Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pinewood Derby Season

Well, it's pinewood derby season for Scouts across America. My son and I are partaking of this tradition/annual event currently.

I remember my Dad building most of my car for me. I endeavoured to have my son do as much as possible.

That did not stop me from doing research into the best strategies for a winning car.  That is where I came across this video which I tweeted on April 18th:

Here is a the video I referenced:

So from this video my son and I picked the items we could use based on our Pack's rules:
  1. Aerodynamics
  2. Weight Placement
  3. Bent and Polished Axles
  4. Graphite Lubricant on the Axles
  5. We are only riding on 3 wheels
  6. Railride Alignment
Of the top seven listed in the video the only one off limits was the lightweight wheels.

He also asked me to do a design for him on his car that involved fishing. He wanted a big fish, some people fishing, and worms. So I came up with this sketch:
One thing that was great was showing my son the video (above), after I had researched several, to help invest him in the activity. You see, when someone tells you build a car from a chunk of wood and race it, it is hard to get what that means. He understood he wants to try to win and he wants a nice looking car but how to get there.

Well, while watching the video, about halfway through he turned to me and said, "Dad, are we allowed to watch this?" We talked about it and he was wondering if it was cheating to get tips. I said certainly not, we were doing our homework. No one builds a car or much of anything without planning and research. Thankfully someone already did the legwork, Dr. Scott Acton at, and then Mark Rober boiled those down into the best tips from pinewoodphysics and from regular Derby racers.

With my son's newfound knowledge we set to building his car. I worked the power tools (axle polishing and bending) while he cut the car body, sanded it, notched out a location for our weights at the optimal point, and painted his car's base coat of blue.

Here he is filing his car's weight notch.
Wood Working with a Wood Rasp

He then asked me to do his paintjob which I did happily and sealed with some clear coats.
Painted Top of The Big One
Friday night is the big night and we go to race his car.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Next Job: Contracting at Microsoft

I've just signed my contract for my next job. I will be contracting as a Software Development Engineer Test (SDET) at Microsoft.

I can not share what I am working on but it will be customer facing. Once I am allowed to share more I will. Don't you love the world of modern business? Everything is all cloak and dagger.

Start date is May 12th, 2014.

Now I just need to find a Nanny for our kids for after-school care before I get to dig into this new project.

I will miss the free time and getting to hang out a ton with my kids. That said, I am very excited to work on a new project and get SDET experience at Microsoft. Microsoft really has a great testing track for developers unlike anything I have seen or heard of at companies I have worked for. I can't wait to learn how they develop and test software.

As well, if we can swing it, my wife and I will get to car-pool together :-)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Washington State Fishing Season is Open

Most lakes in Washington state opened this weekend. I live next to Pine Lake and with the season opening today, my oldest (8) and I got out there early to try our luck.

Now in our case we are very lucky. Our lake is one of the stocked lakes, and I don't mean a couple hundred brown trout. I mean by the tune of 14,000+ brown trout back 3 weeks ago. So we were pretty excited to get out there on the canoe and get fishing.

We were not lucky enough on day one to land a fish. We had 3 bites. 2 were strong and I may have had them if I was holding my pole but both times I was paddling and by the time I tried to hook the fish he had slipped off. Once I even dropped my paddle in the lake and leaned out hard to grab it.

We were lucky enough to catch our local (4) eagles fishing. One caught a fish about 75 ft from us and then flew past with the fish dangling from his claws. That is until he dropped it after a gull came swooping in to try to steal the fish. The fish went free (though not for long I figure) and the eagle had to hightail it as he was trying to gain altitude away from the annoying gull.

It was amazing how many people were out and to get to see the high tech gear people are using. There were all manner of self propelled, electric motor, paddled, flippers, you name it and it was out on the water today. Luckily our lake has a no gas motors policy so only electric trolling motors under some very low HP are allowed.

It made for a great day on the lake (well the 3 hours we got on it). Now to start getting up early so we can get more fishing in.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weekly Roundup: April 20-26

Meerkats at Seattle's
Woodland Park Zoon
The week was busy with a ton of exercise and lots of errands for various projects including Pinewood Derby coming up next week, a Mother's Day project for my son's Kindergarten class, and a Cigar Box Guitar I am building.

Saturday was also the first day of fishing season on Pine Lake and though we did not catch anything (couple bites which we lost) we had a great time.

Onto the roundup.


  • No posts.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Night Flight Into Clouds

The rule of thumb is that when you fly into a cloud while flying Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which means without instrument training so that you must always see the ground, then you have very little time to get out before you go into a graveyard or death spiral. Ya, it's bad.

A pamphlet from the Canadian Department of Transport directed at pilots tells the story of how you have something like 117 seconds to live when you fly into a cloud bank as a VFR pilot. It goes something like this:
  • 0 seconds: fly in, hope to pop out, waiting 10 seconds, nothing, still in cloud.
  • 10 seconds: Start to bank and perform 90 degrees turns in a zig-zag to get out (it's been a while so look it up for real if you want to exact pattern)
  • As you do these turns your inner-ear will tell you that you are still turning when you have leveled out. If have to trust your instruments since your body is lying to you. The sensation is a little like spinning in a circle and then stopping and you get wobbly. So imagine you have no ground pushing against you to tell you which way the ground is, you ear is telling you to keep leaning as you try to stay/walk straight and you get the idea.
  • If you refuse to trust your instruments, begin Death Spiral scenario as you refuse to trust the instruments based on what your inner ear is telling you and shortly later you smack into the ground and are an ex pilot.
I got to have first hand experience with this during a night flight. My instructor was on board in the co-pilot seat and a friend was in the back. We left St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador and headed towards Clarenville on a cross country flight as part of my night rating. This was going to be a multi-hour flight, about 3 hours I think, of flying.

