Category Archives: Ideas

The Football That Can’t Not Be Caught

This might sound crazy, but I’ve been pursuing a Bachelor’s degree for about six years.  What’s crazier is that I’m only half way done.  I can explain:  I go part time, and I needed a lot of pre-requisites that weren’t included in my previous degree.

What’s possibly even more crazy is that I have had ideas for my senior project since before I even started the program.  I am here today to discuss one of those ideas.  When I first had this idea, I had only a cursory knowledge of the technical details.  Furthermore, I knew it was possible, just not what all it entailed.

If you read the title, you know the idea.  Perhaps it’s about time I just said what it was.  …  I could just keep referring to it as “it” and prolong the anticipation for the big reveal.  That is, of course, assuming you have not read the title of this post.

The idea is guided artillery.  Not a new concept.  However, most guided artillery is designed with one major criteria that we will be leaving out of this project:

Traditional Guided Artillery Design Criteria

  1. Kill People

However, my idea still involves guiding a projectile at a person (in theory).  However, this projectile would not explode on impact.  It wouldn’t explode at some proximity.  It wouldn’t explode at all.  In fact, it would be soft, and grippy…  Like a Nerf football.

So, let’s list the desired end-user functionality of this guided artillery football:

Toy Guided Artillery Design Criteria

  1. Be throwable, like a football.
  2. Be catchable, like a football.
  3. Change direction during flight so as to minimize the distance between itself and some designated target.

Numbers one and two seem simple enough.  There might be some off-the-shelf items that could cover those bases.  I don’t know, maybe I’m underestimating the difficulty of those two criteria.

Number three is the real challenge.  How the hell do you make a football guide itself to a target?  The first problem that comes to my mind is that the ball’s flight time is limited by who threw or kicked it.  That greatly limits its ability to reach a target.  Secondly, the ball has no control surfaces with which it could change its direction during flight.  Along those same lines, it requires a lot of practice to develop the skill required to throw a stable-flying football.  Finally, and probably the worst part, it takes A LOT of fast-moving data and sensing to fly anything toward a target.

So, let’s split this big problem up into little bite-size, chewy pieces.

  1. The Guidance System
    1. Navigation – “Where am I?”
    2. Guidance – “Where am I going?”
    3. Control – “We’re in the pipe, 5 by 5!”
  2. Flight
    1. Stabilization
    2. Control Surfaces

The guidance system may be the most complex part of the project.  However, flight isn’t easy.  Flight is mostly a mechanical issue.  And, in this case, the control surfaces will be totally experimental.  Therefore, the flight surfaces cannot be trusted.  Stabilization is easy enough, though.  We just need to stick some fins on the back.  Or a long, flowing tail.

The control surfaces themselves are rather difficult.  In order for the football to be throwable and catchable, the control surfaces need to be discrete.  In other words, they need to be hidden away until they’re needed.  Furthermore, typical control surfaces on an air plane take advantage of the large lift-generating wing in front of them to alter the lift output.  The football will have small stabilizer wings, if any wings at all.  That means that it will not generate its own lift.  Therefore, the control surfaces are actually going to be simple air brakes.

Now that we have the “simple” part out of the way, let’s move on to the complex part.  The guidance system needs to answer two questions continously:  1. “Where am I?” and 2. “Where am I going?”  The answers to these questions will determine which control surfaces deploy and at what time.  However, answering these questions is potentially very difficult.

“And you may ask yourself

Well, how did I get here?”

I propose that the guidance system use an inertial measurement unit and a fixed-point reference (the starting location) to determine where it is.  To do this, the football will require an accessory:  A throwing glove.  The throwing glove will have magnets embedded at strategic locations along the gripping surfaces.  The ball will have hall effect sensors in close proximity to its outer surface.  In this way, the ball will know when it has left the thrower’s hand.

Next, the ball will have an accelerometer and possibly a gyroscope.  Many accelerometers are now capable of measuring the constant pull of gravity and comparing it to the X, Y, and Z axis.  When the hall effect sensors detect that the ball has left the thrower’s glove, and by measuring the change in acceleration on 3 axes and comparing them to the acceleration of gravity, the ball will know approximately its location relative to its starting point.

But, how does it know where to go?  I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this.  The best I have right now is, “I don’t know.”  I don’t know, because of the following reasons:

Reasons I Don’t Know

  1. The form factor limits the complexity and fragility of on board sensors.
  2. The form factor also limits the accuracy of on board sensors, because the ball cannot be expect to be precisely stable.  In fact it may intentionally be spun about its axis to gain distance.

