Shallow Thoughts : tags : misc

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 21 May 2020

K is for Knitting

[knitted water bottle cozy] Seems like during the lockdown, everyone's taking up new crafts -- sewing, bread baking, or whatever. I was a little ahead of the game. Last winter I learned to knit. I'd crocheted a little when I was a teenager, but I'd always seen knitting as much more complicated.

It started because I couldn't find a decent headband. I'm not a big fan of hats, because migraines, but sometimes my ears get cold on hikes. I was dissatisfied with the headbands I found in outdoor apparel stores: they tend to be too narrow to cover my ears, too tight, overpriced, and don't come in many colors either. I bought one but wasn't happy with it. I decided I could probably learn to knit my own headband before I found one I liked.

Los Alamos has a great knitting community, as it turns out. (I suspect most communities do). Doris, a friend from Toastmasters, is an avid lifelong knitter (I knew that from her Toastmasters talks, of course), and she steered me to some good beginner books and gave me hints on which size starter needles to buy, including a set of circular needles since everything I was interested in making lent itself to knitting "in the round". But Doris also gave me a list of four different times the local knitters met in person, including one very convenient weekly meeting at the White Rock Library just a few miles from home.

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[ 17:02 May 21, 2020    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 09 May 2020

I is for Introvert

Social distancing is hitting some people a lot harder than others.

Of course, there are huge inequities that are making life harder for a lot of people, even if they don't know anyone infected with the coronavirus. Distancing is pointing out long-standing inequalities in living situations (how much can you distance when you live in an apartment with an elevator, and get to work on public transit?) and, above all, in internet access. Here in New Mexico, rural residents, especially on the pueblos and reservations, often can't get a decently fast internet connection at any price. I hope that this will eventually lead to a reshaping of how internet access is sold in the US; but for now, it's a disaster for students trying to finish their coursework from home, for workers trying to do their jobs remotely, and for anyone trying to fill out a census form or an application for relief.

It's a terrible problem, but that's not really what this article is about. Today I'm writing about the less tangible aspects of social distancing, and its implications for introverts and extroverts.

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[ 13:57 May 09, 2020    More tech | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 12 Apr 2020

G is for Gabion (and a nice hike in Upper Pajarito Canyon)

[Moa on Upper Pajarito Canyon trail] Last week we hiked Upper Pajarito Canyon, a trail I mostly hadn't seen before (I'd been on parts of the trail once, years ago, on a hike I mostly don't remember except as "try not to slide off the slippery rainy hillside).

It turned out to be a beautiful trail. Early on, there are imposing stone cliffs that reminded us all of the moai on Easter Island. [Burned tree in Pajarito Canyon] The trail wound through a rocky canyon, then up along the hillside where I was able to indulge my hobby of arboronecrophotography, eventually climbing out to a viewpoint.

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[ 14:17 Apr 12, 2020    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Mon, 05 Sep 2016

The Taos Earthships (and a lovely sunset)

We drove up to Taos today to see the Earthships.

[Taos Earthships] Earthships are sustainable, completely off-the-grid houses built of adobe and recycled materials. That was pretty much all I knew about them, except that they were weird looking; I'd driven by on the highway a few times (they're on highway 64 just west of the beautiful Rio Grande Gorge Bridge) but never stopped and paid the $7 admission for the self-guided tour.

[Earthship construction] Seeing them up close was fun. The walls are made of old tires packed with dirt, then covered with adobe. The result is quite strong, though like all adobe structures it requires regular maintenance if you don't want it to melt away. For non load bearing walls, they pack adobe around old recycled bottles or cans.

The houses have a passive solar design, with big windows along one side that make a greenhouse for growing food and freshening the air, as well as collecting warmth in cold weather. Solar panels provide power -- supposedly along with windmills, but I didn't see any windmills in operation, and the ones they showed in photos looked too tiny to offer much help. To help make the most of the solar power, the house is wired for DC, and all the lighting, water pumps and so forth run off low voltage DC. There's even a special DC refrigerator. They do include an AC inverter for appliances like televisions and computer equipment that can't run directly off DC.

Water is supposedly self sustaining too, though I don't see how that could work in drought years. As long as there's enough rainfall, water runs off the roof into a cistern and is used for drinking, bathing etc., after which it's run through filters and then pumped into the greenhouse. Waste water from the greenhouse is used for flushing toilets, after which it finally goes to the septic tank.

All very cool. We're in a house now that makes us very happy (and has excellent passive solar, though we do plan to add solar panels and a greywater system some day) but if I was building a house, I'd be all over this.

We also discovered an excellent way to get there without getting stuck in traffic-clogged Taos (it's a lovely town, but you really don't want to go near there on a holiday, or a weekend ... or any other time when people might be visiting). There's a road from Pilar that crosses the Rio Grande then ascends up to the mesa high above the river, continuing up to highway 64 right near the earthships. We'd been a little way up that road once, on a petroglyph-viewing hike, but never all the way through. The map said it was dirt from the Rio all the way up to 64, and we were in the Corolla, since the Rav4's battery started misbehaving a few days ago and we haven't replaced it yet.

