Air Quality

The smoke that I wrote about last week has thankfully mostly cleared out. When it was really bad, I spent quite a bit of time checking around various websites to see how bad the smoke was, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a quick answer easily from my phone. I was also interested in getting some long term trend charts. So, being a geek, I wrote a program that pulls down the data from the closest air quality sensor (between Kenmore and Lynnwood) and stores it. I also made a simple web page that’s optimized for cell phone displays. Pin it to your home screen and you have a quick and easy way to check the air quality (assuming you live near me.)

The reading is usually 2-3 hours behind the current time, but the levels don’t usually change too much in a couple hours.

I also discovered a fantastic blog that writes about the current smoke situation and the smoke forecast. Bookmark this one too:

Windows 10 Multiple Desktops

Multiple desktops have been around operating systems for a very long time, but they came to Windows 10 in an easy-to-use feature. I’ve come to really enjoy them and thought I would share how I use the feature in my daily work because I have found that most people don’t know about it.

First off, what are multiple desktops? If you’re reading on your computer right now, you might have a collection of windows open. That’s a single desktop. Now imagine if you could switch to a new desktop and have a completely different set of windows open while still making it easy to get back to the old desktop. That’s multiple desktops.

There are plenty of tutorials online showing how to set it up and move windows between desktops so I’ll skip that part. The key thing for me is that multiple desktops help me context switch and focus at work. Desktop 1 is for email, IM, Spotify and other communication/peripheral stuff. Then I have a desktop for each task that I’m working on. Since I try to keep multi-tasking to a minimum, this means that ideally I only have one other desktop. Working on this other desktop helps me to stay focused on that activity and not get distracted by email, etc. If someone comes to ask me a question, I can flip to a new desktop, open windows to answer their question and then quickly jump back into the work I was doing.

It’s not a perfect solution though. Some apps don’t play nicely with multiple desktops. OneNote is probably the worst offender in my daily workflow. If I already have OneNote open on Desktop 1 and then I try to open it on Desktop 2, it flips me back to Desktop 1 and opens a second copy. Then I have to drag the window to Desktop 2. It’s annoying but not a deal-breaker.

It’s an advanced feature that takes a while to get used to, but consider giving it a try for a week or two to see if it fits your workflow.

P.S. One usage tip: To quickly flip back and forth once you have multiple desktops going, hold down CTRL+WINDOWS and press the left and right arrows.

Amazon Wishlists

Lots of people in my family use Amazon wish lists to share gift ideas. Amazon recently made it a bit more difficult to add stuff to wish lists from other sites so I thought I’d write up a quick guide on how to do it safely.

  1. First, make sure you’re using Chrome. That’s probably a good idea in general.
  2. Add the Amazon Assistant extension.
  3. You should now have an Amazon button in your Chrome tool bar. Click that and log in.
  4. Once you’re logged in, there’s an “Add to List” tab inside that Amazon menu and you can add your current age to your wish list.

But here’s the catch… when you add this as an extension, Amazon gets to see ALL of the sites that you are visiting and since you’re already logged in, they are building up quite a profile about you. If you go into the settings (click the Amazon extension and then click the little gear in the top left), you can click turn off everything in “Customize Content” and “Product Compare”.

That’s PROBABLY enough to stop them from tracking you, but personally, I just leave the extension disabled until I want to use it. To enable/disable the extension:

  • Click the Chrome menu button in the top right (three dots). Then click More Tools > Extensions
  • Toggle the blue slider for the Amazon Assistant extension.

I rarely add things to my list so it’s not too much of a hassle and I feel better not having them spy on me.


Facebook stock is down 21% on this news story about how Cambridge Analytica was able to use Facebook data to gather information about 50 million users. As usual, there is a lot of spin related to this story and it finally got confusing enough that I looked into it. I think what pushed me over the edge was hearing that Elon Musk had deleted the Tesla and SpaceX Facebook pages.

The “shady practices” that Cambridge Analytica used to gather it’s data are nothing new. If a user logs into your application, the Facebook Graph API not only lets you collect data on that user, but on all their friends as well. It has been pretty well known by API users and marketers in general. The Verge has a good article that explains that more.

One of the reasons this is getting so much press NOW instead of many years ago is that this specific instance is related to the Trump election. How sweet is a news story where you can combine privacy, BIG DATA, and a reason why dumb people were fooled into voting for Trump? The news outlets can make a lot of money off that combination.

What should normal users do about this?

  1. Go to Facebook, click Settings > Apps. First, delete all the apps that you don’t use regularly. Then click Apps Others Use and uncheck everything. That will stop sharing of your data with companies because your friends logged into something with their Facebook credentials.
  2. Don’t use your Facebook credentials to log into a website or an app. Always create a unique login for that specific application using your email address. And if you can’t create a login with your email address, then it’s probably shady anyway. The main reason all those dumb quizzes exist on Facebook is so that they can access your profile data (and your friend’s profile data.)
  3. Remove personal information from your Facebook profile. e.g. Is it really that important to have your birthday on your profile?
  4. If you want to go further, you can remove and hide some of your old activity. This is a pain, but I’ve documented it before.


So in summary, there’s nothing new about this news story that I can see, but people are finally realizing some of what has been going on. Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg. Big data is here to stay and information about you is more valuable than you realize. A lot of it is really hard to control unless you’re willing to go full-tinfoil-hat, but it’s not too hard to take a few basic steps in that direction.


I’ve played around with classic gaming system emulators in the past. There was the time I bought an old Asteroids machine and stuffed a computer inside, and I also modified an original Xbox to run old Nintendo games. Classic games are still fun for me and I thought the simpler games might be a way to introduce Elijah to video games as a super rainy weekend special activity kind of thing. Or at least that was my excuse.

It’s a lot easier to get a system up and running now. Here’s a shopping list:

Things you might have already:

Now you’re ready to follow the instructions (Lifehacker has a good guide too) and get gaming!

That only took me a couple hours to put together. I wasn’t thrilled with all the cables and pieces laying around so I decided to build a nice box for it. I have done some bandsaw boxes but I don’t recall doing any nice small wooden boxes with a lid. This seemed like a good excuse. I started with some walnut scraps from the side table build.
For the top, I found part of the wood with nice grain and tried a bookmatch. That just means that you use the bandsaw to cut down the middle of the board (the thin way) and lay it open like a book. The grain ends up as (almost) a mirror image. I was really happy with how it looked though in the final product I did goof it up a bit. I think I flipped one of the boards end for end.Because I was using scraps, I couldn’t quite get a continuous grain all the way around the box, but I did pay a little attention to it and some of the corners look pretty cool. I put in some small maple splines to reinforce the corners. The box walls were thin so the splines are pretty tiny. I finished it off with a couple coats of shellac.

I’m happy with it for a first attempt. Everything fits inside so that’s a win and the grain is pretty to look at. I want to try another box soon to use what i learned. Crosscut Hardwoods is selling small pieces of curly maple and I picked up some of that to try on the next box.