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What I've Been Up To
And why I haven't sent a newsletter in three weeks
I’ve been extra busy these past few weeks. The kids started school at the beginning of August and it’s amazing how much the small shift to my schedule has impacted my ability to fiddle with projects like this newsletter.
I started this as a way to keep in touch with friends and as a way to share what I’m learning with those around me. I’ve been intending to send it out every week, but my core posts have been taking me 10-15 hours, and lately I have at best 4-6 hours per week that I can spend working on any sort of side project. And unfortunately, writing this newsletter takes time away from working on the sorts of things I like to write about in this newsletter.
I’m not going to step back from it, at least not any time soon: I still have lots of things I want to write about, and I’ve received so many kind comments about what I write about that I do find that I’m getting the sense of connection I was hoping for. But, I need to figure something out - some combination of writing more quickly, writing less, and holding myself to a cadence of delivery. This week’s issue is my first attempt at this - it’s just a rollup of what’s been preoccupying my time these past few weeks, timeboxed to one hour of writing time (though of course it actually took me two).
What I’m Thinking About Now
I have several friends who are new to management, and I’m considering spinning up a small-cohort manager support group as a way to help them and to improve my own ability to mentor other managers. If you’re interested in being a part of this, or if you’d like to join sometime as a “visiting expert”, please shoot me an email.
In the past, I could regularly use a ballpoint pen until the ink dried out completely - but for the past couple years, I find that my ballpoint pens keep jamming up. I thought it was due to low-quality paper on the notepads I was using, but I’ve now gone through a couple Baron Fig refills and a dozen Jetstream pens writing only in Moleskine notebooks. My working theory is that oil from my hands is accumulating in the paper as I write, but I don’t have a good solution yet. Does anyone else struggle with this?
I built a very effective task management system about ten years ago, and it has worked very well for me for many years - right up until I started working from home full-time and drew a much clearer boundary between my “home time” and “work time”. I find that I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with the sorts of tasks that need to be done during the day but that don’t belong on my work todo list - things like making phone calls or keeping in touch socially with other people. I probably just need to block off a chunk of time to work on this every morning, but I find that time gets repurposed easily. For those of you who also work from home full-time, how do you handle these sorts of tasks?
What I’ve Been Working On
Building a Bike Trailer for a Bike
I have always loved riding my bike. (See also How to Ride A Bike.) When I was a kid, my schools were always too far away to bike to, but now I live in a small city with a small school district footprint, and I’ve been eagerly waiting for the time when I’d be able to bike with my kids to school. But because my kids get picked up directly from school for aftercare, I was having trouble figuring out how to get their bikes back home after drop-off.
Earlier this spring I found a post about How to Carry a Bike With Another Bike. The article includes a complete shopping list, and although the author doesn’t include a lot of detail about how things are connected to one another or why, I was able to figure out how to construct my own trailer in about a weekend. The total cost was about $145, but that includes enough parts that I could easily build 2-3 more of these racks. (If you’re interested in doing this yourself, email me and I can give you at least some of the parts you’ll need.)
I’ve used it every weekday for two weeks and it hasn’t given me any trouble - I can hook a bike up in about three minutes, and riding home isn’t all that much more difficult than normal.
The bike trailer includes two custom plastic components made using Instamorph. I hadn’t used this before, and I still can’t say I’ve got the hang of it - but it’s remarkable to be able to fabricate plastic components like these at all without a 3D printer, and I have no doubt I’ll use it again in the future.
I’ve had a new appreciation for video documentation ever since our car was rear-ended a few years back. Now that I’m riding my bike to school and back every day, I’ve started recording my trips with this low-cost camera. I initially bought it to use for underwater photography – my kids both learned to swim this summer, and I wanted to capture the moment – but the camera came with a whole box of mounts, straps, and adhesives, so I decided to try mounting it to my helmet. It works great, and drivers also seem to give me a bit more space when passing. The kit also comes with a remote that can strap to my bike handlebars, so it’s easy to take still photos while I ride - you can see it in the NFC Tag photo later in this article.
I make homemade bread most weekends using a custom recipe based on the ones in this book. (I’ll write a whole post about this sometime). I’ve been trying to find ways to increase the sourness and flavor of the bread, but as I increase the preferment time, the gluten in the dough breaks down and the final loaf comes out too flat. I’ve been experimenting lately with starting a small dedicated batch of starter on Tuesday night, then adding that whole starter to a batch of preferment on Thursday night, and then making the bread on Friday morning, and so far this seems to be having the effect I’m looking for.
I tried adding some malt vinegar to the dough - apparently, this is a normal way of souring bread in the sourdough kits you can buy online - but I didn’t actually notice any extra flavors in the final dough. Maybe I need to add more, or maybe the flavors just don’t stand out as much as the natural ones.
Automating Things with NFC Tags
I got an Apple Watch last year. I like it, but I constantly forget to tell it when I’m starting a ride. But, with the iPhone Shortcuts App, you can create an automation to trigger when an NFC Tag is tapped - so I created one to start a workout when I put my phone in the the holder on my bike. (I’ve also used these in the past to control lights in my house or start playing music.)
Fixing a Leaky Pipe, Maybe
One of the pipes in our laundry room developed a pinhole leak a week ago. I bought one of these kits and installed it last Saturday, and although the kit promised it would be fully cured in 30 minutes, it started leaking immediately as soon as I turned the water pressure back on. But…I checked again last night, and it seems to have stopped leaking. I have no idea whether it’s actually fixed (or why), but I have a bucket underneath just in case…and if you ever find yourself doing a similar repair, I suggest letting the patch cure for longer than the box suggests. Depending on how this goes, you may see a post from me in the future about “how I learned to replace copper pipe”.
An Easy Medicine Bottle Hack
My kids’ allergies have been rough this summer. The allergy medicine we use is sticky and hard to pour without making a mess. Using a bottle pourer makes all the difference.
Stir Fry and Fish Sauce
I bought Kenji's new Wok book and have been working my way through the recipes. I’ve made the Basil Chile Chicken recipe several times recently. I had no idea how delicious Fish Sauce was - I would never have thought to try it, and would have actively avoided it if I had smelled it, but it does absolutely remarkable things to food.
I’ve been working for a while to add an authentication layer to this app I used heavily at a former job. The app had been designed for use in a private, trusted network, but I wanted to find a way to run it on the public internet, and that meant I needed to find a way to validate the identity of users before they could make changes.
Well, last week I finally discovered FirebaseUI, a drop-in system for authenticating to a dozen different backend providers. I fiddled with it for a few days, then successfully dropped it in as a replacement, and now I’ve been able to deploy this app to Google App Engine so that I can continue iterating on it.
Building an Apple Watch Charger
I’ve struggled to figure out where to leave my Apple Watch charger - it slides off my desk top, and I hate having loose cables around. My wife discovered that the same magnet that holds the watch to the charger will also hold the charger to the side of a metal object like a desk or a fridge, so I built a little adapter out of a toilet paper tube to keep the charger in place on one of the monitor stands on my desk.
That’s it for this week. Please leave a comment or send an email if you liked anything I shared this week!