Anyway, while writing those last two sentences, I had an idea aside from all the commonplace ideas (cameras, infrared, radar, GPS, etc).  However, this idea greatly limits the “fun factor” of the concept.  Although, it does use the existing hardware and adds only one more accessory:


The catcher’s glove will essentially just be another thrower’s glove.  It will be exactly the same.  The difference, though, is how it is used.  Before the ball is thrown, it must be told what mode it is in.  The first mode will be “target mode”, wherein the catcher makes contact with the ball.  While making contact with the catcher, the ball initializes all of its location variables.  Essentially, X=0, Y=0, Z=0.  Next, the ball is placed in “launch mode”.  In this mode, it is recording changes in its location and waiting to both make contact with the thrower’s glove AND to lose that contact.  Upon losing contact, the ball enters “flight mode”, wherein it tries to get all of the axial changes back to zero by actuating the control surfaces accordingly.

And that, my friends, is the football that can’t not be caught.


On Confidence and Experience

I learn by doing.  My family bought a Nintendo Entertainment System when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old.  I didn’t care to read the instructions.  I just plugged it in and started playing, bumping into everything and testing everything until something happened.  I recall Who Framed Roger Rabbit being particularly challenging.  That same methodology has been with me ever since.


This is both good and bad.  I was validated last week by my Microprocessor Apps professor.  A student asked him a “what if” question regarding a program in assembly.  He took it as an opportunity to show a few different approaches.  Of course, we found limitations in the platform this way.  We were bumping into everything.  Then, finally, after re-writing the code several times, we found a method that worked.  He then told us, “this is the process of engineering.”  You cannot be afraid of the many, many failures you will have.  You just have to keep pressing until you figure out what works.  In this way, my methodology is good.

Now, let me finish the rest of my original story.  I never finish a video game, except for a few.  This is because I get bored after I’ve bumped into the things and tested the buttons.  I don’t really care about the story.  I don’t marvel at the graphics.  (Let it be known, my favorite game of all time has 16-bit graphics.)  I just lose interest.  This is the bad part of my methodology.  Whether successful or not, when a project is nearing its logical end, I begin to loathe it.  I want to move on to something new.

Sometimes, though, I enjoy something so much that I’m inspired to improve upon it, or recreate it in my own way.  So, I started learning to program in Visual Basic around the age of 10.  Of course, my interest waned when I bumped into the limitations of my abilities and creativity.  At one point I managed to install Linux.  That forced me to purchase “C++ for Dummies”.  A few years later, Macromedia Flash was blowing up on the internet.  I picked it up and started learning the integrated scripting language ActionScript.  But, I spent most of that time animating instead of programming.  Toward the end of high school, I had the opportunity to take programming classes.  I honestly don’t remember all of the languages I studied.  I know there were at least three, but I only recall Visual Basic and Pascal.  (The reason I remember them is because the classes ended before lunch and most of us stayed in the room and played Quake 1 on the school’s LAN.)  Through all of this, I tried and tried to recreate my favorite video games using various languages.  Very few were successful.

I wasn’t until I was much older and much less busy that I finally programmed and published a full, working game.  Unfortunately, it was a Flash game.  Therefore, it enjoyed very limited success and very limited exposure.  It was also kind-of awful.  Still, I made money from it.  For the first time in my life, I had earned money for programming.  I immediately began working on an improved version.

Unfortunately, life got in the way.  My wife and I moved to a different city.  I started commuting long distances.  She lost her job.  We went into debt.  She regained a job.  We paid off the debt.  We coasted.  Then we both lost jobs.  Then we both got new jobs.  My commuting was greatly reduced.  Then, I picked up the game making again.

Unfortunately, at this time, Flash was going through transition.  Adobe had bought Macromedia and was redesigning ActionScript to be much more like java, in an attempt to make it more powerful.  This was a problem for me, because I didn’t have time to learn a new language.  (ActionScript 3.0 used an entirely new syntax.)  So, I used the older syntax that I was familiar with.  It was slower and less capable, so I had to learn how to optimize my code.  The scope of the new game was ridiculously complex relative to the scope of the first one.  I did it anyway.  I spent a few weeks making my own path-finding algorithm.  It wasn’t great, but it sort-of worked.  Then I spent a day implementing A* path-finding.  Both experiences taught me a great deal.  Then, school began to get tough.  So, the programming slowed to a crawl.

