The Year of the UK and Making

Looking back at 2013 I was trying to come up with an ending to the line “2013 was the year of…” While thinking about it I wondered “What will 2014 be the year of? Maybe I should pick a theme.”

I’m declaring 2014 The Year of Making and the UK.

The UK.

Declaring it the year of the UK is easy because we are planning to go live there for 3 months. It isn’t so much a vacation as an experience.

Ever since I read The 4 Hour Work Week I’ve been fascinated with the idea of mini retirements. Working for someone else has kept this from happening but now that I work for myself and can do my work anywhere I can get an internet connection it is possible. Having a wife whose work has the summers off also helps.

We picked the UK because I’ve always wanted to go there, I (mostly*) speak the language, and we’ve got tickets to Loncon (WorldCon 2014).

I think most American’s has some level of fascination with the motherland. I’m no different. I want to see where Dr Who is made. Want to be where all the women have a sexy English accent of some kind. BTW: how does such a small country have so many accents?

Saying a speak the language has been interesting. I remember telling a British medic I interviewed on my EMS podcast that we were two countries separated by a common language. There are just so many words that mean different things. Looking for a place to stay two friends suggested I look at Their London page inspired this twitter conversion.

The World Science Fiction convention is the oldest and maybe most important convention in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. Especially in the literary area, where it awards the Hugo award. Every year it is in another location and this year it was in San Antonio. Being so close we couldn’t miss it and attended it for the first time. We got hooked and immediately bought memberships to next years in London. Then it was just a matter of deciding we wanted to make it a longer term stay.


I’ve been dabbling in Making – which I refer to as high tech DIY – since we went to Maker Faire two years ago, but this year I’m going to get more focused.

I’ve got three projects in my mental que for the year. The Shower computer, a sleep computer, and Killer Robot Heels. More on what those are to come.

These two themes do seem like they might conflict. When we go to the UK we’re traveling light. The idea is to only bring 1 bag for clothes and such, and only my laptop. I have a whole room full of stuff I use for making. Seems I will have to take the summer off of making, which does seem non-thematic.

I did think yesterday that maybe I can combine them. I’ve wanted to be part of a makerspace since I started making, but there isn’t one in Abilene. But there are at least 3 in the UK. Maybe I could be a “traveling Maker” at one of them and combine my two themes for the year.

There’s a lot of prep work and planning to be done for the trip, though we plan to mostly wing it. There’s also a lot of mental work to do as well. It’s a little scary to decided to travel half way around the world and live in a strange place. But that is what makes it an adventure.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging more this year and sharing these adventures.

Cool Easy Under Cabinet Lighting


The other day I was making Bender’s Finger Food for a halloween party we were going to and noticed it was kind of dark on the counter in the kitchen. Our kitchen has quite a bit of light. A big overhead florescent light and 4 in ceiling lights. This works fine most of the time, but they are all kind of behind you when you are working at the counter. I really noticed it when evaluating the relative merits of various edible blood concoctions.

Looking for a solution, I remember these cuttable strips of SM LEDs I’d seen. Searched around Amazon and found these ABI Warm White Flexible LED Strip Light with AC Adapter. 5 Meters long and they came with the adapter so you could plug them in. All for $15 with shipping.

Got them this evening and decided to go ahead and start installing them. First thing was power. We’ve got quite a few outlets under our cabinets, but if we were going to take one up all the time for the lights, I decided to permanently mount a power strip under the cabinet. This would not only give us a place to plug in the lights, but 6 more outlets. Plus it could be hidden up under there. I took the adapter that came with the lights and used a piece of velcro tape to attach it to the underside of the cabinet. A little packing tape to keep cords from falling down and we’ve power ready.

The reviewers all liked the lights. Everyone said the lights say they were bright, so I didn’t get the double density version. I knew as soon as I hooked them up to test the power they were right. These things can light up a space.

