February 27, 2008
5 years = A laptop's lifetime

Just over five years ago, we bought a new laptop.

Today, Mira was sitting in the living room and booted it up. She said, "Dad, the screens messed up."

Yup, the screen is messed up. The LCD screen is cracked and there's no reasonable fix for this.

Five years is a long time for a laptop. I covered it with stickers and took it many places. The touchpad buttons broke 20 days after the warranty expired and the battery only lasts 30 minutes these days. But, even after five years, it still was good for surfing the net or watching a DVD in the house.

What to do next? MacBook Air with Vista on it? ;)

Posted by michael at 08:56 PM | Comments (12)
How to prepare for SxSW

SxSW starts March 7th in Austin. This is my SIXTH year and these are my helpful tips for the novice. I had a great time last year.

Introduce Yourself - People are at SXSW because they want to meet people and see new things. Strangely, many of the blogger types that go are introverted types that are a bit shy. Do yourself a favor and say "Hello, I'm So-and-so" to that person you are sitting next to. (Don't say So-and-so, use your name...) I guarantee that they will be happy to talk to you.

ABC - Always Be Charging - If you bring a laptop, you need to be charging it every single chance you get. No battery lasts long enough. Try to sit near an outlet in the session rooms. Share power outlets with others.

Kick - Kick is back! Saturday morning is a large kickball game. Good fun and you will have a chance to meet all kinds of new people.

Personal cards - Make up business cards with your name, email, and website info on them to hand out. Bring your regular business cards if you want, but what people really want is a card that ties you to your online persona so they can find you after SxSW.

Session Info - When you arrive on Friday go to the Convention Center and pick up your badge. They will give you a large canvas bag of swag. You don't want to haul this around, so you need to figure a way to drop this off at your hotel before a long night of partying. In the bag are two crucial items. First is the program which has detailed session descriptions. Second is a small pocket card with the session schedule on it. You want these to be in your daily walk around bag, not in your hotel room.

Shiner Bock - Shiner Bock is a local Texas beer that you find everywhere. Often referred to as simply 'Shiner'.

Fray Cafe - Go to the Fray Cafe on Sunday night. Fray is people telling truthful stories about their life. It's one of the best things about SxSW. Baratunde is the new host and is generally hilarious. Get there early for a good seat, otherwise you will be standing for the whole thing.

Stay Warm - It can get cold and rain in Austin this time of year. Bring a good jacket or coat just in case.

Sharpeners - There are no pencil sharpeners at SXSW. People think writing on a pad of paper with a wooden pencil is a bit strange.

The Backchannel - Be aware that there is a backchannel of real-time IRC discussion going on. Probably on irc.freenode.net, probably on #sxsw. The trick is to not make the backchannel into the front channel for you. It can distract you from listening to the speaker/session that you paid to see...

Twitter - Be in the Twitter loop with your new friends. You'll always know where the party is that way...

Secure connections - Wifi traffic is in the clear and people are sniffing packets all the time. Arrange for secure email, FTP, and if possible, secure browsing while at SXSW. It's unlikely that a malicious hacker is gunna do bad things, but it's best to be prepared.

Street Signs - For some reason, downtown Austin has few street signs. Get a map and study it before venturing out.

Food - Eat food. Austin has a great bar scene. You will be drinking. Don't drink on an empty stomach. It also would be a good idea to keep a couple energy bars in your bag during sessions.

Texas BBQ - IMHO, Texas BBQ pales in comparison to BBQ in other areas like Kansas City and Carolina. That chopped beef sandwich stuff just doesn't cut it, but people will want to eat it for lunch. That said, Stubbs makes a great brisket.

Say Hello to Me - I would love to meet Loyal Cruft Readers. There doesn't appear to be Break Bread with Brad this year, but I will be bringing a few cigars to share with people. Email me or IM at pusateri AT gmail.com and I promise to respond.

Any questions?

Posted by michael at 03:52 PM | Comments (3)
February 26, 2008
Advertising this site

I read about The Million Zimbabwean Dollar Homepage on Boing Boing today. It's a slightly different take on the original Million Dollar Homepage.

At those prices, I decided to do a little advertising. I think I spent $3.24 for 8100 pixels.

So if you go to The Million Zimbabwean Dollar Homepage you'll see my ad on the left side. It will be interesting to track the stats of how many people arrive this way.

Get your now, the pixels are going fast!

Posted by michael at 09:04 PM | Comments (1)
February 23, 2008
Thirty-five energy drinks reviewed

My brother Matt is slowing reviving his weblog, check out his latest bit on 35 energy drinks reviewed.

Personally, I can't stand that taste of any of them, but Matt drinks them like water...

Posted by michael at 08:32 AM | Comments (1)
February 20, 2008
Adventures of a Tree

My nine year old daughter drew this short cartoon:

Posted by michael at 07:14 AM | Comments (4)
February 18, 2008
Making gunpowder

A few months ago, I made corned beef from scratch. Part of that process involved me using saltpeter (potassium nitrate) to preserve the beef. Of course, I knew that saltpeter is a key ingredient in gunpowder. As I learned from the Gorn episode of Star Trek, all you need to do is mix, carbon, sulfur, and saltpeter, and you have gunpowder.

