To ring in 2011, I have my last holiday themed post. Kenny G. Regina Spektor. Pink Martini. Byron Lee & The Dragonnaires. Salsa Celtica.

Auld Lang Syne loosely translates to for the sake of old times. The song basically reminds us that we should remember old friendships. It's fitting that this is the song that has become associated with celebrating a new year beginning.
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I thought this was nifty. We consume a lot of cassava and yam in Jamaica! Click submit to see the stats for a specific country and click more for the stats broken down by food group. I tried to include a random selection of countries. On a side note, the widget builder in wolfram alpha is kinda cool: http://developer.wolframalpha.com/widgetbuilder/

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Amazon has Alicia Key's The Element of Freedom on sale for \$5 so I finally got around to purchasing it. I admit before I wasn't super excited about it, but I've bought all of her albums so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I was pleasantly surprised. For instance, I'd watched the video for Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart but a year later now that I've listened to it on the album, I actually like it more. I've totally been in that place before and perhaps that's part of the appeal of the song. In retrospect I was probably distracted by the whole Hancock/Rogue from X-Men/typical lonely super hero storyline in the video. (Check it out at the end of the post and tell me if you agree with the Hancock analogy!) There's something very plaintive about the refrain, "Tonight, I'm gonna find a way to make it without you". Sometimes when you've lost someone, whether due to a break up or moving or death, the hurt is so bad that you can only take things one day at a time. This I understand.

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Why would you dream of a White Christmas? I mean yes it's beautiful, and it was nice to sit by a fire crocheting and eating christmas pudding at the end of the day, but in all practicality, White Christmas = Christmas Travel Nightmare. And these airlines really need to come up with a better way of handling this. 2 hours on hold trying to fix your flight is just unacceptable, and at 1 hr, 40 minutes on hold, I'm getting pretty close to the 2 hr mark. Shame on you American Airlines.

Argh.
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Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...and so begins my absolute favorite song. And while I absolutely love Natalie Cole's version, the classic is her father's, Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song. I have a special treat with this post because I stumbled upon a video of the man himself singing the song.

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It's not Christmas in Jamaica until you hear Christmas Soca Party, Byron Lee's party. In fact, just play it and you can almost picture yourself running around with your cousins on Christmas day, playing with new presents, eating Christmas cake...the good old days.

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Not a lot to say today, but I do love when artists come up with _good_ original Christmas songs.

When I was in high school and in my the world is such a terrible place phase, I really loved Stevie Wonder's Someday at Christmas:

I really wish Charlotte Church was still making used of her voice like she did in Dream a Dream:

Finally, I know it's pop, but Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You is just fun:

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Joy to the World needs to be joyous. It needs to be grand. It needs to have soul. You'd think that'd be obvious, but the problem is that if you just perform the music as is, it's sort of repetitive.

The words are by Isaac Watts but adapted from the Bible; the music is by Lowell Mason but based on a melody by Handel. Fun fact: this was, at the some point, the most published hymn in North America. It's unclear if it still is.

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Carol of the Bells is... magical... sprightly ... mystical... happy. My love affair with the song started after I sang it in a choir for the first time, in 8th grade, one of the few good memories I have of middle school. We also had actual bells that we ran while singing, and the combination of that, and just something about that song...I just loved singing it, in fact I still love singing it, it's hard for me to resist singing along to this day. It's also pretty near impossible to sing this song without smiling, even if you're Scrooge or the Grinch.

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It snowed again last night.  Don't get me wrong, the world covered in a blanket of white is beautiful, but I swear it's snowed more frequently this winter than my previous ones here. Edit: Check out that mountain of snow! You can barely see the FedEx truck over it!

I was a little hesitant to choose Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! as one of the songs of the day because it feels like I'm encouraging the weather. To be fair, I love snow, it's the other wintry weathers I don't like (Ice, sleet, hail, windchill factors). Fun trivia: This song was written by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne in July 1945 on one of the hottest days on record. Also, despite this song being treated as a Christmas song, it makes no mention of Christmas itself.

So my favorite version of this song is Aaron Neville's. His Soulful Christmas album brings back memories of Christmases at my Aunt's house, with her dancing while cooking the dinner or baking Christmas Cake. It's funny, but I believe the reason we love Christmas music so much are the memories we've associated with it. And Aaron Neville is able to convey the pure delight he has with the snow.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas. Possibly the best Christmas movie ever made. And it gave us one of the best Christmas albums (by Vince Guaraldi), another reason to love it. Interesting trivia, A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first prime-time animated tv special. It was also the first time Charlie Brown was on tv. It took a lot of convincing to get Charles Schulz to agree to move the Peanuts Gang from print to tv, but apparently once he started and Lee Mendelson, executive producer, brilliantly decided on Vince Guaraldi as the composer, things went full steam ahead. Of course the network was nervous because of Linus's little Nativity speech, the choppiness of some of the animation and the general anti-consumerism moral, but the ratings were off the charts and a Christmas tradition was born.

