30 November 2010

Our favorite "kidstuff" that remained interesting for several years

Hi -

[** Alert! Totally off-topic! Well, unless you have kids. **]

Are you a new parent looking for some ideas? Searching for holiday presents for your some little-ones?

For fun, I'll break with this blog's science tradition to share a random collection of stuff that I would recommend to new parents or folks buying gifts for young kids.

Sure, there are plenty of books, toys, and parenting-supplies. But which are good? Which don't break after two years? At the moment, our two boys are 2 and 4, so let's look at the stuff that's had some staying-power around our house.

Regarding age-ranking: Kids are different so I'll leave that up to you. I'll try "Around 2" and "Around 4." (Sorry that I don't have any Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, or "The Magic Schoolbus" stuff here - for some reason I just don't enjoy reading those aloud. I must have some weird parental deficiency!)

Also, I'll hold off on the more widely popular books which we love, simply because you probably already have them. For example: the Francis books, Frog & Toad, ...


- Around 2 -
  • Go, Dog. Go! - There are actually a few versions of this. In any case, this surreal book employs a minimum of words to teach a maximum of prepositions. And when else could you read about three dogs, on a boat, at night?
  • Byron Barton: Trucks, Boats
  • Big Red Barn - I am in love with this little farm-story that winds down to a quiet, nighttime close
  • Baby Touch and Feel - Quack Quack (for 1 yr olds)
  • Caps for Sale - yep, fifty cents a cap... Ah, yes. Ms. Slobodkina's book might've taken ten readings to grow on me, but now we are stuck.
  • Good Night, Gorilla - Peggy Rathmann
  • Hug - Jez Alborough
  • ** The Cookie-store Cat - Cynthia Rylant (we really love this cozy book)
  • Charlie Parker Played Bebop - Christopher Raschka
  • Snow - Cynthia Rylant
  • Trashy Town - There's a general fascination with the garbage industry in our household, spanning the onomatopoeia-rich I Stink! to obsessive YouTube taxonomies of frankly quite innovative garbage truck designs, cataloged by whoever "georgewuzheer" is.
  • Flying - Donald Crews
  • Katy No-Pocket - I don't really like this book, but our 2-yr old does
  • Abiyoyo - you sort of need the Pete Seeger song, too. This was popular in our house for a year.
-- Around 3-4 --
  • How a House is Built - Gail Gibbons
  • *** Roxaboxen - maybe I'm just a softie but this is wonderful story that brings back memories of inventing secret places on the playground
  • How to Behave and Why - Munro Leaf (it's so very 1946)
  • Any Curious George or Martha Speaks stuff is fine by me
  • People - Peter Spier - an almost encyclopedic book that explores the similarities and differences of how 7 (7?) billion of us dress, eat, worship, and play.
  • The Jenny Linsky series - like Jenny Goes to Sea
  • Bread and Jam for Francis - though you probably have all the Francis books already
  • Elisha Cooper's charming watercolor storybooks of country life, e.g. Country Fair
  • Brian Floca's Moonshot, one of the few children's books that make me all goosebumpy
  • Jumanji - Chris Van Allsburg (it's amazing that anyone can draw this well)
  • I Spy (books of picture riddles which are actually really hard)
  • Henry and Ribsy - Beverly Cleary
  • The Day-Glo Brothers - is the true story of two brothers who actually did invent the Day-Glo colors. It's a little overly-detailed, but it sure caused Toby to realize that he could invent stuff one day, too
  • Paul Revere-related stuff

...and J-Fav listed all of our children's books here (617 of them at the moment! Yes, I married a former preschool teacher). I feel like a fraud listing these books as if they're "my" suggestions, since Jenn does 99% of the book-researching and -buying. Hooray for Jenn!

