Prepping for the hurricane

Hurricane Sandy is on its way. Unfortunately, I haven’t finished my 72 hour kits, so we are stuck with whatever we have on hand. Luckily, Becca and I tend to be fairly prepared anyway so hopefully we have everything we need.

Here are some of the highlights of our preparations:

Water

We have two 15 gallon water drums. To prepare for the storm, I drained and refilled them. With the potential for flooding we decided to move them into the apartment instead of leaving them in the basement until the storm has passed.

To refill them, I used a shake siphon (something like this) to drain most of the drum into a drain in the basement. These drums are really heavy when full, and I didn’t want to deal with that. Next, I tried to use the siphon to fill the drum from the sink, but the siphon moves water faster than my sink can fill. Instead I resorted to putting a rubber band on the sink sprayer thing to keep it turned on, then shoved it in the drum. It worked well enough but took forever to fill. Last, or actually about midway through, I added a tablespoon of bleach to each drum.

We also have several water filters , and we have a bunch of water bottles so hopefully we’ll just use the water from the drums for flushing the toilet (if we even have a disruption in water service).

Food

We’ve been trying to eat down our food storage (for various reasons), so we aren’t as prepared as we could be. However, we still have a stack of MREs from my 72 hour kit which should provide several days of food if needed. These things are wrapped in plastic so even if they get some storm water on them (for example, if a window breaks), they’ll be fine.

We also have a camp stove, plenty of propane, and lots of easy to heat non-perishable food. It won’t be glamorous but we’ll survive.

Lighting and communications

We have plumbers candles, flashlights, batteries, fire starters, etc.

We have a NOAA weather radio (crank, solar, and battery powered). It also has the ability to charge cell phones in case the power goes out but the towers stay up (or get repaired before the power). Becca and I are on separate cell phone carriers to increase the odds of being able to communicate.

Documents and data

We have important documents printed and laminated, or stored online. We have all our data backed up to multiple locations across the country.

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BYU Speeches player with history

Update 10/26/2012: The history functionality needs some work. I’ve tweaked it to only log a play if you listen for at least 30 seconds (to avoid accidentally logging something that you didn’t actually listen to), and it won’t log additional plays after the first play until you’ve switched to a new talk (so you don’t end up with 15 “you started…” records in a row for the same talk). I made the talk title and author name link to the appropriate pages so you can easily find what you want to listen to. I’ve also added some social sharing stuff (per Joey’s request) in case you really like a talk and want to send it to a friend.

Original post:

The BYU Speeches website provides over a thousand devotionals and firesides in MP3 format. The speakers include people you’ve never heard of, and a bunch of big name people, too (like apostles and prophets). I used to download the PDFs of the talks and read them, but I thought I’d give listening a try.

I stumbled on a player written by a friend of mine, Joey Novak, but the pretty looking version of it wasn’t working on my computer and it was missing a few features I wanted. Rather than bug him to change it I decided I’d just make my own. I got to work on it this morning and have a pretty functional player ready for use. There are a lot of features I’d like to implement, but I’m not going to go too crazy devoting tons of time to this until I get a chance to use it and see what would actually be useful.

The first step in building this was scraping the data. I wrote a small script that looped through all the content at BYU Speeches and scraped the author(s), speech title, date it was given, and the URL to the MP3. I shoved all of this into a database. Next I searched for a free MP3 player script, and found the same one that Joey was using. Turns out everyone uses jPlayer. It didn’t take long to get a basic working player up with a random playlist selected from my database. A great perk of using jPlayer is that it looks great on a mobile phone. I spent a few more minutes and added in the ability to pull up a playlist for a specific speaker.

Where I spent most of my time was working on a history system. I’ve added the ability to log in using a Google account, and then I’ll (confidentially) track what you listen to. This needs some work and I’m not satisfied with how it looks, but the basic functionality is there. It will let you know when you started listening to an item, finished listening to an item, and (bonus!) won’t select stuff you’ve already listened to when you pull up a random playlist. This is what I was really wanting because it drives me nuts to get 15 minutes into a talk only to realize I’ve already heard it. With about 1,400 talks at around 30 minutes each, I doubt I’ll ever run out of stuff to listen to.

I think I’ll eventually modify it to only log that you started listening to something once you’ve been listening for 60 seconds or so. This gives you time to decide if you want to listen to it or not without falsely thinking you’ve actually listened to it. I’m also planning on adding a “resume” function, so it will remember what you were listening to last and how far in you got, so it can automatically pick up where you left off when you pull the page up.

I also need to write an RSS parser so I can update my database whenever they announce new content. I don’t expect this will take long, I just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

Anyways, click here to check out my BYU Speeches player.

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Free $100 AdWords promotional credit vouchers

I just got a new batch of $100 AdWords promotional credit vouchers if anyone is interested. They require you to spend $25 of your own money before you get to use the $100 promotional credit, and they are only available to new AdWords users. Only available to individuals and businesses in the United States.

If you’d like one, let me know and I’ll send it right over.

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Montreal is crazy

Montreal is crazy

Becca and I drove our little girl to Montreal this past week. I’m not normally one to do vacation posts, but I had a lot of fun and got to be in a few photos with Anna (normally I’m behind the camera) so I decided I’d share a few pictures.