So we were hesitant. But the nice folks at the Rio Grande Gorge visitor center at Pilar assured us that the dirt section ended at the top of the mesa and any car could make it ("it gets bumpy -- a New Mexico massage! You'll get to the top very relaxed"). They were right: the Corolla made it with no difficulty and it was a much faster route than going through Taos.

[Nice sunset clouds in White Rock] We got home just in time for the rouladen I'd left cooking in the crockpot, and then finished dinner just in time for a great sunset sky.

A few more photos: Earthships (and a great sunset).

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[ 21:05 Sep 05, 2016    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 27 Feb 2014

New house, no internet

[My new office] I'm writing this from my new home office in our new house, as I listen to the wind howl and watch out the big windows to see lightning over the Sangre de Cristo mountains across the valley.

We're nestled in the piñon-juniper woodlands of northern New Mexico. It's a big jump from living in Silicon Valley.

[The house is nestled in pinon-juniper woodland] Coyotes roam the property, though we don't catch a glimpse that often, and I think I saw a grey fox the first morning we were here. These past few weeks, Sandhill cranes have been migrating far overhead, calling their wild cries; sometimes they catch a thermal (once right over our house) and circle for a while, gaining altitude for their trip north.

And lightning -- summer thunderstorms were something I very much looked forward to (back in San Jose we got a thunderstorm maybe once every couple of years) but I didn't expect to see one so early. (I'm hoping the rain and wind will blow all the pollen off the junipers, so I can stop sneezing some time soon. Who knew juniper was such a potent allergen?)

And the night sky -- for amateur astronomers it looks like heaven. We haven't had a telescope set up yet (we're still unpacking and sorting) but the Milky Way is unbelievable.

[My new office, from the outside] We're in love with the house, too, though it's been neglected and will need a lot of work. It's by architect Bart Prince and it's all about big windows and open spaces. Here's me looking up at the office window from the garden down below.

Of course, not everything is perfect. To start with, in case anyone's been wondering why I haven't been around online much lately, we have no internet to the house until the cable company gets a permit to dig a trench under the street. So we're doing light networking by mi-fi and making trips to the library to use their internet connection, and it may be a few more weeks yet before we have a connection of our own.

I'm sure I'll miss the Bay Area's diversity of restaurants, though at the moment I'm stuffed with lamb, green chile and sopaipillas (a New Mexican specialty you can't really get anywhere else).

And of course I'll miss some of the people and the geeky gatherings, living in a small town that isn't packed with Linux and Python and tech women's user groups like the Bay Area. Still, I'm looking forward to the adventure.

And now, I'm off to the library to post this ...

[ 19:36 Feb 27, 2014    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 20 Jun 2013

The wonders of a pressure washer

Homeowner tip of the day:

[Before and after pressure washing] We've been repairing our fence and deck at home. One down side to that is that the new boards don't match the old boards at all. The old boards are grey and weathered.

At least, I always thought they were grey because they were weathered. But it turns out that no, they were just dirty. (Funny how that happens to fence posts and deck rails that sit outside for twenty years.)

The answer is a wonderful device called a pressure washer. You hook it to a hose, plug it in, and it shoots out a high-pressure spray of water that cleans anything. The results are phenomenal. Turns out that under that grey exterior, there's wood that actually looks like wood!

It does expose some flaws, too. It strips off all the sealant we've put on over the years, and it also strips off any part of the wood that's damaged or weakened. So some of the wood comes out looking a little, well, furry. But a little sanding would take care of that. Using a lower speed setting and a wider spray pattern helps.

[Before and after pressure washing] It's even more amazing to watch the pressure washer in action, and see the color change as it happens. Here's an up-close look.

We looked into renting a pressure washer, but apparently the ones available for rent are huge gas-powered monstrosities more likely to rip the fence apart rather than just clean the dirt off. And the rental fee is about what it costs to buy a brand new electric pressure washer. Ours is nothing special, just the one that was on sale at the local Post Tools.

The only bad thing about the pressure washer is that it makes you want to spend all your time sitting outside watching the wood dry to see how the colors will come out. On second thought, on a nice summer Saturday afternoon, maybe that's not such a bad thing!

[ 22:49 Jun 20, 2013    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 27 Jul 2012

A haunted clock

One of the local digital clocks has developed some odd behavior.

It's in a location where it doesn't get seen that much, so it never got reset to daylight savings time, and consequently has been off by an hour since the last time switch. But that's not the odd part.

The odd part is that some time in the evening, between 10 and 11 pm, it stops displaying 9:something or 10:something like it had been, and switches to 12:44. It will then stay on 12:44 for hours, usually all night and occasionally into the morning, before switching back to one-hour-before-current-time some time in the mid-morning. Then it stays at the (one hour off from) correct time all day -- it doesn't fail again in the afternoon to show 12:44 pm. It only does its 12:44 trick late at night.