There was one issue with the lights though, mentioned by some of the reviewers. You can’t turn them 90 degrees. Really you can’t make any kind of turn with them. Think of them as tape, because that’s what they are, they just have lights on the non-sticky side. You can’t make tape turn at an angle. If you want a turn you’d cut the tape and run another piece the other direction. But since there is power running down these tape lights, you can’t do that.

light_stripYou can cut the lightstrip. It’s expected and there are guidelines and everything. You can buy little 90 degree connectors, but that seemed a little ridiculous, given the next to each cut mark are little dots for you to solder on to. A few minutes with my soldering gun and I’d connected two pieces with red and black wires. These wired will twist and turn to your hearts content.
Here’s what the solder points look like on a small left over piece of strip.

Back in the kitchen I peeled off the backing and stuck the lights up.

It is amazing.

A beautiful soft light flows down on the counter top from a hidden source above. Like angels are trapped in little glass jars and forced to shine just to light up my cooking.

Or something.


PS. I promise to tell you about Bender’s Finger Food and post pictures of me as Fry from Futurama.

Why I Leased An Office

So I could look down at Abilene. 🙂
Northern Office View
For the past year I’ve been doing software consulting from my home office. This has a lot of advantages, but recently I decided I needed to get an office outside of my house. Now that I’m sitting in my new office I thought I’d write a blog post on why I did it.

Developing a Practice

I’ve been reading a couple of books in the last few weeks that influenced my decision. One was Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn Glei one of the editors at Behance. It is a collection of essays from different “gurus” on how to be a freelancer better. One chapter is a Q&A with Seth Godin. His answer to the question, “What’s the hardest part about getting a daily routine right?” is what got me thinking office.

“The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.”

I’ve also been reading, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. One of the points of the book is that habits are how we live our lives. Even really complicated behaviors are often habits. Duhigg breaks down a habit into Cue-Routine-Reward. Something triggers the habit (Cue), our brains go into autopilot, and we just do the routine. This means if you want to consistently do something, you need a cue. One kind of cue is a change of environment. This is the beginning of what Godin calls a Practice for work.

My office is my new cue for working. When I get to the office it is to work. To create. Even now, during the first time I’ve been to the office when it was mine, I’m working. I’m writing a blog post. Even though I’ll have to go home to post it because my Internet isn’t hooked up yet, I’m working.

(This is related to my new found distinctions between obstacles and excuses, which I’ll write about another time.)


When you work for yourself and have no employees or coworkers, you have very little face to face interaction with other people. Add to that I’m are new in town and it can get lonely. Actually it really isn’t lonely, it’s more stir crazy. There have been a number of days in the last couple of weeks where I’ve gotten up early in the morning and gone to bed late at night and never came in contact with another human being (my wife’s been out of town 11 of the last 14 days.) That’s just not good for you, even if you’re an introvert.

Getting an office at least forces me out of the house.

Division of Work and Home

Working from home means work can never start and it can never end.

It is easy to do just one more thing around the house before you start working, or to wash some dishes during a programming break. Those dishes turn into cleaning the whole house and you’ve spent a couple of productive hours doing the wrong thing.

The opposite happens too. If I’ve got a project due for a client and I sit still for a few minutes at the house doing nothing, I’ll feel the need to go work. Doesn’t matter if I worked all day on the project, because it’s just a walk down the hall to my computer. It is easy to keep working. I also have insomnia, and if I wake up at 3 AM one of the things that plagues me out of bed is work that needs to be done.

Having an office means work is in one place, and home is in another.

Other Reasons

There are a few other small things that make this office better than my house. Surprising to me, these are the kind of quantitative reasons most people would use to justify the expense.

Distraction I love my wife and have missed her dearly when she’s been gone these last couple of weeks, but she’d been home one day when her legitimate interruptions of my work started to bug me. When I get in the zone programming, any little thing can pull me out. Then it can take 15 minutes to an hour to get back in the groove. Having my own office will lower that.

