Apparently somebody reads my blog

Just a quick update to my last post. The author of sent me an e-mail asking why I hadn’t used his site instead of Well, I simply hadn’t tried it.

Now I have! I was going to mention it here and state all the reasons why I preferred instead … But I think I actually like more. A lot more.

  • In addition to cropping for you, will let you rotate the photo, too. Especially for an infant photo, this can be invaluable.  I don’t mean just 90-degree rotations, but if the baby’s head is drooping a bit to the left, you can fix that.
  • A major problem with ePassportPhoto is that once you’ve guessed at how big your crop will need to be, then you move that crop and position it over the face, and you can not change the size of the crop without starting over. With, you can move, resize crop, rotate, resize, move again, etc., in any order, allowing you to get things just right very quickly.
  • This is a minor detail, but the face guide that uses is easier to understand at a glance.

Some things are a bit better on ePassportPhoto, however.

  • ePassportPhoto has default templates for over sixty countries. Though most of these all have fairly common rules, it’s nice that you don’t have to look them up for yourself.
  • Passport photos are printed in a landscape aspect rather than portrait, so you get an extra picture. (Not that this makes any real difference, but it’s nice not to have wasted space. The extra photo can always be used in a project for grandparents.)
  • Links are included to have the pictures printed and mailed for you.

There are other minor differences that someone might have a preference for, such as allowing you to print bigger sheets with more photos, if you’d like. The bottom line for me, though, is that it took me about 10 seconds to get things just right with compared to about a minute with ePassportPhoto.

On a side note, how hilarious is it that somebody read this site and cared what was on it?

How to Get an Infant Passport: The Bad Parenting Way

With my son being multiracial (his mum is British and I’m from Idaho/Utah, so his races are White and Whiter) and having families on multiple continents, it was necessary for us to get his passport early.  He will be traveling to England for Christmas this year, and we wanted to make sure we could get his passport before we dropped money for three international plane tickets during the holiday season.

Getting a passport at all was actually in some degree of doubt. You see, his birth certificate is currently wrong. When I signed his birth certificate, I had only two hours of sleep after being awake for 27 hours, that sleep was in a very uncomfortable chair, and I’d gone to sleep with my hours-old son strapped to machines in the NICU and awoken to the news that his heart was on the wrong side of his chest. (The possibility that such a thing could be temporary was not relayed to me.) These are about half the excuses I use when I have to admit to what I did: I signed the birth certificate with my own birthday wrong. Worse, I noticed it was wrong when I signed it, but in my memory, I thought I’d alerted someone to the inaccuracy … but signed anyway. No matter. It was wrong.

Our first stop was by the Los Angeles County Department of Vital Records. On the day we noticed the error, they said if we got down to them that day before 3:00 PM, we’d be able to make the change the same day. We were there by noon, but it was apparently too late. They’d already sent the batch of birth certificates our son’s was in to the state department in Sacramento … about a week earlier. They’d looked up the wrong one when they told us we could change it that day.

Once a birth certificate goes to the state of California, it takes about 15 months to get it changed, and that’s not counting the new Furlough Fridays that state employees don’t work due to state legislature unable to pass a budget. So not only can’t we get it fixed by this Christmas, but possibly not by next Christmas, either.

We called the Passport Authority and spoke with Brian. If you’re lucky enough to speak with Brian at the Passport Authority, please call him four-letter words, curse his children’s children, describe lewd acts for him to perform with whatever demeaning objects you can think of, and hang up on him. You will be doing me a favor, having some fun yourself, and saving the universe from having to serve up the tiniest slice of Karma he deserves.

Brian “informed” us that it was absolutely impossible to get a passport if even one character on a birth certificate was inaccurate, and there was zero recourse. He informed me that in the history of the United States of America, there has never, ever been a passport granted with incorrect or incomplete information on a birth certificate. When I said that simply wasn’t true, that for centuries record keeping was notoriously bad and many people still alive had no earthly idea what year they were actually born in, and asked to speak with a supervisor, Brian hung up on me.  (He also shouted at one point that he was in charge, apparently of me from the context of the statement, and that I had to speak to him on his terms.)

After brainstorming for a bit over a week, my wife and I decided that the best way to get the passport with the least chance of it being rejected would be to get the passport face-to-face, where they’d have to look us in the eye and tell us that either they didn’t believe I was our son’s father, that they doubted the legitimacy of his U.S. citizenship, or that he was a citizen who was not entitled to a passport.