Toys, and implements of covert education
  • Big organizers stocked with white and color paper, crayons, markers, stickers, ...
  • Wooden train set. IKEA's Lillabo trains are affordable and durable. Costs much less than the stuff in toy stores but totally tough.
  • Plastic or glass magnifying glasses. (Don't look at the sun!)
  • Prism-like things for casting rainbows on walls and bellies.
  • The Toy Story dolls have been surprisingly enduring in our house, e.g. Woody
  • Playskool Basic Ball Popper (this captivates grown-ups too, or maybe just our peer group is child-hearted)
  • Fisher-Price Swan Palace dollhouse. Our 2 yr-old spends nearly every morning with it.
  • Fisher-Price Little People stuff, especially the, ah, "boat" of animals-in-twosies, and Busy Day Home. With flushing toilet of course.
  • Party Time Kitchen - I have been served many a hotdog, pepper, and chicken soup!
  • A giant box for dress-up clothes
  • D+L Company Stomp Rocket Ultra (be the most popular parent in the park)
  • Toysmith Optic Wonder (compass, magnifying glass, binoculars - like a Swiss Army knife of optics)
  • Long outdated: I wish the Radio Shack 1977 150-in-1 electronic kit were available for when they turn 7!

CDs / DVDs

I bet most folks with kids under 5 already have "Cars," "Little Mermaid," "Toy Story," and "Cinderella." But have you checked out the amazing Scholastic DVD series of great children's books that have been animated and narrated? There is a whole series worth checking out.

They Might Be Giants has several infectious CDs that teach you how to count or about science which we must've heard over... what, Jenn... 100+ breakfasts? The benefit is that your four year old will regale you with theories about the "bloodmobile" and its voyages throughout your body, or questions about why no one seems to like Pluto anymore.

Stuff to Do

Ah, that topic is just too broad. If you live in Boston and your kids are into tinkering, consider browsing the monthly Flea at MIT, an affordable flea market - in an MIT parking garage - of hackable stuff, from TVs to computers to blinking lights.

Have fun! Please, feel free to contribute your ideas in the comments.


08 September 2010

Learn about autostereoscopic 3-D displays

Hello -

If 3-D displays are up your alley - particularly "3-D without glasses" - then you might be interested in these three short mini-courses at YouTube that I recorded. This is the entirety of what I mentioned in a previous g-fav blog post. It's done!

This is an introduction to autostereoscopic 3-D displays (autostereoscopy).

I don't think my presentation is as careful or complete as to deserve a "syllabus," so here is a list of topics covered. Note: YouTube restricts movie-clips to 10 minutes, so each class has a few segments:

  1. The fundamentals of "seeing in 3-D," including monoscopic and stereoscopic depth cues. Regarding advertisements for 3-D displays, how can you build some intuition to judge the reality of their claims? How much electro-optical bandwidth is required for 3-D?
  2. Definitions of autostereoscopic. Broad overview of several autostereo displays: parallax barrier (e.g. the Nintendo 3DS), lenticular, volumetric, electro-holographic, integral photography.
  3. Light field displays, with an emphasis on a few prototype displays built at Actuality Systems - such as a 198-view, XGA-resolution autostereoscopic display.
The presentations employ materials from a variety of top 3D display researchers around the world, who I do my best to cite.

Enjoy! Share with your science friends!

One last note: Since these were produced at Optics for Hire, each class has a couple of slides about the company at the very beginning. Other than that it's all engineering.


ps Have you considered attending the primary technical conference for 3-D displays? SPIE-IS&T Stereoscopic Displays & Applications: www.stereoscopic.org

02 August 2010

(kids, science, space) Easy way to make scale model of solar system for your hallway

Hi -

(Using a one-click website to make a customized guide for planet-distances on your wall.)

Do you want to make a simple scale model of the solar system with your kids? If the children's books and science-placemats in your house are like those in ours, you probably noticed that the scale of orbital diameters (and planetary diameters) are way off. I suppose that's an artistic necessity.

Ever come home to find that your budding scientist has taped little planet-cutouts to the wall, along a hallway?

Wouldn't it be neat to have kinda'-correct spacings away from the Sun? WolframAlpha to the rescue! Here's how:

1. Find a decent tape measure in cm (or mm), and a long stretch of walls or hallway. Say it's 3000 mm (3 m) long.
2. The sun will be at 0 mm, and Neptune will be at 3000 mm. (Don't even get me started on Pluto. Poor Pluto.)
3. Click here on this URL and wait several seconds:
5. As you can see, it lists the distances to each planet from the sun. In this case Earth is at 10 mm from the Sun. Yes, the planets seem pretty squooshed together at the beginning, don't they?
6. What about Uranus? (For some reason the pattern breaks down when I add Uranus.) Here's the input for your scale, and Uranus:

How do I scale this up or down?

