2014 Wrapup

One word to describe my 2014? Fabulous! Really, I don't think that I've had a better year. Why? Well let's take a look at my plans for 2014 and see how they turned out.

  • Kitchen - It's done. Yes, there are a few little things that I still need to do...some floor trim and some lights. But I could live the rest of my life without finishing that, so it's done. I hosted Thanksgiving here and it was great. I've been cooking for myself again and that's great too. But here's the thing. Aside from some help from family and friends on one day to hang drywall and hiring Shirley for the countertops, I did the whole thing myself. I promise that after this post I will not bring this up again, but I have to say that I impressed the heck out of myself. Yes it took a long time and it's not perfect, but I don't care. I made a plan, worked hard and eventually got it done. Go me!
  • Travel - And where did I go in 2014? Well, let's see, I started off by going to Montreal and Quebec City with my Mom and sister. Then, I went to Boston and Cape Code with my sister. Spent a weekend in DC to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. Took a great trip to NYC for the Five Boro bike ride. I also took my standard quick weekend to Pittsburgh to see a Pirates game and go on a bike ride there. And ended things with a trip to Indianapolis and Dayton for my birthday. For me, that's pretty fantastic.
  • Being active - Here I was better at the beginning of the year than at the end. I spent the month of April participating in 30 Days of Biking which was good and got me out on my bike a lot. I took my bike on my trips to Boston, Cape Cod, NYC, DC and Indianapolis. I also ran a few 5Ks, which was great. My right knee got a little sore after my last 5K in October, so the last two months had a much lower level of activity to try to let it get better. But overall, the year was pretty good.
  • Read - I did pretty well with this as well. Granted I prefer to read more nonfiction than fiction, but I think that's ok. I started using my ipad as a book reader again and that helped.
  • Programming - I took the time to learn how to use Bootstrap which helps me to make all my new websites responsive. This has been very helpful.
  • School - I didn't sign up for a real class in a school, but I did take a great glassblowing class for my birthday. I don't think that I'll blow glass again, but it was really interesting and quite a bit of fun. I also signed up for a letterpress printing class that ended up getting cancelled twice. This annoyed me enough that I basically taught myself how to do it, made a press and made Xmas gifts for everyone. It actually ended up being probably 100% more fun that if I took the actual class.

Looking at everything above shows that the year was pretty great for me. However, everything was not great. One thing I had wanted to do was to make a point of seeing friends. I didn't do so well here. Also, with my kitchen out of action for a while this year, I ate out a lot. I didn't pay very much attention to what I was eating and ended up gaining a bit of weight. And related to this, I spent a lot of money this year. I'm attributing a lot of that to the added spending to finish the kitchen. Though had I hired people to do it, I would have had to spend an additional $10k, at least. I also paid my car off. Paying it off in 13 months was probably a bit quick. But I hate being in debt. As of now, the only place I owe money is on my mortgage. I did refinance this year, so the payment is a little lower and the term is shorter. So I saved money in some ways, but I was hoping that I with doing all the work on my kitchen that I would have had saved a bit more money.

Anyway, my final verdict is that 2014 was a very good year! Let's hope that 2015 is just as good. Tomorrow, I'll post my plans for that.

Making Xmas Gifts Fun

This year I wanted to do something different for Xmas gifts. I hate just buying gifts to buy someone a gift. I want my gifts to be unique and hopefully liked. I decided that I was going to make my own gifts this year. And after watching this video, I decided that I was going to make stationery for people.

The first thing that caught my eye in that video is that the press the guy built is pretty simple. My goal was to build something using only materials I already had in my house. I didn't succeed with this part. I ended up buying a 3' piece of black pipe and some cork. But everything else in the press was found in my basement.

All the pictures that I took throughout the process are here.

The first thing that I knew I needed to do was to buy a plate with everyone's names on it. Since I wasn't sure how long this would take, I submit the order before I built the press. I ordered from Boxcar Press. They have a lot of helpful information on their website for how to submit your design and I didn't have any problems with them. However, my design was pretty much a crapshoot as I didn't know how big the text should be or what fonts might work well. I decided to get two different fonts for everyone, hoping that one of them would work. Then I got started on building the press. The type of plate I got was KF152. This was suggested somewhere on their website, so I went with it.

My first design was basically all wood with one 1/4" steel rod. This didn't work at all as the wood handle was too heavy. Design #1 was quickly dropped. My next design used some black pipe that I had laying around with the steel rod. This didn't work either as the steel rod was too skinny and flexed. Design #3 used two pieces of 3/4" black pipe connected with the pipe clamp. This rotated really well. Now I just needed to figure out how to hang a board on the handle so that I could push down with it to make the print.

