Red Echo

February 29, 2012

In the Future Everything Will Be A Coffee Shop: current trends that will eventually turn universities, book stores, general retail stores, offices, and even churches into little more than specialized coffee shops.

ALTSpace probably ought to contain a coffee shop, but so far nobody wants to do the work of running it.

February 21, 2012

I spent President’s Day roaming around out in eastern Washington looking for possible camping sites. I am looking for a place where a couple hundred people could drive in and build a tent city, then spend a long weekend setting things on fire, running around in elaborate, provocative, or non-existent costumes, making loud noises at all hours of the day and night, dancing til dawn, and otherwise delighting each other with all the products of the artistic imagination without fear of upsetting the neighbors or attracting law-enforcement busybodies. This is a tall order, especially when you center the search space on Seattle and limit its radius to five hours’ drive.

I used to love poking around in the back country, but have fallen out of the habit. It was fun to just cruise around, looking down any road that interested me, getting out and hiking cross country when there was something interesting in the distance. I had specific destinations in mind, to be sure, located on aerial photos and BLM maps, but working out how the map corresponds to the territory is real work, and is definitely part of the fun.

Yesterday’s survey did not reveal a suitable place, but it was informative nonetheless. I was able to scratch one site off my list, determined that I need better maps if I am going to locate another, and unexpectedly came across a place which, while unsuitable for the event described above, is worth remembering in case I want to do something smaller and less pyrotechnically dangerous.

This elegant, wordless how-to series demonstrates a technique for making and using a wax seal. Each step is posed just so. Words would have added nothing.

The only detail left unclear is the nature of the yellow fluid used to coat the stamp before pressing it into the wax. It appears to be some kind of oil. Perhaps any sort of cooking oil will do.

February 16, 2012

projects under way:
– don’t get fired at work
– recruit more members for altspace so we can get back to break-even
– hem up the dress for Jeanine
– dispose of the leftovers from the electric skateboard project
– continue implementing asynchronous blocks in radian
– investigate possible sites for a big fiery camping trip later in the summer
– lighting system for Kevin’s spiderweb sculpture project

February 13, 2012

Light Seattle Times article about bicycle greenways. This caught my eye:

“The theory that bikes have a right to the road and should share lane space with cars on main roads … is hazardous in practice,” he said.

I know that “share the road” is supposed to be the hip thing but I just don’t buy it. It’s not a fault-tolerant system.

February 10, 2012

This extraordinarily well-written article explains the concept of algebraic datatypes in a way that can actually manage to penetrate my largely Greek-symbol-proof brain. Reading it was one of those awesome mind-goes-pop moments where a whole lot of references I’ve been observing for years finally clicked together into something I can actually use.

February 9, 2012

I have never been any good at doing work for work’s sake.

If the work is interesting, I’ll dig in and think hard and get lots done. I’ll feel good and focus deeply and I might have a hard time stopping to rest. It’s satisfying to work like this – I need some of this in my life in order to feel truly happy. The best times in my career have been the weeks or months when I have had a deep, challenging project where I can sink my brain in fully.

If I have some boring, mindless task to do, like washing the dishes or sweeping the floor or taking out the trash, I’ll put my body on autopilot and let my mind go play. It’s actually pleasant to do some of this kind of work, because my mind is free to do something fun while I am getting something practical accomplished. Some household chores are pleasant while others are almost unbearable, and it’s all a matter of whether I can daydream while I’m doing the work.

But if I’m stuck with a task which is not really interesting, but which nonetheless requires the participation of my brain, the situation becomes very bad indeed. My thoughts skitter all over the place, slipping off target every time I stop for breath. I find myself “coming to” after half an hour’s daydream, cursor still blinking away on some untouched document. Every possible distraction thrusts itself at me, from all corners; I find myself simultaneously trying to think about three or four different projects or ideas, none of which have anything to do with my actual job.

Once I have sunk into this state, embarrassment and fear of failure generally keep me stuck there until the impending doom of an approaching deadline spurs me into frantic action. Then my adrenaline pumps, my mind zeroes in, and off I go at full speed, sometimes getting many days’ worth of work done in one hard push. It really isn’t any fun, though, since I am just covering for work I should have already done, and the best I can hope for at the end is “whew, nobody noticed”.

