In Regards to 2018

Because my birthday comes right at the top of the year, it is often a good time to look back on the previous year and reflect. Usually when I write up my birthday / reflection post, I look back at the previous year’s post to see how far I’ve come, but I forgot to do that this year.

I went back and took at look at it now, and…yowza! I guess I was already starting to forget how stressful 2017 was. I said in last year’s post:

At the very least I’m hoping for a calm, uneventful 2018, after which we will look back on 2017 and see it for the aberration it was.

So I guess the good news is that 2018 wasn’t NEARLY as stressful as 2017. Not to say it was all rainbows and unicorns….there was THE GREAT FROZEN PIPES incident of 2018 and that time I got shot, but luckily those were the exceptions, not the rule.

I am physically the healthiest I’ve been in decades, and I am mentally light years ahead of where I was in January of 2018. There are still some big things with the house on the radar, and of course you never know when calamity can strike, but

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My 30s: One Last Time

I should probably save some of this angst for next year’s birthday post, but as I enter the last year of my 30s I do find myself reflecting on the impending big 4-0.

I have never been one to put much stock in the “milestone” birthdays, but as I am turning 39 it occurs to me that maybe that’s only because I haven’t really hit any big ones yet! 30 didn’t seem like a big deal because I *felt* like a 30 year old. I owned a house and had a second kid on the way. But I don’t know that I’m ready to be a 40 year old, and I’m suspecting to feel the same about every milestone birthday from now on.

BUT, I am going to see Hamilton (again) tonight (for the 3rd time), so it seems appropriate to say to my 30s:

One last time
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
to say goodbye
You and I

One last time, 30s. Let’s make this a good year, shall we?

Hipster Mouse

Evelyn had activities late one night, so I was upstairs with Ollie when Sara and Evelyn got home. I found out later that Sara was emptying her bag when something ran out onto her arm. She wasn’t sure what it was, so she flung it off in disgust, and only when she saw it scrambling on the floor did she realize it was a mouse.

That’s when the screaming started.

And it didn’t stop until I had run all the way downstairs thinking that someone had broken in and was actively abducting Evelyn. I couldn’t think of anything short of home intruder / murderer that could cause that much screaming. (Spoilers: it was Sara screaming, not Evelyn, but Evelyn still stayed up on a chair for about 30 more minutes just to be safe.)

There is nothing more worry-making than a mouse in your house, so of course I practically covered the floor with mousetraps. However, I’m guessing this must have been some kind of escaped University of Chicago laboratory mouse, because it was a *genius* at snatching little bits of chocolate out of the trap without setting it off.

I even bought this:

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So you can see I was really doing everything I could to catch this guy, but to no avail.

“Use peanut butter!” everybody said, so I dutifully put peanut butter in all of the traps and reset them. However, the second I put those out, it was suddenly no longer interested in my traps. I thought somehow it was smart enough to know that the peanut butter would spell his doom (U of C lab mouse), until I found this:

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Ahhhhh, I see. This was a HIPSTER mouse, who was turning his nose up at my peanut butter in favor of avocado! (“Well of course it’s a Millennial,” said my co-worker, “why do you think it’s staying in your house? They can’t afford their own.”)

I probably could have switched to locally-sourced almond butter, but I just wanted this thing out of my house. As we all know, the best way to get rid of a hipster is to convince him that our house has become “cool” with the other mice. Nothing repels a hipster faster than something becoming mainstream. Therefore, I set up a little stage dressing:

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I was quite confident we’d seen the last of our little buddy, but no, I guess I didn’t fool him. (ESCAPED U OF C LAB MOUSE!)

Well, no worries. Now that I knew I was dealing with a hipster mouse, I knew just the enticement I needed to lure that little bugger in!

I am happy to report that that hipster has canceled his last cable subscription! (I guess technically it could have been the beard and moustache wax, but I’m hoping not to need to conduct a scientific study on which hipster mice prefer…)

“Let’s hope he or she did not help make baby mice before his premature death,” said my mom, but I’m not worried: Millennials are having kids later and later these days. Now I just need to take all the signs down really fast before I lure any more hipsters to the area…those hipster mice can smell a new Starbucks location a mile away!

Shane Halbach and the search for the Holiday Party Pants

So last weekend was my work holiday party, and I realized that I’ve lost too much weight and none of my nice pants fit me.

