Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tubes Stevens

In honor of everyone's favorite, corrupt, longest-serving, bridge-loving, and now indicted Republican Senator

Origin of the joke

Wheelchair Project

This is actually an older project for those I've talked to over the last year or so, but it's worth a mention nevertheless.

This job came to me from folks in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. They had a wheelchair-bound patient who was an expectant mother. An c-spine accident many years ago had left her with no use of her legs and only limited use of her arms and hands. She used a powered wheelchair to get around. The OT wanted us to build an attachment for her wheelchair that would position her infant front and center, facing her, and within easy tickle reach. The idea was for the mother and child to have much more frequent and intimate interaction than they otherwise would have.

We scratched our heads and, after some time, came up with something that fit the bill. We bought a second-hand infant car seat and attached it to an adjustable metal frame that attached to the side of the mother's wheelchair. The car seat was a handy shortcut, since we knew it would be reasonably comfortable, had integrated restraints, and is generally tested-to-death for safety (technical term). It also cost $35. The adjustable frame required some cleverness, if I do say so myself, to permit the different adjustments we would need, but balanced against the need for convenience, adaptability, and light weight. The caregiver would need to be able to quickly attach and detach this thing and adjust the position.

The extruded bar at the base is the only part permanently-attached to the wheelchair. The frame can slide forward and back on that extrusion; or slide all the way off, so that the device can be set aside. The parallel linkage can raise and lower from nearly horizontal to nearly vertical in 10-degree increments. The infant seat can pitch forward and back on the cross bar +/- 22 degrees from its normal position. Naturally, there are hard stops for all of these adjustments, so that nothing can fall apart.

I could delve into the finer details about laser scanning parts of the infant seat to get it into the computer, or running simulations on the strength of the frame, or making rapid prototypes of some of the parts to ensure the fit would be correct, or scrambling to meet a deadline to getting this work accepted to a conference, then scrambling to make a poster in time for that conference, but I'll not bore you.

The purple color was the patient's choice. No, they aren't Vikings fans - they just like the color. The project's worked out pretty well so far. The only hitch is that the kiddo is getting a little too rambunctious to tolerate sitting in the thing for very long, and will outgrow it before much longer. That's just as well - there is another patient, a wheelchair-bound expectant father, that will get it next.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another Milestone in the Bathroom

Let there be Light!

This post is actually about a week late - I got this thing installed at last on Tuesday. I'll skip the tedious account of running up and down the stairs about a dozen times to flip the circuit breaker as I made the electrical connections and tested them. Suffice to say, it works. The image below also shows how it comes together - there is a wall bracket of trim (which also provides the necessary space for the wiring and sockets) to which the solid panel with the sockets and brass plate attach.

All that's left to do in this project, at long last, is to put some trim around the cabinet itself to cover up the jagged edge of the hole in the wall. Not sure when I'll get to that, but hopefully it won't be too much longer.

New Knife

Most of you will know that I usually carry a knife on me. It's not a weapon or personal defense thing, it's more that it's a darned useful tool that I get everyday use out of. So, it caused me some pain to realize that, somewhere on the road back from Chicago, my beloved spyderco had disappeared - probably slipped out of my pocket at a rest stop. This was the same knife that had been with me for many years, and even sliced me free from a crazed seat belt, then survived a trip in the mail from Puerto Rico.

After a few days of moping (ok, a few weeks), the empty feeling in my pocket finally drove me to order a new one. Spyderco has updated the design of their Delica knife a bit since I last got one, and jacked up the price to boot (MSRP $80). I was able to find one through an online retailer for a bit less, and it arrived this past Friday.

At last! My arm is complete again! (source)

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Crumpet's Shower

Here are the promised photos from the crumpet's shower a few weeks ago!

This is Beth, the wonderful organizer, along with the heaping table of goodies that she brought for us to snack on:

Beth had the wonderful idea of asking the guests to bring a favorite children's book. Here we are with a few of the selections:

And here's a crowd shot:

We had such a lovely time visiting with everyone!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Progress in the Bathroom

With the medicine cabinet in, I turned to what I thought the next thing on the list in the bathroom - replacing the lighting fixture above it. The one that used to be there was a bit odd, with a random wrap-around of white-painted wooden paneling, and a right-angle piece of brushed aluminum (gold color anodized). It wasn't all that bad, it just wouldn't have worked well with the new medicine cabinet and painted walls.