Easy! Just change the "3000" to the length of your wall.

Why isn't Pluto here, and why is Neptune missing?

I actually had problems with WolframAlpha accepting a long list of planets. Neptune's at the end, of course. And... Pluto. Poor, poor Pluto.

Why did you use the semimajor axis instead of the current distance to the Sun?

Lack of sleep, I guess.

Have fun!


ps It will also draw pictures and show you star charts! Check this out - what does Saturn look like right now, and where is it, from your ZIP code?:

pps Or this, the whole solar system from "above:" (hint: let it think a while)

27 July 2010

3-D without glasses: Class 1 of 3 on autostereoscopic displays (free, YouTube)

Hi -

Stereoscopic cinema looks wonderful, in my opinion, and it was built on about 150 years of technology to bring it to where it is today. Regardless, some folks ask "when will we have 3-D without glasses?" Picky, picky!

Autostereoscopic 3-D displays allow you to perceive 3-D images without additional eyewear, a topic I've studied since 1988 (shudder!). Want to learn more about that? I worked with my employer, Optics for Hire (OFH, Arlington, Mass.) to create a three-course series on YouTube (in 10-minute segments) and authorSTREAM (in their entirety):

  1. (available now) The fundamentals of "seeing in 3-D," including monoscopic and stereoscopic depth cues. What's physically possible today, and what's definite trickery? How much underlying electro-optical oomph is needed for 3-D?

  2. Definitions of autostereoscopic. Broad overview of many autostereoscopic displays, from parallax barrier systems (like the Nintendo 3DS) to volumetric and holographic displays.

  3. Lightfield displays using whole-view scanning and piecemeal lightfield reconstruction.

OFH is releasing the classes over a period of several months to our friends (we like to educate our customers and prospects rather than inundate them with junk mailers).

Class 1 is available whole (authorSTREAM), or Class 1a, 1b, and 1c (YouTube).

I'm looking forward to announcing classes 2 and 3 because they have a lot more meat, but some of the stuff in class 1 might strike you as new and surprising.



ps Like optics? Check out these other free instructional videos about designing LED optics...

06 July 2010

Short science projects for inquisitive young kids

Hi -

A friend asked me if I have ideas for science "experiments" or book suggestions for 2.5 and 5 year-olds. What a compliment to be asked that! I am actually short on ideas, but here is a start.

Please, readers, chime in!

General note: I like stuff that has almost no set-up (so they don't have to wait), is open-ended (because the project usually veers quickly in the direction of their interest), and whose elements are inexpensive or instantly gifted (e.g., yep, it's your magnifying glass now).

Science ideas: 2.5 yr-olds and 5 yr-olds (it's up to you what you think is a good fit for your kid)

  • Get several inexpensive magnifying glasses of different kinds from the 5-and-10. Get the ones that are actual convex lenses, not the flat-circle-ridgey "Fresnel lenses," since for some reason a lot of people don't realize that the Fresnel lenses are just as dangerously capable of focusing sunlight.
  • Make things look bigger! (newspaper, bugs, a veiny leaf)
  • Help your child make a picture of the room-light on a tabletop by finding just the right height for the lens, between the two
  • ....or try it with your glasses, if you're farsighted
  • I'd avoid the "burn stuff with a lens" trick at this age. Make sure they don't look at the sun, either. It's up to you if you TELL them this or not, because it might plant the ideas in their head.
  • Advanced: camera obscura! Go to a room with a window, during the day. Turn the lights out. Hold the lens near a wall - can you focus an upside-down image of the window onto the wall? Can you move the lens a little and make a picture of the house across the street?
  • Make rainbows on the wall by helping them to aim a prism (or the edge of something sharp and transparent) with a shaft of sunlight
  • Let them play with a CD and look at the rainbows (diffraction bends red light more than blue light)
  • Shadows
  • The OSA's Optics for Kids
  • Fill little containers - little clear cups, tiny Tupperware, ice-cube trays - with water, and drop Cheerios (or whatever) inside. Put in the freezer. How long will it take to freeze?
  • Drop food coloring droplets into water-cups
  • Supervise them as they play with cups and measuring-devices at a sink

  • There's actually an Elmo-branded seedling kit that comes with little cups and seeds in a thin plastic greenhouse. The tomato ones worked pretty well for us.

