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January 29, 2011

Button Cells

When I bought my house, I bought a voltmeter (really a digital multimeter, or DMM) at Home Depot. It has served me pretty well except that it doesn't measure current (amps), so I wound up buying a second one pretty cheaply at Amazon. The new one uses a 9V battery, but the one from Home Depot has two button cells in it. The LED display was getting pretty faint, and now it is almost impossible to read after I left it on all night recently. So I needed some batteries.

The size written on the cell is L1154. On Wikipedia, I learned that cells that start with C are lithium and cells that start with L are alkaline. Lithium cells are usually 3 volts while alkaline are 1.5 volts. There are also silver oxide cells that start with S. I looked online and found I should be able to get a pair of cells for less than $2. I visited Walgreen's but they only had lithium and silver cells and none seemed to be the right size. Plus they were at least $4, sometimes just for one battery. I went to Walmart today and, while they had some L cells, they were still pretty expensive. I visited their outdoor section to look at flashlights and they had one that uses 3 357 size button cells (very similar looking to the batteries I needed) for $4.50, including the 3 batteries. Up front in the battery section, you could get a package of 3 357 cells for $5.50 and it didn't even include a little flashlight. This just reinforced what I knew already, which is there is a huge markup on these batteries.

Next I went to Rite Aid where I was looking to use up a $4 store credit before it expires next week anyway. They had a selection of cells, but none of them were the right size either. And they were expensive.

When I got home I looked up Wikipedia's article on battery sizes and discovered that the 357 size is the same as what I was looking for, the L1154. Wikipedia says the IEC name for this size is LR1154, where the L is for alkaline, the R is for round, the 11 is the diameter in mm, and 54 is the height in tenths of millimeters (so 5.4mm tall). So at least it is kind of sensible if that name is used, but other names can represent the same thing: SR44, AG13, SG13, LR44, LR154, A76, S76, 157, 303, 357, LR1154, SR1154, 1166A, 1107SO, and 1131SOP. Some of those are names for the same size in silver oxide. The silver oxide batteries are interchangeable with alkalines but last longer. They also cost more and that's what you usually find at the drugstores.

I thought it would be good to have a note on my iPod with all the battery sizes, but then I realized I already have all of Wikipedia on there already. Actually I have all of Wikipedia but the pictures and tables and that information is in a table. But the latest version of Wikipedia Offline lets me pull the latest version of a page, including tables (which are rendered in Safari, and you have to bookmark the page for the new version to be saved permanently).

With this information, I went to Amazon to see if I could find some cheaper batteries. Pretty quickly I found a place selling 10 Maxell LR44 batteries for $2.26, including shipping! Done. I should have plenty now even though my electricity detector and my electronic calipers use the same size. If anybody wants any, let me know.

January 24, 2011

Knife Etiquette

Today a friend at work needed a small philips head screwdriver to change the batteries in a calculator. I got my Swiss Army knife out of my pocket and opened up the Philips head screwdriver/bottle opener. When he returned it to me, he had it still open and asked me if I was superstitious. I knew something was up, but didn't know what it was. He explained that there is a superstition that if someone gives you a knife open, you are supposed to return it open. If they give it to you closed, you are supposed to return it closed. I had never heard of that, but another person who saw what was going on confirmed he had been taught that too.

I tried to look this up and see if I could find the origins of it, but all I found was that it is apparently a southern thing. I also found another superstition that it is bad luck if someone gives you a knife because it will supposedly sever the relationship. But you can mitigate the bad luck by "paying" for the knife by giving them a quarter. I thought that was pretty funny.

January 16, 2011

iPod Keyboard

It is pretty clumsy trying to type on the iPod screen since there are no buttons and the little virtual key are pretty tiny. You can get bigger buttons by turning the iPod sideways. I downloaded a typing speed app and found I could get about 15 words per minute using one finger and the little keyboard. Turning it sideways and using my thumbs to type, I got about 17 wpm, but I made a lot of mistakes.

I did find a couple of good tips for the iPod keyboard. One is you can hit space twice at the end of a sentence and it will put in a period and capitalize the next letter. This is faster than switching to the number and punctuation screen where the period is. The other tip is that for commas, you can hold down the 123 button instead of tapping it which brings up the numerical/punctuation keyboard and then drag your finger to the comma and let go. Then you get your comma and are right back to the ABC keyboard. If you just need a number, question mark, or whatever, you can do the same thing.

Anyway, one of the early alternative keyboards was Swype which let you just drag your finger from one key to another and it would figure out which word you wanted, but is no longer available. This is kind of similar to myKbd which I used on the Palm TX after Palm had to give up Graffiti (where you would write the letter with a stylus) and then developed my own keyboard layout called Salamander.

