Brandon's Notepad

April 9, 2020

April 9, 2020: Clipper Guards, Wheel Alignment, Capillary Action

Clipper Guards

With all of the hair salons temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are resorting to having their hair cut at home. This is something that many of us haven’t experienced or even attempted for decades. Clippers make the job much easier, especially for the boys, who often opt for a short buzz in the back if not all the way around. Of course, this coupled with the current health situation has led to a sudden shortage of clippers on the retail market. Ours will arrive eventually. In researching the options, I paid special attention to the accessories, and the guards most of all. These are the plastic combs that attach to the head of the clippers that keep the blades a constant distance from the scalp, resulting in a uniform cut (i.e. no uneven patches were the clippers got too close!). For a long time, my default request was a #3 cut, scissors on top. But what exactly does “#3” mean and is it the same for all clippers? As it turns out, the guard sizes are more-or-less standardized. The most common interval is 1/8-inch increments, so a #1 guard is 1/8-inch, #2 is 1/4-inch, and so on. Most clipper sets will include guards up to and including the 1-inch #8. There is some variation between manufacturers. Out of curiosity, I did a search for European clipper guards, and it appears that the same English/Imperial increments are used, but an approximate length in millimeters is presented to differentiate them. An eighth of an inch is approximately (but not exactly) 3mm, so the first eight guards are listed as 3, 6, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, and 25mm.

Wheel Alignment

True story. I recently put my car in for an oil change and a few other minor services, including an alignment. When the report came back at the end of the visit, it said that one of the angles (caster/camber/toe; I don’t recall which it was now) was off by 0.25°. I decided to test the service rep a bit and asked him if that was a lot. I could tell immediately that I caught him off guard, because he asked to see the report, uttered a long “ummmmm”, and looked around the room (I assume) for a nearby mechanic. After a short pause, he pointed to the 0.25° pre-alignment metric and with confidence said, “You know what a 45° angle looks like, right? This is about half that, so yeah, that was pretty big.” I just nodded, thanked him, and drove away amazed that I had managed to get around town for so long without doing donuts up and down the road.

Capillary Action

Here is a neat experiment for the kids. Place six juice glasses on the counter or table arranged in a circle (or hexagon?) as close together as possible. Fill every other glass with water (i.e. empty, full, empty, full…etc.) all to the same level, about three-quarters full. In the three glasses containing water, add a few drops of food coloring (different colors; red, yellow, and blue are good choices) and stir well. Now take six napkins or paper towel squares, roll or fold each, and bend in the middle. Drape the napkins over the rims of the glasses such that one end of each napkin is in a glass with colored water and the other end is in one of the empty glasses adjacent to it. When finished, the six glasses should be “chained” together with the napkins. Now wait. Eventually you will see water gathering in the bottom of the empty glasses. The colors will mix, proving that some of the water is coming from the glass on the left and some from the glass on the right. If you took my advice on using the three primary colors (red, yellow and blue), then the glasses that started off empty will contain the secondary colors (orange, green and purple). This transfer of water will continue until equilibrium is reached and all of the glasses contain the same amount. This effect, called capillary action (and a few other names) is caused by a combination of surface tension and adhesive forces. [Note: the adult version of this experiment works as follows. Brew a cup of coffee. Place a napkin – or better yet, a super-absorbent paper towel – on top of the cup because a fly is loose in the house. Get distracted with some other vital task, like checking your blog stats or killing the fly. When the center of the napkin or towel eventually absorbs enough steam from the coffee, it will sink into the cup and a few minutes later, coffee will have transferred from the cup to the place mat and/or the super-absorbent and now super-stained table cloth.]


