OUT!!!

I feel really amazing and free right now!

I’ve used this 100 sq. ft. storage unit since I moved out of my house. Seen here it’s already more than half purged:
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Shortly after dark last night, I loaded the last of my possessions into Junior, swept the floor of my storage unit, and *closed the door*!

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It’s been a long road, starting back when I first decided to sell my 2400 sq. ft. house in 2013 after years of accumulating crap. I went through at least three major purges before I finally sold in 2015. I *still* had so much stuff I had to stuff my derelict Metro to the gills to get everything off property in time for the closing!

The storage unit was a necessary step as I downsized my life from that big house to a tiny 113 sq. ft. yurt. There’s plenty of storage out here on the farm, though, just waiting to be claimed. This space above the milking parlor in the barn is a perfect example. Here’s what it looked like when I started:

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And after I cleaned it up…

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The only problem is that it’s 10 feet off the ground and there are no steps. 🙂 The only stuff I let myself put up there were large, light items that don’t need much protection and take up huge amounts of space.

Now I have the yurt, my van, an on-site 75 cu.ft. storage space that used to be a milk fridge, and a few spaces like this. Most of my big tools, some of the largest things I have left, are in our barn workshop.

This is the fridge storage. Having relocated the Big Floofy Stuff to the barn, I can now add two new sets of shelves and store nearly twice as much neatly.

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My decision to move as much as possible into transparent tubs has been a huge success. It’s easy to find things, they’re reasonably weatherproof for short periods of time, and they’re cheap. I’d prefer to get stronger ones that cost more, as these are pretty easy to break if they’re overstressed.

Now that everything is back in one place, it’s time for one more pass through the Konmari tidying system. Despite having been purged separately several times, I can guarantee I’ll end up able to reduce my space usage another 20-25%.

The $80 a month I spent on storage is one my last unnecessary expenses, and as of today, it’s *gone*! WOOHOO!

I want to acknowledge that it was a *lot* of emotional labor and time to do this, but it’s 100% worth it. It’s totally normal for it to be hard. But, my life is cheaper, I can find things quickly, and I feel more open and free. I found the Konmari method helpful, and there are lots of resources and help available for people who want to downsize but are having trouble. For me it’s a huge milestone in increasing my quality of life while reducing my standard of living. Time to head out and celebrate!

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Hibernating in the Yurt

Hiding from the weather in the yurt is a perfect excuse to look for drafts. The only possible justification for winter is snow, which we got for exactly one day so far. Instead we have this horrible gruel of cold rain and gritty wind, and I’m totally over it. To be honest, I was before we started. I would like to go the rest of my life with nothing below 65 o F touching my body if it isn’t ice cream or snowing outside enough to build forts, lob snowballs at strangers’ children, and sled down dangerous inclines without parental supervision.

However, it *is* a chance to check the yurt for gaps. In between naps, whining about the weather, and playing Ori and the Blind Forest, I got out my infrared leak detector and got to work.

The biggest is at the door. It’s made of fiberboard and I knew that, despite my attempts to waterproof it, it would eventually fall apart. It’s been serious warped by water infiltration, so I have this huge gap in the bottom.

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I’m going to make a new waterproof door, preferably out of cedar, but in the meantime I stuffed a dish towel into the gap and that helps a lot.

Obviously the roof ring needs to be plugged. I used to have a transparent plug that fit the hole, but this time I’m using the circles of the moving blankets I cut out to make the top of the insulation. Since they were cut for that specific hole, they fit perfectly. There’s no light, but there’s no optimism or hope in the Universe when the weather’s like this, so that’s ok.

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With my little 1500 watt heater on high and 40 o F outside, the average temperature at waist level is about 70 o F, which isn’t bad. Up near the roof it’s in the mid-high 70s. It turns out the biggest problem is the floor. It started at about 55 o F, and has been slowly warming since I turned the heater from low to high up to about 58 o F. This is also not bad, since most heat escapes through the roof. The floor is insulated with 1/2″ or 3/4″ load-bearing foam insulation as you can see here:

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I kind of wish I used more, but actually it might be better than I didn’t. Keeping out cold is only a minor issue that’s easily compensated for with a little more electricity or propane. But in the summer, the cooler air below the yurt helps keep the temperatures down.

It’s nice to live in something I built myself, and never more so when it’s beating the elements and keeping me cozy. It continues to improve as a home and workspace, and I feel pride every day in my little round experiment. How many people can say that?

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The 12-Hour Winter Wonderland

I’ve frequently said that the only justification for winter is snow, and we finally got some here in Austin last night!

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“But aren’t you freezing your ass off in the yurt?” you ask? Actually, the yurt has been pretty cozy in the cold, and I’ll give some details to prove it in my next post. Yurts are stellar for cold climates, and many people use them in Alaska.

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This is more cold and photogenic than Junior has ever been! Good thing I changed that glow plug and re-charged the batteries!

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I’ve been fighting the strong urge to hibernate for weeks. I’m never at lower productivity than in Texas winters. I’ve mostly been playing Ori and the Blind Forest and watching Stranger Things on Netflix.

