Appreciating Cheap Tech Toys

Picked up this desktop fan from Target for $5 this week. Five dollars.

Seriously, how can such incredible devices be available for just five dollars? Just a decade or two ago something like this would have been either impossible or unimaginably expensive.

Truly we live in an amazing time.

Epic Commute: Tim’s November 22, 2010 Snow Trek

Exactly one year ago today, on November 22nd, 2010, Seattle was hit by a relatively major (for the Seattle area) winter storm. Here are a few headlines from the day before, the day of, and the day after:

This is my story of that day.

Since it was snowing lightly throughout the day, I kept a fairly close eye on the traffic situation online, doing my part to contribute to the above-mentioned record web visits to WSDOT’s traffic website. Things were getting a bit hairy-looking as the day wound down, with I-5 north showing as stop-and-go, but the express lanes (which my bus usually took on the route home) still looking okay. At 4:30 PM, I decided to leave work.

I headed down to the bus stop at 6th and Union. A couple buses came by, but they were both completely packed to the gills. I started walking up the line to try to get on a bus earlier so as to maybe get a seat.

At 5:11 PM, I finally got on a bus at 3rd and Madison.

At 6:00 PM, the bus had traveled a grand total of three quarters of a mile. Speed on the bus: 0.9mph. Average human walking speed: 3.1mph. I got off the bus at 7th and Olive to try my luck on foot, since a quick calculation showed that with a little over 12 miles to go, at the speed we had been traveling at so far it would take over 13 hours to get home on the bus, versus just 4 hours on foot. While on the bus, I learned that the reason the express lanes looked okay online was that they were open to southbound traffic instead of northbound traffic like they are during every other evening commute. See the story above about that colossal fiasco.

After a quick stop at REI to buy a hat, I headed off at about 6:15 PM. When I got to the I-5 off ramp that my bus would usually take, there were no cars coming off the freeway. None. I later learned that this was because the freeway was completely blocked just south of the off ramp. I don’t know when it was eventually cleared.

I covered 8 miles in two hours to a friend’s house in Lake City, where I stopped for a 45-minute break to get some tea and dry socks.

At 9:00 PM, I headed out to take the four and a half mile walk the rest of the way home.

The whole time I was walking along Bothell / Lake City Way (SR-522), I saw so few cars drive by that I could count them all on two hands. I finally arrived home at 10:25 PM, just over four hours after getting off the bus. Who knows how long it would have taken me had I stayed on that bus.

The next few days I was pretty sore.

View 11/22 Commute Home in a larger map.

“He was playing music… while I… did stuff.”

I’d like to take a brief moment to share one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite television shows of all time, Malcolm in the Middle.

Thanks to the idiotic complexity of music licensing, only Season 1 of Malcolm in the Middle ever made it to DVD. If Fox released the rest of the series I’d buy it today, but instead they seem to prefer that their fans pirate the show online. Whatever.

How (and Why) to Dye a Barrel of Monkeys

You are no doubt familiar with the classic children’s game Barrel of Monkeys. Here’s how the directions on the bottom of the can describe the gameplay:

Drop monkeys onto table. Pick up one monkey by an arm. Hook other arm through a second monkey’s arm. Continue making a chain. Your turn is over when a monkey is dropped.

FOR ONE PLAYER: Time yourself for picking up all 12 and try to beat your best time.

FOR TWO OR MORE: Each monkey left on chain is 1 point. First player to get 12 points wins.

Those instructions “for two or more” aren’t the most exciting game for an adult, especially when you know the simple trick (always pick up the monkeys by their right arm, using their left arm to pick up the next monkey). However, recently one of my friends (I forget who—sorry!) had a cool idea to make Barrel of Monkeys into a better multi-player game for grown-ups:

  1. Get multiple Barrels of Monkeys in different colors, one color for each player.
  2. Pour all the monkeys out on a table, mixing together all the colors.
  3. Everyone tries to pick up their own monkeys at the same time.
  4. Whoever successfully picks up all their monkeys first is the winner.

The only catch is that you can only buy Barrel of Monkeys in three colors today: Red, Green, and Blue. This limits the game to only three players… or does it?

I decided to see if I could make a new color of Barrel of Monkeys using Rit fabric dye to darken the color of one of the three existing colors. Here’s the process I used.

Dying a Barrel of Monkeys

Since I knew I was going to have to use a pretty big pot if I wanted to dye the barrel itself, I decided to use two packets of black Rit. I added hot tap water to my pot, then put it on the stove to keep it hot.

Dying a Barrel of Monkeys

Once the water was almost to boiling, I added both packets of Rit, the monkeys, and their barrel.

Dying a Barrel of Monkeys

Most tutorials on the internet that talk about dying plastics with Rit say to leave it in for 20-30 minutes, but the plastic that Barrel of Monkeys is made out of is especially resistant to being colored, so I left it in there for an hour, stirring frequently.

Dying a Barrel of Monkeys

After an hour, I took them out, rinsed them off, and let them dry. You can see the result above. On the left is what the monkeys looked like before dying, and on the right is after.

I didn’t think it was working at all during the 1-hour dying process, since the dye solution was jet black and the pieces still looked pretty blue, but as you can see, the monkeys definitely turned into a much darker shade of blue—sort of a teal color.

I deem this experiment a success. I now have four distinct colors of monkeys, allowing me to play four-player rapid-monkey-grab. I may even give it a shot with green and red as well to see if I can get some pleasantly-darker shades of those colors, too. Then we could have six-player monkey mayhem!

I Got a Keen New Camera

Got a keen new camera yesterday from Woot for $150. It’s a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6, which is a compact point-n-shoot 12MP camera.

It’s coolest feature is the massive zoom that they crammed into such a small package. Allow me to demonstrate.

Here’s a photo of our church’s lawn zoomed all the way out:

Dandelions at 1x Zoom

Now here’s that same scene zoomed all the way in to that dandelion in the center:

Dandelions at 16x Zoom