The internet should be blazing fast. One of Abilene’s business Internet providers is in the building and they have a special deal for tenants. They’ll hook you into there fiber network and you get 20-30 megabits down and 10 or so upload.

Office rent in Abilene is dirt cheap. I’m renting a 500+ square ft office for under $400/month. It includes utilities and office cleaning.

Ego. It adds a little cache to be in the tallest building in Abilene. (Twenty floors if you were wondering) Also adds some legitimacy to some clients to have a “real” office in a high rise.

And, being on the 8th floor, I can look down on Abilene.

View from window near elevators.

View from window near elevators.

Ron’s Rules of Gift Giving

I have some pretty strong thoughts on gift giving and I thought I’d written a blog post on it, but I haven’t. (As a funny aside I said the same thing in January of 2011). So here’s my long overdue thoughts on giving gifts.

Gifts Need to Have Meaning

The best gifts have meaning for the receiver. You would love to give someone a gift they’d really love. But in order to do this, you really have to know the person. The absolute best gifts are the ones you know the receiver will love, but you also know they’ve never seen.

Hints to Find Gifts They’d Love

Here’s a few questions that might help you find that special something.

Do they collect anything? My mom collects state thimbles. So when we go to a new state my wife always tries to buy a thimble for her to give at Christmas. My wife collects blue glass. Unfortuately I don’t know enough about the specifics of her blue glass collection to buy new pieces, but it is a hint.

What are they into? Video games? Steampunk? Firearms? Music? What kind of music? Even if you don’t know the specifics of their “thing” you can find someone who does. If you want to know what you steampunk friend would like, drop me an email and I’ll have fun making suggestions.

What is their style? Look at your friend’s taste in clothes, the furniture in their house, their favorite art. Do they have a Pinterst account? Pintrest is a meaningful gift gold mind. Now you can find what they like in general and find specific examples.

Meaning To You Can Work As Well

If you have to give gifts to people who you aren’t really close to, but you don’t want to give generic crap, give something that has meaning to you. Every year at Christmas I give a group of people a book. Last year it was The Four Hour Body, before that it was The Four Hour Work Week. My groomsmen got This Present Darkness.

Truth is, they may never read this book, but at least they know you thought about what you gave them and it was important to you.

It’s The Thought That Counts

When it comes to gifts, that really is true. You can give someone a gift certificate, but doing so screams, “I didn’t have to time to think for you.” (Unless it is their -or your- favorite restaurant) Even a gift they don’t want, but they know you searched all over for means something and says they are important to you. That is the point of giving a gift.

One birthday one of my co-workers, who I wasn’t very close to, give me a bag of healthy snacks. I was blown away. She said, “I know you keep snacks in your desk to eat during the day, so I thought you’d like these.” She’d noticed what I did, and got me a very thoughtful gift.

What are some gifts you’ve been given that surprised you with their thoughtfulness?

I’ll Have My Assistant Do That

It sounds pretention every time I say it.

It also sounds really cool.

I have an assistant. Her name is Kate. She does stuff for me.

Things like…
– Makes phone calls I don’t want to make.
– Research stuff I’m interested in but too lazy or busy to research myself.
– Find and book hotels when I travel, whether in Las Vegas or near Scarborough Faire.
– Lots of moving related tasks.

Here are some actual tasks I gave her.
– Find me Scottish Socks to wear with my Blackwatch taran kilt.
– “Gather election results in Abilene for the last 10 elections for city council including the mayor. Find out who ran (name and political affiliation), how many votes were cast, how many for each person.” She ended up talking with the city secretary’s assistant to get the information.
– Outline a cool video presentation on the Gameapocyolypse.
– Organize all my model releases for the past 6 years.
– “Can you find me the best price on an Arduino micro controller?”
– Find a royal blue comforter. Then later, find those people I paid for said comforter and find out why they never shipped it.
– “Can you call liquor stores in Abilene and see who sells Republic tequila and how much a bottle would cost.”


