Making a trade show demo in a week, for Seattle Sport Sciences

I do a lot of things.  Professionally, I spent the bulk of my work week with Digi Wireless Design Services.  It rebrands every year or two, as these things tend to do.  It was Etherios Wireless Design, and previously Spectrum Design Solutions.

As part of the rebrand, the marketing folks asked me if I’d talk about a project I did this last year that everyone was really happy with.  Usually I work in a team, but for this project, I was the only engineer.  I built an interactive wireless network with some Teensys and XBees and Neopixels, and got it show-ready in under a week end-to-end using an Othermill and some other rapid prototyping tools.  The customer really liked it, as did the rest of the Digi team.  This project with Seattle Sport Sciences even ended up in the Digi quarterly earnings report press release!

Anyway, I outlined a short video for them, and they wrote it up on a whiteboard, and tada!

I’m relatively pleased how this video turned out.  7 minutes, no scene cuts, and while I’m not perfectly fluent, I think I did a pretty good job.

“Preparing to Change”

EDIT:  Wooo!  They Might Be Giants retweeted this!

@tmbg retweeted a link to this post!

I was relistening to Glean by They Might Be Giants this weekend.  Like every TMBG album, it grows on you.  I was listening to “All the Lazy Boyfriends”, a track I had mostly skipped over before, and paid attention to the lyrics.  One part in particular grabbed me.

All the lazy boyfriends are preparing to change

They’re standing in the kitchen and preparing to change

All the lazy boyfriends are preparing to change


This American splendor spreads out before you

From basements to attics, garages to sheds

Who needs a vacation? Who needs a direction?

Who needs motivation when you live in your head?

While the song seems to be about lazy moochy boyfriends, They Might Be Giants are actually warning us about a common problem: over-preparing to change!

Lots of folks spent a bunch of time and money thinking about the perfect way to start.  Sometimes it’s warranted, but usually it isn’t.  You probably should spend a bunch of time thinking about expertise once you’re solidly an “actual beginner” stage, rather than “someone who thinks about it a lot.”

As Merlin has said, time and time again, there’s a tendency to research the best jogging shoes and buy a subscription to Runner’s World, when you should probably first going outside and jog regularly.

Living in your head is comfortable.  In your head, it looks just like a featured Pinterest project, but in the real world, you may find out it isn’t quite as easy.  In fact, the longer an idea lives in your head without touching the real world, the harder it is to manifest it, because the more you think about it, the grander and more wondrous it becomes.  That gap between desire and reality gets bigger and bigger, and it can become paralyzing.  Sure, it’s fun to think about things, but given the explicit choice, I would generally prefer to make something, rather than think about making it.

I still have this problem.  My short-duration personal anti-savior for this is a person I met at a hackerspace who regularly discusses a project he’ll get to Real Soon Now that he started thinking about in the early 1980s.

So, fellow meatbags, stop preparing to change and start changing, and stop living in your head so much!

Initial release of check_projects

I wrote a tool for checking project directories.  It checks for a variety of things.

Typical usage often looks like this:

check_projects -d /foo/bar/baz

which would check /foo/bar/baz for the following:

  • a non-empty file in /foo/bar/baz with a name that starts with README
  • a non-empty file in /foo/bar/baz with a name that starts with LICENSE
  • /foo/bar/baz being in a git repository
  • /foo/bar/baz’s git repository having an empty stash
  • /foo/bar/baz’s git repository having remotes
  • /foo/bar/baz’s git repository having no uncommitted changes
  • /foo/bar/baz’s git repository having no unpushed commits

I’m definitely open to other checks and other version control systems. Let me know if there’s something you’re interested in.

check_projects seems to work for me, but please do not assume it works perfectly. If you’re using it for something critical, take a look at the code or let me know.

It’s written in Python. You can download it or take a closer look at

Now that we’re done with the business-y intro, the human side.

Even though I’ve been seriously programming in Python since 2004 or so, this was the first project I’ve ever uploaded to PyPI.  (You can see it at This is pretty cool–it means that you Python programmers can just pip install check_project!

Second, if you are pretty sure you know you need something like this, but you need help installing this, let me know.