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The cold front that has gripped the US is making me antsy about not spending Christmas (or Crismus as it is in patois) in Jamaica. No sorrel, no Jamaican Christmas cake, no Christmas dinner cooked by my mom and my aunt, no beach, no warmth, and no family. Hence the inspiration for this post.

Toni Braxton's Christmas in Jamaica I choose just for Shaggy's little interludes in the song about jerk chicken and ackee and saltfish. I suspect if you either aren't Jamaican or haven't spent Christmas in Jamaica, the song may not be so special. The song itself has an ordinary R&B vibe to it.

I almost just chose Fab 5's entire Christmas in the Sun album but decided to stick with just two songs. The titular song, Christmas in the Sun, surprisingly has some inspiring moments in it, especially with the state of emergency/Dudus calamity that we endured this year. "Have you ever ever stopped to realise that our home is tropical island paradise? We have our problems but we can solve them, but we have no problems with snow and ice." "No roasted chestnuts on an open fire, but roast caawn and breadfruit and turkey for Crismus dinner." "Down in Jamaica, it's hot sunny weather, and people are warm and friendly all the time. Now it's the Crismus season and the fun cyaan done, so have a joyful irie Crismus in the sun." Oh how I wish I were.

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Oh the memories of annoying the grown-ups with singing this song in the car...it's the song that doesn't end. The weird thing is that by the time you got to the eighth day of Christmas you were usually running out of breath and your mouth was dry but you persisted in singing. So where does it come from and why is it my song of the day?

Welcome to the Christmas edition of my new song of the day feature. I'm counting down to my favorite holiday by attempting to pare down my many favorite christmas songs down to 12...it will be tricky, but I shall persevere.

When I started to do some research on this post, I was surprised to find that there is apparently a religious interpretation of this song. The Twelve Days apparently refer to the days starting with December 26th (Boxing Day) to January 6th (the Day before The Epiphany). In popular culture however, this usually refers to the twelve days leading up to Christmas.

There are many traditional versions of this song. Burl Ives' version comes to mind as a definition of the traditional twelve days, but being Jamaican, I'm also a fan of Harry Belefonte's. Classical music lovers will definitely appreciate Leonard Bernstein's Twelve Days, it's definitely the grandest, complete with a choir and full orchestra.

Edit: I forgot to mention a mostly unknown instrumental version of this by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, you can listen to it here: Twelve Days Of Xmas/ O Come All Ye Faithful/ First Noel (Medley). For some reason it's not played on the Jamaican radio as often as some of the other songs on this album...listening to it I can almost picture myself at home in the warmth.

The parodies of this song are the best versions. My two favorites are Natalie Cole's version and Frank Kelly's Christmas Countdown. My Jamaican readers will all know Christmas Countdown, the Irish version of Twelve Days (affectionately known as Dear Nola). (Edit: I was told I should mention that the Christmas season has not officially begun in Jamaica until you hear this song.)
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OK, this is just awesome, you can now have wifi on your Lego NXT Robot (found here). This is so cool, kind of how I imagined a 3rd party wifi sensor would be built too, clearly more work than I thought it would take [typical, I'm always underestimating].

So....can I buy one? I mean I love that you have such clear instructions, but I just want to buy one.

Edit: I just realised there's an update to the first post about the WifiBlock. Still looking to see if it's for sale.
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My friend Brett [second from the right in the below picture] has lost his almost decade long battle with cancer.

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I found this handy little tutorial about CVS:
Understanding CVS: A brief introduction to the concepts of CVS

Nice pictures, clear explanation. NB: CVS is a revision control system used when multiple software developers need to collaborate on a project, it maintains consistency.

Edit: I changed the title of this post due to some...strong opinions about CVS, which is a legacy system, and SVN is pretty much it's successor. I just thought the explanation of the concepts was cute.
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But if you try real hard, you get what you need. Were truer words ever said? This is classic Rolling Stones, and the choir and non-typical rock instruments just adds to the big feeling of this song. During my exploration this past summer of the so called Holy Trinity of Rock (The Stones, The Beatles and The Who), I rediscovered this amazing song. I remembered the main gist of the song, but it's all the little details that make it what it is. It's funny, while the organ may not be my favorite instrument to listen alone, I find it's in many of my favorite songs, Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross comes to mind. Well I've had a bit of a rough year, and this song just sort of sums it up I think.

