Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fixing Erin's Headlamp

One of the LEDs in Erin's headlamp had stopped working. I diagnosed that it was the LED itself that was at fault, and replaced both white LEDs with brighter ones that I took from my pile of keychain lights (leftover swag from the CSCW conference last November). Erin was very pleased.

Project 100, #70, #71.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Weekend To-Do List

  • Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming
  • Stats homework (hard to do without a book)
  • Send wedding presents: Sarah/Tom, Katie/Bryan (Erin did it)
  • Go to REI
  • Buy a toilet
  • Update wedding website
  • Set up registry
  • Level fridge (more trouble than it's worth)
  • Finish fixing back door
  • Add prop for compost bin door
  • Start backing up Erin's computer?
  • Fix up Slicehost time
  • Post Gorillapod, 10-17? for sale
  • Balance checkbooks
  • Adjust bike
  • Order Rocket
  • E-mail about wedding certificates
  • Drive wedding directions
  • Load Stevens Canyon GPS data
  • Clean out e-mail inbox
  • Make beans
  • Progress on honeymoon destination
  • Fix Erin's headlamp (diagnosed) (fixed too)
  • Fix Erin's sleeping pad
  • Fix boots
That's a lot. I wonder how far I'll get.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gun-Free Dumpster

Absolutely no guns allowed in or near this dumpster.

Project 100, #69.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You Can Help Police!

This billboard is visible from the busway running between the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses and targets drivers northbound on Highway 280.

It freaks me out a little. The last people I want doing any criminal investigating are those who worry about children's safety and have a lot of time on their hands.

Reminds me of the woman in Seward who had a smelly telephone pole -- she couldn't get ahold of a person through Xcel Energy's (presumably awful) automated phone system, so she reported a gas leak.

Project 100, #68.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Customer Service Win

The North Face hydration systems (i.e., water-filled bags with a hose that fit into a backpack, if you don't want to be so snobby) have a brilliant system where the bite valve has a magnet on it, and you clip a corresponding magnet onto your chest strap. It's super-easy to use and way better than the Camelbak clips.

I wanted a second magnet so I wouldn't have to keep transferring the one magnet between my frame pack and my daypack. I called up The North Face. The conversation went something like this:
"Hi, I need one of those magnets that clips onto a backpack strap."
"OK, what's your address?"
They wouldn't take my money. So now I have a second magnet. I was very impressed.

Superb customer service seems to be endemic in the outdoor products industry. I had a great warranty experience with MSR a few years ago (a stove weld broke after 4.5 years of use, and it was fixed free of charge due to the 5-year warranty), and I have an ongoing warranty experience with Marmot that seems to be going very well (down sleeping bag lost loft in a few baffles).

I wonder why. Generally, my customer service experiences these days run from awful to disastrous (try e-mailing Facebook support sometime). Is it because outdoor stuff is all luxury items?

Project 100, #67.

Communications Fail

This sign was posted last week in my building in an elevator and a few other places. It's one of the more egregious uses of jargon in public communications that I've seen lately. Does "loss of dial tone" mean:
  1. The phones won't work.
  2. There won't be a dial tone, but the phones will still work -- dial anyway.
Those are different things.

Project 100, #66.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cat in a Box

Project 100, #65.

First Bike Commute of the Season

First bicycle commute of the season was yesterday. It wasn't too horribly cold (over 40 F when I left the house). If I'd had my act in gear, I could have started Monday, but I didn't. Second commute of the season was today. My bum has gone soft over the winter, apparently.

I'm really glad to be back on the bike. I find it very satisfying to be getting in a reasonable level of daily exercise. Over the winter, my daily commute is a walk of similar duration, but it's not as rigorous, and the scale reflects this. One of my goals for next winter is to stay more active and avoid my seasonal weight gain.

Project 100, #64.

Snow Cave

It's been warm lately. I had no idea this big pile of snow was hollow. Note the discarded shovel head.

Project 100, #63.

Cat Grass

Jess has a taste for plants. Her favorite seems to be the spider plants, which make her throw up. Gross! But Erin discovered "Cat Grass", which Jess also loves and which does not make her throw up.

