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How to build an eclipse viewing box with your kid

You should never look at a solar eclipse directly, but building a simple eclipse viewer is easy. It’s also a fun project to do with your kids.

Step 1. Get a long box.

Eclipse viewer box

I got a really long square box from the UPS store for ~$10. The longer the better – the more distance between the end pointed at the sun and the viewing end, the larger the image of the sun will be.

By the way, this picture is just showing off how long the box is – you won’t actually be looking through the box when we’re done.

Step 2. Decorate the box.

Decorating the eclipse viewer

This might be the most important part of the project if you’re doing it with kids. Kids love to draw planets, comets, rocket ships, and all sorts of fun things. This is also a good place to illustrate exactly what’s going on when the sun starts to disappear.

Step 3. Close the box and cut a hole in one end.

Eclipse box

This end will be pointed toward the sun.

Step 4. Cover the hole with foil and put a tiny pinprick in the middle.

eclipse viewer pinhole

You want to block out all the light except the pin prick. It will cast an image of the sun on the other end of the box.

Step 5. Cut open a small section of the side near the bottom.

Eclipse viewer ready to go

The picture illustrates this pretty well. You want a small section open so you can see the image in the bottom of the box. I also put a piece of white paper in the bottom, that shows off the image better than cardboard:

image of the sun

You’ll need to find something to use to prop up the box and aim it toward the sun. I used a tripod, but a chair will work as well. You’ll need to keep moving the viewer as the day goes on to keep the image in place.

Enjoying a solar eclipse

Caught in an eclipse without a viewer? No worries! Anything with a hole in it that can cast a shadow will show the eclipse – even your fingers or the leaves on the trees!

solar elcipse shadows

Cresent eclipse shadows

Making geeky baby Halloween costumes

Baby Picard costumeI’m on paternity leave with my 5-month-old, Finn. Halloween is coming soon, and while thinking about costumes I noticed that Finn’s hair was starting to fill in. I realized that this was my last chance to take advantage of his relative baldness for costume purposes.

So, over the past couple weeks I’ve been working on a fun project to photograph my kid in as many geeky costumes as I can before we hit Halloween. Or before his hair grows too much. Whichever comes first.

The rules I’ve set for myself are:

1. Bald or nearly-bald fictional characters only. The geekier the better.
2. No spending any serious amount of money each costume.
3. No spending any serious time on each costume.

Here are the ones I’ve done so far:

1. Avatar Aang:

Avatar Aang baby costume

2. Captain Picard:

Captain Picard baby costume

3. Krillin from Dragon Ball Z:

Krillin Dragon Ball Z baby costume

4. Professor Xavier from the X-Men:

Professor Xavier X-Men baby costume

5. Charlie Brown:

Charlie Brown baby costume

6. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD:

Nick Fury Avengers baby costume

7. Morpheus from The Matrix:

Morpheus Matrix baby costume

8. Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen:

Dr. Manhattan Watchmen baby costume

9. Korben Dallas from The Fifth Element:

Korben Dallas Fifth Element baby costume

 

These were all put together pretty quickly, and as I get time I’ll try to create some tutorials on how. Mostly I’ve been using double-sided fabric tape, onesies, cheap kid T-shirts, and post-it notes.

Follow me on G+ to see what’s next.

Spring Cleaning – 4 Steps to Rehab Your Old WordPress Blog

I’m thinking about doing a bit more writing, and to be honest I have left this blog pretty unloved since my last redesign in… hmmm… 2008? Much has chanced since then – for example, a huge percentage of visitors these days are on tablets and mobile devices. Your old WordPress theme might not look very nice on an iPhone or Nexus 5 (I know mine didn’t).

I spent a couple of hours shaking the cobwebs off my old WordPress site, taking it from this:

The old WordPress default theme with minor tweaks

To what you’re looking at now. I also made a few small changes to speed up my blog.

Step 1: Update your theme

This used to be a huge pain, requiring you to download files, customize the HTML and CSS, and upload it to your server. The WordPress theme system is a lot friendlier now. I just went to to Appearance -> Themes and clicked the “Add New” button. This gives you search box, but I found the “Featured” link was the best place to start. I chose TwentyThirteen, it allows me to set a nice big header image and it looks good on different screen sizes. The current header is a photo of the Sierras from Lone Pine, CA.

Step 2: Clear out old widgets and code

I used to have a bunch of extra widgets in my blog, but many of them were never really useful for my readers or now pointed to defunct services (I still miss you, Google Reader!). I cleared out a Feedburner widget, an old version of the Google Translate widget, and a few other things. You might be surprised how much you can improve your site’s loading time just by deleting some inefficient Javascript.

Step 3: Speed it up

Speaking of loading time, my site was abysmally slow. Not slow enough that I noticed on my fast connection at home, but faster sites make users and search engines happier. One of the best tools to find bottlenecks is Google PageSpeed. You can have Google analyze your site and get a detailed report of the problems or install a Chrome or Firefox extension to check from your browser.

A few things worth checking:

  1. Are you compressing your files? You can set up Gzip compression on your server or use a plugin like WP Super Cache.
  2. Are you telling browsers when they can use their own cache? Instead of sending a page or image to a user, you can let them know they can use their cached version with a 304 Not Modified HTTP status code. WP Super Cache also has a setting for this.
  3. Are you hosting your own copies of common libraries like jQuery? I’m using a plugin called Use Google Libraries that points to widely-cached copies of these files on Google’s servers.
  4. Are you regenerating pages from PHP and MySQL every time someone visits? If your pages don’t change very often, use WP Super Cache.

Step 4: Actually start writing again

This is the hard one. I feel like between work, family, and posting small things to social networks, I’ve lost the time and energy to write longer-form articles. I have a fun project coming up that will definitely prompt some posting, and this article itself is a start, right?

If you have any other tips for cleaning up a WordPress blog or getting back into writing, let me know in the comments.