Category Archives: Design

Were you wondering what to get me for my birthday?

Look, I know I’m hard to shop for. I don’t want things. Here is where that is a lie. I cannot possibly justify buying myself a TextBlade . I really can’t. But I have a deep inner need to possess this. You should buy it now for me. If you order now you’ll get it by April and you have plenty of time to gift wrap it for me.

And let’s also remember the last time I asked you for a birthday gift. You did not get it for me, but I forgave you.

Quick TV Pillar Mount Project.

early assembly with TV

Now that Maximum Baby is crawling I wanted to get our huge tv off of the rickety cart it was sitting on. Sam had a tv fall on her as a child and one is enough for us.

The tricky thing here is that we wanted to mount the TV on a concrete pillar.

Trying to attach a flat thing to a curved thing is tricky.  My solution was this:

  1. Got a 2×8 of Douglas Fir from my local Home Depot. They usually have crappy wood, but I managed to find a piece that looked quarter-sawn, so that’s good.
  2. Cut it to length based on the height of my TV, the height of my soundbar and allowing room for attaching some shelves later.
  3. At the base trim each side 45°, then angle the saw blade to 45 and make a cross cut. Makes a nice beveled end instead of a dramatic right angle.
  4. Use some of the scrap at the top to increase the depth so the TV mount screws get a lot of purchase depth. I used wood glue and 8 screws.
  5. Prime and paint.
  6. Attach hardware.
  7. For attaching it all to the pillar I decided to go with a friction mount. I ordered 3 endless loop ratchet straps and ratchet them tight against the pillar.

Using a friction mount is a dicey thing. Materials have two kinds of stickiness – or friction coefficients. One is how sticky two things are when they are at rest (static friction coefficient) and the other is how sticky two things are when they are moving (kinetic friction coefficient). Friction works great right up until you overcome the static friction coefficient and then it works very poorly because the kinetic friction coefficient is always lower than the static friction coefficient.

Good news is we can calculate how much force our friction mount should support! Friction is dependent on the pressure between two surfaces (the normal force) and the stickiness between them (the friction coefficient). The frictive force is going to be our normal force times the static friction coefficient.

How much normal force do we have? I’m estimating that I can ratchet around 150lbs of pressure on one of those ratchet straps. Let’s cut that a little bit because I haven’t been working out and I am an optimist. Let’s call it 120lbs. I’m using 3 ratchet straps so that adds up to 360lbs of pressure.

There’s a table on that page with friction coefficients for common materials. Looks like they say the static friction coefficient between wood and concrete is 0.62. 360lbs * 0.62 = 223.2lbs.

I’m around 175lbs – I should be able to do a pullup on this!

me doing a pull up on a ratchet strapped wood.

And I CAN!

My TV weighs 50.8 lbs, the tv mount weighs 8lbs,  my shelves weigh 11lbs and they can support 22 lbs per shelf. I forget how much my soundbar weighs. Let’s call it 10 lbs.

50.8 + 8 + 11 + 22 + 22 + 10 = 123.8 lbs. I’ve got around 99 lbs of spare capacity before we hit the limit of  my static coefficient of friction!

I feel like I can trust this not to drop on Max for a while!  How long until Max might hang off of this and make it drop? Hmmm – when is he likely to be around 100lbs? Wolfram Alpha tells me a 10 year old American is around 94lbs. I should be able to teach him not to do it by then or get another ratchet strap.


I was talking about my favorite Lars von Trier movie recently and it put a spark in my head. See, I was playing blocks with Maximum Baby and his job is to make sure that I can’t build a tower. No two blocks shall be on top of each other!

When he gets excited and starts banging on things and knocking over the blocks and squeaking I can’t help but think of him squeaking out “CHAOS REIGNS!”

So I had to make a baby onesie.

CHAOS REIGNS Antichrist Baby Onsie creeper

You should be able to buy it by clicking that image.

If you want to remix the image, I got it from a post on Know Your Meme. I made an SVG from the png file they had, then cleaned it up and removed the rainbow colors in InkScape. Here’s the SVG file for your remixing pleasure!

New up on the wall


Just got two new things framed. When Sam was little, her mom made her a cross stitch pillow with a scene of animals calmly gathered around a lion. We’ve put it in a deep shadowbox so it can go up on the wall for Secret Project Baby‘s room.
Little pillow shadow box

We also have a memento from Japan that we’ve never figured out how to properly display.  We loved the idea of Furoshiki – little cloth wrappings that you can reuse. We bought a really nice one and, after trying some other approaches, found a way to really show it off.20130428_124122_Livingston St

I also just got some new panoramas from friends for above the dining table and I’m excited to try them out!

