The Big Think

March 31, 2006

Fixed Mind, Flexible Mind

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 12:24 am

Had quite the experience tonight. I recently ordered a few more X-10 switches for the house (Smarthome was blowing out a bunch of their high-end Switchlinc switches. These are the ones I’ve been slowly installing into the house as I can afford them. It’s taken almost five years, but I’m very very close to having every light, ceiling fan, small fan, fishtank pump, lamp, and outlet automated.

Last week I installed a couple switches on the downstairs fan/light and spent a few days troubleshooting. It turns out that those two switches are so far away from the automation computer that they don’t reliably “see” their control codes. I found a simple workaround (moved the wireless receiver to an outlet right next to the switches) and all is well.

Thinking that I was on a roll, I proceeded to yank the switches out of the wall in the master bedroom. I was going to install identical switches in an identical box (2 switches- one for the fan and one for the light). Unfortunately, it was only after I had cut the wires and yanked the old switches that I discovered that these weren’t wired up at all like the ones downstairs! Uh oh.

After much frustration and muttering under my breath, I started to fear that I’d have to call a very expensive electrician to undo my mistake. I even called one to check rates. Yikes! I felt really stupid for having done this and my old habit of cursing myself for making dumb errors crept back with a vengeance. I took several breaks and discovered that each time I would approach the problem I’d get a very small clue to how the circuit was wired. Keep in mind that there were 10 incoming wires in the wall and 8 wires on two switches, so it was a real rat’s-nest. I went to Home Depot and got a circuit tester and sat and pondered the wires for a long, long time. When I got frustrated I’d go away and list what I knew and what I didn’t know and try to figure out my next step. Slow, painful progress.

Well, it all paid off. Yes, I feel a little sheepish telling you that it took me five solid hours to change a couple of light switches, but if you’d have seen the mess you’d understand why. In the end, not only did I save over a hundred bucks because I didn’t have to call an electrician, but I really understand that circuit now! The sneaky part was that there was an extra bit of Romex that powers the bathroom and it was branching out of this box- but it was crammed into the box in such a way as to not look like a different piece of wire. Very tricky. The other confusing part was that whoever wired up our house didn’t follow standard color coding on the wires! It’s probably still up to code since you don’t technically have to follow the color coding, and the wires they used aren’t all three color wire bundles, but instead alternate between three and two color romex sheaths. It was confusing real mess.

But when Erin flipped the breaker for the hundredth time and everything worked, I felt like I could fix anything. Success!

We have been listening to a very interesting podcast about “fixed-mind” versus “flexible mind” (the woman in the podcast calls it a “growth-mindset”). Fixed-minded people tend to say “I can’t do that”, or “I’ve never been good at that”, or even “I wasn’t born with the ability to…”. Growth-minded people say “I don’t know how to do that, but I can learn”, or even “oh good…a challenge”. I think most people are somewhere in between, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve been trying to cultivate a flexible mind. I’ve trained myself to ask lots of questions if I don’t understand something, and even to pursue questions if I do understand. You’d be surprised what you can learn when you don’t assume you know everything about a topic. Beware, though. If you decide to do this, some people will automatically assume that you’re a dimwit. Ironically, the opposite is probably true. The speaker in the podcast (Dr. Carol Dweck) talked about how fixed-minded folks are more concerned about looking competent than about actually being competent. Erin and I had quite the conversation about this the other night. Wish I could adequately explain it.

Anyway, just kind of rambling here. But I wanted to write about how great it felt to do something as simple (and yet challenging) as replace a lightswitch, and how it led to some real self-discovery about how I deal with challenges and problems and where I need to change.

Hey! Lucky you, I just found the 20 minute podcast. Go listen! Sit through the initial commercial and don’t worry about Dr. Dweck’s sleepy voice. It’s really worth it. Now aren’t you glad you read all the way through to the end?

March 30, 2006

Photoshopped Posters

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 10:21 am

Some classic photoshopped posters here. Some of these had me laughing out loud.


Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 9:48 am


I ordered some clamps on Amazon the other day. Not only is Bessey having a big anniversary sale, but Amazon is including a 24″ clamp for FREE when you order two of the bigger ones. Clamps may not sound very sexy or blogworthy, but when they’re Big Bessey’s, believe-you-me, you’ll have a shopful of woodworkers drooling and catcalling like Leisure Suit Larry.

So I spent just over $60 to buy a 24″, 31″, and 50″ clamp. Amazon shipped them via supersaver shipping, which also means “slowest and most inconvenent shipping possible”. No big deal.