In short, I invested a lot of time and energy into a scripting language that ultimately failed.  (I know that Flash is still widely used, but it is rapidly being replaced by mobile apps and HTML5.)  Still, I learned a lot about programming during this time.  Beside algorithms and optimization, I learned that you can make money even if your product sucks.

Still, none of this gave me the confidence to take a job as a programmer.  Knowing the syntax of several languages doesn’t give you confidence.  Knowing the limitations doesn’t give you confidence.  Tiny “successes” don’t give you confidence.  What gives you confidence is experience.  What gives you experience is work.  There are only two kinds of people who can give you work:  Those willing to take a chance on you, and yourself.

I have been fortunate in life.  Several people have been willing to take a chance on me.  I expressed interest in doing what they do, and they wanted to teach me.  But, they didn’t want to sit me in a lecture hall and profess the why and what-for of what they did.  They just wanted me to do it and learn as I went.  The first big opportunity like this that I snatched was at a defense contractor.  I had been working as an electromechanical assembler for about a year.  I had been put on hot projects that were halfway between development and launch.  Therefore, I had a lot of interaction with the engineers.  This interaction convinced me that I wanted to be an engineer.  I expressed interest to the right person at the right time, and was given an entry-level position.  I had only an Associates degree.

So, then I was part of manufacturing engineering.  If you’re unfamiliar with the various engineering fields, manufacturing engineers take design engineers’ drawings and turn them into real things.  Manufacturing engineers are tooling and process developers.  They procure and/or develop the tools for the job, they design manufacturing processes, and they train staff to actually perform the processes.  My entry-level job was essentially a support position for those engineers.  They let me play with all the new equipment.  Sometimes they let me develop tools.  A lot of the time they let me write procedures.  I wasn’t always successful.  Not everything I did was wonderful or exceptional.  Still, all of this experience gave me confidence that I could figure out most of the problems placed in front of me.  I was also fortunate to have a great mentor.  He seemed to know that I learned things the hard way, and wasn’t afraid to let me do it.  Of course, he offered guidance and support when needed.  It was invaluable.

Defense contracting began declining during the Great Recession. (See page 26)  There were massive layoffs.  I was caught in them, because my position was not an essential part of the process.  I wasn’t mad.  In all honesty, I was relieved.  I had been commuting for 2 hours every day.  This was an opportunity to get a job much closer to home and have more time for other things.

The confidence I had gained at that job lead me to the next one.  I actually interviewed for a manufacturing engineering position, but asked for too much money.  They told me that during the interview.  Fortunately for me, my resume was passed around to other departments.  It landed on the Director of R&D’s desk, and he called me in.  He wanted me as an intern, to do CAD and a little bit of design work.  Again, I was fortunate that someone wanted to take a chance on me.  I had no CAD experience, but I had read and interpreted dozens of drawings.  I was computer savvy.  I was studying engineering at a local university.  But, I asked for too much money again.  Maybe my confidence was a little too high?

It worked anyway.  I’ve now been there for nearly three years.  I went from the CAD internship to full-on product design.  Like I said, I’ve been fortunate.  Other than my direct manager, other people at the company have been willing to take a chance on me.  They’ve given me many opportunities to learn and grow.  It has been amazing.  I feel super-confident in my CAD abilities, which I learned entirely at this job under the supervision of several great mentors.

So, what’s the point?  Wasn’t I talking about programming earlier?  Yes.  I was.  Take note:  Both of those jobs required 40 hours per week.  I’ve been employed in these types of positions for a total of 6 years, now.  That’s roughly 12,000 hours of combined manufacturing/design experience.  Meanwhile, I’ve been programming on-and-off in various languages over a much longer period, but with far less consistency.  That self-teaching experience hasn’t given me the same confidence as my work experience.  That is in spite of the fact that I’ve been self-teaching for much longer.  But, in self-teaching, there is no consequence for absolute failure.  There is nothing to deliver.  There are no deadlines.  These are the reasons that self-teaching is bad.  However, self-teaching is also good because it allows you to explore and experiment.  You don’t fear failure, because the only failure in self-teaching is failing to learn something new.  You’re not afraid to take risks when self-teaching.