Being night time and VFR we were flying along the Trans Canada Highway, pretty much, since we were staying over land on the flight. During this time my instructor was quizzing me on which towns we were flying other. At night this is hard since a couple houses can look like a town and a town can be so spread out in Newfoundland that it is hard to tell where one starts and another ends.

We had just flown over Seal Cove and it was a clear night. Things were going great. The weather report said clear skies across the island. Awesome, a great night to fly VFR.

Then everything outside disappeared. All you could see out the windows was the glow of our lights in cloud. It was surreal but we kicked into our set of maneuvers to get out. First we gave it a couple seconds flying straight to try to fly through. This did not work.

So, the next step was to try to work our way out of the cloud. First a right turn of 90 degrees, then a left of 90 degrees. Still nothing, still in cloud, no view of the ground. My instructor was watching the instruments intently and walking me through the correct use of my instruments. Telling me to trust them and not the sensation in my ear/head telling me we were still turning once we had stopped our bank/turn and were flying straight.

We did another 90 right and then 90 left and popped out briefly from the cloud bank. During our brief view of the ground we also caught sight of a cloud bank that blotted out the sky and a large amount of the ground that ran north-east to South-west from our position, cutting our route off in a bank of clouds.

We then entered more cloud. Only about 5 minutes had transpired but they were intense, stressful, and a totally new experience learning to ignore what my body was telling me (we are turning, due to inertia in my inner-ear) which would put us into a death spiral if I paid heed to it. Instead we trusted our instruments and began our series of turns again.

This time one 90 degree right and we were out again. My instructor said enough, I had learned a ton, a ton most don't get to learn during VFR night flight training, it was time to changes our plans. I agreed and we turned away from the cloud bank and traced a route avoiding the cloud and heading in the opposite direction.

We radioed in the cloud bank to the tower and changed our flight plane to return to St. John's in a round about way to get more flying in. Then on landing we had another good time but that is worth another post for another time.

For the cloud bank, without my IFR trained, level headed instructor, I have no idea if I would have gotten out of that cloud. It was one intense time being in that groundless glowing world with no sense of up or down, with him coaching me through it. Without him it could have been much worse than a stressful flight.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Switching to Storyboards on iOS

I came across this tweet today and had some thoughts on it from my experience:

Like many iOS devs, I inherited a project built by others who, shall we say, were new to iOS. They combined the networking, data object serialization, and views into the View Controllers. It was a mess that was hard/impossible to unit test and hard to extend.

I had to come up with a better way to let us extend the app with future features, to refactor the UI without breaking backend processing, and let us support more than just a single iPhone size (there was no iPhone 5 support and no iPad support). One of my first candidates for fixing this was to refactor the UI. But to do that I had to decrease the muddy layers in the app's View Controllers since they were littered with the Model the View and the Controller code.

After much effort to move the Model into a backend library for processing networking and data object serialization, I now just had the views to pull out of the view controllers. Here is where I started with Storyboards.

We had a lot of custom code in the views that was drawing for just one iOS platform size. This custom code also used a lot of magic numbers to handle placement, sizing, etc. Being all in code we also had to rerun the app every change to see how layout was impacted. This was a pain.

I decided to replace the hand written code with Storyboards. For a couple reasons:

  • We'd be able to see the design without running the app.
  • We could mock up and show new layouts for new views faster for Product Owners.
  • We could layout a Storyboard for the iPhone and one for the iPad and then launch with the one for the platform we were running on.
  • We could get rid of more view code. Back to this one later.
The refactor was a success. We split out our Model code which was a big win and we started writing unit tests for the Model code that was impossible before due to the tight coupling of Model-View-Controller.

The Storyboards refactor was a success in the following sense:
  • We could see the app layout making it easier for new devs to see the design.
  • We could make additions to the views and show them to Product Owners for faster feedback.
  • We took advantage of Segues to make the flow of the app easier to understand.
  • We got rid of hand-written views that had a lot of magic which just broke on other form factors.
Our biggest problems with Storyboards were:
  • Merge hell. The XML backing the Storyboards just would not happily merge if two devs went into the Storyboard.
  • Xcode hell. Xcode would make changes, wide sweeping changes when you opened a Storyboard. This make some bad single dev merge pop-up and we had to roll-back to reapply changes.
    • Ok, what do you mean wide sweeping? Xcode would change GUIDs across the Storyboard or our favorite, add/remove whole sections of references in the XML.
    • We had a working rule. If you open the Storyboard by mistake or to take a look, you reverted the changes Xcode made.
    • When you changed something for real, you had the other dev check your changes once you were ready to commit since Xcode seemed to miss some changes.
    • When Xcode missed changes you would delete the Storyboard files, pull them from the repo again, and apply your changes again.
  • It did not always save time due to the merge and Xcode hells.
  • A lot of knowledge is in the Storyboards and new devs need to know how Storyboards interact with the code. But then the previous hand-written code was no better for new devs to iOS. So I think this is not a large problem since iOS devs should be expected to know how to use Storyboards I think.

Now, with hindsight, on a large team I am unsure how I would deal with storyboards. I have heard Xcode is getting better for merging but the merging hell people talk about was encountered on a team of 2. We had to limit any work in the storyboard to only one person at a time. For a fairly simple app this was ok and being a team of 2 also easy to manage. For a larger team with view broken up across team members this could be a pile of hurt.

Personally I think the advantages of Storyboards outweigh the growing pains. I am intrigued by comments that Microsoft went this way and then reverted some of it and moved a lot of the UI back into code.

Is Apple repeating the same mistakes with Xcode as Microsoft learned with Visual Studio? That UI design tools are hard?

SHOTGUN from the new Hollowbelly album Punk Northern and Blue.

Lo-fi Punk Blues played by one man band Hollow belly. I have a new favorite genre of music.

Check out this guy!


