This is our first year where we actually have trick-or-treaters coming to the door. So we had to do something.

We made some cute cardboard silhouettes that Chris found online. They weren't as scary as I'd have tried to make them, but I am known for going overboard sometimes. Plus, they're monsters so that's ok.
We also "carved" a funkin, which is a weird fake pumpkin, to look like one I saw in Guild Wars 2. Once carved, we added some arduino guts and thus a haunted pumpkin was born.
All that preparation meant we of course were going to dress up! I have a costume I've been working on over the years for the renaissance festival, so we picked up a cloak to make it spookier and I was set.

Even the cat, as you can see, was interested. He also worked as an excellent early detection system for trick-or-treating goblins and ghouls.

Chris wore a nice orange pumpkin shirt.
The cardboard cutouts we made earlier looked nice, especially with a spot light behind them. Our porch light, was a bit too bright and I was worried it would make the arduino-controlled haunted pumpkin less scary. I was wrong. We had a few older kids yell back at it, which was cute, and several smaller kids that jumped or squeaked in fear. We even had one little one that wouldn't come up on the porch. So I guess it did do it's job!

All in all we had a decent amount of princesses, serial killers, superheroes and robots in spite of the rain and the cold. I look forward to next year!

And I do agree with Chris, we will probably need more candy if the weather is better.

It's been a rainy, windy sort of day. It's also the day before Halloween. So that means finishing up the chocolate mice, testing my Halloween costume, and squeezing in some more Guild Wars 2 Halloween-themed questing.

Started making some chocolate mice tonight for Halloween.
There are going to be a lot of mice when I'm done....

A few days ago I started working on an arduino powered pumpkin inspired by this Pimp Your Pumpkin project I saw on youtube. The purpose is to have a motion (or proximity) sensitive pumpkin that goes from a simulated candle flicker when no one is around to a menacing red light and spooky noise if someone gets too close.
The majority of the coding and setup I completed on Thursday. The major hurdle to me was getting better sound. I'd only been able to come up with a very quiet and non-scary beep. One way to solve this is with a wave shield, but unfortunately local stores don't carry one and adafruit is out of stock.
Determined to find something better than a beep, I stumbled across High-Low Tech which has a custom library called PCM that does exactly what I need.The basics are pretty simple. You record the audio you'd like and save it as an MP3. Then you encode it with a 16 KB bit rate and an 8Hz sample rate. The audio, obviously, isn't as crisp as when you started but that's ok. Once the audio file is encoded it needs to be converted to numeric value with a program like EncodeAudio (source file), which is available on High-Low Tech. The full tutorial of how to do this is on this website with the PCM library you'll need.

As you can see, Chris was kind enough to provide the voice for the pumpkin.
The next major hurdle was to get more sound. The small 8-ohm mini-speaker I have is adorable, but quiet. I need something that Trick-or-Treating kids will hear.
That means something louder. Something like old computer speakers. They have their own power source, you can control the volume, and they're easy to hook up. All you need is a 3.5mm jack.
I wired one up pretty easily, and voila, more volume.
The whole setup is pretty easy. I sketched everything out in Fritzing for an easy visual. The orange (or yellow if orange isn't available) is wired to a PWM slot for more subtlety with the simulated candle flicker.
Once done with the audio portion, the actual installation into the pumpkin begins. There are a lot of way to hide the actual circuitry in the pumpkin, from tissue paper to felt and anything in-between. We opted for gauze to give it a more spooky feel.
We placed the pumpkin on a covered stool and will use the decorative wreath to hide the ultrasonic on Halloween. The are under the stool cover and out of sight.
Here is a very short (8 seconds) video. It's pretty simple and the ultrasonic sensor works fairly well.

Chris has a nice video too with the pumpkin and a few other Halloween decorations we made for this year.

Next year I hope to improve on it. I'd like to actually have several arduino-powered pumpkins that communicate via RF.

Here's a list of materials and code I used in case you'd like to try something like this yourself.

