Challenge #3

Challenge #3 of 30 Days to a Better Blog: write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog. Frankly, I don’t remember exactly what I had in mind when I started this. I went back to my very first post (from June 2005) to refresh my memory, but the only thing I found there were the features I was after: pingback and trackback, so that I could get automatic backlinks to referring articles (from my own posts as well as others’). My goal was to be part of a cross-linked multi-blog environment somewhat like a wiki.

One thing that I do clearly remember wanting to write about was a different approach to secondary education, (high school and possibly junior high/middle school, i.e. children aged 12- or 14-18). That would almost certainly end up being a whole series of articles. Although I have no qualifications to write policy on this topic, I’m encouraged by You (Almost) Never Have Nothing to Write About.

So… Challenge #3 isn’t complete, at least to my way of thinking. But I have a topic, and I’ve started a draft. I’m just not anywhere close to clicking the Publish button!

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Day #2 of “30 Days to a Better Blog”

The assignment for day #2 of 30 Days to a Better Blog was to edit your title and tagline, and flesh them out more in a widget. I actually found this much more difficult than yesterday’s assignment. When I first started this blog, I had only the most nebulous idea of what I wanted to do with it. In all candor, I’m not a very creative person, which was clearly evident in the old title: SonicChicken blog. The tagline was a little more informative: Information, opinions, ideas and rants from my family and friends in Sacramento, California, US. But that was still too generic to be helpful.

Finally, working on the “About” widget got me to rearrange my sidebar. Still the same stuff (plus the new widget), but hopefully the arrangement is a little more useful to visitors.

Although this was a somewhat difficult assignment, it was also rewarding. I feel more focused and energized about my old blog now. So kudos to the folks at WordPress for coming up with this challenge!

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Space Station visibility gadget

Back in October I was thinking about how I might build a Space Station visibility indicator. Yesterday I ran across a similar idea at ISS Above, and it got me thinking some more about how I would implement my own ISS appliance. My ideal device would be:

  1. small form factor, approximately 10 cm (4 inch) cube or smaller
  2. completely wireless, i.e. battery powered and using wireless communications
  3. simple and intuitive to operate
  4. relatively inexpensive to prototype, hopefully under US$50

I could meet most of these objectives with a Raspberry Pi model A, but batteries wouldn’t last too long. So I think my first prototype will include a power feed.

One of my other projects includes setting up ZigBee mesh networking. Once that’s done, I may look into a fully wireless device using an XBee/ZigBee powered by a LiPo rechargeable battery.

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Day #1 of 30-day blogging challenge

Ever since I began using FaceBook, I’ve kind of let my blog rot. It’s just too damned easy to post on FaceBook, because I hold my blog posts to a higher standard. And due to inertia and habit, I end up with all of my posts on FB. Some of these have turned out to be worthwhile (shocking, I know!), but have you ever tried to go back and dig up a FB post older than a month or two? It’s a serious pain in the rear! No tags, no easy way to search by date, nada.

So now New Year’s Day 2014 has come and gone, and of course everybody is making resolutions. The folks at WordPress have taken this opportunity to issue a 30-day blogging challenge which I’ve decided to participate in. The assignment/challenge for today (day #1) is to write a “who I am and why I’m here” post. So here goes!

I’m Jim, and I’m blogging because I have things I want to share with you. (Yes, you!) What kinds of things? Well, my hobbies and pastimes are likely subjects. I have a lot of hobbies, but of course one can only engage in a few at a time. What I’m currently pursuing is electronics, physical computing, and the “internet of things” (IoT). Many of the projects I’m doing involve Arduino micro controllers, Raspberry Pi computers, and wireless communications (wifi, r/f remotes such as used for garage doors, ZigBee mesh networks, as well as ham radio). Some projects use the Internet or my home network, web servers, or communications gateways (e.g. email, SMS messaging, Twitter, etc.), so I’ll be writing about how I set those up and maintain them.

If you’re interested in electronics or want to learn what the heck the “Internet of Things” is, stick around. And if you couldn’t care less about that, stick around anyway! Doubtless I’ll get interested in other things over the coming year, so the topics will change. It’s a certainty that I’ll be posting some recipes, if nothing else.

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Homemade chorizo

First time I’ve made this recipe:

We couldn’t find ancho chile powder at our local Mexican market, so we substituted paprika+red chile powder+cayenne as suggested.

I made a 2.5 kg batch (5x the recipe) because that was how much pork shoulder I had. A bit too much cumin and way too much cloves and cinnamon for my taste. Next time I’ll make a 500 g (1 lb) batch, using half the cloves and cinnamon and dial back the cumin just a bit. Also, hopefully we’ll have some home-grown ancho chile powder to try!

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BoardGameGeek widget

I finally visited the BoardGameGeek site after a prolonged absence and got to fiddling with the widget generator. Here’s what I came up with: Thumbnails of the 5 games I’ve most recently played (and remembered to log on BGG!)

I haven’t figured out how to get the thumbnails to link back to the games, so I did the next best thing–the image links to my gaming history on BGG, and from there you can jump to each game on the list.

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Brian’s gingerbread cookie recipe

Brian brought some gingerbread cookies in to the office last week, and they were amazingly tasty! I asked him for the recipe (and permission to publish it here), which he graciously granted.

Following typical cookie recipe procedure, here are the ingredients…


  • 1.5 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • half cup molasses
  • one egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • one heaping tablespoon of finely-ground fresh ginger (or more?!)


  • 4 cups flour
  • teaspoon baking soda (I used to a half teaspoon in the version I brought in)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves


  • I sometimes refrigerate the dough
  • I flatten balls of dough on a bed of coarse sugar before baking, sugar side up, at 350 for no longer than 12 min. for medium-size cookies and 15 min. for extra-large cookies.

And if you need some decorating ideas for gingerbread men, check out this post by George Takai on Facebook! ;)

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New gravy recipe?

SimplyRecipes has a giblet gravy recipe that looks interesting. I haven’t used mirepoix in my Thanksgiving gravy before, but that certainly sounds like a worthy addition!

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Atari lives!

I got one of my two Atari 800′s out and fired it up today. My 30-year-old computer is still kicking!

My 1982 Atari still works!

My wife and/or kids started typing on my old computer, and their opinion is apparent! :)

The old programming cartridges (Action!, assembler, and BASIC) still work, but I currently have no way to store any programs I write. (I didn’t even bother to test the old cassette tape drive, because I’m almost certain that the drive belt has disintegrated.) So my first project to resurrect this box will have to be some hardware and software for serial communication. The “software” will have to be burned onto an 8k EPROM for the right cartridge slot. Fortunately, Make Magazine just published a circuit board for Atari 8-bit computers in their most recent issue.

I’m enough of a geek that I’m actually looking forward to this!

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The Dark Tower

Back in September 2011, I (and many other geeks) was introduced to NPR’s “Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books” via SFsignal’s amazing flowchart. I had already experienced about half of the books, but that still left quite a few books to push onto the TBR stack, one of which was Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. He began this in 1978 with a novella(?) titled “The Gunslinger”. Over the next 20 years he expanded that first story to a novel, and published three more volumes of the saga:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass

In the Foreword of the 2003 edition of The Gunslinger, he mentions that while preparing to write the final 3 volumes of the saga, he took the opportunity to go back and clean up the earlier books. Here is the complete saga, as (re-)written circa 2004:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower

The links above are for the post-2003 editions available through the Sacramento Public Library system.

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