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Beck's Album Song Reader

Image: Amazon
Did you know that Beck released Song Reader, an album in sheet music form only, in 2012? Ya, no downloads, no CD, no vinyl.

Isn't that the coolest?

I am totally intrigued by this and want to get the book now so I can try some of the songs.

Check out a great post By Malcolm Jones at The Daily Beast about this: Beck's Album Song Reader Is All Sheet Music. We Take It For A Spin

The publisher, McSWEENEY's also setup a website where you can go to listen to people's interpretations of the sheet music at

You can also read a Q&A with Beck about Song Reader.

If you join the website you can also download one of the song's (Old Shanghai) sheet music as a PDF so you can check out the music yourself.

Very cool way to release an album. I'm going to read Old Shanghai now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fast Soccer/Baseball Game For Kids

I have been working to get the kids rolling out the door by 8am so we have an hour of play time before school. We are not on track yet but we are getting some play time in this week.

One morning we got to the park with our soccer ball and about 10 minutes to play a game. Finn asked to play baseball but we had a soccer ball.

So, we quickly came up with our modified soccer/baseball game:
  • One person rolls (pitches) the ball to the batter/kicker.
  • The kicker must kick the ball out of the infield into the grass in the outfield to score a homerun. 
  • If the pitcher or fielder (there are only 3 of us) stop the ball from hitting the grass then the kicker is out.
  • 3 kicks with a miss or foul balls result in the player being out.
Not many rules, loads of fun and easy to "miss" the ball as you try to stop it with your foot so younger ones get some homeruns ;-)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Solo Night Flight Without Lights

I used to fly back in high school and University. As in fly single engine planes. Here's one of my hair-raising night flight stories.

I had gone to the field (St. John's International Airport) for some touch and go night practice out of the Flight School located at the airport. Touch and Go is when you take-off and land repeatedly to practice landing and take-off.

While on take-off as I passed the end of the runway I lost interior lights and dashboard instrument lighting. Oh shit! I was in the black, in the air, could not land straight ahead, and I had to fly a standard circuit to land, with no lighting.

So, don't panic, what was I doing? Right, adjusting flaps and modulating the power. Ok, finish the flaps and then finish adjusting the power a bit based on the sound of the engine. Now, dig out my flashlight and stick it in my mouth so I can keep my hands on the stick and dials while checking everything.

Now, with the flashlight in my mouth I run my checks and then radio the tower to let them know I had lost internal lighting and would need to make a forced approach. This is when you have something wrong and need to land now. It was a slow night at about 2 AM (I used to go flying after working my shift until 1 AM at a Sub sandwich joint) and tower radioed the Ok to land.

I let tower know I was flying with a flashlight in my mouth and might be slow to toggle the radio. They suggested they could turn on the low visibility lighting for jet airliners on approach in fog. They said it would light up my internal a bit and help but would save it until I was a about 1000ft or so off approach. Sure, I'll take all the help I can get.

With flashlight in my mouth, waving it around to check all my dials while on approach, I performed a perfect landing, though a little nerve wracking. The landing lights were insanely bright but did light up the cockpit a bit and helped.

That was the end of that flight for me that night. I taxied into the flight school. Parked. Tied down the aircraft and filed the lighting issue with the flight desk attendant. That was the end of flying that night for me.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Weekly Roundup: April 14-19

I spent a lot of this week working around the house. In between scraping decks, building decks, and planing sticky doors, I got some posts in about the other things I have been into this week.


  • I discuss the base level of running I need to achieve before I start Sprint Training for long distance running training.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Live Music: Carly Calbero

I took my parents, while they were visiting us last week, to see a local musician. Carly Calbero and Nika Wascher who were playing at one of my favourite local music spots, Soul Food Coffe House.

My parents, and especially my Dad, instilled my love of music in me. I can not remember much of my childhood where we did not have music playing. We would also sit around and just listen to music together. It was a communal experience, so taking them out for music was a no-brainer.

We were pleasantly rewarded with a great show by Carly and Nika. Carly plays guitar and sings. Nika plays a Cajon, Cuban Box Drum, and sings backup.

Carly is best known as a Busker at Pike Place and Pacific Place in downtown Seattle. She has an amazing voice which made my parents instantly think of Tracey Chapman.

Carly opened with Folsom Prison Blues which we all enjoyed and then later performed an acoustic version of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons that I loved. I plan to add Radioactive to my list of songs to play. It sounded great acoustically.

If you have not heard Carly then you can try out some of her tunes on Soundcloud:

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Task Of Art

I ran across this video of Jorge Luis Borges which is a clip from an interview with him. I like how he envisions the task of art and the job of an artist.

I also enjoy what he says at the end about being a writer. To paraphrase:
The life of a writer is a lonely life, but one day you wake up to realize you are surrounded by invisible friends that you will never know but all love you.
I think this is how a lot of creative workers be they artists, musicians, scientists, or craftsmen can perceive the world. They do their creative work alone or in small teams but the impact of their work can or may be far reaching and as such they know that they have touched some peoples lives but they will know very few if any of them on a personal basis.

The love for what they do is so great, I like to think, that their love is shared or transferred to those that use/observe/listen to their work. Is there no greater self indulgence than to have others enjoy your creative output?

Check it out for yourself:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

I just finished Wool by Hugh Howey, the first 5 books in the Silo series of Sci-Fi novellas. Wool was first released in 2011 as a stand alone short story. Demand was so great that Howey went on to write first 4 more books to accompany the original first book and has since written Shift (books 6-8) and Dust (book 9).

I really liked the first book, titled Wool, and I could see a movie being made from just that book alone. After reading the next 4 books I feel partway between wishing I had only read the first book since I liked the compartmentalized story and the opposite, I want to devour the rest and wish there was more.

I hate to give away the plot of this one so I will highlight some areas that will not give up too many spoilers for those that want to try this book out.