I did, however, hope to salvage some of the bits of it - an ethos of makers. The light sockets were just fine, with long tails, and the anodized aluminum reflector would be useful in the new fixture. The sockets came out easily enough with some pliers and persuasion, and the right-angle aluminum was very soft and easy to cut on the table saw.

It helps that, being an engineer, I have access to a really well-equipped machine shop. Tucked in one corner are four drill presses, and bits and hole saws to go with. A 1-1/2" hole saw makes the necessary cutout in the sheet metal and wood that would fit the salvaged light sockets. It does take a fair bit of time to make such a hole - one has to go slow to prevent chatter or even stalling the drill, but it does make for decent results.

Unfortunately, good equipment is only as good as the person using it. In my case, they did not prevent me from messing up the hole layout and drilling three evenly spaced holes, instead of the four I actually wanted. The wood wouldn't be such a problem, since I planned on the metal covering it up. But, there's no way to fix the botched layout in the aluminum piece. So, I had to redo it, but this time out of 3/32" brass sheet metal, since that was what was available by that point. The brass was tarnished with time, but some fine sandpaper and scotch-brite pads cleaned that up, and some clear coat over that would keep it looking nice.

Some stain and urethane finish on the wood, and here is the partially assembled lighting fixture. Some more coats of finished are called for, plus adding the light sockets, assembly, and installation.

Car Seat Craziness

One of our last big crumpet-prep tasks was getting the car seat installed. As I have been telling patients and parents many times a day for the last month, car accidents are the #1 safety threat to kids of any age!

The way that most infant car seats work these days is that they come in two parts, a padded carrier and a plastic base that the carrier clips into. The base gets installed into the car, and then the carrier-with-baby can be quickly taken in and out without needing to deal with positioning and tightening each time. Like many families, we actually bought an extra base, so that we can have one in each car.

So, how complicated can it possibly be to install an infant carseat?

FAR more complicated than you would imagine. Despite (or perhaps because of) all the diagrams and instructions that come with the seat and with the car. And also because our cars are old enough so that we are using the seatbelts, not the newer, simpler LATCH system that is built into more modern models.

But one evening this past week, we took the seat and bases out into the yard, flipped over and over again through the pages of directions, and cinched everything into the cars. Here is Alex working on one of the bases:

Then, yesterday, we took both cars over to the hospital to get our installation checked by the car seat guru. It turns out that, though we'd basically done a good job with the base in Alex's car, his center seatbelt actually has a self-locking mechanism that we didn't know about that makes the installation more secure.

She also ended up moving the base in my car from the center-rear position to one of the side-rear positions. The center rear position is the safest (farthest from any impact) IF you can get a good fit there, but the center belt was not snugging the carseat properly.

We also practiced buckling and unbuckling a doll, learning the right position and tension for the harness straps. Overall, I am feeling much less nervous about the first time we put the crumpet in the carrier!

So, the moral of the story—which I will make sure to share with all of my patients—is that everyone should get their carseats checked over by a trained person! Maybe I, or someone on staff in my eventual practice, can be trained to do this, because it would be a very valuable service to offer.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Many, many WonderDogs!

The Obamas have announced that they will be looking for a family dog after the election, and a Utah animal rescue organization has started a petition to ask them to adopt a shelter dog rather than buying one from a breeder. If you are so inclined, you can sign it here. This effort is really taking off, with more than 40,000 people signing so far.

Especially this summer, with the housing crisis forcing many families to move and downsize, shelters are overflowing with great pets whose people couldn't take care of them anymore. There are dogs (and cats too!) of every shape and size and breed...from purebreds to the most delightful mutts. For the Obamas to adopt a shelter dog would not only give one of those pups a wonderful home (in the White House, I hope), but would be great publicity and encouragement for other families to do the same.

And if they are super lucky, they'll end up with a dog as wonderful as Jasper!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Game Night

H and I,after missing oh so many opportunities already this season, decided to check out a Honkers ballgame tonight. The Honkers are part of the Northwoods League, an amateur league filled mostly by college players. Most aren't from around here; they're put up by host families here in town. For $5, it's a great time.

