Categories
Books Parenting

Reading the Caldecott Medal Winners

My oldest child turns 10 this month. That means I’ve been reading children’s books for most days over the last decade. Not to her, anymore; now she reads herself Harry Potter. I still read picture books to my 6-year-old and 2-year-old.

I recently realized (a) that most of my children’s book reading is now behind me (b) I like reading these books (c) there must be many great ones I’ve never read. I spend most of my reading time now on children’s books, not grown-up ones. I ought to make the most of these next few years while that remains the case.

To that end I thought I’d start with the Caldecott Medal winners as an easy entry point. I was reading Where the Wild Things Are and A Sick Day for Amos McGee and explaining the gold sticker (Caldecott medal) on the front covers to my youngest and thought: these are great books. The other Caldecott winners are probably good too, right?

Categories
DIY How-to Making

Homemade wood toaster tongs

I recently broke a pair of toaster tongs I’d been given. They looked very much like this set ($10):

Magnetic Wooden Toast Tongs
Image belongs to the Vermont Country Store

Complete with the laser-etched phrase and magnet to grip a metal surface. Made from a single piece of wood, with thin tongs, one of the tongs eventually snapped. I generally stick to rough, practical carpentry, but saw these plans from Rockler for DIY kitchen tongs that made this finish carpentry project seem within my reach. And it was! Now I’ll have more confidence tackling polished projects going forward.

I’m very pleased with how mine ended up:

Not perfect, but the imperfections are tolerable!
Categories
Data analysis How-to

Python Script to Retrieve SolarEdge Solar Panel Data

After having a rooftop solar array installed on my home in 2019, I wanted to analyze its actual performance and compare it to projections. In particular, we ended up with a smaller inverter (7kW) than recommended for our total panel capacity (11kW). We often experience some shading on our panels, so the inverter should not limit (or “clip”) the energy production too greatly – but I want to quantify the extent of the clipping effect.

That analysis is for later, though. Here is how I first retrieved the production data for my system from the SolarEdge API, in fifteen-minute intervals. It pulls data for both energy (watt-hours generated) and power (power production, in watts). I think the power is average power over that 15 minute period, though I don’t see that documented and it doesn’t line up exactly with energy generation. I’m a Python beginner and relied on my brother, who kindly wrote almost all of this code.

Setup: you’ll need your SolarEdge API key, which you can get by following their instructions (pp. 5-6). You’ll also need to install the solaredge Python package (and Python itself, if you haven’t used it before). In addition to an API key, the script below refers to a site ID. You can find that in the mySolarEdge app, under information about your site, or via the results of a query to the API.

Categories
DIY How-to Making Parenting Repair

DIY non-slip soles for footed pajamas

I’ve handed down a few pairs of cozy footed pajamas between my kids. Along the way the soles lost whatever non-skid properties they had and became very slippery. We got them out this fall to keep my two-year-old cozy. He was cozy … and he slid all over on our slick floors, wiping out a few times. Neither slips nor cold bare feet would do. It was time for DIY non-slip soles.

I outfitted two pairs of Carter’s footie pajamas. Both attempts turned out great:

Try to slide in those!

Materials: I used a discarded bike inner tube that could no longer be patched. If you don’t have one, you might be able to score them from a bike shop or repair co-op. I also used heavy-duty Sashiko thread and needle, but I expect you could do this with any needle and thread.

Process:

Categories
Cooking Recipe

Simplest split pea soup

This is the simplest main dish I know. Two dry ingredients, that’s all. And it has all the benefits of bean soup: extremely healthy, my kids love it, vegan & gluten-free, easy to make, etc. Here’s my recipe.

Time: 60 minutes. Serves: the quantity I have below feeds about 8, but you could cut that in half – just keep the 1:3 ratio of the two ingredients. While this cooks, prepare some rice to add at the table. Add a vegetable and you have your meal (plus leftovers for another).

Ingredients

  • 1 qt split peas, rinsed if you feel like it
  • 3 qt vegetable broth (or 3 qt water + 4 bouillon cubes, added directly to the pot)
  • (optional) Hint of smoke (smoked salt or smoked paprika, to taste)

No chopping. No fresh ingredients. This can be underway in five minutes or less. Bring to a boil (if you have the lid on, this will make a mess), stir the foam back in, cover and simmer until split peas are soft (~45 minutes).

At this point I puree it, either with an immersion blender (easier) or in a blender. (If you have never pureed boiling soup in a blender, read up on it and take safety precautions). You could probably eat it unblended or just whisk it.

Serve with a scoop of rice in each bowl as a main dish. Based on the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Tip to Ann Arbor friends: Argus Farm Stop sells locally-grown split peas.

One weird thing to know if you’ve never cooked split pea soup: the leftovers thicken as they cool. To the consistency of Jello. You can carve it with a knife. It’s not a problem, though. When warming up leftovers, just scoop some into a soup bowl, add water to thin it out, microwave it, and stir it to a uniform consistency.

Categories
Local reporting Parenting ruminations

Let’s plan now for COVID-resilient school next year

In July I predicted that there would be no in-person instruction for Ann Arbor Public Schools this entire school year. Unfortunately, that prediction is looking accurate. Let’s start planning for September 2021.

