My new picnic table

The picnic table, under constructionI moved into a new house in May, out from my single bedroom apartment.  I now have a lot more space, both inside and outside and my house includes a sort of back patio area which is perfect for grilling, but neither I nor my roommate had any outdoor seating.  Inspired by this post by my friend Nick, we decided to make a picnic table.

Unfortunately, recycled wood is sort of difficult to come by in Manhattan, except when it's ground up and mixed with plastic chips.  This makes it weather really well, but it won't support any sort of load, which made it pretty unfit for our purposes.  I ended up using untreated lumber, and built the table according to these plans.  It's really sturdy (it uses 16 3/8" bolts and a pound of deck screws) and while it wasn't quite as cheap as Nick's table ($75 before any paint) it should last a very, very long time.  The instructions detail how to build it, so I won't go in depth on what we did there.  I will say that it was a ton of measuring (duh) and that using a small t-square (in addition to a tape measure) helped a lot.

So, now that the table was built, it needed to get painted so it could withstand the elements.  I ended up using Behr's Barn & Fence paint because it's oil based and super-tough.  After applying a couple coats of boring white to the table, my roommate and I realized that we had a perfect canvas for being somewhat creative.  Unfortunately, as a computer scientist and mechanical engineer, neither of us were very artistically inclined.  We decided to use other people's art instead — logos, to be specific — to commemorate specific events.  So far the only event immortalized on our picnic table was the release of Fedora 13.  This week was Reddit's birthday, so we should be applying the friendly orangered-eyed alien soon.  The logos are about five inches square, and though the fedora speech bubble looks sort of lonely now, hopefully by next May we'll have a bunch of cool designs.  If nothing else, it will be an excellent conversation piece.

The completed picnic table

Custom symbols in LaTeX

The custom symbols I made.I'm writing a report which will eventually become the introduction to my Master's thesis.  It's on existing medical workflow technologies, including Little-JIL.  I wrote the rough draft back in January, and am now hammering away on making the revisions my advisor suggested (try and ignore the several month turnaround :D).  Little-JIL has a number of custom symbols which he wanted referenced in the text of the document (rather than as figures).

I initially tried to create these symbols as characters in a custom font.  I downloaded FontForge, built some .svg templates in Inkscape, and tried to get everything modified so it looked right.  Unfortunately, I know nothing about making fonts, and FontForge, while powerful, is somewhat daunting to use.  I had errors ranging from improper em-widths to open paths (?). I managed to get a sort of basic version of my symbols built and fontified, and they looked decent for a rough draft.

Getting certain characters to render in a specific font was less than straightforward, however, and I realized that I would have to include my custom font with the source of my report to anyone who wanted to make edits.  I then decided to try inlining drawings of the symbols — since graphics can be scaled arbitrarily in LaTeX, if I made them very small, perhaps it wouldn't look too shabby.  It would certainly be easier to include them, and I already had a set of custom graphics that had to be used in compilation of the final document anyway.  Plus, I already had scalable versions of both symbols, so it would be easy to try it out.

Much to my surprise, it turned out really, really well.  The graphics blend in well, and shouldn't even stick out as custom unless the reader knows what she's looking for.

Colbert Hills executive course

Summertime has arrived, which means it's golf time.  There's a top-notch golf course here in Manhattan called Colbert Hills (designed by Jim Colbert)which I've been playing on recently.  I'm not really good enough to hold my own on the main course (though I was part of a scramble team out there) so I've been playing more on the "Executive Course."  It's a nine hole, all par three course which is designed to be played pretty quickly.  It's super cheap ($6 for students, $10 for an all-day pass) and maintained at the quality level of the rest of the course.  It's still sort of punishing, too, because straying very far from the green / fairway lands you in four foot tall native grass.  It's a neat course, and a neat concept — I wish more courses had smaller, cheaper versions that could be played after work.  While playing 18 holes is fun, it's also sort of a time commitment that is better suited for a Saturday than a Tuesday.

The third hole of the Colbert Hills executive (par three) course