Sunday, December 27, 2009

About That Water Damage....

To follow up on this post from earlier this year (in which I said that dealing with repair people related to our water damage problem was a project in it's own right), here's what's going on with that now.

I have moved back into my regular bedroom. We ended up changing out the carpet, hanging up some new shelves, but leaving other things unresolved (the closet door doesn't shut anymore and we still haven't fixed the doorstop). The kitchen has taken longer than anyone has expected - there are some patches of floor that need to be redone (the whole floor has been done once now, but some spots didn't take the way they should have), most of the cabinet doors still need work, and there were some delays caused by our decision to modernize the kitchen a bit while we had the room torn up (we have a new stove/oven, an additional sink, an additional dishwasher, and a few embarrassingly expensive features my parents thought would add to the house's resale value down the road). The extra expense of handling the kitchen wasn't budgeted for, but we were able to take the hit (and the insurance company seems to be properly paying for their share - replacement costs of furniture/flooring/appliances ruined by the original flooding and the various repairmen's actions).

There were some issues with moving my stuff around that are yet to be resolved. It can be a bit hard to communicate my neurotic sorting habits to people who don't share my hobbies - for example, there were several stacks of CD's arranged in various spots in my room. One stack was all items I had listed for sale on Amazon, another was put on a shelf somewhat decoratively to show off a complete discography of my favorite band (Over the Rhine, thanks for asking), another was a stack of CD's I haven't listened to yet (OK, so I actually had 3 separate stacks like this on various shelves - I've caught myself buying collections in bulk a few times when the price has been dirt cheap), and yet another was a set of bootlegs and mixtapes I had received from friends. I'm sure you can see where this is going - Mom decides to "help" and put them all in the same box, requiring sorting again later. Multiply that scenario times quite a few sorting-intensive hobbies and the size of "stockpile" I keep around, and I'm sure you can imagine how obnoxious this got to be. The initial insanity seems to be over but small surprises continue to pop up, leaving me feeling like I still need to spend most of my weekends tidying up (which, to be fair, is also worthwhile towards the goal of moving out if/when I get final word about if/where the office may be moving).

Besides not documenting a few smaller projects of mine (primarily of the more light-hearted LEGO variety - my boss has asked me to periodically swap out my "ironic" display at work), that about wraps up 2009. Any reader questions out there? I like to think that I've covered it, but I'm open to feedback here. Was there anything you wanted to hear more about?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Years' Resolutions

I've decided to make some New Years' Resolutions for 2010. There are some things I want to do fairly soon that are generic wishes or goals, and then there are things I know I can accomplish if I just sit down and really focus on them. Once they are done, they will stay done and be useful in the "lifehack" sense. Most of these are items to get back on-track after letting myself develop some bad habits during college. Only these items - those that can be quickly tackled if I focus on them, and don't require excessive planning or new resources - are being listed here as resolutions. Here's the list (which I will continue making changes to over the next week - I'm hoping to make this fairly comprehensive and then be able to use it as a checklist):

  • Get the e-mail backlog under control. I suspect that most people reading this are familiar with this phenomenon - once upon a time (probably in 2002 or 2003), I used to promptly reply to all e-mails. Now it's not unusual for things to sit for months or even years. I suspect that if there wasn't an ocean to get lost in, I'd be able to get things moving more quickly when they come in. Part of this will likely be accomplished by condensing mailing lists (I'm told that more than a few contacts of mine have quit mailing lists outright recently, but I'm hoping to avoid that jump). I have several e-mail accounts to tame, and I'm also looking to completely break ties with the NC State webmail system (and back-up the old e-mails).
  • Get my Projects blog looking respectable. While I don't intend to change older content on here (for the sake of my own sanity, I need to learn to trust my younger self to have not done anything too embarrassing - and to be honest, even the potentially scandalous things I've posted here and elsewhere are nothing I'd mind owning up to, even in cases where the tone is a bit more hysteric than I'd like), I do need to finally get the layout under control. I'd like this to look a bit like a portfolio, and to not use a generic Blogger template. I'm well aware of all the "The cobbler's children have no shoes" problems here, and I want this to be my home on the web. As I continue to loosen my chains to other "social" platforms (and hold out against joining Bebo/MySpace/Friendster/Facebook/any other trendy closed site), I feel a need for this blog to be a bit more functional.
  • Determine a real photo hosting solution. I may decide that the best approach here is the popular flickr pro approach, but I'm yet to make my final decision. I want to be able to get LEGO photos out faster, upload some photos done just for the sake of learning to take better photos, and even push out decent event coverage (concerts, LEGO conventions, etc).
  • Determine a semi-permanent music collection solution. I'm not sure what exactly I'd like in terms of a repository for music that I don't need on my laptop regularly, but I'd like to have a clue (OK, this may be a longer-term goal). At a minimum, I need some new database/spreadsheet/cloud whatever solution for keeping track of what I own and what I think of things. I also need to repair some holes in my digital collection caused by various hard drive crashes (doing back-ups on the cheap using my parent's older computers seemed like a good idea at the time...)
  • Determine a new process for adding music to my collection. When should I rip CD's? How many listens should I give something before deciding to add it to my library? How many new (current to the year) CD's should I be purchasing? What's a healthy dollar amount to limit this hobby to? As a sidenote, I'm weary to ask for advice here because I'm told few people are as anti-illegal downloading as I am (the legal sort, especially of the "free promotion" variety, is awesome if you ask me though). It's time to get some sort of process in order here, though.
  • Get off of floppy disks and Zip disks. Yes, I still have floppy disks around the house. I still have data on them I want preserved. I really need to get those moved to at least my external hard drive (again, a longer-term, safer storage solution would be wise, but I'm trying to think in terms of what I have already bought and can use instead of in terms of additional resources).
  • Get out of the MiniDisc format. It was never a great idea to get into a proprietary format designed by Sony, but hey, YOU didn't get several hundred dollars worth of professional-grade, easily mobile recording equipment for $30 when you were in high school. I have many exciting stories and concerts captured on minidiscs, and some of those concert bootlegs have been promised to various people over the years. It's time to liberate this stuff and get the taper-friendly stuff shared. I have since bought a newer recording device that makes transferring recordings to a PC (and then to the format of my choice) much easier.
  • Cover political issues better on this blog or a separate channel. I'm not sure yet if I want to do this right here, but it should be done. On the previous bullet point, I mentioned owning a recording device that can easily record things and make it easy for me to archive those recordings. However, using it for casual conversations or without the consent of everyone who appears on the recording is illegal in some states. I'd like to do a better job of covering that (and other legal and political issues related to me and what I've written about) in the future. I also see the occasional opening for further political commentary, but sometimes I suspect it's for the better that I don't get too into the pathetic day-to-day battles.
  • Begin uploading more content of my own. Even as I've shied away from using the computer as much in my non-work times (I'm on the PC all day - as much as I love coding, it's healthy to step back a bit when I can), I've noticed that I've been creating many more things worth sharing online. I'm hoping to share way more photos, LEGO ideas and creations, legal music from taper-friendly bands, and original music by me (with and without robots) in the future.
  • Finish writing those articles I keep saying I'll write. Writing about RSS, simple web design, Google reader, yubnub, and other technologies I consider daily necessities really needs to be done soon. I'd like to be able to share the resources I love so much! It would be great if I could actually direct people to my website when I want to explain how I use things.

