Category Archives: Other Stuff

Post-accident Triathlon Training — First part of my series in Triathlete magazine

Late one night about a year and a half ago, I had a frustrating highway encounter with a big rig truck. Although, sadly, many others have fared worse in similar situations, it was still a sucky setback: three days in the hospital, a couple surgeries, and a few months to regain my strength.

The morning after the accident I gave myself a goal: I’d use it as a catalyst to finally train for and complete a triathlon. I didn’t want to ever feel held down by having an accident, and therefore strived for the exact opposite. Once able to move comfortably and push forward on my plan, I started discussing it with a friend at Triathlete magazine — who expressed interest in having me chronicle the journey for the publication. I agreed to do a three-part series, looking at the events leading to my decision to be a triathlete, the training experience, and then the race itself.

Triathlete helped make the training process easier by setting me up with some great gear and an amazing coach, Ian Murray, for which I’m extremely thankful — I highly recommend any first time (or even 31st time) triathlete to use a coach, it’s made such a big difference. At the point of my writing this, I’m just over two weeks away from the race. I’ll be competing in the Superseal Triathlon on March 18, in San Diego. An Olympic distance race, I have to swim 0.9 miles, bike 26 miles, and run 6.2 miles. Each of those distances is further than I’ve ever raced before, so the combination of all three consecutively will be pretty incredible.

Meanwhile, my first Triathlete segment hit the newsstands a few weeks ago, and became available online this week; check it out on the Triathlete site. And also check the fun video segment the magazine produced in conjunction with the article — more to come from that, too. Hope you enjoy.

 

“Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique

John Irwin is a writer/director acquaintance who’s making some kick-ass projects. Commercial work, music video, short film — and all with impressive results. John recently showed me his short “Sold,” a very intense piece about the horrific world of human trafficking. Very well written and told, the tension and story grab the viewer quickly; suspension of disbelief can be hard to achieve when you’re watching a project that was made by someone you know, but this one had me wringing my hands from the start. Afterwards, I asked him for details about the film, the filming techniques used for some of the tighter spaces, and  the motivation behind it. He graciously supplied me with a thorough rundown — check it out below.

==============

By John Irwin.

Sold is a short film that focuses on Maya and another young girl, Alexa, who are trapped in the trunk of a car on its way out of town, and their eventual confrontation with their captors.

Up until very close to filming, we didn’t know how we were going to film the interior trunk scenes with the time, money and resources we had. On good ol’ craigslist, we found someone with our “villain” car that agreed to let us rent it for a day. This is the car that shows up at the end of the short. We were desperately searching for a trunk lid in junkyards across LA that would match the make/model of this car (a Mercury Marquis). The plan was to put the lid on top of the trunk and cut holes in the four corners so we could lower our small DSLR camera down and film the inside from each hole. A great plan in theory aside from all the dangerous sharp metal that we would have had to deal with — but we called every single junkyard within 60 miles of Los Angeles and not a single one had a trunk lid that matched.

Continue reading “Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique

Build Your Own White House Science Fair Marshmallow Cannon

Earlier this month, The White House hosted their second science fair, bringing innovating kids together from around the country to show off impressive creations and contraptions. A standout moment of the event occurred when President Obama spotted a peculiar looking device, and asked its creator for details; moments later, they had cleared a path to see if they could blast marshmallows against the wall on the other side of the room with it.

There’s something great about giving attention to the fun of building and working with science. That enthusiasm can be encouraged and shared, as the marshmallow cannon builder Joey Hudy is choosing to do with his detailed build notes on the Make website.