Project 100, #62.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Erin Grows Pretty Things

Saturday night.

This morning.

Project 100, #60, #61.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lake Hiawatha Sunset (2)

Went out to take some pictures this afternoon and ended up at Lake Hiawatha again.

Project 100, #59.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tropicana Packaging Fail

I find this carton of Tropicana orange juice garish and unappealing, and way too corporate. You can almost see the suits and smarmy attitudes oozing out. Shouldn't there be a picture of, oh, an orange instead of this over-Photoshopped image of a trendy glass full of orange colored liquid?

Note that the cap is shaped like -- how clever -- an orange! Gaaaah.

Here's an idea, PepsiCo: Focus on providing us wholesome and ethically produced food, and forget the marketing bullshit.

Project 100, #58.

Side note: Turns out that the guy who designed this package is the same guy who designed Pepsi's craptastic new logo.

Dead Bird on Sidewalk

I was walking home this afternoon and came across the remains of a small bird on the sidewalk. It seemed forlorn and rather poignant, just laying there dead while the rest of the world bustled by, not noticing.

After I was done taking these photos, I put the bird in a snowbank and covered it with snow. It seemed wrong to just leave it in the middle of the sidewalk to be trodden on. I came across a dead bird on campus a few months ago in the middle of the sidewalk, and regretted not taking the time to push it to the side.

Project 100, #56, #57.

Weekend To-Do List

  • Glasses: photograph, measure, return, order new
  • Design and order wedding invites
  • Have some fun! :)
  • Call sister
  • Send wedding presents: Sarah/Tom, Katie/Bryan
  • Cyclopath task #709
  • Vacuum carpet
  • Level fridge
  • Start backing up Erin's computer
  • Add Google Analytics to pages
  • Figure out plan for sleeping bag repair (looks like I'll need to call Marmot on Monday)
  • Watch Jon Stewart rip Jim Cramer a new one
  • Change itamae's experiment cron to run later (say 3am)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Science Classroom Building (8)

Project 100, #55.


On Tuesday, it sleeted and rained all day. On Tuesday night, we had high winds and blowing snow. It wasn't all that cold, so I was sweating from being bundled up, but I couldn't un-bundle due to the icy snow-filled wind. It was kind of a nasty commute home.

On Wednesday morning, it was below zero when I got up.

This is my street on Wednesday around 11am when I was going in to school. It was about 10 or 12 degrees.

Project 100, #54.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stolen Credit Card

So I was eating lunch today with some friends when I got a phone call from 800-454-9078. I didn't answer because I was busy and it was an 800 number, which is suspicious. I assumed it was a spam phone call.

They left a message, though, and I listened to it after I got back to the office. It again seemed extremely suspicious... it was a robot voice that started speaking too early, so I only got half the message. Wanted me to call back at the same 800 number as was on the caller ID. Clearly a scam.

I got curious, though, and googled the number, which turned up this. Apparently the number is a legitimate source of calls from Chase credit cards services warning about fraudulent charges. I indeed have a Chase credit card (no photo to make this a Project 100 post... too lazy).

I called up the 800 number on the back of the card (I'm still not going to call an unknown phone number back and give them my info even if some website says it's OK) and got an automated system which read me a transaction which isn't mine, and I push the appropriate buttons. Two accented customer service reps, 10-15 minutes of hold time, and a bad cell phone connection later, it turns out that the card number has stolen and the thief used it to buy $1.00 of iTunes, some Netflix, and some Gevalia. They would have done better, I think, had the card not been $50 or so away from being maxed out (lots of airplane tickets on there this month)... lol.

I was impressed, and also not. Impressed because the card company figured out that something fishy was up. The fraud services rep gave me the third degree about the iTunes and the Gevalia, which was kind of annoying but appropriate because Chase wants to make sure they charges really were fraudulent. Also impressed that the laws place the liability for this sort of thing on the bank, who otherwise would not lift a finger to prevent it or detect it and wouldn't believe my claims that I didn't make the charges. Not impressed because the notification message was extremely scam-like, I didn't like sitting on hold, and the first customer service rep wanted ME to explain what the call was about.

