ResearchList #35

I haven’t done one of these in entirely too long.

Current Obsessions:

  • Desert Storm Night Camouflage
  • Document Boxes (aluminum)
  • Rack Mounted Firewire 800 (or, maybe USB 2.0) Storage solutions
  • New Shoulder bag design parameters, referencing
    • TOPO Designs
    • Able Archer
    • The Hill People
  • Air-Hardening Clay
  • Custom Palet racks

SitRep

Oh man, I’m in deep.

My (most) current obsession is monochrome everything. Here’s the run-down of how that’s manifested (thus far):

  • My iPhone’s home button has been set to toggle the entire phone into greyscale mode with a triple press.
  • I’ve installed Lenka on my phone- it’s a camera app that only does B&W photos. I know you can apply a B&W filter, or that you can set the stock camera app to B&W mode, but you can’t make the camera stay in that mode, and applying the filter after-the-fact robs you of a B&W viewfinder.
  • I’ve spent a mildly embarrassing amount of time researching B&W only digital cameras. Yes, there are (a few), but they’re wildly expensive (Leica) or super-specialty (custom conversion).
  • I’ve got my analog film processing gear all located and ready- I’m likely due for some new fixer, but we’re nearly ready to develop the growing backlog of film I’ve shot.
  • [edit] I’ve also just swapped the display on this computer to greyscale, too. Lovely.

I bought a new computer.

Ah, so. The time had come.

My “current” computer is a very (10!) old MacBook Pro- it’s been great, but it’s gone all glitchy, and keeping it up and running has become entirely too time consuming- and inconsistent. I’ve written before about my affinity for Plex as a media serving solution, and this machine had been pulling Plex Media Server duty. It’s gone so flakey that it can’t be relied upon for that anymore, so it was clearly time for something new.

Or, I should say, new-er. I had planned to ante up and grab a 27″ iMac Retina of some flavor- by all accounts a lovely machine. It’s minimally user-serviceable, though, and the most you can really do is upgrade the RAM a bit. And: $1500 base price. So I also looked at a Mac Mini, but the price of those can be stiff, and they’re not user upgradable anymore, so… used? Nope- they hold value like crazy, and you’re effectively better buying a new one. So that’s out. And I don’t need the portability of a laptop.

Enter: Xserve. They dropped this line in 2010, but these were rack-mounted Macs meant for use in data centers. They are proper servers, too: dual redundant power supplies, lots of space for disks and RAM, dual gigabit ethernet, etc etc etc. I bought one on ebay, and it should be here early this week. Mine’s from 2008, and you might be thinking that I’m nuts to have bought an eight-year-old machine, but let me point out a couple of things:

  1. It’s faster than the iMac I might have bought- mine has 2x 3.0ghz quad-core Xeons, and the benchmarks for the machine are still pretty quick. It’s roughly a 6x improvement over my existing machine.
  2. It’s got plenty of RAM- mine has 16gb, but it’ll handle (at least) double that.
  3. It’s got space for 3 hard drives. Mine has 3x80gb, but I’ll eventually swap that to 3x2tb, so I’ll have 6tb of internal storage.
  4. It has an internal super drive (HA! well, useful for ripping existing parts of my DVD collection…)
  5. I paid $200 for it. Plus $90 for shipping, since the thing’s a TANK and is coming from the west coast.
  6. It’s entirely user serviceable. All the parts can come out and be swapped- it’s a industrial computer, after all.

Some downsides, of course:

  1. It eats power. It idles at 150W or so, but I’ll be running it on a scheduled boot/shutdown cycle to minimize that problem.
  2. Officially, it’s only supposed to be able to run 10.6.8 as an OS. Really, though, it’ll run 10.11.x without any real trouble- Apple dropped support for it’s video card, but I’ve got a much more modern card en-route that will fix that issue.
  3. It’s huge and rack mounted- but I don’t care, as I have a rack in the basement anyway.
  4. It’s loud under load- again, irrelevant, as it’s in the basement, and I’ll be managing it via screen sharing remotely anyway.

I’m excited. It’s been a very long time since I had a proper work-horse of a computer, and it’ll be nice to finally have my data and projects all consolidated onto one capable machine. The next stage will be monitors for it- the new video card will push 2650×1600 resolution, but I can’t figure out of that’s across one screen, or if that’s each on two screens. Whatever- it’s enough either way, really. I’ve got a 24″ 1920×1080 kicking around that’ll do in the meantime.

