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Drawdio = drawing + audio !

I have gained much useful knowledge from watching YouTube videos.  Most of the time it’s from people just trying to help other people out like the guy that showed me (and a few thousand others) how to fix the broken latch on my refrigerator.  Sometimes it’s from people who make their living from YouTube, much of that content could be called “edutainment”.  I stop by most days to see what’s new.

I have tried my hand at a few videos, partially to see how it all works, a little bit to see how they are received and of course I want to help someone out like I had so often been helped out.  Today I uploaded another one, it’s nothing special but it’s on an interesting little gadget.  I had to add a reason to my list of why I do videos – pressure and guilt.  Pretty much every week I get an email that someone has subscribed to my YouTube channel.  Whenever I get one of those emails I first thing I think is “wow that’s cool they must like my stuff”, the next thing is “another person is waiting for the next video”

I uploaded my first video in 2006 a year after YouTube started, there have been maybe 5 since then.  Obviously building a following and growing a channel was never my plan.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have throngs of people interested in power cables or shelf lighting or anything like that.  But if 100 people have said “when this guys puts out another video I want to know about it”, well, I picture them checking YouTube everyday (like I do) looking down their list of subscribed channels and seeing once again, that slacker’s got nothing!  The shame, the shame . . .

So here is a video of a pencil that can make annoying sounds but please don’t subscribe, I can’t take the pressure.

YouTube video

Happy Music

Recently our family tried a little happy exercise together.  Fear not, there was no profuse sweating or smelly closes involved.  We each pondered the question “what are the songs that make us happy”.  For time and sanitity’s sake we limited the choices, top 3-5 songs.  It was also suggested that we accompany the choice with a short not about why that song was happy to us.  Music can be a pretty powerful force and sometimes it’s used for good.  Here is our list.  For those of you who know us, I wonder how many you can associate with its nominator?

Of course many if not most of these songs made the list because of what was happening to the submitter when they listened to the music but clearly the music itself had emotional powers.  Consider trying the exercise yourself.  Better yet, do it with people you care about, it can provide some happy insights to what makes them tick.

Believe – Yellowcard
Beyonce – Love on Top
Brave by Sara Bareilles
Brooks & Dunn – Ain’t Nothing Bout You
Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel
Constantly – Cross Canadian Ragweed
Dance to the Music – Sly and the family Stone
Dime Luna by Mana
Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen
Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
Good Morning Baltimore from Hairspray
I’m A Believer by the Monkeys
Jammin – Bob Marley
Joy to the World – Three Dog Night
Kodachrome – Paul Simon
Life During Wartime by Talking Heads
Love Shack – The B-52s
Nashville Blues – Cory Morrow
Play That Funky Music White Boy by Wild Cherry
POWER – Kanye West
Rise to the Sun by Alabama Shakes
Sister Hazel – Mandolin Moon
Starman by David Bowie
Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez
The Girl with the Faraway Eyes by The Rolling Stones
Time of Our Lives – Pitbull, Ne-Yo
Van Morrison – Days Like This
Wake Up by Arcade Fire
Widespread Panic – Climb to Safety

Sometimes you get more than you deserve

I’m sure some of you may find that hard to believe.  You will just have to take my word for it, although I can offer a bit of proof.  The rest of you know this is true and are lying in wait for your next serendipitous windfall.

For the past few years I have been pursuing a new career (although some would call it a 2nd childhood) involving education, coding, robotics and various electronics.  As part of this metamorphosis I have usurped the family dining room cum work from home office and have slowly turned it into a nerd-man-cave.  There are multiple computers, monitors, notebooks, test equipment, 3D printer, 17 different kinds of cardboard, vinyl cutter, soldering irons, robots and several storage systems filled to the brim with . . . umm . . . very crucial and totally important thingamabobs mostly from China.

You may not know this, but there are a few individuals who actually don’t appreciate these monuments to tinkering, these magnificent maker spaces!

Well, in our house, we don’t have any of those people.  Recently my lovely bride bought me some hardware and convinced my daughter and her husband to pick it up and bring it to the house.  This was no small feat because it weighs 350 lbs.  It is a high end bright red rolling tool chest (Milwaukee 52″ Mobile Workstation)  with a nicely finished 1.25 inch solid wood top and drawers that will hold a 100 lbs each.  On top of that, I was allowed encouraged to put it in my nerd cave, and we think it looks great.  Eat your heart out normal husbands/fathers.

