Saturday, December 28, 2013

Best Inventions of 2013

I am not talking about the best invention in the world, I'm talking about MY best invention in MY world. There are too damn many lists where people claim some intimate knowledge of everybody else's opinion, like this total bullshit list of "older men with whom we would go to bed." (However I will award that one with the 2013 award for best example of the truth emerging in the comments because the original content is drastically misguided.)


My best invention of 2013 was a piece of thin closed cell foam with two strong magnets sealed into the corners. It goes on the back of my cast iron bathtub so when I lean back it isn't cold.
Beachton Best Invention of 2013 is this piece of closed cell foam in the back of my bathtub
I ordered a bunch of different thicknesses of foam to see what would work best to fix the vents in the Spartan. I used a thicker Volara foam on the vents so I had this left over. Plumbers Goop is the kind of glue you need to make a little pocket in the bottom corner to hold the magnets. Balls work best because they pinch through the foam better. I had just one that I used without sealing it in a pocket and it worked well. But I was worried it would chip the enamel if I just left it loose in there so when I got some medium size disc magnets from my dad I covered them with another little piece of foam and glued it. They float up when the water comes up over the bottom of the foam. But it's not a big deal. I only need the foam above the water level anyway.

To make your own here's where to get materials:  
  1. -- Volara foam, 1/8" or 3 mm
  2. -- 1/2" ball magnets  or a strong 1/2" disc type magnet would be ideal
  3. Home Depot for Goop for plumbing -- my brother clued me in to this based on his boat building research. A vinyl adhesive I tried did not work at all.

Runner-Up Invention

I am pleased with several other inventions and problem solutions in 2013. I made little covers for the roof vents in the Spartan that turned out nice.
I made them with styrofoam, polyester batting, and reflective insulation.
I covered them with fabric I cut off the bottom of the curtains.

I was also pleased with myself for figuring out how to finish the curved front of the Spartan.
This technique is called slip tongue.
It was actually my dad who thought of this and helped me cut
these grooves and plane and rip the wood for the tongues.
Besides my dad's shop the most important thing I needed to create this wall were these self-drilling finish head screws. I just happened to have them. They were in a little bin of drawers my boat-building uncle gave me in about 1997. He had conveniently filled each drawer with a different kind of fastener. This remains one of the best presents I have ever gotten. I pre-drilled the wood, then the self drilling screws went right into the aluminum framing like it was butter. Ok, I exaggerate, maybe hard cheese.

The next invention is related to the same project. How to cover up the screw heads? I bought some faux manila rope that is really polypropylene so it doesn't have that gross rope smell. (Get some at Knot and Rope Supply.) I looked up how to whip the end of a rope so it doesn't unravel.

I also had to invent a way to cut this stuff. I used a piece of aluminum scrap held in vice grips, heated over my butane stove.
Nailed it on with the air nailer. Worked great. Can't see the nails at all, or the screw holes,
or the expansion gap between the wall and the flooring.
So maybe the real runner-up invention of 2013 is the entire front of the Spartan.

Honorable mention invention:

Rolled ridge roofing bird house. Solid invention.
Made with scraps from the Spartan floor.

Notable Problem Solutions

Unsightly screw heads on black door hardware.
The beauty supply store has this special nail
enamel for making stripes.
It has a very fine brush
I invented rice cooker sous-vide chicken this year. I enjoy this invention a lot.

Cranberry sauce is an important part of this sandwich. I invented that two years ago so I can't count it. But this year I added a new component — plastic-backed paper dropcloth to protect the floor from the vigorous splattering during cooking.
Dropcloth when cooking. Cut one 9'x12' dropcloth into 4 pieces.
Use when processing splattery fruitstuffs.
(I made cranberry sauce last week while watching
a space walk on my iPad)
Which is a good lead in to another problem solution. How does that table not fall right off that wonderful new porch? Because I am the kind of girl who has a piece of 1/4-20 all-thread rod in her shed and an angle grinder to cut it.
The legs of that table are threaded to take little adjustable plastic feet. I took the feet off the outside legs, cut some all-thread rod to a useful length and screwed that on instead, drilled through the overhang of the last deck board, and put washers on the rod until the table was perfectly level. Then I put nuts underneath.

My last two inventions were more crafty and accessible. 3D glasses.
Custom 3D glasses out of prescription spectacles
Shirt Repurposing

Well that about sums up my year. I did a good job keeping it small, but only geographically and financially. I think I managed to stay creative and innovative. So I've got that going for me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Laundry Problem

The Laundry Problem

A Yearning for the Good Old Days of the Humble Washerwoman 

(By Stephen Leacock circa 1913)

     A LONG time ago, thirty of forty years ago, there use to exist a humble being called a Washerwoman. It was her simple function to appear at intervals with a huge basket, carry away soiled clothes, and bring them back as snow-white linen.

