Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween is just an excuse

Just as my kids find Halloween an excuse to load up on candy and put on fancy dresses, pumpkin carving is an excuse to get out some tools. Those pumpkin carving kits definitely make things easier, but they can be improved upon. I just saw that Williams Sonoma has this kit. Ooh it's on sale, I might have to have my wife stop in and get it.

Cutting into a pumpkin with a steak knife might be fun if you want to get out some aggression, but the easiest way to scalp a pumpkin is with a saber saw.
The scoop in the kids' kit works ok, but I need something I know I won't crack in half. An ice cream spade works much better at scraping and thinning the walls of the pumpkin. Don't get me wrong, my kids do get to work on their own pumpkins. It took a little bit before they were willing to get their hands dirty; but once they got started, they did well. I would scrape the inside and one would scoop out the junk while I scraped out her sister's pumpkin.

The girls traced on their designs and cut out the eyes, mouth, etc. with the tools from their kit. But when my one daughter wanted a perfectly round nose, you can't beat a wood-boring bit.To light up the pumpkins I thought about using kerosene and toilet paper, but instead I opt for something more traditional (and something I can leave on the porch). I take an old light bulb socket and stick it through a hole that I again drilled out in the back of the pumpkin. Those flickering lights give a nice candle effect without the wind constantly blowing it out.

This year I did not break out the dremel tool for these designs. Last year my daughter used it to carve (yes it's safe enough for a first grader) out a design from our local paper that featured our mayor. To be honest my wife was surprised that I didn't get my own pumpkin this year. I guess I just wasn't inspired enough. :-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Making greeting cards

My wife loves making greeting cards and does a great job. She gets out many of her different scrapbooking tools and really gets into it. I think I would just draw a blank trying to come up with a good design and decently written text. Maybe it's just because I prefer using different tools. I have to admit this video has gotten me a little inspired. Good thing her birthday passed recently.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Reenforced Perler Beads

My daughters enjoying doing crafts. Seeing I like working with my hands and my wife likes making gifts to spoil people, this is no big surprise. One of the crafts they enjoy doing is making designs with Perler Beads. These are pretty easy for them to do, the only adult supervision at the end is to iron the beads designs to fuse the beads together. (No, I don't let my preschooler use an iron).

One of my favorite things to do is disc golf, and my daughters know this and are my biggest fans. My oldest daughter made this design for me.

The only problem with these craft projects is that break apart rather easily. This results in these little beads joining the Polly pocket shoes on the floor waiting to be sucked up the next time we vacuum.

Back to the craft, besides it being really cool that she has made this with a long haired disc golfer on it (that would be me), I measured it and it was a legal size mini-marker for disc golf. (For the uninitiated, you mark where your disc landed with a mini-marker, and make your next throw from that spot.) The only problem with using it as a mini-marker is that it would soon just crack apart and be a bunch of beads in my bag.

To keep this from cracking into a ton of pieces, I layered around 10 coats of polyurethane on each side of the marker. This gave it a nice smooth coating and will keep if from falling apart. What I really wanted to use was EnviroTex Lite, but I didn't have any on hand. EnviroTex Lite is high gloss finish that you pour on and is equivalent to about 50 layers of varnish.

At my last tournament, other disc golfers on my card like the mini and asked where I got it. My daughter is now making a bunch for me to sell at the next tournament.

I was helping her make some of these and man is this a tedious process. Part of the problem is my big fingers don't do well with the tiny beads. What I needed was something that could guide the beads down onto the peg I wanted. A toothpick proved to be perfect. You could load up a bunch of beads on it and easily drop them at will anywhere on the pegboard. It was actually kind of fun. Here are images of the disc golf markers she is going to sell. If you want one of these or a custom one for yourself, drop me a line.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Revisiting Conversations

My mind is constantly in motion and often is engaged in multiple activities at once. Part of it is just the speed at which it works. In college, I would bring a crossword to some classes that seemed to go just a bit too slow. I would continue to follow the lecture, but when the professor went on a little too long or belabored a point, I'd fill in a couple of clues to keep from drifting off in boredom.

The problem with this is that when something needs my full attention, it is difficult. My brain wants to work on some design or something in the background while I attend to the task at hand. I had a friend call with some rather tough news that needed my complete attention. I went off by myself, turned off the radio, and sat in my recliner as he recounted what he was going through. It was tough to keep myself focused on understanding the tough times he was going through and not start plugging away at a Sodoku or something.

