Sunday, April 27, 2008

How Stuff Works: Flint and Steel

Photo by MerriwetherSomehow I added "look up how flint and steel actually creates sparks" to my todo list in the past year. Now I know. I knew the flint wasn't actually that important and other stones could do it (or a grinder.) It turns out that the only "magic" is breaking off small enough particles of iron. The iron rapidly oxidizes when air hits it. If the new particle is small enough, the heat from the oxidation is enough to ignite tinder. Chemistry at work.

(Photo by Merriwether, who's first camping trip with his kids is about how I think most of our vacations would go if we didn't live right next to Disney World.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Felony charges for peanut allergy prank

A 13 year old student is being charged with a felony (wanton endangerment) after intentionally putting a crumbled peanut butter cookie into the lunchbox of another student with known peanut allergies.

Good. I hope that we see more criminal charges for kids that chase peanut allergic kids with peanut butter sandwiches. That's way beyond typical bullying or teasing. To a peanut allergic kid, it's just as dangerous as chasing them with a knife or gun.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nalgene drops polycarbonate and adds stainless steel

Nalgene is phasing out their flagship polycarbonate bottles over the BPA concerns. They've got a new line of bottles made from Eastman Tritan, a newer plastic. It'll be interesting to see if this leads to all the knockoff polycarbonate bottles eventually disappearing from stores.

Nalgene also has a new website, Nalgene Choice, that helps people pick the material for their Nalgene brand bottle. What's cool is that they feature the Guyot Designs stainless steel bottle. It has a Nalgene brand label on it but it looks like they didn't acquire the company. Hopefully that means we'll start seeing Guyot's bottles in more stores.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to listen to Overdrive audio books on the Palm Centro

I've finally been able to use Pocket Tunes my Sprint Palm Centro listen to free audio books from OverDrive, available through our local library's website. This was the hardest thing to set up on my Centro but I got it working and it makes a great audio book player. This same setup should be able to listen to any DRM-protected media that Pocket Tunes supports.

First you have to get the OverDrive player working on your PC, which can be a pain. I had it working on my desktop just 3 months ago but now the Windows Media Player DRM is broken again. I did have it working on my laptop though, so I used it.

You can't just use Windows Media Player to copy the audiobook files to the Centro's microSD card though, or Pocket Tunes won't get the media rights. The trick is to sync directly with your Centro while Pocket Tunes is running. Then the Centro appears to Windows as an MTP device, like any other Windows-happy media player.

But before you can do that, you will probably have to install a driver for PocketTunes/MTP on your computer. If you bought Pocket Tunes and installed it to your Palm, you might already have the driver installed, but the Sprint Centro comes with it already installed so you need to get the piece for your PC. The driver is inside the PocketTunes update install on their downloads page. You can go through the whole install, including synching with your Centro if you want to, or you can just install the driver on Windows by unzipping the install package, right-clicking on mtpptunespalmone.inf and picking "Install" from the menu. That will install the driver.

Now if you start Pocket Tunes on your Centro, then connect it to your PC with the sync cable, the Centro will appear in Windows as a portable media player. You can now use Windows Media Player to sync content to your Centro and the media rights should be transferred properly.

I tried to get the same thing working on my Verizon Treo 650 a few months ago, but never could. I assumed that Pocket Tunes needed a data connection to acquire the rights to play the media, but I don't think it does. At the time I didn't know about the trick of using Pocket Tunes as a MTP device and syncing with it that way. That probably would make it work. I need to go back and try it. Maybe I can even get it working on my old Zire 71.

The rewards for all of this work? Well, Pocket Tunes is a great media player for audio books. You can bookmark exact spots within the tracks. Being able to click and drag instead of fast forwarding through the track also helps. Another plus is that just like my Sansa Express player, the Centro with Pocket Tunes doesn't appear to realize that the media has expired. So instead of having to race to finish a whole book in just a week or constantly checking the same title out over and over, I've got plenty of time.

ThinkGeek - Cool Computing Stuff and Mods

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

Water level at Lake Rogers ParkToday is Earth Day. Back in January, there was some buzz about this being the year that people go "green." Maybe. We've made some progress but haven't taken huge steps.