Github: Source code and files
or if you prefer, dropbox: Source code and files

**October 2013 update: I added a wave shield.
Project notes here
Github: Source code and files

Materials Used

Thursday we picked up a door and Chris began priming it (looks familiar, right?).
 On Friday Chris chiseled out hinge and door latch areas.
 He also put on several coats of blackboard paint...
This morning the door was dry and ready to to be hung.

Chris spent a little while tweaking the hinges to everything fit right. Then he installed the actual cat door.
By early afternoon we had a blackboard kitty door. Complete with a message in chalk!

There was a lot going on with doors today. Chris worked on the door for the basement more today, chiseling away a place for the hinges and handle.
Meanwhile in the evening I was messing with my own doors - doors to the Mad King's Realm in Guild Wars 2.

We also went to see Cloud Atlas today, which was good. Chris has some thoughts over on his blog about it.

With today and Friday off, I have plenty of time to enjoy the Halloween events in Guild Wars 2. One my favorite things in MMOs are the seasonal events and Halloween has always been my absolute favorite in any game I've played.

So, as you can see, I took a pickaxe to a giant candy corn. To get smaller more bitesize candy corn, obviously.
We went shopping in the afternoon to pick up the necessary components to make a cat door to the basement. We have been leaving the door ajar so the cat can come and go but it's a narrow hallway so being able to close the door and still allow the cat to come and go will be nice.

As you can see, Chris was productive cutting the hole in the door and painting it.
I finished up Cloud Atlas, grilled some steaks then immediately went back to enjoying more Halloween in Guild Wars 2. Fighting giant candy corn that come out of a haunted door? C'mon, how can you not love it?

Happy birthday to my wonderful husband, Chris!

Flushed with recent success on the Snail Mail Notifier, I decided it was time to do something Halloween-themed. I stumbled across this Pimp Your Pumpkin project and thought that would be a great idea.

Well, I don't have a proximity sensor but I do have an ultrasonic sensor. So that means tweaking the code to work with the equipment I have.

I spent a little while getting everything to work properly, but I'm happy with the progress so far.

The default setting for the arduino will be to simulate a candle flicker. So an LED will blink on and off and, while installed in the pumpkin, will look like a candle flicker.

If something gets too close, a red (and hopefully more menacing) LED will turn on and a buzzer goes off. Unfortunately it's not a very scary noise, I'll have to think on how to fix that.

If you watch the Pimp Your Pumpkin project video you'll get the basic idea.

I'd like to actually have the arduino make an evil cackle, but I don't have the right equipment. So I'll settle for a buzzer. Maybe next year.

UPDATE: Parts 2 is up and the pumpkin is now complete!

Yesterday we installed the snail mail notifier and today is a mail day! I patiently awaited the email letting me know mail had arrived in our mailbox.

And waited.

And waited.

Then finally in the afternoon the email came. Mail! Sitting in the mailbox!

Then another email came.

And another.

And about 100 more.

Apparently there was a slight glitch in the code. The arduino was checking in increments of seconds, not minutes. I forgot to edit that part of the code once we were done testing it yesterday. Whoops! Luckily Chris was home and he stopped the device from sending any more emails.

So the first order of business when I got home was to tweak the code, which I did pretty quickly. I also put in a time out function. That way if an oversized package gets stuffed in there the little arduino won't bombard us with messages again.

Hooray for easy fixes!

This morning I still felt like baking, so I decided to try my hand at home-made biscotti. There are a bunch of recipes I'd like to try but I was feeling in the mood particularly for chocolate so I thought this highly rated Brownie Biscotti recipe might be a good one to try.
The entire process was pretty easy. Bake as a loaf, slice, then bake each side again.
The end result were tasty, although slightly burned, biscotti.

We also finally installed the Snail Mail Notifier so it works properly with the mailbox. Chris has a write-up on his blog and I'll do a longer one once it is in a more permanent enclosure and I tweak some of the code. Maybe even add some bells and whistles, like ultrasonic proximity sensor that tells you a guest has arrived on the doorstep.