The account was closed and I'm getting a new card. They're going to send me some paperwork apparently. I'll update when it arrives. Fascinating.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Nemesis Is a Bathroom Sink

One of the adventure types that I really dislike is plumbing, perhaps because I don't seem to be particularly good at it. There have been three ongoing plumbing problems at our house over the past months, and only one of them is really solved to my satisfaction.

1. Toilet not flushing consistently. I started in on this one last weekend with some hot water flushes. No dice. This weekend I did some Internet searching and fussed around more. The bowl took a bucket of water as fast as I could pour, so that told me there was no clog and the roof vent worked. That meant that the bowl was not filling fast enough when flushed. I used a wire and plumbing snake to clean out all the holes in the bowl that I could find (hint: flush with a bucket of warm water before you start, and then the water isn't so incredibly cold), and that seems to have done the trick. It flushes much faster now.

2. Bathroom sink drips. This had been drippy something like a year ago, and I put in new gaskets and springs on both hot and cold and it stopped. But it had started again. Fiddling with the spring on the cold side (it seemed stuck) seemed to pretty much solve the problem on Friday night, but on Saturday it had started dripping again. Several iterations of assembly and disassembly (including turning off just the hot water to the house, in which process I broke off the valve's handle) resulted in a faucet which dripped not a little but a lot. I ended up going to Home Depot (reasoning that the Ace parts were low-quality) and brought home two types of gaskets, including genuine Delta ones. The Delta parts didn't make much difference, but the Home Depot generic ones were pretty good. It seems to be down to a a dozen or two drips per day, which is Good Enough but unsatisfying.

3. Shower faucet drips. I first addressed this about a month ago and ended up, after multiple trips to the hardware store, with a faucet that still dripped and also leaked from the control knob while it was one. Yesterday, after half a dozen iterations of assembly and disassembly, I ended up with new gaskets and springs and also a new ball. It doesn't leak water from the knob while it's on, but it's very stiff and still drips. I think it loses a few tablespoons a day, which isn't all that much, so I'm going to ignore the problem for the time being, but it's again unsatisfying.

The most annoying thing about this work is that there aren't shutoff valves for any of the faucets in the house, so each iteration requires two trips to the basement to turn the water on and then off again. It gets old fast. It is also frustrating to have not fully fixed the problems.

Lastly, this photo was taken with the 10-17mm fisheye. All my photos from the past month are take either with that or the 50mm manual Tak. This is because my 18-250 zoom is at Pentax being serviced and has been there for a month now. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the choice between a fisheye wide-angle, which is kind of a trick lens and not really appropriate for general use, and an excellent but very fiddly manual lens that's not a focal length I prefer. Unsatisfying. I really hope my zoom comes back soon (I'm going to bug Pentax about it on Monday).

Project 100, #53.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Weekend To-Do List

Another weekend already! Here's the plan this weekend:
  • Call sister
  • Do laundry (Erin did most of it)
  • Go to Shilad's graduation party
  • Fix: shower, toilet, leaky bathroom faucet
  • Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming
  • Merge minor pending Cyclopath tasks
  • Cyclopath tasks #709, #830
  • Release Cyclopath version 28
  • Stats reading
  • Stats homework
  • Stats lab work (skip that)
  • Set up automounter for backup USB disks
  • Deal with glasses
  • Port cell phone to new provider
  • Calibrate fisheye lens (harder than I thought, punting)
  • Send wedding presents: Sarah/Tom, Katie/Bryan
  • Make beans
  • Go to library
  • Date night with Erin :)

Shilad's Thesis Defense

Shilad giving his final thesis defense on Thursday morning. (He passed.) This will be me in about a year.

An interesting tidbit is the variation in the Q&A rigor. A thesis defense has three phases, mandated by the Graduate School: (1) scholarly talk describing the thesis research, (2) public Q&A session, (3) private Q&A session. For Part 3, the public is dismissed and the professors get to ask the really hard questions. In my department (computer science), this phase is fairly cursory and lasts 10-15 minutes. In neuroscience, it's a grueling ordeal lasting two hours or more.

(Almost no one fails the thesis defense. If your advisor is halfway competent, he or she will not allow you to take it unless he/she is confident you will pass.)

Project 100, #52.