I figure even if I only get a few more years of life from it (which, honestly, seems unlikely- these were built like brick houses, so it should keep ticking along), it’ll still have been less expensive than an iMac, and I’ll have roughly the same speed and power, so that’s a bonus. And, given the price, if I want a “couch computer” for browsing, I can grab an iPad or Chromebook or whatever, and still have the total cost be less than an iMac.

SitRep

Oh, my, how times flies. Things that have/are happening:

  • The shelf project lags on. Honestly, I’m polyurethane away from being done, but the temperatures have just been too low.
  • New computer project- progress! A slightly batty solution, perhaps, but interesting none-the-less.
  • Summer shoe purchase has arrived- the spiritual successor to my favorite summer shoes of all them, the mesh slip-on converse all stars (which, for reasons I don’t understand, they don’t make anymore).
  • At work, I’ve been working on some best practices for online video- and now I’m at the storyboard-it-out phase. I’m not looking forward to being on camera for this end product, but that’s part of the job, you know?
  • I’m shaping spacers to replace the tweeters on my vintage KLH Model 30 Speakers- these are hopefully destined for the study room, and they’re two steps away from done: new tweeters installed and speaker grill fabric replaced with something less hideous.
  • This site saw a bit of a behind the scenes overhaul- there were some nasty people trying to brute force their way into the WordPress install here, and I had to take some steps to deal with that. Done, anyway.

SitRep

We’ve finally got snow, here.
Something like 8 inches dropped last night, and now I’ve got to go shovel it off the driveway. Before I do, I thought I’d bust one of these posts out, just to bring things up-to-date. Things I’m working on:
+ Repairing a Konica C35 Automatic camera (who’s light meter isn’t currently working)
+ Installing replacement tweeters in a pair of 1972 KLH Model 30 speakers
+ Installing some custom shelving in my new dining room (this includes painting the hardware, building the shelves, and finishing all the materials)
+ Looking for entryway seating/storage
+ Keeping the newsletter running (just put out #46 this morning)
+ Designing a administrative pouch/portfolio for my EDC needs
+ Getting back to taking pictures more often again
+ Getting back to shooting video more often again
+ I’m also (for the first time in a long time) looking at doing another degree- it’s not like I’ve got lots of time or anything, but it’s something that’s been nagging at me for a bit now, and it might be time to at least entertain the idea of scratching the itch.

There’s a bunch of other back-burner stuff going on, but most of that is longer-term and in the planning stages anyway, so we’ll leave that for now.

It’s Back.

So- it’s time. The newsletter is back.
I sent out a smaller edition of it last week, and that was fine. But it was short, and I’m hoping this week will be the first full-sized edition in a few weeks [edit: nope! still a small one…]. To that end, if you’ve not subscribed, you probably should (the sign up form is over on the left side of this page). I’ve realized that by volume, the vast majority of my writing is *actually* in my newsletters. Sure, they’re composed of a few links a week, but I try to offer some commentary as well as some context for my choices. Remember, what I’m trying to offer is a steady stream of useful and inspiring material that you might not have stumbled on yourself.
Anyway.
If you’ve been following here, you know that I’m “in between” computers at the moment. As a result, I’ve been writing and working on an iPad as my “primary” device- though, I suppose, if you were to do the math by calculating hours of screen time, my iPhone would be my “primary.” Whatever. The iPad I’ve been using used to be in heavy rotation by my kids, but they recently got upgraded devices, so me, not being someone who lets something go to waste, decided to see if I could make use of their old devices. I’m writing this now on an iPad. Not an iPad2, not an iPad Air, an iPad. The first one. OG.
Honestly? Not bad. I’d rather browse the web via my phone anyway, so that’s not much of a hangup. And I’d rather play games or consume media elsewhere, too- so that’s not much of an issue. Indeed, what I use this for is writing and drawing (and, I suppose, to a lesser degree for reading…). I just picked up a docking keyboard (the original Apple deal- which has a much nicer keyboard action that it has any right to…) for something like $6 on eBay. It’s a wickedly nice setup, now- it looks nice where it lives (which is weirdly the kitchen counter), it comes apart easily, and it’s a decent sized screen for me to write on. I managed to research, write, edit, do the graphic work, and send the newsletter entirely from this here ancient device. Not too shabby, eh? And this keyboard? No joke, this thing here. Great key action, lovely dedicated buttons to lock/unlock/home/play/volume/etc, and (this might be the best part) Tab actually works to move from text field to text field on the web. That’s key (sorry).
So. Where to next?
Obviously, my ancient device system isn’t workable for all my projects- I like the iPad on the counter in the kitchen, but it won’t do for heavy lifting tasks (In my world, that’d be photo management and editing, video editing and management, IoT development, and other administrative tasks). Clearly, then, a new computer is in the works. Likely an iMac, likely 27″, likely Retina. Speaking of IoT, that’s further to the front of my mind than ever. I have a garage project in the works for that, and the list of things I’d like to do keeps growing faster than I can manage, so plenty left on that front. Also, a slew of crafting projects (mostly in front of a sewing machine), and some looming house projects (getting the library up and running, for example). Plenty to keep busy.