The hurdle here was that in order to go into the passport authority and get an expedited passport, you have to have proof that you’ll be flying in the next two weeks. Which meant getting tickets, which we didn’t want to do without knowing we’d get the passport. So after calling pretty much every airline, my wife was able to get reservations with Virgin Atlantic (we were very grateful and now have bought the actual tickets for Christmas from them) without a credit card, she got an appointment with the passport authority in L.A., and we were in.

So that’s already a fair bit of bad parenting, but this is where the infant-specific stuff comes in. Passport photos. The first question I had about an infant passport was, “What are the different requirements for an infant’s passport photos?” The answer is, “None.” Infants have all the same restrictions that adults have when taking passport photos, which include:

  • White or off-white background with no distracting shadows
  • Neutral expression with no smile or other emotion on face (such as crying), mouth closed, eyes open
  • Must look directly at the camera with both ears visible
  • 2-inch by 2-inch photo, with face 1-inch to 1-and-3/8-inches large, with the eye line between 1-and-1/8 to 1-and-3/8 inches from the bottom of the photo
  • No hands in photo

Now this last one seems so simple that it’s not even mentioned in most adult requirements … but try telling that to an infant who thinks the point of life is sucking on his fists.

With all these requirements for an infant, it seems impossible to get in a couple of shots. A low price for passport photos is about $14.  No way were we going to pay $14 a pop for what we thought would be a dozen shots to get an acceptable one.

It actually turned out to be 136 shots. (To be fair, there were four acceptable pictures out of those 136.) Thank goodness we found a better way.

My wife found epassportphoto to help us with taking our own photos, and turning them into acceptable photos. Basically, they help you crop the photo to the correct proportions, then they turn the cropped image into a photo sheet for you to get printed as a 4×6 photograph. We printed it at CVS for 19 cents.  (Side-note: They also do countries besides the U.S., completely free.)

After those 136 shots, here’s the final photo, the final sheet, and the Bad Parenting way to make it happen:

So, here you have the first secret: Tie the baby down. Yes, I’m a terrible person. I never claimed differently. I promise he was unharmed, and he wasn’t tied tightly. In fact, he was able to untie the left knot several times just by jiggling his arm a bit.

The white blanket on a crib should be obvious.

Next secret: Fill lighting. We had four lamps pointed at him from the sides. This on its own is not good enough, because they’ll all cast conflicting shadows (remember the shadow rule above). You need this fill lighting with the flash. The flash alone will leave very bad shadows.

Final tip: Plenty of help. We could have avoided the tie-down if we’d had two more people, one each to reach through the side of the crib to hold a hand. As it was, I was operating the camera, my wife was manning the lamps, and her father was shaking a rattle for him to look up at.

Even with all this, it still took over a hundred tries. Good luck.

As for the passport authority, everything went smoothly. They accepted his passport, they accepted our ID, and there wasn’t a single lie or half-truth uttered or written, except by Brian. We went in on a Friday, and picked up his passport after the weekend on the next working day. We needn’t have worried, everything would have worked fine by mail. On the bright side, though, we got the passport back weeks ahead of schedule, and were able to book his tickets earlier than we’d planned.

Screw you, Brian.

Devon: Month 1

My son turned one month old a couple of days back. We had intended to celebrate, but Pooper kept us up the night before, which means our ability to remember things like that was greatly diminished. (Other things that got skipped that day: Celebrating his grandparents’ anniversary, taking the first in a series of monthly pictures to show growth, blogging about his first month, and showering.)

The one thing that I did remember to do was jot down some of his development milestones. I’ve shared them on my Facebook and I’m going to share them here, too. Why? Because nothing in the world is as fascinating to me as child development. After I’d met my wife and I found out that she was a Psychology major, I must have grilled her for weeks to squeeze every drop of Developmental Psychology she’d learned in her time at university.

The most counter-intuitive thing I’ve learned about child development is how little of it that there is. I got my first taste of it when the flower girl at my wedding was born. When she entered the world, she was not at all what I expected of a baby: She didn’t develop her personality slowly over time, she came with one. And a strong-headed one at that. At barely a few days old, she already had the stubborn streak and independent traits that still define the largest parts of her personality today.

I’d been told that babies come with hats. I hadn’t been told that babies come with personalities.

So now I get to watch this all unfold in minute detail, and it’s even more acute than I’d thought. My son already has a personality. Worse, it’s very much like mine and my wife’s (though early indications are that he’s likely more musically inclined than either of us). Additionally, he has my facial expressions. I’d always thought those were environmental that I’d picked up by watching my own father. Nope, I apparently got those through genetic material. (All these years of everybody shouting, “Smile!” as they pass me in hallways isn’t my fault after all!)

