Pokémon Dashboard

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We all have our little quarantine projects. I’ve had a few. Reorganizing the cluttered tupperware in our cabinets. Getting the furniture in a spare bedroom ready for our new son in November. My more frivolous project has been installing a Pokémon themed display on my dashboard.

I started off simple. I wanted the display to be modular, so I could move the Pokémon around or play with them (not while driving). That meant instead of super-gluing the figurines directly to the dashboard, I would glue them to metal washers. I glued ceramic magnets to the dashboard (all using heat-resistant epoxy so it won’t soften in the summer heat). Then the Pokémon could be moved around to create different displays. I can even switch the Pokémon out entirely if I want and put in some other type of figurine!

So that looked good. It was fun. I liked it. But the dashboard was still a boring black color. How could I spice it up? Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions

So there’s this tradition of making a resolution to improve yourself at the end of every year. It’s supposed to be a method of self-improvement.

When I was a kid most of my resolutions were to brush my teeth more often. After I started being interested in dating my resolutions mostly revolved around putting on more muscle mass.

This year they’re mostly about being a better person for my wife instead of my parents (teeth brushing) or a potential girlfriend (muscles).

1) When someone has a birthday I will try to make that day a little better for them.
I’ve become something of a Grinch when it comes to birthdays because I don’t like my own. I go to parties and am a nice guest, but I don’t try to do something for someone when there isn’t an established event for them already. I’ll try to change that from now on. Of course this will depend on how close I am to the birthday person. Doing something for them might just mean a message on their Facebook wall. It could mean I get them a cool present and send it in the mail or even offer to plan a party for them!

2) Enjoy my own birthday.
Related to the birthday Grinch thing, I don’t enjoy my own birthday. I don’t like the idea of getting older and have wanted to stay the same age since I was seven. Getting older sucks once you get all the privileges! Now its all about more responsibilities. Well, I should stop blaming my birthday for that and have a nice time. No more being grumpy for the two weeks that surround my birthday.

3) Try harder to be a vegetarian again.
My wife is a vegetarian for ethical reasons. She thinks its wrong to kill an animal just because you want something tastier to eat than the delicious combination of cheese and beans (We are fans of Mexican food). I phrased the question of vegetarianism to myself a little differently awhile ago. Who is a better person, someone who kills animals when they don’t have to or someone who doesn’t? That kind of made it clear to me. Someone who doesn’t kill animals is better.
While I don’t think I can stay off meat entirely because too many of my favorite recipes lack adequate substitutes. There are good soy substitutes for chicken, but not for bacon for example. Thus I told my wife two years ago that I would make an effort to replace or subtract meat from my meals when I felt it did not add anything to the meal. I’ve since started slipping in that promise, so I am reaffirming it as a New Year’s Resolution.

4) “Donate” money to Kiva.
Kiva is a cool organization that loans money to small business owners in developing countries. Note that Kiva doesn’t give money to them, it loans money. If you give money to someone they often don’t spend it wisely. There’s a natural tendency to see a gift as “fun money” instead of money to improve your station in life. But if the money is a loan, then the debt ensures that the money will be used to improve the person’s business instead of buying a TV or whatever.
About 10% of the people who receive money default on their loans (The site says 1.25%, but 10% was the number I remembered when I looked at it previously). For some perspective, the USA default rate on small business loans is 1.5% right now and was 6% during the recent recession. Another problem is that although you are fronting the money for the investment, you make nothing off of it. When the business owner repays the loan the interest is used to pay the salary of the collector working for Kiva. You get back your original investment, but that’s all. So what if someone defaults? Well, Kiva encourages you to spread your money out over multiple people in $20 amounts to avoid this problem. Then if someone defaults you’re only out $20.
I said I was donating the money though. My plan is that when I get my money back that I will just reinvest it in another person until its all gone due to defaults (which could take years). I got a $200 gift from my grandparents for Christmas, so I think that’ll be the starting amount of my Kiva account. I’ll add in more later as I get older.

