Grandma

Grandma passed away four years ago. The following is the eulogy I gave at her memorial service.


Grandma moved in with us when I was very young. She was a part of the family, and she helped my mother and my father raise me and my brother. I suppose that the prime directive of raising two boys is to get them through adolescence without allowing them to cause excessive harm to themselves or others. And as a testament to their success in that endeavor, my brother, Mark, and I are here today.

But if I were to claim that grandma only kept me out of harm’s way, I would be failing to recognize the deep impact she had on my life—on making me the person I am today. And while she influenced me in many ways, there was one lesson she taught me that stands above all others. It’s a lesson that she repeated throughout her life—to me and to everyone who came in contact with her. She never forced it on anyone, and most of the time you might not have recognized that she was offering a lesson at all. I didn’t. I didn’t realize it until many years after she started teaching it to me.

When I was young, I realized that grandma had a unique way of seeing the world. While other adults would talk about difficulties, she would talk about joys. When other adults would talk about how cold and rainy it was outside, she would talk about how warm and cozy it was inside. I thought that she just didn’t see somethings that other people saw—that she had some sort of blind spot for those things that most people dwell on.

Years passed, and I grew older. Eventually, I could talk to her as an adult. And as an adult, I realized something: I had been naive. She wasn’t missing anything. She could see the difficulties and travails of life just as well as anyone else. The difference between her and everyone else was that she had an amazing ability to put the bad aside, and focus on the good. She wasn’t an optimist because she couldn’t see the down side of a situation. She was an optimist because she chose to embrace the up side of all situations. Her optimism was intentional.

Grandma never tried to convince me that I should practice her brand of intentional optimism. No, she was content to let me become my own person, to find my own way. All the while—through my childhood and beyond—she was a presence, offering herself as an example of one way to see the world.

None of us can go through life without affecting, and being affected by, the people around us. Grandma lived for 96 years. Many people loved her, and she loved many people. In one way or another, she touched every one of us. When someone like Grandma passes on, those of us who loved her struggle to find a way to honor her and everything that she gave to us. I’m glad that we could all come here today to remember and honor her. But after we leave here, and return home, she will still be with us. Each of us has the opportunity to continue honoring her by embracing that most important lesson that she taught all of us: that we can choose to see the joy, the up side, the good in any situation. I know that every time I practice intentional optimism, a part of her carries on. And in that way, she will always be with me.

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A Sweater

While in Iceland for the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, Martha and I came across the storefront for the Handknitting Association of Iceland. I took the opportunity to stock up on yarn. The Álafoss Lopi was ridiculously inexpensive, so I got a sweater’s worth of it.

sweater_detail

After a bit of consideration, and consultation with Martha, we decided on a forest green main color, with some yellow and white for contrasting colors. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it.

sweater_front

I ended up working the standard seamless design from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Without Tears.  I started with a provisional cast on, and reversed it with a perl round after a few inches to give me a straight, hemmed edge. I did the same around the sleeves. The touch of color on the inside makes me happy.

sweater_hem

I made up the yoke as I went along. You put in so much work for something like that, and you have no idea whether it’ll fit until it’s pretty much done. So you need to enjoy the process, and accept that in the end you might walk away with something that sucks. If it comes out right, well, that’s just a bonus.

sweater_seated

 

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Music From Long Ago

I recently came across some old tapes from high school, when I sang with a madrigal group. Twenty years ago? Really?

I dug up an old Walkman™, put in some fresh batteries, plugged it into a computer, pulled the songs into an audio editing program to clean them up (most noticeably by getting rid of a loud hiss at around 8kHz), and put them on the interwebs so that the digital archeologists of the future might someday take note.

 

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Blinking LED Circuit

As part of a larger project, I needed a circuit to blink an LED. It’s a simple task, and there are plenty of existing designs. But having almost no experience with circuit design, I wanted to make my own. Further, I wanted to make it with basic components — no ICs. An integrated circuit, like a 555, would take the fun out of it!