You’d think that Amazon would want to ship them in the most cost effective way since they were fronting the bill for the heavy things. Oh no. Not only did they send them in three separate shipments, but their shippers have no clue how to efficiently pack something odd like a 50″ clamp. Witness:

Here’s what happens when you don’t have a big enough box:


Here’s the second box. Looks like the clamp is well protected, right?


Really good packing there, guys:

I mean, it’s not like a hunk of plastic attached to a steel bar is in much danger. They could slap a shipping label on it and send it with no protection and it’d probably be okay. At least I have lots of cardboard now. 🙂


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:35 am

Iraq hostage Jill Carroll released unharmed. Whew.

March 29, 2006

The Future of Driving (and TV)

Filed under: Computing,Technology — jasony @ 2:18 pm

Nova special “The Great Robot Race” aired last night. It was available today online in full, without commercials (well, since it’s Nova, there wouldn’t have been any commercials anyway). I just finished watching this hour long special about the first (and second) autonomous robot competition that happened last year. It’s a great show.

What really impressed me, though, was how much more I enjoyed watching it online. The video was in a smallish window and it wasn’t the same quality picture that we’d have gotten on our TV, but those things will change in time as better bandwidth and compression technologies develop. What I really liked about watching it via my internet connection was that the producers included extra video content that they couldn’t include in the televised version- like having the extra features on a DVD.
I kept thinking how great it’ll be in the future when all media is delivered this way, and how this will greatly increase the opportunities for talented content creators.

Check out the show.

As Seen From Space

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 1:16 pm

Here’s what a total eclipse of the sun looks like from space. The shadow of the moon. Amazing.


March 28, 2006

Rapatronic Nanosecond Cameras

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 10:16 pm

Some people are scary smart.

March 27, 2006

Stanislaw Lem

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 9:07 pm

Ukranian author Stanislaw Lem died today at the age of 84. I remember in college Patrick described a science fiction story that Lem had written about a very long journey that couldn’t reach the surface. Trust me, it was a crazy idea. Lem was a prolific Sci Fi (and non-fi) author. I’ve only read a little of his stuff but what I did read reminded me of Vonnegut on his more coherent days.

March 25, 2006

Lego Arena

Filed under: Games — jasony @ 8:59 am

This is amazing!

March 24, 2006

Okay, Here’s the Bookcase Already

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 9:47 am

I don’t know how many hour it took, but it was a lot. Blessed few mistakes, fortunately. Please note the small ebony inlaid squares. That’s about six hours of eyestrain right there, but it was worth it.

Yes, the wood on the top really is that beautiful. You can lose yourself in that wonderful quartersawn grain. The side panels are solid quartersawn red oak bookmatched on my bandsaw.

Building probably took 30-40 hours. Finishing took around 10. However, because of work-related delays, it took me over four months to complete the thing. Still and all, it looks good in the space and Erin loves it. And that’s the most important thing, right? Oh, the white things under the feet are folded paper towels just in case the thing decides to bleed on the carpet. Red stain and light beige carpet don’t mix. I’ll leave them there for a few weeks.

The finish is 10% brown and 90% mahogany red Solar-Lux dye. Then a coat of Minwax mahogany stain, followed by six coats of 2-lb cut shellac. By the way, the color of the finish (which I love and took eight tests to get just right) doesn’t quite match with the color of the wall (which I’m growing to dislike). We may have to repaint.

Please forgive the dusty and spotty photography. Fine Woodworking would never accept it. I may prevail upon the good graces of a friend with a Good Camera Setup to take a few shots. Maybe Taunton will get a copy someday (if I might be so bold).

Finally, to those who asked: yes, the design is custom. I drew it out full-sized onto a piece of paper. Great idea, that. I’ll continue to do this on future designs. I’m proud to say that all of my furniture designs have been originals (or inspired-by’s. In this case, the book case design is my take on Arts and Crafts)

And here it is:

Designing on paper:

Deciding what grain looks best where:

Partial assembly- here you can see the thick panels (labeled “P1, P2”) that eventually got cut and bookmatched into the sides. Also note the paper template shape for the cloud lift design on the middle side piece. It was bandsawn shortly after this picture was shot:

The final product!


Thanks for looking.
(Comments closed. I got 4 legit comments and over 20 spams in just a few hours. Stupid spammers)

March 23, 2006

Something to Make Tim Salivate

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 10:15 am

A 2.11 lb carbon nanotube bike frame.

