fighting the lack of good ideas

memorial day

I have been fortunate to both know and know of many folks in the US military over the past 70 years.

In approximate historical order, thank you for your service:

  • Roger M
  • Ralph M
  • Ken C
  • Joe M
  • Ken C
  • Warren M
  • EJ N
  • June N (C)
  • Donald C
  • Jeremy F
  • Joe D
  • Ben W
  • Greg M
  • James H
  • Ben W
  • Dan S

For everyone I have missed, I apologize.

Thank you so much for your service to this country.

And thanks for letting the “rest of us” grill hotdogs, play games, and enjoy Memorial Day sales because of what you have fought for.

chimneys and fireplaces

About 14 years ago, good friends of the family bought an old farm house with some outbuildings in rural Schoharie County in NY (outside Middleburgh, in a locale called “Hunter’s Land”).

One of the first things they wanted to do with the house was to re-engineer the heating, which included properly insulating the house, and then adding a back-to-back fireplace and stove nook in the living room, backed to the kitchen (the nook was designed to look like it had once been a fireplace). Jeff holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and works full-time with fluid dynamics for a government contractor. So when he deep-dove into fireplace fundamentals, fluid flow mechanics, and heat transfer, all of us who knew him well knew he’d come out with the best available design for heating his new home.

The design Jeff eventually settled on was a modernized Rumford fireplace (Count Rumford was quite the experimenter). One of the major differences between a Rumford design and that of a “traditional” fireplace is the smoke chamber is reversed – ie, the slope goes from front-to-back, and not back-to-front (see diagram, provided by McNear).

fireplace diagrams

comparison diagram of Rumford and traditional fireplaces

The primary advantages to this reversal are: reduced/eliminated smoke discharge into the room (especially at low-flow heating circumstances), and simplified construction (no corbeling of the back wall). Other improvements in the design are broader radiatory angles for heat dispersion, and reduced fuel consumption.

Fortunately for Jeff and his wife, his brother-in-law was a mason, so costs could be reduced for installing the chimney and fireplaces to just that of labor and materials: still an expense, but lower than hiring it done outside the family.

Also fortunately for them, they had a ready supply of friends to help tear-out the non-load-bearing wall separating the kitchen and living room, cut a hole in the floor, pour a foundation for the structure, and build-out the subhearth.

During that period, I was going weekly to their house where Jeff and I would spend most of the evening geeking-out: I was in high school, and Jeff was teaching me how to program in C++ (well, ok: he taught me how to program in C using C++ keywords, and then I taught him object-orientation). His day job involved utilizing both commercial and in-house finite element analysis tools (utilizing a [then relatively] new equation solver: GMRES), and he used the time with me to try-out ideas he might want to incorporate at work – just in a new/easier-to-use language than that which he employed from 9-5 (his work centered around Fortran). (As a sidebar, we both learned an enormous amount during those days – good times [even ultimately leading to the Story of Mr G {the second version of the story}]). Back to the story.

Installing the fireplace was a fairly straight-forward process: once the wall and floor were down and cut (and the support beams for the house re-supported on the fringe of the subhearth and the middles cut out, the fireplace was laid-up “normally”. Thanks to pre-cast pieces from Superior Clay, installing the throat and smoke chamber was a cinch. Bringing the flue and chimney up through the roof was likewise a pretty quick process (the portion of the house the chimney went did not have a second storey), culminating in the first celebratory fire about a year after the whole process started (Jeff worked on it part-time during evenings and weekends, getting help as he could).

During that time, I learned a buttload about masonry, the densities of limestone and cast iron (the mantle and stove), re-engineering existing homes, temperature profiles of a fire, and fluid dynamics in action. Due my current occupation at the time, I had access to a host of thermocouple devices, some of which I checked-out and brought to Jeff’s house to profile the fireplace for where it was hottest, so that fires could be built (and a reflector plate installed) in the most efficient manner.

After a few years in Hunter’s Land, Jeff & co moved to a new domicile closer to his work (cutting his ~60 minutes each way commute by 80%). They again decided to add a Rumford fireplace to their home, but hired the entire project out for time purposes.

Since that time, I have been a proponent of fireplace heating, and of some level of self-reliance on fuel (and food) supplies (when possible).

Who knew a year-long hobby project would end up having such a long-term effect?

Given the chance, I’d LOVE to implement such a fireplace in my own home when we finally buy one.

new layout

Thanks to the myriad WordPress developers and contributors, themes are widely available. I just switched to “Dragonskin 1.5 by Angelo Bertolli” from “veryplaintext”.

