The Smallest, Easiest Life Hack is the Best Life Hack

I’m a sucker for lifehacks that save time and effort, and I consider this one of the easiest to implement.

When I use the microwave, I prioritize my button presses based on

  • Number of Buttons Pressed
  • Number of Different buttons pressed

An example:
My microwave has an “Add 30 Seconds” button, regular numbers, and requires you to hit start before cooking.
I often want to cook food in multiples of 30 seconds.
Here’s a breakdown of some options from worst to best:

30 Seconds:

Add 30 Seconds, Start
3, 3, Start
3, 0, Start

1 Minute:

Add 30 Seconds, Add 30 Seconds, Start
5, 5, Start
6, 0, Start

1 Minute 30 Seconds:

8, 8, Start
Add 30 Seconds, Add 30 Seconds, Add 30 Seconds, Start
1, 3, 0, Start

Ultimately this saves me no time at all during the day. What does happen is I use math to figure out what to press, which is better than it was before.
I know that 88 seconds is not the same as 90 seconds, but it’s close enough for me.

Refinishing a Dresser

My wife had a dresser that belonged to her grandmother before she passed away. It had been in her room since before high school and was quite the worse for wear. When we found out we were having a child, we decided to fix it up and I decided to try my hand at a little refinishing.

Bolstered by my successes in building a changing table (what a difference learning how to paint on YouTube can make), I decided to paint it in a similar color scheme to the one we had for the nursery. Here’s how it looked before we began:

IMG_20130105_144547 IMG_20130105_144616 IMG_20130105_144610 IMG_20130105_144558 IMG_20130105_144553

I used my Black and Decker Mouse sander with 120 grit paper to take the initial varnish off as well as even out some of the lighter scratches. YouTube taught me that if you sand against the gran, more wood comes off, and with the grain produces a smoother finish. Also, I found that more pressure, while getting you faster results, produces more lines, gouges, and roughness, which may not be what you’re looking for. Also, varnish is a pain because it gums up your sandpaper. Buy lots of the stuff, it’s amazing how much faster fresh paper goes through work than an old, bad sheet.

The deep scratches, gouges, delaminations, and holes I patched using Elmer’s Wood Filler. I was painting the end result, so I didn’t care about the color. I found that a technique of squeezing the putty into the hole, pressing it flat with the putty knife to really get it in there, then scraping it off like wall spackle worked well in many cases for small holes. For larger gouges, I opted to leave a slight rise in the putty, then sanded it flat after it was dried solid. The end result was excellent.

After the filling, sanding, and prepping, this was the result:

IMG_20130105_160900 IMG_20130105_160943 IMG_20130105_160919

Painting was done with Benjamin Moore Latex indoor paint from Home Depot and a foam brush. I understand the importance of a good bristle brush, but I’m not there yet. I could imagine how good you could get with one of those, but I’m currently to the point of “put paint on the furniture, not on your hands and clothes.” One sweatshirt, one pairs of pants, and one painted wedding ring later, and I think I was actually doing well by the end. Things I’ve learned: slow painting = more paint on the surface, your first dip doesn’t have enough paint on it yet, so don’t do detail work till your brush is well-loaded, paint toward the edges, and don’t paint the top, back, and the bottom of the inside of a 4-inch space at the same time–that’s how you get paint on your hands.

In between coats, I sanded the top and sides with the Mouse sander and 220 grit paper. The result is happily smooth, and not tacky (yet). One of the problems with latex paint seems to be this tackiness. The changing table has it, and I’m hoping it fades with time as the paint completely dries. Until then, I’m not putting anything that can bond to latex on either piece of furniture, though I’m concerned about the drawers joining to each other.

The end result looks greatly improved and fits with the look of the nursery well. I hope our son enjoys the furniture I’ve made him for a long time to come.

IMG_20130110_195949 IMG_20130110_195955

Changing Table Plans

With our son on the way in less than three weeks, and with a pair of reasonably successful bookcases under my belt, I’ve decided to tackle making a changing table. We’ve been looking into lots of different options and, while some of them are very nice, I don’t think any of them would be perfect, if for no other reason than I’m 6’8″ tall and they’re all made for short people.