     The washerwoman is gone now. Her place is taken by the Amalgamated Laundry Company. She is gone but I want her back.
     The washerwoman, in fact and in fiction, was supposed to represent the bottom end of everything. She could just manage to exist. She was the last word. Now the Amalgamated Laundry Company uses hydro-electric power, has an office like a bank, and delivers its goods out of a huge hearse driven by a chauffeur in livery. But I want that humble woman back.
     In the old days any woman deserted and abandoned in the world took in washing. When all else failed there was at least that. Any woman who wanted to show her independent spirit and force of character threatened to take in washing. It was the last resort of a noble mind....
Well, so much for being original. Here I was being all smug that I was coping so well with being an invisible middle-aged has-been rocket scientist and I find out my strategy is so old it was mocked by a famous humorist a century ago.

Last December I installed my washer and dryer in the laundry room I built out of that 1951 Spartan Royal Mansion I bought for $900. Then in January I actually started to take in washing. 

It was just a logical step because my friend's old laundry closed and he had to go to the Amalgamated Laundry Company. He found the prices exorbitant. I said I would do his laundry every two weeks. I use it as a mechanism to cover the cost of trips to town to buy groceries. I pick up laundry on Tuesday and get the weekly specials at the grocery store on the way home. Then the specials change on Wednesday while I'm doing the laundry. I drop off the clothes on Thursday and get another week's grocery specials on the way home. I only have to go to town every two weeks with this system, but I never miss a buy-one-get-one-free on romaine lettuce. (My fancy refrigerator can keep romaine lettuce fresh for over two weeks. I recommend a SubZero for any serious hermit.)

The other day after I dropped off laundry I picked up this book from a shelf. It's by my friend's great-grandfather. I found "The Laundry Problem." It seemed relevant in an almost spooky way. I took pictures of it with my iPhone and transcribed it.

Here's some more of the story:

     Where the poor washerwoman was hopelessly simple was that she never destroyed or injured the shirt. She never even thought to bite a piece out with her teeth. When she brought it back it looked softer and better than ever. It never occurred to her to tear out one of the sleeves. If she broke a button in washing, she humbly sewed it on again.
     When she ironed the shirt it never occurred to the simple soul to burn a brown mark right across it. The woman lacked imagination. In other words, modern industrialism was in its infancy.
     I have never witnessed at first hand the processes of a modern incorporated laundry company using up-to-date machinery. But I can easily construct in my imagination a vision of what is done when a package of washing is received. The shirts are first sorted out and taken to an expert who rapidly sprinkles them with sulfuric acid.
     Then they go to the coloring room where they are dipped in a solution of yellow stain. From this they pass to the machine-gun room where holes are shot in them and from there by an automatic carrier to the hydraulic tearing room where the sleeves are torn out. After that they are squeezed absolutely flat under enormous pressure which puts them into such a shape that the buttons can all be ripped up at a single scrape by an expert button ripper.
     The last process is altogether handwork and accounts, I am informed, for the heavy cost. A good button-ripper with an expert knowledge of the breaking strain of material, easily earns fifty dollars a day. But the work is very exacting, as not a single button is expected to escape his eye.
I would like to aspire to the high rate of fifty dollars a day, but alas, it's man's work. Plus I could never stand the smell of a commercial laundry. I only use unscented detergent. I am highly sensitive to smells. My friend's clothes were previously washed in some product that should be marketed as chemical warfare. I've washed these clothes every two weeks for a solid year and they STILL smell like that other detergent. I kid you not. What the hell is in that stuff? I am just a humble washerwoman though, so I suck it up and do the work.

More of "The Laundry Problem":
     Had the poor washerwoman kept a machine-gun and a little dynamite, she could have  made a fortune. But she didn't know it. In the old days a washerwoman washed a shirt for ten-twelfths of a cent—or ten cents a dozen pieces. The best laundries, those which deny all admission to their offices and send back their laundry under an armed guard, now charge one dollar to wash a shirt, with a special rate of twelve dollars a dozen.
     On the same scale the washerwoman's wages would be multiplied by a hundred and twenty. She really represented in value an income of fifty dollars a year. Had it been known, she could have been incorporated and dividends picked off her like huckleberries.
     Now that I think of it, she was worth even more than that. With the modern laundry a shirt may be worn twice, for one day each time. After that it is blown up. And it costs four dollars to buy a new one. In the old days a shirt lasted till a man outgrew it. As a man approached middle life he found, with a certain satisfaction, that he had outgrown his shirt. He had to spend seventy-five cents on a new one, and that one lasted till he was buried in it.
"she could have been incorporated and dividends picked off her like huckleberries." That's solid gold writing right there.