Another concept is called MessagEase which is a grid of 9 squares with the most common letters on them. To get other letters you slide from one square to an adjacent one. For instance, to get an O, you just tap O, but to get a D, looking at the picture below, you slide from the O to E. The squares are big enough to easily hit with your finger and the sliding is distinctive enough that typing is very accurate (whereas I'm always hitting the wrong key on Apple's keyboard). A lot of common words can be spelled just by tapping on the most common letters. After working on MessagEase for a while (quite a while, they have a built-in game that helps) so that I could memorize where the letters are, I was able to get up to about 17 wpm, which is about the same as what I was getting on the Apple keyboard, but with a lot better accuracy (playing with it some more today I got up to 20, but I can't get that high consistently yet).


The problem with any alternative keyboard on the iPod is Apple doesn't let developers install it in place of the Apple keyboard. So if you want to reply to an e-mail using MessagEase, you would need to leave the e-mail app, go to MessagEase, type in the message, then go back and paste in the text (the text is copied to the clipboard automatically). But it seems like a third party app like NoteMaster could make MessagEase an alternative within its program. That may be what MessagEase is after by giving away their app for free right now: hoping to get a user base they can market towards other programs (and Apple).

There is another concept called GKOS which I looked at a little. It involves buttons on the side of the screen that you press with your thumbs. Well, that's only 10 buttons or so, so to get additional letters a lot of the buttons are like shift keys where if you press it, it will turn some of the buttons on the other side of the screen into different letters that can be pressed to get a letter. So you have these key combinations ("chords") that create letters. There is a YouTube video of a guy going pretty fast, but I tried out GKOS and it seemed pretty confusing.

One idea I had when I had the Palm was to put rocker buttons on the back of the device. Then you would hold it with both hands and your fingers would each be on one of the rocker buttons. If you pressed the buttons with the fingers on your left hand, you would get A S D F. Your right hand fingers would give J K L ;, just like on a typewriter. Then if you kind of bumped your left finger towards the middle (thus the rocker switch with 3 possible clicks: down, in, and out) you could get upper row keys from a keyboard. Since some fingers on a keyboard do more than 3 keys, there might be more buttons needed for index fingers or those buttons could have additional degrees of freedom, more like little joysticks. Numbers could be done with some kind of shift, possibly operated with your thumbs which would be on the front of the device. I thought this would work pretty well for people who already know how to type and don't have to look at the keys.

January 11, 2011

Another Snow Day

Today they officially closed our office. Yesterday, under a different governor, they said stay off the streets but wanted us to come to work. I was going to walk to MARTA today if I had to work, but everything was a sheet of ice this morning. People were taking their sleds out to the middle of my street and sliding all the way down the hill, so driving wouldn't have been a good option. Still, a few people in SUV's were making it up the hill.

I took the dogs for a walk late this morning and there were a few guys shoveling their sidewalks and driveways. Knowing that it is going to get even colder, that seemed like a pretty good idea. Otherwise all of the slush would just re-freeze. So for the first time in my life, I shoveled snow. Really I just shoveled ice (and it wasn't hard because it was starting to melt). I just did a path up my driveway so the dogs and I could get footing and one line of my car's wheels would have traction. I couldn't get rid of the ice without either throwing it on my neighbor's yard or throwing it in my yard where the hard shell of sleet we got yesterday would make it slide back down to the driveway. So it is just on the other side of the driveway from the cleared path. Then I went ahead and did my sidewalk, which turned out to be pretty ugly because there were leaves and dirt underneath the snow and when I flipped all of that over the pretty white blanket of snow was ruined. One of the neighbors had done a better job of keeping a nice clean, perfectly edged sidewalk before it snowed and his cleared sidewalk looks magnificent. But mine works just as well.

I think it will be back to work tomorrow.

January 10, 2011

Snow Day

I got a few inches of snow last night and this morning it was covered with a sheet of sleet. Katie does not like this because when she takes a step her foot breaks through the thin layer of sleet and into the snow below that. She walks through it very carefully.

Outside my kitchen window is a tree (maybe a big shrub) with green leaves and bunches of red berries. There were hundreds of birds checking it out today. These birds were really pretty with black masks, bright yellow trim on their tails, and bright red spots on their wings. I'm pretty sure they are cedar waxwings after looking them up in my bird guide. You can see in the picture why they are called waxwings: it looks like their tails and wings are dipped in melted crayons. I'm not so sure about the tree, but I'm thinking it could be a cotoneaster. There was also one robin trying to keep all of the waxwings away from his tree, but he didn't seem to be eating very fast. Better just to eat.


January 5, 2011


My shower has dripped since it was originally installed. I should have had it fixed back then, but now I have waited too late. In the meantime, the pressure was never that great and it seems like it has gotten really miserable lately. I know that new fixtures are low flow, but this is well below anything like that. I screwed the showerhead off to see if there was anything blocking that. There was some little pieces of rust or grit that you might typically find, but removing that didn't do anything to improve the situation. Even with the showerhead off, there wasn't much water coming out of the pipe.