April 7, 2020

April 7, 2020: COVID-19 Dashboards, SafeYouTube

COVID-19 Dashboards

I doubt that anyone reading this is unaware of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it has had on the world over the past few months. I really didn’t want to blog about it at all, but it’s really hard to ignore, so here we are. The following are a couple of dashboards I’ve been using to monitor the spread of the disease. – This has been my go-to dashboard from the beginning of the pandemic. It was created by a very enterprising high school student in Washington State by the name of Avi Schiffmann. I like it because it looks nice on mobile and breaks down the statistics not only by country/region, but also by State (so I can keep an eye on Texas, of course). There is also a recovery and fatality rate shown for each section, which I think were added recently. – This site has a lot of graphs to play with. You can look at growth by state, projected mortality rates, all sorts of stuff. And on many charts, you can highlight specific states and see how they are faring against the national average. The “Deaths per Capita” is the chart I’ve been watching the closest.


Distance education is a new and interesting challenge, as many parents around the world are now discovering, especially when there is a variety of solutions and technologies being utilized with little or no consistency. Instructional videos have been my biggest peeve so far. Some teachers upload MOV files directly from their phones to Google Classroom, but most upload them to YouTube…which, unfortunately, we block as part of our parental-control regimen. He had to loosen controls for a while and hope for the best.

Thankfully, one of the teachers started publishing links to her videos using The great news is that anyone can generate links, even parents. Just visit the site and paste the URL to any YouTube video and a new link will be generated for you. Not only does the new page exclude all of the excess page elements, like search capabilities, related/suggested videos and comments, but the viewer doesn’t get blocked (at least not with our setup, but I cannot guarantee it will work perfectly for everyone without some additional configuration).

I had been toying with the idea of writing some sort of proxy server that would cache requested videos and present them in a similar fashion, but now there’s no need. The site has an API too, so I may end up creating a self-service function that will save me from having to generate links by hand. They will only be able to generate links using YouTube URLs they already have.

Sharing & Feedback

I have found the resources covered in this post to be incredibly helpful, so please, share this post with your friends. If you have questions or comments about the items above, please leave them in the comment section below or feel free to send them to me via Twitter (@brandonsnotepad). Thanks!

January 12, 2018

January 12, 2018: Music & Math, Life with Cats, Vending Machines

Filed under: My Stack — Brandon @ 3:06 pm


I’ve been doing some research on various topics lately and sometimes a good fifteen-minute YouTube video is more valuable than eight hours of reading. The risk is getting sidetracked and watching suggested or related videos. It only takes one to rob you of precious productivity. In this post, I want to share a few that caught my attention.

Creepy Vending Machines
This morning I stumbled across a video titled I Found the Creepiest Vending Machine in Japan. It was posted by a Canadian girl living in Japan named Sharla (handle: Sharmander). In a nutshell, Sharla and her friend Norm go shopping for a new camera and find some vending machines containing these mysterious packages wrapped in white paper and tape, each with a story (written in Japanese of course) on the side facing the potential buyer. I won’t give away the rest of the story, but I must say that I love the idea of the mystery box and can’t help but wonder if this would have any chance of success in the United States. Sharla made a follow-up video wherein she and Norm go back to the vending machines to buy ten more boxes and then unwrap them on-camera.

An Artist’s Life
Another one that I thought was well-done is a video titled Artist Illustrates Everyday Life With Her Boyfriend And Cat. It’s basically a frame-by-frame video of a comic by Mikiko Ponczeck. This gal’s really got talent! The cats are adorable and the facial expressions priceless.

Math & Music
Why not admit there is a problem with math and music? Dan Formosa (Drexel University) briefly explores how music notation came about, why it doesn’t make sense, and what might be a useful alternative. I rank this as the best video I’ve ever seen featuring a slide rule.

October 31, 2017

October 31, 2017: Momento Mori, Matthias Hauser, A Dark Room

Filed under: My Stack — Brandon @ 5:43 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Momento Mori
“Remember death!” To practice momento mori is to remember that you too shall die one day. It is a reflection, a meditation on life, death, and the meaninglessness of earthly pursuits. Reminders of death were embedded in European art — paintings, sculpture, architecture…even the figures in large clocks — during the Medieval period and eventually the concept spread to the New World. One common practice is to keep a human skull (a replica will do) on the desk where one works or studies. I happen to follow a religious sister on Twitter who advocates this practice, and I must admit, I may be a bit late in stowing my Halloween decorations at work this year.

