2015 Projects

Now that 2016 is upon us, I decided I’d take a look at projects I worked on during 2015.  Some of them were started in 2014 — and there’s the rub: most of the 2015 projects went unfinished, and have become de facto 2016 projects.  Or not.  Here’s there list of what I worked on, with some links to other posts for more information.

No DST for AZ & Time Zone Report

Time Zone Report logo

The first week of January 2015 I discovered that Arizona State Representative Phil Lovas had filed a bill that would ADOPT Daylight Saving Time in Arizona.   Well, as I tell all my out of state friends who want to know why we don’t do DST, “We don’t need any more stinking daylight… we can’t wait for the sun to go down, so it’ll start to cool off!”  So I launched the No DST for AZ effort, along with a web site, and social media outlets on Twitter and Facebook.

Senator Lovas withdrew his bill in less than a week, saying that “opposition was overwhelming”, according to Alia Rau of the Arizona Republic.  Yay me!

But in the process, I learned that Arizona wasn’t the only state with legislation relating to Daylight Saving Time or changing Time Zones.  So I decided I would continue in a more informative venture I called Time Zone Report, with a web site and social media outlets.  Eventually 21 states had filed a total of 32 pieces of legislation relating to Daylight Saving Time, and 2016 is already underway with another 4 bills filed or pre-filed, and we’re not even past the first week of January!

So follow me on Time Zone Report to see what I’m up to the first of 2016.

Up Close Imagery

Feather-10xAs many of you already know, my wife is a Histotech.  For those of you that don’t know what a histotech does, here’s what I tell people: “She works for hours so a pathologist can look at a slide of human tissue and say, ‘Nope, that’s not cancer’.”  Histotechs slice biopsy material to 4 microns then process it with special chemicals so that pathologists can more easily differentiate things in the tissue sample.

Well, I’ve been very interested in her work, having helped her study through her Histotech course down at Pima Community College (before we were married).  So for Christmas 2014 she got me a very nice microscope.  I’ve been taking some samples along the way — not of human tissue, but mostly of things around the house and in the yard; oh yeah, there was some human blood! —  and putting the images on another web site of mine.  There isn’t a lot there… it turns out that getting good pictures is harder than it looks.  But that’s something I do now and then.

Work table, general shop setup

I had done a little wood-working of sorts many years back, but somewhere along the way I gave away all my tools.  So I’ve been acquiring some tools, as well as a nice work bench from Harbor Freight (one of the many advantages of living in Phoenix, as opposed to Arizona City).  Now I’ve got a drill press, router, grinder, shop vac, Dremel, rotary polisher, air brush sprayer, and a host of small stuff.  And accumulating more every month or so.

Pen Holder, Ice Cream Bar Funnel

FunnelMany of you have seen my 3D Printing Blog, so you know I have done a good bit with my Lulzbot TAZ 4 3D printer.  I’m especially proud of the two things I “invented on short notice”.

One was a magnetic pen holder, born out of my frustration with having a magnet-backed note pad attached to the refrigerator for writing down grocery needs, but never being able to find a pen to write with!  So one day I said, “I’m going to make a magnetic pen holder”.  And I did!  See the finished product on the 3D blog site here, and also see them on Etsy in my “Functional Tech” shop!

The other was a specialty funnel.  My wife got some ice cream bar molds and while pouring the mixture into the molds, it was making a mess.  I mentioned “what you need is a funnel to help you keep it in the opening when pouring”, and her reply was, “well get right on it then!”  And I did!  See the finished product also on the 3D blog site and on Etsy.

Dragon animatronics or costume, and clay sculpting

We went a couple of times to the Phoenix Renaissance Fair, and somewhere along the way I got the idea to create an animatronic dragon to go along with my wizard outfit.  While I did manage to learn something about animatronics and do a little 3D printing of some working parts, that was about as far as I got, though I did manage to do a little clay sculpting in the process.  See a collection of a few things here.

Another interesting option that came up was to create a full dragon costume to wear.  I found a guy that has a mold of a wearable dragon head, and he indicated he’d make me a cast of it for a reasonable price.  But unfortunately the timing hasn’t worked out — yet.

