The Robservatory

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An even more improved run-tracking Excel workbook

2019 update: I’ve uploaded new files (in one zip archive this time) with a few changes and fixes. These files are also set up as “master” files: The idea is you duplicate one, rename it for the current year, then use it. When the next year rolls around, repeat the process. This way, you don’t have to use the macro-enabled version to delete data at each new year. Download the new files.

About two years ago, I created a basic-but-functional run tracking workbook (created in Excel). It worked well, and helped me through my 2,016 mile year in 2016. I didn’t run nearly as much in 2017 (on purpose), but 2018 is upon us, and I’m going to up my mileage this year—probably not to 2,018, though!

In preparing this year’s version of the workbook, I addressed a few things that bugged me about the first one: It was ugly, changing years was difficult, and it was ugly. It was also really ugly. Did I mention it was ugly? Anyway, here’s what I’ve changed with the new version:

  • Years are now easily handled; just input the year you wish to track, and the workbook does the rest, including leap years.
  • All run data can be deleted with one button click—and yes, there’s a confirmation first. (Requires macro version of workbook.)
  • The pace calculator is no longer a separate worksheet; it’s integrated into the Overall worksheet.
  • It’s not nearly as ugly as it was before—layout is improved, gridlines are gone, tables are cleaned up, etc.

As noted, there are two versions of the workbook—one contains a macro that can erase the run data from each monthly worksheet, the other does not contain that macro. This is something you’ll only do once a year, but it’s much easier with the macro version.

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Monkey Bread recipe—the non-dessert variety

Growing up, around the holidays my mom would bake something we called Monkey Bread. If you search the net for Monkey Bread recipes, what you’ll find is a number of dessert-like breads, covered in a sticky brown sugar (or other sweet) coating. Those are not the Monkey Bread my mother made—hers was more of a “regular” bread (containing just 1/4 cup of sugar) that you can eat with your meal.

What makes the bread unique—and fun to eat—is that it’s assembled from small pieces, which you then tear off and eat.

Although I bake Christmas cookies and occasional other stuff, I’d never tried her Monkey Bread recipe. But for this year’s New Year’s Eve party/potluck, I thought I’d give it a shot…and after a couple false starts, I managed to get one done…

As noted, that was not my first attempt. I left the egg out of my first batch (whoops), and missed a whole cup of flour (whoops again) on my second try. But in the end, it came out great, and was well liked at the party.

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Updated: Find Keyboard Maestro macros by shortcut

Note: Revised on December 4, 2018 with a much better implementation of the pop-up palette, and some changes in timing and mouse movement.

One of the “problems” with Keyboard Maestro is that it’s so useful I use it a lot, leading to a large collection of macros. Due to the number of macros, sometimes when I want to add a new shortcut, I can’t remember if I’ve used that shortcut before or not. Today’s tip comes in two flavors to address that problem: Simple and Complex.

The Simple solution

Short of just trying the shortcut, there’s a way to check from within Keyboard Maestro itself: Type the macro’s activation keys into the search box, as seen in the box at right.

You can’t do this by pressing the actual shortcut keys—you have to type their character representations. You can do this with the “Show Emoji & Symbols” option under the flag icon in the menu bar, if you’ve enabled it in the Keyboard System Preferences panel. But finding those few special keys (if you even know how to search for them) is a pain.

Technically, you could also use the pop-up character palette macro I wrote, except there’s an issue: When the palette activates, it deactivates the search box, so the characters don’t make it there. It’s also overkill for this task, because there are characters that wouldn’t be part of keyboard shortcuts, and you’d never need the HTML codes, just the characters.

So I wrote what wound up being a set of new macros that make searching for assigned keyboard shortcuts much easier.

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Kitchen upgrade: Sliding shelves

Over the years we’ve had our home, we’ve added some pull-out shelves to some of our lower kitchen cabinets. These work great in the narrower cabinets, making it easy to get to stuff in the way back. However, in wider cabinets, if you use two of the sideouts side-by-side, you give up a fair bit of space due to the width of the slider hardware and baskets. And we seem to need every inch of storage space we can muster.

