Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A year in books

This year, Andrea and I each made an effort to read more books. I bought Andrea a new Kindle to replace her Kobo that broke, and a day hardly goes by without her reading something from it. The following is a list of books in what I believe is the order in which I read them this year:
House Lust was recommended to me by my friend Jacek after I recommended The 100 Thing Challenge to him. I had previously read Switch -- an excellent book I discussed earlier this year, and have been meaning to read Freakonomics for some time. I just finished The Art of Happiness the other day. The Small House Book is mostly pictures of the various tiny homes Jay Shafer builds; it seems a little disingenuous to say I "read" that one, but I'm including it nonetheless.

Many of these books I was able to pick up either from swap.com or from the Great River Regional or Hennepin County libraries.

Of these books, I would recommend The Giver, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory (at least for math/computer geeks), Switch, Freakonomics, House Lust, and The Art of Happiness.

For Christmas, my parents bought me Toward a Psychology of Being (Abraham Maslow), which I have started reading and hope to have finished soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas at the Shireys' House

Yesterday, we went to my parents' place for the Shirey family Christmas. While we were waiting for the turkey to finish cooking, Dad, the boys and I went outside to play on the pond. Dad pushed them around with the broom:
Before
After
And the boys ate plenty of snow:


We spent the better part of the day with Mom and Dad, eating turkey, zonking out on the couch, playing with the various toys they bought for Jacob and Reed, and so on.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Christmas Gifts, Part IV

Our Christmas traditions include spending Christmas Eve with the Nieters, Christmas morning just our little family, and Christmas afternoon with the Shireys. We don't really do any sort of formal gift exchange with my side, but lately we've been pseudo-randomly selecting among the six of us -- Andrea, Krista, Becca and their husbands -- for an exchange. This year, I made a gift for Abe. (Last year, I made a hammock for Becca out of used climbing rope.)

I decided I would start with a tall beer glass, and etch an 'A' into it using the same technique I did for Ryan and Jenn's Babbage Tech glasses. The result isn't what I was hoping for, but it wasn't too bad:


Next, I decided that he should be able to fill his glass, so I went to Coborn's and picked up a six pack sampler consisting of:
And I created custom labels for each one. At 96x96 DPI, they're very nearly the exact same size as the original labels with the exception of the Guinness label (Dagda's Irish Stout), which covers both front and back labels.

Added to the left is one of Christ's Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
Budai, Hotei, or "the laughing Buddha" is associated with contentment.

Dagda was a Celtic protector of tribes, associated with a bottomless cauldron from which no man left unsatisfied.
Shiva is part of the Hindu trinity: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. Om is added to the bottom right.
Ra is the Egyptian god whose tears became honey bees. 1.2 Djas is roughly 12 fluid ounces.

2011 Christmas Gifts, Part III

For the Lansing side's Christmas gift exchange, Andrea randomly picked one of her cousins who is in college. In addition to one other gift, she thought it would be neat to make a book safe. The idea came from the case Dad made for my eReader:


I picked up a few books from the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud, cut the pages out, and Dad and I made some frames out of some wood he had in his basement. The work is actually very fast and quite easy. Here's the end product:


Money and key are staying with us.
Fairly non-descript profile.
Granted, a Reader's Digest on my bookshelf doesn't really fit in with my books on programming, philosophy, Buddhism, and social psychology.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Christmas Gifts, Part II

Yesterday I posted about the etched Babbage Technologies tumbler glasses I made for Ryan and Jenn. This post is about two gifts for our friends Aaron and Elissa Ballman.

The first and more straightforward gift for them is something I originally received from my boss Becki: apple pie schnapps. The recipe is very straightforward and requires no exotic ingredients:
  • 1 gal. apple cider
  • 1/2 gal. apple juice
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 7 cinnamon sticks
  • Cook until almost boiling.  Let cool slightly.  Add 1 liter bottle of Everclear.
We used 190 proof Everclear from Wisconsin -- only the best for our friends! I expect the bottle will be gone in a matter of days.

The second gift took a good deal more time. Nearly every Saturday, the Ballmans and we play Dominion. For some time, I have been half-jokingly suggesting we create our own cards for the game. I finally decided to go for it and create a few cards that we could throw into the mix every so often.

I did some searching and found a few existing homemade variants, but none that I particularly liked. I wanted something more personal. I found some Dominion blanks online and started to create cards, but then I decided that -- being a software engineer -- I should leave it to software to build my cards, and instead, I would build said software.