Matthias Hauser
Matthias Hauser is a fine-art photographer with an impressive portfolio, ranging from stunning landscapes to timeless still lifes. He even has a collection of mesmerizing fractal images. I first became familiar with Matthias’ work, however, when I found a few pieces from his Google Deep Dream collection posted on social media. For some reason beyond comprehension, I am fascinated with the Deep Dream Burger, which upon further inspection begins to resemble a conglomerate of creepy-crawly organisms more than it does food.

A Dark Room
This 2013 Open Source role-playing game by Doublespeak Games caught my attention sometime in the last year. It is text-based and single-player, which doesn’t exactly sound like a lot of fun; unless, of course, you are a fan of text-based games like I am. Unfortunately, it’s been gathering virtual dust in an open browser tab ever since, and I have not had time to sit and play with it for very long. I will admit, it starts off a bit slow, but I’ve read very promising things about it. I’m adding this to my stack, partly because I want to revisit the game, but also because my interest goes beyond the game itself. I want to see how it was written. That’s the glory of Open Source! Hopefully, I can do more with it soon.

October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017: Dutch Ovens, IdeaBoardz, Like Fab Ostpay Bork!

Filed under: My Stack — Brandon @ 4:45 pm


Dutch Oven Dude
Camping is a lot of fun in its own right, but being able to prepare meals over a campfire beyond hot dogs and s’mores takes the experience to a whole new level. Dutch oven cooking is a time-tested method and a favored one for many campers. Basic ingredients go in and surprisingly awesome dishes come out, almost as if by magic…almost. Don’t camp? No problem! Dutch ovens are great for backyard cooking too. If you are new to dutch ovens or just want a long list of recipes to try, I highly recommend visiting Dutch Oven Dude. The site has a bunch of recipes and I have had great success with the ones I’ve tried so far. There is also a ‘Getting Started’ section for beginners, tips on how to season, clean, store, and fix your cast iron cookware, and even instructions on how to determine how hot your dutch oven is before pouring in the ingredients!

In a recent class on Agile development, I was introduced to IdeaBoardz, a collaborative site for hosting restrospectives, brainstorming sessions, and other types of card-based or ‘sticky note’ meetings online. The site is free, though an optional login account can be created to help keep track of previous meeting links. At the time of this writing, there are fifteen formats for collaboration boards, including to-do lists, pros & cons, several types of retrospective styles, and generic boards with 1 to 10 sections. The cards (or sticky notes) can be merged, moved, and even liked by meeting participants. A link to a board can be shared with anyone (e.g. via e-mail), so it doesn’t look like information is truly private; however, if card content remains fairly generic and the board is used in conjunction with a more secure channel of communication (e.g. a conference call), then privacy may not be a huge concern.

English to Chef/Jive/Val Speak/Pig Latin Translator
I found this novelty online translator quite by accident. It translates English words and phrases to one of several other ‘languages’ (or a combination of all). Written in C/Lex, it is the brainchild of John Burges Chambers, a (former) doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1990s. The source code is still available for download.

July 26, 2016

July 26, 2016: Boettner, White Noise, Stereotypes, Gradient Mesh


Boettner’s Roman Catholicism Online
In 1962, Loraine Boettner published the protestant’s definitive guide to the Catholic Church, explaining all of the ways in which Mother Church deceives her members into believing that they are part of a legitimate Christian sect, when instead she is doing the work of Satan, enticing these poor sheep into the snares of false religion. The only problem is, it’s all bunk. Boettner’s classic receives a healthy treatment in Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, which is well worth the read. The text may sound convincing and well-written, but Boettner’s footnotes and citations often lead to misquoted, misunderstood, non-authoritative, and even non-existent sources that “condemn” the Church and her teachings. In all, this text definitely falls into the category of anti-Catholic hate literature, and now, you too can peruse it’s pages free of charge…well, some of them anyway. I happened across an online copy of Roman Catholicism, which is incomplete with only three chapters represented and none of the footnotes I recall from the printed book.