The new addition has really upgraded my space.  My stuff is better organized and way easier to get out and put away.  Another benefit is that it gives me a stand-up space to work The former tool chest is now a robot building station.  I’m still working on a few upgrades and deciding what gets to go in the few remaining empty drawers.  Thank you family.

 

We were hacked

Sorry friends and strangers, for a while this site was taken over by under morraled, underdeveloped, underground types for undesirable activities.  But as in all good stories the forces of goodness and tech support have prevailed.  Sorry if your sensibilities were besmirched while visiting our humble site, it won’t happen again until next time.  May all the bullies and haters in your news feed be on your side.

Printer Time

The good news is . . . I am getting a 3D printer.  The bad news, well, I guess we will have to wait to find out but there is a distinct possibility that there isn’t any bad new.  I can tell that some of you are incredulous but for 2 different reasons;

#1 – “I can’t believe it, you don’t already have a 3D printer?!?  I thought you were a technology guy!”

#2 – “I can’t believe it, you are sorta old, how can you be so naive?!?  There is always bad news when it comes to new technology!”

Well #1, I have to admit, I have been intrigued by 3D printing for some time.  Working at the number one printer company in the world, and followed the industry pretty closely.  I seriously considered parting with the $3000 – $5000 it would have cost me to be in the early adopters club back in the day.  But, although I bought into the vision of a world where you could print your own toaster the reality was more like cheap plastic army men.  Maybe when the printers come down to $2000.  It didn’t take long for the prices to drop and the competition to increase.  Then you could print 3 inch Yoda heads or even a cell phone case.  Hmmmm, I do like Yoda . . .  And so it went, years passed.

#2, you don’t mind if I call you #2 do you?  We all know that the first versions of technology are not without . . . challenges.  Look at other examples of early technology like Horseless Carriages, mobile phones and interpretive dance.  And look at them now, they have lead directly to the Tesla Model S, Galaxy Note 7 and Twerking!  So, don’t be too harsh when judging new technology.  I still believe.

When did the horseless carriage become the car?  I’ll tell you.  When everyone had one.  At some point the automobile crossed the threshold between new technology with a vision to something that is affordable and useful to a big chunk of the population.

With 3D printing I was in a unique position (at least in the trajectory of my life).  I was close enough to the technology to understand what was going on and get excited about it but still able to see it from more of a mainstream perspective.  Normally people like me either give in to the Yoda with the rest of the #1’s and hope they don’t look foolish a year or two later, OR, weigh the technology’s vision vs reality, see all that it is lacking and disengage, risking feeling a bit myopic in the next year or two.

But not this time!

The 2 reasons I stepped up to the build plate in January of 2017 are;

I work on a number of electronics projects, I do some of these projects with kids in schools.  There are a bunch of people that put their projects out there so people like me can learn from them which is so great.  Many of these people grab a paintbrush, sewing machine or a 3D printer without a 2nd thought it’s about creating.  At some point they began saying things like  . . . then print out a part like this (and they would give you the file you need to make the part) and use it here . . .  To them it was the same as saying ” . . . then use this code (giving you the file with the code in it) to make the thing to this . . .”  The 3D printer had become a useful tool like a piece of software or a screwdriver to them (and I hope for me).  It’s like when you say to someone “I’ll meet you at the restaurant”.  You just assume they have a car or at least access to one.  The discussion isn’t about automotive technology or the size Yoda you can print, it’s about – pizza, friends and gossip about #1 and #2!

By the way, my new printer cost $200 and can print army men, Yodas AND little boxes for electronics!  Hey, how about we get some pizza and print some cell phone cases for the needy?

Mawage – a Dweem wifin a Dweem

kw5Well something happened that was big enough to wake this blog from it’s slumber. Believe it or not, our youngest daughter just became someone’s wife. That “someone” is Sam Nicholson, so we now have a matched set – Katie and Sam Nicholson.

We had a relatively small wedding in Dallas with family and a few close friends. It was held at the Texas Ale project on October 22. It was an indoor/outdoor affair and the weather couldn’t have been better. I think it turned out really well.

kw1Of course life wouldn’t be very interesting if everything always turned out just the way we planned it. So, in between the divine bridal luncheon hosted by the lovely and talented Sarah Carter and the all-hands rehearsal dinner gathering at Cana Rosso put on by Sam’s parents, a little toxic confetti must fall. Whilst out running errands, Sam and his amigos ran into this event’s #1 wedding crasher – literally.