The computer you don’t see

That’s the best computer.  The best interface is no interface.

See the router that guides you as you make the cut.

See how the person makes the design and the router follows that design. See how the router is assisting.

See the laser cutter that observes the lines you draw.

See how the cutter follows the lines she meant to draw, and interpolates the proper line to cut.

But you don’t see a computer that you have to interact with.
The more you get back to the computer guiding you, assisting you, the easier and better it is. See auto-tuning guitars. See backup warning radar in cars. See Nest thermostats. See tiny little adjustments made for you without you noticing, enabling what you intend instead of what you did.

The Colophon

Entering the Fjord
A special thing in this world: the little note at the end of a book about the typeface. Sometimes there are little stories. At the end of Carl Hiaasen’s “Star Island” you find this:

A Note on the Type

This book was set in Janson, a typeface long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson, who was a practicing typefounder in Leipzig during the years 1668-1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650-1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from the master Dutch typefounder Dirk Voskens. The type is an excellent example of the infulential and sturdy Dutch types that prevailed in England up to the time William Caslon (1692-1766) developed his own incomparable designs from them.

Composed by Creative Graphics Inc.,
Allentown, Pennsylvania
Printed and bound by Berryville Graphics,
Berryville Virginia
Designed by Virginia Tan

What a tale! Kis, who travels from Hungary to study under Voskens. The conclusive evidence produced by some painstaking type researchers that establishes the true founder, long forgotten.

These stories at the end of stories are like swimming in a river, then hearing on shore the history of the water, the movements of the glacier that the water flows from, the land that it traveled over.
Approaching the Glacier after a Stormy Sunrise

Project Idea: AutoThemer

Blame Carly for bringing this up. 1

I’m terrible at color schemes.   I have a coder’s idea of color.  Sure, people have written careful articles explaining how to pick a color scheme.  Sure there’s even a website that helps you pick color schemes.

But why not make it easier, and have a wordpress plugin that does it for me? Continue reading Project Idea: AutoThemer

  1. Not on  You should be.   (back)

Making Context Free Art

If you are reading this post in your feed reader, you’ll want to click through to my actual website. Trust me on this one.

I was really impressed with Aza Raskin’s ContextFree.js experiment. I like how the simple rules of a context free art piece generate complex forms. See below, that text will turn into something I can’t exactly predict.
I’ve added a few comments to help you understand what’s going on there.

//all context free art starts with a single rule.  Ours will start with a rule named face.
startshape FACE
//and here is the rule FACE
rule FACE{
//a FACE rule means that we should draw the rules EYE MOUTH and HEAD.
 // flip an eye over to the other side of the face.
 EYE{flip 90}

//OH NO! We have two rules named HEAD.  Context free will randomly pick one
rule HEAD{ CIRCLE{}}
rule HEAD{  SQUARE{}}

rule EYE{CIRCLE { s .1 b .5 y .12 x .3}}
rule EYE {SQUARE { s .1 b .5 y .12 x .3}}
rule EYE {SQUARE { s .1 b .5 y .12 x .3 r 45}}
rule EYE {TRIANGLE { s .1 b .5 y .12 x .3}}
rule EYE {TRIANGLE { s .1 b .5 y .12 x .3 r 60}}

rule MOUTH {SQUARE{ s .8 .1 y -.12  b .5}}

And here is a randomly generated face, all made up of squares, circles, and triangles:

Want more faces? Go mess about with my face generator on Aza’s demo site.

update: in the comments Chris came up with a bunch of great mouths for an even better face generator!
The art is context free because any rule can be executed without knowing the context of the other rules – they are side-effect free. (these are the kind of problems that work well on lots of processors)
It gets much better. If you are using a modern browser, you’ll see that the heading of my website now is using this to generate random art up there in that previously wasted space.
Reload the website, you’ll see different art generated according to a handful of tiny algorithms. If you can see this, you might want to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox or Safari. They both support the cool stuff that I’m doing, but you can’t see right now.

It’s all details

They say the devil is in the details. Sometimes subtle details are a place to shine.

I was reading notes on a lecture by the great Joshua Schachter, developer of, when I was thunderstruck by a detail.

You have to speak the user’s language. “Bookmarks” are what you call them if
you use Netscape of Firefox – most users these days know the term “favourite”
instead. Half of his population (? users) didn’t know what a bookmark was.

It is true:
The small details matter