jonathan posted earlier, he's working from home. The older kids mostly leave him alone when he's working, but if Jonathan or I ever leave our bedroom door open, Isaac makes a beeline for the office/closet. He bangs on the office door and hoots in babyese, "Play with me Daddy, play with me!"
Another trip to the ER
I was making dinner and left Isaac watching cartoons with Matthew and Melissa. I poked my head in a few minutes later and he wasn't in the living room. I hunted through the house and found him in our bedroom with a bottle of ibuprofen and pills and pieces of pills scattered around him. Oh no! It was just the perfect storm. #1 the bedroom door is usually kept closed. #2 the pill bottle is ordinarily kept up high in the medicine cabinet. #3 the bottle was supposed to be childproof. Upon calling poison control they advised a trip to the ER since we couldn't tell for certain how much he'd eaten. Jonathan was in the middle of a conference call but I interrupted him to say we needed to take a kid to the hospital. He promptly packed Isaac up with some toys and off they went! (Isaac is fine by the way). I'll let Jon tell the tale of their hospital adventures.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


  • Melissa gave a talk (her third?) in Sunday School about "God talks to us through prophets." Rachel wrote the talk; I helped. "Write about how God told Lehi to leave Jerusalem and it totally saved their butts," I suggested. "And put it in the talk like that: 'saved their butts.'" Rachel: "See, that's the reason I'm writing this talk, not you!"
  • Rachel: "You know, some of your family can laugh at themselves, and some can't. Matthew got the side that can't."
  • Matthew: "When nobody's talking, it's pretty quiet in this house. Quiet, and boring."
  • Matthew: "Guess what I had for lunch?" I couldn't guess. "It started with an I." I still couldn't guess, and gave up. "Enchiladas!"
  • Matthew: "How do you start the next episode on this [VHS] tape?"
  • Matthew: "There are three homophones for 'ranch.'" Me: "What? No, there's two." Matthew: "No, there's three." Me: "There's ranch-the-farm, and ranch-the-salad-dressing." Matthew: "And ranch-the-tool!"
  • Rachel: "I'm a little distracted. Genghis Kahn is invading." Civilization is cool that way.
  • Rachel: "Dear, I just looked at Melissa's bed. You made her bed with my tablecloth?"
  • Rachel [also to me]: "Before you get any ideas, cupcakes are NOT a breakfast food."
  • When typing quickly, I sometimes spell things phonetically. I recently corrected spelling "case" as "kays." Hope this isn't a sign of early-onset dementia.
  • Isaac has a ritual: whenever we let him out of his high chair, the first thing he does when his feet touch the floor is buckle the (now vacated) seat. He can't unlatch it yet, but buckling is something Big People do.
  • We were slow to get the toddler-proof doorknob covers with child #3, and Isaac made us pay. One morning he helped himself to a fruit cup from the pantry, and opened it with his teeth. I discovered him kneeling in a puddle of high-fructose corn syrup, digging out fruit pieces with his fingers and making pleased noises. (Bath #1.) A few hours later on Rachel's watch, he helped himself to a soda can from the pantry and pried it open with his teeth. (Bath #2.) Then that evening he made the usual mess with his dinner, for Bath #3. That night, I bought doorknob covers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Working for the man

My last day at Rackspace was April 2. As of the 6th I'm officially the co-founder of a Delaware C-corp, Riptano.

On the one hand, I'm a lot more nervous about this than I've ever been looking for a job. Partly because, with one exception -- two if you count the company that didn't pay me for my last 3 months of working for them -- I've always found a new job before quitting the old one. Riptano doesn't have funding yet, and if and when it does, my co-founder and I have agreed to pay ourselves far below market rate to leave more to hire other people. But I think more because with job interviews, if you don't get an offer, there's always other places to try. If Riptano fails, it's going to be a lot more public.

On the other hand, it's only been a week and I already have trouble imagining going back to working for someone else. (This could be problematic in that public failure scenario!)

We don't have offices yet; we're just working from home so far. In my case I am literally working out of a closet. It is actually a nice large closet, and I will post pictures if I ever clean it up a little more. It has an air vent, so when I need to close the door to keep out marauding one-year-olds I don't bake to death. All it needs now is a mini-fridge.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Leaving notes for the kids

Originally uploaded by jbellis
Rachel put this on Matthew's door on Saturday night so he would read it when he woke up.

Easter basket: yes!
Eggs: no!

A grumpy Matthew

Originally uploaded by jbellis

Sunday, April 04, 2010


  • Me: "Matthew, you have wiggles. Do 50 jumping jacks." Rachel: "You're doing them backwards! This is how you do it!" ... and that's where Matthew gets his compulsion to correct everything.
  • When my RSI flares up (from spending too much time on my laptop keyboard at home) I take 800mg of ibuprofen every 8h until it goes away. And I get religious about using my Kinesis again, temporarily. 10 year old medical advice, but it works for me.
  • It sucks, as a Mormon, when conferences offer a choice of two drinks: coffee or iced tea. (I blame the obscene profit margins hotels like to make on these things.) But! usually coffee has jugs of milk next to it. Better than nothing!
  • Matthew: "Why did you turn off the sound in civ4, Mom?" Me: "So you wouldn't come bug her." Matthew: "Well, it didn't work."
  • Rachel found a German bakery that makes the best apple strudel I have ever tasted in my life. Actually I think it's the best pastry I've had in my life, period.
  • I'd put "Matthew, don't experiment on your sister" in the things-I-didn't-expect-to-have-to-say file, but actually, I did kind of expect that one.
  • Woke up at 8:35 for an 8:30 meeting. I got ready in record time. After the meeting was over, I realized my shirt was on backwards.
  • Matthew was very grumpy about going to Sea World Wednesday [March 18]. "Today is an unjoyable day." He sulked for hours.
  • Me: "Are you ready to come out and help?" Melissa, in the bathroom until she picks up the living room: "I just don't want to because you don't love me to do what I want!"
  • Took the kids to McDonalds for breakfast. Isaac refused with prejudice pancakes, eggs, biscuit, sausage, and hash browns -- but he kept climbing up to the table and complaining he was hungry. Rachel explained: "When he goes to McDonalds, he expects chicken nuggets."

Melissa sets an example

I took the kids with me to help babysit for the Relief Society dinner.

Melissa saw a challenge, and took it. The lid against the cabinet there was all she needed to climb up.


Pretty soon she had company.

Isaac sets the table

Originally uploaded by jbellis

Chasing Andrea's cats

Originally uploaded by jbellis
Isaac *loves* cats. Imagine his delight to discover that Aunt Andrea has *three*. He chased them all over, and when one allowed itself to be caught he'd lean up to it carefully and give it a kiss. (Something he only very rarely does with his dad. Rachel says I should grow more facial hair.)

Too bad Melissa and I are both allergic.