Gas Prices

This was on a sale announcement that came to us in the mail the other day. I find it very amusing. We're hovering around $3.90 here. Thankfully, other than occasional forays up to the Cities, H and I manage to avoid driving much at all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

AA to USB - It Works!

The pretty green light says so.

Ok, caveat time: it works in the sense that it takes the power from two AA batteries (or any number of other low voltage sources) and boosts it up to a nice regulated 5 V to power a USB port. However, one reason for doing this project was so that I could have a supplemental battery for my iPhone. By that measure, this device doesn't work, yet. I can connect the iPhone to this thing, but it will not draw power from the 5 V line.

To answer the question of why that's not working, I'd have to get a bit into USB enumeration and details of the USB specifications. For the curious, this guy has a decent explanation on his blog. Wikipedia also has some info on Power in the USB spec. The short answer is this: the iPhone won't blindly draw power from a USB port. Being a good little USB-compliant device with peculiar power needs, it transmits a request to the USB host to draw power, and waits until it gets an acknowledgement. This sort of thing requires a PC, or a least some sort of microcontroller, that is able to implement the USB communications. My simple device can't do that.

That's not to say that it can't still work as a USB charger for other devices. By my reckoning, it should be equivalent to the venerable Minty Boost, which is able to provide at least some power to nearly all of the iPod lineup.

In response to this situation, many have looked to see if there is some way to trick the iPhone into charging off a "dumb" USB port anyway. And, in fact, it appears that at least some have gotten it to work through clever combinations of resistors across the communication lines of the USB connector. I might give that a try.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bathroom Milestone

It has taken a whooooooole lot longer than I anticipated from the outset, but I have at least gotten this whole bathroom project to a new milestone: the medicine cabinet is in. I got the last coats of finish on over the weekend, and put in some anchors to hold it in the wall. Hilary was kind enough to puts the screws to the hinges while I held the door up (going from three doors to one makes for one big, heavy piece of work). A magnetic clasp helps keep the thing closed. The mirror looks great, and big, too - about 24" x 32".

I still need about two inches of decorative trim around the cabinet to cover the ragged hole edge. I am also working on a replacement four-outlet light fixture to go above the cabinet (notice the bit of wire sticking out). So, things ain't done just yet, but at least things are a lot more usable.

Lightsaber Envy

Ok, NOW I want an iPhone.

Not because it now runs the Internet on the fast Edge network, or because it has GPS, or because it would collapse my phone/iPod/calendar combo into one device.

But because you can now download an application (one of the many, many free programs that became available last week, I presume), that pops up a lightsaber icon on the screen. You touch it, and the lightsaber extends out of the handle, making the classic lightsaber-igniting humming sound. Then, when you wave your phone around in the air, it makes noises like you are fighting with the blade!

It is so cool.

I am such a dork.

(But, since I am married to someone who downloaded this and then gleefully showed it to me when he got home from work today, I know I am not alone in my dorkiness.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Continuing Our Preparations...

The Von Trapp family sings...the Moose family builds!

Today, Alex was hard at work on the medicine cabinet...we're going to be attaching the door tonight.

And I assembled our new dresser, which we picked up at Ikea yesterday:

Look! Now we're a little bit ready for the crumpet!

This dresser will eventually go upstairs, in the nook with the crib (which is currently out of stock at Ikea), but we're trying to give important things a spot downstairs for the first month or so, where it's cooler and we don't have to worry about navigating the stairs in the middle of the night.

Yesterday we spent much of the day in and around Minneapolis. Ikea was a bummer because they didn't have the crib (however, we're going to have a cradle that my Grandpa built for me for the first couple months, so we can wait a bit). But then we picked up my mom, who was on an intentionally long layover at the airport, and had a very yummy lunch at the Namaste Cafe.

We also took her to visit Twin Cities Green, where we picked up a couple of things off of our registry and she was also able to order an organic mattress for the cradle. And we also retrieved a set of newborn sized gDiapers that I had arranged to buy via Craigslist...so now we have 5 of the little g pants in different colors and a bunch of the washable waterproof liners. I made up all five with the flushable liners to practice, and assembling them seems pretty straightforward. We've got some 7th Generation unbleached disposables, too, for the initial chaos. And one, single, solitary Huggie that the company sent us to entice us into buying more. That one has a little umbilical cord stump cutout.

