Welcome back Matt

I just received this note:

Welcome
Back
Dad

(Killer will get you!)

with my new sword.

— An expression of love from an unnamed young male who lives in my house.

The creativity of a child

It’s the time of year when I need to sweep the deck of Wisteria blooms daily. Today the kids were home so I called them and their neighbor friend out onto the deck. Then I shook the branches while the Wisteria plant rained petals upon them. I like to think that most any parent would have thought of turning that chore into a game. But the kids took it to the next level.

As soon as I was done shaking the vines and started sweeping them off the deck, they high tailed it down the stairs to the patio so they could relive the experience. When that was over, they loaded the flowers in buckets, carried them back upstairs onto the deck and raining them onto each other again.

Matt’s Deep-Dish Blackberry Pie

Recipe: Blackberry Pie
Yield: 9 or 10″ deep dish pie

  • 6 c. Blackberries
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. tapioca starch
  • 1 tsp. Lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. sanding or other large grain sugar
  • 1 blind-baked pie crust
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and starch. Reserve 1 cup of berries and fold the rest into the powder until no white powder remains. Set aside to macerate.
  3. Make the crust. Do *something* to keep the bottom crust from being soggy. Blind baking followed by an egg white wash works well. So does adding a 1/8 layer of oatmeal.
  4. Taste the filling. Add sugar to taste. Our fresh picked Washington wild blackberries tend to be plump, sweet, and easily crushed. Berries that are firm and/or tart will require more sugar. I prefer the least amount of sugar that will make the berries taste fully ripe.
  5. Fill the baked crust until just below the rim. Eat the extra filling. Spread the reserved cup of berries on top of the filling. Optionally dot the top of the pie with butter. Spray or sprinkle the lemon juice over the berries.
  6. Roll out the top crust and cover the pie. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush the top crust with egg wash and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. sanding sugar. Cut a few slits in the crust to vent.
  7. Place a pie shield over the crust and bake at 425 for 15 min. Reduce heat to 375 and bake until juices start bubbling, about 20-25 min. Cool completely.

Pencil Sharpeners

While volunteering in my son’s classroom, his teacher asked if I’d sharpen some pencils, “Having a supply of sharp pencils is the bane of my existence!” I grabbed her basket of pencils and headed to the sharpening station, in a shared resource room. There I found this lovely little X-Acto XLR 1818 Electric Pencil Sharpener.

X-Acto sharpener

I sharpened about 25 pencils before the unit overheated. After 30 minutes it still refused to work. After 45 minutes I was able to sharpen 20 more pencils before it overheated again. Frustrated, I decided to engineer a better solution.

Design considerations:

• manual sharpeners don’t overheat
• teachers might be upset if I removed the electric sharpener
• pencil shavings should be dealt with
• doesn’t require [much] more space than a 11×17″ box lid
• one-handed operation is desirable

The first step was to acquire some good pencil sharpeners. I read a bunch of Amazon reviews and ultimately found penciltalk.org where pencil sharpening nerds hang out and write about their passion for sharpeners. I whittled down my list to these four which I purchased:

• Classroom Friendly
• Classic Manual (Deli 0620)
• Stanley Bostitch MPS1BLK (Amazon)
• Westcott Axis iPoint Evolution Electric Heavy Duty (15509) Amazon

After the sharpeners arrived, I grabbed a sheet of graph paper and a ruler. I measured how much clearance each sharpener needed to avoid skinned knuckles. Then I produced this sketch.

Pencil Station

With a design in hand, I headed to the garage and found an 8’ piece of 1” thick shelving. Because MDF wouldn’t hold a dado joint, I  glued each edge and screwed in L-brackets on the 4 back  corners (not pictured). Then I added the angle brackets to stiffen up the front. The result is a sharpening station that’s very heavy and stable.

Pencil Station

All three manual sharpeners came with a round L bracket designed to mount on the edge of a tabletop. I wanted a more secure attachment and the slippery shelf surface didn’t help. The solution was to add a layer of non-slip padding between the sharpener and shelf. Combined with the included bracket, the sharpeners have remained firmly attached for half a school year.

To keep the automatic sharpeners from sliding when pressing a pencil into them, I applied a pad of industrial strength Velcro hooks to the bottom shelf and hook-and-loop pads to the electric sharpeners. Now they too remain firmly in place while sharpening.

I am now experienced in bulk pencil sharpening. Every pencil in that basket is very sharp. I’m a fan of the Wescott and Classroom Friendly sharpeners. The fastest technique I’ve found is to load the Classroom Friendly, which grips the pencil and allows one-handed sharpening. I sharpen that pencil with my right hand, and sharpen another in the Westcott with my left. Both sharpeners are fast and good. I can settle into a rhythm where I’m cranking out two sharp pencils every 10 seconds.

I can see no evidence of anyone using the X-Acto any more. The Bostich is a piece of junk. It will only sharpen perfect pencils, it doesn’t produce a great point, and emptying the shavings is much harder than the Classroom Friendly and electric sharpeners.

What do the teachers think?

Hi Matt,

When I spoke with our staff this morning about pencil sharpeners, their eyes lit up! They would love to have one station per grade level (two for kindergarten). The total would be ten, if possible.

Mike
—-
Mike VanOrden – Principal

Dropbox, and a little less love

In addition to being a big fan of Dropbox, I’m also a paying customer. I’ve recommended them and I still do. But that doesn’t quell my disappointment in their new Terms of Service which strip away the rights to legal remedies (where they can still get away with that (most Red states)). Kudos to them for making it really easy to opt-out, but arbitration is so rarely a benefit to users (the company hires the arbitrators, so it’s the playing field isn’t level) that many parts of the world have outlawed the practice.

iMac + new SSD = iTunes borked

Replacing the DVD player in my 27″ iMac with an SSD broke iTunes, yielding a -45054 error. I determined it was crying about the iTunes Store authentication, so I signed out, and when attempting to sign back in, received this error:

“there was an error storing your authorization information on this computer”

There’s an article that describes this error in the Apple Support knowledge base. The information in the article helped me figure out that iTunes was broken because the /Users/Shared directory didn’t exist. I manually created it and the problem is solved. Read on for the nitty gritty details.

Continue reading “iMac + new SSD = iTunes borked”

Money and Trust

My first employer had his landscaping business looted by his CPA, who then skipped the country. That incident planted a seed of mistrust in my mind for all financial service professionals (CPA, CFP, CFA, IFP, etc.).

Every time I hear people tell about “this guy” they know that does an outstanding job of managing their money, I can’t help but think of the very long and never ending parade of financial service professionals like this weeks example.

If I recall correctly, it was William Bernstein in The Four Pillars of Investing that, when outlining the perverse incentives that exist within the financial service industry, pointed out that the term service could aptly describe how a bull services a cow.