So I went looking for a full-width solution for our wider cabinets, expecting to have to pay a small fortune for a custom piece. After a lot of time visiting various sites, I decided to try Shelves That Slide, and we’re very happy with the results…and we didn’t have to spend a fortune, either.

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So you say you want to buy a boat…

About eight years ago, we had the same thought, though we knew almost nothing of boating and ownership, other than we had fun when we went out on some friends’ boats. With some friends of ours (a family of four with similarly-aged children), we went looking for a family boat that would handle at least 10 people, have plenty of space for everyone to relax, and be capable of towing various water toys for the kids.

Our plan was to buy the boat together, and split the expenses 50-50. After much searching, this is what we wound up with…

That’s a 2002 Maxum 2400SD, a 24-foot-long (more like 27 with the swim platform) family cruiser of a boat. Although old in calendar years, the boat had a brand new engine, and appeared to be in good shape. (Maxum was a Brunswick brand; they also own Sea Ray. Brunswick discontinued the Maxum line in 2009.)

One of the things we had trouble finding before we bought our boat was information on actual real-world costs: Just how much money will you spend not just to buy, but to use and maintain a power boat? To help others who may have similar questions, I’m going to share our actual costs from seven years with our boat. If you’re thinking of getting into boating, perhaps some of this cost information may be useful.

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2011 pocket camera vs. 2017 iPhone 8 Plus

While working on some photos this weekend, I noticed that I’d taken two nearly-identical photos of the Enola Gay at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center—nearly identical, but separated by four years:

Click once for larger, then click the icon in the upper right of the pop-up for largest vesrion.

The left image was taken in 2014 with a 2011 Pansonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 pocket camera (specifications); the right image was taken in 2018 with my 2017 iPhone 8 Plus. (Interesting to note that I didn’t bring my DSLR on either trip…the best camera is the one you have with you, right?)

Neither of the above images has been edited, beyond whatever algorithms the cameras use when saving the photo. Frankly, I was amazed at just how much better the iPhone 8 Plus photo is compared to the one from the Lumix: The Lumix photo is skewed heavily blue, edges aren’t well defined, and detail in shadow areas is obscured. The iPhone’s image is perhaps just a bit towards the yellow end of the spectrum, but it’s miles better than that of the Lumix.

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Classic cars and one big dam thing

I’ve been away from home for nearly a month—first a couple weeks in DC to visit family, then off to Las Vegas with our APA 8-ball pool team for the World Championships. We did reasonably well, winning four matches and finishing in the 65th to 128th place bucket. (It’s a huge tournament, with 713 teams this year, so not every place is played out.)

Because of the uncertainty of when we’d be finished in the tournament—it’s a modified double-elimination, so you’re guaranteed two matches, but nothing more—I chose to drive, so I could leave as soon as we were finished. (Also playing into my decision was the fact that I was leaving from south of Bend, Oregon, which isn’t really convenient to flying to Las Vegas—I’d either have a one-hour drive to an airport followed by a flight to Seattle and a layover, or a four-hour drive to Portland for a direct flight.)

I’ll have more to say on the road trip in a future write up, but thought I’d take a minute to share some photos I snapped during the journey. None of these are edited at all; I haven’t had the time; they’re all direct from the camera, my Nikon D5500 (though there is one iPhone panorama).

First, in Reno, I stumbled across this fantastic exhibition of classic cars. Although it was really warm out, it was well worth walking through this collection of gorgeous cars. There was a bit of everything there—true classics, kit cars, semi-modern cars, and even a few race cars.

Classic Mustang in Reno

Once in Vegas, on our one day off, we drove out to Hoover Dam, drove across (which I didn’t think was allowed any more, after the opening of the Hoover Dam Bypass, but it was), then parked and explored for a bit. I snapped a bunch of pictures, none of which reveal just how mind-numbingly hot it was outside. They also, as always, fail to capture the sheer size of the dam and the vertigo you experience when peering over the edge. It really is worth the visit if you’re in the area. (The tour is highly recommended, too; we just didn’t have enough time.)

Hoover Dam

In all, it was a great trip, and hopefully we do well in league this year and get to go back again next year!

