Watch repair: metal spring bar tore a channel in a Casio G-Shock end piece

For Hanukkah 2008, I received a new watch from my wife. (I don’t remember the watch before that). It was particularly magical in my job as a high school teacher. After the first bell of the day rang, it was 4 minutes to the start of school, then 46 minutes per period alternating with a 4-minute passing period. Like clockwork, so to speak.

The watch had a auto-repeating countdown timer that I set for 50 minutes and would almost always successfully synchronize with the day’s first bell. That would mean that at any point during the day I could look down and see precisely how many seconds were left in a class or passing period. I could walk the hallways and announce “27 seconds!” or count down “5-4-3-2-1” and then the bell would ring, with me the only person in the school who had that level of precision. There’s probably something there for another post but I digress.

After years of daily wear and companionship, I received a smartwatch as a gift and stopped wearing the digital watch. Then I went from the FitBit to a Basis and then a Garmin. At one point I realized I’d fallen into a consumerism trap and sought to go back. The notifications were disruptive and the data I was generating was useless to me but creepy in the hands of Big Tech. I tried to go back to the Casio, but it had a problem. (Remember the torn-out spring bar in the page title? This post is about the torn-out spring bar).

Each strap is attached to the end piece / bezel by a spring bar. In the course of replacing a broken band and with wear and tear over time, the spring bar on one strap carved a channel from the hole it sits in. With slight force, the strap would pull the pin out through the channel and detach from the bezel. (If this post wasn’t an afterthought I’d have a “before” picture). This person appears to have the same problem, though they too did not post a picture.

Continue reading Watch repair: metal spring bar tore a channel in a Casio G-Shock end piece

Motherload, a movie about people and cargo bikes

I saw the documentary “Motherload” in September and meant to write a review.  I wish I had done it fresh, but I keep thinking about it, so better late than never.

Motherload connected with me on an emotional level.  I teared up as it captured on film and described feelings and moments I’ve had biking with my kids that I’ve never heard anyone articulate.  People know I’m the crazy guy on the bike with his kids; this film told my story, our story.  In this post I’ll remark on a few parts that stuck with me.  Here’s the trailer:

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SD card not recognized in Ubuntu after formatting with GParted? Label it

I formatted an SD card for use in a Raspberry Pi, in fat32 format using the GParted and following the steps in this post.

But then Ubuntu didn’t recognize it, so I couldn’t put the NOOBS files on it. I went around in circles before giving the SD card a label, a step described as “if you wish” in that post. Voila! My SD card was immediately recognized.

That’s all. Label the volume. Maybe this brief post helps someone searching the internet, but if nothing else I hope writing this makes me less likely to fall in this same trap again.

Today in cars harassing bikes

Based on what I hear from cyclists in other cities, Ann Arbor drivers are relatively kind toward bikes. But maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, as I was harassed twice while dropping my kids off on the way to work.

I hate it. Car-to-bike yelling and honking carries the underlying threat that the driver could, if they wanted, kill you instantly and likely not even face repercussions. You’re alive because they tolerate you. By virtue of their speed and windows, they dictate when an exchange will happen, when it starts, and when it’s done.

When I get harassed, my heart starts racing, I second-guess myself, I stop chit-chatting with my kids. If I was harassed more often I’d be discouraged from riding my bike, and it’s undoubtedly keeping others off their bikes now.

None of that is news. But the two incidents this morning provided a useful contrast and left me slightly hopeful.

Driver #1: I was biking up Seventh Street north of Huron with two kids on the back. There’s decent room to pass here and cars often do, as they’re unable to on the previous block. A man in a pickup pulled up alongside me and drove parallel to me while he shouted, “that’s seriously unsafe, bro!” Then, not sure what else to add: “Seriously unsafe!” and sped off.

I didn’t have a snappy comeback, and don’t have one now. Bike safety is more complicated than a soundbite. My kids and I were quiet. They were rattled like I was. To the extent our trips to school are dangerous, it’s because a man like this could kill us. So it’s disconcerting to hear a warning from him.

I’ll just note here that the underlying issue is Ann Arbor’s terrible transportation infrastructure. We should not have to share a lane with this truck. In fact, the city just last year considered installing a bike lane on this stretch, but decided to use the space for storage of private cars instead. Yeah, the guy shouldn’t yell at me, but the City of Ann Arbor takes the assist on this one. I used to get harassed on North Maple Road, now there’s a buffered bike lane there.

Driver #2: having dropped the kids, I headed inbound on Miller toward downtown. The bike lane was pure ice so I took the lane. A Pontiac Vibe laid on the horn as it passed me – then had to step on the brake as the light at Seventh turned red. I pulled up alongside the car and told the driver, “the bike lane was full of ice so I had to drive in the car lane, sorry.” He rolled down his window, fumbling for words: “Sorry. It’s just hard.” Pause. “I get too pissed off, I’m sorry.” I smiled, and told him no worries, we are all trying to get to work. “Have a great day!”

His contrition buoyed my spirits and offset the incident with the truck. He was a normal human: a decent person on foot and an impatient, unkind one behind the wheel. This near-universal transformation applies to me, too, and it’s been widely acknowledged since before this 1950 Goofy clip, where driving a car transforms him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde:

I was lucky to catch Driver #2 at the light for this moment of redemption. It left me optimistic about the power of people to get past differences, see each other as humans worthy of respect, and come together – once we log off our devices and get out of our cars.