I had some time this weekend, so it was time to make gunpowder.

Obviously, making gunpowder is inherently dangerous, so I was carefully in my preparation and protection.

Carbon is readily available as charcoal. Sulfur is easily found at the gardening store. Saltpeter is a little tougher to find. I'm not saying it's hard, but it's not something you can find at any local store. I had mine leftover from making corned beef.

The sulfur came as small pellets, meant for spreading in your garden.

After about 5 minutes of grinding, the sulfur was as powdery as I was going to get it by hand.

The charcoal briquettes were a bit tougher to crush. I had to apply some real force to get these into grinding size. This made a bit of a mess.

But in the end, I had the charcoal ground into a powder as well.

The saltpeter was already ground fine for food usage. The exact recipe for gunpowder varies from purpose to purpose. My recipe was:

  • 1 part carbon
  • 1 part sulfur
  • 4 parts saltpeter

As I researched this, it was interesting to learn that saltpeter is the oxidizer for the reaction, meaning that gunpowder does not need air to burn. That means you can fire a gun in outer space! The molecules of saltpeter contain plenty of their own oxygen atoms.

To grind the components together, I wore gloves, long sleeve shirt, face and eye protection. I sure many people have been hurt making gunpowder. I can't imagine what it took to make it hundreds of years ago.

After grinding for a bit, the gunpowder took on it's characteristic grey appearance. Things were looking good so far.

For the initial test, I built a small test pan out of aluminum foil. I had also picked up green fuse to give me plenty of time to get to a safe distance.

Here is a video that shows what happened with my various tests.

Sure enough, my gunpowder worked.

In the Mini Rocket test, I used an old mini rocket that normally used an insertable motor. I filled it with gunpowder and attached a fuse. As you saw, it went nowhere, but did burn nicely.

I really wanted the gunpowder to work as a propellant, so I made rocket out of a old prescription (Rx) bottle. I placed that on the launcher and again, it went nowhere. You can hear the satisfying whoosh of the exhaust, but it just went nowhere.

The flames burned out the bottom of the bottle.

For the last attempt, I put all the remaining gunpowder into a second Rx Rocket and hoped for the best. As you saw, it made a satisfying whoosh and lots of smoke, but went nowhere. The lauching pad was completely destroyed.

I really need a nozzle to focus the exhaust. ;)

In one aspect, the experiment was a success. I did make gunpowder from scratch. This was not hard, but it would be hard to make it in large quantities. However, my attempts to use the gunpowder to launch a rocket, as is often seen in fireworks, was a failure. The combination of lacking a proper rocket body and a proper nozzle to direct the exhaust proved to be a serious flaw. I could simply get a bunch of model rocketry gear, but what's the fun in that? It's much more fun to try to launch plastic prescription bottles.

The biggest mistake I made ws using my wife's mortar and pestle to make gunpowder. She was upset and now refuses to allow the mortar and pestle back into the kitchen. They are now sitting on my workbench in the garage. I have to buy a new mortar and pestle. In the future, I must avoid angering the wife.

Warning: I won't tell you not to try this at home. If you are not an adult, do NOT even think about trying this. If you do duplicate this, please be careful. Gunpowder is dangerous stuff and you need to be very careful to avoid getting hurt. Wear protective clothing and eyewear at all times. And don't use your wife's kitchen gear in your experiment.

Posted by michael at 04:52 PM
February 17, 2008
Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper

A few weeks ago I saw an ad for Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper on television. I had even seen the Cherry Chocolate Rain song by Tay Zonday on Youtube.

It took me a bit to find it, but I did. Quite an assortment of flavors we find here.

The soda itself really does have a red tinge to the normally caramel colored liquid. The smell was slightly sweet, with strong hints of cherry.

I could distinctly taste the cherry and chocolate flavors. Seemed to me that there was a bit of vanilla too. The Dr Pepper taste was in the background and subtle. The aftertaste is exactly that of a spoonful of Cherry Garcia from Ben & Jerry's.

It's quite a niche flavor. I can't see drinking this day after day, but it would be good on occasion or as the base of some sort of mixed drink or shot.

Posted by michael at 11:51 PM | Comments (1)
How to NOT unboil an egg

On a daily basis, I read kottke.org and last week saw Jason's note on How to unboil an egg, which links to this article in which Hervé This explains that you can unboil an egg.

The science makes sense. The proteins in an egg bind up with each other as heat is applied, this is called denaturation. To break these bonds, you should be able to reverse the denaturation of the proteins, restoring them to a simpler state. The article recommends sodium borohydride, but says that Vitamin C (also know as ascorbic acid) will work.

I decided to give unboiling an egg a try.

First, I boiled an egg using the highly calibrated egg timer my wife supplied me with.