  • Depending on your comfort level, and your willingness to judge electrical or mechanical safety, we've gotten a lot of learning out of disassembling stuff around the house. A broken cordless phone, with the power-adapter UNPLUGGED, is a great source of stuff. You can point out "computer chips" and electronic components and red LEDs (ell-ee-dees). We took it a step farther and got a battery connector from Radio Shack (this) and put an AA battery in it and made the LEDs light up and the speaker make crackly noises.
  • Explain how the speaker makes crackly noises. (Most speakers have a magnet inside, and nearby, a coil of wire taped to a paper cone. If the cone moves, it moves the air, and your eardrum moves, and you hear sounds! But how does the cone move? If you pass electricity along the wire, it will become a magnet, and it will move towards or away from the permanent magnet... Why does electricity through a wire make a magnet? No one really knows, I don't think. They have fancy words for it, but I don't think anyone has the true answer.)
  • Take apart an old VCR, if you're confident it's been unplugged for several days. On second thought, don't do that unless you know how to safely discharge the power capacitor for a big spark. Never mind.
  • Watch bulldozers.
  • Make a paper airplane.
  • Buy them a good kid's camera. We liked this, but the reviewers didn't. [amazon]

  • Record episodes of DESIGN SQUAD
  • Make a simple catapult (for a 2 year-old, just the act of bending something back and flinging it forward is a surprise, like a tongue depressor or a popsicle stick)
  • Make your own play-dough (Jenn always has a fresh batch on hand... Jenn what's the recipe?)
  • Do some research and find decent kits for making motors or radios or windup-airplanes
  • With them, measure and draw a to-scale floorplan of their room... or the house
  • Make a paper cutout model - in 3-D - of a floor of your house
  • Stomp Rocket Ultra (Best. Toy. Ever.)
  • Anything made by Rufus Seder, like this window-pendant that shows a 6-frame galloping horse. (It's a little hard for me to explain this in a brief bullet point.)
  • Get / borrow a stroboscope and use it to look at a spinning top, or the faucet on slooooow drip.
  • Find something that glows - charge it up in the bathroom light, then shut the light and the door.
  • Triboluminescence: chomp down on a Wintergreen Life Saver while looking in the bathroom mirror with the lights off
  • Lots of projects in Howtoons! Also, a book.
  • Lots of projects on Instructables!
  • Polarizers are fun, but maybe more fun with the help of a science-friend. (A demo we do for kids is: put a big polarizer on a light table. Put: clear gelatin cubes, or a clear Scotch Tape reel on top. Put a little polarizer near your eye. Squeeze the cubes and reel. Cool zebra patterns!)
  • Seek out a holography museum.
  • Ask someone handy to show you how to mix cement.
I am excited to continue this list, but please, other people, chime in. Here are some science areas that I have not provided ideas on:

  • Plant-life
  • Animals (drop of river-water under a decent microscope)
  • A catalog of neat science toys / kits: Edmund Scientific -- order a catalog today!
  • Programming computers in some simple language
  • Math (arithmetic, geometry, how far is it from one corner of a square to the other)
  • Chemicals (volcano experiment)
  • Geology
  • Cool mechanical mechanisms (like near the elevators at the Boston Museum of Science)
  • Space (esp this beautiful book: Moonshot)
  • Various YouTube clips (my 4 yr-old was captivated by this astronaut one)
  • Basic physics-stuff, i.e. diffusion (milk droplets into your coffee), why-is-sky-blue (okay, that's trickier unless you understand it already), inertia (Matchbox car goes around loop-de-loop upside-down)
  • MAGNETS! (But it is critical that they NOT SWALLOW A MAGNET)

I realized soon after I posted these ideas that this is only a portion of the "science culture deliverable-for-kids." For me, at least, the other portion of getting your kids comfortable with science is your narrative. What are your opinions of scientists? Do grown-ups know all the answers? What's still mysterious? Are we "allowed" to figure things out?