Tower Lights & Christmas Tree

TowerLight DemoThere’s a restaurant about a mile from our house called Rustler’s Rooste.  It’s quite an interesting place, with a rustic cowboy theme, down to the bull-pen just outside the entrance.  One of the striking features there is the lights strung along the guy wires up to the radio tower that sits atop the building.  These lights are visible from I-10 as you pass between the Baseline Road exit and the Guadalupe Road overpass.  Sometime during the summer I got to thinking about how much electricity must cost to run these lights, since they’re on from dusk til dawn.

So I got in contact with Tom, the general manager, and showed him a small LED light strip demo that I had put together — in a small plastic case.  “I was wondering how much the electricity costs to keep those exterior lights lit, and how much you might save if you replaced them with LEDs.”  Tom’s reply was, “I’m not so much interested in the cost savings between what we have now and LEDs, but how much extra customer pull we’d have if we had an exterior light show outside every evening.”  One of the other office staff mentioned that having color controlled lights in their “barn” would also attract customers.  (The Barn is a large seating area where hundreds of people can be accommodated, with a stage and dance floor.)

I ended up expanding my one-box demo with a 10 foot tower demo.  See a blurb about the setup in my back yard, and the “dark demo” I did in the back yard (see the YouTube video too).

This worked well, and I was able to modify the light sequences for Halloween and Christmas.  For Christmas we anchored the top of the “tree” about midway up the palm tree in our front yard, and it looked a lot like a lit Christmas tree.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to take any video!

Plans for 2016 include being able to have multiple LED strings communicate with a “master controller” wirelessly, and then being able to choreograph light shows between multiple systems.

Plant stand

Plant standTwo projects now that I actually finished.  The first was a three-tiered plant stand I made for the back yard.  I found a plan for one in a magazine and said, “I could do that!”  And I did!  I posted some pictures on Facebook — at least I think I did, but Facebook won’t show them to me now.  I’ll dig up some pics and post them here later.

Leather hair tie

ButterflyI mentioned above that I’d started to do a little leather work.  One of the things I really wanted to do was to make a hair bow for my wife’s birthday.  And I did!  It was pretty nice, for a “first real piece of leather work”.

Ebid assistant & Little Book That Beat the Market

I had written some software back in 2014 for a gentleman who I contacted online about doing some programming.  He had posted on an eBay developer’s forum asking if someone could write some specialty software for him.  I finally got that completed,

CGRPR, Cassie Gannis Racing, Mike Harmon Racing

Mid-2014 I had some social media contact with a young Phoenix-based race car driver, Cassie Gannis.  Early 2015 I cranked up a small public relations website to help her out a bit.  Things got pretty exciting later in the year when she was going to be racing at the Phoenix International Raceway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in a Mike Harmon truck.  Well, things didn’t quite work out the way everyone planned them (it’s a really long story involving some unsavory characters), but I at least got to meet some nice people along the way.

Plans for 2016: help out where I can, hoping to help find Cassie some major sponsorship for this year.  I’ll also be helping Mike Harmon out a bit with some administrative assistance.  Also, I’ll be taking an online course in Sports Management, so maybe I can learn a bit of how to be more helpful to the teams.

Frame Holder, 3D printed & Cast

My wife and her mother had an idea to create some framed pictures for her mother’s sisters, and along with that idea there was a question about whether or not I could build a table-top frame holder for them.  I ended up designing and 3D printing one for each frame, and while they looked pretty nice, I had an idea to try to cast the frame holders with clear resin.  While that idea didn’t quite come together in time, it did spawn an idea for an adjustable frame holder that would be a combination of wood and cast resin.  That’s a project for 2016.

Etsy shop

Halloween, several folks in our neighborhood got together and had one common table for handing out candy, and during a lull in the action one of our neighbors mentioned she had a shop on Etsy where she was selling antiques that she acquired from local garage sales.  I had thought about selling my magnetic pen holder and ice cream bar funnel on Amazon, but when I looked into it, the whole operation just seemed overwhelmingly complex for the simple stuff I was hoping to do.  But our neighbor assured me that Etsy was extremely simple.

