Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making Stuff

I feel like building/making/fixing something. I have that kind of energy buzzing through me. I have this sudden and driving urge to learn things, to do things with my hands.

Alas, writing isn't one of them. (That's not entirely true. I don't "program" for a living, but I do like to dabble in writing code and I could easily lose a whole day writing programs to do silly things, if I had any silly things that sounded fun to program.)

No, I'm thinking more about projects around the house or the yard. I'm thinking about creating stuff... "Useful" stuff.

This desire, I know where part of it comes from. I look at the negative stuff around, the stuff I can't control, the things that seem to be too large to fix or change. And then I want to create something. I want to have a modicum of control in all the chaos.

Of course, that's not the only driving force. I also feel like I've spent a lot of my life learning skills that only really exist to help in very limited circumstances. I can use all sorts of different software. I can survive in the corporate system. I can write user guides. I can build and manage geographically dispersed/disparate teams.

Try using those skills when the zombie apocalypse comes!

Monday, May 21, 2012


Sunday was the big eclipse and while we weren't in a "100% coverage" area, we would still get to see about "84%" coverage as the moon passed by. That's pretty good for not having to leave the house!

But we did, leave the house. We went over to the coast to watch the eclipse and eat dinner. Of course, not everything went according to plan...

First, we waited until the last minute to get together some eclipse viewing materials. We had hoped to pick up something to use to view the eclipse at the Maker Faire the day before, but by the time we ventured into the "stuff buying" zones, the crowds were so bad we couldn't get around to view the various offerings. The aisles were just too crowded. It was impossible.

So we settled on a long cardboard tube and a pinhole. Something the Internet assured us would work. For my part, I brought my camera, but only because I was hoping to get some good pictures of the kids. I knew I wouldn't be able to take photos of the eclipse directly -- I don't have the right gear for that.

According to the Internet and the local news, the weather would be nice at the coast, and the fog would not be a factor. The eclipse would start around 5:30pm-ish and reach its peak an hour or so later.

Flash forward to us piling in the car and zooming over to the coast. It's a 20-ish minute ride and there was no traffic. The wind was coming in off the ocean making me very glad I brought an extra sweatshirt. And the fog was out there, hovering over the ocean.

We tried so hard to make the cardboard tube/pinhole thing work. Here's the best image we got, projected onto the back of one of the kids.

Can you see it there in the middle? Yeah, me either. But it's there, really.

Then the fog came in and... and it was great! The fog acted like a filter and so I was able to take this photo with my camera:

Definitely click on the image for a better view.

All in all, the kids had a great time, and a great weekend if you include the Maker Faire. Basically it was a very educational weekend disguised as fun.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Maker Faire

We took the kids to the Maker Faire today. I had never been before and honestly, while I knew what to expect as far as the things we'd see, I didn't know how the girls would react.

The weather was great, though after lunch time it began to get a bit warm and shady spots were at a premium.

We arrived right at 10AM when it opened. I only had two items on my list of things I wanted to be sure saw. The Tesla Coils playing music and, as pictured above, the "Diet Coke and Mentos" show.

The Tesla coils were first and I was very excited to be able to see these massive things in person, finally. My younger daughter (10) lasted just a few minutes before asking if we could go. She was very excited at first, even asking me to hold her up so she could see the robot on stage, but then got scared at the "lightning" shooting out. "It's real lightning, dad. It's freaking me out." (That's really how she talks...)

This is the same girl who would later climb aboard a 40 foot fire breathing dragon sculpture, so go figure.

The Mentos show was fun, even though I had seen the videos on the internet. The kids loved it.

And then it was 1:30pm and everyone else on the planet showed up. It got so crowded that we could not go into any of the buildings to look at displays because of the constant jostling and sheer mass of humanity. The lines for lessons and tutorials were incredibly long (the kids managed to surprise me, though, by finding spots in the lock-picking class all on their own). Taking one step every couple of seconds is no way to travel. I was gritting my teeth and trying not to get too upset as I was constantly run into by people. But luckily I was saved by my kids who announced that they were ready to head home.

I hope that they're inspired by what they saw and heard and read today. The people that run the Maker Faire and the people who do displays and lectures and lessons (our kids learned how to solder today!) are incredibly nice and focused on the kids having fun. And I have to say that as crowded as it was, everyone there seemed to be intent on having fun and learning.

Oh, and later on after we'd been home for a while, I'm pretty sure I saw my kids looking in the garage, checking out all of my tools with a different look in their eyes...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Some Garden Stuff

Well, the corn sure is taking off:

We've rearranged them a bit, but we'll put them together in pods once they're starting to form tassels/etc. I think it's about time to fertilize them. We'll make some compost tea this weekend.