So, what’s next?  I’m studying Computer Engineering.  I want to design embedded systems.  I want to be an entrepreneur.  I want to know enough about the technical side of things that I can reasonably identify and ally myself with really talented, intelligent people in those fields.  I want to solve a problem that a lot of people need solved.  I want to tell them that I can solve it for them.  And, that brings me to the next big hurdle, after Computer Engineering: Communication.

Communication has always been a struggle for me.  I think it’s a struggle for a lot of people, actually.  By that, I mean that some people are really terrible communicators even though they speak often.  Still, some people are really terrible communicators because they speak so little.  That’s because communication is an art.  It requires practice (experience) to gain confidence.  I’ve had several opportunities in my career to communicate ideas and concepts to small groups of people.  If my programming and design experience is a plate of enchiladas, then my communication experience is a tiny dollop of sour cream.

Since my work doesn’t often require that I speak to groups, I have to self-teach.  This is good, because I can take risks, I set my own deadlines, and I explore a lot of different ideas.  Hence, I’m writing this blog.  This is how I’m building confidence in communicating.  I learn by doing.

On Self-Censorship

The internet is no place to be anonymous.  Your name and face is attached to everything you say.  You cannot guarantee that your sarcasm will translate through your prose.  People will read what you wrote and take it the wrong way.  You may not intend to offend anyone.  Some people are just easily offended.  I am not one of those people.

I can take criticism, cynicism, and obscenity at face value.  I may not agree with those things in certain contexts.  But, I am willing to let them happen.  To me, it is only speech.  Obscenity quickly loses its meaning and becomes white noise.  Cynicism is just a manifestation of doubt.  Criticism is the acknowledgement of differing opinion.  None of those things are particularly offensive by themselves.

In face-to-face interaction, I find myself carefully choosing my words and constantly gauging my audience’s reaction. I feel more tolerant of opinions and ideas that I oppose when I am speaking to someone in person. I don’t do it to avoid conflict, but rather to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. People are passionate about their ideals and opinions. They are entitled to be so. Just because I disagree, or am indifferent, doesn’t mean that I have to tell them that.

For example, some people incorporate religion into many other parts of their lives. As an atheist, the mention of religion in an otherwise secular conversation makes me extremely uncomfortable. It’s not discomfort with the subject, it’s discomfort with the possibility of my differing opinion offending the other person. My atheism is not intended to be offensive in and of itself. I simply lack belief. But, I am aware that some people associate atheism with visceral, militant opposition to theism. In my case, it is not. So, to avoid the whole situation, I engage a religious person as if I too was religious. And, why not? Their ideas are not invalid just because they differ from my own. However, doing this is disingenuous, and constitutes self-censorship. It is suppressing my true self so as not to impose on others.

In the opposite extreme, I’ve found myself uncomfortable talking to people who are religion intolerant.  My reaction is the same.  I’m not conversing with the intent to offend anyone, present or not.  I try to avoid telling my position on the subject, choosing instead an ambiguous non-commitment.

Furthermore, we should all be aware by now that our social media accounts are monitored not only by acquaintances and family, but also by current and potential employers.  What is a crass, atheist, cynic to do?  The answer is to pretend I’m talking to my grandmother every time I make a post on a public forum.  “Everything is peachy, Grandma.  Life is wonderful.  Nothing bad ever happens.  I’m never angry, upset, or agitated.  I’m never at odds with anyone or anything.  I’m apolitical.”  But, that too is disingenuous and constitutes self-censorship.

I envy artists, because their job is to be themselves.  An artists’ expression is often intended to create discord, discussion, provoke thought and questions, etc.  Some art is just downright offensive.  Some is unintentionally offensive.  Either way, you have the choice to experience the art or not.  Unfortunately, artists also have a tough time making money by just being themselves.  It takes a special kind of person to pull that off.  In that respect, I don’t envy them.

So, with future employment in mind, I keep most of my thoughts to myself.  The fact that I’ve decided to write a blog has me seriously conflicted with that, though.  How can you sincerely write a blog without possibly offending anyone?  You can’t.  So, do you go for broke and let everything in your head pour out unfiltered and unedited?  Do you spend as much time deliberating over what topics to write about as you do actually writing about them?  Do you battle analysis paralysis and wind up never posting anything?

