Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In large bowl, cream together butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually beat into butter mixture. Stir in oats and raisins. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased (greasing the pan makes the cookies spread too thin) cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Cool slightly, remove from sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.


Cooking is all about the timing

And getting the timing right on dishes you’ve never made before is TOUGH. Tonight I tried three things I’ve never done, and somehow it all managed to work out. The first part was the pork loins, which I had never done in the oven on broil before (I recently got a broil pan, so I’ve been experimenting with it). To go on that I prepared a red wine, shallot, and butter sauce. As a side dish I made broccoli with cheddar cheese. In the end, it all came together, and I had a delicious meal, but it was rough deciding how long to do each thing and when to start and stop processes.

The red wine sauce was the hardest. I started out with a little butter and cooked the diced shallots until they were darker. Then I added about 1/2 cup of red wine and reduced it. Finally I added a stick of butter and mixed. Unfortunately, the butter melted too much, so it was a softer sauce than I wanted. I put it in the freezer to harden a little. Meanwhile I had boiled some broccoli, put it in a glass pan and shredded cheddar on top. It went in the oven, which was already broiling the pork, and doing a fine job of it. Since I give myself permission to criticize my own work, I have to say the cheddar could have used a minute less in the oven (it was underneath the pork, so it wasn’t getting the brunt of the broiler, but it still melted the cheese a little too much), the fat around the loin was slightly crispy, and the wine sauce was slightly runny. But if I was sitting at the table and someone set the plate in front of me, I would have thought it was a fantastic meal and wouldn’t have even noticed. This is definitely one I’ll be repeating.

Surgery on my baby

Yesterday my projector was acting up in a very unfriendly way. There was something wrong with the lighting. It was uneven with a couple lines through it. Worse, when I moved the projector, the lines moved, and I could hear a part moving around inside. Eventually, percussive maintenance no longer affected any change in the image. My only real option was to take it apart. Projectors aren’t cheap, and they are built of complicated and sensitive parts, so I was reluctant to open it up. My first thought was a flaw in the light bulb. I took the bulb out and examined it, cleaned out some of the accumulated dust, and tried again. No luck. Then I removed the case to expose the inner workings. I couldn’t see any problems immediately, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. Since it was approaching 2am, I decided to call it a night and worry about it the next day. Just in case, I ordered a new bulb, which will be delivered early next week. It turned out that the bulb was not the problem, but it’s too late to cancel the order, and it will be nice to have a backup bulb anyway.

Today I decided to give it another try. I dismantled it again, and this time turned it on while dismantled. It is incredible how much light comes through a tiny aperture. I could not look at it without some kind of protection. By following the light path, I was able to discover the problem.

The light goes through a very small square, perhaps half a centimeter wide. It enters this light tube composed of four small rectangular mirrors. The tube is about 3 centimeters long, and the four mirrors are attached along the long edges with some sort of glue. What had happened was that the heat from the lamp had weakened the glue, and one of the four sides of the square had dislodged. This led to the dimming because the mirror was no longer directing the light, and it explained the lines because the mirror was partially in the path of the light.

I was able to extract the square and, using scotch tape (bless the stuff), reconstruct the square tube and replace the fourth side. I am concerned that the scotch tape will melt or otherwise not hold, but if that happens I’ll look for a more formidable adhesive. I put everything back together, and my projector worked as well as it ever had.

It was a little intimidating working with an expensive piece of equipment whose mechanisms were mostly unfamiliar to me, but I’m glad that I was able to figure it out and fix it without damage.

Typical me

A few days ago at work it was snowing. I don’t have a window in my office, so I was getting regular updates on the rate of snowfall by more privileged coworkers. The terms they used were wildly inconsistent, though, and I thought there had to be a way to determine the actual rate of snowfall that wasn’t “kinda coming down softer now.” So I ran a little experiment. I took a black piece of paper and taped it outside in the courtyard. Then one coworker with a camera and a view of the courtyard hooked the camera up so that it was looking across the courtyard at the black piece of paper. I wrote a little bit of software that would take the image, analyze the part with the black paper, and see how many pixels were above a given threshold. The theory was that the varying levels of snowfall would block the paper as the snow fell. In other words, the falling snow would appear as white spots on the camera in front of the black paper. Then I could just count the number of white spots at any given second and have a number that represented the rate of snowfall at any given time.

Sadly, the weather made a mockery of my experiment and by the time I had set it up and was ready to test, it had stopped snowing. Still, it was fun to try out, and I think it was working correctly and just needed some tweaking, though the importance of such a task in the grand scheme of things is right up there with grooming shag carpet or arranging my spice cabinet by region of origin.

Computer Lights Show

Back in college I occasionally did DJ gigs. It was a lot of fun and I did some pretty neat things to make it easier. I had a remote control for my WinTV card and I remapped the buttons to control WinAmp, so I could control the music while I was dancing on the floor. Another thing I did was build some lights for inside my computer case.

