Lessons learned from a tornado warning

Menacing storm clouds

Earlier this evening I was able to share an unexpected and rather unusual event with my kids: a tornado warning for Davis and southern Weber counties.

Cade came over to report that Shauna & Becca were on their way home from the activity they were attending at Church (which was ending early because of the National Weather Services tornado warning). Meghan, who likes to feel like she is in control, began to panic at the thought that a tornado might hit our house. I told Meghan that the safest place to be in our house would be downstairs in the basement.

Quickly as Meghan began crying hysterically Caleb began to be very afraid. We had been playing WoW together and he didn't even want me to take the time to logout properly. (Wise, but at this point I doubted very much we were in any real danger. I can only recall one tornado ever touching down along the Wasatch Front in my lifetime.)

Jacob didn't mind tagging along as we went downstairs, but Andrew didn't grasp why Meghan was wrenching him away from watching his favorite Scooby Doo video.

When we got to the basement I tried to get Meghan and Caleb to calm down enough so we could talk about the situation, and so they could articulate their fears, which I hoped to be able to calm by teaching them (at one point Meghan sobbed, "what is a tornado anyway? Is it like in movies?").

Caleb gained enough composure to be able to blurt out, "Daddy, let's say a prayer." That touched me profoundly.

After the three of us had each taken turns offering a prayer (and I don't think I've ever heard Caleb pray so fervently), I was able to get them to explain why they were so scared. Meghan said she "didn't want to die" and Caleb said he was "too young to die." Can't disagree with that sentiment!

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy doesn't die. I told them that in the last hundred years, in Utah, I didn't recall that anyone had ever been killed by a tornado. We talked about the weather and about what meteorologists do. They understood temperature, precipitation, and wind speed, but I had a harder time explaining humidity and barometric pressure.

Next I helped them employ some basic mathematical reasoning to see that the odds of a tornado hitting our house were quite low. If there are, say, 10 cities & towns in Davis County that might experience a tornado, if (hypothetically) there was one, what's the chance that Layton would be the city hit? Quick answer: 1 in 10.

Next, consider the size of Layton. In our immediate neighborhood (phase I of our subdivision, 2 streets by 3 streets) there are roughly 150 homes. Consider how many other homes there are in Layton. Even if a tornado did hit Layton, and if it managed to avoid the large swaths of farm & other undeveloped land, what would the odds of our house being hit be? I don't know precisely how many homes there are in Layton, but I figure Meghan was probably in the ball park with "more than 1 in 1,000."

Once Shauna made it home safe from her meeting everyone was a lot happier. We all stayed in the basement for another hour and a half reading stories outloud to each other. Eventually we got a phone call from a neighbor letting us know that the tornado warning had been lifted, although the severe storm warning was still in effect.

Caleb told me he was sure glad that this had happened when his Dad (me) was at home. More than anything else they wanted our family to be together and to be safe. Meghan had left her scooter at a friends house this afternoon. She said she didn't mind if one of her favorite toys got blown away, what was important was being with her family.

Teaching moments of faith, natural science, and mathematics. I never would have guessed how interesting tonight would turn out when I got home from work today.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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I found my ISBN numbers

In 1997 I had an idea for a book I wanted to self-publish. I paid $250 for a block of ten ISBN numbers as part of my preperations for doing so.

While I did learn a lot about Quark (synopsis: yuck!) and Adobe FrameMaker I never actually got my book printed. (It was to be a compilation of speeches and I never heard back about—and didn't follow up on—my request for copyright permission to use a handful of addresses that weren't in the public domain or otherwise licensable.)

For years the expensive list of ten 10-digit numbers ($25 per number!) has sat in the bottom of a filing cabinet. I managed to find them this evening. (I found all sorts of other stuff that I hadn't seen or thought about in years, but that's possibly the subject of a future post.)

I got to looking because I've been trying to decide whether I should go ahead and publish, on a larger scale, the book I typeset in LaTeX to give as Christmas gifts last year.

(Mormon's Book, a paragraphized version of The Book of Mormon. The initial print-run was 25 in December and another 52 in March. Since President Gordon B. Hinckley asked Church members to re-read the Book of Mormon again before the end of the year I've had a couple of inquiries from people who've received Mormon's Book asking if additional copies are avaiable. At the moment, I'm all out—I gave away my final copy six weeks ago to a captain in the US Air Force.)