Here I am with the orange g pants (we also have red, pink, cream, and purple):

Yes, I am rather round these days! One might say enor-moose. The crumpet will be 37 weeks tomorrow, which is full term. She may well not make her appearance for another five weeks (as 40 or even 41 weeks is the average), but the doctors would not be concerned about her development at this point. So that's a big relief. She continues to be a wonderful baby, still not waking me up in the middle of the night. We're getting quite eager to meet her, though!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Almost Overlooked Milestones

As our lack of blogging indicates, things have been a bit busy around here! My pediatrics rotation is going wonderfully, I am working with great preceptors and really enjoying all the kids. And the nice thing about fourth year rotations is that they do not end with a national exam, so when I come home at the end of the day, I don't have to keep studying. But there are plenty of other things to occupy the evenings: Alex has been hard at work on the bathroom project, Jasper needs his walk (which we all like to do together), and I keep my back healthy with some yoga every evening. There's lots of baby stuff to organize, too. And I'm a bit tired...which, I suppose, is par for the course for being almost 37 weeks pregnant.

This meant that my birthday and our wedding anniversary, which are both in early July, kind of snuck up on us. Alex, however, did not forget, and carried out my favorite birthday tradition by making me a super-yummy strawberry shortcake:

For our anniversary, we decided to take an evening and drive up to Lake City for dinner at Nosh, a restaurant that we've been wanting to try for awhile. They do a lot of local food, much of it from our farmers' market (where they kept whisking the last of the apple cider out from under Alex's nose last fall). We had a really spectacular meal! Since it was a weeknight and not too busy, we were able to sit out on the deck with a beautiful view over the water. The food and drink were fantastic. We will definitely be going back!

Here are a few photos from the evening (squinting into the sun a bit for this first one):

The view from our table:

Me, with dessert (the description started out with "rich, gooey chocolate cake"—who can resist that?):

Friday, July 11, 2008

AA to USB, part V

This is the continuation of my little project to build a device to power a USB port off a pair of AAs. Click for part I, part II, part III, and part iv.

And you had thought that, just because I hadn't breathed a word of this project in three months, that it had gone away. Ha! Just because I'm putting the bathroom back together, have had some busy times at work, done some traveling, and am awaiting my firstborn, doesn't mean I've lost interest in getting my geek on. Today's update: circuit boards.

These little suckers are the implementation of the design I had been doing on the computer. My earlier, prototype board, was made by one of my colleagues using a sort of Dremel on an x-y table, cutting away copper-clad board. These little boards were made by photo-etching. Copper clad board gets coated with a photoresist. The circuit pattern gets shone onto that resist, and the unexposed resist is washed away. Then the whole thing gets dunked in acid, which eats away any copper not covered by photoresist. There are some other steps, like drilling many little holes and plating them with metal, then covering most of the top and bottom surfaces with that green plastic.

This is, in the main, a bit outside the realm of amateurs - it is best done by a "board house." It's not all that different from, say, getting a stack of wedding invitations made up. In my case, I used a small company called BatchPCB. For a handful of really small circuit boards, this was the least expensive option I could find. This company works by gathering lots of smallish orders, from hobbyists and makers, and lays them out on computer to fill large panels, which then get sent off to a board house in China. The full-sized panels get sent back to BatchPCB, who then cuts them up into individual boards, assembles the orders, then sends them on their way. So, the turnaround time is pretty long: about 4 weeks in this case. But, I was charged only $2.50/board, since my board is about one square inch in size. Other places I know of, like Advanced Circuits, can turn out a board in 2-3 days. Usually, for their smaller orders, they charge a flat rate for a board in a given size range. My 1-sq in board would have cost as much as a 10-sq in board, some $20-60, typically with a minimum order order of several boards. That's actually a good deal for a medium or large size board, but not cost effective for tiny ones like mine. If it were on the company's dime, and a project's momentum counted on a fast turnaround, spending a few hundred for 2nd day prototype boards is no big deal. When producing thousands or millions of a circuit board, the cost is pretty small, only a dollar or two for a cellphone or ipod's. For a hobbyist, the priorities are different.

