Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Making things

After getting an Arduino and doing relatively little with it over the past couple of years, I've spent a bit more time trying to figure out what to do with it.

I've eased into a few Maker type projects of late, especially after graduation. Some has involved salvaging parts from old computer drives, motherboards and the like. Aside from blinking lights and controlling speeds on old CD ROM motors, no robots have been created.

Building things out of wood pallets has been more  constructive, even if the projects are workbenches and wood racks for taking apart more pallets.

At some point, building a work area for salvaging parts should be used to actually build things. But the electromechanics of CD drives in particular has been interesting, and it may take time to figure out what to do with them.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Trying out the Mobile app

Given the long lapses in this blog, it seemed like a good idea to try the Android app for Blogger. Blogger is starting to feel like the hotmail of dear diary providers, but somehow I don't have the supply of animated GIFs that a Tumblr account needs for respectability.

So far it seems to work as well as the Android onscreen keyboard and swipe interface allows.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I graduated.

I graduated, finally, almost ten years after starting the PhD program. Ten Years.

The life thing got in the way, or perhaps the other way around. Looking back at a post from 5 years ago, I'd have never guessed how things would have turned out. Well, most people can't, so it's a bit trivial to dwell on. I'm not going to field advice about how to graduate from a PhD program quickly, being better suited these days to be a cautionary tale for others.

But it's over, grading for the semester is just about done, and I have 10 weeks ahead with fewer overarching demands on me. Just the task of recovering, repairing, and moving forward. And I have a stack of articles to go through for some research topics I've had on the back burner for a couple of years.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Reclaimed things

One of my stress relievers of the past few months has been in woodworking. Given that Wood Shop was possibly my least favorite part of Middle School, it has suddenly begun to serve a purpose in my life. Owning an old house affords many opportunities to dabble in carpentry, but all of it has always seemed like a chore. Even some earlier building projects, making shelves, seemed a bit pointless in that the materials needed seemed to cost nearly as much as a low-end bookshelf of equivalent quality, given my limited number of mostly hand tools. 

I had little in terms of power tools, save for a cordless drill, cordless screwdriver and an old jigsaw I inherited. These are no longer the days when power tools are stamped out of sheet metal, far more likely to catch on fire than to ever break under anything short of a steamroller.  

Materials also proved to be expensive given the number of mistakes made with limited experience and limited tools. I'm certain my old shop teacher could have made fine furniture with my hand saw and power drill, but these tools serve to merely magnify my lack of skill. So I jumped on the hipster / Maker bandwagon and started using wooden shipping pallets for raw materials. After all, throwing away a growing pile of cutting mistakes is a lot less annoying when the wood was free.

Finding pallets is easy. Finding pallets that are not disgusting is not so easy. If you ask manufacturing companies if you can take the clean pallets that expensive equipment is shipped with, that they would otherwise have to dispose of by the pound, they're often more than happy to get rid of them. 

Taking them apart is either frustrating and irritating, or a pretty good way to blow off some stress. I've found that a combination of crowbar, rubber mallet, and reciprocating saw work pretty well. Especially on those special days when there are few other socially acceptable outlets for men to express certain feelings, a rubber mallet works wonders. 

Post-divorce doesn't exactly result in a lot of cash lying around, so free fits the budget pretty well. Cashing out some old junk around the house and freeing the bad juju of the old wedding rings resulted in a reciprocating saw and a miter saw. Once these are reunited with my table saw that I loaned out and never used, there will be some real projects to play with.

So, the result so far from playing with pallets has been three work benches, a table, a bench, and some retaining walls for the garden we're planting this year. I'm likely to tear apart and rebuild the workbenches. The little pallet table has been a learning experience, which I'm not likel.y to bother rebuilding. It's become a workbench for small electronics at work, a place to tear apart old electronics and salvage components of interest before sending the rest to recycling. 

Parts of old hard drives, CD ROM readers, remote control cars, helicopters, cables, and other electrical components spread over the pallet table in my office.  A few VHS Cassette cases serve as organizers for the collection of parts yielded, and there are enough to start working again on the Arduino stuff, to run motors, lights, and read switches and buttons. On the drawing board are some projects, maybe a little car or even a crude drone this summer. But with the dissertation behind me, it feels like life itself has been reclaimed on some level.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Life after.

I'm finding that as Graduation approaches, I'm having a little trouble seeing what comes next. It's mostly a formality at this point- the work has been done. I think there's a little touching up with the last dissertation edits in the next couple of days. After all this.