Apple Oatmeal
Today I've spent some time in the kitchen. First I started by baking a batch of apple-strawberry oatmeal. Super tasty. Below is a modified version of a few recipes I found online.

  • 1 and 1/3c steel cut oats
  • 1c milk
  • 1/6c brown sugar
  • 1 apple
  • 5-6 strawberries
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • Preheat oven for 350 degrees
  • mix oats, milk, fruit and cinnamon in a bowl together.
  • divide evenly among 4 containers
  • place in pre-heated oven. Bake for 40 minutes.
  • top with preferred toppings (raisins, nuts) or add splash of milk

Pumpkin Puree
  • Pie Pumpkins uncut

  • using a hacksaw

  • scraping out

    removing the seeds and pulp

  • ready to bake

    removing the seeds and pulp

  • done baking!

  • pumpkin skins

    the pile on the left is from the normal pumpkin I could slice with a knife. I could easily peel the skin away from the pumpkin, similar to how you peel a banana. On the right are the hard shells from the hacksaw pumpkin.I could not peel those pieces and used a knife to cut the pumpkin free.

  • ready for the freezer

    3 and 3/4 cups of pumpkin puree for the freezer

While the oatmeal was baking I started working on the next project - pumpkin puree. I used the Pioneer Woman's directions for making puree

I don't have a food processor, so there was some moving back and forth between the stand mixer and a blender. Kind of a pain.

The Cannolo
In the evening I decided to try my hand at making cannoli. I've never actually had a cannolo, so I have no idea if they're tasty or not. But I generally like most Italian (or Americanized versions of) dishes, so I figured it was a safe bet. Plus I've had this old box of cannoli tubes of my grandmother's for ages. I don't think she ever used them.

I used the recipe on the back of the box, although the recipes I found online were all basically the same and involved using a wine of some sort. If I know Chris might eat something I'm making, I use a substitute like fruit juice. In this case the recommended substitute seemed to be pomegranate juice.

A lot of the recipes I read alternated between pan frying in a deep frying pan (which I dont really have) or deep frying. I opted for deep frying.

Aside from filling the entire house with smoke and making my eyes sting, the deep frying went alright. Although next time I may try pan frying and see if that makes a difference.

I ended up frying about half the shells and froze the rest of the dough for later.

The single cannolo I ate tasted fine, although the shell was a little tough. Of course, like I said before I've never actually had a cannolo, so I have no idea if it tastes right or not.

I've always been pretty narrow in the types of fiction I read. Fantasy. Preferably high fantasy. I've been that way since a little kid. Science fiction is ok, but the older stuff doesn't have character development. I've tried some popular writers in other genres such as Stephen King, but it just wasn't for me (though The Dark Tower was pretty awesome).

But I've been branching out more as I get older. I have War and Peace staring at me on my nightstand, collecting dust. I'll get to it eventually. Recently I've been going through a lot of classic books in the public domain (either in audio or ebook format). So I'm branching out.

I say this and then I post a photo of the book I'm currently reading, Cloud Atlas. Yes, it's fantasy-ish. Yes, it's a little science fiction-ish. But it's certainly not hardcore on either of those fronts. So that's still branching out, right? Maybe not.

Anyway, libraries are awesome. That was supposed to be my point. While I do enjoy reading on my kindle and checking out books that way, I'm still happy with a paper book. And I really do enjoy going to the library.

The two libraries I go to most often, Grand Rapids Public Library (main one downtown) and the Wyoming Library are both pretty fun to be in. GRPL is an old building that reminds me a little of the Detroit Library - except way smaller. And the Wyoming Library is a newer building with fancy curves in the architecture and new fixtures inside. It even has a cafe.

Both of these libraries are larger than the one I grew up going to, but then they also serve much larger communities.

Since my dream of having my physical library in some old room in some house I'm never going to own will never come to fruition, I enjoy being in a large building with oodles of books. Even if I will never read even half of them I still enjoy it.

And maybe someday, if I end up living somewhere without a library I'll make a Little Free Library (although I can't imagine living somewhere without a library!).