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Because sometimes you can't find the words to express what you're going through but there's a song that fits your mood just right. Today, it's Sara Taveres' Balance:

Sara Tavares belongs to my group of musicians I like to think of as modern African, I believe she has Cape Verdean and Portuguese roots. The song itself is part of a lovely album, one of my eMusic finds a year or so ago.
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...and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1!!

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This video was part of my inspiration to pick up robotics as a hobby and ultimately as a career!

The music is so 90s!
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...with a bit of an update. I'm now an employee of Wolfram Research, so I'm going to avoid posting anything Wolfram or work related. I have some fun posts planned though, and of course I'm counting down the hours till the Deathly Hallows midnight showing on Thursday!! Also, people seem to be a fan of me doing more music posts, which definitely is not work related, so look forward to that too.
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So I noticed that I actually have 6 followers, which is slightly scary, that means people might actually be reading this! I've been absent a bit recently, and I apologize for that, and I also apologize for the sudden end of Grace Hopper posts (I kinda got food poisoning I think from Metro Cafe Diner, remind you of Japan anyone?), but now I'm wondering, what do my readers want to read? More food posts? More tech tricks? Maybe music stuff? I'm curious to know. Also coming up, a Bay Area post! (Silicon Valley and Berkeley impressions, and a one day walking tour of San Francisco!)
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#ghc10

This might be one of the most inspiring sessions I’ve attended so far. The women on the panel were:

Cecilia Aragon, Lawrence Berkeley Lab & U Washington

Patty Lopez, Intel

Sandra Johnson, IBM

Loretta Moore, Jackson State U

All of these women had wonderful stories. Sandra Johnson said she believes she was the first African American woman to get a PhD in Electrical Engineering! She is also the only African American woman who is an IEEE fellow. Cecilia Aragon left with a MS, took time off and then went back for the PhD and was still able to not only work in a National Lab, but to then get 6 offers for faculty positions and to accept an offer as a tenured professor. Patty Lopez took a risk after working at HP for almost 20 years and moved to Intel. Patty Lopez didn’t make the cheerleading squad (she couldn’t do cartwheels, like myself!) and decided instead to compete with the boy in class who thought he was smarter than her (haven’t we all?). Loretta More told a lovely story about how she decided that Chemistry was rather unforgiving to mistakes (the story involved an explosion!) and switched to Computer Science.

Here’s an interesting thought. Someone asked about dealing with people saying that you only got a position or an award because you’re female or a minority. The consensus from the panel was to know that you got where you are because you’re qualified, but Sandra Johnson mentioned that for years men actually got positions without being qualified!

My personal question was about carrying the burden of representing my race. Patty Lopez had a great insight, in a book on corporate tribalism, it was shown that white males see themselves as individuals but tend to see minorities as groups. So I need to work on separating myself from the group and stop seeing myself as a representative of all women, all Jamaican women, all Women of Color.

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#ghc10

As promised, I’ll be giving a couple mini posts on Grace Hopper! The conference started yesterday evening. First impression: oh my god there are a lot of women! It’s so refreshing, I spend my day surrounded by men, and that’s great, but you miss having other females around. Everybody is so friendly, much more so than at other conferences.

Cool feature: Poken! They’re futuristic business cards, you hold them up to each other and they exchange sort of your business cards, but even more if you add social networks to your profile. A little tip: When you go to register, plug in your Poken into a usb slot. It should ask you to the open the folder to view files, double click the Start Poken icon, which will take you to the Poken webpage. On the webpage, your username is the email you used to register for Grace Hopper, and the password is poken.

Off to go meet some more cool women!

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Grace Hopper #ghc10 is around the corner and I'm getting excited! I plan on doing some blogging, I think I'll be aiming for a couple short posts and then maybe one longer summary post, but we'll see. I'm not quite sure how to get my blog added to the blog roll or if it's too late, but even if it isn't, I'll have this in my twitter feed. A couple of notes so far:

The Linkedin Grace Hopper group is very useful, lots of good articles about making the most of the conference. As a first timer, I really appreciate all of the online resources:

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You've had that moment, you hear a tune and can't place it. It's even worse if it's an instrumental song, because there's no hope of you remembering some words and googling them. Well in 2010, apparently there's a plethora of solutions. I'm still behind the times so needed a solution that didn't require a smartphone or super cool mp3 player, so no Shazam apps. Still, there are solutions out there. The first thing we tried was midomi. The idea is great, hum a tune, and it'll try match what you hummed to tunes other people have entered. Didn't work so great for us though. So I hummed and my guitar playing friend picked out the notes using his guitar and wrote them down. I meanwhile found another site, musipedia, which appealed to the musician in me. This site has several ways of finding tunes, one of which is playing the notes on an on-screen keyboard. It took just a couple seconds of me entering a dozen notes or so, and I had my answer. (If you're curious, the bugger of a song was Minuet for Harpsichord by J.S. Bach.)