The book is a post-apocalyptic story set in a future where the remnants of society live in underground silos since the surface of the earth has become uninhabitable. Society is based on a rigid system and this system is strictly upheld so as not to have society crash down.

The first books title of Wool is multifaceted and I really enjoyed the layers that the title leant to the story. Wool as material, the pulling of wool over one's eyes, and wool as a metaphorical relation to society being a bunch of strands that knit together; were all fun to think about while reading the books.

I really enjoyed the protagonists in the books and Juilette in particular. Her character is so kick-ass and strongly written that you'd mistake her for a male lead. She is reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in the Alien series of movies. This is the kind of woman with balls men wish they had.

If you are even remotely interested in the book, try Part One of Wool for free on Amazon Kindle. Then check out the omnibus if you enjoyed the first book and want to know more about this word that Howey has created. I don't think you'll be disappointed if you like the first book.

As another note, this was the most well received book of the Redmond Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club since I have started going 3 months ago. By the sounds of it, the consensus is that it has been one of the best books read by the club so far.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Prepping for Sprint Training

Mark after a training run
in a Blizzard one Ottawa
I've read sections of the 4 Hour Body off and on. One of the sections that interested me was the 2 chapters on Ultra-Endurance running (Ultra-Endurance I and Ultra-Endurance II), about using sprint repeats to train with less distance for long distance running. So, I want to do this form of training and see how it improves my times and ability to run longer distances.

First though, I must get my base training built up so that I am ready to do the training. This form of training is going to be hard due to the speed required for the sprint repeats. To get up to base I will need to be able to do 5 km in 24 mins. That means a pace of 4:48 min/km (or 7:44 min/mile).

In the past I have run 2 Marathons and multiple shorter races and training runs. Lately I have not run further than 10 km and my pace has dropped off a lot. My fastest 5 km recently is 26m:48s. So to get to the base for this training I will need to shave off almost 5 mins.

Once I have achieved the base pace, it will be time to start laying out the sprint training plan and begin it. I will document how it goes once I start it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mid-Month Exercise Check In

Speedier Mark at the
Paris Marathon
‎The first half of this month has been tough to fit in my exercise. For a guy who is off that is strange to hear I know.

‎My parents were here last week and we did lots of touring, some renos at the guest house, and a lot of hanging out. So I set family as a priority there. No regrets on that one.

The week leading up to their visit I was prepping the guest house, cleaning up, etc. I also spent a day chaperoning my son's kindergarten class which took up a whole day. I could have squeezed more in there, but c'est le vie.

So, even when I am off I sometimes find it hard to get those workouts in. I have a bunch of house projects that we just kicked off yesterday which I need to work on this week but my goal is to workout in the morning and then work on house projects after my workout. Then I can't wimp out since I am "tired" ‎and did a lot of house projects so that must count right?

This worked for me yesterday when I rebuilt half of our entrance deck which was rotted. The corner that used to be attached to the house was rotted away and so that side of the deck would sag down when you stepped on it. Before I started work on the step I got my run in first so that the rest of the day was ahead of me.

Good thing I did that workout first. I was totally wiped out when I finished the step.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Caulking Vertical Slat Wood Siding

I have been working on lots of projects around the house recently. Some of these have been ongoing for a while, like my house caulking.

I have a two story, unique architectural house, meaning an architect decided to do a run of 4 houses (along my street) which were designed for the Pacific Northwest (using California styles which leads to some interesting choices). Needless to say, there are some quirks with a unique house. We have a couple large skylights that make working on the second story challenging in places.

That aside, the previous owners appeared to do a good job of keeping the house up but in the last few years of their ownership things started to slide as illness impacted them. One of those was the siding. The second story in particular has not been caulked in forever and it has been a while since the last coat of exterior paint.

This is showing with large gaps in our vertical slate wood siding. So, I have been removing old caulking and replacing it with new caulking. This is a labour intensive and time consuming process. And to get an idea of the scope of this project, I am 24 tubes of caulking into the front of the house (2 stories) and I am not finished yet.

Today I picked up another 24 tubes of caulking so I can continue this project.

Now, you may be asking yourself, why am I doing this myself? Well, a couple reasons. We are a single family income at the moment, for one. But before I quit work I was doing this project, so there are other reasons.

For one, I enjoy the satisfaction of working with my hands, bringing value to my house, gaining a sense of accomplishment that I am making our house last longer, stay warmer, and be more efficient. So in truth I am doing this for my own personal gratification.

That's not to say I have not cursed this house and it's siding more than once. Then again, I would curse any other house that I had to do this for. When you own a house you either curse it as you do the work yourself or you curse the cheque you write when you pay 3+ times more to have a contractor come in and do it.

Now, I was going to write a how-to but here is a link to one that covers the bases: How To Caulk Exterior Wood Siding If you have further questions then just message me. I'd be happy to share my lack of wisdom on caulking ;-)

Now you may have asked yourself, should I go for a Power or a Manual Caulker. Well, I have tried both and am full of opinions. I used manual for years and I thought with this huge caulking project I would try a Power Caulker, since Power means faster and better right? Meaning more time for other projects, Xbox, guitar, etc.

The Power Caulker

Image: Home Depot
  • I can caulk a longer line without needing to pause to resqueeze the handle.
  • There is less squeezing meaning easier on the hand.
  • In theory it is faster to go through a tube.
  • I find it hard to stop the thurst fast enough so I end up with a lot of wasted caulk coming out the end.
  • Due to the waste I feel like it takes longer to caulk but I never measured. I feel I am cleaning up more.
  • Batteries
  • With battery can be heavy.
  • The kicker: It died after about 12 tubes. I used the Ryobi 18-Volt Power Caulker from Home Depot. I do not recommend.