Important Dates (Future Blogging Calendar)

I just came across this post from last May and realized I should just post the darn thing and stop worrying about how embarrassing some omissions may be. Feel free to add your own input in the comments...(and yes, I know that there currently is no Boxing Day post on LMOTD)

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that I have no good way of noticing blog-worthy dates in advance. I can generally spot major holidays (Christmas, Halloween, American Independence day...) but I regularly miss minor occasions that I could totally be having bloggy fun with. For example, this week I've failed to note a Star Trek premiere (yesterday), Cinco De Mayo, Coca-Cola's anniversary (123 years today), and Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you!)

So here's a pathetic attempt at listing some days I should cover, off the top of my head. Comments are wide open, so fill in anything you can. Although I try to avoid covering religious topics (I prefer not to offend anyone and religious satire can be hard to spot on the internet - note how many people think The Brick Testament is actually a Christian site even though it's a humorous satire. Although I do have one awesome Old Testament model to blog soon, I plan on leaving that sort of thing to GodBricks in the future), I'd say religious holidays are fair game for this:

Jan 1: New Year's Day
Jan 2:
Jan 3:
Feb 14: Valentine's Day
Feb 15:
March 17: St Patrick's Day
May 4th: Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you...)
May 5th: Cinco de Mayo (Mexico)
May 6th:
May 7th:
May 8th: Coca-Cola anniversary
May 9th:
April 1st: April Fool's Day
April 22nd: Earth Day
June 14th: Flag Day (US)
July 4th: Independence Day (US)
October 31st: Halloween / All Souls Day
December 24th: Christmas Eve
December 25th: Christmas Day
December 26th: Boxing Day (Canada)
December 27th:
December 28th:
December 29th:
December 30th:
December 31st: New Year's Eve

Occasions that move each year:
  • Hanukkah
  • Thanksgiving
  • Easter
  • Passover
  • Chinese New Year
  • Mother's Day
  • Father's Day

Automatic Transmission Ideas

Recently, I built a variation on this design. It works pretty well, but is never truly at a 1:1 or 5:1 ratio. It's still not a true CVT, but so far it's the best LEGO attempt I've seen. The designs that pop up in a YouTube search are increasingly impressive, but it looks like we still don't have a reasonable solution to this problem.

On the bright side, I've now finally bought enough traditional transmission parts to build a really nice manual transmission. With any luck I'll post some sort of hybrid approach (which isn't that dissimilar from the 1/2/D/N/R set-up most cars I've been in actually have) one of these days.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

AdWords "Offer"

This Google Adwords support thread accurately describes (give or take a few typos) the situation I just found myself in. You know, I don't even feel a great need to use search-based advertising. It was something I was willing to try because I was given this "free" promo offer. It's not "free" if it costs $10, sorry ($10 is the "minimum" amount that it's asking me to pay before I can try this "free" offer).

I'm generally a happy subscriber to the cult of Google (you'll notice I'm writing this in Blogger, and that I also make heavy use of Reader, GMail, Google Calendar, AdSense, Google Alerts, Search, etc...) - but I have to draw the line here. This is a pretty scammy promotion, and frankly, I think it violates their motto of "Don't Be Evil".

Why am I posting this here? I think I may be persuaded into spending the $10 to use advertising yet, and I'm still holding out hope that this coupon may be salvageable some other way. Until either of those possibilities happen, I'm going to ignore AdWords. Of course, the really bad thing about this is that they went through all that effort to try to get people to try this service, and all they've done is turn me against AdWords (it was a difficult and time-consuming experience to find out that they weren't going to give me the "Free", "No Risk. No Obligation" offer without me spending money).