Office upgrades

Office upgrades

My wife always struggles to know what to get me for my birthday. Well this year she finally figured it out: let me buy office upgrades! A new desk, monitor, graphics card, headphones, and wifi adapter.

Old desk:

old-office

New desk:

new-desk

My parents bought me my old desk for my birthday 13 years ago. It has served me well, but was getting a bit cramped. My new desk is an UPLIFT Plus standing desk. Each leg has a motor that makes it easy to go from a sitting desk to a standing desk and back again. I’m hoping to improve my posture by spending more time standing rather than sitting. The desk is huge: 80″ x 30″. I’ve been using it for a few days and love it.

My monitors are a little newer than my old desk (only 4.5 years old) and still look fine, but I’m not going to complain about a new 27″ IPS monitor with QHD resolution. I decided to keep both of my old monitors, so now I have a 27″ IPS flanked by 22″ LEDs. I’ve always wanted a tri-monitor setup!

I’ve been using onboard video for a few years. It has been fine for my needs but was limited to 2 monitors. This means…. new graphics card! YAY! I went with the Gigabyte GTX 750 Ti. It is nice and quiet, supports up to 4 monitors, and performs infinitely better than my onboard video. I’m not a gamer so this card should be more than adequate for my needs.

As a bonus, I got a set of Sennheiser RS 170 wireless headphones a few weeks ago. When the kids start getting too noisy while I’m working (or I’m getting too noisy while they are trying to sleep) then I slap on my headphones and everyone is happy. I opted for wireless so I can easily move around without yanking out a wire. They are a bit heavier than I’d like, but comfortable enough for a few hours of listening at a time.

The one downside to the wireless headphones is that they interfered with my 2.4 GHz wifi adapter. To fix this, I was going to run network cable. Unfortunately, our walls have firebreaks and I’m not prepared to go through them (either by putting extra holes in the wall which would be difficult to patch thanks to our textured walls, or by getting a fish bit which can be a bit difficult to use) so I just got a new dual band wifi adapter. It works great.

I’ve got a big blank wall that I’m planning on putting a whiteboard on. I’m going to try following the Google Ventures design sprint methodology, but not sure how well it will work with just me and my wife. Worth a try anyways.

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LEGO DUPLO QUATRO

LEGO DUPLO QUATRO

I spent hours and days and weeks playing with LEGO bricks as a kid. I had a huge bucket of LEGO with a handful of DUPLO mingled in.

At a yard sale a few years ago we found a bucket of QUATRO, a lesser known variety of LEGO bricks that were only produced for a couple years. I wasn’t excited about the purchase, but Becca talked me into it. I am so glad she did. They are awesome for young kids!

lego-comparison

The coolest thing about LEGO, DUPLO, and QUATRO bricks is that they all work together. LEGO stacks on DUPLO, which stacks on QUATRO, which stacks on DUPLO, which stacks on LEGO. I thought this was common knowledge, but have recently discovered that many people are completely unaware of this wonderful design decision.

lego-duplo-quatro

This makes it possible to create some really cool things. For example, you can use QUATRO to build huge walls, then stack some DUPLO and LEGO on top to provide a place for your minifigures. Inside the walls, perhaps you could use some DUPLO bricks to make animals and trees. Maybe you have a small castle or house made of LEGO with a big DUPLO baseplate as a foundation.

I avoid non-LEGO brands. LEGO is the only brick system I’ve found with a consistently high quality, attention to detail, and guaranteed compatibility. If you really must choose a non-LEGO brand, go for a Mega Bloks Probuilder set. The Probuilder quality tends to be more consistent than the competition.

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Block ads in Skype

Block ads in Skype

Tired of seeing ads in Skype? You can easily block them in Windows:

  1. Open the Control Panel
  2. Search for and select Internet Options
  3. Click the Security tab, then choose Restricted sites
  4. Click the Sites button
  5. Type in https://apps.skype.com then click Add
  6. Click Close then OK

That is it! Once you restart Skype, the ads should be gone!

BONUS TIP! Open Skype, go to Tools→Options. Select Notifications and then Alerts & messages. Uncheck Promotions. This will get rid of ads for other Skype products, like the one that normally shows up under the contact list. Again, you need to restart Skype after making the change.