The anticlimax of my own graduation with the funny hat feels more a chore than a celebration. I'm a little irritated that it coincided with the graduation of my own students. I've actually sat with a schedule and Google Maps to see how to exploit the hour offset between my graduation and theirs, and whether I can get back to "my school" before the ceremonies end.  "My school" has been where I teach, not where I'm getting my degree.  It's a blur the in the past, a decade offset from my prior degree a decade earlier. A hectic three years of intense work, a couple of years of juggling with a FT teaching job, a year and a half of divorce hell, and now a couple years since, rebuilding a life and a home.

I think this is the point where regrets would be shared. Had I just bailed out during one of the many times I considered doing so, I wouldn't have had my head fitted for a poofy hat yesterday. It's a useless game of what-ifs for turning left instead of right.  I had something to say about the last time I played the game of what-ifs, but it was just about the train I didn't take to work on the morning of 9/11 so I erased it.  I'll be damned if I ever catch myself playing the game of what-ifs again.

May 19th is the start of "Summer Break" and another chapter in life. That chapter is going to involve a lot of neglected repairs around my house, and most likely, in life overall.

Friday, December 13, 2013

..and back again.

Back again with a lot to say, and perhaps just enough good judgment not to do so.

I've been told to start to revive this thing and talk about real life again, to continue the thread of this series on being a returning PhD student entering into academic life. To avoid the dominant facts of the last three years would be somewhat dishonest.

I'm now divorced, a single dad. Two of the last three years have been extremely painful to say the least, and now the third year finds me in a new relationship quite unexpectedly, not to mention against my best efforts. But her persistence in making the relationship work overpowered my persistence in ruining it, so here we are.

I try to be thankful when it occurs to me, now as one-half of a small academic department, trying to revive an entire major. Some would run, but somehow a chance to start something over is appealing for more than the obvious reasons. At home, breathing new life into old things, old machines, and even messing around and turning shipping pallets into seats or workbenches is yet another way to turn the discarded into something useful.

Apparently, Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Not necessarily in a straight line

Life goes on, as they say, though with little regard for direction or speed. They say life is a marathon, but as heard on a radio program and confirmed by more than a couple of runners, the body can fail you within sight of the finishing line, will notwithstanding. Fail in embarrassingly biological ways, in fact. Sure, there's that so-called second wind, and even that last burst of energy while being chased by a bear, which is vastly greater than the energy one draws on when chasing bears. (I can count more than one of my ancestors as Highlanders after all.) But here we are, finishing line in sight and all. Right. There. There lies the dangers of the analogy with the false conclusion of argument, I believe, which can undue whatever benefit was derived by the intellectual scaffolding formed in the initial comparisons.

Life isn't so single tasked and linear as we'd like. It simply goes on, not charged with the task in making successive linear progress in a predetermined direction. When my SO introduced me to Walking with Cavemen a while ago, I was struck with the narrative style. Sure the content was not exactly new to me, but it somehow stuck with me this time. The idea of thousands of generations of people not much different from us surviving or even thriving in varying climates, without even the thought of mastering the natural world around them. They lived in a cultural stasis that could have endured almost indefinitely in some form or another. They persisted with increasing intelligence and learning, but yet failing to overcome the information entropy of their brief, tenuous existences and accumulate the knowledge for something beyond bare subsistence.

There is the span from 100K to 20K years ago, where knowledge did seem to slowly accumulate beyond mere instinct and direct experience, with the survival of ideas that could span the lives of individuals, and even span populations. It's as if sparks over an ocean found a piece of driftwood to smolder and persist, somehow meeting another piece of driftwood to improbably continue the reaction that lead to a sustaining flame.

Turns out that science does a poor job of explaining what life is and isn't, just as it does a poor job explaining why time exists. Hell, making electrons do what you want is cake in comparison, though the ultimate ends of that, in managing information in useful ways more complex than making things light up and turn off are pretty elusive, in no small part due to the problems of defining, much less attaining "useful".

I've long been inclined to define life as that which produces and consumes information produced internally and externally. I'd lump in "responds to" with "consumes" in much the same way as a deep fried jalapeno achieves the same ends.

And yet, one's own life and the lives of others are too often considered in sometimes arbitrary comparisons, where we rate survival and growth against externally linear measures. It seems a bit grandiose to compare one's own life in such a context, but it is worth asking who gets to decide where we should be relative to others in our own brief existences. If there's anything we owe the world while we are in it, is to live on and try to help a few others around us to continue onward as well.

Still, no excuse for not having finished that book report, it would seem.