I wonder if he's exaggerating these prices? Am I charging a comparable fee to 100 years ago? The text says the humble washerwoman was from 40 years before 1913, but the inflation calculators online don't go back farther than 100 years. Here's the best I could do:

Humble washerwoman: 
12 shirts for a dime in 1913 = 12 shirts for $2.36 in 2013

Amalgamated Laundry:
$1.00 per shirt in 1913 equals $23.59 per shirt in 2013

New shirt for $4.00 in 1913 buys $94.36 shirt in 2013

Yeah, I think he was exaggerating how much the washerwoman charged. Nobody is THAT humble.

"In the old days a shirt lasted till a man outgrew it. As a man approached middle life he found, with a certain satisfaction, that he had outgrown his shirt." This brings me to the crafty part of today's blog. Stephen Leacock's descendant found he has outgrown his shirt.

A Pillow from a Shirt:

I pulled up the Walmart web site and found they sell 14" and 16" square pillow forms. I measured across the chest of the shirt and found 14" would fit. Next time I went to town I picked up three 14" square pillow forms for about $6 each.
First turn the shirt inside out, buttoned up.
Get out the sewing machine and sew a 14" square on the shirt.
Cut it out.
Undo the buttons and turn the square right side out.
Put the pillow inside and button it back up.
Enjoy adorable pillow.
I made another one the same way.
I made a sleeve for my reading glasses I keep by my chair.
I tried to make a sleeve for my iPad but stopped halfway
through because it was too dorky even for me.
Altogether I made three pillows and three cases for reading
glasses. I keep a pair every place I might need to see
something up close.
The last shirt I cut the front and back out first and pinned the pieces together to match the plaids. This actually works better because there's these little pleats in the back that make it kind of weird in the corners. The last one is going back to my laundry client because it will look good on his couch. The other two work in my red chairs as lumbar support.

The end of the story:
....I felt it was hopeless to go on. My only chance for the future is that I may get to know some beautiful rich woman and perhaps her husband will run away and leave her weeping and penniless and drinking gin, and then I will appear in the doorway and will say, "Dry your tears, dear, dear friend; there is prosperity for you yet; you shall wash my shirt."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to build a porch like a little old lady

On October 11 I decided to build a porch. On October 15 and 16 I had a helper coming. Then it took me another 4 weeks to finish. I called it done today, November 16. I put a big album of over 100 photos online with explanatory captions. There's even a few videos. Click the next picture to go to the album.
Front Porch

If you like instant gratification here's the finished product.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gravity Movie Review and How to Make Custom 3D Glasses

Gravity was a terribly written movie. As a writer this makes me think it's a terrible movie. My aunt who is a writer warned me that it was terrible but thought I should see it anyway. Lots of people (mostly men) seem to like it because the acting is good and the visual effects are good so they excuse the asinine and offensive writing. My aunt and I are not inclined to go easy on the writer.

I liked the sound editing. I watched Gravity at the Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee where they have a model of the space station and a real ISS sleeping bag on display. They started the show with a preview for the IMAX documentary Hubble 3D, which was kind of a mean jab to plug a documentary about something that was about to be made into a ridiculous story in the feature presentation. But my point is that the sound system in a science center IMAX theater is well designed and maintained. So there was lots of rumbling bass and stereo effects I can't get at home. I felt like I didn't waste my $10 on the ticket. The effects guys did a good job with mechanical sounds transferring through solid objects even though everything was meant to be in a vacuum.

If I was an astronaut that's where I would stop. Because astronauts are polite. I haven't seen a single astronaut on Twitter say nasty things about this movie, even Mike Massimino who it seems the George Clooney character is meant to resemble. I admire them even more than I did already for that. But I have acid reflux so bad I could never tolerate weightlessness. I can never be an astronaut. So it's not like I'm going to ruin my chances of getting that job if I say what I think.

In fact I kind of say what I think right during the movies. It's a bad side effect of being alone all the time and only going to the theater about once a year. I promised my friend that I would try to be quiet. I had a plan to count the things that made me want to yell at the screen like Matt Oswalt at Jerry McGuire on Christmas Eve instead of really doing it. My friend thought I would run out of fingers pretty quick. He was spot on. I scooted far to the other side away from him and mouthed expletives into the dark and made hand gestures. I rely heavily on the one I learned from the man on the airplane next to Leisure Suit Larry in game two. 

My running commentary from Gravity:

What the fuck? 

No. Just no.


What the hell is he DOING?!

What is that music?



Release to listen? This music makes NO SENSE! How can anybody else talk? Magic mic mixers.