Third, if you use this and like it at all, please let me know. In 2015, many programs are still written by human meatbags, and we appreciate knowing our work is used and is helping someone.

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Pump Six and Other StoriesPaolo Bacigalupi; Night Shade Books 2008WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Pump Six and Other Stories is a short story collection. The stories have collectively won about a billion awards. Most of the stories take the crap parts of today, and magnify and extrapolate them. I thought every story in the collection was well done, but more than one of them bummed me out.

“Yellow Card Man” is a story from the “Windup Girl” universe.

The story from the title, “Pump Six” is in a similar vein to “The Locusts” by Niven and Barnes, which was previously the most haunting short piece I had ever read.


Toast by Charles Stross

Toast Toast: And Other Rusted FuturesCharles Stross; Cosmos Books (NJ) 2002WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Toast is a collection of older short stories by Charles Stross. When it got really hard to find, he released Toast for free as a Creative Commons thing.

I was pointed to Toast by Ron Hale-Evans, who mentioned that he preferred older Stross to his newer stuff. I see where he’s coming from, but I’m not necessarily sure if the axis is older/newer or shorter/longer. The older and shorter works are definitely harder to digest. When they unwrap in your brain few days after you’ve finished, it’s quite a delight. On the other hand, I think his newer work sells better. I was going to try to pick a favorite story, but that’s pretty hard. Big Brother Iron is set in the 1984 universe, and the main character is a sysadmins.


The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The gone-away world The gone-away worldNick Harkaway; Alfred A. Knopf 2008WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway starts in the middle of the action–you’ve got a world that isn’t like ours, but it isn’t entirely clear on how it isn’t, and there’s a Very Important Pipeline that’s on fire. The narrator is part of an independent disaster recovery team, and they’re going to go put it out with huge bombs. End of chapter one.

The next 50% of the book are a linear retelling of the narrator’s life, until we catch back up with the first chapter. Heavy on the description, meandering diversions, and humor, it made me actually laugh out loud.

The bulk of the work is a coming-of-age story wrapped up in an action story, with major speculative fiction elements. I absolutely loved it. Without spoiling anything, there’s a few interesting insights on megacorporations and the people inside of them.

6/5 stars.

Across The Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe Across the UniverseBeth Revis; Razorbill 2011WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Across the Universe is an excellent young adult science fiction novel.

Across the Universe takes place on the first generation ship launched from Earth in our relatively near future. It’s told from two different points of view, alternating by chapter.

While not as action-packed as The Hunger Games, which I see Across the Universe being compared to in other reviews, it deals with the same themes of authority, rebellion, and relationships. Similarly, it doesn’t presume knowledge of science fiction tropes and culture.

While I haven’t confirmed it by asking someone younger than myself, I believe the beginning five pages are a good hook–in fact, I believe they grab you better than a lot of the recent YA sf does.

In summary:
Is engaging within 5 pages: check!
Doesn’t require the reader to be an experienced SF reader: check!
Deals with authority, rebellion, relationships: check!

Across the Universe will be released January 11th, 2011.


Across the Universe is the first time I’ve even glimpsed inside the machinations of a modern teen book launch.

There’s a short launch day author video:

which is is different than the book trailer:

and of course, there’s an Across the Universe Facebook fan page.

The book website has interactive diagrams of the ship, done up pretty nicely. Normally I hate flashy interfaces, but it was kinda cute how you could zoom up and get cutaways of the different sections of the ship.

One of the things I do when I read a book I enjoy is look for the author on Twitter. Sometimes they’re fun to follow. Beth Revis, the author of Across the Universe, has a static website, a blog, and a Twitter page, @bethrevis.

Something that’s kinda awesome is that io9 will be posting a 111 pg excerpt from 11:11 AM Eastern to 11:11 PM Eastern on 01.11.11. That’s a substantial portion of the book! The first chapter seems to be on Beth’s site in a more permanent capacity.

All of this is put on by Penguin Teen, which has its own Twitter and Facebook pages.

Anyway, now that it’s released, Across the Universe is available at Amazon, your local indie bookstore, and hopefully your local library!