Once I noticed it, I tried resetting it to daylight savings time, to see if that would kick it out of its old habits. After the reset, the time stayed correct through most of the evening (I had an insomniac night, so I had all too many chances to check it). But then in the morning, around 8 am, there it was, showing 12:44 again. It corrected itself before 10 am.

Definitely one of the odder failure modes I've seen in a while ...

[ 15:55 Jul 27, 2012    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 11 Aug 2009

Breaking out of the Walgreens Infinite Loop

Ever get caught in the Walgreens Infinite Loop?

You're phoning in a prescription refill, going through the automated prompts, everything's going fine, and you get to the point where it asks you, "If you will be picking up your prescription tomorrow, press 1. If you will be picking up your prescription today, press 2."

And you mistakenly press 2 when you meant to press 1.

Now you're stuck. "Please enter the pickup time in hours and minutes." Except it's already past 11pm, and anything you try gives you "Please allow at least one hour. Please enter the pickup time ..." No option to switch days or go back to an earlier prompt. You can't press 0 for an operator -- they're closed, there's nobody there. But you can't just hang up, either -- what would happen to your order then? What if they marked it against one of your allowed refills and ... gave it to someone else! Oh no!

But I found the solution after some experimentation: pressing 0, when after hours, breaks out of the loop and schedules the refill for 10am the next morning. Sorry about the rush order, folks. Honestly, I would have been fine waiting another day. I just couldn't find any other way to break out of the loop.

[ 10:36 Aug 11, 2009    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 18 Feb 2005

Winter Sun and Tuna

Lunch in the backyard, in the sun and cool wind
(I wouldn't mind a few more "rainy days" like this!)
celery and tuna salad
(have to eat it outside, a courtesy to d, who dislikes the smell)
flavored with fresh dill from the garden
(a welcome winter volunteer that pushed up next to the geraniums last week)
watching the puffy cumulus clouds billow and grow and change
and threaten to grow into thunderheads, forgetting they're in California now
with a little lenticular stratus tucked inside of one of them
(what's that about?)
The resident phoebe chirps, hunting, while
a lone intrepid bushtit whizzes in from across the street
checks out the guava tree, then the orange tree, then zips off to the bush at the edge of the yard
(never seen a bushtit flying alone before. A bushtit bellwether?)

Far off to the west, a blue balloon flies free,
rising against the billowing clouds.

[ 17:38 Feb 18, 2005    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 26 Dec 2004

Stapler Surprises

Did you know that basically all staplers have an adjustable foot which offers a mode where the staple prongs get pushed outward, rather than inward?

Me, neither.

I discovered this by accident. I was organizing some boxes of office supplies, and happened to notice that an upside-down stapler had a spring-loaded foot. How odd, thought I, and poked at it, and discovered that you can pull the plate (held by the spring) out far enough to rotate it 180°, which brings to bear a pair of slots more widely spaced than the normal bend-the-prongs-inward pair of slots.

So I checked Dave's stapler, and it had exactly the same feature. This afternoon I checked my mom's old Swingline (which may be older than I am); it, too, offers the adjustment, but instead of a spring-loaded rotatable plate it has a sliding plate.

I wondered whether I was the only person who didn't know this, after a lifetime of using staplers, so I polled Dave and my mom; they had never noticed it either. Nor have we figured out what circumstance might warrant prongs bent outward -- a circumstance once so common that to this day, every stapler is still designed to make it easy.

I wonder what other surprises are hiding in common household objects?

[ 16:59 Dec 26, 2004    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 23 Dec 2004

The Stop Sign Game

My mother lives on an intersection with a 4-way stop sign, across from an elementary school. One day when we were visiting, Dave came up with a game to play when the weather is nice (which it almost always is, in southern California) and we're not doing anything in particular: sit on the porch and note how many people actually stop.

Today's results were typical. We sat in the sunshine for maybe 15 minutes, during which approximately thirty cars came by (from various directions).

The rest either slowed down to maybe half their cruising speed, or just barely touched the brakes and slowed down only a few miles per hour from their previous cruising speed.

The highlights were the city maintenance truck who slowed way down but didn't stop even though there was a cop coming up to the intersection; and the cop himself, who was also one of the "slow way down but not stop" data points. (Dave amused himself by shouting reproofs after the cop, who did not appear to hear them.)

I'm sure this makes me sound like some sort of traffic law gestapo (except to people who know me, who are giggling at the very idea). Not at all; it's mostly an amusing diversion while sitting in the sunshine reading or drinking coffee. But it is surprising and striking to see that basically nobody stops at a stop sign, even one in front of an elementary school. (School is not in session today -- out for winter break -- but the numbers don't change very much even when school is in session.) Do I stop at every stop sign, enough to rock back? Probably not. But I'm pretty sure I do better than the people we watch roll past this intersection.

Try watching some time! You'll be amazed.

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[ 15:30 Dec 23, 2004    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]