Doc? WTF Doc? They ALL have PhDs. Why is she Doc?

STOP IT! Goddam flying around. NOBODY DOES THAT!

Medical scanner? Optical telescope? WHAT?!


Basement of a hospital? What the fuck? Nobody designs electronics for a space telescope in a hospital. Doc is medical doctor? The fuck?


Communications satellites are flying UP at you?! NO! They are WAY HIGHER!


6 months training? Bullshit.


(close your fucking visor became a hand gesture of turning imaginary knobs by my ears. I alternated between the one rapid hand motion at my lap and the knobs by my ears to close the visor. The sunrise Clooney loved so much will fucking burn your face off and blind you if you don't have that gold visor down.)




Close your fucking visor

That's not how they say Soyuz.

WHAT?! Get the body?! NO! That's not what an astronaut would do!

Where are you FROM?! The fuck? He didn't read her bio in 6 months she's been slated for this mission?!

NPR. Yeah, saw that coming.

DEAD BABY?!? Aaaagh!

You aren't even saying Soyuz CONSISTENTLY let alone RIGHT

Yep. (airlock door flew open)

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. (airlock repressurized in seconds.)

NOPE NOPE NO NO NO (suit off in 3 seconds to gratuitous underwear conveniently tight so no microgravity-clothes-floating required.)

Ohh, nice ball of fire. That's good.

Oops, back to regular earth flame. Close the air locks. No, not that, OW

Oh, nice Soyuz hatch. That looks real. Good thing they weren't storing a lot of shit in there that day.

What about the 'chute?

Ooof, yeah, saw that coming.

You got in that suit HOW FAST? And what was it even doing on board? 

Handy that tool just happened to be on board and charged up.

There sure is a lot of stored air for repressurizing that Soyuz.

Radio just HAPPENS to be on Houston frequency? Why not call Moscow?

Oh, now you're on AM ham band?


Why is that ham just broadcasting bullshit? NOBODY DOES THAT! RELEASE TO LISTEN!

NOBODY WILL PRAY FOR YOU?! You're a goddam ASTRONAUT! STRANGERS will bring you up in church for a year!

They can't hear you! They're TRANSMITTING!

Your parents sucked. 

You sucked as a parent.

Embrace your atheism. This is bullshit.

Goddamn dead baby bullshit.

Fuck your dead baby, fuck it right in the red shoe.

Way to master the controls.

Magic never ending fire extinguisher

Another good air lock flying open. There's no pressure release on these from the outside?

Fast repress. 

Floating ping pong paddle? THAT'S RACIST!

Why is some of this debris catching up with her? It doesn't look aerodynamically superior.

Oh, aerodynamically self aligning capsule. Nice.

Good chute release. 

Pretty landscape.

Fast reaction getting that hatch open before the canopy even collapsed. Guess she wasn't buckled in.

Keep your helmet on.

Glad that's shallow. Should have kept your helmet on.


Of course she can get a space suit off in the 30 seconds she can hold her breath so we can see her underwear again, but now it's wet. 

And KELP? What the fuck? Fresh water kelp or saltwater frog? Kelp grows in super cold water. Hope for frog temp water.

Oh, sports bra under the tank top. No nipples, sorry fellas.

That's pretty orange sand. No idea where that is.


Now I feel kind of bad for all this negativity so I'm going to share something useful. Before I went to the movie I made myself some custom 3D glasses. Superior to the one-size-would-never-fit-my-child-sized-head ones they hand out. Here's how to make them.
  1. Go to or and get some cheap spectacles in your distance prescription. I got these nice cat eye frames for $6.95 with lenses for my very slight astigmatism. I usually wear nothing, but for an hour and a half at a fixed distance these make everything sharp.
  2. Steal a pair of 3D glasses.
  3. Cut out the plastic lenses with an Xacto knife.
  4. Trim with scissors.
  5. Tape the plastic film on the real spectacles. Trim the excess tape with the knife.
  6. Voila. Theater glasses.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rattlesnake in a Can: A Halloween Story

Halloween has never been the same for me as for people that live in town. When I was growing up out here in the country I had a green plastic witch mask and a horrible black wig. I used it every year. It would scare me if I looked in the mirror, but I just didn't do that and it was fine. There's really only one year I can remember. I must have been about 8 and my brother was maybe 10. My mother let him wear her dark green velvet sheath dress with little pearls dangling around the neckline. She drew two bite marks on his neck with eyeliner and lipstick and he was a vampire victim. He looked AMAZING in my mother's dress. I was really impressed. (My mother has the figure of a 10 year old boy, only with a smaller waist and wider hips, but that wasn't relevant in a sheath dress. Think about it. Thigh gap. Very fashionable.) Then we went out Trick-or-Treating. We got in my mother's VW beetle and drove to my grandmother's house. She was equally impressed with my brother's outfit. She gave us a brownie that we ate there in her kitchen. Then we went to see Cousin Edie who lived down the road. Edie had the nerve to not be home. So we went back to my grandmother's house and looked in the chest freezer on the back porch and found a frozen coral snake. We took it back to Edie's house and put it in the middle of her kitchen table, frozen solid and covered in frost.

