We have had a couple of days of freezing rain here in south Louisiana, which is bad enough weather as far as the local population is concerned that the area’s schools cancelled classes yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday). (With the host of private schools in Lafayette, there is a great deal of transporting of children at eight in the morning and again at three.) The same storm front that closed airports in Texas and Oklahoma has mostly confined itself to cold rain and some ice-covered shrubbery first thing in the morning, but that may change tonight with predictions of temperatures in the twenties.
That’s bad enough that I worried a bit about our external faucets and, glimpsing a commercial cover at a friend’s house, I decided to build my own re-usable covers out of some styrofoam and the remaining piece of a yard sign that had previously been used to build a new insert for my fieldwork gear bag:
I am tempted to embed the video of this thing in action, but it really is worth [a trip to the site] to get a look not only at the device but a behind the scenes look at the making of the film.
> This is a 2000-year-old analog computing device reconstructed out of Lego. It predicts solar and lunar eclipses, accurate to within two hours — all using plastic gears. Andy Carol, its designer, builds mechanical computers out of Lego as a hobby. He made this device basically because Adam Rutherford, an editor and producer at Nature, dared him to. When Adam heard that Andy had actually built the device, he called me and said, “Well, clearly we have to make some sort of film about this thing now.”
NerdKits has a great page up on how they made a robotic xylophone, which both demonstrates the power of old-fashioned solenoids and how to make them at home. I have a lot of videos embedded of late, and so I am linking directly to the NerdKit page.
This article at The Economist profiles two guys in New York who acquired funding to take their prototype of an iPhone stand/camera mount to manufacturing. But the real story, and the links worth pursuing, is the number of shops that now will execute prototypes for an incredibly low fee. One commenter even notes that he now just pays for the objects he wants to be prototyped instead of seeking out an item already being manufactured. The cost is slightly higher, but he gets what he wants.
The good folks at Tor have put together a list of “books, manuals, catalogs, etc. [that] are hard to find, but if you are willing to do a little extra work, there are a whole host of amazing DIY and makers texts out there not available in your corner bookstore. Some of these are catalogs; some are just obscure. All are intriguing and heartily recommended by our contributors.” Here’s the link.
The New York Times has a nice review of Clay Shirky’s book _Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Here’s an excerpt:
The time we might free up by ditching TV is Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” — an ocean of hours that society could contribute to endeavors far more useful and fun than television. With the help of a researcher at I.B.M., Shirky calculated the total amount of time that people have spent creating one such project, Wikipedia. The collectively edited online encyclopedia is the product of about 100 million hours of human thought, Shirky found. In other words, in the time we spend watching TV, we could create 2,000 Wikipedia-size projects — and that’s just in America, and in just one year.
Using the Arduino board, a Dutch group has built themselves a cardboard track, a remote-controlled car — with a video camera, and used an old arcade game as a controller to recreate the PlayStation game “Wipeout” in the real world. At one point during the interview, one of the creators remarks that a lot of people have a hard time connecting what they see on the controller monitor and what is happening on the track. Are we so used to thing happening on television having no connection to reality? It would be an interesting thought experiment for a humanities class.
Here’s the link to the project’s Vimeo page, which should work for non-Flash devices. (I believe Vimeo offers HTML5 support.) And here’s the embedded player version:
A recent [post on Slashdot][post] asked the community what they would recommend for someone with only the most basic understanding of electronics who wanted to teach themselves the basics. There were two recommendations that looked interesting: [Getting Started with Electronics][mimms] and [The Art of Electronics][aoe]. Both are books available for purchase. But surely there are on-line, and free, resources as well? E-mail suggestions are welcome. (I’ve got big plans for Lily and a soldering gun at some point in her childhood.)
Ah, the dreams of going off-grid! More importantly, the ability to re-charge in the field when you’ve forgotten to charge fully before leaving home. AA batteries power my small camera and my field recorder, but my cell phone has a built-in battery.
There are a number of solar-powered chargers out there, and some are reasonably priced. There is, however, something incalculably alluring about finding one of those cheap lawn lighting kits, for say $10, and making your own solar charger. More importantly, it would be nice to begin to do such things with my daughter, so that she has a since of *making* things for herself.
Here’s the simplest DIY version I have been able to find: [[Metacafe video]](http://www.metacafe.com/watch/800000/solar_powered_usb_charger_cheap_and_easy_to_make/).
This end of the year project was inspired by our aging cat who does not like to have his food next to the other cats, who tend to plunder it — because they are pigs and he is more of a snacker, and so his food dish is on the counter above the washing machine and dryer. The counter is higher than average, 43 inches instead of 36″. We’ve taken to keeping a chair there, but it’s in the way, and, well, chairs don’t belong in front of counters. The bench could also be handy for the rest of use to reach in the upper recesses of kitchen cabinets and for Lily, who likes benches and stools of all kinds.
My apologies for the Flash viewer, but I’m using [Scribd](http://scribd.com/) for now, and I have to admit that its service offers a lot of useful features. For more of my content on Scribd, see my [home page there](http://www.scribd.com/johnlaudun) or the list on my [portfolio](http://johnlaudun.com/portfolio/) page.
With the Christmas holidays here and a little bit of time on my hands, I am feeling in the design mood/mode. With the bathroom repair behind me, I am also in the building mood. I don’t know that an overhaul of the JLX site’s CSS would typically fall under *build* but it’s too wet to put my furniture-building plans into effect.
There are several articles discussing CSS3 that are prompting this:
* [24ways](http://24ways.org/) has an article on [making your mockup in mark-up](http://24ways.org/2009/make-your-mockup-in-markup) that repeatedly cites the convenience of CSS3’s ability to use gradients, create highlights and shadows, and to specify fonts as a reason to “design in your browser.” (Much of this is in reference to an overwhelming number of web designers doing their mockup in Photoshop.)
* The author of the “Make Your Mockup in Mark-Up” is [Megan Fisher](http://owltastic.com/) who has a nice site of her own which takes advantage of a number of CSS3’s abilities.
* A lot of designer’s now subscribe to the cult of grids. [Slammer](http://ringce.com/slammer) is a gridding tool that you deploy as an overlay on your Mac — and so it isn’t built into your CSS the way some of the gridding systems are. The interesting thing about Slammer is that it offers you the chance to choose different gridding/design systems: Golden Ratio, Fibonacci, Rule of Thirds, etc.
* One of the cool new things about CSS3 is it’s ability to create alpha effects with color, using the new `rgba` property. It uses the following scheme: `color: rgba(0-255, 0-255, 0-255, 0-1);`.
* Tim Brown has a terrific write-up on how to use [`@font-face`](http://nicewebtype.com/notes/2009/10/30/how-to-use-css-font-face/). He also has a great list of [web design basics](http://nicewebtype.com/notes/getting-started/) that are worth reading either when getting started or reviewing when you feel the need to revisit the basics.