We have a couple of volunteers over in the old box. Looks like some kind of squash/cucumber type plant and a tomato. We're letting them go for now:

We started some sunflower seeds a while ago and two of them grew up quickly. I transplanted them into what we're calling the pumpkin bed (starting those this weekend) and in the time it took me to plant them and then go fill a watering can, a neighbor's cat had jumped the fence and landed on the bed, knocking one of the sunflowers down. I propped it up with a stick:

Let's just say that I can't stand the constant parade of cats, squirrels, and raccoons that use our fence as a highway.

Finally, here's the mint garden that we started years and years ago. It just keeps growing whether we water it or not. We pulled out most of it recently and this is how much it's grown back already. We made some mint flavored simple syrup for cocktails... Oh, and if you look closely you can see some asian lillies (at least, that's what our neighbor tells me they are) sprouting up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lime Time (Thyme)

Our little potted lime tree is going nuts. Just look at these clumps of fruit/blooms. The whole thing is covered like this (click the image for a larger version):

I'm wondering if we need to thin these ourselves or if the tree will do so itself. The other citrus around the place (potted key lime, tangelo, Meyer lemon) are having similarly good showings.

Not shown in this picture is the pot this lime tree lives in. At some point, some thyme started growing in the pot and we didn't bother pulling it out. Now, the entire pot is overflowing with thyme, which we've ignored and so it's flowering. That, combined with the lime blossoms and the citrus smell, makes it one of our favorite places in the yard.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learning New Skills - A Determined Approach

Ok, so that wasn't so bad.

I finally learned how to juggle. I'm far from an expert, and this is hardly noteworthy, but I can juggle three balls for an indefinite amount of time. I've wanted to learn to juggle for years, but I just never really applied myself. In fact, I have a (mental) list of all kinds of skills/etc. that I want to learn to do but haven't yet conquered. More on that below. But why juggling? Why now?

My wife can juggle, and I admit that I'm a bit jealous at the way the kids loved to watch when they were younger. At my new (ish) job, the co-founder likes to juggle. We have piles of bean bags and balls all over the place. He seems to think it's a worthwhile activity and has even gone so far as to offer to teach his fellow employees.

So that's what got me going.

This isn't the first item on my mental list I've crossed off. A couple of years ago I sat down and decided it was time to learn how to do crossword puzzles. Before that, it was overcoming my fear of powertools. I also learned to make english toffee and brownies from scratch. How to use an SLR and a DSLR camera. (And I'm sure there are some items I'm forgetting... goals around fitness/etc.)

My method is simple brute force. I research a bit first, and then I dive in and just keep trying. I know this isn't revolutionary, and that's probably how everyone does it.

The best part is that I've learned that for me, I can learn things by applying myself. Well, that and setting (for me) realistic goals. I didn't set out to learn to juggle nine flaming chainsaws. I didn't set out to finish the NYT Sunday crossword in pen in < 30 mins. But I set goals, applied myself and then was rewarded with some measurable amount of success.

I want to be sure that my kids enjoy success via a similar approach.

And next? What's next on my list of skills/accomplishments?

Believe it or not, I'm thinking it will be knitting or crochet. No really!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Potted Corn

The potted corn is still growing like mad. Take a look:

You can see the different batches we planted, all about a week apart (furthest from the camera/tallest group of three pots were planted a month ago). Three batches of three pots and then a solo pot we found hidden away in the shed. When I planted the corn, I added a shovel full of compost from our bin into each pot. I'm hoping that will last for a while. Last time we fertilized with weekly applications of compost tea once the plants got a couple of feet tall. We'll probably use that strategy this time, too.

(Oh, the pallets in the background are ones my daughters scavenged [with permission] from a house down the street. The want to build some kind of "fort" out of them, but haven't gotten around to it yet.)

The radishes are about ready to harvest:

This weekend we're hoping to transplant some of the stuff we planted in small containers (sunflowers, cucumbers, etc.).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Follow Your Dreams?

I've been worrying lately. That's not really anything new or noteworthy, and it certainly doesn't have a real impact on my life at all. But I've been hearing and reading frequently about regrets. People have them. One of the biggest regrets I hear is that people didn't make themselves happy during their lives. They didn't follow their dreams.

Reading something like that causes one to take a step back and ask questions. Am I happy? What dreams of mine am I not chasing, not fulfilling? You hear about people who changed careers and were much happier with a low paying job. People who, on their death beds, lament a life spent chasing a dollar and never stopping to smell the roses.

But I'm not sure what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing what I'm doing. I'm such an introvert that if I didn't have a job I'd probably never leave the house! No, having a job is good for me, and I don't mind this one at all. There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy.

Sometimes I wonder if I'd be happier in a much simpler life. If we sold everything, quit our jobs and started a home/farmstead out away from the city.

I'm not convinced I would find that much better. I love the idea of it. I romanticize it. I don't like how we're treating the planet, each other. We do our best, in our family's little corner of the world, to make better choices and set a better example.

But is that my dream? I don't think so, and the fact that I don't "just know" if it is my dream, tells me it isn't.

Does that make me the least ambitious or motivated person? That I can't even come up with what my "dream" would be if I was suddenly given leave to follow it?