White Noise
Need help falling asleep or want to drown out the sound of your neighbor’s afternoon snack in the ol’ cubicle farm? Try using white noise. The folks at the MC2 Method offer nearly fifty types of white noise in durations of 10 minutes, 60 minutes, and 8-12 hours free for download (for personal use only).

Maps Mocking Stereotypes
Even though we shouldn’t judge people unfairly, we are all guilty of using stereotypes at one time or another. Then again, I’d heard it said time and again that it wouldn’t be a stereotype if it weren’t true. Here is a set of 31 maps that present stereotypes in map form. [Warning: some of these are NSFW…or children…or any self-respecting member of the human race…oh, you clicked it already, didn’t you? Ok, enjoy.] Pay attention to the perspective being portrayed in each, and please don’t take these too seriously.

Gradient Mesh
I stumbled upon a few examples of vector art created in Adobe Illustrator using the Gradient Mesh tool. I don’t know how it works and I didn’t include any links here due to the shear volume of Google hits, but do a quick image search and see how this tool is being used to create some very realistic art.

February 13, 2015

February 13, 2015: Mothers, Dolls, Fibonacci, Ecclesiastical


Time Travelling (In Photos)
Photographer Christine McConnell recreated five generations of matrilineal photographs using herself as a subject. Why? To discover herself in her ancestry. She found out just how closely she resembled her mother, and her mother, and her mother (and so on), each in different ways. This is a very personal project, a serious undertaking, and a job well done. Thanks go to Catholic Apologist Patrick Madrid for Tweeting this one!

Tree Change Dolls
A friend of mine who is very keen on bringing up wholesome children posted a video about these dolls on Facebook. Sonia Singh of Tasmania repurposes (mostly) Bratz dolls, converting them into…well, just cute little dolls! She cleans up and repaints the faces, and her mother sews the clothing. According to the Tree Change Doll homepage on tumblr, she is opening an online store this month!

Fibonacci Sculptures
Inventor, designer, and artist John Edmark of California was inspired to incorporate Fibonacci’s Sequence into a series of 3D printed sculptures. Called Blooms, these pieces appear to move on their own when spun at the right frequency under a strobe light. The effect is similar to filming a helicopter with a digital camera. The helicopter can appear to float with static rotor and blades. Check out the article and video posted by The San Francisco Globe in January.

Ecclesiastical Sewing
Anyone who appreciates well-made church vestments will love this ‘blog! It features some beautiful embroidery work by one Carrie Roberts. She doesn’t just showcase the final products either, but demonstrates technique and materials as well. I don’t sew myself, but I know quite a few church ladies who are going to want to visit this site often.

January 2, 2015

January 2, 2015: Moltmann, Filioque, Penny Floor, UFOs

Filed under: My Stack — Brandon @ 6:41 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Jürgen Moltmann & Filioque
A fellow whom I follow on Twitter recently mentioned that a man named Moltmann has suggested some changes to ‘The Creed’ (which I correctly assumed to be the Nicene Creed). I did a little research and he was referring to German Reformed theologian and professor Jürgen Moltmann, whose work is heavily influenced by social and political philosophy. Being very limited on reading time at the moment, I searched specifically for the aforementioned changes and found this post by PostBarthian, which details very neatly the insertion of a proposed clause into both the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. This clause gives some feel for the life and ministry of Jesus during his life on earth. As part of Sacred Tradition, both Creeds codify certain essential beliefs that, in the age of the first and greatest heresies, preserved the teachings of the Church for the instruction of the faithful. All of the points made in the proposed clause are simple and can easily be supported by Sacred Scripture — that is to say, none of them have been disputed in such a way that would lead to their inclusion in the Creeds from the start. What’s even more interesting to me, though, is that Moltmann strikes the Filioque phrase, that the Holy Ghost proceeded from both the Father and the Son. This is one (very important) dogmatic difference between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East.

The Penny Floor
Speaking of the East, when I think of Greece, Turkey or other places near the Mediterranean, I think of intricate and ornate tile work. And that, in turn, reminds me of something a coworker pinned on Pinterest recently about a couple who laid an entire floor with U.S. pennies. 59,670 pennies to be exact. Of course, they erected a website in honor of this novel idea, with project details, stats, and photos.