The weather is getting colder and this week has been full of rain, so that means spending my lunch hour indoors. I really do enjoy leaving the office for lunch, so rainy days means moving from one building to another.

Instead of walking the skywalk (which I have been doing the last several days) I opted for reading in the quiet library.

The older I get the more I really love the quiet of a library.
On my way to the library I passed a small group of cardboard cutouts, including this robot, by the UICA. Cute.

Sometimes we all just hang out reading for the night (or in the cat's case, playing with toys).

Earlier this year I backed a kickstarter by OpenSourceRF for arduino wireless (using RF) shields. They arrived today and I'm excited to use them.

I'm still trying to work out in my head how I want everything set up. Ideally I'd like a temperature sensor transmitting the temperature to a website or a database where I can check it in real time. There is a noticeable temperature difference between certain sections of the house so I think this would be a fun thing to mess with. I'd also like to integrate the LCD screen into it so you can also check the temperature when your right in front of the device.

I'll have to get cracking with this and the snail mail notifier. I wanted to have that set up last weekend but with the rain I just didn't get around to it.

Plus I have a proximity sensor that I'd like to hook up somewhere.

This winter may be full of random projects!

I caught my phone rebooting itself spontaneously again last Friday. I forgot to load a different ROM on it over the weekend so I set to putting Cyanogenmod back on it as soon as I got home.

While I'll miss the look and feel of Mikshifted-G, I'm hoping that Cynaogenmod is a little more stable.

It's another rainy day today, which means indoor activities.

I spent the morning making two types of pierogi (potato and cheese and pork and cheese), chicken and dumpling soup, and Swedish meatballs. The Swedish meatballs and pierogi are tied in terms of labor intensity, but since they're both tasty I don't mind.

Since Chris also made chili yesterday I ended up tossing 40+ pierogi and the Swedish meatballs into the freezer for later. That just leaves me with tasty soup and him with his chili.
(note: I forgot to take a photo of the meatballs when I made them today so here's a photo of the same recipe I made awhile back)

The Swedish meatball recipe I use is one out of an old cookbook my mom was kind enough to make a copy of for me. Here's the basics of it. It's supposed to make 70 meatballs, but I usually end up with closer to 40-50 since I don't make them quite small enough.



  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs (fine)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (I typically just use powder since I dont like the texture of onions)
  • 1 tablespoon of shortening
  • 3/4 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 pepper
  • dash of cloves
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup boiling water


  • If you're using onions, saute those first until brown in the shortening (or butter if you don't have any). 
  • Mix the water and cream together. Soak breadcrumbs in the mixture.
  • combine onion, soaked crumbs, meats and seasoning in a bowl. Shape into small balls with your hands (you can wet your hands to prevent meat from sticking).
  • Fry meatballs in butter until browned, shaking pan continuously to keep the balls round. 
  • Add boiling water, cover and simmer 5-10 minutes or until tender. 

I've been pretty in to Guild Wars 2 the last few months. As a result, I've neglected a stalled arduino project - the wireless version of the snail mail notifier. The little TP-703N wireless routers I received back in July have more or less been sitting around waiting for me to finish configuring them. I'll be the first to admit I really dont enjoy networking, so I've been dragging my feet.

In the morning I decided it was time to get things moving. First off would be using router #1 to act as a repeater so that we can get wireless out on the deck and the far end of the kitchen.

By 10am I'd managed to brick it. The device no longer boots up and cannot be pinged.

So I took a break for a few hours, had an awesome lunch with Lori, then came back and got cracking on the second router. The goal with this one was to create a wireless client. This would allow devices like the arduino to plug into the ethernet port and connect to the network wirelessly.

Of course the first thing I had to do was start from scratch - which meant wiping it and reloading everything. That took awhile.

Then I spent several hours trying to configure the device through the web (with LUCI).

Finally I gave up and decided I needed to edit files manually from the command line. Not my favorite thing and I certainly don't use VI editor in Linux enough to remember all the commands.

I did have some help from a very extensive Instructable (you have to actually download all of the text file tutorials) and finally success!

I see a wireless snail mail notifier in the future!