Archive for June, 2005

The lowly allen wrench

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

I just finished putting together a couple of Morrow Chairs to add to the four chairs like them already in the kitchen of our Eichler.

The chairs are exceptionally well designed and packaged. They require a single tool to assemble. Included is that tool, a an allen wrench.

An Allen Wrench is simply just an l-shaped, 6 sided, piece of hardened steel. In other words, it is about the cheapest tool you could possibly manufacture.

But, coincidentally, through that cheap simplicity comes an incredibly effective tool. Unlike a screwdriver (either flavor), allen wrenches grip the bolt being driven quite well with virtually no chance of slipping. As long as you use the right size, that is.

Update: It was torx, not allen in the titanium powerbook. Aluminum powerbooks seem to use philips for the screws on the side and allen for the screws on the top and screen. I’m sure there was a very long and intense discussion about that, at some point (as there should have been!). The Wikipedia entry on Screws is quite the good read, though it is missing a few screw types.

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Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Now that iTunes 4.9 offers podcasting support in such a painless fashion, I figured I would actually listen to some podcasts.

Just like the original Macintosh + LaserWriter enabled people that had no writing skills to easily publish newsletters and other publications with utter garbage for content, podcasting seems to have done the same for audio.

There is a lot of crap out there. Whatever. The fact that people can easily put this stuff together and dump it upon the masses is just plain cool.

In the brief amount of time I have given to exploring podcasts, I have discovered some great content. Some of the content was stuff I already knew about, but podcasting offers an alternative delivery mechanism that is considerably more convenient.

In particular, WeFunk Radio offers a podcast “from the archives (you can subscribe to this link)”. It is updated once a day with a different 2 hour show from the extensive WeFunk archives. WeFunk is a radio show out of Canada that focuses on Funk and Hip-Hop. Mostly amazing stuff, though it occasionally goes too “rap” for my tastes.

Unfortunately, you can’t subscribe to the current show via iTunes because of the lack of support for BitTorrent based downloads. Bug filed.

The Hypnotic Music DJ Sets podcast is an excellent collection of techno-electronic-dance-club music. Ranges from vocal trance to excellent NYC house music.

That is all I’m aware of, at the moment. Admittedly, I haven’t looked around much. If anyone has suggestions for non-crap podcasts, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Move Complete

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

The move is now complete. is being hosted by the very generous (and absolutely bloody brilliant) folks at Red-Bean. I’m now using WordPress as the publishing engine. It is an impressive piece of software in that it is extremely flexible and has a boatload of features.

It, of course, generates an RSS Feed for the site and, a very nice touch, an RSS Feed that includes all comments. This will be particularly useful in that I could never keep track of new comments being added to old posts.

WordPress also includes an XML-RPC interface that includes an implementation of the Blogger, metaWeblog, and Movable Type APIs. My only complaint is that there is no “createCategory()” method and, as such, I had to create all of the categories by hand via the [very nice] administrative interface.

Which brings me to the actual migration script. bzero — the previous weblog publishing tool that I used to render and push content to PyCS— stores all of the posts in your home directory as individual text files with a very simple (read: parseable) format.

So, I wrote a simple throwaway python script that does the following:

  • read all bzero posts into Post objects
  • build a hash of all categories
  • filter all categories, using a hash at the beginning of the script to map between the mish-mosh of categories I had into a more reasonable (though still large) set
  • verify that all categories exist on the server. Dump any that do not and exit. Continue if all exist.
  • look at the content of all posts and find any that have URLs that referred to the old weblog. If the URL was to a static resource, verify that it is in the expected spot on the new weblog (well, really, that it exists in the content copied to the correct spot on the new weblog. This deck has no railings.). If the URL was to another post, rewrite it to point to the same date in the new weblog’s archive. Close enough.
  • For each post, create a new post on the new site to contain that posts’s content (which may have been rewritten). Once successfully created, assign the original categories to the post.

Of the 250 or so posts that were moved across, the script fails to rewrite only one post.

Once the content was moved over, then became the ever so tedious step of adjusting the fricking template to look-n-feel remotely like something I wanted. Since I do not have the patience to deal with CSS, I chose a random template out of about 100 that I reviewed that was close to what I wanted and adjusted it. You can grab the template, if you want (why would you? I have no idea. It isn’t very good, but it works for me.

Finally, I installed a redirect at the old weblog that will land people here. I would do the same for the rss feed, but bzero insists on always pushing a re-rendered feed.

Unfortunately, comments didn’t survive the move. That is unfortunate. Even more unfortunate, the old comments on my weblog were rife with spammers. Bastards.

Shiny Bugs

Sunday, June 26th, 2005
Fly on Queen Anne's Lace

For once, I’m talking about living bugs, not software bugs. I had quite a bit of fun with the camera over the last week. These are a couple of bugs that I photographed. The fly was a purposeful shot; I was trying to capture the iridescence of brilliant colors of the body and eyes.

Gladiola with Bee copy

The second shot was not intended to capture a fly. That is a crop of a much larger image that happens to contain a bee like creature captured right as it was taking off from the plant. A fortuitous shot.

Waiterrant — another excellent site.

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

I just spent an hour or so reading waiter rant. This particular weblog contains a very well written collection of observations from the perspective of a career (it seems) waiter.

While I have never waited tables, several of my friends and girlfriends did. As a result, I was given a fairly intimate awareness of how much a customer’s behavior might impact the mood of the people serving his or her table.

In a similar vein, Clublife is an incredibly well written weblog spinning yarns from the perspective of a New York City club bouncer. Often vulgar and violent because that is what the customer demands, but always using the experience to shed light upon human nature.

Big Fish & Moving.