So what this means to me is that these developmental milestones I’ve been looking forward to be revealed don’t mean all that much. It doesn’t seem that these are learned so much as they’re waiting to be unlocked until better levels of coordination are reached. I’ve heard more and more that in the Nature vs. Nurture debate, Nature’s been kicking ass in research studies for years. Now I’m watching it up close.

Anyway, to catalog the meaningless milestones he’d reached by the end of his first month for his future curiosity:

  • Holds head up (he’s an incredibly strong baby, and has been holding his head up without assistance since day 3 or so … possibly since birth, as we didn’t get much time with him at first in the NICU)
  • Eye contact (he still looks at the outline of the head more often than directly in the eye, but actual eye contact is consistantly increasing)
  • Rolls over onto side (he rolls back and forth from his side to his back often during sleep. He did this during his NICU stay, and apparently even rolled onto his stomach at one point, and made all the nurses nervous about rolling onto the floor. A friend says this is a common early development step for babies who were born without the aid of pain killers for the mother.)
  • Incidental smiles (since day five, when we got him home from the hospital)
  • Lifts head to 45 degrees when on his belly (roughly two weeks)
  • Recognizes mummy and daddy, and responds differently to each (this milestone really picked up after we were home from the hospital)
  • Pushes down with both legs when placed on a firm surface (and pushes quite hard, he’s nearly launched himself several times, sustains his weight well but obviously has zero concept of balance)
  • Tracks objects with eyes across field of vision (he rarely turns his head to continue, though, but he’ll follow it past the point where only one eye can still see it)
  • Reaches for and shakes toys (Gemma got some video on day 24 or so of him repeatedly reaching for a rattle and bashing it with his fist to get it to make noise from different positions)
  • Social smiles (they were very rare until day 26 when they were no longer that uncommon, but at one month and one day is when he was all smiles for extended periods of time)
  • Vocalizes with vowel sounds when not crying or otherwise cranky (he did some of these in the first month, but the fourth week is when this really took off)
  • Mirrors face movements of others (tongue sticking out, wide eyes, yawn, etc.)
  • Looks toward mummy and daddy’s voice (the last milestone he picked up in his first month, and it was his Nanna who recognized that he kept looking at me or mummy when we’d talk if he was in Nanna’s arms)

In other news: Remember the horribly incomplete list of vetoed baby names I proposed? Well, now that he’s here, I’ve discovered something wonderful! Nobody gets to veto a father’s nicknames for his children! I get to call him:

  • Pooper (see above)
  • Poopie van [lastname] (“Poop” is a common theme)
  • Ikkle Monster
  • Sgt. Stinker
  • CrankyPants (and FussyPants, StinkyPants, CutiePants)
  • Diaper Bomb
  • NICU Pincushion
  • Milk Coma
  • Bag of Crap (thanks Woot!)
  • Bait
  • Downlow
  • Chewtoy
  • ScreamBot

… and dozens of others my wife would poke me for repeating.

Devon’s First Adventure

My son, Devon, was born last Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:51 AM.  He was born 8 pounds, 6 ounces, and was 20.5 inches long.  He currently has dark brown hair and blue eyes.  His mother was amazing during the delivery and didn’t use an epidural or have any pain killers in her system when he was delivered.  She’s a superhero.

Devon was born with Maconium Aspiration Syndrome, breathing in a tiny amount of fetal feces during the very long, very difficult birthing process. Because of this, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses were on-hand for his birth, and performed his evaluation.  Although he received a 9 and 9 for his APGAR, the one point he missed was for gaspy, grunty breathing, and with the aspirated maconium, that made them worry.

His mother was able to hold him during the evaluation, but I wasn’t able to get more than a few photographs and touch his arms, head and chest. Immediately following, they took him out of her arms, and rushed him down to the NICU.  I went with him, intending to hold him before they started work, but it wasn’t allowed.  They separated him from me before I had a chance to get near him, and when I had scrubbed up and saw him again, he was already attached to machines.

The main machine at the time was a CPAP. It wasn’t giving him oxygen, it was just forcing the air in the room into his lungs when he breathed.  An x-ray confirmed the maconium in his lungs, and also revealed that his heart was on the wrong side.  They forced me out of the room to move my wife out of her Labor & Delivery room and into her Postpartum Recovery room.

The next morning my mother came to visit him while my wife was still recovering. We came down to the NICU to discover he was now in an oxygen tent.  I put my hand into it to stroke his back, and he rolled over onto it.  It was the closest I’d come to holding my son at this point.

Devon’s mummy finally got to visit him later that day, and it was heart-shatteringly sad. The nurses weren’t relaying information from his doctors, his doctors weren’t telling us half of what they thought they were, and we were mostly in the dark regarding his care. We’d been told he’d require at least a 3-day or 7-day  course of antibiotics, but not if those would have to be administered on an in-patient basis, if he could leave immediately after that, or what tests were being done alongside this.  Direct questions asking about these were brushed off by both the nurses and doctors.