Go go gadget community!

it was nice while it lasted

There have been a variety of stories recently about MacDefender, and the recent [small] wave of malware attacks on Mac OS X systems.

For years, one of the most-touted features of the Mac was its [relative] immunity to malware: the number of viruses, trojans, etc for any edition of the Macintosh is remarkably small: with System 7, it was on the order of scores, not thousands as with DOS/Windows (at the time).

I do not run antivirus software on most of my machines (virtual and physical), because I take a variety of other precautions. The glib statement that Macs are immune to attacks is becoming, sadly, more-publicly-known to be false.

It is interesting to note, though, that this particular attack still relies on poor user understanding, rather than a flaw in the platform itself: it is still up to the user to install this bogus piece of crap, rather than it materializing automagically via a browser plugin, email attachment, etc.

about time :)

Saw in a tweet from David Pogue that someone has finally implemented a DVR-for-radio. Only took three years for someone to build 🙂

I haven’t started playing with yet, but it looks pretty cool!

haiku talk

This past Saturday, I gave a presentation/talk on Haiku for the BGLUG in Lexington KY.

For those unfamiliar with Haiku, it is an open-source reimplementation of my favorite OS of all time, BeOS.

Instead of having a formal slide deck for the event (as initially planned), I kept it informal with an oral history of Be Inc, some of the intrigue surrounding the company, my involvement with the platform back in the 90s with the developer program, and then the developments of the platform post-Be (through Palm’s mishandling of the IP, Yellow Tab, and Haiku).

I have found I can use Haiku for almost all of my day-to-day tasks (currently running a few VMs of it on my laptop), and it barely taxes the hardware – even with only 256MB of RAM and a single vCPU. Oh, and it’ll still render hyper-smooth 3D OpenGL video on such an “underpowered” VM.

There is a host of awesome software available for Haiku, and the community seems to just be getting stronger and stronger.

A couple of my favorites:

If you are interested in developing for Haiku, checkout darkwyrm’s programming lessons.

square foot gardening by mel bartholomew

Years ago, my mom and I would routinely try to catch episodes of Square Foot Gardening (SFG) on PBS.

Hosted by Mel Bartholomew, a retired civil engineer, SFG was a program whose aim was to enable gardening by the masses in confined spaces (though, naturally, if can be implemented in larger settings as well). Mr Bartholomew’s aim was to take his years of experience as an engineer, and turn gardening on its head: too much focus was (and still is, though less prominently now) given to gardening as miniaturized farming, rather than as a practice in its own right. It also promoted organic gardening and growing years before the current organic marketing wave.

The basic premise of SFG is to plant cooperatively, intensively, rotatively, and sequentially (see the wikipedia,, and sites for even more information).

  • Cooperatively: plant different types of flowers and vegetables together to reduce the likelihood for disease transmission, to ward-off predators, and to give a dynamic look to the garden.
  • Intensively: carrots only needs a few cubic inches of good soil in which to grow – plant them 4×4 in a 1’x1′ square.
  • Rotatively: once a given crop has finished, reuse the plot, but for a different plant type to not overly wear-out the soil.
  • Sequentially: if you want to go with a more homogeneous garden, plant in a cyclic fashion to spread the harvest over a period of time throughout the year

Soil preparation takes a bit of practice, but once you have a garden going, continually supplying compost should become easier (take all garden waste and add it to the pile). The only ingredient you should need to buy on a semi-frequent basis is peat moss, and that only once every 2-3 years per box. Vermiculite refresh is needed less often – closer to every 4-5 years per box.

The program and book had enough of a lasting impact on me that I used it as the basis for a paper in college – Eating Off the Grid (full PDF^*` and appendix).

A second book referenced in the television series, CA$H from Square Foot Gardening (of which I also own a copy), goes into further detail of expanding the SFG approach into a source for local users to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labors, in exchange for compensation. In particular, Mel highlights supplying local restaurants and/or farmer’s markets with your produce.

If you are interested in growing even some of your own food, I strongly recommend Square Foot Gardening as the place to start.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Accessibility: 5/5
  • Understandability: 4/5
  • Ease of implementation: 4/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

^Prices accurate as of Jan 2006
*Yes – I know about the typo at the end of page 3 (“there” vs “their”) and on page 5 (“them” vs “the”)
`See also PYOP review for information on windbreaks