The answer is that you write a blog post about this internal conflict.  Then you choose to straddle the fence between censoring yourself and expressing yourself.  You expose some facts that you know will polarize your audience.  Really, if something I’ve said or done in the past offends you so much that my abilities and aptitude become a moot point, what are you really hiring for?  Certainly not diversity in the workplace.  If my personal beliefs (or lack thereof) are so incompatible with your own, do we really have anything to offer each other as friends?  I think there might be.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  It’s that being crass and cynical and expressing your opinions about lofty subjects has a place.  That place is the internet.  Likewise, being respectful and obedient and avoiding interpersonal conflict also has a place.  That place is the workplace.  Employers need to take the pressure off of employees to incorporate their private life into their work life.  Don’t ask me for my facebook password during an interview.  Don’t send me a friend request if you’re my boss.  Likewise, employees need to avoid associating their companies and schools with their private life.  Don’t put your work history on your profile.  Don’t friend request your boss.  (LinkedIn is the only exception to those rules.)  Draw a line between work and home, and then never cross it.

Making money like a lower middle class layperson

tony_robbinsTony Robbins is touting “How to make money like a billionaire” all over the interwebs right now.  He’s an eloquent, inspiring speaker, but I’m pretty sure he is no billionaire.  He surely has made millions, though.  Still, I was taught to speak from experience.  Without having the experience of being a billionaire, I dare not tell anyone how to become one.  However, I have been lower middle class for most of my life.  And, I think I may even be an expert on how to be lower middle class.  I’m pretty good at it.

When I say I’m good at being lower middle class, I mean that I’m good at undermining my own financial goals, at not accounting for future cost increases, and at taking on too much responsibility.  I’m also good at convincing myself that the wages I earn are fair.  And, did I mention that I can’t help but find myself NEEDING debt just to get by?

Because I am so good at trying really hard and ultimately just digging myself deeper into mud, I figured I should share with you the reasons for and methods of my success at achieving net zero.

middle_class_0226Firstly, and probably most importantly, be born into a lower-middle class family.  I am the third of three children.  Both of my parents worked.  My father worked the night shift at a truck dealership, while my mother worked various office-support type jobs.  Both had some college, but no degrees.  Understand that my childhood was not unhappy, that I did not go without the necessities.  I was not neglected, and I don’t intend to imply that being a lower middle class child is anything but just fine.

That said, the story told to me by my parents (who are divorced and have not spoken in many years) is that my mother handled the household budget.  She employed a budgeting method — very similar to the U.S. government’s — called deficit spending.  In deficit spending, ones’ hands writes checks that ones’ ass cannot cash.  This was back when you could write a check and date it so that it would not be cashed until that date.  So, you could pay bills when you had no money in the bank, and technically carry a negative balance.  This drove my dad nuts, and was cited to me as one of the issues that lead to divorce.  It is also very telling as to how much money a lower-middle class family makes.

Studies show that lower class children are less likely to escape the income tax bracket into which they were born.  Why?  Because, it’s difficult to achieve more when you have less.  Its easier to achieve more when you have more.  Therefore, the poor folks stay poor and the rich folks stay rich (generally speaking; there are exceptions to every rule).  The doctor’s son has the resources to attend medical school, and doesn’t need to hold a job while attending.  The truck parts salesman’s son does not have the resources to attend medical school.  His parents can only provide so much for him, and the rest must be made up either with debt or work.  This kid is much more likely to achieve about the same income as his parents.  The best thing you can do to succeed at being lower-middle class is to be born into it.

too-rich-for-financial-aidThat brings me to the second way to succeed at being lower-middle class:  Attend college, with or without loans.  I attend college on (mostly) my own dime, and have been doing so part-time for nearly a decade.  I didn’t take out loans.  Instead, I paid cash for everything.  Unfortunately, life is expensive and it doesn’t care if you have money in the bank or not.  So, there have been a few times when my lower-middle class family has helped me attend.  I have been living paycheck to paycheck for 10 years in order to attend college part time.  Take note: the second most important thing to ensure success at being lower middle class is to have dreams that are just out of reach.  If you read the study, a college education is the key to upward economic mobility.  Unfortunately, it’s also the carrot dangling in front of my nose.  If I reach just a little bit farther, someday I’ll get that carrot and all the glorious middle-middle-class things that come with it.  Or, maybe it’ll just dangle there indefinitely.