The pants that I wanted to wear were from Gap, and there is a Gap just a few blocks from my work, so I thought, “No problem! I’ll just get the same pants, except smaller. Easy peasy!” Except when I got in there, it turns out they don’t have the same pants anymore.

I suddenly realized, I don’t have a backup plan, and I am out of my element.

I started furiously texting Sara things like “help”, “emergency”, and “I need pants”. I looked around the store but, I don’t know! Everything is too casual, and nothing goes with the shirt I was planning to wear. “Why didn’t you just buy a new shirt too?” asked Sara later, but come on! Now I have TWO problems to deal with??

So I didn’t do that, instead, I ran out of the store into the street in a blind panic. This is a shopping mecca…surely there must be somewhere that sells pants!

Across the street was a Nordstrom. “Nordstrom is a department store,” I says to myself. “Department stores have pants.”

I went in, laser focused. Found some pants. This was good. I could do this. I looked at the price tag…$200!!!

At this point it was like the camera panned back and I looked around me and there was like a woman wearing a fur cap shopping next to me and I realized, “I shouldn’t be here.”

At this point my texts to Sara are like, “Please help me”, “I don’t know what I am doing”, and “There are $200 pants”.

Nordstrom was in a mall, and a mall is a place that you buy pants, right? I started wandering into stores saying things like, “Do you sell pants here? No?” and wandering back out. I was starting to think that shopping on Michigan Avenue was not my thing.

I finally start texting things like, “I am punching out” and “I will just not wear pants to the Christmas party”.

The thing is, I don’t want to be the dumb sitcom husband who can’t buy himself pants, but I just was very overwhelmed at this point. I guess I have just lost the knack of shopping in an actual store. I am naturally a researcher and on the Internet I can look at everything at my leisure, find something I am comfortable with, and go with it, you know? Nobody in fur hats looking at me like, “Who let you in?” No surprise $200 price tags. Nobody working there who can smell my fear and mock me for my shocking lack of fashion sense.

That night (after declaring, “THE CHRISTMAS PARTY IS OFF”), I looked around online and found a pair of pants that was in stock in my size at a store nearby. The next day I went in, tried them on, and bought them, proving that I am still an adult who is capable of social interaction and buying himself pants.

And now we can all just forget this ever happened…

I guess that’s a kind of drive by?

Yesterday when I was walking home from work, I noticed a guy walking quickly toward me from the opposite direction. He seemed to be looking at me and slightly angling toward me, things that I now associate with getting mugged.

“Oh my god, that guy is going to mug me,” I thought, trying to remain calm looking on the outside while in actuality planning 15 escape routes in my mind.

Just as he was passing me (and about a millisecond before I leapt into traffic to avoid him), he kind of…aggressively farted at me.

Not really on me, per say, because he didn’t turn to angle it toward me, it was more of a farting next to me I guess? But there’s no way it was a coincidence because he clearly angled to be closer to me. He could have done it at any time before or after me, but instead he did it right next to me (and there were multiples!)

So, uh…

I don’t know, in that moment I was mostly so relieved that I wasn’t getting mugged that to be honest I was almost happy about the whole thing.

My Clock: A Christmas Story

I love clocks. I love everything about them: I love how they look, I love how they sound, and I love the idea that I can actually know what time it is for even a second, because I have absolutely no time sense.

I don’t know how to describe it, actually. They’re just fascinating to me. At the risk of sounding like a lunatic, I catch myself gazing at them. Every time my mom’s cuckoo clock goes off I try to get the kids to see it and they just roll their eyes at me. I absolutely view “going to the clock aisle at Target” as a valid way to kill 30 minutes. My memory is pretty poor in general, but I still remember taking apart my first alarm clock. It was powder blue with like the old style bell on the top. I still remember what the grease felt like on the cogs.

As much as I enjoy modern clocks, mechanical clocks are vastly cooler than electrical clocks. There’s just something…steampunk about all those tiny gears. It’s endlessly fascinating to me that something can be so precise and detailed using only technology that we knew about a hundred years ago. It feels like magic.

So when you put all of this together, there is one type of clock that is the biggest, awesomest, granddaddy of them all (you see what I did there?): the grandfather clock.

I have wanted a grandfather clock for as long as I can remember. My grandma has one and it is just the absolute best. The sound is definitely part of it; those Westminster chimes give me chills.