After 3 days, Devon’s doctor was finally ill, and couldn’t come into the hospital.  Her backup was on duty, and the backup finally answered our questions.  Devon would have to have three consecutive days of negative cultures before they could take him off of his IV, and once he was taken off of the IV they couldn’t send him home until they had proof that he was gaining weight by being fed.  We could start trying to feed him then to get ready for it.

My wife (and I) wanted to exclusively breast feed Devon, but that seemed to offend everybody in the NICU, since it was an inconvenience to them. They knew and agreed that breast milk was best, but only wanted it pumped and fed by a bottle.  They allowed her to breast feed, but they made it very difficult.  When she couldn’t get into the NICU at the feeding times they’d decided on (and didn’t bother to tell her) they practically yelled at her and stopped just short of calling her a bad mother.  (Later on, there was a nurse who basically did call her a bad mother for leaving the room for literally 40 minutes.  I threw her out of the room and reported her to the Charge Nurse.  We didn’t see her again after that.)  We were camping at the hospital at this point, sleeping on chairs in the lobby, and spending every moment we could scrubbing up or with our son.

One of the better nurses spent a few hours on the phone fighting for space for Devon in a different NICU (NICU 4) where mothers were allowed to room-in with their babies to make breastfeeding a plausible opportunity.

Things were much, much better in NICU 4.  We got to spend as much time with our son as we wanted without being made to feel unwelcome, we got to change his diapers, dress him, give him baths, and hold him any time we wanted without asking permission from the nurses.

We finally felt like a family. It was such a relief.

Meanwhile, he was finally gaining weight on the breastfeeding, though we had to switch to bottle-feeding breast milk for a day to prove to his actual doctor that he was eating enough.  Thankfully, she was out the next day, and her backup stepped in again and released him!

I’ve skipped a million parts of this story, good and bad.  He was in there for only five days, but it feels like at least half a year’s worth of experiences.

Currently, he has no infection, his lungs look good.  His heart was shifted to the right side only due to the birthing process and has now shifted back.  There was a PDA discovered in his heart, a specific valve not closing, but that appears to have sealed.  Devon still needs to see a cardiologist, though, due to an enlarged heart.  We’ll see how that goes, but I suspect all will be fine with that, as well.

Our boy is safe, home, and healthy. We love him more than words can say, and it turns out we’re better parents than I’d have suspected.  Which means I’ll have to really step up my bad parenting.

Balloon Animals: Because I hate my child.

I’ve got a Woot! related project that’s going on, but I don’t have time to finish up the paint on it right now.  My Beetlebot write-up is taking as long as the project itself did.

I’ll be talking instead about one more reason why I shouldn’t be a parent.

Talc has been linked to cancer and respiratory issues, which is why you won’t find much baby powder in many diaper bags anymore. Bits of thin, flexible rubber are an obvious choking hazard to all small children.  Contact with latex is the leading cause of latex allergy, followed by inhalation of small latex particles.

What do all these things have in common?  Balloons. (Minute amounts of talc coat the inside of balloons so they don’t stick together on the inside when you try to blow them up.)

In completely unrelated news, I’ve started learning how to make balloon animals the other day.  Either three or four days ago.

It’s insanely simple. I’m surprised it’s a fairly rarely practiced skill.

When I was rooting through the pack of balloon rejects I got at the dollar store for the Hover-Crap project I found a twisty balloon.  I thought it was pretty funny, so I blew it up, and twisted together the classic dog shape from what I remember them looking like.

It does take some practice, I suppose. I think some people might be put off because that practice takes specialized equipment like a balloon pump.  Thankfully, I finally found a use for years practicing trumpet and paying for private lessons: I can blow up even the really difficult ones by mouth. So no special equipment, just the balloons.

Speaking of twisty balloon pumps, I found one at a NEW dollar store in our neighborhood, the Dollar Dollars store.  As the name hints, it’s NOT actually a dollar store.  It’s faking.  It’s like the Family Dollar.  Everything in the store that costs 99 cents costs 99 cents.  Other items will cost other amounts.  As for the pump, it lasted for 0.05 balloons.  It got about 1/20 of the way in, and then stopped pumping.

So in the last couple of days since the first dog, I’ve made a poodle and giraffe, which are pretty much dogs, a teddy bear, which is pretty much the dog, a turtle, which is a very, very small dog, an alien (two dogs and a water balloon), a couple of swords (half dogs), elephant (which is a large turtle, but still a small dog), and several different Tiggers.