Gas prices are obviously driving some people to more environmentally friendly choices. When I bought my Honda CR-V three years ago I was already concerned enough about gas prices that I seriously considered a Civic or Accord or even a hybrid. But with big adults, two growing kids and our hobbies, I couldn't make it work. The Ford Escape hybrid was a possible alternative but I couldn't justify the additional cost at the time. I get just over 24 mpg most of the time, with a combination of driving when there's less traffic and things like not accelerating slower than I want to and staying at or below 60 mph on the Veteran's. The leap from 60 to 70 mph takes quite a bit more fuel, especially with a taller vehicle.

I also now telecommute regularly. About a third of our group works from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays and some even more than that. It isn't as big an impact for me as for others since work is only about a 34 mile round trip, but saves about 3 gallons of gas a week. Plus I get more done with less stress. Even on a day that I go into the office, I usually work from home for an hour or two in the morning first, which lets me skip most of the morning traffic jams. I'm not so good at avoiding the evening ones.

I've almost completely stopped buying bottled water, except for trips or parties. I still drink it at work because it's free and the tap water tastes like an old swimming pool. I've considered bringing in a filter pitcher like we use at home, but haven't. I stopped drinking caffeine for lent and have barely had anything to drink except water ever since. At home we've gone from overfilling a recycling bin every week with empty bottles (mostly my 2L Diet Mountain Dews) to filling one about every 3 weeks (mostly the kids' milk).

I'm trying to make some progress on cutting our electricity consumption. With two young kids that have to sleep with a light on, me working from home, homeschooled kids, always-on computers, and all our gadgets, it's hard. I'm trying to replace some bulbs with compact fluorescents but I'd really rather hold out until LED bulbs come down in price.

Our yard is about as environmentally "green" as I can get away with. With no sprinkler system, much of the St. Augustine grass died off a couple years ago when it was really dry. Now there's a mix of Bahia, some really sturdy St. Augustine, dirt, and random weeds. I haven't watered the yard in years and only put down chemicals about three times a year. Part of it is just being cheap, but I honestly feel incredibly guilty about spraying thousands of gallons a year of purified drinking water pumped from deep aquifers on my yard just to make it greener.

Finally, last week Creative Loafing came out with their list of 100 ways to go green right now. We're doing pretty good on some of those, but there are some ideas I want to try.

#4 is to stop reading print newspapers and magazines. We struggle with that one. I read almost everything online, but we still get a newspaper and several magazines which carry almost all of their content online.

#24 is to shade your air conditioner. I hadn't thought of that but I might have to try it if I can figure out how to do it without the homeowners bugging me.

#46 is the free rainwater barrel program that the state/county offers. I'd consider doing it, especially with my guilt over lawn-watering, but you have to go to a class first and they're all booked through summer. Too much work. If I could go pick up one and a video, I'd do it.

#60 is to use to eliminate all the catalogs you get but don't want. We really need to do that. We must get 2-3 a day at this point.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Today I went to TARCFest XIX, the 19th bi-annual tailgate that the Tampa Amateur Radio Club has had in their now 10-year-old "new" facility. It's so cool to see them still motoring along. I can remember standing in the gutted shell of the building and talking with guys about about the potential to have a tailgate there to raise money for the club.

I had fun. Took the boy, who most of the hams haven't seen for a year or two. Traded some of my junk for cash. Gave away even more junk. Saw some guys I haven't seen in a year or two. It was good.

A new (to TARC) vendor showed up, Blue Star Antennas. They're a small antenna shop, run by hams, that builds a couple designs. They have super-sturdy aluminum VHF/UHF beams and J poles that remind me a bit of Arrow Antennas. They also make a portable HF vertical (above) that looks a lot like the PAC-12 design, but it has an sliding coil tap instead of a clip.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I saw these SnapCapp things at the Florida State Fair this year. It's like a plastic bottle top that snaps onto the top of a aluminum soda/pop/soft drink/Coke can. That converts the can into a resealable bottle. Great for cutting down on spills, especially around computers. I didn't think about it at the time, but they're also better for the environment than plastic bottles. You reuse the plastic part over and over while recycling the aluminum cans, which are much more recyclable than paper or plastic. They're available now from a couple websites and a distributor.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

NWN Portrait Changes

This is kind of funny. The Neverwinter Nights game once pushed out some new artwork in an update because several of the original versions were derived from celebrity photos.