Then we went home and that was all there was to Halloween. We didn't know anybody else within 15 miles of our house.

A week or so later we checked in with Edie to see what happened to our snake. She reported that she was out quite late, giving the snake time to defrost. It looked shiny and pliable and completely alive when she flipped on the kitchen light. She was quite startled and thought it was a good trick. We were very pleased with ourselves.

I couldn't help thinking of that Halloween yesterday when my aunt called me from my grandmother's old house, "There's a HUGE rattlesnake under my fig tree. He's as big around as my arm. The biggest one I've ever seen. Do you know if Bruce Means wants him?"

"Yeah! He put out a call for more snakes for some final research for his book." I said

"Do you know how to get in touch with him?" said my aunt.

"I sure do! I have his cell phone number in my contacts. I'll call him and call you right back."

I got Bruce on the phone. He did want that snake, but he was about to go into an important meeting and couldn't come right away. He said to try to put a trash can over it and put a weight on it and he could come later. I called my aunt back.

She said her yard men got the snake INTO the galvanized can where she keeps sunflower seeds for the bird feeders. She had to put the lid on before she could take a picture with her iPad because he was trying to come out. Perfect. I could just put the can in my car and take it to Bruce after his meeting. I was going to town anyway to get some hardware for my porch project.

Here's the video I made of what it's like to go in the car with a rattlesnake in a can.

After I left Bruce's lab I stopped at a friend's office to use his wifi to upload my video. He was visiting with an old colleague who told me that she would have a completely different reaction to finding a rattlesnake in the yard. Capturing it for science would never have occurred to her. Huh. Really? Well that's always what we did with them! As far back as I can remember we kept frozen snakes in the chest freezer on my grandmother's porch. From time to time Bruce Means would come get them. He was in the necropsy phase of his study then, back in the 1970s, and we were good at supplying him with snakes. We had dogs that would find them for us.

When I moved back to my childhood home in the 2000's and started helping Bruce with his manuscript about the rattlesnakes I realized why I so rarely saw them anymore. I kind of thought they were more rare, that they'd been wiped out by rattlesnake roundups. That's part of it, but I think it's more because I don't have a dog to point them out to me. They are extremely hard to see and don't WANT to be seen. They REALLY don't want to go in a can.

It is hard to recall in hindsight how we decided which snakes to kill and which ones we left alone. We certainly didn't kill every rattlesnake we saw. If we were out in the woods and the dog started barking at a rattlesnake we would just call off the dog and make her leave the snake alone. If it was in the yard I guess we would kill it so we didn't have to keep the dog inside all the time. We once had a Doberman Pinscher we got from my mother's English professor. It had been to obedience training school. That dog had a very long attention span, like that dog in Fletch. Just didn't give up. She would bark and hassle a snake until it bit her. We took her to the vet three times for antivenin, twice for rattlesnake and once for moccasin. We had a German Shepherd who would turn her back on the snake and bark at me and my brother to get away from it. She was never bitten. In the dog and snake in easy range of the house scenario my mother would usually get a shotgun and come out and shoot the snake. And we'd give it to Bruce Means to dissect.

Now it would never occur to me to kill a snake. I just take their picture and make a video and leave them alone. It's nice not having a dog to worry about. I think the risk of getting bitten while you're trying to kill a snake is higher than when you're making a video of it. And if you don't know somebody doing a necropsy study of that species it's certainly a waste of a perfectly good rat-eating machine. I have serious issues with mice and rats messing with my stuff. I have never had a problem with a snake tearing up any of my property. I like them alive.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Have your screen porch and your BoWrench too

Do you want to build a porch or a deck? Do you have a BoWrench? Do you live in the South?

You can have your screen under the floor and use your BoWrench too. I bought a 25' roll of 3' wide 20x20 mesh fiberglass screen and tacked it to my beam, put down a board, rolled up the screen to fit between the parts of the Bowrench and proceeded like normal.

It gets kind of saggy underneath. I will probably have to go under there and staple the joints up to the bottom of the 2x6 where it overlaps. But it's a pretty good compromise. The floor boards running straight is more important to me than how taut the screen is underneath.

