Friday, September 23, 2016

Well that was fun: take a virtual bike ride through Oklahoma

You'd be forgiven if you thought that a bike tour through Southern Oklahoma wasn't exactly a riveting adventure. And you'd also be wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed EverythingWillBeNobel's trip report of his 5 day adventure; the photos, the stories, they're truly fantastic. Here, give it a read:

The trip underscores that what makes for a memorable experience isn't picking the perfect destination and having a flawless execution. It's about embracing the good, laughing at the bad, and coming home with a story to tell.

And while you're on the site, check out Amanda Delecore's story of her first solo tour. It's a powerful take on the challenges of truly mastering a skill. No YouTube video or blog post could ever prepare her for that first solo night in the woods, nor could they give her the confidence she earned by making it through that first fearful night.

This all makes me want to grab my bike and ride.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kitchen Rennovation 2016 | Past the point of no return

This morning we had a kitchen:

This evening we have an open space:

This project just got real.

It boggles the mind that taking apart a kitchen, clearing out a dining room and knocking down the wall between is a 2 man, 1 day job. Now putting it back together again, that's a little bit trickier. But still, wow.

I guess this kitchen renovation project is officially on!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Just Hanging Out | The 3 Minute, $10, Improvised Hammock

Here's a fun (and seemingly easy) outdoor project to try: Make a Hammock in 3 Minutes. The idea is to use a 60x126" tablecloth as the body of the hammock, a couple of loops of rope to whip the ends, and a few minutes of your time to assemble the setup. Give it a watch:

For $10 in supplies, it's hard to go wrong with this project. And worst case scenario, you have a massive tablecloth you can use, well, on your table.

I love idea of co-opting formal tablecloths for outdoor use. You just never know where handy supplies are going to come from.

Monday, September 19, 2016

More Ratpoison Tweaking: Quick Access to any Program

I'm continuing my journey to optimize ratpoison. My latest tweak: binding keys that bring up specific programs. For example Windows + e now pops emacs front and center.

I accomplished this by enhancing the rpwin script I'd previously created. Here's the latest version:

#!/bin/bash

## A shell script for capturing / switching / deleting / etc.
## ratpoison window configurations

RATPOISON=ratpoison
RP_SNAPSHOT=$HOME/.rp.snapshot


usage() {
  echo "Usage: `basename $0` {capture|restore|goto}"
  exit 1
}

rp_cmd() {
  $RATPOISON -c "$@"
}

case "$1" in
  capture)
    if [ -n "$2" ] ; then
      loc=$2
    else
      loc='default'
    fi
    touch $RP_SNAPSHOT.$loc
    rp_cmd sfdump > $RP_SNAPSHOT.$loc
    ;;
  restore)
    if [ -n "$2" ] ; then
      loc=$2
    else
      loc='default'
    fi
    if [ -s $RP_SNAPSHOT.$loc ] ; then
      rp_cmd "sfrestore `cat $RP_SNAPSHOT.$loc`"
    else
      echo "Refusing to restore an empty snapshot"
      exit
    fi
    ;;
  goto)
    win=`rp_cmd windows | grep -i "$2" | sed 's/[^0-9].*//' | head -1`
    if [ -n "$win" ]; then
      rp_cmd "select $win"
    fi
    ;;
  *)
    usage
    ;;
esac

The above script includes a new sub command: goto. To use this new command, I added the following bindings to my .ratpoisonrc:

definekey top s-o exec rpwin goto Gimp
definekey top s-e exec rpwin goto emacs

And just like that Windows + o pops up Gimp and Windows + e pops up emacs. I'm loving the ability to quickly save and restore window configurations, and I find that this new 'goto' capability works well with it. The standard configurations cover most cases and the quick jump lets me get to programs I use less frequently (like Gimp) or need more often (like emacs).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Name that Bug: Pretty, Harmless and Deadly

Check out this fine looking fellow:

To my naive eye, he has the markings of a wasp, yet the legs of a grasshopper. He's obviously part of a CIA plot to create super bugs...

Or, he's a Megacyllene robiniae a type of beetle that has seemingly mastered bio mimicry. As explained here:

Your observation that this Long Horned Borer Beetle, the Locust Borer, Megacyllene robiniae, is a Yellow Jacket mimic is quite astute. The mimicry is probably most effective when the Locust Borer is feeding on the pollen of goldenrod because predators would tend to avoid what looks like a stinging insect despite the Locust Borer being perfectly harmless.

And sure enough, just a couple yards away was a stand of goldenrod.

So while this guy looks like he could sting you, he's actually harmless. That is, unless you're a black locust tree. Then these insects, known as Locust Borers can cause a heap of problems due to their preference for tunneling into this type of tree. Hard to believe that something so small and harmless can wreak havoc on a tree, but there it is.

Here's another unexpected sighting. Check out these snapshots:

It's hard to see, but floating just below the surface is a massive turtle. I've seen plenty of turtles along the Potomac, but nothing this large before. I shall call him Nessy.

And what would a walk in the woods be without a few photos of pretty flowers? So here you go.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Perfect DC Evening

David and I hit Fletcher's Cove for a relaxing fishing and kibitzing session. While I only caught one teeny tiny fish, it was still great just to be outdoors on a perfect September evening.

If we're keeping score, I think the mosquitoes are winning. They took far more bites out of me than I got out of the fish. Still, fun times!

We fished the canal and the dock at Fletchers, and saw plenty of fish at both locations. We just don't have the skill to extract said fish. But knowing they are there is probably half the battle. Right? Maybe?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Patriotic Mystery

While driving along route 395, next to the Pentagon, I noticed a small collection of American flags planted in the grass.