SitRep

SitRep

• The new headquarters is up and running (thankfully), though I suspect there will continue to be work to do on it pretty much indefinitely- that being the nature of houses, after all. Regardless, we’ve reached functional status.
• My studio space is nearly fully functional as well- the audio gear isn’t set up at all (and there’s a fair bit of storage that needs to be sorted), but I can stand here and type this without any problems.
• It’s a new year, and while I’m not going to rant about “resolutions” or whatever, it’s as good a time as any to reorient yourself to your goals- take a step back and decide what you really want to accomplish in the short, medium, and long terms. Writing it down helps, as it seems to make it more real (and, thus, something work paying attention to).
• Given the sheer volume of work I need to get done at the day job, I’ve been brushing up on the GTD flowcharts- if you’re not familiar, GTD is “Getting Things Done,” and it’s a method of managing time and workflow.
• I’ve been using an iPhone and iPad as primary computing devices for a little while- my “main” computer is quite old, and it’s been pressed into service as a server, so it’s not really a day-to-day option anymore. My phone continues to be very, very good- though I find myself using one of the iPads we have around from time to time when I simply need more screen space to work with. I’m typing this on a full-sized iPad with a bluetooth keyboard via Poster.
• To that end, I’ve been looking to supplement the performance of my server situation by picking up another machine to handle that- though, I’m not entirely sure if that would be an older Mac Mini (which, it seems, hold their value to an alarming degree…), or a NAS-based solution… My first choice in NAS is Synology, but those won’t (nicely) run the software I need. So.
• I’ve been getting more and more interested in implementing the IoT in this new house. That’s the “Internet of Things,” and that usually means adding internet interfaces to… things. Thermostats. Smoke detectors. Locks. Garage Doors. Some of that stuff is commercially available already; more is no doubt coming. That said, there are a couple of problems:
1. Security- sometimes, you find out that the internet-enabled tea kettle has massive security holes in it’s interface. So that’s not great.
2. Privacy- I’m not thrilled by the idea of paying for a service for, say, my IP camera by allowing my data to be used from them. That’s a bit too much for me.
3. Boring. It’s not much fun to just plug things in.
4. I’m… particular about the stuff I use. I have criteria I develop, and those (for whatever reason) are often not the same as the market develops.
So, to that end, I’ve been exploring the Adafruit offerings more, with the hopes that I might be able to build and code the tools I need. The offerings have only become more inexpensive and easier to work with, and my interest has been growing. I’ve picked up a Raspberry Pi Zero already (and if you haven’t, you might consider it…), a Supermechanical Twine (that, right now, mostly is used to remotely monitor the internal temperature of my house), and I’ve a CHIP on the way (in March, I think). The Raspberry Pi will get pressed into service in the garage, I think, and I’m sure more of that sort of stuff will make it into my house.
• I’m going to try to get back to my newsletter too- I’ve had no time to think about education in any meaningful way, and I’ve had no time to mine my sources to find the tidbits I like to send out to people- and, as I’ve said before, I’d rather send nothing than a half-assed product. Regardless, it will come back.

SitRep

Ah, yes. Here we are, again.

