Posts Tagged ‘Geek’

Electrical Optimization

September 1, 2010 3 comments

Our house is tall.  Most of our day is spent on the main floor, the bedrooms are on floor 2 and the attic houses a playroom for the kids.  Sadly, while there used to be a radiator at the bottom of the attic stairs and one in the attic they had been removed a long time ago.  Possibly when the steam boiler got swapped 30 years ago the one they put in didn’t do a good job for all the floors so they took them out.  What is left up in the attic is a set of 3 baseboard heaters that I’m not really happy with.  They get a bit too hot, and last winter Petra’s Cinderalla Barbie suffered some hair meltage because she was placed up against one of them.


I’ve been thinking of ways to try and reduce the electricity usage needed for the playroom and I’ve been batting around a few ideas.  One is that I need to get a programmable thermostat for the attic.  There aren’t any kids up there between 8PM and 8AM so having the heat off/very low would do a good job to cut usage by up to 1/2.  The other thing I’d like to put in is a ceiling fan which would pull up the cold air and force the warm ceiling-level air to circulate down.  As our house has no forced air heating it can get pretty stagnant and it should help to make the room more comfortable when set a bit cooler and make the heat created more usable.  The third thing I have in mind is I would like to have an on-demand heater that senses when the room is in use and heats it up.  I know that infrared heaters create heat immediately, so I would like to go to the store and give some a try.  If I could have the baseboards hold the temp at cool but manageable during the day the infrared could quickly make it comfortable.


I don’t know if I will have the time/money to do the infrared thing this year.  Heck, I think it would be efficient to put in-floor heating under the carpet but the cost is just waaaay to high for that.  Even without the infrared I think I can save half the heat costs which at 10c per kwh x 3 1000w heaters x 16 hours heating per day x 30 days x 5 months would mean saving half of $720.  Hmm…  looking at it that way it might be a good idea just to shut down the playroom for Jan-Feb… 


Well, that’s the plan, I’ll have to let you know how it works out.

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The Sound Of One Car Dying

August 13, 2010 3 comments

We live 7 km down a gravel road and then maybe 25 km to Saskatoon.  The highway is usually quite clear, even on snowy days as it is the main thoroughfare in the province, the road connecting Saskatoon and Regina.  330ish days  a year the gravel road is in good shape, they grade it regularly as it is used to haul gravel from a pit beside the lake, and because of this the road is also double the width of some minor gravel roads.  But, on das when we have had a decent amount of rain for 2 or more days the road becomes saturated and the slick, muddy mess becomes something of an adventure to drive on.  This is the way it was the weekend we moved in, and this is how the road was today.  I was heading home, doing a somewhat cautious 30-40 km/h (on really bad days I’ve slowed to 10-15) and going in and out of puddles, the road is rough, but not too bad.  I’m just getting in sight of home when I feel the car start to slow down, a bit confused I step harder on the gas and… nothing?  I look at the tachometer and sure enough it is flat at 0, the car has stalled.  I coast over to the side of the road and figure, whatever, it will be an easy restart.  I put it into park, turn the key and get greeted with a chunka chunka chunka chunka – nothing.  For some reason it won’t start, maybe I splashed water in somewhere it shouldn’t be?  I pop the hood and open up the air filter, looks dry, even though I am now getting poured on.  I close the hood, give it a few minutes and try again.  Still nothing…  time to call Erron.  I give her a call and tell her I am really close, could she come get me?  While she gets the kids in their boots and coats and strapped in I give it a few more tries but it is really doing nothing at all.  Erron shows up and I tell her we should tow the car home since I don’t want someone to slip in the mud and slam into the car.  We head home and pick up a couple tie-straps (maybe not rated for a car pull, but we’ll be going very slow).  We come back and I hook up the car to the van.  Erron drives while I coast the car in neutral back home.  The drive went slow but well and we drop the car in front of the garage.  After supper, while putting Micah to sleep I look up the likely candidate of a hydrolocked car and get this sickly feeling that my car has essentially “dry drowned” I don’t quite give up and decide to go outside and check it out again.  While trying to start the car I notice that while it is trying to turn over, it sounds like there is no ignition at all, also, I listen very carefully while I put the key in and notice that there is no sound of the fuel getting pressurised.  These together have me pull out the manual to figure out which fuse is the fuel injector and I track it down in the engine compartment.   I pull the fuse and sure enough, it is burnt out, nicely there is a spare held in the same bank and I put it in, get in the car and she starts with no troubles.  Red car, you gave me quite a scare.