As you all are probably aware, my generation is the most educated and least employed.  On top of that, this cohort has also paid more for that education than any in recent history.  Despite that, no matter whose son or daughter you were, you could go to college.  A few extremely smart and hard working poor people have been given a hand up, while an enormous mass of your median not-doing-great-but-still-above-the-poverty-line people have taken on huge loans in an attempt to escape their parents’ tax bracket. Many succeeded in earning those degrees.  Many did not.  Many of those who did were then unable to find the appropriate jobs.  Many of those jobs have quietly sailed away, without much hope of returning.  So, whether you attend college with cash or with loans, you’ve got a great chance of successfully achieving lower-middle class status!  Way to go!

PB9d7The third most important thing to being successful at being lower-middle class is to take on as many responsibilities as you can handle. How many can you handle? You won’t find out until you have too many. By responsibilities, I am referring to things like children, pets, real estate, jobs, classes,vehicles, etc. Anything that requires your time is a responsibility, and most responsibilities also require money. And, as we all know, time IS money.  As a successful lower-middle class layperson, you should have very little time to be void. You should feel guilty about every self-indulgent minute you have. Your time should always belong to someone or something else. And, you should be trading your time for money, so that you can turn around and trade that money to a university for the opportunity to spend your time solving the university’s puzzles.  In this way, you will ensure that you learn to find joy in the work grind, the homework grind, and the housework grind, among other grinds.

Speaking of grinds, take a moment each day to consume a ridiculous amount of coffee. Don’t do it because you enjoy coffee, but because you need to prevent fatigue. Looking fatigued at work is a sure-fire way to get on your boss’s bad side.

If you find yourself with spare time, you risk a moment of lucidity. This could lead to an existential crisis wherein you realize that you may never escape the purgatory that you have built around yourself.  If ever you feel yourself wanting to do more, to be more, to achieve the American dream, then just sit down and turn on television. Let the fictional characters on the bright, shiny screen do the living for you.  It’s far easier to watch someone else try and fail than to try and fail yourself.

Espresso at home.

If you don’t already know, espresso is awesome. It has almost three times the caffeine content per fluid ounce as regular coffee. It was invented by a man who wanted his workers to take shorter breaks and be more productive. That sounds awfully familiar. The only difference in my situation is that I’m both “the man” and “the workers”. Coffee is to Earth as the Spice Melange is to Arrakis.

So, you should be maximizing your coffee intake by both increasing the dosage while simultaneously reducing the volume required to achieve that dosage.  The solution is AN ESPRESSO MACHINE. But, which espresso machine?

I’ll be totally honest with you. I’ve only ever used two espresso machines. With peak confidence, I can tell you that the following recommended machine is the BEST espresso machine I have ever used. Introducing the KRUPS XP601050 SS Mechanical Espresso Machine:81ig5EvwlJL._SL1500_

A lot of brands tout the high pressure of their machines. A lot of brands add tons of little gadgets that no one really uses. Still, others just make crappy machines. What makes a good machine?

  • Heat
    1. The ridiculously over-caffeinated scientific community has determined that optimum coffee brewing temperature is 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.  Too cold and you won’t get all the goodness from the coffee.  Too hot and your drink will taste like spicy Taco Bell sewage.  I don’t mean sewage as a metaphor.  I mean straight up spicy sewage.  Fortunately, the KRUPS has a thermoblock heater which essentially heats the water on-demand.  This is quick, efficient, and helps to keep the water temperature constant.
  • Build Quality
    1. I don’t care what anyone else says.  You need a machine that is well designed and well built.  Don’t cheap out on something that is mostly plastic.  Also, don’t let a brand convince you that their over-priced plastic machine is actually well built.  I’m not trying to say that plastic is a primary indicator of poor build quality.  But, it’s a good start.  I say this from a product designer standpoint.  A product designer chooses plastic when he doesn’t really care about precision and he DOES care about cost.  So, beware.  If the designers made a cheap housing, the components that matter are probably pretty cheap as well.  The KRUPS is mostly stainless steel.  The drip tray is plastic with a stainless steel fascia.  That’s actually a good thing, because it makes cleaning much easier.  And, you don’t need precision in a drip tray.
  • Steam Stem
    1. You need an easy-to-use steam nozzle.steam stem  Have you ever steamed milk before?  There’s a trick to it.  A well-designed steam nozzle actually makes learning the trick easier.  The KRUPS’ nozzle is two-piece.  The outer stainless steel shell has holes around the circumference that pull in air and milk.  This is nice, because it’s easy to see where you need to position the stem relative to the milk.  Most baristas are listening for a specific sound.  It’s a distinct “sucking” sound.  If you’re NOT steaming correctly, you’ll hear violent bubbling sounds.  That means you’re just scalding the milk.  Scalding the milk barely froths it and also ruins the flavor.  While using the KRUPS, you’ll see the “trick” as well as hear it.  You’ll learn to froth milk in no-time.