    Manual Caulker

    Image: Home Depot
    • More control.
    • Less waste.
    • Dirt cheap and no batteries.
    • A better grip strengthening workout.
    • Can get it dirty as sin and not care since it is dirt cheap.
    • A better grip workout means your hand gets tired faster. I started at about 4 tubes before my poor programmer hands were exhausted. I am now up to 7 tubes in one go.
    • More frequent stops to resqueeze so you can continue your line (or bead in caulking lingo).
    So for my money, I would stick with the Manual Caulking gun. I like the plain metal ones with no frills. Frills are for dresses, this is manual labour.

    I am currently using a Workforce 60:25 thrust ratio (I can not believe these have ratings but makes sense) that I got at Home Depot.

    As a bonus, I am building grip strength so I can shake hands better with Used Car Salesman.

    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    Weekly Roundup: April 7-12

    Enjoying a picnic on the lake with my parents.
    My parents were visiting this past week and are on a plane back to Newfoundland as I post this. Thankfully the 3 feet of snow they got a couple days before leaving for their visit here in Seattle has been receding this week with higher temperatures and some rain.

    I got most of my posts done this week with a lot of hard work just before they came. I lined up about a week worth of posts so I could spend more time relaxing with them and less time stressing over getting a post written that day.

    Here's what I posted about this week on the blog.


    • I shared a book the boys and I have enjoyed laughing with, T-Rex Trying....

    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    Seattle Mini Maker Faire March 2014

    Standing next to a favourite badguy of mine,
    Daleks from Doctor Who, outside EMP.
    I took Harrison, my oldest, with me to the Mini Maker Faire at the EMP Museum in downtown Seattle on March 22, 2014. The EMP Museum is located in the Seattle City Center area, next to the Space Needle. The EMP stands for Experience Music Project but I think it equally fits the moniker Entertainment, Music and Pop Culture.

    I took Harrison along since I thought we would find some fun projects, 3D Printers, and lots of robotics which would interest him. Robotics, 3D Printers, and self made niche electronic gadgets I think will become a mainstream obsession for non-geeks and as such I want to introduce my boys to this world before it becomes mainstream. I want them to be on the front edge of thinking about the future, what is possible with new technology, and what they might want to do with it.

    Harrison checking out 3D Printed Gears
    The 3D Printers were out in force and the first booth we came along was from Microsoft and they had a lot of puzzles and fun projects that showed off the power of 3D Printing. Puzzles and gears that are only possible with 3D Printers were very cool to see, touch, and try out.

    One thing we encourage with our boys is to be fearless when they have questions. If they want to know something or need something they must speak up so they can learn more or be heard. This came out at the Maker Faire has Harrison asked questions about everything. How long does the printer take? What is this? What type of metal is this? Can you print metal? What's a mold? Can I play with it?

    During one session about Big Art installations the artist asked about how many people we thought it took to create a Big Art installation. Harrison was the first to shout out an answer. I could not be prouder to see my son express an interest in others work, engage with them, and seek out more knowledge.

    Cyvasse set from Ill Gotten Games
    Being at an event like this, I soon felt like I was talking to my people. You know, the feeling you get when everyone at an event is kinda buzzed on the cool stuff going on around them. Everyone you talk too is more geeking than you in some way, but maybe less geeky in your own way. That was this event.

    I talked to the gang at Ill Gotten Games about their Kickstarter for Wayfarer, their interpretation of the Game of Thrones chess style game Cyvasse which you can freely download and print if you have a 3D Printer, and their Pocket Tactics Game. Speaking with Arian Croft was a blast. He is into a lot of similar gaming and 3D Printer projects that interest me but which I have not started. Any day someone says to me, "Do you know the old boardgame Space Hulk?" I know I have found my people. I still have my copy awaiting the day I will bring it out and introduce my boys to the world of Space Marines and Aliens (Think Aliens the movie).

    Motorized Skateboard built by 12yr old
    We also got to talk to a kid, maybe 12, who while on a visit to a Standford lab, was introduced to motorization of skateboards. The guy in the lab gave him a hasty printout of the parts, told him the basics, and sent him off. For about $350 this kid went home, bought the skateboard and parts and built his own motorized skateboard. He was fun to talk to. You can see that he did this himself, his parents were beaming, and he has lots of ideas for improvements. I have a photo of the specs as well. It does not look too hard to build but I am not the skateboarder. I also can not see me flying down the road at 20 MPH on a skateboard. The boys on the other hand will love to do this project in a couple years.

    There were also a lot of booths for various maker or maker-esque companies, events, etc. I learned that an idea I had (nothing is unique, someone already thought of it and probably did it) to create a kids maker birthday/party company that introduces kids to electronics, making, and similar activities was started several years ago. They operate in Seattle and have things like Lego battles where the kids build Lego bots that then joust. They teach electronics, do day and week long camps, and of course birthdays and such. It's great to see businesses like this popup and offer a totally different type of camp/birthday experience for kids. As a parent I have found it really amazing at the wealth of opportunities that we can offer our kids today.
    Harrison trying out Space Invaders, He had trouble with
    the old style joystick, but Dad showed him the ropes.

    We also got to try out a couple old home arcade systems at the Computer Museum booth. This was fun and a very popular booth. They had a late model Pong that included many additional modes and style of play including 2-player that the original home Pong system did not include. That was hard but popular.

    Harrison found the old joystick for Space Invaders on the Atari a little hard to use. He was not used to the fact he needed to really crank it left/right and mash the fire button. It may have seen better days but I remember plenty of joysticks that had "issues" like this.

    Harrison and I have been big fans of 3D printers and Harrison wanted to see what each had printed. While he took in a bunch of stuff included rubber joke hammers and more solid plastic hammers at one table I found a man who had CNCed a steel Drobo guitar. He had it tuned to Open-D and asked if I could play. I played the slide song Country Blues #1 from Taj Mahal on it and it was fun to play. It was super cool to play a truly handcrafted guitar. He also let me know it was too insanely expensive/time consuming to make and he would never part with it. Sad face.