A small distracted driver decided to test the laws of traffic and physics as she turned her lith Audi TT into Sam’s oncoming amigo filled SUV. Katie get’s the call, “Sam has been in an accident” and off we go. Turnskw6 out everyone is OK except for being pummeled by airbags. The vehicles are not so lucky, it appears both may be totaled.

kw7Once perspectives and priorities were reset the betrothed posed for a picture to mark the occasion, post to social media and ward off future misfortune. Talk quickly turned to how cool their sign was, airbag retribution and the quantity of pizza and beer that would consumed later that evening.

We went to Dallas on Thursday and came back on Sunday. Rather than staying in a hotel we rented a house a few blocks for Sam and Katie’s apartment. This was a good move. It was a very nice 3 story kw8townhouse that was stylish and well appointed if a bit tempature challenged. This became the meeting place, all our families came at some point to hang out with us between events. Even one of the hotels where people were staying was within walking distance. Pro tip – when you have the option, go for the house.

kw9The wedding itself was a complete success. Family, friends, BBQ, beer and great weather what’s not to like? I have to give a special shoutout to Sam for his personally curated wedding playlist. The whole evening’s music was scheduled and laid out. Good songs and good job! Patty and her girls were a huge help and did some great things for Katie, thank you. I also want to thank our very good friends Pam kw3and Thom, Mark and Debbie, Darlene and Tom and Teresa for traveling to Dallas to celebrate with us.kw2

As you ramble through life, whatever be your goal;
Keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.kw4

Little Packages

Hello, my name is Bob and I am a little package addict.

It started in the mid 90s, I think it was around 1996.  Amazon was new to the world, it was an oddity.  Of course I checked it out but it didn’t do a lot for me at the time.  If I wanted a howling wolf t-shirt, Walmart was closer, easier and cheaper.  But this was also the time of ebay.  This was an entirely different beast.  There were cheap Chinese knockoffs, used stuff and things I would have never thought of looking for.  I could get my Donkey Kong Country for a fraction of what GameStop was charging.  This was a whole new form of digital hunting.littlepackage2

Then there was Newegg, buy.com, and tons of other “you can buy anything online.com” stores.  There was no going back.  Amazon became a wallet draining ninja with it’s secret weapon – reviews, and it’s not so secret weapon – Prime (AKA free shipping).  Ebay fell by the wayside, the novelty of bidding all the time lost it’s appeal.

By now my addiction to having things delivered to me with a wave of the mouse was in full swing.  Like the rest of my socioeconomic peers we justified it with “it saves me time, that’s all” or “I know lots of people who buy more than me . . .”  Midnight, 6 inches from of a monitor that was bigger than the family TV a few short years ago evaluating a sale on personalized sporks you feel it in your bones –     you      are      addicted.

It’s now 2016, malls are a wasteland and it has become socially acceptable to click – swipe and spend with impunity.  The addiction is OK like using your phone while driving or saying “just this once” for the 9th time this week to a waitress asking you about desert.  I could stop here, confess my weakness and melt into the unwashed masses – BUT NO!  I did not stop there.

I have cut out the middle man.  Like most things, fine Corinthian USB cables are now made in China.  Why pay some outfit in Seattle when you go direct?  Aliexpress is the consumer front end to Alibaba.  To give you a sense of scale, Amazon ships an average about 3 million packages a day, Alibaba ships around 12 million.  I do a lot of tinkering with electronics and building projects.  Maybe I need some LEDs.  I can get 100 shipped from Amazon for about $7 – not bad.  I can get 100 from Aliexpress for .86 cents – SHIPPED, for $7 I can get 1000 LEDs in a little yellow envelope from China.  The Amazon order could get he in as little as 2 days.  The Aliexpress order is likely to take 3 weeks.  So, what color LEDs should I get?  I’m not likely to get more than one bag from Amazon, but on Aliexpress?  Give me a bag of every color you got.  At .86 cents I can end up with 5, 6 or 7 little packages heading my way instead of 1 from Amazon.level

Turn away if you must.  At any given time I have 10-15 little packages making their way from the land of the Red Dragon to deep in the heart of Texas.  My LED cup runith over.  I have to build projects just to keep my inventory turns up.  I can’t keep this up, this is a cry for help.  Brother can you spare a little package?

Check out my ‘ible

I have just published my first “instructable”. If you are not familiar with Instructables, it is a website where people post how-to projects, everything from how to make a pet rock to building your own car. It really is  worth a look, lots of interesting stuff.

