Monday, March 30, 2020

From Office Supplies To Ninja Armaments

Times are tough. Toilet paper, eggs and even flour are scare around here. School is canceled and we're effectively sheltering in place. But here's useful tip: if you have two sheets of printer paper and a few minutes of time, you can have a throwing star. You can also have a boomerang. Welcome to COVID-19 arts and crafts time baby!

I consider my origami skills beginner at best, so I was pleased how approachable the throwing stars tutorial is. Another fun project: make a treasure chest using two origami boxes.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Make With Care: Protein Packed Hot Chocolate

I've had the idea a number of times: I bet I can make my morning hot chocolate more nutritionally significant by adding whey protein powder to it. My reasoning goes: whey comes from milk, and milk goes with hot chocolate. And the flavor of the chocolate should overpower the whey. The result: a solid hit of protein in a hot and tasty drink.

And yet early attempts at making whey hot chocolate were disastrous. I'd mix the whey and hot chocolate packet easily enough and then I'd add boiling water. The whey immediately formed nasty clumps and no matter how much I stirred the mixture, wouldn't dissolve. And trying to drink clumpy hot chocolate? Yuck to put it mildly.

Still, I tried this a couple of times before I got the hint: adding boiling water to whey is a bad idea. A little Internet research explains:

If it’s whey protein powder, you might want to avoid boiling it with milk. Most of the whey that is sold in market, is acid whey, which will cause curding of milk. It’s not harmful for health, but you might find the end product difficult to consume.

Difficult to consume is an understatement.

All isn't lost, however. If you're a more strategic about it, you can warm up the hot chocolate and whey so that you don't end up with a curdled mess. Here's what's been working for me:

  • Mix the hot chocolate and whey protein powder in a mug
  • Put some water on to boil, and turn on your sink's hot water tap
  • When the tap water is running as hot as can be, use it to fill the mug a quarter of the way
  • Mix the hot tap water with the whey and hot chocolate powders to form a thick sludge. The goal is get the powder completely dissolved at this point
  • Once the water is done boiling, let it cool for a minute, then add it to your mug, filling it to the top
  • Stir and enjoy!

The hot tap water should help both powders dissolve and the recently-boiled water should be hot enough to make the drink enjoyable, but not so hot that it curdles the why protein.

Mmmm....delicious and nutritious.

Monday, March 23, 2020

This Buds For You | Savoring Signs of Spring

Last Friday Shira, the little one and I logged a 6 mile walk along the Virginia side of the Potomac. It was a perfect day and signs of Spring busting out were everywhere. With the steady drumbeat of pandemic news it was nice to step outside and forget that we're in the middle of a global crisis.

Speaking of being outside, over the weekend DC closed the National Mall, something I didn't imagine was possible. But if you surround an area with enough police and National Guard, I suppose anything is possible.

These are truly remarkable times.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Musings From Within a Pandemic

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down. It seems only appropriate to jot down a few notes to my future self. Self, when you recount these days, folks simply aren't going to believe you.

Thought 1: our 'new normal' has descended upon us at break neck speed. Two weeks ago I was shaking hands with folks at shul and discussing whether coronavirus would be more dramatic than the flu. Last week, we held services with each of the chairs spaced three feet apart, I washed my hands three times during services, and the Rabbi repeatedly reminding us not to touch each other or the Torah. This week, shul is closed indefinitely. We've had friends' Bar and Bat Mitzvah's go from happening, to 'we understand if you can't make it', to called off all in a matter of weeks.

What seems impossible one day, schools closing for months, Metro working tirelessly to lower ridership, DC shuttering all bars and restaurants, is our normal the next. The CDC continues to lower its recommended maximum group assembly count. It's gone from 500, to 250, to 50 and is now at 10. It would shock no one if we awoke tomorrow with instructions not to leave our homes at all.

If a movie came out three weeks ago suggesting a mysterious illness required the world to shutter schools and businesses and mandate groups of no more than 10 assemble, I'd have written it off as ridiculous. Yet, that's where we are today.

Thought 2: the impact on businesses, especially small businesses, is catastrophic. Walking down Columbia Pike and seeing closed business after business is heartbreaking. Being online comes with its own challenges. Suddenly the customers you serve have no income, making your business prospects just as bleak. The more essential the service you provide, the more likely you'll have to offer it at no charge. While this generous gesture will earn you good will, it won't bring in funds to pay your employees or operating expenses.

As terrifying a time as it is for entrepreneurs, it's also every bit exciting. I'm seeing organizations refashion and even invent new business models seemingly on the fly. Companies are seizing the opportunity to help others and continue finding ways to eek out an existence. The very small businesses that are getting crushed are also going to help us get through this. In a small way, it's very heartening.

Thought 3: we're still in the calm before the storm. As of today, we have 14 known cases of coronavirus, a number that seems low when compared to the unprecedented measures being taken (see above). Yet, we're all bracing for this to get bad. Really bad.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Crafting Music | Building and Playing the Canjo

The Canjo is a one stringed instrument that uses a can as a resonator. It has a reputation for being easy to build and easy to play.