Nothing gets people forwarding my blog post like adorable animal pictures, and Lee’s mustangs Dixie and Daisy were happy to oblige! So cute!

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I had to get up early to get these shots, because the snow is already melting. I’m glad I got a bit of White Christmas first!

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A Plethora of Options for Mapping Out My Mind

I want a mind map driven task manager for someone with a Mac laptop and an Android phone.

My life is much too complicated to manage without a digital brain, but the last thing I want to do is face the fact that I have too many interests and not enough time. My To Do list scares the hell out of me, which is why I only really use it for shopping lists. I know I’d get a lot more done if I could ride herd on my long list of intentions better, so I’m looking for a new tool. Enter mind maps.

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Mind maps are a way of seeing ideas that fits better into my brain. Like any worthwhile viewpoint, *I* am at the center, and major points of interest radiate out from there. Ideas flow into each other the way I think about them, instead of as collection of lists. But, with the right software, tasks I want to do related to these ideas can be converted into task lists. That last part, connecting the two technologies, is the part that seems hardest to pull off, particularly as a Apple user.

There’s quite a variety of free and for-pay apps for mind mapping. So far I’ve examined FreeMind, XMind, and Mindomo. The tricky part is the integration with the task management software.

Specifically what I want is to be able to create tasks from either the mind map on my laptop or the task manager on my phone and have them automatically synchronized. I think the mind map will provide the high-level coordination my system has been missing. I’ve also seen a good case for using all-day tasks in Google Calendar as a task list, because it allows one to see their tasks and calendar on the same page.

At the moment I’m leaning toward XMind Free to start with. It’s fully featured, open source, and free, and will get me started. For around $100 it has project management features that would be useful for my game development process also. There are also third-party plug-ins that automatically sync with popular task managers, but so far the only ones I’ve seen run on Windows, not OS X.

If necessary, I will manually do the syncing to try the whole system. I can create categories or tags in ToodleDo or Google Calender/Tasks for each node on the Mind Map. I will then have to manually keep them in sync by checking them completed in each location, etc. Once I decide if the system generally has merit, I can then do a free 30 day trial and see if I can accomplish the same thing automatically before forking over my cash.

I’ll keep you posted as to my results, and I’m open to suggestions about what works for other people.

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Double Low-Carb Pound Cake Muffins

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One of the biggest struggles in living small is trying to fit a full sized kitchen into a 113 sq. ft. living space. These delicious low-carb pound cake muffins have been a staple of my low-carb diet for quite a while, but only half a pan of muffins would fit in my small combo oven, until today!

I tried using the included rack to stack another half pan on top, and it worked! The thing I most dislike about this oven it that it doesn’t seem to support turning off the convection fan. Convection is great for meat and veggies, but terrible for baking. Although it evens out the temperature, it also causes the outside to cook faster than the inside. This is why I use a muffin pan instead of a normal pound cake tin. However, this oven only has burners on top, so if it *didn’t* use the convection fan, it’s almost certain the top muffins would be burned and the bottom ones would be under-done.

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There’s no way to disable the fan with the oven’s built-in controls, so I’ve been thinking about installing a manual switch just for that. It also occurs to me, though, that simply baking at a lower temperature for a longer period of time might fix the problem also. I’d get the more even heat of a convection bake, but there would be more time for the heat to penetrate into the inside of larger baked goods instead of just burning the outside. I’ll try some experiments and report back.

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Envisioning a New Future Review: Aven Colony

My main focus as a game developer is helping people envision positive, achievable futures to counteract the prevailing negativism and dystopian-tinged zeitgeist. Naturally I’m interested in other’s efforts along the same lines.

I scored a free copy of Mothership Game’s Aven Colony at a an excellent recent presentation by their CEO, Paul Tozour, which I covered earlier.

Aven Colony is a city-builder narrating the creation of human kind’s first colony beyond Earth. Starting with less than the basics, the player assumes the roll of governor, managing resources, growth, and human happiness to create a large, bustling city in the face of a hostile environment. Various biological threats blow in on the wind, massive lightning strikes can level buildings, and without careful management the colonists themselves can protest, strike, and cause general chaos. The underlying narrative of first exploration and subsequent discover of ancient and potentially dangerous alien tech is un-original but well executed.

The game does a good job of bringing the player up to speed on how to use the dense interface to create and manage the colony using some initial tutorial levels. They don’t cover everything, but provide enough to get started, with the rest filled in by on-the-job experience made sane by the ability to stop the passage of time.

Though there is a tension at the resource-poor beginning of each level, I found the external threats to be pretty innocuous and easy to keep out of my base, even on the Hard difficulty level I used for most of the game. Rather than dealing with an infestation, I tended to re-load an earlier save and change my strategy. Due to this, it wasn’t until more than half-way through the game that I finally had to deal with spores in my base wrecking havoc. Most of my problems had to do with the more prosaic challenges of growing a city fully of needy colonists who needed to eat, drink, breath, shop, work, and be entertained. Striking a careful balance is the name of the game, and being well-prepared for contingencies before embarking on new projects provides the colony with a high degree of immunity from various threats, both internal and external.