Are they an improvised 9/11 memorial? A mini patriotic Stonehenge? Detritus from 4th of July fireworks watchers? It's a mystery. I'm just glad I didn't get detained while snapping these photos.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How Not To Make Pokeweed Ink

Around here, pokeweed is everywhere. And this time of year some of the plants are beginning to produce tempting clusters of purple berries. There are two things you need to know about these berries: First, they're terrifically poisonous (to us) and second of all, they make great ink. Ever since I learned the latter, I wanted to give it a try.

Last night, while on a walk, I carefully snipped off a cluster of purple berries and carefully placed them into a Ziplock bag. This morning, I cautiously squished the bag and lo and behold, I had a bright liquid to work with:

Next up, I knew I needed to strain the mixture. My plan: grab a swatch of old old t-shirt and use it like a cheesecloth. Because I had comparatively little liquid to work with, I used an empty tea candle base as the ink well. I carefully cut the bag and poured the juice into the t-shirt covered ink well:

At first I thought it was working. How wrong I was. The juice did exactly what it was supposed to do when it hit the t-shirt fabric: it stained it. The result was a wonderfully colored swatch of t-shirt fabric and no ink in my inkwell. D'oh.

I was about to give up, when I noticed I had a few drops of liquid left in the bag. I squeezed those into my inkwell. For good measure I added a bit corn starch (as recommended here), and gave it all little mix with a toothpick.

Using a toothpick as a stylus, I went to work creating a masterpiece from my new ink:

I've got to say, the result was incredibly satisfying. I'd bumbled my way through the process and still managed to make ink! It's truly remarkable how potent those berries are - talk about a stainfest waiting to happen.

I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for more berries. And next time, I'll try using pantyhose instead of cotton fabric for the straining part. I'm sure Shira won't mind if I raid her supply.

Monday, September 12, 2016

NFC + Legos = ?, Adventures in Gamification of Legos

Who knew that buying a package of Legos could lead to an emotion roller coaster? On one hand, I was psyched when I picked up a few Lego Dimension kits at Five Below. The small set seemed perfect for a quick afternoon activity. I then found myself disappointed when I opened the package and found out that the instructions for building the small set were available only through a Lego game. I was then back to happy when I found a site that gave free access to said instructions. Finally, my little journey of joy and annoyance ended on a happy note when I learned that the plastic bases that hold the Lego Dimension characters are actually NFC Tags.

Over the summer, I sent the kids home with their Lego Dimension characters and vehicles, but held onto the little magic plastic bases. I figured I'd have to put them to use, somehow. Here's a random knock-off minifigure perched upon the NFC base, waiting for me to do something brilliant with him:

I thought about doing something practical, but I couldn't really see any value the NFC Lego base would have over the NFC stickers that are quite frankly, awesome. Then last night it hit me: I should build a sort of hybrid game, where you play with Legos but use the NFC base and a mobile phone to help steer the playing. Think Dungeons and Dragons, only with Lego Characters and your mobile phone and not dice.

There's only one small detail: I know absolutely nothing about D&D. While my older brother played, I did not. Even Simple DnD was too complex for me to quickly absorb and turn into some sort of program. So yeah, my vision of being a game master would have to wait.

But I decided I'd dip a toe into the process, regardless. Step 1: vastly simplify *everything*.

I imagined that for a character roll playing game to work you'd need something random (think: roll of a dice) and some sort of state (think: the health of your player). And so I started to futz around with these ideas. Of course, I went to my goto prototyping environment: Tasker.

Here's a Task that generates a random number, whether it's positive or negative, and updates your current score (which starts at 100). Every time I scan the character's base, my phone brings up a dialog box with the updated status of my character:

%Lego Refresh (162)
 A2: Variable Set [ Name:%char To:char1 Do Maths:Off Append:Off ] 
 A3: Variable Randomize [ Name:%polarity Min:0 Max:1 ] 
 A4: Variable Randomize [ Name:%offset Min:1 Max:10 ] 

 A5: Test File [ Type:Type Data:Tasker/lego/%char.txt Store Result In:%found Use Root:Off Continue Task After Error:On ] 
 A6: If [ %found !Set ]
   A7: Variable Set [ Name:%current To:100 Do Maths:Off Append:Off ] 
 A8: Else 
   A9: Read Line [ File:Tasker/lego/%char.txt Line:1 To Var:%current ] 
 A10: End If 

 A11: Variable Set [ Name:%updated To:%current Do Maths:Off Append:Off ] 

 A12: If [ %polarity eq 0 ]
   A13: Variable Add [ Name:%updated Value:%offset Wrap Around:0 ] 
   A14: Variable Set [ Name:%operator To:+ Do Maths:Off Append:Off ] 
 A15: Else 
   A16: Variable Subtract [ Name:%updated Value:%offset Wrap Around:0 ] 
   A17: Variable Set [ Name:%operator To:- Do Maths:Off Append:Off ] 
 A18: End If 

 A19: If [ %updated < 0 ]
   A20: Variable Set [ Name:%updated To:0 Do Maths:Off Append:Off ] 
 A21: End If 

 A22: Write File [ File:Tasker/lego/%char.txt Text:%updated Append:Off Add Newline:On ] 

 A23: Show Scene [ Name:Lego Update Display As:Dialog Horizontal Position:100 Vertical Position:100 Animation:System Show Exit Button:On Continue Task Immediately:On ] 
 A24: Element Text [ Scene Name:Lego Update Element:Score Position:Replace Existing Text:%current %operator %offset 
= 
%updated Selection: ] 

Here's 3 scans of my character in a row:

So yeah, there's not much to see here. But it is interesting to see how Tasker Scenes work, and to continue to experiment with novel uses of NFC. I'll have to think about what strategic code I can write that will start moving this closer to an actual playable activity. With the right story line and heavy use of imagination, perhaps not much. We'll see.

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