My ‘ible as the site veterans say, is closer to the pet rock side of the spectrum. It shows how to make a cable you can use with the little electronics projects I am always tinkering around with. I know most pretty much all of you are not likely to need this bit of hardware wizardry but I decided to force it on you anyway since you read my blog. Also, everyone can see my instructable’s project view counter and I can’t make it go over 1 by myself. I know there are at least 6-8 people who need this information but it just may take them some time to find it.

http://www.instructables.com/id/Build-a-Versatile-USB-Power-Cable-for-Your-Arduino/

“. . . so why did you do it?” I hear you mentally mumbling. Well I will tell you.  Every time I need to know something, every time I just wonder if there is such a thing, every time I run out of things to wonder about – I go to the internet and there it is. The answer. Not always the right answer but it’s a start. When you are desperate to know if ear wax is flammable (it is) of if you can cook a full meal with nothing but toothpicks (you can) who are you going to ask? Your friends? Your mom? Of course not, all you can do is hope that not only are you not the first person who needed to know these things but someone before you had the foresight and the decency to post about it. So why did I do it? To even the score a bit. I don’t know who is going to need to make a USB power cable but someone will and I have left them some digital bread crumbs.   I wouldn’t be here today If I didn’t have that fire extinguisher handy when I needed it. We all have to do our part.

instructable

2015 Wrap up

You wouldn’t know it from reading this blog but a fair amount has been going on around here.  Here is a little info to catch you up.

My small business christyinnovations works with schools and teachers to teach technology.  I have been doing it on a school by school basis the last couple of years.  This year I have a contract with our local school district to create and manage a coding club program for elementary schools.  I created the program, lesson plans, teacher training and a year end “Expo”.  We have 13 schools and over 40o kids in the program our first year which is pretty great.  I visit all the schools and help the teachers, observe the kids and try to improve the program.  This has kept me pretty busy since August.

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On a related note, I also got to work with 70 of the top teachers in the district across all grade levels in a technology workshop.  We did some coding, built some Super Bristle Bots and talked about how they could use these tools in their classrooms.

20151209_112410

 

We missed going to the beach at Ft. Morgan during November.  We would spend the month there working, hanging out on the beach and kayak fishing every year.  Because of the activities mentioned above we couldn’t swing it.  I am so glad we got to spend time in Vero Beach in June to help sustain us.

It hasn’t been all work and no play.  Every December we do something as a family usually earlier in the month.  This “tradition” stemmed from our son in law Greg having to be off shore during Christmas a few years back.  So Katie, Sam, Sarah, Greg, Linda and I would plan some long weekend kind of event that we could all do together.  We liked it so much we kept on doing it even if no one was going to be gone for Christmas.  This year we took a 4 night cruise to Cozumel out of Galveston.  I think everyone had a great time, I know I did.

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Turns out we will be down 2 family members this year.  Katie and Sam are are vacationing in Europe for the holidays.  They will spend Christmas in Paris and squeeze in a little Amsterdam and Brough.

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I hope your year was as good as ours and that you are looking forward to next year.  Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and best wishes in general from the Christy family.

The Joy of Tinkering

I have been spending a lot (dare I say inordinate amount) of time playing with little electronics.  Projects that when in component form will fit in my pocket.  I started with Raspberry Pi – a tiny general purpose computer and then got involved with an Arduino – an even smaller micro controller.  These projects are at the same time, insignificant and quite impressive.

They are insignificant because when 100% functional they might make a motor spin when I press a button or play a song AND light a light at the same time.  I forgot to mention I often need help with these herculean tasks so I go online and find some of the projects thousands of other people have already completed and copy some of their work.  Needless to say the Nobel committee has yet to be informed of my work.

I realize it’s a long way from what I just described to “impressive”.  The thing is, while doing these simple tasks I learned quite a bit about electricity, electric components, writing software, soldering, reading spec sheets and schematics, the list goes on and on.  I knew very little of these things when I started and although I am far from an expert I can honestly say I understand a surprising amount about these previously unknown topics.

Whenever you experience these kind of “aha moments” you want to share them with others.  In particular I have been trying to figure out ways to give similar experiences to kids.  Without trying to sound too dramatic, I think this sort of experience can be life changing especially if it happens at an early age.  The joy of discovery, the satisfaction of figuring things out and creating a “formula” for yourself to learn something new can be pretty powerful.

One idea I am trying out is creating project kits that contain all the components needed and making corresponding videos explaining how to assemble and program the project.  The hope is that these projects would give kids some of these aha moments, they would build confidence encourage them to seek out more.  Since I have a lack of 11 year olds I have forced my family to be my Guinea pigs.

The jury is still out on my project kit idea but based on where I started with my own project learning and my relative success of my current (get it?  electronics pun) set of projects there is hope.