The price of the 2x6 floor and the screen is only a little less than what I would have spent on 1x4 tongue and groove pine, but I would have needed two more joists and I couldn't just run Deckmate screws into it. I don't think I could balance a floor stapler on the joists even if the staples would stand up to outdoor use in pressure treated lumber. Instead of a pretty little porch floor I have a very strong 2x6 deck that I can fix up nice with Minwax 2 part wood putty and solid deck stain. And maybe screen in later.

I have heard of 5/4 tongue and groove kiln-dried-after-treating porch flooring, but nobody around here makes it or sells it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to unlock your ATT iPhone after you upgrade

When you upgrade your iPhone you can get the old one unlocked. You have to wait two weeks, but then it's pretty a straightforward process of filling out forms online and doing stuff with iTunes.

So from the day you activate a new phone, say Friday afternoon, you have to wait two weeks. Friday morning two weeks after the new phone activation you can click the link below and fill out a form to request ATT unlock your old phone. Then the day after that you can restore your old phone and it's unlocked.

Unlocking means you can put different Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards in your phone, like you can use T-Mobile for less money and slower data speeds instead of ATT, or you can go to Europe and get a local carrier to sell you a month of minutes and a SIM card to put in your phone. This only works for ATT phones because they have the same kind of radio they use in Europe. It's called the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). It was originally called Groupe Spécial Mobile when they made it up in the '80s, but they changed it when more carriers adopted it. GSM is a radio with a digital modulation scheme based on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). Verizon uses a radio with Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). It's like the difference in getting your home internet from the phone company with Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) over twisted pair or from the cable company over a coaxial cable. To somebody non-technical they can't tell the difference because they see the same web pages on their iPad either way. But if they want to change from cable to DSL they can't use the cable modem anymore and have to buy a DSL modem instead. There are also technical differences in the way the bandwidth is shared for cable versus DSL, just like GSM and CDMA are dissimilar. But the differences in the pricing, availability and customer service tends to completely outweigh the technology when it comes to deciding which to use. It's a metaphor for my life.

Anyway, back to unlocking. Having an unlocked phone makes people who don't even need it feel extra cool, like having $500 speaker wires. I have no problem catering to their whims. I shall unlock my iPhone for them.

Clearly I don't need anything an unlocked phone offers over a contractually locked one. I use my iPhone within site of the ATT tower at the end of my driveway 98% of the time, and my wifi covers about 5 acres. Yet I keep renewing my 2 year contract every time I get a chance to have an upgraded camera. If you ignore the extra $20 a month I pay to be on contract it's like a free camera every 18 months.

So the reason I'm unlocking my old iPhone is to sell it and completely offset the $199 I just paid for the new 5S.

ATT website detailing eligibility to unlock your phone: Unlock your ATT device

STEP 1: Start the forms to unlock your phone: Customer Device Unlock

You need to click the box saying you read it then click "Agree" to get the following form to come up.

This is easy except for the IMEI number (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity). That's the special number that identifies individual phones. It should let a carrier block use of a phone for life if it gets stolen. Unfortunately carriers don't actually use that feature. Remote wiping your lost or stolen phone with iTunes will remove your personal data and make it unusable though. (details on iLounge.) Anyway, back to unlocking your iPhone.

Your phone number identifies your ATT account. Don't freak out that it will identify your new phone. It's all cool. The form wants the number you just transferred to your new phone.

There are two ways to find your IMEI number. If you aren't using your usual computer where you sync with iTunes, then find it on your phone. Go to the Settings app, then General, then About. Scroll down until you find it. Type the 15 digit number into a note so you can copy and paste it. Or put it straight in the form then take a screen shot of your completed form for future reference before you hit Submit. You may need the IMEI number again to check the status of your request later.

Alternately plug the phone in with the USB cable to your computer and look at the summary tab in iTunes. There's a line next to the picture of the phone for phone number. If you click it it changes to IMEI and again ICCID. (Who knew you could click a number and it would change to another number? This opens up a whole new world of things I can try.)

When you put in your IMEI number right in the ATT form it should pop up with an extra line identifying what kind of phone you have. This means you put it in correctly.

I left ATT Account Passcode blank and it worked fine. It will whine if you don't put in your social security number though.

If you do something wrong you'll get an error box and your browser won't go back. Click the above link again and start over. This is why I recommend taking a screen shot of the completed form before you hit Submit, just in case.

When you get everything copacetic and hit Submit they'll give you a confirmation window with a request number. You don't have to take a screen shot of that as they'll email you two emails in just a second. You can copy and paste the number later from the email if you want to check the status.

If you don't wait the whole 14 days you'll get two emails in quick succession, one saying your request was submitted and another one telling you it was summarily rejected. I tried it. The morning of the 14th day is fine though.