Yup, it's a pretty small piece of work - a lot is crammed in there. There's an equal amount of stuff going on underneath as well. I'm pretty pleased with the results so far. Now I just need to find some time to populate the board and see if it works!

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Busy Weekend

Why is it that 3-day weekends are so much better than ordinary weekends? Oh yes, because there's that whole extra day! H and I put this past weekend (and it's oh-so-nice extra day) to good use.

First, I got some work on the medicine cabinet done. The actual carpentry is pretty much done, at long last, so I've moved on to finishing. Friday I put on a coat of a nice stain onto the wood, which will end up being a close (but not perfect) match to the (veneer) oak of the vanity cabinet. It doesn't matter too much for it to match all that closely, since you won't actually be able to see the two kinds of wood side-by-side, there's a bit white piece of cultured marble sink in between. Still, it does provide some really nice color to the (real) oak of the medicine cabinet. Saturday I started applying polyurethane varnish. A couple coats of that and I'll actually be able to fill that gaping hole in the bathroom wall.

We hit up the farmer's market on Saturday. We picked up what may be the last good strawberries of the season. But that's OK, the raspberries will be in soon enough. Then we dashed off to pick up some more baby odds and ends. We have, until now, been laboring under the assumption that the crumpet will, if anything, be full term or a touch late. The possibility that she might show up early has only recently crept into being. So, we've decided to pick up those things that we would absolutely need in that event: car seat and diapers. There's are some other stuff, too, but we've got the basics at least.

Saturday was also the wedding of some med school friends of ours. They've been together since high school, and have finally tied the knot. They also put on an awesome party.

Unfortunately, Hilary and I had to sheepishly slip into the back of the church a few minutes into the ceremony. It wasn't really our fault. We went to what all signs called the "Church Main Entrance" at 2:02, only to find it locked and hear "Here Comes the Bride" playing on the organ. Who locks the main door of a church for a wedding, even if it is two minutes late? Even more pressing, what wedding actually starts on time? We kept wandering around the church, peering through doors, and every time, it seemed that the whole congregated mass was looking right at us. We did eventually make our way to the back of the church by sneaking through the attached school, and found a few other stragglers.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ain't No River Wide Enough

Jasper prefers for his little pack of people to remain together. But tonight, in the middle of our walk, Alex and I briefly split up. We were taking a long walk (all the way to our favorite coffee shop, for those of you who have visited us), so Jasper and I continued onto the trail next to the river, while Alex veered off to cross the creek on the bike path so as to reach the nearest trash can. Jasper quickly figured out that something a little strange had occurred, and he was keeping a close eye on Alex's progress on the other side of the creek. I could divert his attention for a moment by playing with him, but he was too distracted by Alex's absence to be fully engaged with me.

Suddenly, he decided that this separation simply would not do. He took off down the embankment, waded across the mouth of the creek, and threaded his way up the opposite bank, arriving, tail wagging madly, in front of Alex just as Alex got to the trash can and turned around to head back and meet us. Once he got a treat and felt reassured that all was right with the world, he responded to my call by doing the whole mad dash in reverse to get back to me.

What a loyal puppy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


We are slowly getting ready for the crumpet's arrival! It's just over a month until her due date, though only she knows when she will decide to make an appearance.

Getting the glider was a huge step forward, and Alex and I were so excited to find a used one that is a much nicer pattern (a light green) than any of the new ones that I have seen, thanks to some sewing work by the previous owner. The crumpet and I will spend a lot of time here after she's born, and it's lovely to have such a comfy setup. This is a big, wonderful baby present from Art and Denny:

Yes, I am large! The weekly email that I get updating me on the baby's size has moved on to varieties of melons (honeydew this week).

And Beth found us a wonderful used swing:

It has a really adorable jungle pattern:

This (long) weekend, we will be picking up a few things that we'll absolutely need if the crumpet surprises us with an early arrival...a car seat, diapers, wipes, and other little things like that. I may also wash the onesies and receiving blankets that we've gotten as gifts so that they are ready to go as well!