Next I ground up 10 tablets of Vitamin C with my mortar and pestle. Each being a 1,000 milligrams, adding up to 10 grams of Vitamin C.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is soluble in water, so I mixed the powder into 1 cup of hot water. I stirred the solution for several minutes until all that I could dissolve was dissolved.

I place the hard boiled egg with the Vitamin C solution into a tall POM glass. (Update: For clarity, I did shell the egg before putting it inside the glass.)

I set the glass on a plate in the dining room and prepared to wait. I was expecting great things. I even set up a timelapse camera to record the experiment. I let the experiment set for 11 hours (7PM to 6AM).

Rather than write what I saw, it's simpler to just show you...

Yep, nothing happened.

The egg was whole and appeared completely unaffected. The texture of the egg outside felt normal and in no way 'unboiled'.

While I am a professional engineer, I am a amateur scientist.

There are several reasons this process might not have unboiled the egg.

  • 10 grams is not enough ascorbic acid to make a solution powerful enough to denature the protein binds
  • The vitamin tablets include buffering agents that reduce the acidity (so it doesn't hurt your tummy...)
  • The process should have lasted longer than 11 hours
  • I should have used sodium borohydride, not ascorbic acid
  • You can't unboil an egg

In any case, I gave it a try. What are your thoughts?

Posted by michael at 10:08 AM | Comments (5)
February 11, 2008
The Colossal Remote

Last weekend I was in walgreens to pick something up when I spotted the Colossal Universal Remote Control.

The remote is 11" by 5". Compared to a standard Tivo remote, it's positively colossal!

Obviously, I had to have this. Even my daughters would have a tough time misplacing this. I bought it and took it home. I put in two AA batteries and entered the standard Sony universal remote code and wham, it was controlling our Sony TV.

However, all it could do was turn the TV on/off, change channel, and work the volume. When I tried to change the video input, the menu would come up, but there was no way to select a new input.

There are three buttons on the top of the remote for TV, VCR, DVD. They can be programmed to any code and are not tied to one function. I looked for the code for my Oppo upconverting DVD player, but saw nothing. Scouring the web was fruitless as well.

I was a bit disappointed that it couldn't do much more than the TV. On a whim I googled looking for a Tivo code. Sure enough, Brookstone sells a rebadged Colossal remote (actually made by Innovage) and in the user's manual is a code for a Tivo (111).

Amazingly, it worked and the Colossal Remote was running the Tivo. I can pause, rewind, fast forward easily. The record button even works. The channel up/down works, as does the numeric keypad. But without a guide button or directional buttons, you are very limited in using your Tivo.

The girls think the remote is neat, but I want my $10 back.

Posted by michael at 09:28 PM | Comments (2)
February 07, 2008
Snickers Charged

This morning, I stopped by the 7-Eleven for coffee with Michele and saw something new.

Yes, it's a Snickers bar with caffiene and taurine. Of course I picked a couple up for Cruft Labs.

Previously, I've discussed Buzz Bites, but Snickers is a mainstream brand. Mars Company is seriously testing the waters here with caffeinated food.

I love the icon of a charging rhino on the package!

Included with the Snickers bar are the following stimulants:

60 mg caffiene - equivalent to to a can of Mountain Dew
250 mg taurine - 1/4 of the taurine in a can of Red Bull
0.2 mg vitamin B6 - 10% of the RDA
0.6 μg vitamin B12 - 10% of the RDA

I was hoping for something cool on the outside of the Snickers, like a rhino or something, but it just looked like a Snickers bar.

The inside of the Snickers Charged looks pretty much exactly like a regular Snickers bar. Some kind of color or sparkle would have been neat. The Shrek version was at least green...

It tasted exactly like a Snickers. I couldn't detect any of the metallic caffeine taste that I've sometime found in other caffeinated foods. If I didn't know, I would have thought it was just a plain Snickers bar.

The idea is interesting at least. With the candy costing less than a buck, it's a cheaper caffeine fix than coffee, soda, or an energy drink. In the afternoon, the caffeine might actually ward of the sugar crash of the 25 grams of sugar you just ate.

Posted by michael at 08:53 PM | Comments (9)
February 06, 2008
Kimmel vs. Damon

Jimmy Kimmel vs. Matt Damon

Watch these in order: First, Second, Third, Fourth

(via MeFi)

Posted by michael at 09:04 PM | Comments (2)
February 03, 2008
Good movies

I'm not a huge TV watcher. I barely keep up with one television show at a time. But I do love a good movie, especially the classics.

Turner Classic Movies is airing 31 Days of Oscar this month. 5 classic movies a day with no commercial interruptions. It's a Tivo owner's dream.

Here's an example of two days:

February 20th: Some Like it Hot, Stalag 17, The Caine Mutiny, The Buccaneer, On the Waterfront
February 29th: The Day of the Jackal, Three Days of the Condor, Marathon Man, The Boys from Brazil, Kotch

All without commercials...

Posted by michael at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)