But the other problem with this conversation, was that after it was over, my brain kept working in the background on this conversation. A little later, there was a list of questions in my head that I wished I had asked, but it was (IMO) inappropriate to start up the conversation again just for those questions.

Even posting here, once I hit the publish post button, give me a couple hours and there will invariably be something else I wish I had said. For example, when I was posted about going to the chiropractor (now months ago), I wanted to make the witty comparison between my opinion of them and the doctor in The Pearl.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Note To Self #3

When scheduling an annual physical at the doctor's office where your mother-in-law is the nurse: schedule it before Mother's Day. My arm's just a bit sore.

Monday, April 2, 2007

No Fooling

You will all be glad that I refrained from any April Fool's high jinks this year. My wife is probably glad too. The problem actually is that April Fool's day is on the first day of April. It suffers from the same problem as my birthday. It sneaks up on people. Each year I don't start thinking of a good prank until that morning which is of course far too late to pull off a really good prank.

What makes a good April Fool's prank?

1) It needs subtlety. This is what Slashdot never seems to get right. Just about every post on April 1 is a really bad attempt at humor or pulling a fast one. It may just be that geeks are humor impaired. The challenge with Slashdot is that you aren't looking for the prank, but trying to find out if anything posted that day is true at all. It is really just lame and I make a point of not visiting Slashdot on April Fool's Day.

2) It must be convincing. My wife reads many more blogs and one of her friends who is 8 months pregnant (and due to her body frame looks like she was full term a month ago) posted the simple message "Our baby was born this morning at 4:45! Too tired to post details. Will do so later. All are well." Very convincing. Of course one of my cousins was born on 4/1 and nobody believed my uncle at all when he called to announce the news. Given the history of pranks that he and siblings pulled, you can't blame them.

3) It should be harmless. No one should get hurt, lose their job, etc. They should be informed at some point that they got snookered. Every year I look forward to listening to WXRT as they always do something interesting. This year 4/1 landed on Sunday. Usually we listen to some hymns to prepare for church, but I wanted to see what this year's theme was. To my surprise the regular morning weekday DJ and was broadcasting and doing the regular weekday programming (news, sports, traffic, weather on the half hour, etc.). Even though I was looking for it, I almost missed it. I wonder how many non-church going folk got in a panic and headed off for work. :-)

I'll have to work on something good next year for my kids. I'm sure they will appreciate it, but of course, why wait until next year?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Correcting the Teacher

I was one of those students that had no qualms about correcting my teacher in school. Occasionally it was minor errors on the chalkboard; other times the teacher would have to rethink through what they had just spent some time on. Most of the time I was right, sometimes in haste I would be the mistaken one and had to recognize that they after all did know their stuff.

These habits are hard to break. A couple of years ago, we had some training at work on the Theory of Constraints and Critical Chain which was really just another way of making a schedule using some nifty new tool that someone thought we should spend money on. There were a couple of things I learned in that class unrelated to the theory that my management wish I hadn't learned, but the main problem was the math. It didn't add up. As the instructors went through the explanations, I took pencil to paper, got past their hand waving, and came to the conclusion that the math didn't support their claims. Now anyone who has sat in any corporate training knows, the people that actually know the stuff don't do the training, specialized trainers teach the class. Being the exacting engineer that I am, I made a comment explaining why the math didn't work. The response from the instructor was classic, "I don't have a degree in mathematics, but the man who came up with this was an astrophysicist and is very brilliant. He must know what he's talking about." Appealing to a higher authority. One of the best logical fallacies out there. Fortunately another participant piped up. "Actually, I have a Ph.D. in statistics and he [referring to me] is right." After the session, they did admit that once you run things through their method, you just fudge the numbers to come up with the end date you want. To quote Solomon. "There is nothing new under the sun."

Another case where the math did no add up. My 2nd grade daughter said to me the other day,
"Do you know what A.D. means?"
"Yes, I do, but tell me what it is."
"After Death"
"Then what is B.C.?"
"Before Christ"
"And what do you then call the 33 years in between? Did your teacher actually tell you that is what A.D. means?"
Later, I had her ask my wife the same question. Without batting an eye "Anno Domini".