Up till now I've had the book printed locally at Alexanders, a digital printer in Utah County. In the volumes I've been doing each book has run $8.70/each. If I went with a real bonda-fide book printer instead, and ordered a larger run (perhaps 500?) I'm sure I could get the unit cost down lower.

One issue I've struggled with is what to price the book at if I do decide to publish and sell it. The content, originally published in 1830, has long since entered the public domain. It wasn't divide into verses until 1879. My reparagraphization doesn't precisely match the original 1830 version because in the early 19th century it was fashionable to typeset paragraphs that would sometime span multiple pages(!).

Therefore, the amount of "work" I've done has been limited to typesetting in LaTeX. What sort of markup is that labor worth? As a practical matter many people seem to find it much easier to read (as a book) when it isn't chopped up into chapters & verses. I don't want to take advantage of peoples religious beliefs just to make money, however. Thoughts?

What I didn't find this evening in a quick review of isbn.org is whether I can change the name of my (nascent heretofore really non-existant) publishing company. The name I registered the ISBNs under eight years ago might not be my first choice still today...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Slow news day on the radio?

Today driving home from work we turned on the radio to get a traffic report. It was right at 6pm, so the national newscast was on.

<boggle>Must be a slow day, but somehow a bunch of cheerleaders in Michigan who witnessed a hit & run accident and turned the license plate into a cheer made the national newscast.</boggle>

(And a slow blog day for me to be mentioning how un-noteworthy I found that, thereby drawing even more attention to the story...?)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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What do you call someone you carpool with?

Carpools Only

What do you call someone you carpool with?

Obviously, in the carpool you'd simply call them by their name. But if you are speaking about them, to an audience who might not know any of the people you carpool with (and suppose they might not—for whatever reason—want their name immediately Googlable), what's the best term to use to refer to them?

They all feel awkward to me. Carpooler, especially. To my ear carpooler sounds like a made up word. But it's in at least one respectable dictionary. If you Google on the term (today) you'll find that roughly one-third of the top search results are for slipper socks. Strange, that.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Classic shows that aren't on DVD

Old TV

Our family enjoys watching good wholesome commercial-free broadcasts of classic TV shows on our local PBS station.

We've purchased several seasons of I Love Lucy for our children. I went looking for some of the other shows they enjoy, or that they hadn't seen but that I thought they would like, and was disappointed to discover that a number of classic shows have never been released on DVD.

Amazon.com lists these and offers to let you know (via email) if and when the studios ever wake up and realize they could make some money by dusting off the originals in their archives. Apparently they also communicate periodically the number of people who've expressed an interest to the studios—in effect telling them how many people are voting for these old shows to be released on DVD.

Several of the shows I "voted" for:

  1. Leave It to Beaver (1957)
  2. Perry Mason (1957)
  3. My Three Sons (1960)

Feel free to vote, if you're interested.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Typographical tweaking

I've been spending most of my spare time working on putting the final spit & polish on the typography of Mormon's Book.

So far I've always typeset it in Palatino (because I already had it and didn't need to buy it from Adobe). But before I commit myself to a larger print run, I want to have everything just about perfect, since it might be a long time before I get another chance to make changes. So, I'm giving other book fonts another look. (This is precipitated by my addition of quotation marks, and my dislike of how the pdflatex+Palatino quotation marks look.)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Buying Bembo

I decided to purchase Bembo to use as a book font with LaTeX.

Now I just have to wrap my head around how to install additional fonts for LaTeX so that my $99 isn't wasted.

At first glance it looks neither easy nor utterly impossible, though it would be much closer to impossible without Google!

Some links that might provide clues:

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Hitting the wall with *TeX fonts

I've hit the wall with trying to get new fonts working in LaTeX and/or ConTeXt. I spent the better part of last weekend, and more time tonight, futilely reading, studying, experimenting, trying, and only ending up frustrated.

Several times I've felt I was close. Tantalizingly close. Then that feeling of closeness seems to rapidly race away leaving me stuck in some new fashion.