What's your favorite way to identify songs stuck in your head? For more suggestions, here are some articles I found:
http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Songs-Using-Melody
http://www.labnol.org/internet/find-name-of-songs/12316/
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Otherwise known as one man's attention getting scheme. Not to take sides here, but after reading this story in the Times, I wonder why we allow these people to get the attention they desire. Take a look at the following excerpt:
Mr. Jones, who stutters a bit in his sermons and calls himself doctor based on an honorary degree from an unaccredited Bible school, has at times seemed sincerely shocked by the response he has attracted. But not unhappy.

His church has been in financial trouble for years — the property is now for sale — and even before General Petraeus and the president made him a household name, he said in an interview that he hoped to become well known as a critic of Islam.

He was in his office at the time, alone, and to his right there sat a drawing of a bearded man — a terrorist — that had been used for target practice.

The mix of guns and visions of grandeur would come to embody the end of his planned bonfire as well.

On Thursday, several of his parishioners carried pistols on their hips — the product, they said, of death threats — that also served as a sign of church membership and the outsized role their small group had taken on in world affairs.
Clearly something is wrong. I'm not a regular church goer, but it seems to me that at the point that wearing a pistol on your hip is a sign of church membership, let alone the leader of a church using the image of a "terrorist" as target practice, you have gone off course. This is not what religion is supposed to be, is it?
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Here's a debate I know many of you have had. If, like me, you usually have a fair amount of equations in your presentation, just out of necessity, what's the best way to include them? Even better, we'll add the constraint that I don't want to pay money for any of the products we use.

1. Beamer: This I'm sure will be the first suggestion from many people. I love LaTeX but I don't love LaTeX for presentations. I think the presentations it makes all look too similar, and while this quality is lovely for papers, it's not ideal for a talk. Still, if you want to be hard core, you can make your entire presentation in LaTeX, then you have no problems when it comes to equations.

2. Open Office/Google Docs + texify.com: This is a lovely little site that generates image files of equations for you. Problem? The first is that it is a little clunky, and if the presentation is remaining in Google Docs then you can just drag the images, but if you're going to export it, I believe you'll have to actually save copies of all the equations. Even worse, you generally have to export the presentation, because Docs doesn't do relative placement of images properly, so when you move from a small screen to a larger screen, images have moved. Still, this does work, and I've done it for many presentations. One other word of advice: The names for the image files that texify generates is different on a mac than on a windows machine, which turns out to be bad because it uses a character on one that the other os doesn't like (I think on a mac it uses ! in the file names which windows dislikes).

3. Open Office/Google Docs + http://www.codecogs.com/latex/eqneditor.php: I just discovered this lovely website. The problems here I'd imagine would be much the same as with texify, so the main advantage is that you can use codecogs to easily embed LaTeX equations like this $\120dpi \inline e=mc^2$ on your blog. Texify doesn't really like you doing this and does this

when you try.

4. Open Office LaTeX plugin: I forgot that this exists, but you could also you this. For some reason I've had problems installing it in the past, which is why I almost left it off the list. If you're just working in Open Office, this should be the way to go.

Those are all the solutions I know of so far. Do you have any? Please share!
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I distract myself, I go out with people, I laugh, and yet...
When I'm home alone again, with the silence, the tears come again.
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This was going to be a post about Inception, but something actually managed to push it out of my mind. A dear friend of mine, full of life, Dan Schreiber, has passed away. I can't even comprehend it. As I write this, I think the emotions are churning, I actually feel like something just took the breath out of me. I think this may actually be my first friend who's died. It's part of life right? We all die eventually. Last summer I had my first friend get married, but this is part of life too. I'm not even sure if this post makes sense or if I'm just rambling, I just know that I have to deal with all of this emotion. Dan was a fellow graduate student and an aspiring chocolate maker. He was brilliant, top of the math department during his undergrad at the U of I, and chose to do a PhD in computer science. Last summer he started experimenting with chocolate making, from the cacao beans, and he got quite good at it. ..

I just had to take a walk. The silence is deafening. I walked in a daze, listening to Here Comes The Sun and Because. There was something very melancholy about the department when I walked in. Maybe I was just projecting my emotions, I just don't know...

 From Drop Box

You know, any time you see someone young died, they always say how full of life they were, how nice they were to everyone. It's so cliche but it's completely true about Dan. Why do the nice ones go first? I never told Dan this, but he really inspired me. He was brilliant enough to get a PhD with ease but chose to do what he loved instead, make chocolate. It's so funny, the other day I was cleaning my fridge and came across one of his earlier chocolate wrappers. I'm a packrat, so instead of throwing it away, I tucked it beside the jam bottles. I look at it now kind of in shock. When I started experimenting with baking this past semester, I wanted to try baking this scone recipe I found that called for chocolate chunks and dried cranberries. I described the recipe to Dan, and he instantly knew what chocolate I'd need to go with the cranberries. I've never known anyone so enthusiastic about chocolate. That's the wrapper I unintentionally saved and now have. I won't be throwing it away.
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Now I haven't stopped cooking just because it's summer, I just haven't been sharing as regularly. I didn't realize NYTimes had cooking videos, here's a vegetable torte recipe that I'm dying to try.

Do you have any good vegetable recipes? I made a salad (not a vegetarian one) last night that was amazing, and it's really made me appreciate how good a salad can be.
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...apparently I'm a modern cool nerd! It has the word cool in there so it must be cool right? I had no clue I was that dorky though!

Your result for The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test...

#### Modern, Cool Nerd

83 % Nerd, 57% Geek, 22% Dork
For The Record:

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in Nerd and Geek, earning you the title of: Modern, Cool Nerd.

Nerds didn't use to be cool, but in the 90's that all changed. It used to be that, if you were a computer expert, you had to wear plaid or a pocket protector or suspenders or something that announced to the world that you couldn't quite fit in. Not anymore. Now, the intelligent and geeky have eked out for themselves a modicum of respect at the very least, and "geek is chic." The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent, knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one up there, winning the million bucks)!

-- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST
Take The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test at OkCupid

One more thing: I really liked the graphs. The vertical line = average.
Nerdiness (83%, higher than 93% of my peers) :

Geekosity (57%, higher than 82% of my peers):

Dork points (22%, higher than 21% of my peers):

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What do Janelle Monáe and Sesame Street have in common?

If you follow me on twitter, you'll know that I've been gushing all week about Janelle Monáe, enough to share some notes while I wrap up thesis writing.

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With the recent Arizona illegal immigration law, Capitol Steps was bound to have some interesting commentary. Sure enough, it may have been my favorite part of the show.

Capitol Steps is political satire group (see the wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_Steps) that releases a new show four times a year: New Year's Eve, April Fool's Day, Fourth of July and Halloween. Interestingly, they started off as being a group of senate staffers, but now the group is made up of professionals. I have many fond memories of listening to them in the car on the radio, and with the passage of time, on iTunes and on my iPod. I admit I was worried they'd be scraping the barrel for material after George Bush, but then there's always a humorous side to politics isn't there?

I enjoyed the Arizona song so much I decided to post the lyrics, especially since a quick search revealed that I couldn't find them online.

On a dark desert highway, staying just out of sight.
Just like white house crashes, I don't have an invite.
Up ahead in the distance, just past the cactus and sage,
I know I can find a brand new job and I'll make minimum wage.
Walking inside the border, a million stars out tonight, and
I was thinking to myself this place is heaven if you were just white.
Then I saw a big searchlight, it was heading my way.
I was spotted by a border guard, and then I heard him say,
"Welcome to the state of Arizona.
There isn't much room in the state of Arizona if you're darker than George Hamilton."
Would you stop Obama, say his race isn't pure?
"Last week I stopped someone named Sonia Sotomayor"
Let me check my pockets, I belong here of course.
I will show you my proof now if you will show me yours.
Welcome to my homeland I was born here.
Yes we've been here 5000 years.
I'm Navaho, we own the land you're on here,
We fought illegals too since 1492.
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...i.e. me screaming like the Harry Potter fangirl I am.

YouTube - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows trailer:

Comments [also courtesy of my fellow fan girl sister]:

Rupert Grint has gotten exceptionally skilled at making grimacing faces.

The protective barrier around Hogwarts looks an awful lot like a globe. Is that France I see?

Was it really necessary to edit out the blood from Hermione's hands? Not a fan of gore, but I hope they didn't do that in the film.

So the group shot of Voldemort and co. is kinda bad-ass. Seriously, a lot of computers will have a new wallpaper tonight.

Helena Bonham-Carter will be stalking me in my nightmares. Her eyes as Bellatrix when she's throwing that knife...[shivers]

Voldemort: "Why do you live?" Harry: "Because I'm not dead." Ooh, or "Well you see how it works is that while you're still breathing and functioning, that generally means that your alive." I kid. Radcliffe actually delivered his line "Because I have something to live for" in a believable not corny fashion.
(NB This was the line I was worried about in my previous post on the ShoWest preview reviews!)

Crap, that is a really huge snake.

Voldemort screaming like a girl, is that when he discovers his horcruxes are gone? "OMG, they stole my locket!"

Is that scene with who I assume is Voldemort plus Bellatrix on the moon? [Okay, I don't think it's on the moon, but my sister is convinced of this.]

I love the irony in Voldemort saying "Only I can live FOREVER" Harry - "Really?"

All snarkiness aside, I literally screamed "Oh my god oh my god oh my god" when I watched this. The cinematography is so gorgeous, the emotions are crescendoing with the music, all the shots of the final battle seem perfect, and Dan Radcliffe [Harry Potter], Ralph Fienes [Voldemort], Alan Rickman [Snape] and the rest of the cast all look amazing. Absolutely epic and now I can't believe I have to wait till November before watching Part 1, much less till July for Part 2.

November, hurry up!
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Gulf oil spill: Could 'toxic storm' make beach towns uninhabitable? - CSMonitor.com
"In the case of a hurricane hitting the 250-mile wide slick and pushing it over sand dunes and into beach towns, residents fear they’ll face not only mass evacuations, but potential permanent relocation."
"On Friday, the Coast Guard announced it would start moving boats and rigs away from the Deepwater Horizon geyser site 120 hours before a hurricane’s approach, at that point ending all collection efforts and delaying the drilling of relief wells, which are now on track to plug the well by late August – the height of the hurricane season. The geyser blowing at full tilt without a containment cap could spew between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil a day, possibly more."
It wasn't till I spotted the headlines about Tropical Storm Alex heading into the Gulf that it occurred to me just how much worse the Gulf situation could get. Please world, never forget what BP has done to the environment. It is unforgivable.

(Image above: "Tar balls from the oil spill wash ashore in Grand Isle, La., awaiting cleanup.")
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I'd really like to leave my numerous thoughts on the horrific oil spill, but I'm in thesis-writing-experiment-finishing mode, so for now I'll leave you with a picture I'd describe as haunting.

You can see the source for a larger version of the picture:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/picture/2010/jun/14/bp-oil-spill-oil-spills#
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A visual record of reports of violence, road blocks, or other key activities related to the State of Emergency declared in Kingston and St. Andrew, Jamaica on May 23, 2010.

The State of  Emergency was declared in order to execute the extradition warrant for Tivoli strongman Christopher "Dudus" Coke.

Please note that locations given may not always be exact.

OGNR - On the Ground News Reports

CVM - CVM Television

TVJ - Television Jamaica

Gleaner - The Jamaica Gleaner

Observer - The Jamaica Observer

View Official OGNR Situation Map in a larger map

P.S. Thanks so much to all who helped me with this!
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This is a scary time for all of us members of the Jamaican diaspora, both at home and abroad. Here are some resources I've been using to keep up to date with the situation at home:

Live Streaming by Ustream.TV
• onthegroundjm: The fastest resource for live news, both confirmed and unconfirmed. I highly recommend this one.

• Jamaica Observer: They've been remarkably fast with updates

That's it for now, check back for updates to sources. As always, don't panic if the story is not confirmed, which is about all we can do right now!

Edit: My twitter list of various Jamaican news sources:

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I recently ran into a problem that I hadn't previously encountered. Latex cannot deal with vector images (.eps) and rasterized images (.pdf, .jpg, .png) simultaneously! There may be a better way around this, but since I had mostly eps files in my paper, I decided to convert the jpegs to eps with this handy little site: http://www.tlhiv.org/rast2vec/. I love it!

Edit: To clarify, if you're compiling your file with latex then dvips then ps2pdf, you need to have eps files. If you're compiling your file with pdflatex, then you need pdf, jpg, png, etc. Hope that explains why you can't have both types simultaneously!
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I'd call this one of the biggest environmental catastrophes of the 21st century. This was such a news week. What with the oil spill, the attempted Times Square bomb, and the near collapse of the Dow Jones yesterday, it's like everyone is just on edge. Also, I can't believe NOAA's estimate on the rate of oil leakage is 10 times lower than BP's - is this some sort of pr stunt by BP? My question: when does the cleanup process begin?

Anyway, to help keep up with the big stories, some interesting articles:

Oil Spill:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/us/05spill.html?src=mv

Wall Street [Can you say "The sky is falling!!"]:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/06/AR2010050604545.html

Times Square, Oil Spill and Obama:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/05/gwens-take-the-politics-of-panic-1.html
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I will never forget the Italian for sesso (sex) and cesso (toilet). So some friends and I were having a cultural exchange of music and they played this song for me by Max Gazzè:

I forgot that in Italian c sounds like ch so when I wrote down the song name, I wrote Max Gazzè - Il Solito Cesso, and my friends had a good time laughing at how I'd called Gazzè a toilet.

Anyway, there are no good translations of this song online, and it's really sweet, so I thought I'd post this rough translation I got from an Italian friend.