The discussion among the district, board, and parents seems focused on reopening this year. At what level of disease activity, and which safety precautions, would be enough for kids to begin going to school? At least, that seemed to be the discussion a month ago, when disease levels were lower and other districts in SE Michigan (including some in Washtenaw County, like Saline and Dexter) were sending kids to school.

Especially with the current COVID surge now shutting down those other districts, it seems likely that reopening this year is not in the cards for Ann Arbor Public Schools. Given that, I fear we’re wasting precious time and energy debating possibilities and metrics for reopening this year. It echoes what happened this summer, when time spent considering possibilities for in-person instruction would have been better used on improving systems for remote instruction.

Categories
Biking Data analysis Local reporting

One Year of the William St. Bikeway

A year ago, Ann Arbor opened its first protected bike lane & cycle track: the William St. Bikeway. From my individual perspective, it’s been a huge hit. My family bikes on it to reach the downtown library, NeoPapalis Pizza, and the university. I see it used by other cyclists, skateboarders, and scooter-riders, snow clearing was decent last winter, and it’s only infrequently blocked by parked cars or trucks. Car traffic on William is calm and not noticeably backed up.

Construction of the city’s next protected bike lane is well underway, on First Street. And the city experimented this fall with temporary bike lanes around downtown, some of which have been great. The Division St. Cycle Track provides a divided, protected two-way bike highway without affecting car travel and it intersects conveniently with the William St. Bikeway, opening up travel in all directions. The William St. Bikeway was the proof point that made these other installations possible.

So it improved my family’s experience biking downtown and paved the way for other infrastructure. Did it change people’s behavior? In my post last year about the Bikeway, I displayed a snapshot of the Strava cycling heatmap that I took on November 1st, 2019. I grabbed one today, November 2nd, 2020, to compare. Here’s last year (see the old post for interpretation):

Categories
DIY

Hosting migration complete

For a couple of years, I’d meant to migrate my domain name and host to better companies. Now I have! I think everything on my blog made it through: posts, comments, images, subscriptions. Please let me know if anything seems off. Feeling proud of myself for navigating nameservers, file permissioning, etc.

The only intentional change is that I’m trying out the latest theme from WordPress, “Twenty Twenty.” Plus I have the latest versions of WordPress and PHP and my site now supports https.

After surveying my options, I went with A2 Hosting (that’s my referral bonus link, why not). They had good reviews from friends and reasonable pricing. As a bonus, my blog is now locally-hosted: A2 is shorthand for Ann Arbor, looks like they’re based over on Hogback Rd.

Categories
ruminations

Celebrating Eyedea, the greatest to ever freestyle

Today I remember Eyedea, aka Micheal Larsen, who died ten years ago. “Who’s the best rapper ever?” is an unanswerable question, but when it comes specifically to freestyling, Eyedea is the Greatest Of All Time.

As a hip-hop-loving teen in the early 2000s, I traded Eyedea’s mp3s on peer-to-peer sharing services like Napster and KaZaa. He was only two years older than me and yet by 18 he had already vanquished all comers to become the undisputed champion of battle rap. He got bored of battling and moved on, but his freestyles never got old to me. Here are some of my favorites, both battles and whimsical freestyles. If you never heard them, you’re in for a treat. Even a layperson can appreciate the greatest of all time putting on a master class, in anything.

Battles

CityPages has a list of five great Eyedea battles, with embedded videos. The first one listed, from HBO’s Blaze Battle tournament in 2000 (which Eyedea won), is a classic. When his opponent starts dancing to distract him, Eyedea immediately builds his final rhymes around that: “this cat wants to be my backup dancer!”

This is the best part of Eyedea’s freestyles: they’re so clearly extemporaneous. So many recordings and appearances billed as “freestyles” are obviously pre-written. No surprise, as even skilled rappers struggle to make up decent rhymes entirely on the fly. Eyedea’s flows are indisputably improvised, as shown by his ability to respond to opponents in battles (and friends in cyphers).

Friendly freestyles

The greatest freestyle session ever recorded is also a settled matter: the 2000 KFAI Orphanage freestyle. Here’s Blueprint’s description of the legendary session, but more importantly here’s the recording: 45 glorious minutes of freestyles, as indie rap icons trade the mic back and forth.

Categories
Cooking Recipe

The essential lentil stew

This is the recipe I’ve cooked the most times in my life and my comfort food. It is the perfect bean soup, which is the perfect food. I’m amazed how flavorful this dish is despite being virtually unspiced.

Time: 55 minutes. Serves 8.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery (optional), chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 14.5 oz, including the juice
  • 1 lb regular brown lentils
  • 8 cups vegetable stock. For me, that’s 2.5 bouillon cubes from Edwards & Sons + 8 cups of water, thrown directly in the pot.
  • A dash or two of smoked paprika or smoked salt (optional)

Saute the onions in ~4 tbsp (1/4 cup) olive oil for a few minutes. Add carrots and celery, cook for a few minutes. Add the can of tomatoes, cook for a few minutes. Add the lentils, stir, add the stock, add the smoke if desired. Cook until the lentils are soft, check around ~30 minutes but it may take more like 40-45. Adjust levels of salt, pepper, smoke. The smoke is optional, skip it or keep it very light – it’s just providing a faint background note.

Optional additions that work well at the table are parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper. Freeze the leftovers.

Notes & Tips

This was a standby of my mother’s. She got it from Marcella Hazan and when I first lived on my own she photocopied the recipe for me: