Friday, November 30, 2012


Here are a few photos I captured after walking back from the bus stop. Not too shabby considering they were taken with my Galaxy S3 without a macro lens.

There's a setting in the standard camera app which may have been helpful: Settings > Focus Mode > Macro. Though I didn't try to grab any photos with this off.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Cool Recipe For a Bird Feeder

A while ago, I learned that you could make a lamp using olive oil and a half an orange. Today I discovered yet another use for a half an orange: to create a bird feeder.

Like the olive oil lamp, it's delightfully simple:

(4) pieces of twine, yarn or string, cut into 24″ lengths
bird seed

With a sharp knife, cut the orange in half – scoop out the flesh. Pierce 4 small holes on opposite sides, about 1/2″ from the top edge of each half . Thread one piece of twine through a hole, and out the opposite end. Repeat with the second piece of twine in the remaining holes (you’ll have an “X”). Gather the ends together and tie in a knot. Repeat with the other half. Fill with bird seed and hang from sturdy branches outside.

I doubt our finished product will look quite this good, but here's the idea:

Our 8 year old (who just a few days ago, was our 7 year old!) is going to love this hack, as he's asked a few times to put up a bird feeder (mostly out of concern that the birds have less to eat as winter approaches).

In this same post, there's a recipe for creating a home made menorah. That's another little project he'll love as well.

Via: which was found via:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The One Resource You'll Need To Root Your T-Mobile Galaxy S3

I've never really had a need to root my phone before. That changed a couple days ago.

With my new found Android hacking powers, I now crave the perfect script to execute when I plug my phone into the my car charger. I was able to create a script that did most of what I wanted: turn Bluetooth on, WiFi tethering on and driving mode on. But, I hit a stumbling block with turning on the GPS - you can't do so in Tasker without root access.

A couple of Google searches turned up a number of pages that explained just how easy it was to root your phone. 10 minutes, and I'd be all set. I started down the path with these clear instructions. Except, half way through, the instructions no longer matched up with what I was seeing and I saw some error about a file verification signature not matching. Gulp.

Fortunately, I poked around further till I found this video tutorial:

I was able to closely follow this video and sure enough, I painlessly rooted my phone.

With root access in place, I was able to follow these instructions for creating a GPS On and GPS Off task.

Finally, I can sleep better at night knowing that the driving I don't usually have to do can be done with a device that doesn't require a single clunky press of a GPS On button. Nope, I'm fully automated. Whew.

So now that I've got a rooted device, what's next? What apps do I absolutely need to install?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Aduro Shell Holster Combo Case

I'm continuing to enjoy my Galaxy S3, and of course, needed to get a case for it. My preference has always been to wear my phone on my belt via a clip or holster. I suppose it's the closest I'll ever get to owning a Bat Belt. It also keeps my pockets free to stuff with other goodies.

And while I've owned some chunky phones before, the S3 is by far the largest screen size I've carried. It's large enough that I thought I might finally have to give up on wearing my phone on my hip. Heck, I wasn't sure if it would even go in a pocket. Still, I figured belt-carry was worth a try, so I picked up the Aduro Shell Holster Combo Case from Amazon. For $13.00, it was hardly a big risk.

The case, I'm pleased to report, is working well. It comes in two parts: the first snaps on to the back of the phone, the second, to your belt. I was concerned that the snap on section would turn my wonderfully slim phone into a bulky monstrosity, but it doesn't. If anything, it has made the phone feel a bit more substantial and the textured feel makes it easier to grip.

The phone slides in and out of the holster with ease, and when it's in, feels nice and secure.

I have yet to get any real use out of the kickstand, but in a few quick tests, it has worked well. It's a nice little bonus and doesn't get in the way when not in use.

All in all, I couldn't be happier. I'm able to wear my phone on my belt, and do so without unnecessarily bulking up the device. If your lean towards holster carry for your phone, and you've got an S3, definitely check this case out.

An Android On Device Programming Environment

For years I've imagined developing an application for my Android phone (at the time, a G1) that would let me write code directly on the device. I imagined it would be easy: wrap a Java based Scheme interpreter in an Android App, and allow access to a REPL. With that scaffolding in place, programmers could then get creative and really start automating their phones.