I have some 3d modeling experience from back in the day, and I’ve dabbled with SketchUp before, so I cracked open version 8 and got playing around. The interface is very nice, and perfect for something like producing woodworking plans. If you’re good with math and have any vector graphics experience, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Wood List:
1 – .75″ plywood 2’x4′
1 – .75″ plywood 4’x8′
1 – 1×6 x12′ or 2 – 1×6 x6′
1 – 1×6 x10′
1 – 2×4 x8′
1 – 1×4 x8′
1 – 1×4 x6′

Cut List: Note: The cuts only fit in the wood specified in a specific way. Please review the cut sheet below before cutting anything!
Main Body:
5 Shelves – 40″x15″x.75“
2 Sides – 33x15x.75″
1 Top – 43“x18.5″x.75″
7 Back Slats – 1×6 x33″
4 Legs 1.25″x1.25″x36″
Top Frame:
2 Sides – 1×4 x42″
3 Dividers – 1×4 x16″
2 Separators – 1×4 x9.75″

Here’s the cut sheet:
Lists CutDiagram

Here’s some mockups of the changing table I’m planning to build this weekend, complete with Skubb Ikea Drawers:
ChangingTable4 ChangingTable3 ChangingTable2 ChangingTable

Here’s the breakout with the biscuit locations shown:
ChangingTable Breakout1 ChangingTable Breakout2 ChangingTable Breakout3 ChangingTable Breakout4 ChangingTable Breakout5

And here’s the measurements for the various parts when assembled:
ChangingTable Measurements1 ChangingTable Measurements2 ChangingTable Measurements3 ChangingTable Measurements4

Polyphasic Week 1 – Retrospective

What a roller coaster ride it’s been. Experience counts for something when it comes to Polyphasic, but it’s always different. I’ve been humbled by my own brains and their irrational desire to sleep for whatever reason. I’ve got my theories on why we sleep, but I think the truest reason is because if we don’t, we’re wired to go a little crazier and crazier until we do. I know polyphasic is a loophole, but it’s a tight squeeze there between “okay” and “look at the unicorn.”

What I do remember that still works is that every night is another chance for re-acclimation. Discomfort due to sleeping is temporary. I’ve seen so many people give up after they get to this point and I’ve always wondered why. There’s plenty of people out there who’ll tell you that you have to adapt perfectly, but I’ve always found that if you fail at uberman, you end up landing in everyman and then, as you acclimate, you can go closer and closer as needed.

The feeling I get is that if you had enough to do in your spare time and enough love for doing it, you’d be uninterested in sleep anyway. Learn something new — this is why so many polyphasers are also coders, the process of coding is addictive and hard-won. At the end of the night, when you’ve forced yourself to take your naps instead of continuing your hobby, you’re doing well.

Find what you love and do an extra 6 hours of it daily. I’ve been playing Diablo III, programming, watching bad TV, reading, cooking, and cleaning.

Polyphasic Day 8 – Routine

Today was normal as far as acclimation goes. Naps were uneventful, my evening was mild, I woke up without event. I feel good today, and I’m expecting that if I don’t do anything rash and just stick to the plan that tonight will again be uneventful and hopefully, more productive. So, with that in mind, I think it’s time to make a list of the things I’d like to accomplish while I’m not sleeping.

Up until now I’ve had the staples: watch TV that I’ve been meaning to watch, read the news, write more, do minor things when I get around to it. The next couple weeks will still be difficult, so I’m not going to be doing anything crazy. Take er’ easy, I think that’s plenty.

I’ve got a website that needs a new gallery
I’d like to combine my wedding website, my travel blog, and my personal blog into the same website
There’s a new project I’ve been thinking about working on.
I need to port a project from Air to Android
I need to work on a thank you video
I need to write thank you cards
I need to finish and oil a piece of woodwork I’ve been building

An Entire Month of Good Mornings

Fearless month has proved to be one of the most difficult to stick to. The entire notion that I face my fears seems simple enough, but where do fears have a purpose and where do they have a detriment. This morning, I’ve faced one of my major social phobias. I used to live in a much smaller place with little to no crime and much friendlier people than San Francisco. I have the luxury of a one hour commute in the mornings, 30 minutes of which is a walk through Oakland and SOMA, SF.

People in these cities have abandoned the small town feel a long time ago, and yet, I find that I haven’t. I want to be able to say good morning to people, smile at them, talk to them about random things, and in general be the pleasant person I like to be, but something often stops me. I’m often afraid that with the walls that society has created, I’m actually being rude for knocking them down. I see a woman with her kids out for a walk, if I say good morning to her, will she think I’m a pedophile out to attack her kids? If I say good morning to a homeless person, will they just beg me for money I won’t give, yell at me, or worse?

Ultimately, these thoughts are all ridiculous and yet play themselves out in my mind over and over again every day on my way to work. Today, I tried it. I said good morning to people, smiled at them, and treated San Francisco as though it had the small town feel I wish it had, and the results were overwhelming. People are wired to be nice to you when you’re nice to them. You say good morning, you smile at them, and before they can even snap out of their haze of morning walking with no interruptions, they’ve smiled and said good morning back. It’s almost funny how little they expect it, and how much it affects them.

