An organization I am involved with does its internal communication and broadcasts exclusively through Slack. In my mind, Slack is “evil” because it lets communication in but doesn’t seem to provide tools to let communication out. For example, they don’t provide RSS feeds. I do most of my daily surfing through RSS feeds.

Today I figured I should look into this further and posted the question on the Slack Reddit.  Someone suggested I could do this through Zapier. I had never heard about them: they provide integration between different web apps. Sure enough, 15 minutes of tinkering later I now have an RSS feed from that Slack channel.

Things should not be so complicated, but when they are, it is good to have a tool like that!

More remote switching on the backpack

I have had a remote switch for the light on my backpack for a long time (holding up well!). I thought it would be nice to add a remote switch to the garage door opener.

So, I opened the heat shrink up and solderedIMG_20160920_153503 another switch on the remaining two leads in the USB cable. Some more surgery on the other end to attach two connectors. Then open up the garage remote and add wires to each side of the IMG_20160920_152807momentary push button that opens the door. Taped a block over the original button so it doesn’t get pushed by other things pressing into it.

Connect, and open the garage door. Should have done this ages ago.

electronic circuit simulator

I have messed around with electronics for a long time, but a lot of it is still a mystery. So, I was thrilled to realize that free, online circuit simulators exist. My favourite one is . It gives examples of dozens of circuits, you can modify them, or you can make your own. Better yet, no login required, if you want to save your work it will spit it out as a text file you can import again later. Thanks, Paul Falstad & co, for putting this together and hosting it!

Two computers, one set of speakers

We have two windows computers in our kitchen. For a while now they have been set up so that you have to plug the one you sound in listen tabwant working right now into the external speakers. Today I finally looked into a better way. Turns out there is a free one, or free as long as you already have a male-to-male audio cable.
Plug one PC’s audio out into the second PC’s audio in. On the second PC (Windows 7), go into control panel, sound, recording, pick the plug you used, and click properties. Click the “listen” tab and check “listen to this device”. I had to set the levels way down to 5/100 to not get any distortion and just get a full volume output from the first PC.
No more plugging around!

Mouse wheel fix

The scroll wheel on one of our mice was not working right. The mouse wheel is a disk with slots; light shines through the slots and that is how the computer knows when the mouse wheel turns. I took the mouse apart and there was all sort of dirt stuck in the little slots. Cleaned out, works fine now. Nice to see that not all electronics are only disposable and some things can still be fixed.


Mouse wheel with dust bunnies
Mouse wheel with dust bunnies

Blackberry m4a audio files in Audacity software

I use use my Blackberry to record audio in meetings and such. It records as m4a.  I use Audacity to edit audio files.

Audacity doesn’t do M4A natively, and the error it gives just says that it can’t read the file.

Turns out they almost have it built in. I didn’t research the exact IP reason that forces them to do it, but the instructions how to finish setting up Audacity to be able to read your Blackberry sound recordings is here:

Rowing Umpire Kit

umpire kitI have been working with Sandi Kirby on a table-top training kit for rowing umpires. We came up with a mat that represents a race course, and a set of boats, course markers and other kit that can be moved around the course to facilitate the discussion of various training scenarios.

We are releasing the design into the public domain so others can make their own. Your local sign shop should be able to print the mat, and a laser cutting service like Ponoko could cut the parts for you.

If you are going to make one of these, drop us a note in the comments, it would be neat to hear if someone finds this useful.

Files are:
– the mat:  course
– the accessories: acrylic