Archive for the 'Hacks' Category

SpiroScales & LizardView; Source for Snow Leopard Available

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Hah! While the NeXT system in my garage didn’t have the original on it, it did have a copy of the solitaire game that my friend and I worked on.

And that had an itty bitty SpiroScale screensaver embedded in the info panel!

Imagine that full screen — all dithered and textured in 2 bit grayscale. When color NeXT systems shipped a couple of years after I wrote the screensaver, I was quite delighted with the results (as seen below)!

Solitaire was an amusing little bit of indie development. Beyond having 4 different company logos in that about panel prior to finally signing with a distributor, the eventual distribution license was a flat monthly royalty for 25 months for Adam and I.

Flat royalties work out well when the company making the hardware your software runs on stops making said hardware….

Screenalicious - SpiroScales - 200910291 233622.054.png

Some months ago, I ported an ancient screensaver of mine to Mac OS X (then Leopard) and made the binary available.

I have since ported it to Snow Leopard and have made the source available via subversion. Pre-built binaries are also available.

There are actually two bits of source there; the first is which contains the Lizard Saver and a second screen saver called Spiro Scales. The screen savers should build for both Leopard and Snow Leopard, including support for Snow Leopard’s 64 bit GC-only screensaver requirement.

The second bit of source is called Screenalicious and is a simple/stupid application for displaying a screensaver in a window and allowing you to easily take scaled down screenshots. It was a hack when I originally wrote it in the ’90s sometime and it is still a hack.

SpiroScales was my first interactive screen saver. Interactive in that the pattern generated is entirely determined by mouse position (not movement).

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Booting a MacBook Pro from an SDHC Card

Friday, August 7th, 2009

I recently picked up an ExpressCard/34 SD reader along with a Transcend 16GB SDHC card. The reader was to ease the transfer of photos from a digital camera and the high-cap SDHC card ensures I can take plenty of photos without shuffling about cards.

With the recent announcement of SD-slot-ness MacBook Pros (drool) that can boot from the SD slot, it made me wonder if a previous generation MacBook Pro could do so, too.

And it can! Which isn’t totally surprising. SD ExpressCard readers effectively act like USB drives and most (all?? I don’t know) Intel macs can boot from USB devices.

On the click through is instructions for formatting an SD car correctly and slapping down a bootable image.

Given the relatively low prices of SD cards, I’m making a habit of carrying around a “rescue card”. Tiny enough to not be noticeable, can be reformatted to use as photo-space trivially, one hell of a lot of tougher than optical media, and will prove to be indispensable if I ever need it.

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Make: Persimmon Wine Finished!

Sunday, July 26th, 2009
Persimmon Wine

Way back in February, I racked the persimmon wine between the various glass carboys to get it off the yeast poo (lees).

At the time, the two carboys showed 11.5% and 12.5% ABV. Not bad. But it didn’t taste very good in early March/April; way too bitter and *bleh*.

So, I let it sit until last week. The flavors have mellowed and, chilled, it is quite a drinkable beverage.

At about 12% ABV, it is obviously a dry wine. There simply isn’t any sugar left!

The sweet essence of persimmon is both present in the nose and in the flavor. And the characteristic astringency of persimmon carries through, too, giving the wine a slight “pucker” at the end.

I bottled a bunch of it in 750ml tequila bottles that I have lying around. However, I also mostly filled a couple of 2 liter soda bottles, chilled the wine to near freezing and then force carbonating.

It makes for a delicious wine cooler. Very drinkable and, at that level of ABV, it tends to sneak up on you!

Given the ease of making wine — much easier & less involved than beer — anyone with an overabundance of fruit (or veggies, even — I have a recipe for a tomato wine that sounds pretty good. Onions, too, even) should give it a try.

All you really need is a plastic bucket (primary fermenter), a glass carboy (secondary fermenter), some tubing, an air lock, fruit, sugar, yeast, and something to sterilize everything (I use sodium metabisulfite and/or an iodine solution — both very cheap). The glass carboy is the most expensive component and three gallon carboys can be had for less than $30.