Here’s an overview:

“Extreme Marshmallow Cannon” by Joe Hudy

Tools
  • Hack saw
Relevant parts
  • 8oz PVC Cement Red Hot Low Voc
  • Pressure Gauge 0-100 PSI
  • Electronic Sprinkler Valve
  • 9V Battery (2)
  • Switch
  • Wire
  • Bike Tire Valve
  • Marshmallows
  • Altoids Box
  • PVC Tape
  • PB110 1/2″ x 1/4″ Brass Pipe Bushing
  • PB101 1/4″ Brass Pipe Tee
  • PB113 1/4″ Close Brass Pipe Nipple
  • PVC 1 1/2″ EL 90D EL (4)
  • PVC 3/4″ EL 90D EL
  • PVC 1″ x 1″ x 3/4″ Tee
  • PVC 3/4″ x 3/4″ Tee (2)
  • PVC 1-1/2″ x 1 1/2 x 1″ Tee (2)
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ Tee
  • PVC 1-1/2″ Cross
  • PVC 3/4″ Running Trap (2)
  • PVC 1″ Male Adapter (2)
  • PVC 1″ x 3/4″ Bushing (2)
  • PVC 1-1/2″ x 1″ Bushing
  • PVC 3/4″ x 1/2″ Bushing
  • PVC Marshmallow Barrel
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 12″ (2)
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 10″
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 6 1/2″
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ (4)
  • PVC 1 1/2″ x 3 7/8″ (1)
  • PVC 3/4″ x 1 1/2″ (3)
  • PVC 1″ x 2 1/2″ (1)
  • PVC 1″ x 2″ (1)

Assembly is pretty straightforward, but you’ll likely want to build a turret for it that lets you aim and direct your marshmallows right at your target — the waiting mouth of your hungry friends.

 

One Guy, Alone at Home, Creates an Incredible Solar-System Exploration Software With UDK

With the ability to accurately depict the elements of our solar system like planetary size and movement, this awesome computer program looks to bring an easy-to-grasp understanding of the heavenly bodies closest to Earth. Feeling like something from Star Trek, the interface depicts the positions and orbits of the planets and their moons as they whip around each other and the sun in their respective orbits. With the ability to toggle between actual and adjusted scales, the user can choose to see the solar system from a user-friendly view, or the more accurate but ginormously Sun-centric view (unfortunately, not pictured in this video demonstration).

Most impressive, it’s all been designed by one person, Chris Albeluhn, working from home over the past year, utilizing the Unreal Development Kit — the hugely popular videogame development platform that has been used for titles like Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and many, many more (wiki page here). A large amount of additional details are available on the video’s youtube page and this reddit post.

All eight planets are included (sorry Pluto! Neil Tyson Degrasse, you win again), with breakdowns of information like composition and temperatures for each. It even includes a visualizer for constellations. There’s some discussion about what additional planetary objects might be incorporated (man-made satellites would be great), and if this will ever be released as an actual product; in the meantime, enjoy the video and make sure to check Chris’ page about this project.

Also, a quick clip about the UDK package used for this:

The United States of Craigslist Map

An active CL community is a requirement for anywhere I live, and this awesome “chalkboard map” by  John Nelson of IDV Solutions shows a re-imagining  of the USA, broken down by the cities with a craigslist community and the zipcode area that is serviced by those.

The USA of CL IDV page has notes about using this data as an overlay for online mapping services. It also gives a fascinating breakdown of the process involved in compiling the data and creating the map information:

Nerdy Bits
• Scrape the list of Craig’s cities at http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites.
• Split joint-locations into individual locations (like “Odessa / Midland”)
• Geocode place-specific locations.
• Manually position the more regional locations (like “Southeast Iowa”).
• Divide locations into three geographically distinct regions (split by the Continental Divide along the spine of the Rockies and the Mississippi); duplicate any locations that meaningfully straddle a border, like St. Louis. I do this to introduce some true-cost of crossing either of those features, in the face of an algorithm that would otherwise treat the whole country as a smooth unfettered plain.
• Run Voronoi (Thiessen) algorithm to generate best-fit zones for the points, for all three regions.
• Clip Voronoi zones by a “land” shape to cut out the oceans and provide a common border between the three regions (my “land” was constructed from the Census Bureau’s tracts file).
• Merge the 3 regional Voronoi sets into a unified nation-wide set.
• Dissolve boundaries between same-website Voronoi zones (to re-combine the joint-locations up there in step 2) into merged chunky polygons.
• Manually re-assign oddly-orphaned or split areas (common along complicated shorelines).

For any of you data-hounds, or those who just like infographics, check out all the cool maps and visualizations these guys are creating.