As is the case with most oscillators of this sort, the charge/discharge cycle of a capacitor acts as a switch to turn the LED on and off. I sketched out a few ideas, and eventually arrived at this:

Blinking LED Circuit

The blinking happens because the circuit oscillates between several states:

  1. Current goes through PNP transistor Q2 to the anode side of capacitor C1. As C1 charges, the cathode side drains through resistor R1 to ground. In doing so, it also puts “pressure” on the base of PNP transistor Q1, preventing current from flowing through it.
  2. After C1 is fully charged, its cathode side will no longer be draining, so there will be nothing preventing flow from the base of Q1 through R1 to ground. At that point, Q1 will start to conduct to the big loop, which will cause three things to happen.
    1. Current will flow to the base of NPN transistor Q3, which will allow C1 to slowly discharge through resistor R3. Also, once Q3 is conducting, the drain on the base of Q1 will increase as current flows to the cathode side of C1.
    2. Current will flow through diode D1, to put “pressure” on the base of Q2, thereby preventing further charging of C1 from the voltage source.
    3. Current will flow through light emitting diode D2, causing it to light up.
  3. Once C1 is fully drained, the base of Q1 will only drain through R1. If R1 has a high enough value, the output of the collector of Q1 will fall below the threshold to block the base of Q2. When that happens, current will once again flow through Q2, C1 will start charging again, Q1 will stop conducting, the LED will turn off, and we return to step 1.

So that was my theory. My next step was to build it, and figure out the right values for all the components. I breadboarded it like this:

Blinking LED Circuit

Voltage: +5
Q1: (PNP) 9015
Q2: (PNP) 9015
Q3: (NPN) PN2222
R1: 10KΩ
R2: 10KΩ
R3: 680Ω
R4: 68Ω
C1: 470µF
D1: 1N4148
D2: Blue, 3.7V, 20mA

That resulted in a flash rate of 1.3Hz. The blinking speed can be adjusted by changing the capacitor and/or changing the values of R1 and R2. I swapped C1 for a 22µF cap, and the flash rate increased dramatically, perhaps to something between 20 and 30Hz. So I swapped R1 and R2 for 100KΩ, and the flash rate returned to something around 1.6Hz. Ideally, the capacitor should be very small, since it is essentially charging, then dumping its charge in every cycle. I’d like to try to use a much smaller capacitor (with larger R1 and R2 values) to see if I can maintain enough current in that part of the circuit to control the functioning of the transistors. I used a blue, 3.7V LED on a 5V circuit. The LED can be changed, as long as R4 is changed as well to ensure the proper current for the LED’s voltage.

It’s not the simplest circuit of this sort, and I’m sure that I’ve screwed up at least part of the analysis. But as someone who only knows as much about circuit design as he could find on the internet, and a couple of books (namely, Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest Mims, and Starting Electronics by Keith Brindley), I was fairly pleased with myself for making this work.

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Diamonds on the Mind

Download the pattern: Diamonds on the Mind PDF

When knitting, I like colorwork and I like hats. It should come as no surprise, then, that I doubly like colorwork hats.

This one has a hemmed brim, and a repeating, overlapping pattern that is made “jogless” by a bit of special trickery at the end of each round. The only special skill (aside from knit, purl, ssk, k2tog and basic stranding) that’s required is a provisional cast-on. Usually, before I begin a project with a provisional cast-on, I’ll look up a little refresher.

After you get past the provisional cast-on, you’ll knit the inside of the brim, do a perl round for the turn then knit the outside of the brim. To avoid sewing, at the top of the brim, you’ll pick up one of the provisionally cast-on stitches, and k2tog with a live stitch from the body—and repeat that all the way around.

The pattern calls for three yarns: a main color #1 (MC1), a main color #2 (MC2) that is in the same color family as MC1 and a contrast color (CC) that is white or off-white. If you are so inclined you can skip MC2, and just use MC1 for the entire hat. And, of course, if you go crazy and use something wild for the CC, small children won’t die.

Note that several people who have knit this pattern have said that it ends up too big. Between my propensity for knitting tight, and the lack of a forgiving ribbed brim, you would be well advised to pay attention to gauge, and perhaps use smaller needles or modify the pattern if you knit loosely.

Overall, it’s a fairly simple hat that, if I may say so myself, looks pretty nice. Enjoy!

Download the pattern: Diamonds on the Mind PDF

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