    In the end, it was great to get out to see the faire and meet a lot of fun people who are passionate about creating like I am. If you get a chance to go to a Maker Faire and you are any bit geeky then you'd enjoy it. Bringing Harrison was a success, he is now trying to figure out how to get enough money to buy a 3D Printer so he can print the toys and games he saw.

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    Singing...In Front Of People

    Singing for the first time in front of
     Family and friends
    Image: Barbara Thistle
    A big goal of mine has been to get to the point where I am comfortable enough to sing in front of others. I want to be able to take out the guitar and play tunes around the campfire (or fireplace) and lead the singing so others can sing along to what they know.

    This is a long term goal. I wrote it down about 2 years ago, thought about it as a goal when I started guitar 7 years ago, and always wished I could be that guy when at a campfire.

    A first step was to start playing guitar, that was easy. Next I had to come to terms with, am I any good at this? With the right start you can quickly be playing tunes (maybe not good but recognizable). I finally reached a stage where I figured, ok I can play a tune. Onto the next stage, singing.

    Now, my first guitar instructor was maybe a little optimistic when he would tell our class, if you aren't singing while playing then what is the purpose of playing. I think his wisdom being that you must sing and play at the same time to be able to do just that. In other words, practice both to get good at both.

    Practicing singing and playing at the same time is easier said than done. As a beginner guitarist you will have enough trouble just getting the chords to ring true, to time your chord changes correctly, keep time, and maintain a steady rhythm. This is a lot to get straight and trying to sing at the same time can be very hard.

    For me, I have found the following helps me learn to sing a song.
    • If I know and love the song and can sing along with it, if it is in my bones, then the song is much easier to learn.
    • If I do not know the song well but want to learn it, then I download the version I am trying to learn and then listen to it on repeat 10 times or more. I listen for the words first, then the rhythm. 
    • I practice the song without singing repeatedly until I can play it without looking at the tabs/chords/etc.
    • While practicing the chords I sing the song in my head to get the timing of chord changes. Some tabs you get on the internet are very basic and the timing and interpretation of the song must come from a combination of singing and rhythm to get the little nuances that make the song feel like the original.
    • I then start singing it. Once I can play the song without thinking about the chord changes the singing starts to come naturally.
    Once I have the song in my bones, my hands can replicate the feeling of the song much better. I work on getting a sense of the original in my acoustic playing. Being a solo guitarist (or dual guitarist for James and I) you have to add the feel of the entire song into your rhythm playing. With your voice and guitar you must get provide an ambiance of all the instruments from the original work to give the feeling of the song.

    I am not to a point yet that I have a large repertoire and for many songs I still need my songbook to remember the lyrics but I am improving. I can also see a day when I'll have a larger repertoire of songs and be able to be the guy that can lead the singing around the campfire.

    It's a long journey with a lot of practice but playing music and sharing it with others is a hugely satisfying experience. If you've ever thought you'd like to do it then I say pick up an instrument and get to it. It is hugely fulfilling. 

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Book Review: T-Rex Trying

    Image: -
    T-Rex Trying (Hugh Murphy) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
    This is a short and funny book, by Hugh Murphy, about a T-Rex Trying... to do various activities. I picked this up in the drawing section of the library. The book has a simple drawing on each page with a sentence explaining what the T-Rex is trying to do.

    The book is a collection of the drawings from the Tumblr T-Rex Trying... which you should check out for some additional drawings.

    Lots of sight gags with the T-Rex's short arms ensue. I was giggling the whole way through. The kids got some of the jokes and enjoyed it as well. There are 100 drawings in total which explore lots of problems a T-Rex would have.

    The drawings are a little reminiscent of the Harold and the Purple Crayon with it's limited palette of 3 colours.

    Check this one out for it's great drawings and funny gags.

    Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Stinky Spoke - Rolling Through Woods

    This is a ride through very smooth trail in Woodinville during the Stinky Spoke race. That is me just ahead.

    Is it just me or does riding through old growth like this feel like you are riding a speeder bike through the forests of Endor?

    I even get a little air along the way.

    Insights Into Creativity

    Image: Penny, our
    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
    I've been listening to a lot of The Nerdist Podcast. The show is great on many levels, it is fantastic when I have a longer drive like to the gym or downtown. I listen to the show, which is about 60-80 minutes long each, and the drive flies by.

    While listening to many musicians, comedians, and actors I have picked up some interesting insights into creativity.  Here are some things I have found interesting:
    • Being a musician is a job like any job. It is hard to make money but you can get to a comfortable level where you don't need to work another job, but this takes time. To express their creativity, most bands just have to work their ass off for years before this is possible.
    • Successful creative people are fearful that people won't like their work but they are willing to overcome this fear and release it to the world.
    • It is better to release your work early in an unfinished stage and iterate as you get feedback from your audience. Sounds a lot like Agile Software Development.
    • It can take a ton of material produced to come out with gold. Many comedians spend their days writing a ton of material and trying it out. Most of it never gets seen by the mainstream and as such we are seeing the best material that worked in front of many test crowds.
    • It's better to start creating and releasing your work even if you don't know what you really want to do with it instead of trying to come up with the "Master Vision" before you release your work. Maybe your vision is not great and won't sell, maybe the side project will be the "Next Big Thing".
    • People matter a lot. Making connections early on in the field you are interested in opens a lot of doors later for you to release your creativity.
    • If you only work on your creative outlets when you are inspired you will never create much. As Neil Gaiman says, "If you only write when inspired, you might be a decent poet but not a novelist."
    • Another from Neil Gaiman, no one cares about your first draft. Just write, create, and iterate on the idea. People want the end result, just get it out and work on it.
    If you are not listening to The Nerdist Podcast and like movies, music, comedy, geek culture, then you should try to add it in. You'll love the show.