5) Set up my wife’s Roth IRA.
Kind of strange to have this one follow up a resolution to invest money for other people, but investing money for yourself is important too! There are tons of different retirement accounts, but the do it yourself ones are called plain IRAs and Roth IRAs. Plain IRAs are taxed when you start withdrawing money from them after you retire. Roth IRAs are taxed before you put money into them, but never after that. Which one is better? It depends on your tax bracket. If your bracket is going to go up by the time you retire, then a Roth IRA is better. If its going to stay the same, a regular IRA is better.
I have a Roth IRA set up for myself. For someone in the bottom tax bracket like me, a Roth IRA will earn three times as much as a regular IRA in investments by the time I retire. My wife is in the same boat for her tax bracket. She doesn’t have an account set up yet and we’ve been talking about it for awhile. Next year I will set it up and we can start saving for retirement even though we are in our 20’s.

And those are my New Year’s Resolutions! I’d love to hear your own resolutions and the stories behind them in the comments below.

-Mister Ed

Lab Construction Work

The new shelves where rice seeds for the sequencing project I work on will be stored.
The new shelves where rice seeds for the sequencing project I work on will be stored.

Yesterday I got home pretty tired after work.

The picture above is what I did at work. I made some shelves and put some boxes on them. That took all day.

The shelves came in five different cardboard boxes.

The lab manager and I put the shelves together in the hallway because there isn’t enough room for it on the floor in this room. That took about an hour.

We pushed the shelves in after putting them together. Everyone laughed thinking that we couldn’t fit them through the door. SHOWED THEM DIDN’T WE?!?

The shelves are seven feet tall. They’ll be holding the thousands of different varieties of seed in those boxes on them.

Next, the lab manager wanted to construct another set of shelves for other lab storage.

This other shelf had to fit into a space taken up by even more shelves.

The lab manager, another lab guy, and I spent half an hour shoving the other shelves around until there was just enough room to squeeze the new set of shelves in.

The lab manager started putting together that other shelf while I and the other lab guy worked on those boxes you can see in the picture.

Each box holds more than a hundred varieties of seed. Some hold close to 600.

These seeds were stored in ordinary cardboard boxes previously. Like the kind that you pack your stuff in when you move.

This storage was pretty unorganized. Our job is to sort them out and put them into the new boxes which will be much more organized.

So I spent all day taking envelopes of rice seeds from one box, writing down what the envelopes said on an Excel sheet, and putting the envelope into a new box.

It is WAY more ordered now. Previously, it’d take 5 minutes to find a particular variety of seed. When we’re done it’ll take 5 seconds.

I worked my way through one cardboard moving box and was on my second when the day finished.

The other lab worker and I got through about 1,000 seed varieties each. Lots more boxes to go through though!

This taste of the more mundane side of lab life was brought to you by the talking horse.

-Mister Ed

Bike Tire Problems

My old bike tire is behind the new one.
My old bike tire is behind the new one.

I finally figured out why my bike was getting flat tires so often. There was a hole in the tire itself instead of the tubes I put in them.

I grew up in a town where bikes were used all the time to get places. I then went to college in a town that encourages bikes to the point that the town logo is a bike. There’s even a bike museum downtown.

My point is, maybe everyone is not as aware of how bikes work as I am.

Bike wheels have three basic parts, the wheel, the tire, and the tube.

The wheel is the metal part with all the spokes on it that attaches to the bike frame at the center. If there’s something wrong with my bike wheel, I take it to my dad to fix it. Every other Saturday my dad repairs bikes for a charity, The Silicon Valley Bike Exchange.

The tire is the rubber wall that incases the tube. The tire is the part of your bike that actually touches the ground.

The tube sits between the tire and the wheel. It’s also made of much thinner rubber than the tire.

The tube inflates and presses against the tire wall, giving it a firm shape that still yields to bumps and debris in the road. This allows a bike to ride over the various cracks in the road without giving the rider awful saddle sores.

When you get a flat it is usually because of a hole in the tube. The tube is essentially a balloon, so it can pop if treated to roughly. Thorns are a good way to rupture a tube. I have a road bike, so hopping curbs will also cause problems for me.

Over the past three weeks or so I have replaced my bike’s front tube four or five times. One of them popped while it was just sitting outside my house. Another as I was replacing it. Another popped on the first ride I took it on.