STEP 2: Get your confirmation email and wait 24 hours more.
Request number: XXXXXXX
Thank you for contacting ATT Customer Care about unlocking your ATT Mobile device.
We have reviewed your request and confirmed that the device may be unlocked.
Please allow 24 hours upon receipt of this notification to complete the unlock process.
To complete the unlock, simply
1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and verify that you have Internet connectivity.
2. Ensure a SIM card is inserted into your iPhone.
3. Connect your iPhone using the dock connector to USB cable that came with your iPhone.
4. Backup and restore your iPhone using iTunes. For information on backup and restore, please visit
5. After restoring, your iPhone will be unlocked.
Additional information on unlocking can be found at
For questions regarding AT&T Mobile device, please visit the Phone/Device Learning Center.
Thank you for your business. For other questions about our ATT wireless service or other Mobile devices, please visit

STEP 3: Plug your old phone into your computer with the USB cable. If you already restored it then it will want you to set up up again. Just click "Set up as a new phone" then navigate back to the "Summary" tab and go straight to "Restore".

You already did File>Devices>Transfer Purchases to iTunes, right? And already backed up your phone to put it on the new phone, right? So let's do it! Restore!

The phone might ask you to enter your iTunes password. On the phone, not in iTunes. That's to stop somebody from restoring a stolen phone so they can just set it up as their own. Enter your Apple ID password. (I say it might ask you because I'm not sure it does in iOS 6 if you didn't set it up with that level of security. iOS 7 definitely requires a password to restore the iPhone to factory settings. Mine did because I'd already restored it and then reactivated it with iOS 7 to play with it. I restored it twice today just to see what happens. It doesn't ask for a password if it's already in a restored state.)

You'll get an indicator on the phone saying it's connected to iTunes, then a status bar under the Apple showing it's doing stuff. iTunes also indicates things are happening.

When the phone finishes talking to iTunes it will drop off the list of devices, restart itself, show you a status bar again, then vibrate and come back up on the list of devices. This time is should be just iPhone, not your name anymore.

I name my phone and tablet this way because
"Syncing Into a Deep Sleep" and
"Syncing Into Oblivion" amuses me.
My iPod is just named Valerie.
Notice the restored 4S is just iPhone now, not Barbara Tomlinson's iPhone.

It would save you time if you could resist restoring your old phone as soon as you get the new one. I couldn't resist. Then I set it up again with my Apple ID and everything so I could compare the screen to my new phone because they looked different to me. (The new one seemed yellow but I concluded that really the old one was just really blue.) It's not a big deal if you reactivate an old phone once you've transferred service to a new one. The old one will just come up with No Service where it used to say ATT. You can use it just like an iPod Touch.

There's a rumor on some sites that say iTunes will give you a "congratulations your phone is unlocked message." Mine didn't the first time I did it. I could have missed it so I repeated the process to see if I could get a screen grab. I did get the message the second time.

It's going to try to make you set it up. I just clicked eject in the Devices list instead of Continue.

I think I accidentally left the phone turned on for the 2 week waiting period, thus the dead battery. I finished this blog post while it charged up so I can pack it up and take it to UPS already.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Plastic Permeability Experiment the iScience Way

When I moved into a house only 12'x18' small I had to go paperless. Instead of notebooks on a shelf I put everything I might want to refer to later on my blog. Easier to search and retrieve.

Last week I wrote a blog about Dr. Means and his attachment to paper in his pursuit of science. And I also addressed questions from his video on National Geographic showing him holding a Ziplock sandwich bag with three small toads inside. It made me curious about these bags. Why don't the frogs suffocate? So I did some experiments. Friday night I tested if the zipper parts leak. I used smoke as a test because I can see it. (Link to Friday test with video) The zipper didn't leak. So that means oxygen must be going in and carbon dioxide must be going out, right through the bag. I don't have any way to measure respiration and permeability, but I thought I could come up with something that would at least produce some gas. I thought about hydrogen peroxide and a potato. That makes oxygen. But I didn't have a potato.  And it might make the gas way too fast. I wanted something pretty slow, like a frog breathing. I do have yeast and sugar. That makes carbon dioxide, and if I use a small amount and don't get it too hot it will be fairly gradual.

Back in the olden days my science teacher was very strict about lab notebooks. They had to be kept in pen, not recopying them for neatness, all original. That's probably still the preferred method because you can't fake it. But I'm not that rigorous and I do everything with my iPhone. I have a complete record to refer to later if I want to. But mostly I do it because it's easy. What's the point of doing science for fun if you make it too much work? I'm going to go through my experiment with you the iPhone way. Realize I'm leaving out a lot of photos for the sake of it's boring.