I think this is what I am broadcasting at home:
  • Regarding science... The facts you learn in school, in books, and from experts, are (at its best) our understanding of the way things work at that moment in time. It'll change. Not only that, but people like you came up with these observations and predictions and explanations. You can add to this knowledge, if you'd like. And if it's not your thing, that's cool too. No pressure to spend your life with beakers and soldering irons.
  • Regarding math, though... Math is unusual because it is a game - played with very precise rules - designed by people. As long as people agree on the rules (e.g. "in this game, multiplying a number by zero equals zero") and the rules of logic, you should reach the same conclusions. The inventiveness is of a different sort, such as discussing interesting assertions and figuring out if they can be proven within the framework of the rules. Plus, if you're a parent who has some math-phobia, maybe this viewpoint can put you at ease. The answer to "but WHY does this math-symbol act this way?" is either "because someone asked us to accept it as a rule since it seems to be helpful to do so" or "in this particular flavor of algebra, those are just the rules." If you're having a good day, the answer is "good question, maybe Newton was wrong about that, and perhaps you are going to win a cool prize."
  • As Feynman liked to say, there is a difference between knowing things and just knowing the names of things. What's more helpful: telling your kid that the reason your sneakers help you cling to the ground when you walk, and not slip, is "due to friction," or "the little jaggies in the ground fit into the squooshy jaggies in the sneaker, and this is related to something called 'friction'" ?
  • Regarding engineering, it is almost completely true to say that if you can imagine a fanciful invention in great detail, it can be built.
  • After a series of "why?" questions of increasing depth, grown-ups usually have to admit, "I don't know."
  • There are plenty of science-things that no one really understands yet. These include: consciousness ("who" is seeing?), why do things fall when you drop them?, aren't we lucky that the game of mathematics lets us calculate things in the real world?, where did all this stuff come from? I guess the answer to some of these things hinges on one's religious beliefs, but the point is that there will always be new things to learn or figure out or invent. And, furthermore, you are encouraged to figure things out.
  • You can totally do this.
  • You can totally understand this.
  • Hey, a cardboard box! Let's be robots!

Any other ideas?


05 June 2010

startup / corporate techies: NE Innovation Month

You're probably asleep under a log if you didn't hear about this by now, but June is Innovation Month 'round here in New England. This is a good excuse for all of us to go down Mass Ave and attend some of these cool events. And hooray to Scott Kirsner for helping make a lot of noise about this!


Getting back the powers of concentration we once had; maybe the product marketing was too good?

Hi -

Hey! You! Stop clicking around for a second, okay?

Maybe websites need admonitions like that, to slow us down and put us into a gear in which we're primed to be a bit more contemplative. Why? I used to pride myself on having regularly-scheduled time for thinking - i.e., sitting-quietly-with-a-notebook-and-pen-thinking - and something about the Internet has oozed into that time.

Do you feel that way, too? Here is an article and a book:

NPR re: The Shallows - This is Your Brain Online: "...Neuroscientists and psychologists have discovered that, even as adults, our brains are very plastic," [The Shallows's author Nicholas] Carr explains. "They're very malleable, they adapt at the cellular level to whatever we happen to be doing. And so the more time we spend surfing, and skimming, and scanning ... the more adept we become at that mode of thinking."" Link. (h/t my Uncle Ron)

Thinkertoys: A Hanbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2e) (Amazon) - Impressed me with its abundance of creativity-enhancing methodologies. Try taking it out of your library (WorldCat).


ps Oh, about the "...product marketing..." in the Title. Maybe the product-definition experts figured it out all-to-well at the firms that make our mobile devices and Web 2.0 websites. Are we addicted? Does it take too much of an effort to "just stop clicking on Facebook / poking at one's handheld / browsing the web instead of pushing our kids on the swingset"? I'm a technologist. Heck, I'm a technologist into futuristic trappings like holographic video. Why am I sounding like a luddite?

02 June 2010

Off FB (to my friends)

Hello -

I deactivated my Facebook account again because it was proving too interesting and time-consuming! (Can't you all start leading less interesting lives?) I'm also troubled by various privacy issues, but that's really secondary.

"Deactivated" is really a misnomer; all one needs to do is log back in again. So, if this FB-vacuum is too much for me to take, I'll just return. But in the meantime, you all know where you can find me.