I eventually decided to sit down, inflate a tire, and then watch it to see what caused it to pop spontaneously.

As I waited I noticed the tube beginning to swell out of a hole in the side wall of the tire. A one centimeter bubble formed on the outside of the tire and then popped.

So now I knew what the problem was! My old tire had rubber for the section that contacts the ground, but the sidewalls were made from interlaced thread instead.

These threads had slowly come undone until a hole formed that was big enough for the tube to blow out through. Without the tire keeping pressure on the tube, it exploded like an overinflated balloon.

You can see the frayed threads around the hole in the picture above.

Finally realizing what the problem was, I got a new tire and replaced that along with the burst tube.

My bike is all fine now and I’m taking it to work instead of the bus.

That’s all for now!

-Mister Ed

Good and Bad

I had a strange amount of ups and downs today.

I started off by trying to install some child locks on our bathroom cabinets. Our new cat has been trying to sneak in and we think it’d be best if she doesn’t have access to all the toilet paper at once or all the chemicals that could hurt her under the sink.

Child locks come in two parts, the part you have to push to open it and the part the pushy part inserts into to keep the door locks. I’d glued the holdy part onto the cabinets on Monday.

I checked the glue today and was a bit rough in handling one of the holdy parts. It popped off in my hand. I sighed and reglued it on.

I glued on the pushy part and found it was very difficult to align it correctly with the holdy part. Fearing that I did it wrong, I only glued in one of the pushy parts today to see how it looks tomorrow.

After that frustration I went out to fix the flat in my bike. The flat had happened on Friday and I got new tubes on Monday.

I put the first tube in and it immediately popped. Figuring they can occasionally be duds, I pulled it out and put a second one in. It seemed fine and I biked off to work. It popped just before I got onto campus. I sighed and walked the rest of the way to my job.

I figured I was too pissed off to immediately get to work at lab, so I decided to make a quick appointment with an optometrist in town.

The optometrist informed me that I needed to know the exact amount of coverage my health insurance gave me for vision before I could get an appointment. On to calling the health insurance company then!

I called my health insurance and was put on hold (typical). I waited and zoned out not listening to the recorded message. Then the message said, “Goodbye,” and it hung up. I have no clue what led up to it saying goodbye, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the usual hold music.

I called again and avoided the previous menu options that had resulted in the robot disconnecting me. I ended up waiting an hour on hold before I got to talk to a human person.

The whole time it faked me out by switching up which robot voices were telling me about the health insurance website. Each time the voice changed I thought I had finally reached a real person only to have my hopes destroyed.

I eventually got the health insurance and the optometrist appointment set up.

After that my day improved. I stained some worms to see if they turn blue over the next two days. I checked some injected worms to see if the DNA I injected into them had successfully integrated into their genomes. IT HAD! WOOHOO!

I called my wife to come pick up my bike during the afternoon so I wouldn’t have to walk it home. She came by and put it in the car and reminded me why I love her.

At the end of the day my wife came home with two cupcakes for me.

A good day in the end despite the rocky start! 🙂

-Mister Ed

Warlight

My friends and I have been playing this online game called Warlight a lot lately.

Warlight is a lot like Risk, but it allows for almost every custom rule that Risk has ever had and more. The basic rules of the game are the same as Risk though, so if you’ve played Risk you will understand how Warlight works.

Warlight is played through your web browser at this site, on a tablet or smart phone with an app, or through Google Hangouts with an app.

You can play Warlight with your friends, with other random users on the internet, or with computer opponents.

The coolest thing about Warlight is all the different maps on the site. The traditional Risk Earth map exists among many others. There are larger maps of Earth, smaller ones of specific countries and regions, maps of established fantasy worlds (Westeros is a favorite of mine), and tons of other fantasy maps.

Warlight has so many awesome maps because it allows anyone to submit a map to play on the website. There’s tutorials on how to do it along with a free software program to design the maps in.

My friends and I latched onto the idea and I created a Warlight map version of one of our D&D campaign worlds. We’ve enjoyed playtesting it a lot and will release it soon. The map is called Gurutama. If any of you readers end up trying Warlight, maybe you’ll end up playing on my map once its released!

That’s all for tonight!

-Mister Ed