Don’t get me wrong, the Tiggers are also dogs, but they’re all different kinds of dogs.  The first one was a failed monkey, and the only one I have a picture of currently. I’m already moving on to “designing” my own animals/characters.  There’s more imagination in it than I thought, and it’s difficult not to be tempted to just look on the Internet to see how someone else made a character, but it’s pretty satisfying.  At first you could only tell my Tigger because of the face I drew on him. The most recent version looks a hekuva lot like Tigger without any Sharpie whatsoever.

The Internet thing should be making balloon twisting a skill that everybody has. You watch a video, you twist the shape, and then you go do it in the London Underground until you get chased away. I’d think that people who learned how to do this professionally (the second most exciting four hour course at Clown College) would be pretty angry that it’s completely demystified.

My plan is to pull this out whenever I’m forced to attend anything where my child is part of a group being led by another adult. This includes recitals, sports games, other kids birthday parties, and exceptionally well organized food fights.

(I will not be practicing this when my baby is still in the respiratory risk zone. I’m already well versed in tracking every scrap of popped balloon to keep our puppy from choking on them, because she will swallow them if I leave them behind. Not much I can do about potential latex allergies, but I won’t be letting my children sleep with them.  I recognize how fragile an infant’s ear drums are and the balloons will be absolutely nowhere near him until he’s quite a bit older.)

Quick note about our son: He’s due in one week.  Our doctor is threatening to induce our wife before her due date. We will be laughing at him. Regardless, our next two or three weeks will be hours of walking a day, feeding her all sorts of weird and spicy foods, oils and teas, giving her foot rubs, and, uh, special alone time.  All to get him introduced into the world in as natural (and non-painful) a way as possible. So this is why my projects are already slowing down in advance of his arrival.

Three fast, easy and cheap geek projects!

I’m excited about this entry, because it’s a whole bunch of really fast, really easy and really cheap projects for the beginner geek in each of us.

None of these are quite easy enough for a child to do on their own, and at least one part of each of them should have parental supervision.  Which is a good thing, because it means more time working on something together.

These are the three projects: Hover-crap, Bristlebot and Slurpee Cup Lamp.


  • Time: About 2 minutes
  • Cost: Pretty much made out of garbage, so close to free
  • Most difficult part: Using a hot glue gun

The Hover-Crap comes to me out of making lemonade from lemons.  During the May, 2010 Woot!-off, I got the most generic, monetarily worthless junk in my Bag of Crap.  Which is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite, in fact, I look forward to it, so that I can find useful stuff to do with it … Like this.

One of the items (or six, depending on how you look at it) was a six-pack of Disney Flix Camera Cinderella Director Packs. It’s a whole mouthful to say: worthless CDs.  They’re software add-on packs for the Flix Camera, and absolutely, completely worthless without it.

I wondered if there might not be something useful to do with them, and Jeus linked me to a YouTube video.

Follow the YouTube link above, and that’ll show you everything you need.  Basically, a balloon, a CD, the push-top lid of a sports bottle from a bottle of water and some glue.  The video suggests super glue, I like a glue gun.  I always have problems with super glue and walk around with my fingers glued together for a few hours after I finish with a project.

Most of the 2 minutes of this project is opening the bag of balloons, choosing a color and blowing it up. I decided to color-coordinate with pink.  In a refrain you’ll hear a lot from me in my projects, I picked up the bag of balloons at the dollar store (Dollar Tree this time), and you really shouldn’t be paying more than a few pennies per balloon.

The result:

I’m happy enough with it!


  • Time: Between 5 and 10 minutes
  • Cost: About $2
  • Most difficult part: Soldering two wires to a motor

The Bristlebot was brought to me for the same reason as the HoverCrap. In my Woot!-off Bag of Crap from May, I also received five button-cell CR2016 batteries. Oddly enough, if they had been CR2032s, I would have had a use for them and wouldn’t have gone looking.

Do not solder wires directly to the batteries. They will in all likelihood explode.  In the non-cool way.

Anyway, I ran across one of the coolest-yet-quickest projects on the Internet: The Bristlebot.

Here’s what you need:

  1. Any 1.5v to 4.5v button cell battery, like a CR2016 or CR2032 watch battery (I found a 3-pack of CR2032s at the 99¢ Only Store)
  2. A toothbrush with slanted bristles that you don’t mind mangling
  3. Masking tape
  4. Two bits of wire
  5. Solder/soldering iron
  6. A miniature vibrating motor

This last item is the hardest to come by. Everyone on the Internet says to get them out of old cell phones or vibrating pagers. That would work, but who actually has those lying around? (Okay, I do, but I’m odd.) So eBay may be an idea, but the people on eBay have caught onto the idea that people are using these for Bristlebots, and they charge about $3 per motor. I had great luck with  They have multiple motors that fit this bill for $1.25 currently. (I wouldn’t go for the $1 one, as it looks like it would need to be mounted on-edge to get the vibration necessary.)