I got her through Zirtual. Zirtual is a company started by a friend of mine, Maren Donovan. I’ve been following Maren’s business career since we were both founding members of the Internet Business Mastery Academy. When I met with her for coffee years ago, she had 2 or 3 virtual assistants in the Philippines. She more than anyone made that work. Now years later, she’s perfected the virtual assistant game and made it available to anyone.

When she started the Zirtual “beta” program, I signed up immediately. I’d tried doing the Philippines thing, but it hadn’t worked for me. I figured Zirtual would handle selection and I’d just get someone who worked. And I did. Her name was Maren.

Yes, one of the founders of the company was my assistant. They were boot strapping the company and wanted to understand what it was like to be an VA, so at the beginning they did the work. Maren wasn’t my assistant for long, but it was funny when I got my first “I’m your new virtual assistant” email from her.

Next I had Jenny. She was good. Had an issue with deadlines, meaning she did my tasks right before I told her it was due. But I learned to deal with that, and just moved my due dates to when I really wanted it done, and not when I had to have it done.

After a few months, Jenny moved on and I got Kate. Kate is insanely proactive. I give her a task and she sends me an apology if it isn’t done the same day I send it.

My funest story about Kate was the first time I got a phone call from her. She was calling to tell me one of the lawn guy’s she was getting estimates from had gone to my house and found a truck in the back ally with door open and running. Was that normal? Suppose to happen? At the time I was in Houston and had to play phone tag with the Mrs, and we never did figure out who the mystery truck was.

Having an assistant is cool.

If you’d like to have your own zirtual assistant you are out of luck. They are so popular they had to close taking new clients.

Buuuttt, since you are one of the two people who read this blog – Mom doesn’t read it – drop me a line and I’ll get you an invite to join up.

Time To Move

I’ve decided its time to really move to Abilene.

For the past seven and a half months I’ve lived in Houston and been in Abilene when I needed to be. Mostly I’ve needed to be here because I’ve had paramedic school. Classes last semester, and clinicals and class this semester.

Clinicals finished last week. My last final and oral boards are on Friday. It’s time to really move.

There are things I need to be in Houston for. PALS February 28-29. National Registry Paramedic Skills testing April 21, with practice labs the week before. But mostly I’ll be in Abilene after Spring Break.

It’s a bitter sweet thing, like finishing my clincials was. I’m ready to be where my heart – aka the Mrs – is, but there are a lot of opportunities here in Houston that I’m leaving behind. And a lot of friends.

I won’t have Houston Skyline Studio and Bob, Jerry and John to do photography with. Shawna and I will be even more challenged getting the Photographer and Model podcast done.

I won’t be working with the guys from In The Rabbit Hole, or hanging out with them at Tea on Thursday nights.

Won’t be able to volunteer and work with all my compatriots at Harris County Emergency Corp. And school will be over and I won’t have a reason to be with all my classmates and teachers at Lone Star North Harris.

When we decided to go to Abilene I said to myself, “Sometimes you need to turn your life upside down just to see how it changes.” Now it is really happening. It’s scary, exciting, weird, sad, and a whole bunch of other things I can’t put into words.

Steampunk Magnifiers and the iPhone

The other day I was buying steampunk stuff on amazon. Specifically goggles, and what steampunk goggles would be complete without those little magnifiers the tilt down. So I bought these:

I was removing the battery from a watch and had the magnifiers next to me because I’ve been using them for some jewelry making. I want to take a pic of the battery so I’d know what to buy. That pic looked like this.

Then I grabbed the magnifiers, put one and then two lens over my iPhone’s camera lens and shot these close ups.

Pretty cool for some that was just suppose to be for costume purposes.

Finding Your Inner Super

So you’ve decided to go to the coolest birthday party of the year and you have come as a super hero. How do you pick one?