One woman didn’t even know how to respond, and she had to stop and turn around to make sure I had said something. I just smiled and waved and she was off with her morning. Fearless month isn’t just about trying things that scare you, it’s about being something that scares you too, and I’m that crazy guy who smiles and says good morning, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Here’s my challenge to you: Try being extra nice to people today. Just for today. I’ve chosen to do so on my walk, you could do it while you’re driving, or on your bike. Take an extra step to make sure someone else is having a good day. It surprises me how good it feels.

Scale Models of Nearodesic Polyhedron Hexayurt

I’ve been going to Burning Man for a while now, and I, like pretty much everyone else out there, am enamored of the ideas of large-scale projects on the playa. This year, I’ve got a few people camping with me, and I figured a shade structure was in order. I’ve seen a lot of different designs, have experience quite a few of them, but none of them seemed to really match up with what I wanted from a structure. Here’s the list and my thoughts.
Geodesic Dome
I camped with a couple that built a moderately-sized one of these. It took them a solid day to put up, but when it was up, they did pretty well for themselves.
Pros: relatively cheap for the volume you get, sturdy even in high winds, tried and true.
Cons: Difficult to set up, hard to cover well, doesn’t even try to keep out dust, difficult to take down

Conduit Arch
This is the type of structure Jeff used to make. It went up in about 30 mins.
Pros: Very cheap for the volume you get. Very easy to set up and take down. Doesn’t fall over in wind.
Cons: Small footprint. Only keeps out sun, not dust. Bends quite a bit in high wind.

Hexayurt
These have become a pretty common sight on the playa. I’ve never been in one, but I’ve heard good things.
Pros: Keep out heat, dust, wind, and sunshine. Easy to set up. No flex even in high wind.
Cons: Slightly more expensive than other options. Too short for me to stand up in (6’8″).

My personal tent is quite large, with a foyer-style setup, and 3 tent rooms around it. It provides adequate shade, but it does get really hot inside and it’s time to try something new. I was exploring larger hexayurts when I ran across this post: PDF. The design seems solid, though not geodesic, so not infinitely scalable. I decided to build some prototypes and see how the shape held up.

First, my girlfriend built the 4-sided paper example in the PDF. The design seemed solid, so we decided to keep going and make a bigger model.

I did the first design at about 1/12 scale using thin cardboard and scotch tape.

After that, I decided the cardboard one was still decent, so I pressed on with an actual scale model. As the final material is 4’x8’x1″, and something like foamcore, we decided to use foamcore as a test material. We got 6 sheets of 30″x40″x3/16″ material, which gives us a 3/16 scale model. Since the final one is going to be something like 22 feet across, this is still a decent-sized model. I followed hexayurt instructions and still used scotch tape for most of it, not wanting to go too far out of the realm of physics for the final result.

I have some concerns about the design.

Since the only thing holding the pieces together is tape, if the tape fails, it could be disastrous. Granted, I’ll be using extremely high-grade tape and taking recommendations from the whole of the internet on which tape to use, and maybe even doubling up, but even so, physics is physics, and I may get out there and the wind may tear this thing apart. I set up our industrial fan in front of the model and as long as there’s even light pressure on the dome downwards, it doesn’t show a hint of flex, blowing over, sliding, or anything. I think that as long as the tape holds, the shape is decently aerodynamic and shouldn’t be a huge, dangerous, fiberglass kite.

The main square on the top will be 11 feet off the ground. Holding it up, taping the sides, stopping it from blowing over, and stopping it from tearing apart all in playa wind conditions sounds line a nightmare in the making. So long as we don’t have constant wind, I think we could get the whole thing set up in 6 hours, easy, and I’m pretty sure we could do it in the dark if we had to. I think the design is flexible enough that small tape would hold at the start, and we could reinforce as time went on. I’ll be doing a trial run with cheaper tape as a test, but it won’t be on the playa and it won’t be 60mph winds, and it won’t be 100 degrees out.

Finally, I worry that the whole thing will be a big oven. People say the insulation is good and that the darkness is good, and that the whole thing can be aerated and swamp cooled and whatnot, but I worry that 8 hours of blazing sun will cook us. We’ll have 4 doors as options, but will it be enough? Time will tell. People survive in hexayurts, I assume the concept is the same.

I haven’t come up with a good name yet, icosayurt? tetrahedroyurt? Snub yurt?