It’s all speculation now, since I don’t seem to be able to change this set of traits just by wishing I could work differently, but I do wonder to what degree this is nature and to what degree nurture. If I had gone through a more normal school environment as a kid, would I have had to learn how to deal with busy-work? Might I now be able to punch the clock and turn the crank and do the work I’m supposed to do when I’m supposed to do it? Or would I have been built the same way, and just had a worse education as a result? Being taught at home definitely played to my strengths, even with all the late-night cram sessions the day before a project deadline.

February 6, 2012

Ava and I went to Home Depot yesterday and got some half-inch by five-inch molding offcuts. We’re going to assemble a three-layer window insert that includes a cat door. The Beast, aka The Animal, aka Petapod, aka Oedipuss (and more, longer, sillier names), has responded to the arrival of sunshine by insisting, firmly, early in the morning, that he be allowed out to play. I have responded to his rhythmic, ceaseless meowling and prancing about at the foot of the bed with flicks of water, savage kicks through the bed-blankets, grumbles, and summary eviction from the sleeping quarters, but the strength of his craving for the outdoors exceeds all reason, and I’m tired of being woken up at five or six in the morning. Very well, then, the creature gets his own entrance.

Since Oedipuss comes conveniently equipped with his own RFID tag, my plan is to stick a 134KHz reader on the door and use it to control a solenoid rigged as a deadbolt. It’s a very small door, and it would be difficult for someone with nefarious intentions to fit more than an arm through it, but we’d still prefer to leave it locked. If the system works, the reader will simply retract the solenoid when the cat comes in range, and with luck the cat will never notice the “locked” state.

I spent yesterday afternoon helping out with a work party at ALTSpace. We got started around noon and tackled a long list of “wouldn’t it be nice if” projects. It was five hours of nonstop welding, cutting, drilling, screwing, pounding, and hauling, and it felt great.

February 1, 2012

After watching Ava use Thunderbird on her new netbook, I realised there was no reason I had to keep using the web interface when I wanted to read mail on mine. I have an ancient POP3-era habit of only setting up an email client on one machine at a time, but thanks to the wonder that is IMAP there’s no reason to keep that up. Messages will show up in as many places as I care to read them and all devices stay synchronised.

I’m not so happy with the default Thunderbird layout on this Eee pc screen, though. The fonts are clearly designed for a much larger screen, and they take up much more space than is necessary. There’s no preference setting that allows you to change the font size, but I found a curiously obscure CSS hack that makes it work. If you create a file named userChrome.css inside your Thunderbird profile directory, you can override all the factory style settings, whether they have options in the preferences box or not. Point size 9 works really well on this 1024×600 screen.

Electric bike research

EnerTrac has a motorcycle hub motor for sale which looks like just about the easiest way to get an electric bike rolling. (I mentioned this a couple of years back, when it was still a prototype.) It’s hard to make a straight-up comparison, but it appears to be a fair bit more expensive than an equivalent non-hub motor. I guess that makes sense as it likely involves more custom engineering – they have to lace a wheel up around it, after all.

Looks like most people are running these motors at around 100 volts, and getting speeds up to about 75 mph. Not bad! I’ve been thinking about setting a 72 volt system, so my top speed would be more like 55 mph. There’s nothing “wow” about that but it would be plenty for a city commuter.

While I could probably get a more powerful non-hub motor, I’m tempted to go this route because it would make the project simpler – no more custom motor mount to design and fabricate, and no more chain and sprockets to spec and install (or maintain). I don’t really want to engineer the drivetrain anyway; I’d rather focus on the electrical components.

The Electro-Harmonix 2880 “super multi-track looper” is the first device I’ve seen that looks like it could replace my ridiculously awesome but long-out-of-production Electrix Repeater. It doesn’t appear to have the ability to store multiple loops at once, but I never really use that feature during live sets anyway. The console form factor is really nice and would allow me to set up a much thinner, lighter performance rig, since it wouldn’t have to accomodate rackmounted gear.