Monday, January 19, 2015

Watching southbound birds
through a net of power lines
and traffic signals

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Keeping the family organized

At the moment, we need to keep straight the schedules of two working parents, two kids (at two different schools), and two grandparents just up the street, one of whom is only semi-retired and travels a lot as a consultant.  How do we keep it all straight? The short answer is "just barely". The longer answer is Google Calendars.  At the moment, I have five calendars synced to our various devices and computers.  Some, like my work calendar, are only on my devices, but several of the calendars are relevant enough to all of us that we needed a way to display them at home, since our lives are only going to get more complicated, not less.

I briefly considered using paper.  I recently started using a recipe box (with actual paper recipe cards) again, and find it superior to any electronic interface I've used.  Unfortunately, our schedules change frequently enough that I would have to add 'print off calendar page' as a daily to-do, and that wasn't an appealing option.

I have long wished someone would invent a device that would solve this problem.  I've had a couple of ideas over the years of what that might look like.  Maybe a digital photo frame that could also connect to Google Calendars?  How about a home phone with wifi and a touch screen? I can think of all kinds of uses for something like that!  Several companies came close to what I wanted (Chumby, for example) only to fold, get acquired, or otherwise fail to perfectly execute my dream device.

At some point, I started eyeing our iPad 1. Christie won it at a trade show back when it was the hot device of the moment, and it served us well for many years.  Now, however, it's running iOS 5.0.1 in an iOS 8.0.2 world. Even relatively simple apps like Netflix drag and crash enough to make it more frustrating than fun.I mounted it over our phone charging station with a few Command hooks, then started looking for an app that would display a calendar, a clock, and a weather forecast.

I never found one that ran under iOS 5 that I was happy with, but even the ones I didn't like were a step in the right direction.  I finally ended up just creating a web page that uses iframe tags to embed the data I wanted into a table that laid it out the way I wanted:
The clock is from, the forecast is from, and the calendars are coming via

I'm using Chrome for iOS to get the minimalist look I wanted, and the embed are all sized so that it fits just so.  Here's the code (with some redactions):

<iframe frameborder="0" height="230" src="" width="350"></iframe>
<iframe frameborder="0" height="230" id="forecast_embed" src=", MO" target="_blank" type="text/html" width="624"> </iframe>
<td colspan="2">
<iframe frameborder="0" height="480" scrolling="no" src="" style="border: solid 1px #777;" width="100%"></iframe>
<script id="jsbin-javascript">
if (/mobile/i.test(navigator.userAgent) && !window.location.hash) { window.onload = function () {
  window.scrollTo(0, 1);
}; }


You'll have to put in your own latitude and longitude for the forecast, and embed your own calendar (instructions here). The meta tag at the top reloads the page every ten minutes to keep the weather forecast fresh, and the javascript at the bottom is a bit of trickery to force Chrome to hide the navbar when that reload happens.

Set autolock on the iPad to "never", and you've got yourself a family calendar that always stays current.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The world's best lemonade

is adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe:

10–12 medium lemons , scrubbed well, halved pole to pole, all halves sliced thin
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
pinch table salt (optional)
5 cups water (cold)

Mash lemons and sugar (and salt, if using) in large, deep bowl or saucepan with potato masher or wooden spoon until lemon slices give up their juice, sugar is dissolved, and juice is thickened to syrup consistency, about 4 minutes. Pour half the lemon slices and syrup through large sieve over bowl or saucepan; press on solids with masher or back of wooden spoon to release as much liquid as possible, and rinse with some of the cold water.. Discard solids; transfer liquid to serving pitcher. Repeat process with remaining lemon slices. Stir in remaining water until blended. Chill well and stir to blend before serving, over ice if desired.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I didn't want to get up when I heard you calling me,
your small voice across the five a.m. house that I'm sure
I could have slept through if there wasn't something
in the way you said 'daddy, come'. You'd woken up cold and

grabbed on to me as if in a flood, and I covered you up and
gave your own heat back to you one moment at a time until
it was time, and I lay you back to bed and went to make
coffee in the growing light from the kitchen window sky.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"I do not believe in the romance of the struggle. I believe in the joy of winning."
-Rachel Maddow

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Deck lessons #5 - Steps

If possible, change the orientation of the boards to give a visual reminder of the change in level.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Danse Rust

I want to be a wizard to my children, fixing broken toys and conjuring furniture from trees
which is why I have a workshop, and my wife's grandfather's workbench,
which is why my bench is six inches deep in shavings, bits, pieces, and tools
which is why I cannot throw away the cracked birdhouse my uncle gave my wife
why I take things apart before dragging them to the curb, keeping what works
 (or might someday again)
why that log is sitting in the corner
why I am the last one awake tonight,
digging through sawdust and the smell of old oil
for some Rumplestilskin part that I need but can't name.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Deck Lessons #4 - Magic gloves

When you've got a few thousand screws to drive, speed helps.  I definitely recommend wearing work gloves of some kind, because splinters suck, and pressure treated wood probably isn't something you want to spend many, many hours handling with bare hands. I mean, it's probably fine, but just wear work gloves, okay?

But picking up screws with work gloves on takes a lot of practice.  So I took a shortcut.  I glued a small magnet to the back middle finger of each glove.  I chose the middle finger so that I could grab it with thumb and forefinger of the same hand to get it into position for driving.

Deck Lessons #3 - Spacing Balusters

Building code and safety for kids both dictate that your railing and stair balusters be no more than four inches apart. Aesthetics dictate that they be spaced evenly. There are a ton of different methods for achieving this goal.  This was mine:

I downloaded an iPhone app called Handrail Builder. It cost $1.99, but saved me many hours of head scratching.  Put in the span you're looking to cover and the width of your balusters, and the app will give you the spacing. Cut a spacer out of scrap materials, write the width on it (in case you need one of that size for a later stretch of railing), and cut a handle in the middle so you can hold the spacer and ad the baluster with one hand while you drive screws with the other.

I also suggest starting from either side of the railing, then working toward the middle. If you're off even a little in cutting your spacer block, the error will compound until it's definitely noticeable.  You can correct that by playing around with the spacing of the last couple of balusters, and it's a lot harder to see the results of your tweaking if it's in the middle of a run, rather than all at one end.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Deck Lessons #2 - Buy a corded oscillating tool, use it properly

I have a Bosch oscillating tool that I like a lot, but it's cordless, and only runs for about 8 minutes before you need to change batteries.  I ended up picking up a cheap Harbor Freight corded model out of frustration, because I was using it for all kinds of detail work around the site.

They are one of the safest kinds of saws to use, but you need to be careful about repetitive stress injury (RSI).  If you have carpal tunnel, the vibration of the saw can cause a flare up.  There is also hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) also known as 'vibration white finger'.  A long day of using the oscillating tool generally meant a long night of feeling like my hands were asleep.  Stretches helped, but the real key was learning how to hold the saw: loosely.  Let the weight of the tool do the work, and keep a very loose grip so that the vibration is only slightly transmitted to your hands and arms.

Deck Lessons #1 - Capture the Railing Posts

I've been thinking that I ought to write an article about building the deck this past summer.

Heh. Yeah, that's not going to happen. So here's #1 in what will probably be a series.

My railing posts are notched at the bottom and mounted on the outside of the rim joists, and the decking is notched around it. For longer runs, there's still a bit more flex in the railing than I'd like.  If I had it to do over, I'd mount the posts on the inside of the joists so they were captured all the way around with the decking. 

The downside would be that it'd be even more of a hassle cutting the holes in the decking.

Friday, June 29, 2012

How are my tin words
more eloquent than one tree
swaying in the sky?