19 May 2010

Cheap, fun drawing tablet

Hi -

This is just to say that I finally splurged and spent about $60 on a Wacom Bamboo Pen tablet this week, and I like it - it ships with a Corel drawing package with plenty of (software) pens, brushes, and erasers.

I bought it in case I need to whip up a quick engineering sketch, as an alternative to scanning a real pen drawing. I find (so far) that I need to press a little harder on this - my hand hurts - but then again, I haven't searched for or played with the "pen sensitivity" slider, which probably is in there.

Here is what a small collection of built-in tools and colors look like:

I like it so far. If you're really serious, you'll find Amazon links to expensive, more advanced stuff.

Amazon: Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet, with software


04 May 2010

Patents: descriptions

Note from Bruce Horwitz of TechRoadmap reminding us that a patent's "enabling description" has to include not only the elements of the invention, but WHAT the thing is:


18 April 2010

Optics project: soda box no-film "camera" with simple lens

Hi -

Our intrepid four-year old has been collecting paper towel tubes, refrigerator soda boxes, and magnifying glasses. What to do?

Try making a primitive no-film camera demonstrator with a lens-on-a-tube! You can see really bright, colorful images of the TV screen, stuff in the house, and all sorts of stuff outside.

This is the second optics "Learn it Yourself" project, following the pinhole camera in a teabox:


09 April 2010

Coin toss fractal in Mathematica [edit]

Hello -

It's well-known but surprising that you can create beautiful images of fractals with a coin toss (okay, dice) and paper & pencil:

(Drawn by computer)
  • Label corners of a triangle {1, 2, 3}.
  • Draw a dot at a corner (or anywhere?)
  • While not tired:
  • - Generate random integer N = [1,3].
  • - Draw a dot halfway between the last dot and corner N.

Click for code

(Click to embiggen. It's pretty!)

[Edit - Thanks, Matthias! It works for squares, too, using the method he describes in the comments.]

(Matthias: Yeah, it works in 3-space, too:)


31 March 2010

Highly multiview hologram-like 3-D display - explained on YouTube

Hi -

If you're interested in 3D-without-glasses ("autostereo"), then you might like this video. It explains the principles of a system that can make 3-D images as small as a mobile device, or as large as a desktop display (or larger).

As researchers have long recognized, it's difficult to make a 3-D display that's inexpensive, has a wide horizontal field of view, has a >XGA per-view resolution, and offers 100 or more views. (Even getting 12 views had been tricky.) The architecture in this video meets all of these requirements.

We built a prototype of this at Actuality Systems. Now Optics for Hire owns the patent application. You can see the application here, and a full list of OFH's 3-D IP here.


23 March 2010

A Few Simple Steps: comments regarding my own "happiness project"

For the last month or two, I have been considerably happier. This was due to a few decisions and small behavioral changes that I made, a few environmental things that are mostly out of my control, and perhaps also the natural ebb-and-flow of... what might I call them... biorhythms?

"Turning it up to 11"

Set aside huge changes. What small, achievable micro-steps can we take towards feeling consistently happier, setting the stage for getting all that we can out of life?

This post is inspired by Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, a blog-book that documents 12 months of little experiments towards improving her happiness. It's also inspired by how... well, happy... a handful of my friends and family seem to consistently be. Is their biochemistry different? Were they raised differently? Do they keep their negativity bottled up? Heck, I don't know, but there is even a class during MIT's IAP, run by the Handel Group, that helps students live extraordinary lives. There's gotta be something here to try.

Motivation? Optimization.

I feel like I owe a little preamble. We all have our ups-and-downs, but I'm a contented dude at home and at work. I love my family, I have a lot of fun professionally, and might be described as equal measures goofy and serious. So what gives? Why am I yapping about this?

Well, I suppose time feels like it is zipping by faster than it ever had for me. Our schedules are different, now, with young children at home - in a way, there are 14 hours of fairly "pre-programmed" schedule every day.

Maybe it's my engineering mindset talking, but this begged the questions: What to do with the remaining 3 hours before continuing the cycle tomorrow? What to modify in my own habitual thinking in order to get the most out of the 14?

