Random geekery since 2005.

Husband, father, programmer, speaker, writer, blogger, podcaster, collector, traveler, golfer.

#4: Darkness, Derbies, and Dynamic Debit Cards

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To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

I am a light sleeper.  Any noise, light, or even temperature change, and I’m up.  This hasn’t always been true, but it is certainly the case now.  I have two children, and as anyone with kids knows, they’re going to wake you up at night.  Maybe they’re scared, maybe they wet the bed, maybe they want to know if it’s OK to play video games at 4:30am.  (It isn’t.)  I’ve become a light sleeper primarily because of my kids.  I haven’t set an alarm clock in almost 11 years.

As my kids have gotten older, though, this has become less frequent a problem.  They generally sleep through the night, and if they need to go to the bathroom, they just get up and do it.  This presents a new problem.  In their half-awake state, they’re capable of making it to the bathroom to do what they need to do, but not conscious enough to remember to turn the bathroom light off when they’re done.  The bathroom light that shines directly down the hallway into my bedroom, waking me up every time.  This lack of darkness then requires me to get up, walk down the hall, turn the light off, and try to return to my not-so-peaceful slumber.

I was convinced that there was a way to solve this problem, and this week, I did.  Welcome to the future, my friends.  I purchased the Lutron Maestro Sensor Switch, hoping that it would solve all of my nighttime problems, and it did.

The basic idea behind the switch is simple: when you enter the room, it automatically turns on.  When you leave, it turns off 60 seconds later.  (You can also set this to be 5, 10, and 30 minutes wait times.)  It also functions like a normal light switch, if you prefer, so that it doesn’t turn on until you press the button.

It was incredibly easy to install, and I can think of a couple of other places this would be useful to have in the house.  The laundry room, because you’re always entering that room with your hands full.  The basement, because for some reason nobody can ever turn those lights off.  Every other bathroom in this house, because how cool is it to walk into a room and have the lights turn on automatically??
This is a tiny, baby step towards making my house a little smarter.  I have a feeling that by the end of this decade, I’m going to have gone off the deep end.  Saving money on electricity AND getting a little more sleep?  That sounds like something I can get behind.

Who Has the Fastest Block of Wood?

My son is in first grade, and part of being in a Cub Scout pack for the first time brings our first Pinewood Derby as well.  The first lesson I learned?  I don’t have the right tools for this.  I butchered the first block of wood so badly that it was unrecoverable.  On the second, I wasn’t willing to take any chances.  One of my neighbors has a full woodshop set up in his garage, so the boy and I headed over there for some expert help.  (On an unrelated note, I will be picking up a band saw as soon as I can afford one.)

The second lesson I learned is that the Pinewood Derby is super competitive.  Looking around online, people are selling replacement wheels, axles, weights, designs, lubricants, and more.  Most of these things aren’t legal in our troop’s competition, but clearly there’s a big market for this.

The third lesson was the one that I’m trying very hard to stick with, and that is that building a Pinewood Derby car is supposed to be your SON’s project.  I’m here to help, offer advice, provide safety and guidance where necessary, but let him do most, if not all of the work.  I can see how easy it would be to make this my project, but that’s not really what the spirit of this event is for.  We’re having a good time learning as we go, and we’ve got a date with spray paint this weekend that I’m really looking forward to.  Our race is on February 7th, so I’ll make sure to add some pictures of the car once we’re done.

Only Coin

This might be one of the most exciting things I’ve played with in quite a while, but it just arrived today, so I don’t have a ton of practical experience with it yet.  I’m assuming it works as descibed, however, so if it doesn’t work out, I’ll let you know.

Have you heard of Coin?  They’re a startup that’s trying to change the way we think about credit cards.  If I look in my wallet today, I have:

  • Four different credit/debit cards for different purposes (work, bank, home, and my conference)
  • My work ID
  • Drivers license
  • AAA card
  • State Farm insurance card
  • Blue Cross insurance card

This is already a scaled down version of my previous wallet, but when you find a wallet as cool as this one, you find a way to carry less stuff.  (Yes, my wallet is made of brass.)

A “Coin” is basically a dynamic credit card.  You enter your credit cards into their app, and then use Bluetooth sync to upload those cards to your Coin.  There’s actually a button on the card that lets you toggle between the different cards as you need them.  Here’s a photo of a Coin (linked to a video with a cool explanation.)

Answers to the questions you probably have:

  1. Yes, it really is as thick as a credit card.
  2. You can store up to 8 cards on it.
  3. Yes, they have several layers of security built-in.
  4. Yes, this is a real thing.  I’ve got some travel coming up, and I plan to use this extensively.

I have been using apps like CardStar for years to manage all of my rewards cards, loyalty programs, and other membership cards like the zoo and the science center.  The Coin might just be my answer to getting these credit cards out of my wallet once and for all.


Microsoft HoloLens – if you haven’t heard about this yet, make sure you watch this video.  unbelievable.

The World’s Largest Vacuum Chamber…In Sandusky, OH – watch a bowling ball tie a feather in a freefall race.

The Science of the Pinewood Derby – a great scientific look at some ways to make your car faster.

Dremel Derby – this is a great site for planning out a pinewood derby car design for free.


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