First Half of 2014 and Travels

Although this blog has been unusually quiet as of late, fear not! I’ve been putting off various posts about the things I’ve been doing and instead combining them into one big “what I’ve been up to since the beginning of the year” update.

San Francisco

Despite being all over Europe, Tracey had never been to the Bay Area! We remedied this in January with a sunny respite that involved awesome burritos, BART, and all of the other things one does while in that part of the country. Probably most significantly, I finally had a change to tour the ultimate Mario Kart course known as Alcatraz Island.

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New York City

In May we took our seemingly annual visit to New York City, and this time stayed in a couple of shipping containers. When not hanging out on rooftop bars, we saw an awesome play about LBJ called All the Way, which starred Bryan Cranston as the titular role. Many neighborhoods were explored, and much cheesecake and pizza were consumed.

I even managed to convince Tracey to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge!

Bridges are scary.
Bridges are scary.

Washington Park Arboretum

One of my favorite activities in Seattle is to rent a canoe from the UW’s Waterfront Activities Center and meander around in the arboretum. This time, we rented the boat at 10am on July 4th, and almost had the place to ourselves, which meant the critters (and ducklings!) were out and about.

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Unsmoothy-ifying a Model M

It’s no secret: my Model M keyboard is one of my favorite objects. The buckling spring keys make typing a highly precise exercise through the outstanding tactile and auditory feedback of this human input device. So when tragedy struck in the form of a smoothie being spilled on my keyboard, I quickly had to figure out the proper way to investigate and fix it after keys failed. While I could have simply chucked the malfunctioning keyboard in the trash, it didn’t feel right, ya know? When an object has been around for twenty years, it feels wrong to give up on it so easily.

The Model M is great at a lot of things, but easy fixin’ is not high on the list.  To get access to the membranes (which had smoothie residue on them), you have to do a process called a “bolt mod,” which is a time-intensive and precise task where all of the plastic rivets are chiseled off the back of the keyboard. Once done so, you need to create a slight dimple with a soldering iron where each one of these rivets used to be, because then you get to drill 1/16″ holes into each one of these former rivet locations! But the fun isn’t over! Then you get to screw in small screws into each one of these holes before fastening everything together back with a nut.

Oh, and you get to do this around 50-60 times, because there are a large number of rivets. And you can’t use too much force, or else the plastic will break.

Once this is all complete, the innards of the Model M are finally able to be accessed and, more importantly, you have the ability to reassemble everything back into working order. I cleaned the membranes and electrical contacts, and verified that everything was back to being smoothie-free.

After many weeks of effort, many times of trial and error, and a whole lot of drilling, the Model M was resurrected and pressed back into service as my primary keyboard at home.

The moral of the story is directed towards fellow Model M owners: a bolt mod isn’t that scary, and I’d absolutely recommend it if your choice is to otherwise throw out one of these magnificent pieces of technology.

Constructing a Standing Desk

During a few weeks between jobs last September, one of my projects was to replace my traditional desk with a self-constructed standing desk.

Rather than starting from scratch, I decided to base the desk off of a design that used adjustable legs and a TV table from IKEA. What drew me to this particular desk is that the table provided a very nice shelf to hold all of the things that my regular desk would no longer be housing, such as writing materials and headphones.

Assembly went more-or-less as expected, and I added the DIODER LED 4-piece lighting set under the bottom of the lower desk surface. With the control unit on the shelf, I could provide a nice colorful glow towards the ground emanating  from the desk in whatever color I choose, although it mostly is set in the gently-cycling color changing pattern.

Finally, a FRANKLIN bar stool was added so I could sit down if I really wanted to.

Desk with blue light
Matching the desk color with the computer fan color.

 

Eight months later, I’m generally pleased with the results. The base is sturdy enough to carry a fairly heavy load with the monitors, keyboard, and other equipment. If you’re looking for a swell project that won’t take more than a couple of hours, this would be a great desk to make.

Nikky 2.0: Nikkybot and Nikky Ipsum

A while back, Travis Evans, a fellow staff member at the ticalc.org project, wrote NikkyBot. It was, as you may imagine, a Markov chain based application that he created to essentially simulate my behavior on TI Graphing Calculator IRC channels.

A TI-89 version exists, naturally, but one of the really fun applications of this was that Travis turned the generator into a full-fledged IRC bot that would randomly out spew semi-sentient things. The fine folks at Cemetech have been saving some of the better quotes that it says.

Travis hatched the idea that at some time, late at night when nobody is looking, the bot and I would switch nicks. It turned out just about as you would expect, with lots of confusion, but the more striking thing is that more than a few people simply didn’t notice anything had changed.

Last but not least, I made a Nikky Ipsum, which provides you with lots of awesome Ipsum text for your next web design.

This bot has become somewhat of an existential crisis, as not everyday are you faced with something that can learn from what you said over the past decade of chat. Oftentimes the bot replicates what I’d say in any given conversation. Many times I’ll check an IRC channel only to find nikkybot has already jumped into a conversation and said exactly what I would say.

Fastmail

I’ve been using Gmail as my primary email service provider for a decade now. Gmail is 10 years old today. While it was certainly groundbreaking at the time, Google’s email services have stagnated as of late, and I’ve started to get serious privacy concerns over their practices and unified product lines.

Google, quite literally, controls a large portion of my online life, and I started to counter that migrating my primary email over to fastmail. They’re a group I’ve respected for a long while due to their absolutely awesome IMAP implementation, and I started by moving my @nikkysoutherland.com addresses over a couple of weeks ago. Over time, my primary goal is to get everything transitioned from gmail to addresses under my own domain, and can thus control who and where my messages are saved to.

Its certainly a big change for my workflow, but the awesome K9 email app for Android certainly makes the transition a snap. With CalDAV support incoming soon, I see no reason why I can move my calendaring (also in Google) over to fastmail as well.

Don’t worry. My gmail address will still work fine, you just may get a reply from a new address. :)

The Angst of Touring

One of the perks for working where I do is that I can hop on any of our many tours for free, and my significant other can go as well for essentially very little cost. I figured it may be a good idea to see what our tours are all about since they’re a significant portion of our company and I spend much of my time working on ways to make our business operation software run smoother.

So Tracey and I signed up for the Eastern Europe in 16 days tour. We’ve been throughout Western Europe fairly thoroughly, but neither of us have been to (or spent any significant portion of time) in Eastern Europe. This comes with some angst, however. I’ve always been very much a DIY traveler, and the idea of being a member in a tour group (you know, those people) is a very new idea.

I look forward to seeing what we have to offer, and certainly start exploring Eastern Europe. We have plenty of free time before and after the tour, as well as during, so I hope to get lots of good exploration in without getting too entrenched in the tour group culture.

Cerebral Crumbs of a Professional Hipster