Old School/New School

August 11, 2010 3 comments

I got an email from a student today.  She was letting me know she was considering buying a voice-recorder for lectures but wanted to make sure I would allow it first.  Probably she was sending this to all her instructors, not just me.

One problem that all big institutions face is the age stratification of the employees.  A factory, a hospital, a school… there are the new ways vs the tried and true experience constantly being thrown together.  This girl probably will have some instructors who are 60-65 and have been teaching for 30 years.  They will have started out using a blackboard, slide machine, overhead and then into computer technologies.  There comes a point where you might stop and say,” Who cares if I adopt some new method, it is the same content!”  and then you might add a bah-humbug for good measure.  There are possibly teachers on her list that will say, I don’t want you taking voice recordings of my lectures, you can take notes in class like everyone else.  I actually carpooled to a meeting across campus last semester and sat quietly while a few seasoned professors groaned about students wanting copies of their powerpoint notes, great for them for using powerpoint, but why keep the notes back?

Here’s how I approach lecturing.  I make up my powerpoint notes for my next lecture and then print the slides out as a PDF to put up online for all my students.  Many of them will print it out a few slides per page and take notes over top of my slides.  I use a tablet PC and use the pen to annotate my slides while lecturing, I even have hotkeys to change the color of the pen (RGB CMYK and W).  I keep the annotations and then re-print the slide deck into a PDF and put up this online to supplement the original.  Also, I wear my own voice recorder with a lapel microphone so that no matter how I twist, turn or move the sound quality is always good.  Lastly, I use a screen capture program which records the laptop microphone and screen so that all the annotations are captured in video allowing a fluid re-visiting of the lecture.  I then import the external audio capture and sync it in and upload it as an MP4 so students can watch it online or on their mobile devices.  Lastly… I thought I was lastly already but one more things came to mind, I use a student response system which allows me to put multiple choice questions into the middle of the lecture, poll the class and have them “lock in their votes” so I see if students are understanding a concept before we have moved on to something else.  With all this I have considered that if too much in-class material is put online then students might be more likely to just sleep in and catch up later, but so far it has been working well.

The drawbacks… some students probably take worse notes because they think I’ve got it all up there and they can just be an audience, they don’t understand that an active participant is more likely to learn the material.  Also, any time I screw up (yes, it happens a few times a year) it is immortalized for all eternity.  Lastly, it could be used as a way to check up on me by my superiors that can’t be used for faculty that don’t have any non-handwritten record of the lecture.  These things don’t really bother me, I think the technology augments class well and hopefully, when the next big technological advance comes along I will still be fluid enough to incorporate that too.

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Goodbye, Blog

August 4, 2010 1 comment

When I started this blog it was a place to vent a bit about work and give some updates to friends.  This humble blog had a humble name, it was simply “blog” because I didn’t really have any audience or purpose in mind other than updates to a small handful of people.  Over the last couple weeks, as I was thinking about the summer blog challenge it came to me that I might actually have something to say, I have opinions, I do interesting things, and if some random person was to ever read this blog it should at least have a name.  The other realization that came a few weeks earlier, that lead to the one we have just discussed, is that I now have a hobby, something I enjoy doing in my time not working or just being a Dad.  A decade and a half ago I was an avid reader, but I don’t have the time or drive to sit and read much anymore (I blame grad school for that).  For a long time I didn’t really have any hobbies to speak of, I didn’t play video games, I wasn’t a huge fan of some TV show, I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t a member of some club…  between work and family that was most of my day.  When we moved to the acreage we had some plans to make more of it than just a big empty space; well, at least Erron had plans to make it more than just a big empty space.  All my life I have been a tinkerer, I used to take apart toys, I would rip apart anything broken and more often than not troubleshoot it back to life.  Most of my lab equipment in grad school was stuff I fixed and the combination of a tight wallet and common sense taught me about the basics of woodwork, electrical and plumbing.  As we have started to make this acreage a farm I have found many opportunities to challenge myself in coming up with ways to use what past generations have left for us lying around to return to a useful state.