Attending Class

This is before my evening stats class, as the room is beginning to fill up. I took the photo now rather than when the room was fuller, because this was a very peaceful time and I wanted to capture it. The instructor (a Mac grad a few years younger than me) was puttering around handing back homework, and everyone seemed very relaxed. It was an unexpected few minutes of serenity.

Project 100, #51.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


For my birthday, we had a "pasta-off". People brought various home-made pasta sauces (6 in all!) and we made a giant loop of home-made pasta, something like 30 feet in circumference. The above photo is cutting the wide strip into noodles.

I didn't capture a holistic image, but my friend "mannatunkle" captured several.

It was a hit. Erin threw me a wonderful birthday party. (Oh yeah, I turned 30 on the 1st.)

Project 100, #50.

Tearing Down Buildings in Cedar-Riverside (2)

I came back the next day (Tuesday the 3rd) with a different lens and took some wide-angle images.

This is taken from nearly the same angle as the Hulk Hogan's Pastamania image from 2/20 in this post. You can actually see the forlorn remains of the Pastamania awning in the junk heap in the middleground.

Messy sidewalk by the destruction. That's the Mixed Blood Theatre in the background, and also the chair in a tree.

Project 100, #48, #49.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tearing Down Buildings in Cedar-Riverside

The above is what's left of the Hulk Hogan's Pastamania building in Cedar-Riverside. I'm not surprised, given the nature of the activity that's been going on there over the past few months (and they've been vacant for quite a while before that), but it's still a bit of a shock to unexpectedly come upon buildings being destroyed.

Big machine goin' at it.

This is the building just to the south, across 5th St. It is also being torn down.

The "No XL" notation isn't graffiti. It means "No Xcel Energy service at this location". That could be gas, or electricity, or both - what Xcel supplies depends on what part of town you live in.

This is a chair in a tree. It's been there for a couple of weeks.

Project 100, #44, #45, #46, #47.

DON'T PANIC, the Fabulous New Android App

My friend Alex, founder and CEO of RTNP Heavy Industries, has created the world's best Android app, Don't Panic. Here's a screenshot:

It's so you have a little reminder at your fingertips, whenever you need it. I have no idea how to install it, not having an Android myself (though that might change given this app), but that shouldn't stop you.

It's only $0.99, less than 1/6 of a sandwich. Cheap! There's a free version, but it's not nearly as good. Shell out. You won't regret it.

Project 100, #43. (doh!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009


For some years I've had a poinsettia given to me by an ex-girlfriend (who was a girlfriend at the time). It didn't work out and for good reasons, but I like keeping the plant around because it does have sentimental value. However, it's a finicky plant and likes to drop a bunch of leaves at the slightest flaw in nurturing, so it had become extremely leggy.

Erin's wanted to chop it off and start over for some time, and we'd taken a cutting which hasn't died but stubbornly refuses to root, so I didn't let her do it. However, a few weeks ago, there was some minor abuse and pretty much all the leaves came flying off. It looked to be on its last legs so we took a few cuttings and did the chop.

This is one of the cuttings. It's decided to "bloom". Weird.

If you are bored, you can look up the List of poinsettia diseases on Wikipedia.

I also like that Erin isn't threatened by this memento, another reason I'm glad I'm marrying her and not the other one. ;)

Project 100, #42.

Cat in a Box

One of Jess' major duties is to sit in boxes.

Project 100, #41.


Last Thursday, it snowed heavily, and lots. Here's the view out my office window.

Project 100, #40.

Science Classroom Building (7)

Project 100, #39.

Hulk Hogan's Pastamania (3)

Hulk Hogan's Pastamania, RIP. I believe that the graphics have ended up on the walls of one or more hipsters.

Project 100, #38.


Last week, our garage got tagged again... third time in a couple of years. Bleah.

The city catalogs all reported graffiti. If you make a report, they'll come out and take a picture, then send you a letter giving you 10 days to clean it up. But it's desirable to paint over it ASAP to discourage future graffiti (vandals want people to see their work); if you send a pic, you don't have to wait for the city to come take one and can paint over right away. I did this and Erin was kind enough to do the painting over.

Project 100, #37.