Simple Changes

  • (Sleep) Go to bed at 11.30pm, even if you don't fall asleep right away. Our kids wake up at 6 or 7.00 am, and our parenting-day ends at 9.00pm, so there's great temptation to stay up until 1am, but we always regret it.
  • (Snacking) No more snacking after 10pm.
  • (Reading, 1) Read a book about happiness. Rubin's book has flaws, but it does bring the topic of happiness to the foreground in my consciousness. Maybe I'm happier because I think about it more. Who knows.
  • (Friends) Stay in real touch with your friends. Facebook is fun, but I think it only gives an illusion of staying-in-touch-ness. Have coffee with a buddy!

Slightly harder simple changes

  • (Productivity) I am busy. Over-committed! I bet you are too. One simple change is that I try not to leave the office for the day unless I've plotted out how I'll spend each hour (or half-hour, if it's one of those weeks...) for the next day in my Outlook calendar. Also, try quitting Outlook or your browser when it's time to get stuff done. Makes it easier to avoid 2-minute interruptions every three minutes.
  • (Bye, bye, Internet) Tell your cable modem router to shut off Internet access at 11.30pm. Hey, wow, now Jenn and I don't have our noses in our glowing computer screens at midnight! (Look on the back of the thing with blinking lights and type the numbers into your browser, e.g.
  • (Dynamic optimism) Act like you control the outcome of the situations you're in. Whine less. Try to not vocalize negative thoughts (this is hard for me! I'm a cynic...).
  • (Reading, 2) Read books or news-magazines instead of the internet. I think the Web fosters a sort of "attention deficit syndrome," where we're clicking on tidbit after tidbit, never really encouraging the patience to learn anything in depth.
  • (Thinking skills: memory, strategy / planning, self-control) The ancient board game go is the best tool I'm aware of for sharpening a multitude of mental skills. It is pretty easy to learn (7 year olds play it routinely in Korea) but, goodness, it is hard to master. There's even an iPhone / iPod app with great practice problems. I am trying to do 10 a night, when I remember. (SmartGo Pro.) If you're really into it, there are local clubs and web-servers.
  • (Listen to your body) If you're an introvert, make the time to recharge your batteries if solitary time makes you feel energized. If you're an extrovert, put group activities on your calendar. If your mood is out of whack before mealtimes, maybe you need to graze on a little snack at 11am and 4pm (I keep a bag of Snickers at my desk).
  • (Give!) Seek out opportunities to give: e..g, volunteering for a cause, or volunteering for professional societies, or write articles, or give advice, or give talks, or cook a meal for a friend who just became a new parent, or... These things are nice to do, they make you feel good, and they have the added bonus of bringing more friends into your life, which increases your happiness!

Changes of circumstance
  • Parenting: My children are now 1 1/2 and nearly 4, and they get along really well. The eldest engages himself in a variety of projects (and "experiments, daddy!") with us and my himself, and the youngest continues to be unflappably cheerful even though he's nearing 2.
  • Career: I very much enjoy my job and have a terrific boss. I always knew, intellectually, that career-satisfaction is a big factor in happiness, but, wow, I underestimated it. There is also great contrast between this and my former job, which, though I was the founder, had lengthy periods of nearly unbearable emotional stress. But why is this a change of circumstance? Well, I would never have guessed that my role (in sales-and-engineering leadership for a consulting company) would make me happy. But it does! I suppose my inability to have made this prediction is in alignment with current thinking in happiness theory, e.g.:

    People aren't too good at guessing what will make them happy.
Changes I'd like to make, but haven't
  • (health) Join a gym and go 3 days/week
  • (money) Plan out a week of meals that include dinners large enough to provide next-day lunches. I spend too much money every day.
  • (creative outlet) Identify a new after-hours project that I can noodle on at night. Previous ones included techie forms of self-portraits, or doing software projects in optics.

Related References

Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin) - A collection of little steps you can take, though I am distracted by the author's undercurrent of digs against her husband and friends.

Dynamic Optimism - I'm not an extropian, but I like the idea of dynamic optimism.

Samantha Sutton's blog - A personal coach from the Handel Group shares her thoughts on these and other topics

Seth Godin's blog - Marketing advice with a get-off-your-butt-and-do-it bent

SmartGo Pro - iPod / iPhone app... and this is a great book to learn the rules.