So, if I’ve got something to say it will probably be something that can be put into one, or several of the categories that have been made into the name of this blog.  I am a teacher, I am a tinkerer, I am a farmer and I am a geek.  These skills have gotten me this far, and I probably have a few stories to tell, so welcome to the repurposing of my blog.


October 27, 2009 2 comments

Wow…  looks like my last blog post was a few days after we moved into the house and here we are about 10 weeks later, man I must have been busy or something…

I’m not here to blog about trivialities, although life has appeared to speed up and the week goes so fast I can hardly anticipate the weekend before it comes and once it does it seems gone before I know it.  No, this is a post about something more nefarious, MEDIA FEAR!

My facebook status today has been:

Y2K, terrorists, anthrax, SARS, bird flu, west nile, swine flu… I wonder what it will be cool to be afraid of next year.

And really, doesn’t this seem to be the case?  Are we “Generation Fear”?  It is obvious that the media can’t cover everything in this globalized time we live in, and media cycles so fast that a hostage situation one day becomes a faint memory 2 days later.  What will keep the sheeples attention then?  It isn’t death and disaster, that passes after a few days, it isn’t triumph and joy, that gets old even sooner.  News is about gossip, celebrity, outrage and fear.  More has been said about “balloon boy” or Kanye “Asshat” West than things that really matter or make a difference to YOUR life.

And this of course brings us to a favorite ponderance of mine – “Honey-One” or H1N1, or the pig-apocalypse as the media calls it.  There is a definite us versus them attitude when it comes to people talking about vaccination, and what is your moral obligation to help protect your family and community.  Here is my take on it:

I have had one flu vaccination in my life, I have also had the flu 0 times in the last 15-ish years (my memory isn’t what it used to be).  I have a bit of an understanding about vaccination, and I generally believe it is a good thing for diseases which do not evolve rapidly (if it is ONE thing I know, it is genetics, bitch, check my PhD!)  But with the flu the powers that be are taking a few isolates that they figure will predominate in the next year and putting all their eggs in one basket as it were.  They make a vaccine that will protect you from viruses that are a snapshot in time, maybe 6 months to a year un-evolved from the state where you will likely meet it.  If the virus has changed, you will still get sick, indeed estimates are that vaccination is only 75% effective.  Part of this lack of effectiveness is also that fake infection (aka vaccination) does not truly mimic what happens in the body during a true infection.  A sustained viral infection allows the body to come up with many novel antibodies and T-cells that will recognize both viruses and virally-infected cells in your body and destroy them.  The sustained presence allows those cells that make good immunity to be signalled to divide so they have good numbers if ever needed again.  It is my belief that this true immunity gives you a better shot at making some lasting antibodies, ones that will be effective for years to come instead of being “disposable” and useless next year.  Then there is the theory of  “original antigenic sin” which can be simplified as saying your body makes an antibody against last year’s model and when it comes time to defend the body it launches a failed proliferation of shitty antibodies instead of trying to make new ones that will work.

So now that we’ve given some reasons why vaccination is not really a great alternative, let’s at least ask why we should vaccinate against H1N1.  Let’s see…  initially cases in Mexico were quite deadly, particularly in young, healthy people instead of the usual senior/weak crowd.  But, that isn’t the case anymore, it appears that this flu strain isn’t really anything special compared to seasonal flu, it has taken a “chill pill” for those of you who like analogies.  If that is the case, that if I get swine flu, I am no more likely to die than if I just got regular flu, and I don’t believe the regular flu vaccination is necessary, why have I been back and forth over considering an H1N1 vaccination for myself?



That’s really it, all the hype and fear have made me second guess my well-informed decision not to vaccinate myself.  Damn you, pro-fear media!  Well, I’m not going to have any of it.  I am going to avoid the vaccine, and keep risking that if I do get sick I’ll get better and have an even more capable immune system as the lasting legacy.

Are people who get vaccinated dumb?  No, they are taking a gamble that the flu they get exposed to is the same one they got vaccinated against which is probable.  Especially for the old or infirm where any flu could be deadly it is wise to get vaccinated.  Are people who don’t get vaccinated crackpot conspiracy theorists?  Maybe, but some are also well-informed deep-thinking and considerate people who just think mass-frenzy isn’t the way to public health.

And one last point before I get off my soap-box.  It is a possible scenario that H1N1 mutates a bit to become both more virulent and different enough from the vaccine-strain that a vaccine doesn’t help.  In this case false-security will be more detrimental than the common sense of staying away from public places (sorry, Christmas shoppers) and covering your face when you sneeze.

It is also possible (and more likely) that people who catch a less-virulent strain will recover faster, or just be bed-ridden less and they will be the ones spreading the virus to more people compared to the really sick ones who become isolated.  This will give us some nice Darwinian natural selection for a flu that makes you sick enough to help it spread but healthy enough that you get out there and spread it.

The End.

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Hardware fault

August 8, 2009 2 comments

So last night  used my iPhone tethered laptop to blog from the Keller residence.  I plugged in the charger, went to bed, and when I woke up I had a message on the screen saying “phone can not make calls, restore from itunes to continue”.  I tried, and tried and tried several times to restore.  The crappy thing about this is that restoring needs an internet connection because it has to contact apple’s mothership.  I’ve restored, had restore failures, re-jailbroken, restored, had restore failures and done most anything I could think of/read of.  I have managed through rejailbreaking to at least get into the system enough to remove the startup lock code which was giving some problems and reformat the phone too.  Right now it is going through the big format and supposedly returning everything to factory settings.  I also removed the SIM card thinking/reading that it may be giving some problems.  All in all, I’m frustrated with this crap.  Just work already, even if it was software \i put on the thing that may have initiated the problem from what I saw the phone forgot/blanked it’s identity and this is something that shouldn’t just happen when it is not being used and charging.  Good thing we’re in Edmonton, there’s an Apple Store here and their “geniuses” can probably spend a little time on it before telling me “Yep, it’s f*%ked.”

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The Magic Button

July 31, 2009 Leave a comment


When I came back to Canada I wanted to get a phone with a good data plan.  I didn’t really care for the whole Apple fanboy culture and always planned on jailbreaking the phone at first opportunity to be able to put the software on that I wanted.

I’ve had mp3 players before, I like that my non-apple sandisk player can be hooked up as a removable drive and I can drag and drop music from one computer and copy it back from another as I please.  With ipods/iphones you have to deal with itunes and syncing and an inability to copy the music from the device to another computer (like my laptop that has no music on it whatsoever).

So, faced with a 15 minute walk from my parking spot to my office and  another 15 back every day I have started to use my telephone/internet device as a music player.  I knew vaguely from hearing about the new ipod shuffles that the headphones that came with my phone could be used to increase and decrease volume, but that there was also a button between those that could be used for music controls.  One click is play/pause, two clicks is forward one song and three clicks is back one song.  What I learned a couple days ago is that holding down the button turns on voice command and this is why I call this the magic button.  I can throw the thing in my pocket, start walking, press the button and say “play xxx” and it starts going.  I can select an artist, I can select an album, I can select a song, and for more fun if I have a song playing that I like I can say “what is this song” (in case I didn’t know), or even better I can say “genius” or “play more like this” and have it build a 25 song playlist around that song based on similar songs and artists in my library.  Now THIS is technology I can appreciate.  Who wants to spend the time screwing around and navigating on their device when they are just trying to get from point A to point B.  I don’t have to look at the thing to have it play music I feel like when I feel like it.  With my old mp3 player I didn’t bother with playlists, I would just have it play everything at random and if it played rock songs after 80’s songs and then a dance song and then an acoustic number I would just say… ok fine.  Now I can play what I want with just a few simple voice commands – Thank You Magic Button!

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