Halfway to a keg of blood

I’ve been donating blood since I was in high school. My dad is a long-time blood donor, so I started giving because he did. Turns out he donates because his dad, my Grandpa Bill, was a long-time blood donor.

In my early 20s I set a goal to donate the largest feasible volume that was meaningful to me as a homebrewer: a keg. A standard half-barrel keg is half of a barrel (31 gallons), so 15.5 gallons or 124 pints of beer. Or blood.

I donated blood yesterday and checked my stats: 53 units with the Red Cross, plus 10 that I donated with LifeSource during the periods I lived in Chicago. That puts me one unit into the second half of my keg.

Continue reading Halfway to a keg of blood

Traditional & Vegan Herbed Potato Latkes

This Hanukkah I locked in my favorite latke recipe, cooking it over and over and taking notes. I’m resharing it here, if nothing else so I can easily find it next December.

I was lucky to celebrate with my brother, who is vegan. We cooked together and over several nights made eight batches of latkes, half traditional and half vegan. We nailed the vegan version: side-by-side, they were nearly indistinguishable.

They were excellent. Pureeing some, but not all, of the potatoes yields a latke with distinguishable strands that is also firmly bound. And they are herbed, which gives them flavors beyond oil and salt. There was no point at which I suddenly felt ugh, that’s enough.

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The Overstory: “You have been spared from death to do a most important thing”

I recently read and enjoyed The Overstory, by Richard Powers. I often miss connections in books & movies that are obvious to others; here I wrestle with one particular line near the end that I noticed is a callback to an earlier chapter.

This post contains spoilers.  If you haven’t read the book, you’re better off reading it than this post.

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Hidden sidewalk art accompanying David Zinn’s “Singing in the Rain” mural

David Zinn, whimsical local artist, is an Ann Arbor treasure. His chalk drawings on sidewalks are fleeting (though I have a few of his prints hanging on the wall), but in 2014 he put up a permanent work: the Singing in the Rain mural on Fifth Avenue. If you stand at the right spot, Gene Kelly appears to be swinging from a real-life street lamp (first photo below). No news here so far.

(I went looking for Zinn’s social media presence so I could link to him and I see he has >300k Instagram followers! I’m not surprised, his work is well-suited for that channel. I’m glad he has a large online following in addition to his local adoring fans).

Walking down Fifth Avenue on a rainy day in October 2017, I stood at the spot where the street lamp aligns with the mural – and noticed something on the sidewalk at my feet. A pair of footprints had emerged to mark where the viewer should stand, along with lyrics to the titular song:

A hidden bonus artwork had revealed itself! These appeared to have been made with stencils and a clear coat that is only visible when it prevents the underlying pavement from moistening – and darkening – during rain. Rainworks has some examples of this medium.

Twice in the past year I’ve walked past that spot in the rain and not seen the hidden art. So I emailed the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) who had sponsored the mural, to see what had happened and if they could restore it. They didn’t know what footprints I was talking about, and when I shared the photos, they said they’d never known about anything of the sort and couldn’t say what had happened.

I noticed last week that there are some newer-looking sections of sidewalk pavement in that area. If I remember, I’ll compare them to the photos I took in 2017 and see if that explains what happened.

Unresolved is who added the bonus sidewalk art. Was it surreptitiously added by David Zinn? Or by a 3rd party? Its hiding-in-plain-sight nature already made it some of my favorite art around Ann Arbor and its rogue creation only adds to the mystery. I hope the stencils are reapplied! If they’re not, then my photos serve as a memorial. If you know more, comment or drop me a line.

Homebrew: art that is destroyed by experiencing it

For Thanksgiving 2013, I brewed my first Biere de Garde, after discovering the style and then reading Garrett Oliver’s suggestion that it’s the perfect pairing for the holiday feast. My brew was a hit. At Thanksgiving 2019, we drank the final bottle from that batch.

Friday we drank another final bottle that had been lurking in my cellar, an Eisbock brewed in 2013. Even as many obscure beer styles are pioneered or revitalized in the homebrewing community and then are taken to the public by mainstream craft breweries, Eisbock remains relatively unknown. I expect this is due to the fact that freeze-concentrating beer, at a production scale, would require specialized equipment that most breweries won’t acquire.

Then yesterday we drank the final bottle of a 2011 smoked porter (excellent) and one of the last few of a 2015 smoked porter (one-dimensional).

It may be a stretch to call homebrew art; I see it as more of a craft. Art or craft, it’s something that can only be experienced a finite number of times. The act of tasting it simultaneously depletes it.

Continue reading Homebrew: art that is destroyed by experiencing it

That feeling when your first user opens an issue

You know how new businesses frame the first dollar they earn?

I wrote an R package that interfaces with the SurveyMonkey API. I worked hard on it, on and off the clock, and it has a few subtle features of which I’m quite proud. It’s paying off, as my colleagues at TNTP have been using it to fetch and analyze their survey results.

The company and I open-sourced the project, deciding that if we have already invested the work, others might as well benefit. And maybe some indirect benefits will accrue to the company as a result. I made the package repository public, advertised it in a few places, then waited. Like a new store opening its doors and waiting for that first customer.

They showed up on Friday! With the project’s first GitHub star and a bug report that was good enough for me to quickly patch the problem. Others may have already been quietly using the package, but this was the first confirmed proof of use. It’s a great feeling as an open-source developer wondering, “I built it: will they come?”

Consider this blog post to be me framing that dollar.