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Ok, I know, my Jamaican readers (if you exist!) must be thinking really, a blog post on bun and cheese? Have you run out of things to blog about? But consider that I'm not in Jamaica, so procuring bun and cheese for Easter requires effort.

In Jamaica one of our Easter traditions is to eat bun and cheese. Jamaican Easter Bun looks nothing like hot cross buns, and I'm not sure if it tastes like it either, but I suspect the tradition ought to have some relation. There are several ways to make Easter bun. My cookbook, Enid Donaldson's The Real Taste of Jamaica, Rev. Ed., has 4 recipes! Each recipe uses a different leavening agent: Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Yeast and Stout. I decided to do the baking powder version, partially because the Yeast recipe yields 7 loaves, partially because I prefer bun with just raisins, not mixed peel, and partially because I wanted to try making it with port. So without further ado, the recipe (found on Pg 114 of the first ed.):

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I know, I've been in a crazy baking mood. The problem is that I go online and see these yummy recipes and then I start craving the end product. That's how I ended up baking lemon bars for our movie night (2010: The Year We Make Contact).

So the key to good lemon bars is apparently the lemons. You should use freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest. Lemon zest is from the outer skin of the lemon. You get it from using a lemon zester, or if you're a poor grad student like me, from using a grater and grating the outer skin. Make sure you don't get the inner white rind, it's very bitter, and zest the lemons before squeezing them.

 From Randomness

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 From Randomness

I'm not entirely sure where I get these whims from, but for some reason (I blame it on that joyofbaking site) I've been in a baking mood. Even more arbitrary, I had this hankering to bake my own bread. I had lots of time to kill last night (I was watching the Republicans whine on C-span, yay health care!), so it seemed like a good time to try my hand at baking with yeast.

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Get ready for what may be the most exciting piece of Deathly Hallows news we've gotten in a while! I stumbled upon these two articles today(here and here), and there are some tantalizing bits about what to expect from the finale. Apparently quite an extensive preview was shown at ShoWest 2010, and I've got to say, it sounds epic. Finally!!!! I really hope they don't screw up these last two movies, because I'm sure it'll be a while before we can get the remake. I loved the impression that it's really set up as Voldemort, the Death Eaters and even the Ministry all against Harry. Quibble:
The footage ended with what might be the final confrontation with Voldemort as he asks Harry, "Why do you still live?" to which he gets the response, "Because I have something to live for."
Ralph Fiennes delivering that line sounds like it'll give me chills, but I hope Daniel Radcliffe delivering that line doesn't end up being another cheesy movie thing.

Other than that, November couldn't come soon enough!

We saw little bits of everything, from the seven Harry Potters escaping from the Dursleys house (totally surreal) to the attack at Bill and Fleur's wedding to the escape from Gringotts on the pale dragon and even Hogwarts on fire. With unfinished effects it's hard to really say how it all looks, though some of the most effective moments were the simplest -- Ron and Harry's fight in the tent, Harry visiting his parents' graves, running away from the Snatchers in the woods, Harry defiantly telling Voldemort that he stays alive "because I have something worth fighting for."

...the first scene of the extended trailer was Harry and Voldemort's confrontation in the woods outside Hogwarts. Harry, bloodied and visibly terrified, approaches a cold Voldemort (flanked by Bellatrix Lestrange); Voldemort taunts Harry, "The boy who lived, come to die."

They said that Radcliffe's delivery was defiant and very effective, so now I'm just excited! Please don't disappoint me David Yates!!
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I'm finding an interesting application of operating systems to coding and debugging my little robot -- tentatively named HAL 0.

 From Drop Box

Interestingly, the NXT not only supports multithreading, it can have up to 255 threads. NXC (Not eXactly C) calls these threads tasks. We also have to deal with mutexes, which is necessary when you consider the consequences of having parallel threads all trying to control the motors.

My understanding thus far is that
(1) You always have a main task. This task is executed first, sets what sensors are connected to which ports, and can determine the order in which the other tasks are started.
(2) If you want task 2 to start after task 1, you can start it off with a Follows(task 1) command. I suspect, however, that this is part of the problem I'm having with switching mutexes between tasks. Unfortunately the StartTask command doesn't seem to work and since NXC is kinda like C, I can't use a StartTask(task 2) command in task 1 because task 2 hasn't been defined yet. Oh the joys of C.

In the course of writing this post, I've had a bit of an epiphany, so I may edit this post later today...
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I found a great site for baking recipes, http://joyofbaking.com/, and I've been putting their recipes to good use - at least I think it's been good. So far, I've tried their biscuits and scones. I seem to have managed to not take pictures of the scones, so I'll just have to make more this weekend. But for now, biscuits!