Several hours of coding here and there later, and I had the Dominion CardBuilder application ready to go. In very short order, I churned out 11 (probably mediocre) cards:

 
 

(For what it's worth, I'm assuming my work with these images falls under the fair use clause of US copyright law.)

A few things should probably be clarified with respect to these cards:
  •  I originally started off thinking I would do a set of Calvin and Hobbes cards, but I realized that I wasn't sure how much the Ballmans like that strip. I then thought I would make some cards relating to teamwork, but we don't play Dominion that way terribly often. Then I figured making it into a drinking game would be interesting, but we don't really drink that much when playing (usually a drink or two over the course of the night). By this point, I created enough cards that seemed random that I just went ahead and created whatever I thought seemed interesting.
  • White Wizard, Balrog and Hex are the only cards that are dependent upon any other cards in this "expansion."
  • "Team Suck" is the name we gave to our never-materialized summer volleyball team. It never materialized for good reason.
  • Aaron and I are rather big fans of Bruce Campbell (mostly from Army of Darkness and Bubba Ho-Tep). Quoting Ash is a favorite past-time of mine.
  • "The Gambler" is an ode to Andrea, as she loves that Kenny Rogers song. Except when she loses:
November 24, 2006: Andrea's first bitter taste of defeat at the hands of Kenny Rogers.
Even though my application isn't world class, Aaron urged me to put it up online for others to use. I am cleaning up the interface a bit and will put it up on dingostick.com soon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Christmas Gifts, Part I

This year's de facto theme for Christmas gifts has been: made from scratch. Mostly. For the most part, I'm quite happy how things have turned out. So for the next few days, I'm going to post details on everything we've made.

The first gift was for Ryan and Jenn Olson. Ryan and I have been in business for six years, and I tend to gravitate toward some sort of Babbage Tech gift for them. This year, I bought some small tumbler glasses from Target and some glass etching cream from CraftsDirect, and I had Luke print out the Babbage logo in vinyl. I applied the vinyl to the glasses, painted on the etching cream and let it sit for five minutes. Then I removed the vinyl, wiped away the cream and repeated on the other three glasses. The results are pretty good:

Friday, December 16, 2011

The importance of second opinions

I had my tires replaced a couple weeks ago at Royal Tire in St. Cloud. Halfway through the work, they came out and told me my cam seals were leaking, getting oil on the timing belt. Once that happens, you need to replace the timing belt. The whole job would cost $1200 and change:

  • 2 cam seal sets @ $16.95 each
  • an a/c belt @ $28.95
  • an "alt p/s belt" (alternator/power steering, I assume) @ $28.95
  • a timing belt component kit with water pump @ $749.95
  • labor totaling $332.50
  • environmental fees @ $39.73
All said and done, they wanted $1276.07. And they also quoted me another $306.19 for a valve cover gasket and labor to install.
This morning, I dropped the Outback off at R&L Repair just down the road from my work. They got back to me in short order, telling me the seals are fine. There's a small amount of oil that had spilled during an oil change (the Subies have a narrow neck where you fill up the engine oil, so you have to fill it slowly, lest it spill). No bad seals. No leaking oil on the timing belt. I do have a torn CV joint boot, however, which Dad and I have fixed several times on various cars. It's about $75 and maybe an hour or two.

Perhaps I'm being a bit cynical, but this leads me to the conclusion that the guys at Royal Tire are either [a] completely incompetent (they didn't find the torn boot) or, more likely, [b] the stereotypical auto mechanics that screw over their customers at every chance. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe the guys at R&L missed something. But when I asked R&L how much their assessment would cost me, they waved me off and said not to worry about it. A mechanic that doesn't charge for a half hour of their expertise seems more believable.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I always wanted to be a lumberjack

Today we continued what is becoming a tradition of going on a hayride with my parents to get their Christmas tree. We went to Tallakson's Tree Farm just down the road, which is where we went last year. This time, however, the Days came with us.

Dad drove the tractor, occasionally trading off with Reed:

When we got there, we parked and wandered around, looking at various trees:


Ultimately, we felled a mighty blue spruce, had some sense shaken into it (and needles out of it), wrapped it up and brought it back to my parents' house.

In other news, I recently finished the book House Lust: America's Obsession with Our Homes. While not particularly exciting, it was rather interesting -- particularly the discussions about how extremely oversized homes have become.

Today is Bodhi Day, so to commemorate, I am starting to read The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.