So (as I mentioned above) I now have an Etsy shop.  Copies of my book, “I Hate My Damn Job!”, are also available there.

Software to learn: Animation Master, Pixel Gravity, Mix Master

I acquired a few software packages throughout the year.  Most fun among them is Animation Master, which is a 3D animation tool.  Think Pixar and ILM, but on a scale even I could handle!

Pixel Gravity does simulations of planets and orbits.  It was only $10, but kind of cool the way you can change parameters and see how it affects orbits, for example.  I got interested in this software because of the book/screenplay I’m looking into writing.

MixCraft does audio.  More than audio, it interfaces to MIDI (the interface for electronic pianos — which I have 3 of!), and lets you arrange sounds easily for music.

Guest Impression: meet & greet facilitator at meetings & parties

I saw a post on Elance (a site for freelancers of all types) asking for someone to make software to help “mix it up” at a big party they were having.  The idea was to give each guest a short list of a few other guests to meet and share “recollection/thoughts” via a mobile app or web site.  Then the party host would collect these comments off of the master site and then use the information in what I can only assume would be a “global roast” of all the guests.

I thought this might be an interesting concept to explore.  But who has the time?!  Still, it would be an interesting party idea… and maybe a moneymaker?

Carondelet consulting

Since retiring in January 2014 I’ve had the occasional call from folks back at Carondelet Health Network about a couple of the systems that I wrote.  If you follow Carondelet or healthcare in Tucson at all, you’re probably aware that the parent corporation of Carondelet, now called simply “Ascension” (previously “Ascension Health”), has spun off the Carondelet system to a partnership of Tenet, Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West), and with some continued involvement of Ascension.  Tenet is taking the lead apparently on whipping Carondelet into profitability, and if you’ve followed Tenet at all, you may have heard their reputation for being very bottom-line oriented.

All this has led my former workmates to make some apparently substantial changes to the Daily Labor Cost Tool, or DLCT, which has been in place for several years to track, well, daily labor costs.  More of a workload/cost tool, it reports labor data (both hours, staff, and dollars) per patient, by department.

So I was contacted back before Thanksgiving to participate in a conference call, to get an idea of what needed to be done.  Ultimately they decided they’d like me to do the work, but they can’t just hire me directly — there’s a whole process to be followed, which includes getting the Carondelet (and perhaps now called Tenet) legal department to sign off on it.

It’s now the first week of January 2016 as I write this, and I’m still waiting for the “OK” to proceed.  So I guess this will go into the 2016 bucket.

Small EHR for Michigan based urgent care telemedicine

From way back in my University Medical Center days — oh wait, it’s not UMC any more, it’s Banner University Medical Center Tucson — I have maintained a friendship and occasional working relationship with a lady who is a subject matter expert in medical coding and billing.

In late 2015, she was approached by a small group of physicians with interest in telemedicine for post-urgent care follow-up. Turns out they have developed what sounds like a robust telemedicine application which does audio, video, and interfaces to home health care devices (blood pressure, glucometer, weight scale, etc.)…. but they’re in need of some additional software to satisfy a variety of additional requirements. I’ve developed some questions… and this little project will move to the 2016 list!

Book (fiction!), possibly a movie script

It’s amazing to me sometimes where my brain goes.  Take the following three tidbits:

  1. We watched the 3-part, 6-hour mini-series “Childhood’s End” based on an Arthur C. Clarke novel.
  2. I’ve been monitoring legislation about Daylight Saving Time and Time Zone changes.
  3. I read something about “tidal locking”, where the gravitational pull of Earth and our moon is actually responsible for the slowing down of Earth’s rotation.  Yeah, it’s a very slight slowing, but it’s what is responsible for the “leap seconds” being inserted into our highly-accurate clock systems.

