Saturday, January 28, 2012


I sent a package to the clothing company Patagonia the other day (returning an item that was too big, no worries). Their returns department is actually in Reno, it Parcel Post was good enough. I decided at the last moment to get delivery confirmation, which gives me a tracking number for reference. Usually you would fill this out before getting in line, complete with the address you are sending to, etc. The clerk was in a hurry, and so just scribbled something down from the address on the package:


I looked at this, kinda puzzled for a bit, before working it out. He thought it was being addressed to Pat A. Gonic in Reno, NV. Goodness only knows how he got that from the clearly printed upper case PATAGONIA.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Baby Doctor

B is very interested in this whole "being a doctor" thing.

The other day she told me that she was going to be a doctor so that she could come to work with me, which was very sweet.

Then I asked her about being an engineer like her father, and she said yes, she was going to be a doctor-engineer!

I explained that most doctor-engineers were not the same sort of doctor that I am, but that she could be whatever kind of doctor she wanted. She insisted that she was going to be MY kind of doctor.

We do need more primary care doctors, that's for sure, so I won't try to talk her out of it.

Here's B playing with Dickie and my old doctor's kit. I think he's taking her blood pressure. 

She's been spending a lot of time giving her dolls and stuffed animals various sorts of medicine and tending to them. In fact, when I asked her what she did at daycare today, she told me that she played "cold baby." I was a little concerned that this involved ice fishing or hypothermia, but no, this involves pretending that one of the children is a baby and has a cold, and then taking care of them. Whew.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

With a hint of iron and nickel...

Oenophiles, rejoice! If you've found your current palette to be a little cramped, expand your horizons by escaping the bounds of what Earth alone has to offer. Yes, you too can now enjoy a wine that has been aged in a cask containing a meteorite!

The slight infusion of out-of-this-world minerals should definitely be refreshing, but only if you remember to swirl it in the right direction. And to think that all this time I've been doing it wrong!

But whatever will I pair it with?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TwinklePic: Orion

A good friend of ours was celebrating her son's 1-year birthday over the weekend. I decided that what the young'in needed was his very own twinkling nightlight. As it happened, I have a box of spare parts left over from Brynna's nightlight, so the day before the party I spent some quality time with a soldering iron and assembled another one.

This go-round I opted for the constellation Orion. I even gave it a slight twist by using a red LED for Betelgeuse, the left shoulder, which is a large red supergiant star.

I even took the time to cut out recesses in the backing for the circuit board (which itself got mounted to the black acrylic with the LEDs) and for the battery pack. The device can also be run off USB power, like Brynna's is right now. But having battery power meant that I could show it off (just a little) at the party by flicking the switch and standing it like the picture frame it is.

One or two people at the party asked where she could get one. I have considered making them for sale, but the stark reality is that I probably couldn't sell them at a reasonable price ($25?) and make any money doing it. The trusty back-of-the-envelope tells me I'd need to scale up to at least 100 units for the economies of scale to approach breakeven on the parts cost (circuit board, LEDs, microcontroller, connectors, discretes, and soldering), but that doesn't even figure into the cost of my time to assemble each one, which at the moment is still considerable. If I were making a whole lot, I could really streamline things to reduce the labor. Even so, I don't think there's a large market for a $50 nightlight, even for one as cool as this.

Besides, there's something to be said for giving away a one-of-a-kind gift.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Phone Repairs

We spent New Year's weekend with our very good friend Sara. Among the fun and relaxing things we did, she requested I bend my phone repair skills to her handset. It's not an iPhone, but rather a fairly normal-looking handset with a landscape-slider keyboard for texting. Alas, just a few weeks after getting it, it had a terrible run-in with the floor and ended up with a cracked screen. Thankfully, it is not nearly as pricey or dear as an iPhone, so she she was able to score a non-functional one off eBay for about $10. The only hitch was doing the screen transplant. Luckily I always travel with my fine tools! (not actually - she gave me advance notice.)

Despite the a couple of experiences, I wouldn't claim to be an expert at phone repair. Most phones, in fact, aren't meant to even be opened, let alone successfully repaired, once they leave the factory. But my training as an engineer, familiarity with electronics in general, and some experience with opening phones gives me just enough confidence to have a go. I void warranties with pride.

Although some internet searching yielded an extensive service manual for diagnosing electrical problems with oscilloscopes and logic analyzers, I could not actually find any teardown guide for this model phone online. So I took a deep breath and just winged it:

L to R: the slider screen, keyboard, logic board, back shell

Thankfully, it was only about five steps, ten screws, and maybe thirty minutes to liberate the sliding screen from the rest of the phone. Doing the same to the other phone took about 15, and reassembling both not much longer. By the time I was finished it was time for (yet another) fine dinner.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Late Thanksgiving Trip Report

Lots of working=not much blogging recently, so we have quite a few stories and photos to share!

Back in November, we had a lovely trip to Rochester for Thanksgiving.

Our new iPad made the long drive much, much easier for Brynna--she loves toggling back and forth amongst games, movies, and music.

And once we arrived, the long drive was totally worth it, as we had a lovely relaxing few days. There was much lolling about, catching up with Art and Denny and Kate and Christopher. The renovation to Alex's folks' place (all new kitchen, new powder room, redone main bath) look amazing! I read a lot of books:

And we, of course, had a lot of delicious food. Not just Thanksgiving dinner itself, which was groan-inducing, but also these special Red Velvet cupcakes:

Brynna got to do some of her (and her father's) favorite Rochester things, including a visit to the Museum of Play and the Rochester Museum and Science Center.

Alex and Kate and I did some awesome, muddy trail running together. Somehow, Alex and I managed to get out running nearly every day we were there, which is more dense training than we've managed in months!

Kate and I dared to take Brynna to the Nutcracker. A late (8:00 pm) performance where good behavior is essential - it was touch-and-go there for a little bit, but generally she enjoyed herself, and behaved well. Here we are in front of the stage afterward (yeah, my iPhone is too old to have a flash):

And then, sadly, we eventually had to trek back to New Hampshire. I looked in the backseat and saw the beginning of a very happy trend: Brynna's nose in a book.
But she still loves her iPad.