When I originally built it, the lights were controlled by the internal serial port, and I wrote some software to advance the lights. I was even able to integrate the sound volume into it and had some rudimentary beat detection going so that the lights would change on the beat. Unfortunately, the system slowly degraded over time. The first problem was that the beat detection didn’t work when I upgraded from Windows ME to Windows XP. The next problem was that the external power supply died. Finally, I switched to Linux, so the software I had written to control it wouldn’t work.

In January 2007 I cleaned things up quite a bit. First, I connected the power to the computer’s power supply, thus removing the dependence on an external plug. Next, I set it up with a 555 timer chip and inserted a potentiometer to vary the speed of the flashing. I had to replace a light bulb, but the refurbishing took only a few hours. Now it seems to be working fairly well. See the pics and the video. There are 5 lights throughout the case, and they flash in order.

The circuitry is very simple. I have a decade counter which increments every time it gets a pulse. Each time it increments it turns on a different transistor, which powers a different light. On pin 6 it goes to the reset pin so that the decade counter only counts 1-5 over and over again. The 555 timer provides the pulse to the decade counter. If you want more details about the circuitry, contact me.

Video of the computer lights show in action (Windows Media Video (WMV) format, no audio)


Bob Baddeley Memorial Fountain

At the lab a model of the campus additions was placed on display in each of the buildings so that people could get an idea of how the campus was going to change. One day I made a little addition to the model. It stayed up for at least 4 months and moved from building to building. Take a fast look at workbootsnerd.com for an insight on the construction process.

The addition was the “Bob Baddeley Memorial Fountain,” and it was placed right in the middle of the display. It was made out of green cellophane taped to a piece of colored cardboard that was taped onto the piece of paper labeling it the memorial fountain, which was then taped to the display. I managed to get the scale believable, and the fountain just blended in with the rest of the display. At first I was sure it would disappear and I would get in trouble. After a few days, the display disappeared from my building. Later I got a message from a friend in another building asking me if I knew about it, because the display had been moved to his building and he had recognized the name. I knew about the display moving to two other buildings after that, and I never heard from anyone about it. I walked by it a few months later and it was still there.

I have been asked why it’s the Memorial fountain, as I’m not dead. My answer is two-fold: if I had been discovered by the wrong people, I might have been dead, and this way I can say it was a joke ahead of its time. I was also asked why I used my real name. In retrospect, I should have picked a more clever name, like a famous scientist or a random person. Oh well,

Audio Switch

I have a set of speakers that I embedded into my coffee table. This actually made a lot of sense because it moved the speakers to the center of the room and away from the apartment walls and increased the stereo effect, as well as saving room in the cramped apartment. The speakers serve both my computer and my Playstation2. The speakers only have a single 1/8” plug, though, so I built a switch using a tin of mints (the mints were horrible anyway) that accepts the speaker plug and the plugs for the computer and the Playstation2. It’s a cute little thing and does exactly what I needed.


My digital camera needed some accessories, and the steadicam seemed like a perfect addition. Built out of simple parts from a hardware store (and a pie plate from ShopKo), this steadicam makes sure that while I’m taking video the camera stays level and steady.

The pictures should be pretty self-explanatory as far as building it. We were making two at once, so there’s twice as many parts as you’ll need. The parts can be acquired at most hardware stores. The purpose of the pie plate is to create a wide surface so that the steadicam can be set down and used like a tripod without tipping over. It works surprisingly well. One thing that is different from the pictures is that we discovered that the plastic screws were too wobbly, so we went with metal screws instead. The plastic wing nuts are still fine, though.

Composite to S-Video

With the projector in my apartment, I have a VGA cable and an S-Video cable running as inputs. However, my Playstation2 cable only has composite video output. It turns out that composite can be hacked into s-video fairly easily. By running the composite video signal to both the brightness and color parts of the s-video you get a usable video feed. It’s not great quality, but it’s better than nothing. I also managed to find a Playstation2 cable that had s-video out, so it’s no longer an issue, but for a while I needed a solution.

Staples Easy Button Hacking

For a project at work I needed a solid button that would be easy to press. It turned out that the Staples Easy Button was a perfect match for what I needed; heavy, easy to locate without looking for it, a great size, and it was just a single button. I opened it up and removed the speakers and disconnected the majority of the inner workings, rewiring some bits so that I could run a wire out of it and into the serial port of a computer. Then I could use the button as an input device. It worked perfectly.

Here is a step-by-step gallery that shows how to dismantle the button, remove the speakers (you could leave them in, but what’s the point? Why not take out the free speaker for use somewhere else?), tap into the switch, and re-assemble.

We start by removing screws. Keep removing screws until you can pry the speaker out. Cut the red wires and remove the speaker. Reassemble the button most of the way. Remove the resistor on top. Also cut the black and white wire coming from the battery case. Cut the traces to the chip (the black mound). Solder wires at the points shown on the images: there’s one point where the resistor used to be, and one point that’s just a bare hole. Then solder the other ends of those wires to the black and white battery wires. Now reassemble completely. You can now tie or solder wires to the pads where the batteries go and use the button for whatever application you have.