(Again, for those in the South Bay, the folks at Fermentation Solutions have everything you need and are extremely helpful.)

Update: I have taken to bottling the persimmon wine into 2 liter plastic soda bottles. To these, I add about 3 tablespoons of cane sugar and then use my forced carbonation rig to lightly carbonate the wine. Very refreshing served chilled.

Forced Carbonation

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Update: Since posting this, a number of friends in the bay area have asked me about this rig and where to obtain the parts. You can buy all the bits and pieces separately if you want, but for not much more money you can just get a kit that has all the parts + a cornelious keg.

I picked up the full tank, gauges, regulator, hosing, clamps, 5 gallon cornelious keg, and dispensing spigot for about $250 from Fermentation Solutions in Campbell. Again — great store, very supportive, nice people, know their stuff.

For CO2 refills, I’m going to Carbonic Services. Refilling the 5# tank will cost me $12. They sell tanks, many different gas mixtures (need nitrogen? no problem), syrups, etc.. You can also get your tank refilled at many welding supply houses, but “food grade” and “welding” are not generally compatible.

For “the carbonator” cap, you can mail order it from any of a number of places. Do a google search. I have found that shipping can be a killer when ordering brew stuff. Find someone relatively local.

For folks in the South Bay area, Seven Bridges Cooperative has The Carbonator, along with a pretty awesome selection of really high quality brewing ingredients and, even, coffee beans.

Carbonate-it-yourself Setup (With Lemonade To Be Bubbled)

I love carbonated beverages, as long as they don’t have a ton of sugar (including the various sugar substitutes). I find the scrubby bubbles are a bit of a flavor enhancer as well as adding a bunch of texture.

But, damn, it is an expensive habit! And painful to drag all those bottles of carbonated water home. Worse, any kind of fizzed flavored water is 3x more expensive or more. Ever price out those yummy “italian flavored bubbly water” drinks? Ridiculous.

Problem now solved, though.

I picked up a kegerator kit from our local homebrew store (Fermentation Solutions on Winchester — right next to Luigi’s extremely yummy italian restaurant).

The kegerator kit includes everything you need to, generally, produce, and/or carbonate, and then serve, about 5 gallons of beer (or other beverage).

However, you need one more piece of the puzzle. That blue piece at the lower right is “The Carbonator“. It is a bit of patented plastic that screws on to your everyday average 1 to 3 liter soda bottle and has a connection for the standard ball lock connection on the other end. Expect to pay about $14 for one. Get three to five while you are at it.

You can make it yourself out of a tire fill valve (search Google). I chose not too as “tire” and “food grade” are not remotely related.

Once you have your basic setup, it is time to carbonate some beverages!

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Lizard Saver!

Thursday, May 21st, 2009
Screenshot on 2009-05-20 at 10.33.19 PM.png

Out of the blue, I received a tweet from Steven Blackford:

@bbum Wanted to say thanks the old BackSpace Module LizardView. Still using it after all these years on all my NeXT systems.

Wow. That took me back nearly 20 years! From the moment I started writing Objective-C code on a NeXT in 1989, I have taken a break every couple of years to write a screensaver or five. They have always been fairly simple, always geometric in nature, and generally with a bit of fractally goodness.

At left is a screenshot of LizardView. It was one of the first screensavers I wrote for the NeXT. Fortunately, Steven still had the source for LizardView (I likely still do, too, on one of the optical discs in my garage) and it took me about 10 minutes to port it to Mac OS X Leopard.

Blast from the past.

If you’d like to experience this awzzum zele-bra-shun of k0l0rfull moiré patterns, I dropped on

Funny story; in about 1996 or 97, I found myself at a rather random (and not that terribly good) rave like party in St. Louis, MO. There was a video projector that was running some “rave animations” loop. Lizard was used throughout as 5 or so second interstitial between different animation sequences!

Mason Bees; North American Native Pollinators

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009


We’ll be lucky to get any Osmia lignaria bees this season as they generally try to already have a nesting site by now. They are a very early season pollinator!

However, there is a second native bee that may likely take up residence and provide effective pollination services all summer. Osmia californica, another mason bee, takes over about the time lignaria is done!

I might order some tubes of Osmia californica bees to kick start the local population.

Ready for Occupancy!

If you have any interest in gardening or flowers, or follow any kind of agricultural related financial markets, you are likely aware that one of the ecological disasters we face is known as colony collapse disorder.

Basically, the worker bees in a honey bee colony die, get lost, or otherwise just cease to function. The cause has been attributed to pollution, mites, genetic degradation, pesticides, genetically modified crops, and/or a slew of other guesses.

It is a serious problem in that bee driven pollination of crops is what sustains much of the agricultural production in the United States.

Oddly, though, the european honey bee — the bee that everyone immediately thinks of as the One True Way that flowers are pollinated to yield seeds and crops — is actually an imported species and, frankly, a bit invasive at that.

Not only invasive, honey bees tend to be territorial in that they will actively defend their hive. As well, they really aren’t even that efficient as pollinators.

Not surprisingly, there are many native pollinators buzzing or flitting about. In the South Bay, the most noticeable are the carpenter bees as they are gigantic, relatively clumsy, totally non-agressive, fuzzy, and have a noticeably loud buzz while flying.

But they aren’t the true superstars of the native North American pollinators. For that, one should look to the Mason Bee or Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria).

The mason bee is a rather docile flying insect that is considerably smaller than the carpenter bee. Like the carpenter bee, it is non-territorial, won’t sting unless seriously threatened, and is non-swarming.

The mason bee is an extremely efficient pollinator as a single bee may visit over a thousand blooms per day.

Clearly, this is a bug whose presence should be encouraged!

Fortunately, it is easy to provide housing for such a helpful critter. Roger is standing next to a mason bee home that we made over the weekend. We chose to make one out of a block of wood. However, bundles of reeds, bamboo or — even — appropriately sized straws work quite well, too.

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Blue Blade; Destroyer of Favas

Monday, April 6th, 2009
Loading the Fava Bean Shredder

This year we are making a more concerted effort to actually, like, plan meals and buy what we need as opposed to ending up with the world’s most expensive compost heap from the wasted food bought at the farmer’s market with best of intentions.

As a part of that, I’m also taking a more serious run at the whole gardening thing in our community garden plot.

This actually started last fall when I turned and planted the entire 20′ x 30′ (approx) plot with fava beans. Now, we happen to love fava beans, but not that many. There was an ulterior motive.

Namely, fava bean plants do a brilliant job of pulling nitrogen out of the air and fixing it into the cells of the plant itself. As well, since favas are such a vigorous over-winter growth in this climate, they nicely shade and choke out most of the weeds that would be sprouting about now.

To put the nitrogen into the soil, the bean plants must be worked into the soil. Last year, I did this largely by hand (with a much smaller number of favas) by digging holes, chopping up the plants with a shovel and turning them into the soil. It worked, but not terribly well as it leaves potentially large air pockets in the soil that plants hate.

This year, I used Blue Blade (pictured at left). Or the scariest damned Make-style hack ever. It is one of the various inventions used by the gardeners in plots around mine. (No, I didn’t make this — if I had, the sides would be a bit sturdier and I would have used nylon nuts to keep the damned thing from falling apart.)

Shredded Fava Beans And Shredder

It is a pretty simple device.

  • Rip apart an old lawnmower
  • Cut a piece of plywood in a circle the same diameter as the lawnmower’s deck
  • Drill hole in middle and bolt lawnmower engine to plywood
  • Attach blade to bottom
  • Attach plywood to a sawed off barrel (In this case, plastic… lending to the fear factor)
  • Cut a 2.5″ in diameter hole to the side of the engine
  • Attach a plastic tube used to feed in the favas
  • Grab a handy stick and jam the engine’s throttle wide open because you don’t have a throttle cable or dead man’s switch anymore

Then? Fire the damned thing up and feed favas, weeds, and any snails/slugs into the tube.

The end result is green gold. A thick mat of minced favas that are easily spread and turned into the soil. Not only does it add a ton of nutrients to the soil, but the fibrous matter loosens the soil quite a bit and makes subsequent planting and weeding tasks a ton easier.

I’m still letting a good sized patch of favas grow to full maturity. Which is frightening. I picked up fava seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply along with a rhizobacteria that grows in symbiosis with the plant to maximize nitrogen yield through excellent plant growth & health. In my case, this means a solid mass of 6 foot tall favas!

Peaceful Valley or “” is an awesome company. They have been very helpful and have an amazing assortment of heirloom seeds.

Make: Persimmon Wine Update; Racked to Secondary Fermenter

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Update: After a few weeks, the wine has distinctly cleared. Soon, I’m going to do the emRack Shuffle/em — I only have three carboys, two of which are in use. Thus, rack to one, clean the now empty, rack to it…

This season, the apricot tree has bloomed nicely, but it is too early to tell if I’ll have a crop. I certainly do not expect anything like last year’s. If the tree were to take a year off, I wouldn’t be bothered at all. If the grape’s produce this year, I might make an actual grape wine.

I had been updating my original persimmon wine post with progress.

But tonight warrants a new post; I racked it into the secondary fermenters and have new specific gravity measurements to record.

I’m calling the two batches “red top” and “white top” because that is the cap color on top of the bubbler.

I measured the initial SG of the two at 1.060 [red] and 1.050 [white]. That was wrong — too much sediment — as I remeasured a week later at 1.080(!!) [red] and 1.070 [white].

That is a boatload of fermentables!!!

Once the fermentation started rolling around 12/31/2008, I let the buckets sit until today, stirring occasionally (sometimes by opening the lid and stirring with my gigantic stainless steel spoon and sometimes just by picking up and shaking the buckets for exercise).

Finally, the last week, both buckets stopped farting with any regularity. There is clearly life, but nothing remotely resembling the relatively vigorous — though never explosive — fermentation through January and February.

Though I could have done it a couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to racking the wine to the secondary glass fermenters.

Along the way, I had a taste and took specific gravity readings, as well.

Both batches had achieved the same specific gravity; 0.990 @ 69.5 degrees.

(So… mmm… holy oh wow! those yeast have been busy!.)

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Make: Cable Light Connectors

Sunday, February 1st, 2009
Original "Connector" In Action

While making my own low voltage cable light fixtures, I searched high and low for a little piece of hardware that would elegantly connect between the suspension cables and the wires down to the lights.

No luck. Everyone wants to sell you a cable lighting kit or, at best, the only “parts” are $40 bare MR-16 halogen lamp fixtures.

No thanks. Until I could figure out a solution, I simply bent a few bits of heavy gauge copper wire and made hangers like the one at right.

It worked OK, but clearly needed to be replaced with a real solution.

The answer?

Finished Connector Installed, Detailed

Spend less than $10 on parts and make my own connectors. Well, $10 on parts and $225 on the tools necessary to solve this particular problem.

What follows is a description of the tools and some photos of the various stages. If you have even the remotest amount of metal working experience, there’ll be nothing new here (and probably lots of opportunities to make fun of me).

But, as pictured at left, I achieved success!

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1-31-2007 Never Forget!

Saturday, January 31st, 2009
2009-01-31 Never Forget

On January 31st, 2007, the Boston authorities completely lost their minds in a highly visible and ultimately humiliating way.

I am, of course, referring to the Mooninite Invasion.

For the first time in 8 years, we have the potential to live in a nation governed by the sane with policies grounded in reasoned thought.

But it is only potential.

We must remain vigilant and must never fail to ridicule figures of authority when they act like complete unreasoning jackasses!