Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My future virtual gardening software

Warning: this is a thinking out loud post, so it probably won't make much sense

I'm thinking about writing a virtual gardening program, mostly to keep up on my programming skills. (I've been neglecting them woefully.) I'm still trying to figure out what I want.
  • I want to be able to plant plants, see them grow over time, maybe see the seasons change.
  • I want to see birds, bees, and butterflies arrive.
  • I want to be able to water my plants, but I don't want to HAVE to water the plants.
  • I think a 3-d program would be cool, but I don't want to have to support all the modeling, maybe I'll stick with 2-d, kind of cartoony appearance. What would be cool is if I could export to a format that one of the on-line 3D gardens programs use (like http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/design/virtualgarden_index.shtml), then I could walk around it if I wanted to.
  • Grow vegies, maybe be able to pick the fruit and the flowers.
  • I'd like the option to let the plants seed down, maybe with lame models of how they do that.
  • I'd also like the option to speed up or slow down time. Basically from "one day is one day" to "one day = one second". Maybe a pause on this day.
  • I'd like to be able to save the garden and load the garden.
  • Also maybe take screen shots
  • put in rocks, fountains, maybe a bench (the disadvantage is I have to draw all these things, ack!)
  • It'd be cool if the plants would sway in the breeze, but I don't know if I'm that dedicated to the graphics.
  • maybe some nice peaceful nature sounds (birds, crickets, bees, wind).
  • I actually really like that I can grow plants in Dogz 4. That's my favorite part of the program. I'll probably end up doing something like that.
I think actually doing all that would take forever. I think I'll start with putting a few plants on the screen and watching them "grow".

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Recipe: Chocolate Crazy Cake

I thought I'd post this recipe because it is a good cake recipe that is milk-free for the lactose intolerant and also egg-free (great if you're allergic or if you're out of eggs). The texture is moist, sort of like a bunt cake. I got this recipe out of a cookbook my ward put out.

Chocolate Crazy Cake

3 c flour
2 c sugar
6 T cocoa
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 c oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 T vinegar
2 c. cold water

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, soda. Place in ungreased 9X13 pan. Make 3 wells in dry ingredients. Pour equally in each well oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Pour water over everything. Mix all the ingredients well with a fork. Bake at 350 for 30 to 50 minutes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Easy Chocolate Mint Cookies Recipe

1 chocolate cake mix
2 eggs
3/4 cup shortening
6 oz chocolate chips (half a bag)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Mix together. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 - 12 minutes, until cookies look slightly under done. Then let finish baking on cookie sheet. These cookies will be slightly crunchy. If you prefer soft cookies, after the cookies have cooled, put them in a plastic bag with a slice of bread overnight, and they will get nice and soft.

Note: if you use a cookie scoop, you will want to break the dough balls in half so they won't take too long to cook. Also, cookies baked with Crisco seem to take longer than cookies using a generic brand.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Cold Remedies 2 - Hot Lemon Lime drink

When ever I feel a sore throat coming on, I drink this drink. I think it tastes great and does a good job cutting through the gunk at the back of my throat. The steam from the cup feels good and it warms me up.

1 c. hot water
2 T. Lemon juice
1 T. Lime juice
2 T. sugar

Mix together and drink.

If you like honey, you can try substituting honey for the sugar. (I don't like honey, so I don't).

My other cold remedy.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pictures of Scamps my Playful Pup

Here are some pictures I took of Scamps My Playful Pup.

Scamps - what comes in the package.

Scamps - Side view

side view

Scamps - back view

side view

Scamps - bottom view

side view

Scamps - at attention

Here is a movie I made of me giving Scamps some commands. (File is about 600kb). I was about a foot and a half away. I just pointed the camera and gave the commands. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Review: Fur Real Scamps my playful pup

Yesterday my husband opened Scamps for me to test him out before Christmas and make sure he works. In the 5 minutes I played with Scamps, I had a good impression. My husband wasn't quite as impressed, but it isn't his Christmas present :)

Scamps responded to my commands about half the time (same as most real dogs). It seems to go through moods, where for a while it will obey commands then it decides it wants to play or beg for a treat. A quiet room really is important. It really didn't respond well when my husband tried to give commands and my daughter repeated everything he said. There is a definite mechanical sound when Scamps moves, but I didn't expect anything else. The dog responded to sit, down, drop it, good dog, hey puppy, wanna treat, and go to sleep.

Touch-wise, Scamps is fun to pet, but not really a dog to cuddle. The fur sheds pretty bad too, so I'll brush it after I get it.

My daughter and son both loved it. Although, my 15 month old wanted to carry him around by the ear. (Good thing Scamps is fake.) He did seem to respond well to my daughter's voice. I suspect the voice chip they used is skewed towards a child's voice. My son also really liked the fake bone that came with Scamp. He sat outside the door and screamed for several minutes after we put Scamps away.

I can't wait for Christmas :)

Pictures of Scamp, including a movie are here.

My comparision with other fake dogs is here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Chocolate Mint Brownie Cookies

(This recipe is based on this one: http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/getrecipe.zsp?id=29043.)