Here’s a picture of the motors I bought, a two-pack of angled toothbrushes from the dollar store (I later found four-packs, so just 25 cents each for this part of the project), and what I was hoping would be a fantastic steal, a vibrating toothbrush.  I figured it would have a vibrating motor in it, and it did, but it turned out to be HUGE. (Note: If you can get the unbalancing weight off it, this motor is PERFECT for the BeetleBot project … Which I’ve completed, but haven’t written up yet.) It also came with a battery, making it almost as good a buy as the personal fans I bought there to get the motor.

The blog I found the project on tells you to use double-sided mounting tape to mount everything to the top of the toothbrush head, but I found that a half-strip of masking taped worked fine … The double-sided mounting tape I found was about $3.50, and that’s about $2.50 more than I was willing to spend.

Anyway, just follow the directions in the Bristlebot link above.  Mostly I’m just pointing out where you can get things.  Oh, and showing my results video:

I LOVE THIS THING!  How cool is that?  The back of my Bristlebot has raised bristles, which adds to its random nature and spinning around.  If yours does the same thing and you don’t like it, just trim them all off flat.

Slurpee Cup Lamp

  • Cost: Anywhere from about $7 to $30
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Most difficult part: Using a drill (on some) and hot glue gun

This project comes to me from my sister Brooke, who has her own geek blog over at  It’s TV Geek Girl Chic.

She made one of these out of a collectible Slurpee cup with a Darth Vader lid.  Obviously with that one, there’s no need to drill a hole in the top, but you still need one in the bottom.  Also note that collectible Slurpee cups had harder lids in 2005 than they do now, so maybe look around for something else to use.  Old Coke bottles (like they still sell Mexican Coca-Cola with real sugar in) or interesting wine bottles would work, and is what the lamp kits are for, but I wouldn’t want to be the one drilling holes in the glass.  But there’s really no end to what you can do this with.

Here’s what you need:

  1. Bottle Lamp Kit — I found one at Walmart for $3 or $4.
  2. Collectible Slurpee Cup, bottle, etc. (you’ll see the one I found below)
  3. Lamp shade (K-Mart has smallish ones fairly cheap)
  4. Hot glue gun
  5. Probably a drill

Really, all you really need for this is to drill holes in the bottom of whatever you’re using, the top if necessary, seal things up with the glue gun, and following the directions that come with the bottle lamp kit.

In about 15 minutes, here’s what I made for our son’s nursery, and yes, that’s actually a collectible Slurpee cup.  (He’s due in ten more days.  Could be any minute, now!)

Rambling, confusing entry about my home network

Rather than a new project, I’m going to post on a past project that mostly failed. Hopefully somebody else can learn something.

A couple of months ago, I decided to give my home network some structure. I put a manual IP Address Management list into place (since I have nowhere near enough devices to need an actual IP Address Management solution), re-IPed all of my servers, and eventually put a new third-party firmware on my home router.  Well, and even more third-party firmware than was already there. More on that in a bit, since that was the bit that failed.

Here’s my network as it existed before the re-structure:

Home network as it existed prior to May 7, 2010

It should mostly make sense if you look at the Network Key.  The smaller servers on the blue box are virtual servers running on Impulse, my physical server.  If you’re not yet familiar with virtual servers / virtual machines, think of them as many different computers running as software on one computer.  Because that’s what they are.

The two things I most wanted to fix was to use anything other than the network (which I didn’t really fix very well, but technically am avoiding) and to use DHCP reservations instead of static IPs for my servers.

Why do I prefer DHCP reservations?  First, it puts my fake IP Management into the DHCP server, rather than on a .PNG graphic of a Visio document.  Most importantly, though, it centralizes the configuration of my IP addresses.

Moving from static to reserved DHCP addresses (which was the first step of my network re-design), it took me a little under an hour to pre-configure the DHCP server for each MAC address, log into each one of the servers, change the IP address assignment to Dynamic, get the new address, check the DHCP server, etc.  When it was time for me to actually switch to the new IP addresses, though, it took about 8 minutes.  I prepared a few days ahead of time by lowering my DHCP lease time from 1 day to 5 minutes.  Then I changed the IP address reservations, waited for the leases to expire and re-grab the new address, and then set the DHCP lease time back up to 1 day.  I’m never going back to static on anything that will DHCP.