UFOs in Ancient Art
It is interesting how things tend to show up in threes. What does the theory that aliens visited the Earth in ancient times have to do with Eastern Orthodoxy, the Filioque, or Mediterranean art? Quite a lot, actually. I don’t watch a lot of TV (I don’t even pay for a subscription service), but I guess the History Channel has a show called Ancient Aliens that attempts to prove this theory through the examination of historical writings, artwork, etc. A site dedicated to debunking the claims made on the show explain here how strange objects painted in the skies over important scenes, such as the Annunciation and the Crucifixion, are not flying saucers at all, but depictions of the sun and the moon, or of God and the Heavenly Host of Angels. The symbolism of these pictures arise from Medieval and Byzantine Christianity. Watch the video embedded on that page, it is fascinating! One of my favorite parts of the video is about the Creation Globe, and how in one painting at least, it resembles the Russian satellite Sputnik. It really depicts how the world was created by the eternal Trinity…which kinda brings us back to the Filioque.

December 17, 2014

December 17, 2014: Byzantine Carols, Big-Eyed Children, AquaPonics

Filed under: My Stack — Brandon @ 5:07 pm

O Come, All Ye Faithful (Byzantine Remix)
‘Tis the season (well, almost) for endless rounds of one of my favorite Christmas carols, Adeste Fideles! One Grace Brooks has given me an early Christmas present by posting this recording on her Ancient Faith Blog, This Side of Glory. It is the familiar set of timeless classic lyrics, sung in English, but to Byzantine Tone 2 instead of the traditional 18th Century tune. (Warning: Ms. Brooks has posted this link several times in the past and old links came up in my Google search. It is possible that the link above may change.)

The Big-Eyed Children
This article from The Guardian tells the very interesting story of the art fraud of Walter and Margaret Keane. I think their story would be a great basis for a movie…oh wait, there is going to be a movie! Big Eyes opens on Christmas day!

DIY AquaPonics
Fish and plants become good neighbors in this DIY organic gardening solution. The fish do fish things (namely: making fish waste), producing nitrates and ammonia, which are used by the plants as energy and also keep the water clean for the fish! Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

September 24, 2014

September 24, 2014: Invisible Plane, Canoe, Ubuntu Hotel, Stormtrooper Life

Short URL:

Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane
I don’t remember exactly how our conversation got to this point, but a coworker and I were discussing comics yesterday, and he mentioned how Wonder Woman has been given the ability to fly. Neither of us remember this being the case, but we both recall that she flew an invisible plane. (Supposedly, the Greek gods gave her the gift of flight, and the plane was originally a flying horse.) He’s a few years older than I am, so he remembers the live-action plane (originally a prop plane?) first and foremost, whereas the jet from the cartoon came to my mind. This conversation would have been forgotten completely, had another coworker not mentioned Wonder Woman’s plane in a completely independent context. This led to a Google search, of course, and that’s when I found this custom toy (2010). I really didn’t need the Destro figurine and COBRA hanger in the backdrop to identify the shape of this plane. It’s the Firebat! I had the original version that came with the Terror Dome (1986), but it appears that it was sold separately in two separate releases (1988 & 2008).

Transparent Canoe
While looking up information on Wonder Woman’s plane, I found this: a transparent polycarbonate canoe! This pictures are impressive, but they were taken in very clear waters. Not so sure this would be worth the money for use on Texas lakes.

Ubuntu and the Hospitality Industry
Ever think about running a hotel on Ubuntu? No, this has nothing to do with the popular Linux distribution. It has everything to do with the holistic African philosophy regarding human dignity and connectedness. If you are not familiar with this concept, then Ubuntu: The Art of Connecting with Guests on an Emotional Level by Holly Stiel is definitely worth a read.

A Day In The Life Of A Stormtrooper
Artist Zahir Batin has used Star Wars figures to stage scenes in this awesome photography series. The shallow depth of field is what makes these photos work. Check out his gallery at deviantART.

Next Page »

Blog at