Friday, June 24th, 2005

Yup. That’s a big fish. Biggest freshwater fish I have ever caught, anyway. It is a 9 pound catfish caught using turkey livers as bait while fishing in my parent’s pond. The reel worked fine as long as you didn’t catch anything over about a half a pound. As soon as that fish hit, the bloody reel would not wind and would freely spool line out when the catfish swam away from me. Fortunately, I have done enough handline fishing in the caribbean to know how to hand reel without losing a digit (a 15+ pound barracuda on a hand line puts up one hell of a lot more fight than a 9 pound catfish in a pond).

In other news, I’m moving the weblog. In particular, I’m bringing back online and will be moving the weblog to that URL. I’m also converting from bzero/pycs to WordPress. I can’t say enough good things about Philippe and PyCS — unlike Radio Userland, PyCS has been a total joy.

When the move is complete (there is an ever growing python script that parses the old content and uses XML-RPC to push the posts, with a lot of odd gymnastics in between), I will push out a new posting here that redirects to the new location.

Vacation hacking is fun.

Make: World’s cheapest fish trap

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
Fish Trap

Pictured to the right is the world’s cheapest fish trap. Click on the image to for a higher resolution shot. I’m sure this has been done before.

It is made from a plastic soda bottle, a couple of push pins, and a bit of fishing line.

(1) Cut off the top of the bottle where the cap screws on.

(2) Cut the bottle in two a couple of inches down from the top of the bottle. You want to make this cut just after the main cylinder of the bottle’s body starts. The one pictured is actually cut too far down the bottle by about an inch. Oops.

(3) Invert the top of the bottle and shove it into the bottom of the bottle. You don’t need to shove it all the way in. As pictured, it just needs to go

(4) Use the push pins to secure the top in the bottom. Wire would work, as well.

(5) Cut some holes in the bottom of the bottle.

(6) Thread the fishing line through the holes and tie.

(7) Throw a few bits of dog food or fish food into the bottle.

(8) Submerge in a lake / stream where there are small fish.

(9) Tie the fishing line to something so your trap doesn’t wash away.

We had fish in our trap within a few minutes. Since it is pretty small, you’ll want to check and empty often. It works because the fish can’t seem to find the hole to swim out, though they will randomly find it every now and then.

If the bait floats, I have found that orienting the trap such that the opening is aimed a bit down works better in that the food floats to the back of the bottle, giving the fish clear line of site from the opening to the food.

If you want to catch larger fish, use a bigger bottle. If you want to catch really large fish, it wouldn’t be hard to build the same kind of a trap out of chicken wire or wire screen. Certainly, there are likely laws governing the use of traps above a certain size.

Dead Programmer weblog

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

I ran across Dead Pr0grammer’s Cafe this evening.

As a former New York City resident and a programmer, Dead Programmer’s Cafe is some powerful good stuff. Interesting writing and awesome photography.

Hacking Tractors

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005
Busted Tractor

When you buy a modern car, you are pretty much out of luck when it comes to servicing it yourself unless you are willing to dump a lot of $$$ into special equipment and, potentially, training. Similarly, most electronic or mechanical systems now have seals that will void the warranty if broken.

In other words, “fix it yourself” is actively discouraged. Personally, I think it is because the internal engineering is so shoddy that many companies want to hide their design sins behind scary tags.

It is refreshing to work on something where “do it yourself” is not only supported, but actively encouraged.

Which brings me to a story that involves a tractor and a beaver.

I was using my dad’s John Deere tractor to mow paths around the property, including in the valley. A beaver had gnawed off a tree such that there was a stump that was about 12″ high left behind. Now, being a beaver, the damned stump was shaped like a spike.

That spike just happened to be the right height such that the front axle bounced over it. But, the front wheel tie rod — the piece of model that connects the two front wheels for the purposes of steering — did not. In fact, the tie rod bent. Severely. What was straight was now bent to about 75 degrees and the front wheels were aimed in completely different directions.

This, of course, occurred about a half mile from the house down a road that can barely be traversed by a 4wd truck. Bump city. Kind of fun.

So, we cut the stump off and are faced with removing the tie rod. This requires a special tool to remove the bolts that hold it in place. Upon visiting the John Deere store, they happily “rent” us the necessary tools for $26, refunding the full $26 upon return of the tools!

Once we removed the tie rod, it was off to the JD store again. They had to order the part, but it took less than 12 hours to show up with no charges for shipping (regional supplier, I suppose). They also, for free, removed a bolt from the old piece that we couldn’t loosen given our rather consumer oriented tool chain.

So, in the end, what would have cost several hundred dollars if we had brought in a professional cost us $76 and a bit of sweat. Every step of the way, the John Deere folks were offering suggestions and providing useful guidance.

In this day and age of sealed boxes, we found it quite enjoyable and, even, educational to be able to fix something ourselves.

I wish more companies would follow suit. At the other end of the spectrum, Apple is certainly on that path with the fully user serviceable iMac. So, if a tractor company and a computer company can enable their customer’s to fix their own damned equipment, maybe there is some hope?

Quack Quack, Waddle Waddle, Life in the Midwest

Sunday, June 19th, 2005
Quack Quack Waddle Waddle

Roger and I are spending a week with my parents in Columbia, MO. Quite the nice father day’s present.

The duck pictured to the right is one of many of ducks that have been raised on my parent’s pond for the benefit of various grandchildren. “Quack Quack, Waddle Waddle” refers to the silly duck song they play on Noggin. It is actually quite catchy. It also refers to the fact that the ducks are all trained such that my dad merely says “Quack, quack, quack” and they all waddle up to be fed.

Evening Pond

The above is a panorama of the pond in the evening. The pole on the opposite bank is a martin house. Full of rather large catfish, a bunch of blue gill, ducks, water snakes and the occasional muskrat.