My first attempts used bolts to sort of clamp two pieces of plywood to the handle. Here I was trying to duplicate the youtube video where his top piece rotated. I tried to use some plain steel hooks and loops to get the same effect. This sort of worked, but the prints didn't seem to be offset much. After talking to a coworker, I increased the length of the handle by screwing another 2' piece of black pipe to the one I already had. This should allow me to press down a lot harder, which I tried to do. Now I ended up breaking one of the pieces of black pipe and bending my hooks that were holding the top plate in place.

This is where I ended up buying a 3' piece of black pipe to use as the handle. Then I also found some conduit clamps that I used to attach a top board to this new handle. As long as the two pieces of wood were parallel to each other when the handle came down, I was good. I ended up not needing to worry about it always pointing down. I then drilled two holes through both boards and put dowels in the top board. This would make sure that the top plate always came down in the same location.

The last step was to get some thin cork that I stapled to the top board. Once I had that installed, I set up some guides to hold the paper in place and made some prints. The press seemed to be working ok. Now it was just a matter of me putting the right amount of ink on the name and pulling down hard, but not too hard, on the handle. After about an hour or so, I was making some decent prints and knew that things would work. It was just going to take a little time for me to get good at it.

Here are some things I learned. You have to roll out the ink to have a very thin about on the brayer. Too much ink makes a mess and the only way to fix it is to take everything out and wash it. I bought water-based ink for block printing, which was a good choice as it cleaned up easily. The one drawback though is that it dried really quickly. I could get, at most, 10 prints at a time before the ink on my glass dried up. Fortunately, since everything cleaned up with water, it wasn't too much of a chore to just clean it all off and start again. This gave me the advantage that I could change colors a lot. I also learned that I have no idea how to mix colors. Pretty much anything I tried turned into brown. So I just stuck with the red, green and purple that I bought. I also bought yellow, but you couldn't see it on the paper. Lastly, the plates can be reused. After I was done printing with them, I'd just wash them and put the paper backing back on. I reused a few names about four times and could probably do some more with them.

I have to say that I was pretty pleased with how everything turned out. I did end up having to buy a second plate because the fonts I picked for a few of the names (Ted, Annie and Shadla) on the first plate just didn't work. This wasn't so bad. I missed a few people on the first plate because I thought I ran out of space. So I got to get them on the second plate. I'd also like to improve on the design so I could do some more printing. I'm not yet sure what I'd do, but I might come up with another good idea.

Forms and Tables

I had a very weird situation today where a simple form I had created in rails would not work for the edit action. It would work ok for the new action. But if I tried to edit an entry, the submit button wouldn't do anything.

And after googling around a bit, I found that forms cannot go inside of tables. So to fix it, I changed it to this.

<%= form_for(@attendee) do |f| %>
  
Firstname<%= f.text_field :firstname %>
Lastname<%= f.text_field :lastname %>
Email<%= f.text_field :email %>
<%= f.submit 'Submit' %>
<% end %>

Then things worked fine. Weird.

Compiling Bootstrap

I'm using bootstrap a lot these days for a couple of websites I'm setting up. In addition to bootstrap, I had been using a css file for my own changes that I wanted to make. However, now I'm starting to make more than just a couple of changes, so I want to learn how to recompile my own bootstrap file. Here's all I've done.

$ mkdir src
$ cd src
$ wget https://github.com/twbs/bootstrap/archive/v3.3.1.zip
$ unzip v3.3.1.zip
$ cd bootstrap-3.3.1
$ npm install
$ npm install -g grunt-cli

Then, edit the file less/variables.less for whatever changes you want to make. Recompile the css and copy the new css files to the main project area.

$ grunt dist
$ cp dist/css/* ../../css

Sloppy

I bought computer parts for my nephew to assemble his own computer. We got it all together and it didn't work. After taking out lots of parts, it looks like I bent some pins in the cpu socket when I put it in. This was after I specifically told my nephew that you had to be careful doing this. I'm an idiot. Tomorrow, I think I'm going to take it to work to see if I can perhaps straighten the pins using our microscope. If that doesn't work (and I have a feeling it won't), I'll probably just have to buy a new motherboard.

Update: And we broke a pin in trying to straighten it, so already bought a new motherboard. Hopefully, this is all we need.

Bootstrap

I've been playing around with Bootstrap for the past few days and have grown to like it. I just switched over one of my work webpages to it and have to do the other one. Once I have those done, I'll probably redesign coldandheartless with it as well. It is nice to be able to easily read and navigate my sites on my phone.