Update: Mr. Nelson left a nice comment with some details about an additional Craigslist map he created a few months after this one, that plots the actual zip code details instead of polygon shapes based on the general areas they represent. Check it out below, and if you want the actual zip code data table (like one Linkedin user did), navigate to the page for the dropbox link and notes.

My notes and information about the ATT Free Msg: Your data usage is among the top 5% of users. Data speeds for this bill cycle may be reduced.

(Note: if AT&T’s throttling is affecting you too, please follow me on twitter as I’ll be continuing to broadcast my investigation there)

Looks like AT&T has a new system to rid itself of the remaining unlimited data plan accounts: throttling.

Last month, I got a troubling text message from the cell phone carrier with some news — not one of their updates to let me know that the card on file has expired — this was something new, something domineering in its faux-friendly tone.

ATT Free Msg: Your data use is approaching the top 5% of users. Avoid reduced data speeds, use Wi-Fi where available. Visit att.com/dataplans or call 8663447584.

A confusing message — I’ve been with AT&T since the early iPhone days, and still have their unlimited data plan. Who were these “top 5%?” What type of use were they seeing? Had someone hacked into my phone account and started torrenting BlueRay movies? I checked my data usage for the month: a very mediocre  2.4gb — and this was about three weeks into the billing cycle (btw, I’m on a family plan, but data is reported separately).

Continue reading My notes and information about the ATT Free Msg: Your data usage is among the top 5% of users. Data speeds for this bill cycle may be reduced.

Upcoming Kenmore Blogger Summit Visit – And a Chance to Win Some Prizes

I’m pretty excited to be heading to Chicago next weekend (Jan 20/21, 2012) to meet with the bigwigs at Kenmore and hear about some of the new things that they are getting up to. They’ll be flying me and a few others out and showing us their latest in home goods. Most of the stuff I focus on in this site is gadget, tool, and build-related (and I’ve helped out with similar events for Craftsman, another Sears brand), but I do let my pizza fascination influence some of the posts I make on this site, and am intrigued if Kenmore has anything pizza-related in the pipeline (not that there’s any reason for me to think so).

I’m going to bring a few questions for the Kenmore folks to the event, and I’m happy to ask anything you’ve got in mind or are wondering about too (like: why do they only offer ONE pizza slicer?). So feel free to pop any of those into the comments.

 

The Kenmore people also have a few prizes for the best video entries in response to the following:

“When tasked with the overwhelming demands of day-to-day chores, a little creativity goes a long way – and helps stretch our resources a bit. What is your most unusual, yet practical, use of a common household appliance?”

They’re offering a $100, $50, and $25 gift card for the best three submissions, which will be used internally and possibly sent out on their social media channels (I asked).

The rules:
– Submit your videos, and I’ll send my pick for the best five (if I get that many). Kenmore will select the best three from the entries of all bloggers (which means your odds are pretty decent)
– Video Due: Wednesday, January 18 at 9p.m. CT
– Rule: No branding visible other than Kenmore. To avoid, simple cover other brand names with tape.
– Format: Uncompressed Quicktime files at 1920×1080 16:9 are preferred. Any uncompressed file would be best, and the bigger the format the better. My suggestion: upload to Vimeo so the original file can be saved easily.

Have fun with it. I’ll report back after I return.

Tormach 770 CNC Mill Review – My Writeup in Wired Magazine

CNC machines are awesome, computer-controlled tools that use digital files to output some incredible creations. CNC routers will cut large (or small) pieces of material into precise, repeatable designs. CNC mills allow you to carve intricate projects in materials from foam to steel. And CNC lathes make cylindrical components that range in complexity, from baseball bats to precise titanium aerospace components.

These amazing machines have started dropping into the price range that makes them accessible to the everyday user in their home workshop. Quite a few are available, but one company is getting high praise for its product and its stellar customer service – Tormach. I recently reached out to them and one of their users to discuss their entry-level machine, the PCNC 770, for Wired magazine.

If you can get to the store and grab the September 2011 issue, check it out. Otherwise, the article can be read online here.