125 ml (1/4 tsp) instant yeast in 37ºC (100°F) tap water
(I would use it hotter for bread but I didn't want
it to go too fast.)
Equal amount white sugar

Stir it up

Put the dish of yeasty water and an equivalent dish of plain water
in baggies and zip them shut. The control is because the air inside
will expand just from heat so I need to isolate that effect from the
carbon dioxide coming from the yeast.

Start the timer. This screen shot shows the start time, 11:36 am
Now I just let the stopwatch run and take a screenshot
every time I take a measurement. I just went about my business
and checked it whenever I felt like it. Science is not the
boss of me. I'm not trying to calculate a rate
 or anything, I just generally want to know what's going
to happen.

First observation was after about 20 minutes. Screen shot the stopwatch.
It has the actual time as well as the elapsed time in the shot.
How convenient!
The baggie with the yeast in it was noticeably puffier than the
control bag. I realized I needed a way to measure this change.
I made up this haphazard way of pinching the top of the bag and
holding a ruler to the zipper line. I should have done it at 0:00:00
but I didn't think of it. Should have equalized them to be identical.
This is why real experiments get done over again.
Control bag with just water lets me pinch 1/2" more than the
yeast bag. This bag is not filling up with carbon dioxide,
the other one actually is.
I was sitting on the front steps making notes (on my iPhone) and
realized I could smell the yeast. Pretty sure that means carbon
dioxide is permeating the plastic. Smells like a beer. Other bag
smells like a bag.

I checked several times during a rather hot afternoon.
I could plot my little measurements if I wanted to. Maybe I will.
Skipping ahead to the end here.
To compare both bags. Condensation in each. Yeasty one still puffier.

It was a bit cooler by now. Control pinches down to
1 3/4"

Experimental one is only pinchable to 3/4"
Minimum at the hottest part of the day and peak
yeast output, about 1/2"
I brought the experiment inside for the night and
checked it again this morning. 
Yeast isn't doing anything now. Bag is pinchable to 1 1/2"
Temperature in the house about 25°C 
Control pinchable to almost 2"
I keep my notes for the experiment right on my iPhone
(It goes longer than this, have to scroll.)
Notes are immediately synced to my computer
and iPad so I can work on notes wherever I want.
Note typos where it says "on" when I meant "one" and
"puffer" when I meant "puffier." This is real,
Mrs. Burns!

So that's how I document science experiments with my iPhone! It's way easier than a paper log book. If nothing interesting happens I don't have to put it on my blog. I develop recipes the same way. Take pictures of the scale and the measuring cups as I'm working, then I have that to refer to when I'm writing it up as a recipe with notes saying it's too sweet or too sour so I can use different proportions next time.

As for the permeability of zipper bags to CO2, I definitely think they are permeable. Overnight the control didn't contract where the one pressurized with carbon dioxide contracted enough to allow another 1/2" of pinching (+50% the previous amount of pinching, 1" to 1 1/2"). I think carbon dioxide definitely got out of the bag.

This doesn't say anything about oxygen getting in the bag, but carbon dioxide getting out would be pretty important to anything breathing inside there. I'm no biologist, but I read WWII adventure books about sailors in diesel submarines so that's the basis for that totally non-expert statement.

I'm glad I did the little experiment because I really wasn't sure what would happen. If I'd had more identical little dishes I would have done more bags with increasing amounts of yeast until I got one to blow itself open. I probably could have mixed the yeast right in the bottom of the bag, but somehow that seemed messy. I liked that my little sushi-dipping dishes held the bag upright.

Just for the sake of seeing how fast I could do it, I made a chart. I used Google Drive. Just like Notes on iCloud it's automatically available now on my iPad or to any of you online if I give you the link. I did it really fast. Spreadsheets are my bitch. Here's a screenshot.

I'm not really sure what my 8th grade science teacher would think about all these ways to create data that literally anybody can alter. I mean, I just clicked a button that says "smooth" and got these lines to look like this. I don't know what it's doing. Since all of this is arbitrary and made up it doesn't matter. But for a real experiment that others will want to replicate or confirm I wouldn't feel comfortable with a tool on the computer like "smooth." I would need to be able to explain the algorithm it was using for that smoothing. 

I think the lesson is that all you see anymore is charts and most of them are not meant to be taken as full scale or even based on an accepted measurement. Inches of Pinch is not a legitimate measurement of pressure. I made that up. Realize these things are only relevant as they relate to changes between the control and the experiment, no relation to the outside world. If I want it to indicate pressure I should probably invert the whole thing to indicate an increase in pressure with a decrease in pinchability.

But my back hurts and I want a snack. I think it's fine if random hacks like myself can do some Saturday Science and whip up a half-assed chart all with software that's free and post it on a blog that's free and give it to you to enjoy, for free. Hey, if somebody reads it, does that make it peer reviewed?!