A few weeks ago, when 10 year old J was visiting us, we put these claims to the test.

Before J arrived, I'd purchased a couple of Canjo kits and a song book. Surprisingly, I was able to find all the tools we'd need for assembly around the house.

When we had a couple of hours free, we dove into the project.

On the surface, assembly looks trivial. You're doing little more than attaching a can and string to a stick. In practice, we found the build process more on the challenging side. Most of the holes are not pre-drilled, so you need to take your time and assemble with care. This complexity is far more feature than bug. We felt like we were really creating something, not just snapping together a toy. In about 30 minutes, we had the our first of two Canjo's complete. It was awesome.

Playing the thing, like assembly, looks simple. As suggested, we numbered the frets on the Canjo's neck to correspond to the song-book's instructions. In theory, to play a song all one has to do is hold down the string at the number that's listed under the word you're singing, and strum. In practice, it's tricky! Even playing slowly, it takes time to position your fingers and even then, you've got to hold down the string just right to get the best sound. Still, with practice, we were definitely able to make music!

Here's me busting out the Canjo and taking a few attempts at one of the songs in the book:

I know that's screechingly bad, but still, you can hear the tune in there right? That's music. I made music!

As my Brother David noted, the Canjo is effectively an offline version of Rock Band. And he's right; as addictive as it is to try to hit the notes when they are scrolling by on screen, it's even more so when you're the one making the music.

10 year old J really enjoyed the Canjo project, from the measuring and drilling to just noodling around on the finished instrument. If I'd had my act truly together, we'd have hit the local hardware store and would have picked up a set of tools just for him. I would have also picked up some blocks of wood we could have tested the drill and awl on. Not too long ago, it would have been normal for a 10 year old to mess around with hand tools, now it's a novel experience. Want to get your kids to put down that phone? My suggestion: buy them some power tools and other sharp implements, and have them make stuff.

Another suggestion for having a successful Canjo experience: pick up some extra strings at the time you place your order. They are cheap and we quickly broke two of four that were provided. Finally, I'd suggest picking up a digital tuner. This sounds like an extravagance, but $12 for a device which ensures your Canjo sounds as good as it can is a bargain.

So, is the Canjo easy to build and easy to play? Not for me and J it wasn't. But this lack of ease only served to make the project more rewarding. Canjos rock!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Wrestling with a Google Play Services Error

Last week I got the Android 10 update on my Galaxy S9+. Whoo! Then, a few days later, I went to update a Tasker action that used the Spreadsheet Tasker Plugin and got the following error:

Spreadsheet Tasker Plugin requires one or more Google Play services that are not currently available. Please contact the developer for assistance.

I did the usual things: rebooted my phone, re-installed the Spreadsheet Tasker Plugin, made sure all my apps were up to date, searched Google for others having similar problems and cursed the universe. None of this did any good.

Surely the upgrade to Android 10 broke things. I grabbed an old Android device and installed Tasker, the Spreadsheet Tasker Plugin and did a restore from Google Drive to import Profiles and Actions. To my shock and great annoyance, I got the same exact error. Whatever was going on, it wasn't due to the Android 10 update. Even my crusty Android 8.1.0 phone was failing with the same error.

The only hint that others had into this issue was a couple of threads related to Android Auto. Deep in one of those discussions was this advice:

I had this issue but was able to fix it by going to settings > apps > google play services > storage and then clearing the cache. Once I did that and reinstalled Android Auto I no longer got that error. I uninstalled the app, then cleared the cache, then reinstalled the app.

With nothing to lose, i gave this a try:

For maximum impact, I cleared both the cache and the app's data. After doing this and rebooting, my problem was solved!

So what the heck happened? I've got no idea. But if you get the above error, before you curse the universe, try clearing the Google Play Service's cache & data.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

One Plaque. So many questions.

I'm walking through Gravelly Point when I notice a plaque affixed to a tree:

It reads:

This is the Isle.
Devoted, Dedicated and
never Quits.

Why is the plaque there? What does the inscription mean? Who went through the trouble of installing it?

Searching the internet for the exact text reveals no hits. None of the surrounding trees have been modified.

It's a good old fashion public poetry mystery. I love it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review: The Disappearing Spoon

Looking at the periodic table, you could imagine that each cluster of elements would have some sort of story behind them. And you could imagine in the hands of the right story teller, those tales would be riveting.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Keans takes this hypothesis and kicks it into overdrive. Keans not only takes you on a tour of the elements by way of various tales, he manages to weave them together so the whole book flows.

The range of topics is staggering. For every subject you'd expect to find in this type of book (the discovery of DNA, the advent of transistors) there's even more that are surprising (the impact of Gandhi's involvement with salt; the commoditization of aluminum). Whether you count yourself interested in science or not, I have to think that the storytelling is so on point that you'll find yourself enjoying the book.

The various stories seems to be the right length: detailed enough to let you appreciate the element being discussed, but not so detailed that you'll lose interest. Of course, all these narratives add up and the audio version of the book felt long. But again, thanks to the quality of the writing, this is mere fact, not complaint.

Overall, this was a terrific read (well, technically listen) and one I keep finding myself recommending to others.