We went to the Montreal Biodome. It was pretty cool. Anna was amazed by the little monkeys in the trees and, of course, she loved looking at the fishes. We wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens and Insectarium, too, but they were too far away for Anna to walk to on her own. So Anna hopped on my shoulders and off we went!

We recently bought her a new hat and coat and I think she is incredibly adorable in them. We’ve been trying to get her to keep things on her head (like bows, ribbons, and other hats) ever since she was born but she always pulls them off. This hat must be magical or something because she loves wearing it.

Unfortunately the hat and coat makes her just an ounce or two too heavy to carry for long distances on my shoulders. Or maybe we’ve been letting her eat too many animal crackers. Either way, I made her hop off after we got to the botanical gardens…

…which I thought were great but Anna wasn’t super thrilled with them. We were only there for a few minutes before she started sticking her tongue out at us and begging for raisins. So we acquiesced and let her dig into a little toddler sized box of raisins.

There was a little playground, so we spent some time going down the slide and spinning on some odd spinning chair things. Not sure how to describe them exactly.. Sort of like if you put a globe on a stick, stuck in the ground, and cut it in half along the equator. It was just big enough to sit in and the tilt made it possible to get it spinning pretty fast. We all gave it a try. Anna wasn’t a huge fan though.

After the raisins were all gone we headed to the Insectarium to warm up. Becca was grossed out by the giant dead bugs and Anna was exhausted, so we didn’t get to stay long. Probably for the best to avoid nightmares of huge beetles and giant moths.

We bought McDonald’s on the way back to the hotel. Disaster. Our French speaking neighbors to the north kept confusing “coke” with “coffee”, which is very odd considering the French word for coffee is pronounced nearly the same as the English. There was also some confusion over our request for a Happy Meal (perhaps the meals aren’t happy in Canada), but eventually we got it all sorted out and headed to the hotel room.

The burgers were… well… odd. We haven’t traveled out of the country much but we are quickly learning that even if food has the same name, it may be completely different. Same thing happened when we went out to a highly rated Indian restaurant for dinner later in the trip. Their chicken tikka masala was not the chicken tikka masala I have come to know and love.

Anna wasn’t really interested in the food anyway but spent hours playing with the toys that came with her Happy Meal (a large paper placemat, a crayon, a Halloween bucket, and stickers).

Our hotel was just a few kilometers from the Montreal temple. They don’t do many endowment sessions, but I was able to get to one Tuesday night. It was quite a different experience attending the temple in an area where English isn’t the dominant language. All the signs in (and on and around) the temple are in French. Many are also in English, but not all, so it sometimes takes some guessing to figure out what something says.

Once they were ready to start the session, they took a vote to see who wanted French and who wanted English. French won so I ended up wearing headphones that played the English version of the endowment session. Some of the temple workers spoke English which made things easier, but I have no idea how it would work if I went to a temple in a far away land where nobody speaks English.

Anyways, on Wednesday we all visited the temple and Becca taught Anna why we build temples and what we do in them. Anna is of course too young to understand what she is being taught, but we hope she will at least understand that it is important to us.

Eventually it was time to go home. We packed our bags, loaded the bag cart that, as always, was barely functional, and headed to the car. My little helper saw that I was having some trouble with it so she started to push the cart along for me. She would’ve helped me load the car, too, if I had let her (and if she was a foot taller).

The ride home was long, but had some good moments. Anna loves to yell “YAY!” and loves it even more when we yell it back. We had a good 5-10 minute “YAY!” fest on the way out of Canada, with Anna giggling her little head off in the back seat.

She also loves to dance. We burned a mix CD before starting our trip so we wouldn’t have to worry about finding music. Anna has a few favorite songs on it that she just goes crazy over. The CD player is silent for a few seconds in between tracks. Anna is always afraid that the music has stopped and so she promptly shouts “more!” as soon as a song ends.

We eventually made it home and are looking forward to resting after a long vacation.

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Holding your mail (and packages) while on vacation

With the exception of groceries, nearly all of my family’s shopping is done online. It is a rare day when something isn’t being dropped off by either USPS, UPS, or (rarely) FedEx. While I generally enjoy this, it can make it difficult to enjoy a vacation if I’m worried about my stuff potentially sitting on the porch for days. Fortunately, all the major mail delivery services provide an option of holding your mail until you get back. This list is mainly for my convenience so it will be easier for me to remember to turn on mail holds before I leave town, but maybe it will be useful to you, too:

USPS

The post office’s mail hold option is by far the easiest to use, and it is completely free. They provide a simple form where you enter your name, address, and then select your hold options. You can also change your hold preferences later if your vacation is extended or shortened.

UPS

The UPS mail hold option is a little more complicated and isn’t free. UPS provides a service called My Choice at no charge. This service lets you get email or SMS notifications when packages are going to be delivered. They also let you notify them that you will be on vacation, and they let you choose to have packages delivered once you are back. This service costs $5 per package (or $40 per year if you choose to buy a premium My Choice membership). It makes more sense to avoid buying stuff before you leave. You only get charged if something is actually delivered so it is sometimes beneficial to activate the service anyway to catch any unexpected packages.

FedEx

The FedEx option is the worst of them all, but at least it is free. If you know the tracking number for your package then you can pull up the tracking on their website then select “Hold at FedEx Location”. I’d prefer a blanket “hold anything that comes for me” option like USPS and UPS offer, but this is at least better than nothing.

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