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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.

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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.

Shared Experiences

noodlesandbeer

One of my kids and her husband went off to Singapore to do a little adventuring.  Turns out Singapore was celebrating their 50th birthday so they got to be part of the festivities.  They are going all over the island trying all kinds of new stuff and having a blast.

This picture is one that Sarah posted on her Instagram account with a little story.  Back when Singapore was only half as old as it is now, Sarah was about 2, and I went on a business trip that included Singapore.  My internal clock was all messed up and I was wondering the streets around midnight.  This restaurant set up tables out in the street in front of it’s indoor seating area, not the sidewalk, in the street.  Most of the tables had people sitting at them eating, drinking and having a good time.  As I walked by I noticed that pretty much everyone had the same thing, a bowl of (what turned out to be) spicy noodles and a Tiger beer – a BIG Tiger beer.  I am not sure if that was all they sold or that was what was best.

By the time I reached the end of the row of tables I had decided it all looked REALLY good and I should try some.  I turned around, found an empty table and ordered my noodles and beer.  The people watching was good and sipping my beer while I waited for the noodles I could feel some of the jet lag sliding off my back.  The noodles were spicy, the beer was cold and it was probably the best meal I had on my whole trip.  It was more than that.  I recalled that fond memory several occasions.  Surprisingly, someone was listening.

Yesterday Sarah and Greg were wandering the streets of Singapore and saw a street with tables setup and people eating spicy noodles and drinking beer.  I doubt that it will be one of the best meals of their trip but I know for at least two of us it will be a lifetime memory.

“ Tonight was a very full circle moment for me. When I was much younger my Dad used to travel for work. One of my favorite stories of his was how one night walking through the streets of Singapore he saw people sitting in the streets eating bowls of spicy noodles with giant beers and just stopped to enjoy. Today I got to experience the same thing. Thanks for the wanderlust dad. “

Travelogue – that’s a wrap

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

 

Our time here is winding down.  It’s time for a review, summary, recap, lessons learned, post mortem . . . did you ever notice how many words and phrases there are for looking back at something you already did?

This trip got an A for food.  Chinese, Thai, BBQ, Seafood, sticky buns, crepes, pizza, burgers and of course frozen custard and Italian ice, they were all yummy.  I don’t think we had a single dud meal on the trip.  We had some pretty good stuff at home but the stars of the trip were cooked by someone else.  If you should find yourself around Ft. Pierce on a Saturday morning, head over to the water behind city hall and visit their market.  They have a baker who does a wonderful assortment of breads, croissants and muffins.  I recommend the sticky buns.  A few yards away is a guy from Maryland who (according to Linda) makes some of the best crab cakes south of the Chesapeake.  It doesn’t matter that it’s for breakfast.

Kayak Fishing – B+  My fishing rod and I had a good run at the fish while we were here.  Only once was I skunked.  The weather was good.  We didn’t have any rain to speak of.  The wind came every day but there was always time to paddle the kayak before it got too strong.  It was a loss that I couldn’t launch in the neighborhood this year but since I had to drive to my launches I discovered several new launch sites and fishing holes.

The roads are less crowded in June than they are in February, but the water is much more crowded in June.  Do not attempt to launch your little plastic boat anywhere near a boat ramp on a weekend.  You will be taking your life in your hands, not to mention your ears being assaulted by some really bad “music”.  Nothing says fishing like gangster death rap.

Weekdays are great, very little traffic on the road and on the water and plenty of parking.  You really do have a ton of options.  The only caveat is you want to arrive at your park/launch/sandy spot on the side of the road before 11:00 am or after 1:00 pm.

Finally, we want to thank our friends who shared their house with us, it was top notch.  All went extremely smoothly this visit.  No appliances were harmed in the making of this vacation.  The internet was solid which makes life as we know it, possible.  We love spending time here for all the reasons listed above and more.  Now it’s time to return to Texas where people wave back and Mexican food nourishes your soul.

Travelogue – Lunch with Darryl (and his other brother Darryl)

kayak-sailFlorida has pretty predictable weather patterns, it’s mild and sunny in the morning, not too much wind.  It starts to cloud up between 12-1, the wind also gets stronger, then there is about a 30% chance of rain between 2-5.  This makes planning my kayak fishing easier.  The wind tends to come from the same direction (east) when it gets strong in the afternoon.  I try to be in a position NOT to fight that wind on my return paddle.

This means I often return between 12-1 – lunch time.  Since I can’t launch from the neighborhood like I have done in the past I spend a lot more time at parks, boat launches and sandy clearings by the water.  What I have discovered is; if you work for the city/county/state, or you are part of a yard maintenance crew, plummer, pool cleaner or even a cop, between 11:30 – 1:00 you seek out one of these parks or sandy patches by the side of the road to spend your lunch hour and a half.  Pretty much everyone who does their job in a vehicle does this.  All picnic tables are claimed, some lay in the grass, some never leave their truck.

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings on this.  If I was delivering phone books all day in my truck, I would want to spend my lunchtime in a shady park by the water too.  After all, if you are driving a dually with 6 guys inside and pulling a 30 ft trailer how many lunch options do you have?  On the other hand, a mom taking her kids to the park isn’t really comfortable sharing their picnic table with Chico and the man.  One time I came back to the kayak launch ramp and there was a truck parked on the ramp.  This is not cool.  So, in general, I think this is one of those things that is what it is and you just work with it.

It does make you think what they do everywhere else.  I would have to think we have as many electricians and yard guys running around the suburbs of Houston as they do in Vero Beach, where do they all go???  I know where our yard guys go, our front yard.  When it’s time for lunch they sit against a tree and eat and rest for a while.  Once one of them broke out a hibachi grill.  It’s OK with us, we have known them for many years and the place always looks better when they leave than it did when they got there.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7