 From Randomness

 From Randomness

The main trick to making biscuits is using really cold butter and not over mixing or over kneading the dough. In fact, my biggest baking tip is to bake with cold butter. If you microwave the butter or use margarine, then you've completely killed the recipe and you're better off using a mix.
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I think I just found my dream gadget. It's a little bit out of my price range, but it would shave off \$80,000 dollars! That's the pitch I'd sell to anyone I'd try to convince to buy this, though I have sneaking suspicion that someone will be me.

Enter the Yamaha AvantGard. This baby was made to replicate the experience of playing a grand piano at a fifth of the cost, half the size, and a third of the weight - and without the need to tune! Consider the following (according to PopSci):

Grand Piano:
1. \$100,000
2. 9 feet
3. 1500 pounds
AvantGard:
1. \$19,000
2. 4 feet
3. 450 pounds
I've long been a fan of Yamaha's digital pianos, so the choice seems clear to me. Not many of us have the money for an acoustic grand piano. And yes, I know that the experience is not quite the same as an acoustic for the pianist, but it's so damn close who the hell cares? There's a price difference of \$80,000! I say bring on the future of digital piano technology, though I admit that if I were able to, I probably would buy an acoustic.
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It has a strange name, but who cares, this tool will apparently help you debug your c/c++ code! And after the all nighter I just pulled, I must say I wish I'd known about this before when I was diagnosing that stupid segfault (c++ shall be the death of me). Big plus: it will work on Mac OS X, but unfortunately it won't work on Windows. Will report back on how useful Valgrind actually is, since I apparently will be spending a lot of time with good old c++.
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Inspiration comes in many forms. Today I took a little moment to watch this amazing video of JK Rowling:

It's an interesting speech, with jokes sprinkled throughout, - "Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion" - on the benefits of failure. This being something that I've been tackling recently, it really struck a chord. My favorite quotes?

"Poverty is only romanticized by fools."

"Ultimately we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it."

"Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was."

"It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you've failed by default."

"Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes."

[This following quote really reminds me of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. I understand the inspiration...]
"Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power."

[Again, here I can not only see references to Harry Potter but to history, the Nazis, Rwanda, Darfur.]
"And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know."

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

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I know I'm way later than I should be, but at long last I'm learning all sorts of useful command line stuff. For instance, if you've ssh'ed to a machine and you're running ubuntu over a virtual machine, do you know how to shutdown? You type shutdown! I know, why didn't I think of that. It's actually:
sudo shutdown -h now

Another terribly useful thing I've finally learned about: MacPorts. It definitely gets added to my list of useful mac software. It's like synaptic but for macs. If there's something you want to install, for instance player, you type:
sudo port install player

Then, like magic it finds all the software that player relies on and installs them for you before installing player. Brilliant.

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I was so pleased with Half Blood Prince that I'm dying to see the last two installments of the Harry Potter franchise. This was leaked about a month ago, but has now supposedly been officially released:

What are your thoughts? It's not much so far, and I suspect that there may be parts from both Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 (otherwise there really isn't much left for part 2). It's quite exciting. The image of a horrified Hermione looking at bloody hands (perhaps from Ron splinching) is very eerie. Also, thanks to Pottercast, my sister and I are convinced that the eyes belong to Bill Nighy as Scrimgeour (he has the exact same expression in Pirates of the Caribbean 3). Splitting the book into 2 movies may end up being not just a financially smart decision after all.

Another exciting tidbit is that Miranda Richardson will reprise her role as Rita Skeeter. Now all we need is for John Williams to confirm that he's back as composer and I can safely say we're in for a treat.
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I wanted to make a short little note on my Gaucho's experience. A week or so ago, some friends and I made an impromptu decision to dine at Gaucho's Grill. This, unfortunately, was not an entirely satisfactory decision. While I have no complaints about the food (their Ye Ole Fish Sandwich, a fillet of snapper sandwich), the service left something to desire. There is no exageration in saying that we were first ignored before being seated, then we waited at least 5 minutes before demanding menus, and then after that waited a good half hour before being moved to another table. After another 20 minutes, our orders were finally taken and we were finally given some glasses of water. Needless to say, they were not tipped.

Now then, this rant is more a message for the management. You have a couple of options. You can (1) hire more waiters/waitresses, because when we first arrived there were none in sight, and we were told by the hostess that the reason for our interminable wait was that the waitresses were busy bringing out food for other tables. You could also (2) reduce the number of tables, since clearly you cannot handle the current capacity. It is unforgivable to have people waiting for an hour just to be served water and to give their orders. You should also retrain your hostess, because I am really in no mood to hear any sad and sorry tales about having to serve other tables who got there first. You see without this, you'll lose customers, because as much as I enjoyed your food and your manageable prices, I'm in no mood to plan to have to wait an extra hour just to place my order.

That's all.
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