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2012 Survey of Business Owners

2012 Survey of Business Owners

I got an unusual letter in the mail today (personally identifying parts have been blurred out):

census

Basically it says I reported business activity in 2012 and they want me to take a survey about my business. According to the document, my participation is “MANDATORY“.

In case you are curious, the survey wasn’t very exciting. It asked me to confirm my contact information and provide a telephone number, how many people owned my business in 2012, and my ownership percentage and title.

For each owner (for me, just myself), it asked for gender, if I’m of Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin,  my race, and whether I’ve served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Next, it asked if two or more members of one family owned the majority of the business. Sort of a silly question, since I already told them (twice) that I was the sole owner. Last, it had a blank field where I could put any notes to help explain my answers to the survey.

That’s it. Took maybe 2 minutes to fill out. Not very exciting, and provides the Census Bureau with a lot less information than I would have expected, especially considering the cost involved in doing one of these surveys.

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A credit card terminal for my daughter

A credit card terminal for my daughter

On Saturday I went to a local thrift store with my family. Like most of our thrift store trips, we didn’t have high hopes of finding anything worth buying (thrift stores are incredibly overpriced around here) but this time I found something neat: a real credit card terminal for $9.99! It is an older model, designed to dial out over a phone line to process a credit card transaction. I plugged it in at the store and it powered up without any problems. It even looks brand new.

Anna waiting for my receipt to print.

Anna waiting for my receipt to print.

Today we bought some thermal paper for it (just a few dollars) and I taught Anna how to use it: hit the “offline mode” button (so it doesn’t try to dial out), swipe an old prepaid credit card (so she isn’t playing with a real credit card), enter the price, enter an authorization code (any number she wants), and wait for the receipt. Sounds a bit complicated, but she became an expert after 2 minutes of playing with it.

She is an excellent shop keeper. She is very polite and always says “have a great day” before handing over the receipt.

The next step is to figure out how to change the store name. Right now it says “COMMERCIAL KITCHEN P”, but it’d be more fun if it was something like “ANNA MART”.

UPDATE: I figured out how to put it into training mode. This is awesome because it pretends it is dialing out so she doesn’t have to hit the button for offline mode or enter a fake auth number, and it’d be very hard for her to accidentally get out of training mode.

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Move by Number

Move by Number

Boxes

For our recent move to Texas, I decided to try something a little different when packing our boxes. Instead of labeling them with the room they were from and scribbling a brief description of its contents, I simply labeled each box consecutively with a number. I.E., 1, 2, 3, 4… all the way up to 125. No marking for which room the contents were from. No labeling as to the boxes contents. Just a number, written on all four sides and the top.

The next step was to create a spreadsheet in Google Drive that listed each box number and its size (small, medium, large, wardrobe, etc..). As each box was packed I created a detailed list of its contents. A few examples:

  • BW printer. Toolbox. Dishes. Mom’s diary. Tupperware.
  • Dutch oven. Purses. Anna’s sheets. Our sheets. Anna’s blanket. Becca’s long sleeve shirts.
  • Living room computer. Long pillow. Plastic tub of clothes. Anna’s train from her birthday. Party hats. Boo flashlight. Jacob’s pullover. Anna’s heavy coat.

Becca was a bit skeptical at first, but in the end this made it extremely easy to pack and to unpack. We had the movers put all the boxes into our two extra bedrooms (they’ll eventually be an office/craft room and a guest bedroom). It made it faster and easier than trying to figure out which box went to which room, and kept the whole house from being flooded with boxes. Next, we figured out what we needed to unpack immediately. For example, I needed my toolbox. A quick search of my list showed that my toolbox was in a medium box labeled 100. Only took a moment to find it once I knew the size and number. We did the same thing with clothes and everyday cooking items (like pans, dishes, glasses..). We didn’t even begin opening the boxes that contained unimportant items (like books) until over a week after delivery.

It wasn’t a perfect system though. I didn’t think to label plastic tubs or mirror boxes. If I did it again I’d label absolutely everything. We also ran into a few snags where the movers (without our knowledge or permission) reboxed a few boxes. On the plus side we knew if something was missing because we had a detailed inventory, but on the downside it made it difficult to find a few boxes because they were no longer numbered. I think the solution to that is to hire better movers or move things on my own next time.

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