Real talk:  The KRUPS has had some failures in its time with me.  I’ve owned it for nearly 1.5 years at the time of this writing.  The double-shot basket clogged up at about the 1 year mark.  I was using it every day and not caring for it properly.  I even tried taking it apart and soaking it in vinegar.  It’s just dead.  So, now I just use the single-shot basket twice in a row.  And, I make sure to keep it clean.  A little more hassle, but not a deal breaker.  A replacement basket would cost me about $20.  But, I haven’t purchased one, yet.

Furthermore, I removed the spout from the portafilter.  I found that the spout somehow ruined the crema.  After removing it, my shots have a nice thick head.  Again, not a deal breaker.  The spout simply unscrews from the portafilter.

There are a couple other things you’ll need in order to make espresso at home.  First and foremost, you’ll need some coffee.  You can use anything you want, really.  Most people are going to tell you to use a dark “espresso roast” or something along those lines.  If that’s not your style, don’t do it.  Use the same kind of coffee that you already like to drink.  But, please don’t be afraid to branch out and try new coffees.  If you’re a Starbucks addict trying to reduce costs, try some cheaper coffees.  Back in the day I would buy Publix brand vacuum-sealed ground espresso exclusively.  It was incredibly cheap, tasted like charcoal, and did I mention it was cheap?

The very last thing you will need is a coffee grinder.58204925  Some people demand that you purchase a coffee grinder that costs several hundred dollars.  Don’t.  Just buy something affordable that is well built.  You’re not serving hundreds of customers.  You’re not a coffee scientist trying to push the heights of coffee excellence.  You’re just a person trying to make espresso at home.  I can imagine that means you’re probably trying to save a few bucks as well.  You can get by with a $20 coffee and spice grinder.  And, hey, you might even use it as a spice grinder one day.  I use mine to make BBQ rubs, as well as to grind coffee.  You can always skip this step and just buy coffee that is already ground for espresso.  Also, my grocery store has a grinder next to the coffee section that is free to use, with various grind types to choose from.

Conveniently, KRUPS also makes a cheap coffee grinder.  Better yet, it’s currently the #1 selling grinder on Amazon.  I don’t own this grinder.  Mine is a $10 model that I bought from Wal-Mart back at the turn of the Millenium.  I’ve managed to destroy it and rebuild it more than once.

81OJ6qwKxyL._SL1500_Good luck in your endeavor.  Making espresso at home is well worth the investment.  Just think of the cost of a latte` at Starbucks.  If you bought one every day for a year (which we would all love to do), you’d spend over $1200.  If you invest in the KRUPS XP601050 SS and buy a $12 bag of espresso every two weeks (which is probably more often than you actually would), you’d only spend about $450 in your first year.  The machine will more than pay for itself.  If we’re really splitting hairs, you waste both time and money by driving to star bucks.  You also burn gas while sitting in the drive-through.  You’re slowly making your boss hate you every time you show up a little bit late while swilling a paper cup full of bean water.  You need to invest in an espresso machine to save money, to save time, and to try new things.

While I’m at it, I’d just like to give a shout-out to Intelligencia Coffee.818MKqMpHdL._SL1500_  I had it for the first time at a local coffee shop.  It has a beautiful flavor.  It’s a little pricey.  A bag of this stuff is smaller than a typical bag of coffee, and also more expensive.  That’s a double-whammy.  Still, when I have the money and the forethought, I run to this stuff.  It’s just that good.  I’m currently finishing off a bag of Fresh Market brand coffee.  It can’t come soon enough.  Intelligencia will blow your mind.  If all you’ve ever had up to this point is Starbucks, you’ll wonder what the hell your problem was.  For me, Starbucks is where I go when I’m in a rush and I have a caffeine headache.  I hit up the local shops who serve different kinds of coffee when I’m out and have leisure time.  Any other time, I’m pulling shots at home for a fraction of the cost of any of those places, EVEN when I’m using expensive coffee.  Do yourself a favor, branch out and try these things.  You’ll learn something new, taste something new, and more than likely enjoy something new.