As time went on, I imagined that Forth, not Scheme was a better option for on device programming. The language can be quite compact, and can be molded to fit whatever paradigm you want.

Still, I wasn't ever quite able to find the pieces (a solid Forth interpreter in Java) or the time to put this together.

Then, a few weeks ago, Shira mentioned this powerful Android application she's heard about: Tasker. It's a pricy $6.49 on the market, and potentially seemed *too* flexible to be of much use. Did I really want to spend that much time fiddling with the settings of my phone?

Curiosity got the best of me, and after poking around on the Tasker website, realized that you can get a Free 7 day trial. I gave it a try, and quite quickly fell in love.

Sure, you can think of Tasker as a way to customize your phone, but really, it's so much more. To me, it's the on device programming environment that I've always dreamed of. Sure, there's no cryptic (and powerful) REPL, but there's everything else you'd want in programming environment: loops, conditionals, variables, access to files, HTTP POST/GETs and even a degree of modularity. Most importantly, you've got access to dozens, if not hundreds of things you can do to the phone itself, from snapping a photo, to turning on WiFi, to triggering device vibration.

The programming model is built around the notion of Profiles, which combine an initial context and a series of tasks to run when that context is met. I just setup a context like this one: when the phone is plugged in, turn on WiFi, Bluetooh and jack up the screen brightness and turn off the key lock. The environment is relatively easy to use, allowing me to hunt and peck to build an application. I'm sure some sort of text based interface would be nice for super experts, but for beginners, the GUI works quite well.

As little random photography experiment, I whipped up a script that discretely snaps a photo, then waits 5 minutes and loops around again. It does this 20 times before quitting. I turned on the script, put the camera back in the case on my hip (which has the camera pointing out) and let it shoot away. The results were as bland as you'd expect, but it sure was fun rigging up this hack in just a few minutes right on the device itself.

Tasker reminds me very much of AutoHotKey. It has a steep learning curve, but is incredibly powerful. I can already tell it's going to be a go-to tool for problem solving on my device. Also, like AutoHotKey, it is an ideal way to learn about programming. I can easily imagine a programming army of Tweens who got their start by automating SMS responses and generation.

Tasker even goes so far as to allow you to make your own stand alone apps from your Tasker recipes. Really, it's amazing.

But of course, you knew all this already. It's been discussed on Lifehacker months ago. Still, thanks for letting me share about my new toy. What slick profiles/tasks have you setup?

And who's up for adding a Forth based REPL to Tasker? Yeah, didn't think so.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Another Reason To Love Jones Point Park

A few days ago I mentioned what a gem Jones Point Park is in Alexandria. Well, I've got another reason to love the park: it's a most excellent kids biking location.

We're trying to teach our 7 year old how to bike on trails, which is a tricky transition to make considering how busy the trails near us are. But Jones Point Park has just the features we need to make practicing low stress.

First off, the park has a massive and empty parking lot that was great fun for him to just ride around in. Second of all, there were a number of marked pathways he could practice on before getting on the Mt. Vernon Trail itself. The section of Mt. Vernon trail that goes through the park is flat and pristine, which made for a gentle first trail attempt. Finally, there are a couple of playgrounds in the park, so when he was ready to take a break from riding he had an easy activity to switch to.

He did well on the trail, and I assume in no time, he'll be racking up the miles. Kids just learn this stuff so amazingly fast.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Reason To Give Thanks: Our Newest Cousin

Tonight Shira and I met our newest little cousin, Andrew! And boy is he perfect! OK, he's 4 days old, so doesn't exactly *do* a lot. But he sure is cute, and seems to be adjusting well to life on the outside.

I couldn't resist snapping some (OK, a lot) of photos of the little guy. I suppose it's my way of trying to capture a little of the amazing joy we all were experiencing as we sat back and marveled at this new life.

I even snapped a few photos of Lucy, the family dog. Just last week she was #1 in the house hold, and these days, not so much.