I've purchased the Bembo Std, Minion Pro, and Poetica Std fonts from the Adobe Store. All the fonts came in .OTF format:

powerbook:/Library/Fonts michael$ ls -lh *.otf | cut -c 30-
 43K 17 Aug 20:13 BemboStd-Bold.otf
 46K 17 Aug 20:13 BemboStd-BoldItalic.otf
 46K 17 Aug 20:13 BemboStd-Italic.otf
 61K 17 Aug 20:13 BemboStd.otf
205K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-Bold.otf
244K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-BoldIt.otf
244K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-It.otf
202K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-Medium.otf
243K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-MediumIt.otf
200K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-Regular.otf
204K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-Semibold.otf
244K 21 Aug 21:07 MinionPro-SemiboldIt.otf
418K 21 Aug 23:31 PoeticaStd.otf

I suppose I should enumerate the various methods I've tried and what seemed to work, and what didn't (version conflicts, dependencies, cryptic errors, ...) but I'm too frustrated right now. I'd love to have some utility that I could run that would just execute all the necessary voodoo & black magic to get a working LaTeX and/or ConTeXt environment with my new fonts. (Several seem to go part of the distance and then stop with some hand waving of "and then you just need to do x, y and z" which means trying to hunt down how to do x, y & z.)

I mean the documents I want to work with have little more than characters you can find on any keyboard. I'm not trying to do anything fancy or exotic. No math even!

Sigh. I think I am going to delete my teTeX installation (installed via fink) and just start fresh. I'll probably look at building teTeX from source because at times it seems that the various tools (texhash, updmap, updmap-sys, etc.) don't know, care, or pay any attention to /sw/etc/texmf.local.)

The twenty-five different .pdf manuals, guides, tutorials I've downloaded and scoured... I may delete them too. I'm sure I can find them again with Google. Hopefully this time I can chase down the right path.

I'm taking tomorrow off. It's the first day of school, and I really hope by the time the kids get home from school I'll have made some substantive progress.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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My eventual font success

I've finally found success with my font installation problem, on multiple fronts!

First I was able to get XeTeX to recognize all the .OTF fonts I'd purchased. XeTeX is a native OS X variant of TeX that can use (basically) any font that OS X has installed. To work with LaTeX I needed to install the XeTeX fontspec package.

XeTeX also works with ConTeXt, which is a very interesting macro system. I haven't yet attempetd to include pictures in a LaTeX document, but with ConTeXt it appears to be a snap. I think I'll use it for my Christmas 2005 book.

Back to the project at hand... I played around with using multiple OTF fonts in the text (various combinations of Minion Pro, Bembo, and Myriad Pro) but came to the conclusion (with some prodding from Ben and Matt) that it would look best set in straight Minion.

So although XeTeX works with LaTeX and it would be easy to use Minion that way there was one package I had been using previously that doesn't work when rendered through XeTeX instead of pdfTeX: the microtype package which doees a very nice job of character protrusion.

So it was back to the drawing board: I needed to get an .otf font installed so it could be used by LaTeX & pdfTeX. I'd spent all last weekend fighting this same battle. I decided to go back to the basics. I reinstalled everything TeX-related fresh. I kept copious notes of what I had tried. I wrote a shell script to do the work so that I could have a means to consistantly and reliably revert back or repeat (perhaps with small tweaks) something I'd done before.

I discovered, in this process of documented experimenting and further scouring of documentation, mailing list archives, and the comp.text.tex newsgroup a likely source of a substantial part of my recent frustration: Changes made in 2004 to the TeX Directory Structure standard as to where font .map and .encoding files go. There's a lot of documentation out on the net that was written before this change.

In the end I succeeded using a combination of otftotfm and the autoinst program from the fontools package.

Here is the otf-to-latex.sh script I wrote that succesfully converts and installs the fonts for me. If I had more energy left I'd mark up an annotated HTML-version. I'll leave that as a possible project for another day...

The devil is in the details and I still have a lot to learn about fonts under various flavors of TeX, but at least for the time being I can go back to making some headway on my actual project.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Sometimes being lazy is good

I've long believed in (and had as sort of a personal motto) the relentless pursuit of proactive laziness which meshes well with "Why Good Programmers Are Lazy and Dumb" over at Google Blogoscoped.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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