When good cables go bad

Last Thursday, my daughter and I left to run a few errands. We weren’t gone all that long, but when we got back, we found that the microwaves had lost their time setting, and the fridge’s alarm light was blinking—signs of a power outage. In addition, the internet was offline, which was a bit odd. (My computers and the router/switch are on battery backups, and they didn’t show any signs of having rebooted while we were out.)

I fixed all the clocks, and then power cycled the router and the internet came back. But not for long—a few minutes later, it vanished again. I pulled the WAN cable from the router, waited a few seconds, and connected it again. This time, the net stayed with us for a couple hours. Then it vanished again. I repeated the process, and we had net again…for a while. This continued through the day—sometimes we’d have connectivity for hours, sometimes for minutes—until I got frustrated enough to troubleshoot.

I took my laptop out to the Frontier FIOS box on our garage wall, and connected directly to the FIOS box. I started some large downloads along with a streaming movie, and let them run for an hour or so: No problem. This seemed to point to a cable issue.

Our FIOS box is connected to a long Ethernet cable (red line in the image at right) that runs around the semi-L-shaped house, then under the house, and finally enters the office, where it ends in a wall jack. A shorter cable then goes to the router; I replaced that one first, but we were still getting dropouts. Sadly, that meant the long cable appeared to be damaged.

To test this, I made a long-but-direct cable and ran it from the FIOS box, across the driveway, and through the front door then into my office—definitely not a long term solution, as I had to choose between network connectivity and a locking front door! But using this temporary cable, we didn’t have any outages at all the rest of the day.

Thursday evening, I made a much longer cable, hung it on our Christmas hook lights over the garage, and then around the front of the house (just lying on the ground) to the office—just so we could have both a locking front door and internet connectivity. This line worked fine all day Friday, verifying that the old line was having issues.

Thus, my weekend activity was set…ugh.

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Review: Olala 10,000mAh Power Bank

For those not aware, I have something of an addiction to portable power packs—with two kids and who knows how many devices, it seems someone somewhere is always out of power.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing an addition to our stable of such products: Olala’s $32 10,000mAh Power Bank.1I received the Power Bank at a greatly reduced cost, but my review is based solely on its performance and my impressions of its build quality.

This shiny piano black unit looks great (though that shiny finish is a fingerprint magnet), and its smooth surface means it easily slides into a pocket in a backpack. Four blue LEDs let you know how much juice you have left. Unlike some battery packs, this one is Apple MFi Certified, meaning Olala has gone through the necessary steps to certify that their device meets Apple’s standards. (You can search for MFi certified devices in case you’re ever curious about a given accessory developer.)

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Home hack: Replacing screen window pull-tabs

This weekend, I wanted to wash our windows, including the glass that’s usually behind the screens. To do that, of course, you have to pop the screens. In our house, that’s done by a pair of plastic pull-tabs that are installed below the bead that holds the screen in; they look like this:

Also visible in that screen is the problem: That yellowed plastic is incredibly weak, from exposure to the sun. (Whose idea was it to put non-UV-safe plastic in a window??). As soon as I pull on that tab, it’s going to come right off in my hand. And that’s exactly what happened to that one, and every other sun-facing window in our house.

Amazon sells an assortment of replacement tabs, but the problem is that they must be installed under the bead. That means disassembling the screen, installing the tab, then reseating the bead while getting the screen nice and tight.

I thought there must be an easier way, and after some searching, there is…this video by Felix Wong shows how you can use duct tape to quickly create a much-more-durable pull tab (skip to about 30 seconds for the actual work):

I bought some white duct tape, and in the span of about 15 minutes, I installed new pull tabs on eight windows. Start by folding over about a half-inch of the end of the duct tape, then pull a length out to see how much you need to reach around the frame, and cut to length. Once cut to length, cut in half lengthwise, giving you two narrower tape strips. Apply those to the frame, leaving the doubled-over half-inch where the plastic pull tab used to reside, and you’re done.

You might think you’d rip the tape off while pulling, but because the pressure is parallel to the window, it seems rock solid—I tested with one window about a dozen times, and had no issues at all. So much easier—and potentially longer-lasting—than ordering actual replacement tabs.

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