I am currently writing to you from a hand-me-down Sony Vaio laptop with a broken touchpad.  Rather than use the touchpad, I have been employing a mouse that was thrown out at my job.  Today, the left mouse button broke.  I am now using the right button as the primary button, and foregoing the use of the right-click menu.  I work full-time as a product designer for a home automation company.  I also study Computer Engineering at a public university part-time.  When I’m not studying or working, I am renovating my home, working on various projects, or dreaming up projects that I have no hope of ever getting around to.  That is what I hope to cover in this blog.

I don’t believe in doing everything yourself.  I believe that sometimes it is better to hire an expert (or, at least have a friend who is an expert.)  Despite myself, I still end up doing a lot of things the hard way.  Fortunately, that’s the best way for me to learn.  I’m fortunate enough to have had several employers willing to teach me (or allow me to learn) on the job.  I am learning product design in this way.  I learned a little bit about manufacturing engineering in a previous job.  And, at school, I am learning computer and electrical engineering.  However, I am far from an expert in any of these fields.  I am the Jack of all trades, and the master of none.  That said, another great way to learn is to observe other people’s mistakes.  And, trust me, I have made PLENTY of mistakes.  I expect to make many more.  I also hope to document them here, such that someone else might avoid making them.

The offending freebie mouse.
The offending freebie mouse.

As I mentioned earlier, all of my computer mice are broken in one way or another.  I’m considering doing something wacky as a way to remedy this.  Rather than do the reasonable thing and spend $10 on a replacement, I have an MSP430 starter kit laying around collecting dust.  I also have access to two kinds of high-end 3D printers, as well as a well-equipped machine shop.  Perhaps a good first project would be to homebrew a mouse?

I also (try) to do some 3D CAD work and video editing on this old Vaio.  It’s a slow, frustrating process.  I also dabble in developing Android apps, and the IDEs for doing so are becoming so complex that this machine chokes on them.  Being a student, homeowner, pet parent, husband, and generally financially responsible guy, I’m not in a great position to go out and acquire a true CAD/video editing/projecting managing/Android emulating machine.  So, another project I would like to cover at some point is building a sub-$400 computer that CAN actually do those things. (The $400 would not include the monitor, keyboard, mouse, or other desired peripherals.)  I think it’s totally attainable…  Once I have the cash.

The first of 8 doors.
The first of 8 doors.

My wife and I are renovating our home.  We bought it as a foreclosure back in 2009.  It’s about 35 years old, as were most of the finishes and things in it when we bought it.  We have since gutted it.  I learned how to remove and replace walls, toilets, sinks, counters,appliances, and doors in the process.  Speaking of which, I am still working on replacing the doors.  I have 5 of 8 completed.  I may document the process at some point and post it here.  I chose the WORST POSSIBLE WAY to do it.  So, I don’t know how much it could benefit anyone.  In short, we were so strapped for cash at the time we wanted to purchase the materials that I bought low-grade lumber for the jambs and trim.  It’s full of knots and has a horrible finish.  HOWEVER, the mantel that was in place when we moved in has a “saw-cut” finish for that wonderful rustic look.  (I use italics here for sarcastic emphasis.)  So, I’m imagining that the rough look of the wood used in the door trim and baseboards will match.  In this process, I have acquired a few new tools and also learned that I hate battery powered Dremel Tools for several reasons.  Anyway, that is a future blog post.

Being a Computer Engineering student and product designer, I do a lot of math.  I can’t claim to do it well all of the time, but it’s a subject that interests me.  I have been slowly introducing myself to the wonderful world of Android programming through a project involving a math-related app.  I’m reluctant to divulge too much information about it here, simply because I think the concept has yet to be implemented by anyone.  The problem is that I do not have sufficient knowledge (and perhaps not sufficient skill) to pull it off right now.  Furthermore, the project merges two conflicting worlds:  Algebra and Tablet Computing.  From my perspective, tablets are the least-useful computing tools on the market.  So, when I think of apps, I think of apps that would help me do the things I do often.  It just so happens that I’m basically doing algebra all the god damn time.  Anyway, as the project progresses, I would love to cover it here.

There are plenty of other things to cover.  I’m guessing that many of them will never be started.  And, of those that do get started, many of those will never be completed.  Still, whatever I learn along the way I hope to share with anyone who is interested.

So, since this is where everything begins, I’ve labeled this post as the origin.