Home network as it ... isn't quite now. But mostly.

So here’s mostly how the network looks now. It’s sadly already outdated, with new virtual servers and a netbook that my wife bought our unborn son as a baby-monitor / digital mobile / grandparental (not a word) spying device.  As you can see by the new IP Address Management section, I left 30 spaces open for static IPs, but in a home network there are very few cases where that’s going to be necessary to use.

The other week was when I “upgraded” to the third-party firmware for the router, DD-WRT.  DD-WRT is a pretty popular firmware that can open up a lot of power and control for your router. It’s just a tiny Linux that runs on your router, has drivers for the wired and wireless communications ports (and USB ports for those that have one), a lot of networking daemons / services running on it, and a web-based configuration page.  I’d planned on loading this firmware on my router a year ago when I got it, but they didn’t have drivers supporting the Trendnet TEW-652BRP until a few weeks ago.

Instead, I had loaded the DLink DIR-615 (Rev C1) firmware onto it.  The Trendnet 652 has identical hardware to the DLink 615 (at least these revisions), so the firmware is interchangeable.  The DLink firmware is FANTASTIC.  It has great control over port forwarding, port aliasing, port triggering, QoS, access control, filtering, basic routing … It filled ALMOST all my needs.  There are two things that I needed it to do that it couldn’t.  First, I wanted it to be my DNS server so I wouldn’t have to build a virtual server just to do that (which is still on my To Do pile).  Second, it wouldn’t recognize MAC addresses if the first two digits weren’t 00.  Many new NICs have MAC addresses that begin with 40 or 4Something, and since they weren’t recognized, I couldn’t set up DHCP reservations for them.

So I installed the DD-WRT firmware.  What does it do?  Well, it does everything listed above, plus a lot more.  For example, out of the box, you can configure it to work as a public WiFi hotspot, and even allows you to generate revenue within a couple of minutes of turning it on this way. It does a fair job of logging, too, but I far prefer Tomato (another third-party router firmware) for logging.  Since it’s running Linux, you can do most anything with it that you do with Linux.  For the short time I had it running, I really loved using it as an SSH server open in my home network that wasn’t dependent on my internal network functioning.  I especially love that you’re not bound by the short-comings of the web interface, and can manually edit config files.  It puts consumer routers a step closer to professional routers.

Unfortunately, it had issues.  About once a day, it would shut off all Internet-side communications. Some research indicated this happened if there were a LOT of open Internet connections, like I’m apt to have while doing BitTorrent transfers.  My BitTorrent is up pretty much 24/7 (I think we calculated that I’m uploading about 200 GB/month, throttling down to 80 KB/s), so this is an issue for me.

I found some configuration work-arounds, and plugged them in.  No sooner had I done this when I noticed that my Internet speed dropped drastically.  It’s normally around 20 Gb/s, and it was instead around 1 Gb/s.  I took the changes out, rebooted the router, and the speed tests were still the same.

Out of desperation, I decided that between the initial locking problem and then the speed problems, the firmware was more bother than it was worth, and I re-loaded the DLink firmware.  (Actually, a new version of the DLink firmware. I’d checked over and over from the web interface to download an updated firmware, but it never found one. You apparently have to download it and put it onto the router manually.)

This still didn’t fix the speed issue.  In the meantime, though, I’d scrapped all of my router configurations.  I had backed up the configuration for the DLink firmware, but the updated version didn’t like the old configurations.  I had to enter it all by hand, all from memory.  It took a couple of hours.

The problem?  Time Warner Cable/Road Runner was having a problem.  A massive problem, where they had to rent bandwidth from a competitor to get any connectivity at all to their SoCal customers.  I’d done all that for nothing.

So I’m still on the updated DLink firmware, even though I suspect DD-WRT would work fine for me now.  Just haven’t put aside time to have my network down for that long.  The new firmware recognizes newer MAC addresses without a problem, so I’m just out my DNS server.  I have to decide if it’ll be easier to build my own, or go back to DD-WRT firmware.

Baby Names

So much for the Beetle Bot project.  Oh, I still plan on finishing it, but it keeps getting pushed back.  One-day-project my skinny white behind.

I did give it another go after I got proper motors, but my mounting solution for the motors failed miserably.  I have a solution ready to go, but just haven’t found the time.

Instead, I’ve been putting together furniture.  Two nightstands, a large dresser, a small dresser, attached a baby-changing station to the smaller dresser, removed the wooden frame from our bed, attached a metal frame, re-attached the metal frame after modifying the foot-board to accommodate the metal frame without being too wide (all this to lower the bed three or four inches to make the bed level with the baby’s co-sleeper and allow the dog to jump on the bed without worrying for ten minutes if she’ll be able to make it) … And I still have an end table and computer desk to put together, and we should really be purchasing a new TV stand.  And some more book shelves.  And we’re still waiting on the crib we want to become available.