Biking from Arlington to National Harbor

Shira and I had some time today to fit in a fairly lengthy bike ride. We busted out a local map and realized that National Harbor would make an ideal destination (it would be a mere 20 miles round trip - easy!). To get there from Arlington, it seemed simple enough: head to Old Town Alexandria, cross over the Wilson Bridge, and bam! you'd be there. See:

View Bicycling directions to National Harbor, Fort Washington, MD in a larger map

My only real concern was that the Wilson Bridge wasn't going to be particularly bike friendly.
The ride started off delightfully. The weather was perfect and the trails were effectively empty. Apparently everyone was either traveling somewhere or putting in their last few hours of work before taking off for Thanksgiving. We found our way to the Wilson Bridge easily enough, and what do you know, it couldn't have been more bike/pedestrian friendly.

The biking/walking path on the bridge is quite wide, and there are a number of spots to stop along the way to gape out at the amazing views. The bridge trail leads right into a crushed stone waterfront trail, which in turn, takes you right to the harbor. It took us just about an hour to get from our front door to the Harbor.

On the way back I managed to convince Shira to stop at Jones Point Park. This little park has it all: playgrounds, open space to run around and wonderful history. You can take in the lighthouse there as well as the various boundary stones that mark DC and Virginia. Heck, you can even fish from the park.

All in all, this was an absolutely splendid ride. If you haven't explored the Wilson Bridge on your bike yet, it's definitely worth it.

A few photos from our trip, all from my new Galaxy S3. Man I love that panoramic feature!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The 6 Essentials for Thanksgiving

About a week ago, I saw this video on Buzzfeed: 6 Essential Thanksgiving Rules. After thinking about it, I realized it really did capture the essentials of the holiday. Here, give it a watch:

Of course, we usually go out of our way to break every single rule here. Our ideal Thanksgiving: hot dogs, minus the TV and fuss of a big 'ol meal. We do usually clean up that night, though.

Here's two more handy articles: 41 delicious vegan Thanksgiving recipes and 34 insanely simple two ingredient dishes.

Whether you follow tradition or not, hope your Thanksgiving is a meaningful one. I certainly know I have a lot to be thankful for, like for instance, the fact that you read this post. Thanks!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wear This, Not That, Exercise Edition

Is 54°F cold? During fall, sure. During spring, probably not. It's just all so relative. Which means that for years I've set off on a run wearing the wrong clothes because my intuition was all wrong.

Why, a few months ago I hit the road on a 50° night wearing long sleeves, long pants and a windbreaker. After a mile of running I was cooking. What could I possibly have been thinking?

For years, I've imagined tracking what worked and didn't work in the clothing department, and then being able to use that as a guide for future activities. Yet, I never seemed to get around to setting up this trivial spreadsheet.

The madness ends tonight.

Below is a spreadsheet I hope to fill in with notes to my self that will hopefully avoid me going out with all the wrong gear on.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Loving life on my new Galaxy S3

Shira took advantage of a promotion this weekend to pick up a Galaxy S3 for free (well, free plus 2 years indebtitude to T-mobile by extending our contract). So far, I'm loving the device.

The huge screen makes typing on it much more sane. I had Shira's myTouch 4G for months and still made typos because the closely spaced keys, not so on the S3.

I've retired a few apps because the Google version is now more or less standard. That includes trading phonefusion for Google Voice and  appbrain for installing from the desktop version of They were pioneering apps in their day, but have given way to more standard solutions.

I was most looking forward to the camera on board the
S3, and so far it hasn't disappointed. It appears to blow away any cell phone camera I've ever had in both terms of speed and quality. Though I always felt I managed to pick phones with dud cameras.

Time will tell if I buy into some of the gimmicky features, like saying "shoot" to snap a photo or using NFC, but for now I'm just satisfied with having a super sharp super fast phone.

Kuddos to my wife for getting me the device, I never would have taken the leap, and after 24hrs I'm so sold.

Attached are a few snapshots to show the quality of the camera.

Any tips or ticks for the S3 you'd like to share?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Watching the 2012 Gymnastics Team Do Their Thing

I'm not a fan of watching sports on TV. Football, baseball, tennis, gymnastics--you name it--I'd rather pass. So when Shira flipped over to the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions, I knew I had to think fast. I grabbed my laptop and checked the the tour's planned stops. "Honey," I earnestly explained, "why watch this on TV when we can see it live and in person?"

Well, last night, she had me make good on my suggestion. We joined a crowd exclusively made up of mom's, their daughters, a handful of sons and a couple of fathers to watch the the 2012 Gymnastics team do their thing.