Mix them around in my head a bit, and then out pops this thought:  I should write a book about some sort of near-Earth astronomical event that causes the Earth’s “day” to stretch — to something more than say 25 hours.  In doing some research, I found a book called The Age of Miracle that has such a story line, but told from the viewpoint of a young teenage girl and her family.  I want to explore the political and technical wrangling that would occur, including such things as:

  • Who gets to decide what the new time system will be?
  • Will the new time system be 24 hours, just “stretched” from the original clock?  Or will it be something else?
  • What will we call the new time system?  And for that matter, what will we call the old time system?
  • When exactly will the new time system go into effect?
  • How will we get all the worlds computer systems updated and synchronized to the new time system?
  • If Earth’s orbit around the sun is unaffected, but the days are longer, then the calendar will also have to be changed.
    • 365.25 days per year times 24 “current” hours per day = 8,766 hours per year
    • If the rotation were to change to 25 “current” hours per day…
    • 8,766 hours per year divided by 25 = 350.64 “new days” per year
    • We’d need to take away 14 to 15 days per year off of the “current” calendar

And so on.  Who knows if we could even come to an agreement on a clock and calendar — and an implementation date.  Given today’s fractionalized society (the days of consensus in any form are long gone, my friends), it’s unlikely to happen as fast as it should… if at all.

Then either in “Part 2” or in a sequel, the question of what happens longer term to the environment?  25 hours in a day is 30 extra minutes of heating during daylight… and 30 extra minutes of cooling at night.  Crops, wildlife migration, human work schedules. Everything is affected.  Do I still take my prescription every 8 hours?  Do I still work 40 hours a week, even though it’s longer now?  Shouldn’t I get paid more for working “longer”, even if the clock doesn’t agree?

We’ll see how far I get with this in 2016.  My initial thought, of course, was to write a book.  But I’m also considering a screenplay.  “Coming soon to a theatre near you: Longer Days.  You always wanted more hours in a day.”

From 2014:

Here’s a couple of projects that I had started back in 2014 that I thought I’d update you on, while you’re here:

Coins-Worth

CoinsWorthThis was my device that would take in a stack of coins, take pictures of the front and back, analyze the pictures to determine denomination (penny, nickel, dime, or quarter), and then separate “everyday pocket change” from coins with silver content and coins with collectible value.  Seems like everyone I talk with knows someone with a huge bag, box, or piggy bank full of random coins collected over years and years, and nobody will take the time to go through them to see if there’s anything valuable in there.

In 2014, I made a prototype out of plywood, plastic sheeting, and sheet metal, with a couple of servos for moving the coins through.  Then later in the year I made a 3D printed version, which I labeled “proof of concept”.  I was able to move coins through, had a web cam positioned to take pictures, and was working on the lighting (which is critical to getting good pictures to analyze).

The analysis of pictures would be a tall technical hurdle to get over, though it is doable, especially with OpenCV, an open sourced computer vision and analysis software.  The problem lies in the financial picture: to make something robust enough, that would recoup R&D costs and allow for a sustainable production process, I’d need to price this in the $250+ range.  Unfortunately I don’t see enough demand for something like this, and ultimately someone would make a knock-off that was cheaper (and less robust!).

Bottom line: at the moment, I’ve shelved this project.  But I had thoughts about creating an even more robust version, and rather than target the general public, target coin dealers.  I’ve spoken to a few who’ve said something like, “I get people in here all the time that want to give me a bag of coins to go through, but I don’t have the time to do that. But if I had a device that would do it for me, quickly and accurately, I could charge a small fee for the process, which I could credit to the user in exchange for allowing me to buy the silver and collectible coins at Blue Book prices.”

BrrFur

You can probably think of a number of situations where someone is wearing a heavy costume in hot conditions, and could use an inexpensive “cool suit”.  The idea for a portable, light-weight, under-costume body cooling system originally came from the Furry community, but has applications in theatre, as well as any place where heat is a problem.

Again, a “cool idea” (pardon the pun!), but not enough time or energy after all the other things.  I’ve acquired a few 5V fans and blowers and hooked them up to USB power sticks… and they work fine.  But creating a marketable product for a reasonable manufacturing cost is tough.  I did a small survey and found that people are either interested in price or cooling capacity, so I had the idea of a small, inexpensive model (even maybe a kit) and then a pricier, more full-functioned model.  But I’m not sure I can drive both markets, much less just one at this point.

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