As much as I hate IKEA right now, I have to grudge them some respect. Pretty much all of that fit in our tiny Chevy Aveo with room for the same amount again.  (The main reason we’re getting it all now is so that we can get it all home while there’s no baby seat in the car, so we don’t have to find a sitter to get a dresser.)

I’ve definitely lost the baby naming battle.  My wife will now take over all the naming duties, as I’ve been declared unreliable in this field.  Here is a (very small) partial list of names that have been vetoed:

  • Pwnz (my personal favorite, but I suspect it was vetoed because I initially submitted this name for the dog)
  • Razor
  • Rocker
  • Shadow
  • Blade
  • Westminster
  • Chopper
  • Thoreau
  • Sawyer (My high school buddy named one of his kids Finn.  How awesome would this be?)
  • Gemmo (pronounced Jem-Mo)
  • Kal El
  • Kirk

And a few broken down into categories:

Titles as first names:

  • Doctor
  • Mister
  • Professor
  • Major
  • Captain
  • Chief
  • President
  • Ambassador
  • Father

Middle names:

  • Danger (every guy since Austin Powers came out has tried to sneak this one in)
  • Trouble
  • Son-Of
  • Tiberius

Traditional names which should have been a lock:

  • Zebediah
  • Ezekiel
  • Judas
  • Brother of Jared (for any Mormon readers)
  • Thor

She even vetoed Thomas Christopher as the baby’s name.  This is half because a co-worker friend of mine recently named his son Thomas Christopher, and half because his initials would be TCB.  Which was the whole point, anyway.

Long story short-ish, I don’t get any say.  At least not for this child.  For the next baby, I’m hoping for a girl so I can try out Fluffypoo and Killer.

Welcome to Good Idea at the Time!

This is a pretty good day for my first post, because it’s a good “projects” example day.

First of all, how cool is this domain name?  Completely shocked when I saw it was still available.  I’ve been thinking for a while to start two blogs, one for geek projects (name never determined) and one for my bad parenting (called  I have no idea what used to host, but it’s a domain squatter now.  When I found this domain available, I realized it could be used equally well for both blog ideas.  Feel free to take and make me look like the amateur I am at being a bad parent.

My project for today (and yesterday, and now tomorrow) was supposed to be a Beetle Bot.  This should be a one-evening project.

The lesson learned the hard way last night was: Do not use Bondo to hold your beetle robot together.  Feel free to rebuild a Volkswagen Beetle with it, instead.

Tonight, I couldn’t even get to the project until much later than expected. As I was closing and locking the door of my car, the door’s lock fell inside the door.  (Yeah, I A) have manual locks and B) have to lock the car door from the outside using the key, by manufacturer design to ensure I don’t lock it in there.)

On the bright side, I’ve always wondered how hard it is to get inside a car door, with how entryless (not a word) their construction seems.  Now I know.  I also know that it’s not getting into the door that’s the hard part.

A while ago, I had one broken bolt in that car cost in the neighborhood of $600.  It appears to have happened again, but this time it cost me around $1.50.  (I don’t remember how much, but I know I used a credit card to pay for it. So I can find out exactly how much later. See how I totally paid for a $1.50 item with a credit card on purpose and not because my brain gets easily fried?)

Anyway, that set my robot building back an hour and a half.  I’d picked up the epoxy and this time I got the robot entirely built … But discovered I should have done more testing first.

See, the smallest motors that sells are 1.5 Vdc mini, mini, mini motors.  Which is great, since the Beetle Bot Instructions calls for 1.5 Vdc motors.  Except that they’re ACTUALLY 1.5 Vdc, and most AA and AAA batteries these days are closer to 1.3 V than 1.5.  So I could power one motor, or the other, but not both.

Solution?  Like so much else in the world, the dollar store. They had little hand-held personal fans that have the proper 1.5 Vdc motors that will (hopefully) work with slightly underpowered batteries.  Also?  They have cool little mini-frisbees in three or four packs (depending on which comic book character you want on them) which are perfect for the top shell to these Beetle Bots.  So much great stuff there to break to pieces and abuse.

So in one night, my project count is:

  1. Unexpected car project
  2. Failed robot project
  3. Domain purchased, blog created, and premiere post put up!

Even though it’s taking me past midnight to get all this done, at least I get to end on a success.  Looks like the Beetle Bot and the Bristle Bot will have to end up being weekend projects.