Thing is, it was actually a good time! Sure, I felt a little out of place without a kid (who would had loved the show, but it was way past his bed time). And did the men really need to perform most of the show shirtless? But there's no doubt these athletes have amazing skills, and it's nice to support them outside of the two weeks we watch the Olympics.

By the way, back in 2008 I surprised Shira with tickets to the same show. Man, I was romantic back then.

Here are some photos from the evening:

And here's the obligatory animated GIF:

That's Gabby Douglas - the clear star of the show last night. Good heavens she's tiny! It was definitely something getting to watch her perform.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Photos by our 7 year old - as you can see, he's quite the photographer!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Narrative Interface - The Ultimate Kid Friendly UI

As I recently came to appreciate, what makes a kid friendly software app successful isn't necessarily obvious to adults. Adults want clean and shiny. Geeks like myself might have affinity for elegance. But kids? Kids are a whole other story. They want interactive and fun. Our 7 year old has no problem using his imagination to see a castle where an adult may see an upside down cardboard box. But if it's not fun and in terms he can grasp, it's not going to hold his attention.

It was with these insights in mind, that I was especially thankful I tripped over Chris Ball's Narrative Interface post. Apparently Chris is heavily involved in OLPC, a project near and dear to my heart. In his post, he links to a wonderful talk that introduces the notion of a Narrative UI. I'll put the video below, and highly recommend you check it out.

Very briefly, a Narrative UI suggests that you turn the operation of a computer into something that approximates a story. For example, rather than merely showing a menu of apps, you might take the user on a quest - where each stop along the way involves a different piece of software (oh look, I'm at the Music Castle, where I need to make music). It sounded unnecessary to me at first, but after watching the talk I'm pretty much convinced.

The idea of walking a kid through the computer, ideally at their own pace and in a context that's customized to them, means that they'll get into an exploration frame of mind. I'd think it would make it easier to introduce new concepts in a fun way, all while proceeding at the child's pace.

I've always believed that the key to success at the one laptop per child project was not the hardware, but the software. Sure, the hardware is fun to play with, but it's the software that will actually determine whether kids are going to learn on these things. And that software needs serious innovation, which I think the Narrative UI is an excellent example of.

One last point before I shush up and let you watch the video. I think my next parent hacking software endevor is going to be to install Sugar on a Stick. That is, install the software that runs on OLPC laptops on a regular old USB thumbdrive and let our 7 year old go to town on it.

Diamond Age by sugarlabs

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Stumbling Onto Hallowed Ground

This weekend, we met up with a friend in DC. While Shira and her were chit-chatting, I noticed a plaque on the nearby wall:

It marked the location where Herman Hollerith perfected and produced punch card tabulating machine technology. This contribution makes him (in my book, anyway) one of the founding fathers of programming. Without his work, I may not have a job today.

Herman is responsible for the powering the 1890 census, managing to complete it in 1 year instead of the 8 that the 1880 census took. That means that he's one of the first programmers to walk into his boss's office and blow him away by delivering a computer project early! What a thrill that must have been. Maybe we'll pull off such a feat again some day.

Seriously, providing that kind of optimization must have been beyond the imagination of most people. That's one of my favorite parts of my job: getting to work a miracle every now and again.

Update: As Nick so kindly pointed out, it sure would be nice if I had mentioned the location of the plaque. Here it is:

View Larger Map

That's 1054 31st Street, Washington DC.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Putting The Beautiful Day To Good Use

The sun was shining, and Shira was off from work, so we took advantage of the day by hopping on our bikes. I was curious just how much of the Mt. Vernon Trail we could do. It extends 18 miles or so, and ends up, as the name suggests, at Mount Vernon, George Washington's Estate.

Between my eagerness to overdo it, and Shira's stubbornness to not back down from a challenge, we managed to make it all the way to mile 0 at Mount Vernon. After 18 miles of biking, we downed the few snacks I had brought, and were back on the trail.

All said and done, it was about 34 miles of biking - and boy do I feel it! But the scenery was just amazing and what a thrill it was to finally tick off this challenge.

We were in such a hurry, I didn't capture many photos. But still, I couldn't resist grabbing a few:

It's such a picturesque area -- if you haven't explored the trails in the area, you really must!