Last year I decided that the only thing I wanted for Christmas this year was a grandfather clock. I thought maybe I could coordinate everybody, pool money, find someone to haul it, possibly find a clock repair person if necessary. However, as Christmas got nearer, and I started looking at used clocks online, it was a little overwhelming. So many choices. How do you know which ones are good and which ones aren’t? What if you drive to all over the midwest and all of the clocks are broken or something?

So I decided it was all just too much and grandfather clocks needed to just remain in the realm of dreams. Unbeknownst to me, Sara had already been contacting people and, long story short:

(Bonus audio on that video is because I told Alex you can count the chimes to tell the time…he made it to 19!)

It’s been about a week and I have not gotten tired of the chiming yet. Never has a clock been so fussed over. As soon as I get home I check to see if I missed it just chiming or not. I have fiddled with the pendulum several times to adjust the clock speed faster or slower, and I check it against my watch nearly every time it chimes to see if it needs further adjustment. I mean, obviously the newness will wear off at some point, but as of now my only regret is that the chime is not louder!

So that’s how I came to own a grandfather clock, and to have all of my wildest dreams suddenly come true!

 

In which I use that one semester of electrical engineering I took

Many years ago, we upgraded to a keypad lock on our door. Not even kidding: it revolutionized everything about my life. Since we live in the city and I take the train to work, there are a lot of days when I could just stroll right out the door with no keys, free as a bird. I cannot stress how awesome of a feeling that is. I mean, I guess it doesn’t SOUND that great, and I probably wouldn’t have thought so either, until I did it. So I guess you’ll have to take my word for it: it was awesome. And that’s on top of the regular bonuses, like being able to let someone in if you’re not there or knowing that if there’s some weird situation where the kids are dropped off and we’re not home, they can always get in the house.

I think that was really my first infatuation with the idea of a “smart home”, but let’s be honest: I write science fiction. I have really been dreaming of a smart home for basically my entire life. Sara can attest to the amount of brain space I have dedicated to thinking about smart home integration. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

Sara on the other hand is not so sold on it, which means that I have had to sneak in pieces here and there, whenever I can. 🙂 In her defense, these things generally tend to be expensive, and usually what you get for that money is the ability to say, “wow, that is so cool!” So, you know, to SOME people maybe that is not worth it. I will let SOME people speak for themselves.

Since we moved to the new house, the main problem I have been facing is what to do about the front gate? Our fancy keypad lock doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you can’t get to it (and by extension, my dream of not carrying my keys was dead).

My first attempt was to buy a keypad or smart lock for the gate. No matter how many times I looked into it, I just couldn’t find something satisfactory. Most smart locks assume the interior part is going to be inside your house, and is therefore not waterproof. There are a few locks that would work but 1) they are expensive, and 2) in addition to buying the actual lock, I would probably have to weld a plate onto the gate or something to attach the lock to. So it wasn’t going to be cheap, especially if I had to hire someone to do it.

In other words, a non-starter.

Eventually I had an idea: what if instead of changing the lock at the gate, I was somehow able to put something inside the house that could tap into the buzzer system? I couldn’t unlock the gate per say, but if I could mimic pressing the buzzer button I could still open it up remotely.

My first go involved using a MIMOLite controller, but the problem was it required a smart hub to communicate with. I was fairly confident I could get it done, but it was going to cost about $140ish. Cool, but not cheap.

I thought about this off and on for probably 6 months, occasionally doing more research, until one day I strolling through a DIY smart home website and I discovered the Sonoff 1 Channel Inching /Self-Locking WiFi Wireless Switch. This thing was almost too good to be true: instead of paying $140, I could rig up my gate buzzer for about $6 (I ended up spending another $6ish for a long micro USB power cable, so lets call it $12).

The first thing I needed to do was to figure out how the buzzer worked. It seems a little overly complicated, but with the help of some time and some good internet detective work, i was able to figure things out.

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Once I had that, it was just a matter of hooking up the switch. The best part about this is that it is completely non-invasive. Honestly, if you lived in an apartment building you could probably hook this into your system no problem.

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The long and the short of it is when the relay receives a signal over wifi (via the free sonoff app), it simply closes a circuit. The relay has a mode that allows it to close for a short period of time before releasing, which is all we need to trigger the buzzer.

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Et voila! Works like magic! See for yourself:

You can even incorporate it with Google Home, which would allow you to open the gate with voice commands, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Now that this is done, I don’t really know if I have any more “smart” integrations to do, although I’m sure I can come up with a few if I put my mind to it. I can only hope they will be as cheap as this one turned out to be!