If You Are Geek

You probably already have some preferences, and a lot of choices to go through.

Think body type.

If you are a little pear shaped, picking a super hero that wears spandex may not be the best choice. It could be the fun and bold choice no matter what hero, but as a geek, you probably want to be the super and not parody it.

Look for superheros that wear more normal clothes. The Punisher. Rorschach.

Or embrace your rotundness and pick a rounder superhero/villain. The Penquin, out of shape Mr. Incredible, Night Owl in the Watchman graphic novel – they buffed him up for the movie, and Author the Moth, the Tick’s sidekick.

Think Colors

You know how hard it is for find a blonde male superhero? Harder than you think. Well if you want to go with your natural hair, you may narrow your choices right out of the box.

One attendee of the party has white hair. Immediately I think of Storm. But my friend is white and Storm is black.

Notice how the comic artist design costumes so they go with hair color? Poison Ivy’s costume has to be green, so her hair is red – the complementary color.

Think Details

Think about your favorite super hero. Now start removing stuff from their costume. What is the minimum stuff that has to be there for it to be your character? You don’t have to have the 90 lb rubber Batman costume. Minimized, you need some kind of mask, a grey/black shirt with the logo, and a big belt. That’s very minimal, but it could covey who you are if you have the attitude to pull it off.

This also really works if you are sexying up the character. You have to know what details are required, which ones can be modified in a sexy way, and which ones can be tossed if they aren’t sexy. Superman needs the S, needs costume to be red and blue, here’s the original supergirl, and here’s the sexy version.

What Can You Do?

Do you want to just go to your closet and pickout stuff to wear? Or are you going to a costume store and buying something?

It’s pretty easy to go to Frankel’s and buy a Batman costume. Much less easy to build one, at least from my closet.

I thought about going as Inspector Gadget. Seems like a simple costume, trench coat and hat. I can do that easily. But…is he really Inspector Gadget if it doesn’t have some gadget thing boinging out of his hat or coat? Now it is more complicated.

If You Are Not a Geek

If you aren’t a geek you probably don’t have someone you want to be from the start. Instead you are going for something cool and it is more about what you can do and look good in.

Think Natural or Unnatural Colors

What color is your hair? As mentioned above, blonde male supers are hard to find, but blonde females not so much.

Skin color? It is a geek debate about how few black superheros there are. But really for this party coming as a black superman is OK.

Or forget what you are now, change your color.

Buy a wig.

Just use makeup to make the big change. Harley Quinn is covered head to toe in red, black and white. You don’t have to be you.

Think Unknown Superheros

A superhero has to have super powers. That doesn’t mean they have to be from Marvel, DC or a comic book.

In my eyes, Dr Who is a super hero. So is Neo from the Matrix.

For a costume party you want to pick someone that has a distinct look, but they don’t have to be a comic book hero.

Childhood Memories

Didn’t you watch cartoons as a kid? Even if you aren’t a comic book geek you probably still have super heros in your head. What about Wonder Woman. Superman and Batman. All cultural icons.

Go Sexy And The Geeks Won’t Care

Ladies the fact is if you come dressed in spiderman or batman underroos and high heels, the geeks won’t care about your non-canon costume. Guys if you’ve got the body for it, coming in University of Florida swim trunks and saying you are Aquaman might work. Of course the party is in January.

Careful Parody

You don’t want to insult the geeks or the character, but if you can make fun of their superpower in a nice way that could work. Do all of Mr Fantastic‘s part stretch? Is 100% of the Thing’s body rock hard?

It is also a parody to go as the Flash if you are way rounder than that skinny character. It’s embracing who you are and who they aren’t. Which is fun and shows your own self confidence.

A Final Note To Non-Geeks

Do a little research. A lot of my friends, and a lot of people in general, are closet superhero nerds. You want to be able to talk intelligently about who you are. At the lease go read their wikipedia page.