Talk Too Much

I have picked up some bad habits of late. The biggest one being I'm talking too much. I don't like myself very much when I talk a lot, especially when I'm just talking to make myself look good. And that's what I'm doing, no matter what I might think. So the first thing I need to start doing is talking less and listening more. The other thing I've noticed is that I'm being very rude and judgmental with people. This is ridiculous. What right do I have to judge other people? That needs to stop. For some reason, I've recently gotten a rather large ego. Here's the thing, I know I haven't done anything to earn that. And I also dislike other people who have huge egos and have a sense of entitlement. Thus, another reason to not like myself. So before I do anything else, I need to quit thinking I'm so important and start seeing how I can be more helpful to others.

PHP Notes

Mainly I use Rails for stuff on the web. But now I'm making a simple website and I'm using php for it. One of the things I really like about Rails is the use of a layout to keep pages consistent. I'm sure there's a php framework I can use for this. But all I'm really want to do on my current site is have some static html pages loaded. I'm mainly using php to load the navigation bar. The one difference here is that I want the site to be responsive. So I'm using bootstrap for this. I want to make a function that lays everything out and then loads a specific page in the right place. Basically, I'm looking to recreate the Rails yield function.

I found one way to do it. (Though now that I'm thinking about it, I might do it slightly differently.)

First I create a php_functions.php file that I load onto each page. In the head I have this line:

<?php include_once '../php_functions.php'; ?>

This file has a function called show_page, which basically sets up all the divs and containers for the responsive design. And toward the bottom, it has this line, which is basically my yield.

<?php echo file_get_contents(substr($_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'],1,-1) . ".php") ?>

If I'm at a url of example.com/meetings, it's going to load a file called meetings.php at this spot. To me, this is logical and I'd have no problem with it. However, this is one website where someone else is going to be updating it. And while I don't think that she'd have any problem figuring this out, I might want to make it more obvious. So I think when I call the show_page function, I should just put in the name of the file, as in:

<?php show_page('meetings.php'); ?>

I think that will make it more obvious which file she has to edit.

Holiday Work

My original plan for today was to go and cut down a Christmas tree. But since my nephew (who wanted to actually cut the tree down), has not yet finished his homework for tomorrow, this plan is now on hold. So last night, I started looking at the hosting for this website. I was on Rackspace (since they bought Slicehost years ago) and was paying around $44/month. It was ok, but I my virtual server was running Centos 5.5. I know that Centos 7 is out now and I figured I should upgrade. Since this was going to mean basically making a new server and copying everything over, I looked around at my other options. Paying another $44 to Rackspace for another server seemed pricey. So instead, I set up a new server on Linode and have been moving everything there. I'm hoping Linode is going to cost me less than $20/month, but I'll see after a few months how it's looking. Right now, I'm copying all of my old data from my laptop to the new host. This will take a few more hours, but then I think I can delete the old Rackspace host, as I have everything set up on the new one.

One other thing I've realized is that the next step will probably be to buy a server and put it in a colocation site. This copying of data takes hours and I have less than 10gb on my server. If I want to start posting videos (which I do), my data is going to grow fast. It'll be much more practical to get a colocation site where I can physically go and just copy data drive to drive. And this will also be a good backup for me. Right now, the drawback is this is much more expensive. The big datacenter near my house is around $90/month. If I'm lucky, those prices will come down in the next few years and I'll be able to make the switch.

And this switch is why the blog looks a bit different now. I changed the theme.

Is it selfish?

For Christmas this year, I'm making gifts for some people. Yes, handmade gifts are all the thing. However, normally I think people mean that when they get something really nice as a gift. If I, as an adult, were to color them a picture, I don't think it would be received as well as if I child did it. However, I like to try to learn new things. So I'm using Christmas as an excuse to build a contraption (can't go into any more detail in case anyone who I might give a gift to might be reading) to make gifts. Here's the thing, so far, my results are about the equivalent of a crayon drawing done by a five year old. Personally speaking though, working on my contraption has made me as happy as a five year old. So can I give my horrible drawings to people? Making them has made me really happy, giddy in fact. I'm grinning and giggling to myself as I write this. And in looking at my results so far, I'm laughing out loud because they're so bad. I want to give them out because they've just made me so happy. But seriously, they're crap and no one is going to want them. Is it selfish of me to give people a gift that makes me way happier than the person I'm trying to make happy with my gift? I have to think about this. Ok, yes it is selfish. But I'm ok with being selfish. 🙂