Friday, May 22, 2015

A More Magic, Magic Wand

One of Shira's best dollar store purchases is this guy right here:

That's a magic wand made of a glow stick and plastic medallion that slides on to the end. Kids love them, and they're handy during a power outage or other emergency. (And at $1.00, how can you go wrong?!)

A few weeks ago I came across this article on EDC Forums: Wonky cheeser' everlasting glow stick. The article talks about replacing the goop in a glow stick with Glow in the Dark Powder. The result is a glow stick you can recharge and use as often as you want. I had a spent magic wand from the dollar store to try this with, so I went for it.

I picked up the powder from eBay: Green Glow-in-the-Dark Powder Pigment Strontium Aluminate for Sticks/Stars/Paint. Not knowing how much I'd need I picked up 50 grams worth. A week later I had a small bag of the magic powder in my hands.

I clipped both ends off the glow stick and carefully discarded the gunk inside. I then washed and let the plastic tube dry. My plan was to Gorilla Glue one end cap back in place, fill the stick with powder and re-glue the other end cap. Except, Gorilla Glue didn't do the trick. After letting the attached cap set for 24+ hours, it trivially snapped off when I tugged on it. Apparently the type of plastic used in this tube resists Gorilla Glue. I tried some 5 minute epoxy and ended up with the same result. I got the point: standard glue wasn't going to bond to this type of plastic.

I put the project down.

And then it hit me: why was I bothering to re-glue on the ends of the glow stick in the first place? I just needed to properly plug the ends. Gorilla Glue has the property of expanding as it dries, so I figured it would make an ideal cork. So that's what I tried: I carefully filled the bottom of the glow stick with some Gorilla Glue, stood it up on its end, and let it stand for 24 hours. The result: a securely plugged end. Because the leakage didn't bond to the plastic, it was easy clean up any extraneous glue.

Here's the setup as I prepared to fill the tube with glow in the dark powder:

(Note the end caps of the glow stick in the above photos, they're just there to serve as my extra pieces for the project.

And when I was done filling the tube I had the vast majority of my 50 grams of glow in the dark powder left:

I filled the second end of the glow stick with Gorilla Glue and let it dry. The result was in fact an everlasting glow stick! It takes a few minutes in bright sunshine and the results are pretty impressive:

Before you discard all your lighting for glow in the dark powered magic wands, note that there's an obvious Catch 22 here: the wand needs bright light to charge, but when you'd want to use it, it's probably dark out already. So I'm not sure how practical this is. But it's cool, and certainly perfect as a magic wand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Very Long, Very Winding Road

Oh I can't resist little mini adventure documentaries like this one: The Road From Karakol. It's beautifully shot, well narrated and makes you just want to hop on your bike and go have an adventure.


The Road From Karakol from Outdoor Research on Vimeo.

Miva Merchant: Accessing custom fields from mivascript snippets

Miva Merchant has core support for custom fields on both products and categories. In their latest documentation, they provide a clean API for accessing these fields. Recently I wanted to do something similar, but I needed to do so via MivaScript and my snippet framework. It took a bit of fiddling, but in the end it wasn't especially difficult.

First, I defined a series of helper functions that call the low level Miva related custom field functions:

<MvComment> -- Work with custom fields 

<MvFUNCTION NAME="product_custom_field" PARAMETERS="field_name" STANDARDOUTPUTLEVEL="html, text">
  <MvASSIGN NAME="l.null" VALUE="{ [ cf_mod_path() ].Read_Product_Code(l.module, l.param, g.product_code, l.field_name, l.result) }"/>
  <MvFUNCTIONRETURN VALUE="{ l.result }"/>

<MvFUNCTION NAME="category_custom_field" PARAMETERS="field_name" STANDARDOUTPUTLEVEL="">
  <MvASSIGN NAME="l.null" VALUE="{ [ cf_mod_path() ].Read_Category_Code(l.module, l.param, g.category_code, l.field_name, l.result) }"/>
  <MvFUNCTIONRETURN VALUE="{ l.result }"/>

  <MvFUNCTIONRETURN VALUE="/mm5/5.00/modules/util/customfld.mvc"/>

Note above that I'm leveraging g.product_code and g.category_code. These allow me to call product_custom_field and category_custom_field and have it assume I want the field from the currently active product or category.