One of the more aspirational aspects of the game didn’t occur to me until I was almost done. Although there are a huge variety of foods, there is no meat. All inputs are either from plants or the ground. I’m not a vegetarian myself, but there seems to have been a deliberate decision to exclude meat from the menu. In the absence of obvious thrift stores, I was a bit disappointed to see that people were still shopping, but while you as the manager buy everything with nanites, the colonists themselves don’t seem to have money. The city building mechanism is very much a top-down proposal — no one can veto your choices, only punish you for making them poorly. What the game models well is the organism-like complexity of managing a large closed system of living creatures in a hostile environment. Various needs must be constantly kept in balance, and sometimes what seemed to be a minor problem, like a small drop in air quality, can suddenly snowball into protests and strikes. It teaches the laudable view that taking the time to things right makes dealing with problems as they come up much easier, but moving too quickly can lead to catastrophe.

Overall I really enjoyed my week-long vacation of playing the game until late into the night. I was engaged with my colonists, who can be viewed and interacted with on a personal level, cared about them and worried about them when they were unhappy. I also admire the game’s Star Trek-like focus on keeping the violence to a minimum, and its cautionary tale about the excesses of lies from high places and out-of-control religious zealotry. Although I missed the raining body parts a bit, it was refreshing to play a game where the aim was consistently to avoid violence instead of pursue it.

The weakest part of the game, which Paul acknowledged in his presentation, is the Expedition mechanism where ships can be equipped to leave the colony and explore beyond. Unlike the main game which runs in some multiple of real-time, the Expedition interface is simply a map with waypoints that can be assigned to each ship. The interface, especially for changing plans to take advantage of a recent discovery, is a bit clunky, and nothing actually happens until the player returns to the colony screen. The action all happens off-stage and is simply reported by status updates, which I found disappointingly disconnected from the flow. All of this could be greatly improved by cleaner real-time interaction and maybe a series of mini games for the various types of mission involved. Instead of stopping the action, the fact that both the main city and the expedition were happening in real-time could add to the tension. One mechanism might be that being present on the mission increases the chances of success, but a default (or upgrade-path) auto-pilot takes over if one has to jump back to the colony to deal with a crisis. This would further re-enforce the overall ethos that taking care of business at home opens up the bandwidth take risks elsewhere. The lack of newness at the end of game was also a little disappointing, with the final action to simply be to survive for one more solar “day” after other actions had occurred.

Overall I really liked the game, and found it hard to believe it was created by a four-person studio. It goes a long way to prove many of the priorities revealed by the Game Outcomes Project, an amazing and in-depth project that sought to determine which elements do and don’t contribute to successful game-making. Aven Colony kept me engaged learning, balancing, and exploring for several days, has a well thought out interface for its complexity, but doesn’t get so bogged down in details to feel overwhelming. And there’s always that Stop Time button.

Wouldn’t it be great to have *that* in real life? 🙂

Even on my wildly-below-minimum-spec Macbook Pro, I really enjoyed the visuals, and would love to see it on a more powerful gaming rig at full detail.

Aven Colony is a well-envisioned and executed space colony builder experience, and I’m happy I spent a few days living on Aven Prime.

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Plastic Welding for The Win

I can now heal broken plastic things and make stuff out of plastic pieces! Very exciting!
It all started with this broken plastic cover for Junior’s clutch fan:

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It had both the Big Tear all the way through on top here:
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…and the Big Chunk ripped out by the helpful drunk claiming to be an aircraft mechanic in Abilene here:

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I had welded it with a soldering iron several times before without adding material, but it just kept breaking. The repair was too thin and brittle. It was very hard to find a replacement part, so it looked like repairing it was my best option. A bit of Googling lead to this:

Viola! With a simple soldering iron, some zip ties for feed stock, and thin wire for re-enforcement, anything is possible!

This longer video with more details was the main one I used:

The key is to keep the temperature low enough that it doesn’t smoke. The smoke is toxic, and also the plastic gets more brittle if it’s burned. This technique can be used to repair any compatible plastic, and also starts to make any random bit of plastic garbage look useful!

The ability to add metal wire re-enforcement and extra plastic fixed everything! Here I used the zip ties not only for feedstock, but also to bridge large gaps in the material like a mesh.

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I sunk some thin wire into weak points like corners to make them stronger. You just heat up the metal and it sinks into the plastic, then you cover it with more plastic afterward.

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Here it is fat and happy back in the van!

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My biggest issue was that none of my soldering irons had wide chisel tips, but instead had needle tips, which suck for this kind of work. I also used too much heat to speed things up, generating a lot of toxic smoke and making the repair more brittle. However, the final result was flexible, strong, and will probably last the lifetime of the part. And I’m very excited to be able to make things out of plastic without having to use a 3D printer or special tools. This technique could also be combined well with 3D printing, where the printer is used to make the detailed, fussy part, but a large block of plastic is added to the end to be welded to something bigger using this technique.

Bonzai! Please work in a well-ventilated area and use a respirator. The smoke is awful!

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