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

    Stinky Spoke - Downhill

    Here is some footage from the 2014 Stinky Spoke mountain bike race.

    This is a section of downhill, pretty much the most technical downhill part of the ride. Dan is shooting the footage and enjoying the rearview of Mark riding in the lead.

    Thanks to Dan Muckler for the footage. I have some more I will post soon.

    Watching "An Idiot Abroad"

    Image: Wikipedia
    I picked up this show on Netflix and I am enjoying it immensely. Here is the premise, Karl Pilkington is a regular joe, a real Home Simpson of a guy. He is British, he does not like to travel, and he is a little small minded. He does not like new or strange things.

    He is also pals with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Stephen wants Karl to open his mind and travel the world as a learning experience. Ricky wants Karl to suffer for his and our enjoyment. The two of them throw little side trips into Karl's journeys that are meant to torture/enlighten Karl.

    Hilarity ensues and Karl does not disappoint. As someone that has travelled a bit, I can empathise with Karl when he is dog tired and still has to push through. Or when he gets a room with a garbage shed ensuite and must sleep in a room that smells like a toilet.

    If you like travel, if you like British dark humor, oe if you hate travel and want ammo for why, then check out An Idiot Abroad. We are having a grand time laughing at it in our house.

    Monday, April 7, 2014

    Music Review: I'm Free by Jordan Officer

    I mentioned in a previous post that I backed Jordan's latest album on Kickstarter after first hearing on the Pennies from Heaven album with the Susan Arioli Band. The album has finally arrived and it is good.

    I've been listening to the album for a week or so now and I am really enjoying listening to Jordan's expressive guitar playing. I get blown away by his speed on his licks. He walks the guitar neck in a flurry of notes that add up to powerful riffs.

    If you play blues guitar, you want to listen to the playing on this album.

    Check out the new album here:

    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    Weekly Roundup: March 31 - April 5

    Image: Passing down canoeing
    to my youngest
    This is a weekly roundup of the articles I posted this past week from Monday to Saturday. I plan to try this and if it's popular I will continue to do these.  Your feedback is welcome on if you think this is good.




    • April is Fitness Month: I set out some goals as I concentrate on fitness this April. I'll use this month to ignite my battle against The Blerch. 

    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    Having Fun With Art Projectors and Your Kids

    Many moons ago I wanted to put a mural on my wall. A mural of none-less than The Punisher.

    To do that I used a transparency and an overhead projector (remember those old timers?)

    My parents being open to the idea, let me put a large Punisher diving with a very large gun behind my weight set in our basement. It was cool! I am not sure they knew what they were getting into.

    Fast forward many years and I did a painting that I thought would be great in triplicate, but how to copy the original to 2 more canvases? Step in the Art Projector/Tracer.

    I bought the Artograph Tracer, took a photo of the original artwork, printed that out in black and white, and then proceeded to transfer/trace it onto two new canvases. Then I went to work painting those. I am still pleased with the result.  Here they are, the Yellow was the original:

    Flash forward to the topic for today, having fun, well, more fun with Art Projectors and your kids in particular. Kids love to do art and they have lots of beloved characters. What better way to have fun than to copy some of their favorite characters onto large sheets of paper and then paint/colour those.

    We did that the past two days and they had a blast. I could not tear these two boys from the machine. I gave them each 2 tracings and then sent them off to colour their new artworks. They had fun and enjoyed making larger versions of some of their favorite characters.

    Here are some pics of what we did.

    I traced this Samurai:

    And Finn helped me colour most of it:

    Then Finn wanted a Cat in the Hat:

    Harrison wanted a Pokemon:

    This all started with this box of Puffin Cereal:

    So I did a Puffin for the boys, with a little help from Finn:

    This was a fun activity which I underestimated would be such a winner. The boys were engaged for hours colouring and helping setup, trace, and then hang their works.

    If you have a tracer this is a fun afternoon activity on a rainy day.

    As well, if you pick up a tracer, they can be super fun for tracing children's characters onto the kids walls and then painting those. The kids will love it and you can really make their room theirs.

    For me, we have moved so many times I have taken to tracing onto canvases and then painting those. This way the kids can take the works with them when we move again.

    Friday, April 4, 2014

    Improve Your Run Performance Up To 15% By Listening To Music


    I love to run with music. I would say that in general I find it weird when running with a running partner since I miss my music. Races with no music allowed (there are some) I avoid.

    For as long as I have run (and there have been reasonable devices) I have run with music. I even used to run with a Walkman but that truly sucked, lugging around that thing and switching the tape over part way through a run.

    For yesterday's run I resurrected an old faithful podcast I used to listen to while training for the Ottawa Marathon's 1/2 Marathon in 2007. I have since used this podcast on and off for a great source of electronic music mixes that have the paces I desire for running.

    The podcast is Podrunner.

    A quick search will lead to lots of articles about running with music and how it can improve your performance by up to 15%. Like this these:

    An important part of listening to music is to choose the correct BPM (Beats Per Minute) (See: Find The Right BPM for Your Perfect Running Playlist with This Chart). Research shows that an idea workout level is 120-140 BPM. Some articles just go with 130.

    When I trained with the CBC Ottawa Gotta Run 2007 segment, our coach Rick Hellard, of Zone3sports, taught us the importance of running at 180 BPM. That is the rate of foot strike for top runners. They normally have a shorter stride than recreational runners and they hit the ground more frequently.

    So, for me, when I am in running shape, I enjoy running at 180 BPM. Today's run at 180 BPM was maybe a little ambitious but I certainly got a good workout from it.

    Try out Podrunner yourself for easy mixes at your desired BPM. I find they improve my runs and are a critical part of my training plan. Here I am talking about it in 2007 (Running Tunes).