Also note the use of l.null above. That turned out to be an interesting hiccup to overcome: I needed to call functions like Read_Product_Code and access their return value via a parameter. I originally thought MvEVAL was the way go, but ultimately I realized that calling MvASSIGN and discarding the assigned variable was in fact the proper approach. Using MvEVAL generated output to the page I didn't want.

Once I had these functions defined, I could import them and use them from any of my snippets. For example, here's code that checks for a custom field: seonoindex and if it's set, sets the ROBOTS meta tag appropriately:


<MvFUNCTION NAME = "ADS_External_File" PARAMETERS = "module var, item, all_settings var, settings var, ignored" STANDARDOUTPUTLEVEL = "text, html, compresswhitespace">

  <MvASSIGN NAME="l.follow" VALUE="FOLLOW"/>
  <MvASSIGN NAME="l.index"  VALUE="INDEX"/>
  <MvASSIGN NAME="l.cause"  VALUE="default"/>

  <MvIF EXPR="{ product_custom_field('seonoindex') NE '' }">
    <MvASSIGN NAME="l.index"  VALUE="NOINDEX"/>
    <MvASSIGN NAME="l.cause"  VALUE="prod-seonoindex"/>

  <MvIF EXPR="{ category_custom_field('seonoindex') NE '' }">
    <MvASSIGN NAME="l.index"  VALUE="NOINDEX"/>
    <MvASSIGN NAME="l.cause"  VALUE="cat-seonoindex"/>

  <MvEVAL EXPR="{'<meta ' $ A('name', 'ROBOTS') $ ' ' $ A('content', l.index $ ',' $ l.follow) $ ' ' $ A('cause', l.cause) $ '/>' }"/>

The above code is convenient because it operates at both the product and category level. Meaning, you can mark a whole group of products NOINDEX by simply checking off the relevant custom field at the category level.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Taking the U out of UFO

Given that the Pentagon is located in Arlington, and the rest of the government is just a stone's throw a way in DC, you can imagine we get a heck of a lot of helicopter traffic. But one day I look up and see an especially odd aircraft. It looked roughly like a plane, but it appeared to have its prop engines titled up like a helicopter.

I won't lie, the first thing I thought of was the G.I. Joe Rattler, which as any child of the 80's can tell you was a vertical take off and landing based aircraft. Note the pivoted engines:

Over time I came to appreciate that I had not seen some top secret government project, but a V22 Osprey. In fact, plenty of folks in the area had seen one (or it?). Shira told me tales of watching one run test flights throughout the day.

I'd continue to catch a glimpse of this cool aircraft, but I'd never catch sight of one long enough to snap a photo.

Today I finally did. It was way off in the distance, so pardon the grainy photograph:

On the other hand, a grainy photograph does seem appropriate for a UFO, no? (Even if it's only Unidentified to me).

Below is a photo of the the V22 at work. Man, that's one slick aircraft. Not as awesome as the Rattler, but still, pretty dang cool. I suppose it has the nice benefit of being real.

View Video

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Some Man Point Math

Last night, Shira comes home and tells me her battery warning light is on in her Acura TL. She's called the local auto parts store and they've confirmed that they can check and order the battery if necessary. Let's see how my Man Points do on this adventure...

-5 Points for not having the ability to check my own battery level.

+0 Points for figuring out a way to have Shira call the store, and not me.

+5 Points for knowing how to pop my own hood and find the latch to open it up.

-5 Points for being proud of myself for not fumbling the opening of the hood.

-20 Points for having no idea how to access the battery terminals on my own car. Stupid Acura TL and its Man Point sucking plastic shell found around the engine.

-5 Points for checking the manual.

+5 Points for *not* checking the web and just blinding starting to tug on stuff.

+10 Points for using my P51 can opener on my key-chain to pry open plastic snaps that held down the plastic.

+0 Points for strolling back into the store like a Boss explaining that I'd indeed found access to my own battery terminals.

+0 Points for being able to put the plastic shell back in place.

+0 Points for having no extra parts from this project.

Total Score: -15 Man Points

That's actually not bad. Thank heavens the clerk at the store didn't attempt any sports related small talk, or I'd be looking at a triple digit negative score.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Just how bad are Virginia and Arlington's Flags?

Man, did Roman Mars nail it in his Ted talk: Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you've never noticed. He manages to teach fundamental principles of design and inspire us to care about City Flags, all through humor and well delivered radio effects. It's a must watch.