March 22, 2006


Filed under: Macintosh — jasony @ 10:41 pm

Longhorn (a.ka. “Vista”) slips into the future again. What’s the difference between Mac OS X and Vista? Microsoft employees are excited about Mac OS X.

The Bookshelf is Done!

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 1:03 am

It’s finished! I’ll take a couple decent pictures tomorrow when the sun is up.

Today I started work on the bathroom cabinets. Knocked the carcass together in a couple of hours. It’s amazing what you can do with the right tools. Tomorrow: face frame and a start on the door, plus we’re gearing up for stool production. No, not the kind that happens after a large dinner (ew!). Rather, Erin and I are making and hopefully selling a bunch of little-kid-piano-stools through her work. It’s a great opportunity for us to work together (I build and she paints/decorates), and it fills a need. I’ll post more about it when we get the prototypes done.

It feels great to have that book case done.

March 20, 2006


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:18 pm

…at some point the nation will remember that for six years and counting there has not been a major terrorist attack on the nation since 9/11. Bush kept us safe, far safer than any predicted. Committees can go on writing reports of this failure of this or that department, but they cannot hide the fact that Bush and his government has been competent enough to keep us safe.

Bin Laden has failed, utterly failed, to hit the United States again since 9/11. Even if he lands a blow soon, six years of impotence cannot be an accident. George W. Bush cannot please Howard Fineman with long discussions on the economics of the french fry, but he has kept us safe from terror.

read the whole thing.

March 19, 2006

Periodic Table

Filed under: Science,Woodworking — jasony @ 11:20 pm

I so want to build one of these. Actually, I had this idea a few years ago, but didn’t have the proper tools. This guy beat me to it. I’ll bet somebody offers him a ton of money for the thing.

Futurama Returns!

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 10:42 pm

i.c. weiner and one-eyed aliens return!Good news everyone!

*UPDATE* Bad News Everyone! It seems this story was a bit premature. And, er, wrong.

Bookcase Almost Done

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 9:48 pm

You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Yes, the bookcase has been on hold while Sing craziness took me for a few months. I’ve been back at it on the finishing stage for a few weeks now. I tried about 10 different finishes (various combinations of stain/dye/poly/shellac) and finally settled on a concoction of wood dye (10% brown, 90% red mahogany), stain (minwax red mahogany), and shellac. The first coat of dye was terrifying. The beautiful quartersawn wood of my painstakingly built bookcase got all splotchy and waaaay too red looking. But I knew that it would turn out like the sample. Still, it was a scary thing.

I let the dye dry for a few days and then came back and put on a flood coat of stain. What a huge difference. The stain took all of the blotchiness of the dye and evened it out, and it imparted a gorgeous red/brown color. It took a good four or five days for the stain to dry enough for me to go on to step three. While it was drying I kept having to go out and babysit the thing every few hours. The open grained red oak would “weep” little dots of stain. It looked like it was sprouting measles. I had to wipe these offending spots off before they dried. It was amazing how much excess stain that wood held.

When the stain was finally dry I started the final finish coat- a 3/1 “cut” of shellac padded on. It’s called a French Polish when it’s put on like this and, let me tell you, the results are pretty spectacular. The wood pops out and achieves this unbelievable three-dimensional grain. It’s really beautiful. I’m on my fifth coat of shellac and will probably do one or two more. There are a few spots that I have to fix because shellac dries so fast (a few minutes) that it’s easy to have streaks or dry looking spots. Fortunately, it’s a very forgiving finish. I’m a bit hung up on the last step. What you’re supposed to do with shellac is build up several thin coats and then sand away the top few (without digging down into the wood). Then you use progressively finer sandpaper and steel wool to get it very even and smooth. Finally, you polish the finish with rottenstone or some other polishing compound, and finish off with wax. It’s very time consuming and I’ve never done it before, so I’m a bit intimidated. The finish looks pretty nice right now, but part of me would feel like I had run a marathon and stopped at mile 26 if I quit now. I have some more reading and searching online, and a few more questions to ask the finishing experts, before I’m ready to reveal it to the world.

Current Reading

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 6:57 pm

Singularity by Bill DeSmedt. Science Fiction at its mind-bendingest. Good read.

Katherine’s Gonna Be Busy

Filed under: Games — jasony @ 1:30 pm

Civ IV: Warlords ships this summer.

March 17, 2006

Cracking Good Fun

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 11:56 pm

Erin and I rented Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit tonight. I was literally in tears for the last 45 minutes from laughing so hard. Please, please, please: If you haven’t seen it, rent this movie. It’s fantastic.

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