The diverter in the main bathroom tub (switches between tub and shower) had failed and I wound up getting a new part from American Standard that fixed it. So I was thinking maybe I needed new parts for the shower as well and wanted to take apart the handles to see if I could figure out the problem. I was really hoping I wouldn't have to do anything that would make me get into the wall because I don't have an access panel for the shower. But if solder was blocking the pipes or grout had gotten in there, that might be the only way to fix it. So first I needed to turn the water off and the easiest way to do that for me is at the street. Once it was off I wanted to drain the water out of the shower so it wouldn't get on me when I took the handles apart, so I opened up an outside spigot that is lower than the shower fixture (a bunch of water came out because the expansion tank pushes water out as the system pressure is relieved) and then went inside and turned the shower on. This allowed water to drain out of the outside spigot and suck in air through the shower.

Now I was able to take apart the handles and pull the ceramic valves out. They were a little rusty, but didn't look too bad otherwise. I didn't see anything that could be causing really low flow. I took the showerhead off too just to check it out one more time and even tried sticking a piece of wire down it to see if I could dislodge anything, but the wire wouldn't go very far, only to the first bend from the showerhead.

The only other thing I felt like I could do was just flush the line and hope that if anything was blocking the line, it would be free to pass out of the open handles. I thought I could put a bucket under the two handleless handle openings to see what was flushed out, if anything, but I didn't want to go to the trouble. So I went back out to the street and turned the water back on for 5-10 seconds, which I thought was probably long enough to get rid of the air in the line and flush some water through.

I was curious what had happened, so with the water back off again I went back in the house and to the bathroom. There was water everywhere! It had splashed on the sink and walls next to the shower, the toilet next to the sink, and the wall at the other end of the bathroom. The bath mat was soaking wet. I guess I had opened up two firehoses and had 10 seconds of chaos in there. Even the roll of toilet paper was wet. It's not a huge bathroom, but the toilet paper is probably 5 feet from the shower door. The good thing is bathrooms are pretty much made to get wet, so I dried everything off and reassembled the shower handles and showerhead. I didn't see anything that looked like it could have been blocking the pipes. I turned the water on, figuring the results wouldn't be much different, but now I had a really strong flow of water! So strong that when I open the handles all the way it makes a fairly loud whistling noise. It's kind of obnoxious actually, but full blast is really too much water anyway.

Really great showers now and because there is more flow it also takes less time of running the water until it runs hot. We'll see what it does to my water bill. Although I can take shorter showers now, the flow is so much higher that I still am probably using twice as much water.

And the shower still drips, so I didn't fix that aspect.

January 4, 2011

Roth 2011

January is time to think about where to put my Roth IRA contribution. Last year, I split the contribution between Fidelity Contrafund and Vanguard Total International Stock Index. Previously I had done well with small caps and emerging markets so I was afraid they wouldn't hold up. But actually those continued to do well (two different small cap funds were up 25% and 27% and an emerging market fund was up 20%) while large caps lagged (Contrafund earned 16%) and international stocks were troubled by Europe and the continuing recession (up 10%). Still, overall 2010 was a pretty decent year and just about everything did pretty well. I was thinking about looking for some mutual funds that lagged and therefore might do better next year, but I couldn't really find anything that did that poorly. Japan has done really poorly for a long time, so I thought about putting money there, thinking they might be insulated from US and European economic troubles. I didn't want to load up any more on small cap stocks, so in the end I put the whole thing into Vanguard Total International Stock Index again. Hopefully it will work this time.

January 3, 2011

World of Coca Cola

This afternoon I met Nicole and Seda at CNN Center for lunch and then we went to the World of Coca Cola. I hadn't gotten to talk to Seda at New Year's, so I was glad to get to know her a little before she flew off to California. She and Nicole kept looking for Armenian Coke stuff in the museum, but never really found anything. I pointed out they usually make a big deal about Thailand because they have a different alphabet that Coke can use to show how international it is. And we did see a few things, plus the tasting room had several drinks from Thailand. No such luck with Armenia, but they thought maybe they found one poster from Georgia (the Georgia near Armenia), but couldn't make out all the letters.

After we went through the exhibits (mostly about Coke advertising, but they have a working bottling plant that makes bottles of coke that they give you at the end; I think they have the bottling machine on its slowest setting), the 4D theater (about what makes Coke so wonderful), and then 2 short movies about Coke advertising, Seda observed that she had paid money to have Coca Cola advertise to her for a couple of hours. And we hadn't even gotten to the gift shop yet! At the gift shop, I said now they will sell you things that you will wear or put in your house that will advertise Coke to everyone you know. She seemed to think this was an American phenomenon.

But I bought some Coke glasses made of iconic green glass. They weren't the traditional soda glass shape, but a flared or trumpet shape that I thought was pretty neat. When I got outside they had a statue of Dr. John Pemberton, Coke's inventor (he died only two years after inventing it, but not before selling the recipe; I told Nicole that maybe the Coke owners had him killed before he could sell the recipe to anyone else), serving Coke in the same kind of glass I had just bought (only his were bronze, because he was bronze).