I tried this recipe out yesterday. It tasted great, the cookies were moist and chewy like a brownie and had a great mint flavor. I ended up using 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract because the dough wasn't minty enough for me. Taste the dough after the 1/4 teaspoon and see if you think it needs more.

1 (12 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract (to taste)
2 eggs
3/4 chopped nuts (optional)
36 cookies Change size or US/metric

35 minutes 25 mins prep

1. Place 3/4 c. chips in clean, dry microwavable bowl. Heat on high for 1 minute then in 30 second increments until chips begin to melt. (It took me 1 minute.)
2. When chips begin to melt stir until smooth.
3. Cool to room temperature.
4. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
5. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, peppermint, and vanilla in large mixer bowl until creamy.
6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
7. Beat in melted chocolate.
8. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
9. Stir in remaining chips and if desired, nuts.
10. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons on to ungreased baking sheets.
11. Bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven for 8 to 12 minutes or until sides are set but centers are still soft. (It took me 9 minutes in my oven)
12. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove from pans and cool completely.

Updated 12/3/05
Andes Mint variation
This variation makes the cookies look frosted
Follow recipe above, but omit peppermint extract and chocolate chips. Right as the cookies come out of the oven, place an Andes Mint on top. Wait a few seconds, then swirl the melted mint around with a spoon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Comparative Review of Fake Dogs

For Christmas, I got myself Hasbro's Fur Real Scamps my playful pup. It seems like a fun idea, a voice activated dog. When my husband saw it, he asked if it was for me or my daughter. For me of course, although I'll share. My daughter is really too young for it. Ideally, I wanted a fake dog to hold in my lap and pet, that would be happy when I petted it and "hear" when I talked to it oh, and would be soft and fluffy. Basically, that toy doesn't exist, so I got Scamps.

Anyway, in deciding which fake dog I wanted there were a couple of choices: One of the Fur Real dogs, Cold Nose Kisses Amazing Puppies, and Rescue Pets. Here's what I discovered. This is based on what I could glean from looking at them in the store and from websites. I don't actually own any of them except for Scamps, and I've only played with Scamps for about 5 minutes to make sure he works. If you know more and I'm wrong let me know and I'll correct it. (Most of the manufacturers' websites have the commercials so you can see what the dogs are supposed to do. Also check out Amazon.com for user reviews.)

Fur Real's newborn pup ($12)
What they do: Basically you pet them and they whimper, blink at you, and go back to sleep.
Body: fake fur over hard plastic
Manufacturer website: http://www.tigertoys.com/furreal/
Size: These pups are tiny. Approximately the size of beanie babies.
Impressions: If they were softer, I might be more tempted. You can also get a box with 2 puppies in it for $20.

Fur Real's Smoochie ($20)
What they do: Basically you touch it's nose and it's tongue moves and kisses you
Body: fake fur over hard plastic
Manufacturer website: http://www.tigertoys.com/furreal/
Size: small, about the size of a 5 lb dog.
Impressions: very cute. I didn't see any mention that the dog responds when you pet it, which was a big point with me. This model appears to be discontinued. Might find it on clearance though.

Fur Real's Scamps: my playful pup ($40)
What they do: Voice activated. As you play with it more you can "teach" it tricks, basically you say the name of the trick three times and it learns it. You can't teach it a trick that wasn't pre-programmed. It does respond to petting. It barks and can sit, and mouth its toy rope and bone. (It doesn't walk)
Manufacturer website: http://www.tigertoys.com/furreal/
Voice recognition manufacturer: http://www.sensoryinc.com/html/support/faqs.html
Size: about the size of a real larger breed puppy
Impressions: very cute, very expensive. Originally I wanted the black and white border collie looking one. I got the samoyd looking one. (I like "perky" ears, so the golden was out.) Look at them closely in the box to make sure the face is put together well and looks cute. Under the fur you can see the body line where the legs join. This is true on the 2 models I looked at closely, especially bad on the border collie one. (I suspect this depends on the dog, so look through them if you have a choice). I've read some of the dogs don't learn, so I'm tempted to try out my dog early and see if it does because I have a suspicion it might be a defect of the specific dog. Read the instruction manual first. I haven't been this excited for Christmas since I was about 12.
Updated (11/15/05): See my short review based on actually playing with it here.
Pictures of Scamps, including a movie are here.

Cold Nose Friends ($25)
What they do: Basically you squeeze it's paw and it turns on. As you pet it, it barks more and its nose gets cold. It also wags its tail and moves its head.
Body: plush fur. I'm not sure if the body itself is soft since the package was completely enclosed, so I couldn't touch it.
Manufacturer website: http://www.playmatestoys.com/html/amazing_pets/index.html
Size: small, the size you'd expect a non moving stuffed dog to be.
Impressions: very cute. Different breeds. These seem to be sold out online, but they are still available at stores (as of 11/07/05). In all honesty, this was my runner up choice. The main thing that held me back was that I couldn't touch the dog through the packaging to see what it was like.