To recap, here are the 5 principles of good flag design:

  1. Keep it simple (so simple that a child can draw it from memory)
  2. Use meaningful symbolism
  3. Use two to three basic colors from the standard color set: red, white, blue, green, yellow and black
  4. Use no lettering or seals. Never use writing of any kind.
  5. Be distinctive

And how does the Virginia and Arlington flags stack up? Let's here's the Virginia state flag:

Yikes, pretty awful.

The Virginia one is: (a) too complicated, (b) contains text and (c) has too many colors. On the plus side, it's distinctive alright. For example, it contains the only nudity on any state flag or seal and has the joke: "'Sic semper tyrannis' actually means 'Get your foot off my neck.' which has been repeated since the Civil War.

And the Arlington one?

Oy. Too much writing and too much detail. Not loving the yellow, but I could probably be persuaded to keep it.

As Roman Mars mentioned, DC's flag is actually quite solid:

And now that he mentions it, I have seen that flag all over DC and I could definitely see feeling a jolt of civil pride from it. It works equally well flying high on a flag pole, or pasted as a sticker on someone's bike.

No surprise, some folks have attempted redesigns of especially bad flags. I'd love to see a take on Virginia's and Arlington's flag. Especially Arlington, c'mon folks, we can do better than this.

The TED talk is below, watch it and be amazed how much you care about this stuff:

View Video

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Got Duct Tape? After watching these videos you will

MeZillch is at it again, publishing cool gear hacks on his YouTube channel. His latest set of videos: clever ways to carry around duct tape. I mean really, can you ever have enough duct tape? He's now up to 7 videos on the topic! Man, that's impressive.

The latest video he produced, EDC/ Survival Duct Tape pt. 7: Squash Packs & Clamps, provides a clever method for securing Altoid Tins with a "clamp" of duct tape. With his hack you get an Altoids Tin that stays shut when it should, but is easy to access when you need the contents. And of course, you get a supply of duct tape as a nice bonus.

Here's what my Altoids Tin looked like before and after this hack:

It's hard to appreciate from that photo, but that's just about 100 inches of duct tape, and it doesn't increase the size of the tin in a noticeable way.

By the way, the original idea of using a silicone bracelet to secure the tin was also an MeZillch idea.

Here's your Boy Scout homework for today: ask yourself, do you have duct tape handy? Check out the videos below and see there's no excuse for not carrying some.

View Videos

Gardening Progress: Veggies Planted, Now Let's Grow!

OK, now we're talking! The raised beds that looked great, but were empty are now filled with plants:

In the end, Dawn and Shira settled on the following plants:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Sweet peppers
  • Mini Eggplants
  • Chili Peppers
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Cantaloupe
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Strawberries

The above selection wasn't exactly what the original plan called for, but the easy availability at Home Depot meant that they won out.

Now, when do harvest?

Actually, I've got figure out a way to fence off these guys from the local rabbit and kid population. I'm thinking that my five minute fence that worked so well for the X-Garden may not work as well for these raised beds. The X-Garden is planted in a BigBagBed, which is round and tall enough that it supports the chicken wire poultry netting without addition posts. The rectangular beds look like they are going to need some sort of posts to give the netting shape. We'll see.

On the X side of things, we planted a bucket 'o mint:

Mint has a reputation for crowding everything else out, so it calls for it's own contained space to grow. This old beach bucket looked like the perfect container to recycle and the let mint run.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Little Pond of Wonders

Last month I found Long Branch Nature Center, but yesterday was the first time I truly explored the grounds. As you approach the compact nature center itself there's a trail that loops around this pond:

The pond isn't especially large, but it's packed with life! Distinct orange fishies, tons of turtles and well camouflaged toads abound. See:

And checkout this (harmless) water snake that was warming itself:

As if that weren't enough, the pond has plenty of pretty flowers surrounding it:

Inside the nature center there are more small creatures to oggle (including hissing cockroaches and a skink!) and a play room for younger kids to kick back and enjoy.

For it's size, Long Branch Nature Center really is a wonder. And that pond, so cool!

Update: I also meant to include the photo below. It's of a bullfrog tadpole. I've seen itty bitty tad poles before, but compared to them, this guy is a giant. This photo was snapped inside the nature center.


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