Skype and Microsoft; match made in heaven

I always knew the MS acquisition of Skype would do great things for both of them. Check out this lovely user experience!
Downloading Skype update
Oops! We fed you the wrong version of the Skype update!
Pressing Update just takes me to the Skype home page so I’d have to navigate to find the download.

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Apps can be gorgeous? Really?

Before the era of Steve Jobs keynotes, did anyone ever use the terms ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’ to describe software or a user interface? This usage is now ubiquitous when people write or talk about apps.

This struck me as I sipped my coffee, surveyed the app store and searched the web, looking for the best examples and implementations of open, or at least portable, data. I saved a bunch of bookmarks in Safari iPad to Read Later, and now Safari crashes every time I try to view my bookmarks! Just goes to show, your UI may be gorgeous, but it’s your personality that counts.

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Accidental Handyman

This weekend after filling our dogs’ water bowl using the sink in our half bath downstairs, as I was walking out of the room I heard dripping water. Turns out the faucet wasn’t leaking in to the basin, but down the cold water supply line and from there dripping on the floor. I couldn’t figure out why it was leaking with my head jammed up between the pedestal sink and the wall, the faucet is the one the builder installed when they built the place in 2000, and its white enamel was starting to peel off, so I figured it was time to replace the faucet. I got out some wrenches and started taking things apart.

I turned off and disconnected the supply lines, but couldn’t get a big enough wrench between the pedestal and the wall to loosen the drain from the sink basin. “Ok,” I thought, “I’ll just unmount the basin; it’ll be much easier to work on that way”. I got out a utility knife and started to cut away the clear silicone between the back of the basin and the wall.

I was a bit surprised to note there didn’t seem to be any bolts mounting the basin to the wall, and after I cut away the last of the silicone, I verified that by easily lifting the basin off the pedestal. Not only that, but there were no bolts securing the pedestal in place on the floor! My kids practically climb in to this sink from the toilet when they use it to wash their hands!

I’ve told this story to several people in person, and very few of them are surprised at the lack of mounting hardware. In a classic case of good timing, we went to Lowes to check out options for either mounting the pedestal more securely and replacing the faucet, or replacing the pedestal with a small cabinet sink. The day after looking at drop-in cabinets, one we liked went on sale. It’s not that I’m against pedestal sinks; some are very nice, but ours is one of those builder-grade pieces that’s trying too hard to invoke the old Southern plantation look, while somehow completely missing the point, and just ending up looking awkward as a result. Lots of the decorative touches in our house are like that, for example there are crown molding and chair rails practically everywhere.

Anyway, we bought the new vanity and I got it installed just in time for the annual Halloween party. I used some lag bolts to secure it to the wall, so even if the kids climb fully in to the new sink, they won’t be able to tip it over. It’s a little bit too far from the wall due to the molding, so I need to cut slots in that so the piece can mount directly to the wall.

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Today I learned a little bit about clothes dryers

The bad news came this morning as we were cleaning the house in preparation for Christmas: the dryer wouldn’t start. Andrea and I both assumed that the belt must have worn out, and I made another assumption that cost me an extra two hours on this project: I thought, “Surely maintenance must take place from the back of the appliance,” so I pulled it out from the wall, unplugged it, climbed behind it, and removed the back panel, in the process knocking loose the flexible metal conduit of the lint vent.

Puzzled that I didn’t see a way of checking the belt or the motor from the back, I asked the Internet for help, and found that most normal maintenance takes places from the FRONT of the dryer! So I unscrewed the top, flipped it back, disconnected the door cut-off switch, removed and set aside the front panel, and then removed the drum.

The belt was intact. The Internet told me to run it briefly with the drum and belt removed in order to determine whether the motor was bad, so I scratched my head a little bit because the thing won’t run without the front panel on and the door cut-off switch connected. I put the front panel back on, connected the door cut-off switch, plugged in the power, and turned it on — the motor was fine. The belt looked fine. The gaskets looked fine. I had cleaned up a little bit of lint but I have no idea why the drum wouldn’t spin earlier. I think it must have been bound up for some reason. I put the dryer back together and the drum was now spinning.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the vent conduit back on the outlets, so I spent the next two hours cursing over that and cutting my fingers on the sharp metal edges. Eventually, I got it to work, and shortened the conduit by nearly three feet. After the holidays, I think I might fit it for rigid conduit, because the flexible stuff seems to collect lint on the interior ridges.

I feel a minor sense of accomplishment from all this, but wish it had happened on some other day. Mainly I feel a sense of relief we have a means to dry Jamie’s cloth diapers that will only take half an hour or so.

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How a tweak becomes a full-blown upgrade

The pre-built DIY brewery I bought earlier this year is now sitting in pieces on our garage floor. I realized something about DIY projects after getting it home and wired up for use — when the works of a thing are readily accessible like this, it’s difficult to impossible to resist tinkering with it. Sometimes a tweak is all that’s needed, sometimes a partial redesign is in order. The original owners’ extensive use of NPT threaded fittings allowed the brew stand to be constructed mostly of off-the-shelf pipes and hose fittings, but made parts of the system so tightly coupled, it was difficult to work on a piece of it without dismantling the whole thing.

For example, Scott and I had decided we needed to fix the leak on the RIMS, so we ordered a stainless steel tri-clamp RIMS tube, a 3-way valve, and various bits and pieces to hook it all up. I got it home and was all set to swap it in to the system, but was dismayed to realize in order remove the original RIMS, I’d first have to remove both the mash kettle and the boil kettle from the stand, because I needed to remove the platform to unbolt the RIMS. To remove the platform, I had to first remove almost all of the plumbing. The good news is that we only broke one thing, the threads on one of the pumps, when we were getting it all apart. It has two pumps mainly to avoid swapping hoses after the mash is complete. You don’t have too much else to do during the boil, so swapping a couple of hoses doesn’t bother me.

The threaded fittings are turning out to be a bigger weakness than I had originally realized – I already mentioned it’s very difficult to take apart, but it’s also touchy to put back together. You basically have to re-tape the threads on every connection each time you take it apart, otherwise it leaks. I also didn’t realize that sanitary food handling would have you disassemble and clean threaded fittings that contact the wort between every use! Oof! I’m going to look in to moving on with the tri-clover conversion; at least it’s easy to take apart and clean.

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