    Thursday, April 3, 2014

    Consolidation Of Running and Personal Blog

    I've decided to consolidate the 1000K blog into DroolFactory. DroolFactory has evolved to cover all my passions and as such I am going to continue to post about running, training, riding, etc, that used to be on 1000K at DroolFactory.

    There should be no changes for readers of both. The old 1000K posts still exist but they have been imported into DroolFactory and at a later date I plan to mothball 1000K and redirect it to DroolFactory.

    So, expect more running and exercise related items appearing on DroolFactory.



    Considering a Trip to Chitwan, Nepal

    Image: Habitat for Humanity
    Michele and I are considering a volunteering trip with Habitat for Humanity to build houses in Chitwan, Nepal. Yes, we have reached that point where we want to combine do gooding with a trip. It won't be a vacation as much a growth experience.

    We are unsure if we can fit this in and the logistics since we can not take our two boys. Children must be 16 or older which are boys are not.

    So, we have to figure out how to have the kids taken care for 2 weeks while we wander off to Nepal to spend a week building homes with Habitat for Humanity and then take about 3 days to tour. The rest of the time is taken up with just travel days.

    We are still not convinced this is a good idea. The trip is in November 2014 and we have to sign up soon.

    My biggest concerns are:

    • How will we get the boys taken care of?
    • What if something goes wrong at home with the kids?
    • What if something goes wrong in Nepal?
    • And many more.
    Have you ever considered travelling without the kids for an extended time? How did it go? We have gone for 4 days before and that was great but this is 2 weeks.

    Have you ever gone on a volunteering trip like this? How did it go?

    Have you ever worked with Habitat for Humanity? How was that?

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    My Kettlebell Workout

    Here is my kettlebell workout I perform regularly. It is great for when I want a workout but don't have much time.

    Like I did the day I shot this, I left my jeans on to show you that you don't need to go through a big routine to get ready to workout. I do this one when I get the chance and that makes it easy to squeeze in an extra workout when I can.

    Three Month Check In

    It's been 3 months since I resigned from BlackBerry and left to do a stint as a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD, is the lingo apparently). Here's a check in with how things have been going.

    My primary reason for resigning was to concentrate more on my kids and help my family out. That has been going very well. We are still getting used to Dad at home but I am happy to say that my youngest is doing great with the one on one help and attention he has been getting. My wife has been happy that there are more meals being prepared by me and that things around the house are getting done, slowly, but still getting done.

    As part of my time off the past three months I have been able to volunteer in both of my sons classes. So far I have taught 2 Computer Science classes to my older son's grade 2 class. For my younger son, his teacher has graciously let me come in 1-2 times a week to help his Kindergarten class. I do mostly math, some exercise/active games, a little reading, and a little art (basically, whatever she needs help doing). I have become a celebrity with his class and the kids are all excited to see me there. Teaching and interacting with the kids has been one of the high points of my time off.

    As an outlet for my creativity, I have been very happy with the blogging as a place to express my opinions, share my multitude of ideas with you, and connect with my readers (mostly friends or family). When I began this blog it was a way to share my latest doings with friends, a bit with family, and a lot with colleagues. My technical and Mac troubleshooting posts are still my most read articles. Since I have gone off to be a SAHD, I have expanded my writing more into my other areas of interest as I have had more time to explore them.

    Of course, we can't forget guitar. I have gotten worse, since I have been adding singing, and better at playing since I went off. I would not hire me to sing at your wedding but my jam partner and I are having a blast as we continue to rock out each week.

    While off I have dropped 10 lbs but I am still far from a healthy weight and where I want to be. I have done ok the past 3 months with better eating and exercise but am not satisfied with my progress. This is why I am dedicating April to fitness so I can kickstart one of my other loves, running long distance. I look forward to how the month turns out and planning the next phase with running.

    Lastly, since I started the DroolFactory, I have meet more people, become active on social media and watched as my readership has expanded. It's always exciting for me when I see a comment from someone, a retweet, or like for an article I wrote.  Thanks to all of you for reading my ramblings and continuing to come back. You make this site worth working on.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    April is Fitness Month

    Image: 2009 Paris Marathon
    Well, I have had a bit of a theme each month since I took time off with the kids. January was about figuring out a routine with the kids and I kicked up the blogging which continued into February with heavy guitar playing. March has been more about doing things around the house and reading a lot.

    So, what is April's theme going to be? On the topic of last weeks Blerch, I think it needs to be fighting The Blerch and the best way to do that is to meet it head on and dedicate a month to fitness to help kick start the battle.

    So, April I am aim to do more exercise. Let's see if I can beat these numbers:

    • 3 runs a week at 35+ minutes per run
    • 1 swim per week at 35+ minutes
    • Add weight lifting, let's say twice a week.
      • I'll try to hit the gym for this but this might end up being kettlebells and bodyweight exercises like pushups, jumping jacks, pull-ups, planks, etc. 
    So, that's a goal of 6 days of exercise a week. With 30 days, I am aiming to hit 24 of those exercising.

    While I have been off I have done ok with weight but not stepped up my exercise amount. I have mostly lost weight by eating out less and doing more activity each day (walks, playing with kids, canoeing, and house projects).

    I lost about 10 lbs the last 3 months with no plan.

    Let's see how well I do over a month of dedicated exercise.

    Ok, about the time, why 35 minutes? It takes about 5 minutes of easing into your run or swim before you should step it up to your training pace (in my case, whatever pace feel comfortable since I am not training for anything at the moment) and then I want to do 30 minutes of good old Aerobic Zone exercise.  So, to be easier to track I will say 35+ minutes since I hope to up my mileage as the month goes on.

    Feel free to message me and make sure I am on track. I'll track everything on Endomondo like I normally do.