The Week magazine - My favorite news-magazine, which compiles news clippings from around the world, and explains the big issues in a "for beginners" format. We give subscriptions as holiday gifts. (I.e. as an alternative to visiting your five favorite webpages over and over and over.)

Please, comment away! It's tough to post this note, because it's such a personal topic, and I have some reluctance because the "small changes" are really quite small and obvious. But they're working for me so far!


05 March 2010

Hackintosh: Dell 10v into Mac OS X 10.6

Hi -

The Favalora household is trying to keep its purse-strings tight, but would sure enjoy having another Mac around for checking email and messing around on the web. Gizmodo's articles about inexpensive Dell Netbooks - like the Dell 10v for $249 - and their how-to on loading OS X into it - sure caught our eye.

The Dell arrived this week. It has a 10.1" screen, 160 GB HD, and 1 GB RAM. The keyboard is respectable, the screen is bright, but...

Bummer Alert: ...the trackpad is too small to accommodate "pointing with index finger and clicking with thumb," especially since the buttons are under the flexible trackpad surface. It takes some of the fun out of having a tiny PC for couch-web-surfing, but hopefully we'll get used to it.

I bought Mac OS X Snow Leopard at the Apple store for $30 and an 8 GB flash drive for another $30.

Here goes...

Just following Gizmodo's directions, I:
  • Set up our MacBook and Dell 10v side-by-side
  • Downloaded and installed Netbook BootMaker
  • Sigh. Netbook BootMaker does not execute on our MacBook running 10.4.
  • (give up for the day)
The Apple store employee warned me that if I install 10.6 on my 10.4 machine, it's possible for the iLife apps (e.g. iPhoto) to stop working. Some forum-posts also suggested that our years of photographs, such as our photos of Toby and Gabe growing up, might be deleted, too.

The next night...

  • I backup up our MacBook using SuperDuper!, which is great for easily backing up hard drives and making them bootable (assuming you have a Mac-friendly backup drive, like LaCie). Repartitioned the LaCie because I forgot that I had upgraded the HD in our MacBook.
  • I had some trouble "ejecting" the backup drive, so I turned it off. The MacBook hung, so I power cycled it. I hope I won't regret not trying the backup drive again.
  • At 10.45pm, I started to install OS X 10.6 on the MacBook...
  • ...and wrote this blog post while cursing the Dell 10v's idiotic trackpad button-placement...
  • ...and would really prefer to get some sleep now, but Jenn needs the machine tomorrow for work, and it would suck if 10.6 broke Office 2008 compatibility, so I really need to see this through...
  • I read David Gelernter's "Time to start taking the Internet seriously" piece on Edge.org, which starts after the usual self-important Edge introduction material. Meanwhile, 10.6 continues to install, telling me it'll be 45 minutes, then 38 minutes, then 40, 30, ...
  • Took me long enough to figure out that Hulu is the killer app for this netbook. Oh, hey, the 10.6 installation-bell just dinged! Wonder if my MacBook still works! It's 11.30pm now.
  • Woah, 10.6 has a trippy post-install video. But it works, everything works. Whew! Now I need to learn about the wacky changes in the dock, like, next time I'm awake.
Returning to the Hackintoshing
  • Installed the mother-of-all 8 GB flash drives, and the 10.6 CD
  • ...see you on the other side..
The Next Day
  • Used Netbook BootMaker to do some mysterious magic to the USB stick
  • Told the netbook to boot from USB & followed the other instructions at Gizmodo
  • Woah! My netbook looks like a Mac installing 10.6. This is one of the freakier things I've seen on a computer.
  • While I waited, I learned about the Sci-Tech Award Winners for the 2010 Academy Awards. Yes, the creative nerds who invent the things which let actors and studios make billions of dollars are usually hidden away in a different ceremony. Learn about them. Hooray, TI's Scott Dewald! Yay, lighting-master Paul Debevec!

Hooray, it worked. Everything seems to work fine. I still need to figure out Gizmodo's instructions regarding improving the response of the trackpad, but other than that, we're happy campers. It's pretty freaky. The thing boots and shuts off quickly, and the response is just fine. Also there's a trick for squooshing the vertical aspect of the screen when needed for things like the System Preferences window.

Much ado about nothing,