As a father I want to teach my daughters not only to critically listen to what they are taught, but to also respect those in authority. Now here's the question: Once you tell your daughter the correct understanding, should you let her inform her teacher that she's wrong? Accuracy vs Respect. Maybe the teacher was just trying to simplify things for 2nd graders, but there's no reason for teaching something that is so just plain wrong. She already seems to think she knows it all (and she's not even a teenager yet). This is something my wife and I are trying to work on with her.

Something like the definition of A.D. is pretty minor, easily corrected, and not a big deal, but.... I'm sure there will be other things that she will be taught that are a bigger issue. Some of these will probably be in conflict with our mores. She needs to respect her teachers, but she also need to think critically and be willing to question things that aren't right. In addition, she needs to know that here parents care and want her to learn what is right. How do we keep the communication paths open that she will come talk to us about these things and trust us to teach her the truth? Where's the balance?

Monday, March 12, 2007

What time is it?

Our wonderful government doesn't know when to leave things alone. "Hey if DST (Daylight Savings Time) saved a bunch of money in electricity when it was enacted, let's make it longer and we can save more money." There were even some that thought if we observed DST all year long, we'd save even more money. Ugh. Lights are not the biggest draw on the electric supply any more. It's the always on computers, stereos (even when they are off they are on), etc. Lights are just a fraction of the deal. At least in our house, we end up using the same amount of lights in the morning and evening regardless of how light it is outside. If anything, with the time change, they are on more as I am now getting up before sunrise again.

Now, we also have many gadgets that have built in DST settings. Computer patches and upgrades were issued, and our IT deperatment did their best to get things right, but at least one application seemed to jump forward by not just one hour, but a whole day. Go figure. But my VCR doesn't have a firmware upgrade for the DST change. Nor did the banks' outdoor signs. When Y2K came around, the banks were the first to notice the problem, and spent tons of money upgrading and testing for both Y2K bugs. (Yes there were two: one was the problem with only storing the last two digits, the other was a lack of understanding of the leap year rules.) But on my way home from the store after picking up some pepper seeds to get started, my daughter was surprised that despite the amount of sunlight, the time was getting late (around 6:30pm). As we passed a bank, she also noticed that a bank had the wrong time on their public service time / temperature sign. (Did you know that banks are required to have these signs?). Anyway, it was more than one bank that didn't fix their signs. Now, they might have ditched DST and stayed on CST, but I doubt it.

But the real reason for the DST fix was to keep the economy moving. When it's dark early, people tend to get depressed and hibernate. When then the sun stays out longer after people get home from work, they tend to go out and be better consumers and spend money and keep our economy afloat. It has nothing to do with saving energy. The energy policy wonks will show that we saved X number of KwH of electricity, but will not mention the increase in gasoline usage during that same time.

There is one good thing though that will come to light from the DST change. Halloween in the fall will be just a little bit brighter for the kids to be trick or treating. It won't be quite as dangerous to be out into the evening. The kids will be able to visit more houses. We'll probably even need to buy more candy because of it. Which gets me back to my point. It's the economy, stupid.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Fixing My Back

Our family has a knack of getting injured with amazingly boring stories. My wife last summer tore something in her shoulder, not from refereeing between the kids or doing something crazy like hang-gliding; she just reached a little too far to get that itch on her back.

I managed to get injured a few weeks ago and thought it would work itself out. But the knot in one shoulder grew a twin in the other which is even larger. All this from an afternoon of sitting in a comfy chair reading (boring work stuff).

So I've been back to the Chiropractor for an adjustment. It's more like a small overhaul. He turns my head one way. Crack. And the other way. Crack. Breathe in and out. Crack. Again. Crack. Finish it all off with a little electric current to relax the muscles.

My daughter thinks I can fix anything. She told me tonight that again after I reattached the head to one of her dolls. She said I was good with glue. Hopefully the glue holds. The way she dresses and undresses her dolls, we'll see. Going to the chiropractor seems kind of the same way. Hopefully the adjustment holds. When it doesn't I'll go back, and back, and back, all hoping he'll fix my back.

Fortunately he doesn't have the penchant for clamps that I do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Gettin' Old

Last week I celebrated my birthday. Not a milestone birthday. Just a normal run-of-the-mill one that's not even over-the-hill. I'm not one to make a big deal about my birthday or fret over how old I now am.