Rescue Pets ($20)
What they do: They whimper and wag their tails. Motion sensitive, so they can tell when you are petting them.
Body: plush, soft bodies.
Manufacturer website: http://www.rescue-pets.com/
Size: small, about the size you'd expect a stuffed dog to be
Impressions: I couldn't decide if the big eyes were cute or really disturbing. When my pre-school age daughter heard it whimpering, she wanted to cuddle it and make it happy. As far as I can tell, it only whimpers and doesn't make any happy sounds. Go to the website and listen to the sounds the dogs make, because they are identical to the ones the toy makes. I'd prefer if it whimpered then made happy sounds as you petted it. Also, I'm not sure if there is an off switch. If you are shopping for a young child, this is probably your best bet.

Other kinds
Pound Puppies Here Puppy Puppy - size of a pound puppy. I wanted a more realistic looking dog, so these didn't interest me. It comes when you clap and follows its red leash so you can "walk" it. Be aware that almost all dogs that "walk" have wheels on the bottom. Web site: http://www.everythinggirl.com/poundpuppies/poundpuppies.aspx

Pound Puppies Pick Me Up - size of a pound puppy, whimpers, barks and moves its head. I wasn't too interested. See above.

(If you don't need a dog just an animated animal, the Luv Cubs are on sale for about $15 at Toys R Us, that's really good)

Vote for Who? Why local elections are annoying

Today is election day and up for election here in Orem, UT is the mayor's seat and three city council seats. Here's my beef with local elections: it is almost impossible to find out anything about the candidates. In theory, local elections are very important because you are choosing the people who will most directly affect your life, what parks get built, where streetlights go in, etc. But it is hard to find out anything about them without directly contacting the candidates. Being an introvert, I'm very unlikely to do that even in the name of doing my duty. They did have a total of 3 meet the candidate nights, but it is hard to find out when those are going on. The newspaper runs a short article about the candidates, so I found out their occupations and a 2 sentence quote and that is what I based my decision on.

Now in the current race, one of the mayoral candidates and one of the city council members had websites. It was enough for me to decide I didn't like the current mayor due to some of the things he listed as accomplishments and I considered unfortunate events. It was also enough to decide that I did like the city council member.

In this day and age of blogs and low cost web hosting, It would be nice if candidates created a free blog, post a few of his or her views, and let the city/county election commission know where it is. It seems like the candidates are wasting a great chance to let people know what they stand for.

Why I don't C.A.R.E.

Today is election day. One of the big items on the ballot (ok, one of the few items on the ballot) here in Orem, is a request to enact the ZAP tax. To my understanding, the ZAP tax was approved by the state legislature to allow cities to enact a sales tax to support zoos, museums, parks, and the arts. So Orem wants to enact the tax, it's a .01% increase. It was originally packaged as RAP and now as CARE.

I'm opposed. Here's the reason. If the money were going for parks, bike trails, and a children's museum, I'd be much more likely to vote for it. However, there is the looming specter of a new cultural arts center, theater groups, and ballet.

The cultural arts is just one area where I have no interest. I will attend a play or concert basically only if a friend invites me or if someone I know is in it. From what I've seen on the news in other cities (this is just my impression and not based on any facts), cultural arts centers are a major money sink. Construction projects like to go over budget and then what are we going to do with the thing? The fact is there are many theaters with in an hour's drive of Orem, and even some theaters in Orem. Why we need more I don't know. There are plenty of concerts available for free and for fee in Salt Lake City and at BYU.

Of course, some people will argue that all the arguments I just made would equally apply to parks and museums. Honestly, the main difference is that I would use parks and museums and enjoy having them close by. I've been wanting a low cost museum in Orem for quite a while, somewhere to take the kids (besides the mall) that is warm and dry in the winter. Plays/dances/concerts only start at certain times and usually would prefer you leave your kids at home. Hmm... if they built a children's museum with an attached theater, they might get me :)

The other reason I oppose the tax is there is a good possibility there will be an upcoming tax to support road improvements which are obviously needed. I'm not sure how many taxes I want to deal with.

Update: CARE passed. Oh well, maybe we'll get some good bike trails and a children's museum out of it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Review: Mr Clean Magic Eraser

Product: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
What it is: a sponge that erases dirt and crayon
Where can I get it: I got it at Wal-mart and my friend got hers at Home Depot
Cost: around $2.00 for 2
Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of five, tentative)

My friend told me about the magic eraser and said it was the only product she knew of that got crayon off walls. She wetted one down, gave it to her 3 year olds and had them clean up their own mess. I don't have much crayon on my walls, but it did get marker off my cheap wooden table. It also got scuff marks off my walls and doors, and cleaned the outside of my refrigerator easily (I have one of those textured fridges, so stuff gets caught in the cracks). The local news station's customer protection guy tried it out and said it worked as advertised.

The one thing it doesn't seem to do well is grease. I get these grease spots on my wall, and it did nothing for them, but neither does anything else I've tried, so I'm not too upset. It also doesn't do well if the dirt is thick (thick as in, I really should scrape this off).