I’ve made the move to the new headquarters- it’s still chaos, with boxes and stuff strewn all about, but there’s progress being made. Nearly all the stuff has made it’s way here, and the stuff that hasn’t is scheduled to come soon, so that’s good (insofar as it means I’ll have all the pieces to this particular puzzle- even if the puzzle isn’t finished, so to speak).

I’m behind on the newsletter. There’s just not much time right now to dig through the web to find the nuggets that are worth sharing. Indeed, I’d rather send nothing than send a lame/half-assed edition. These should be back soon.

The (new) house presents a number of projects/problems to solve:

  • I’ve cut the cord on our cable subscriptions- we have high speed internet only. That means I’ve had to do some work to build a system that will allow us to continue to enjoy watching tv with as little trouble as possible. Right now, I’m running a Plex server (which, if you’re unfamiliar with, is totally awesome). That server holds our movies and archived tv shows, and makes them available to any of our devices, regardless of their physical location. So that’s good. I’ve also installed a plugin that allows for watching live tv via the same interface- it uses a ip-enabled set of digital tv tuners. There’s some software in the works to allow that to function as a DVR for network television- so that will solve the time-shift problem, and I’ve begun exploring running Rasplex on some Raspberry Pi Zero’s to turn some old monitors into smart tv’s. That’s a neat prospect, especially given a Pi Zero costs $5. The control of that device is the current sticking point- I’m unwilling to have a keyboard/mouse connected. It needs to be something much more remote-like. Still $5!
  • The internal house network also has taken some work- the house, despite only being a couple of years old, wasn’t wired for data. At all. Sure, they ran hard phone lines and coax all over the place, but no data. The phones lines were even run in old-school four conductor wire- not eight (which is what data needs, really). Stupid. And I loath the prospect of snaking wires, so I’ve picked up a powerline data system- I’m wary, but the reviews are good, and if it works, it solves my problem without me cutting into walls.
  • The house has a number of heating and cooling zones- but it has the oldest kind of thermostats, ever. Remember those round ones that you turn the ring on? Yeah. Those. Totally unacceptable. So I’m looking at moving to smart thermostats (Nest 3.0’s, if you want to be specific about it…) but they’re $250 each, and that’s a pile of loot all together. So I’ll likely do one on the first floor (where we spend a lot of time), and then expand over time as well. I’ve got a Nest Protect around here somewhere too- I should get that installed.
  • Storage in the garage is a horror show. It’s a two car garage, but there’s a ton of my junk in it- and combined with the rider mower we now have, there’s no room for my car. So: much shelving- and it can’t rest on the floor. So wall mounted or ceiling hung- those are my choices. And bike winches. Lots of bike winches.

That’s house stuff. Other projects include:

  • Finishing a tiny backpack for a 2 year old
  • Building a new studio space
  • Video essay progress
  • Rooftop fly rod transport
  • Further car modifications (re: aux lighting)
  • Custom rubber stamp procurement
  • Physical archive project (this will expand over time, but I’ve already created and had made a full archive of all my tweets between 08/18/2012 and 12/09/2015. I’ll need to figure out a way to go back further than that, and this should also expand to video and photos, too).
  • My new computer rig- this is a post-christmas project. Looking like a 27″ Retina iMac of some sort- with lots of storage and whatnot.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s it for now.

I made something.

I get stuck, sometimes. Creation is hard, and it can feel overwhelming it its scope and depth. Fighting back can be hard, too- because creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life’s other pressures don’t abate just because you’ve started a new project.

Lots of folks have fought this- and many have come up with workable strategies. Among those I’ve found (that I like), Oblique Strategies is a favorite. It’s a deck of cards, designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, to help musicians stuck in the studio. As much as I like them, they’re not wholly applicable to what I do. Also, Austin Kleon recently posted about how he’s making his own deck (though his, predictably, is made with a Sharpie…).

New thing over at stealstrategies.net #stealstrategies

A photo posted by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on

So, today, hungry to be able to create something (as much of my creation-materials are in storage in preparation for my upcoming move…), I lugged my typewriter out of the basement and grabbed the stack of blank cards I use to work on my kids’ game we’re building together.

And to work I went.

Today’s project.

A photo posted by Tim Calvin (@nothingfuture) on

43 Cards later, I have a deck of ideas and prompts. Things to push me in a direction and (hopefully) get me unstuck.