I'm the youngest old fart you ever met. At work I'm known to have a great disdain for GUIs and prefer the command line. Even this post was written in my favorite editor (vi). If I have to use the mouse, I feel like I've been slowed down. Now, I'm not completely opposed to progress. I do use a virtual desktop (with pretty much everything mapped to keyboard shortcuts) and there are some tools that are better in a GUI world. In this day and age, writing documents in LaTeX is not really needed when you have a full-featured WYSIWYG desktop publishing program like FrameMaker at your disposal (Word on the other hand gets in my way).

Yes, I have computers older than some of the some employees at my company. But none of this makes me feel old. What sort of gave me that feeling of getting older was my annual ski outing with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. After her lesson, her instructor was letting me know what she needed to work on. When he was done explaining that she needed to lean forward in her boots, he said "and as for you..." What!? Was he watching me ski around taking pictures while she was in her lesson. No. My skis were old. They've been obsolete for a couple of decades. My boots, rear-entry. They only made those because, at the time, the plastic technology wasn't far enough along to make it reasonable to get into another type of boot. After seeing that he was wearing a local ski shop jacket, I figured he was just trying to get a sale, but later on the lift, not once, but twice, a fellow lift rider would make a comment like, "That takes me back. I haven't seen a pair of straight boards in ages." That's the kind of comment that someone would make to an old geezer. Not a father out with his elementary aged daughter.

Maybe I am getting old...did I tell you about skiing with my daughter last week?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's Gift Idea

I think I figured out what every crafty woman needs for Valentines Day.

One of the best ways to find a practical gift for someone is to see what they borrowed. Lately my wife has been borrowing my bar clamps. She was making a memo board and had a handful of those fabric covered buttons to finish. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get them to set right. The fabric would buckle, the back would be in crooked, etc. Her hands were also getting quite tired. I lent her one my small quick clamps. We set the button layers between the two pads, a couple of easy squeezes and it was perfect. What else has she used them for? At Christmas time, we held the roll of scotch tape to the table with a mini clamp so it was easier to tear off one handed, and lately she's been making decorated clip boards and needs to hold the clips open while the Mod Podge dries. I had to go steal them back tonight for another project.

What other unusual uses have you for these clamps? What uses does your wife have for these? It's not too late to stop by a hardware store for your sweetie.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cabinet for American Girl Doll

My daughters love their American Girl dolls. They love flipping through the catalog and admiring the many cool accessories for these dolls. Now my wife and I are not inclined to go overboard making sure that each of these dolls have their own carriage, stable, horse, etc. But Grandmas do ensure that each is adequately supplied for many hours of play.

Anyone who has young daughters this age realizes that this stuff is not cheap. Fortunately it is all really well made. When an investment like this is made (not for profit, but to make sure that these last for a number of years), proper care is required. My girls have been taking good care of their dolls, but the extra time to pull everything out and box them back up again cut into their pretend time which IMO is critical to their development.

I liken this to my recommendation to new guitar players: Buy a stand! It's amazing how much more practice time occurs when one does not need to get the guitar out of the case to play it.

Back to my girls. I decided that a little spoiling just because was in order. These cabinets were the outcome of that desire to provide for each girl and their doll. It's amazing how a couple extra items can transform a standard storage cabinet from Target into something as cool (from my daughters' point of view) as this. Since making three of these for my daughters, I have helped a couple of other friends of mine build these same cabinets for their daughters. I'm sure if I wanted to I could make a little side business building these things, but instead I posted the instructions for building them on instructables.com.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Short Definition

WilyHacker (wahy'-lee hak'-er)

Wily - crafty, cunning

Hacker - One who makes things work way beyond their original intention.

The term hacker is one word where the mass-media has co-opted a positive term for an elite class of individuals from one culture, corrupted it, and turned it into a derogatory term for the fringe element that seemed to have a piece of their ethical circuitry missing. Wikipedia has done a good job documenting this controversy. I could go on and write more on my position on the subject, but if you understand Brian Sawyer's post on What's a Hack? on Hackszine, you will understand my use.

This blog is not about breaking into what one has no authority of using, but of taking what one owns and making it your own. It contains many random thoughts that hopefully will spur your own random thoughts.

As we create, may the Creator be glorified.