Thursday, June 30, 2005

Temperature conversion card for HPDA

Here is a picture of a temperature conversion index card I have in my HPDA. The scale on the left is for the normal range of temperatures; the scale on the right is for a much broader range that includes temperatures I often need to convert at work.

temperature conversion card

I made the card by writing a PostScript file and then converting it to a PDF file using ps2pdf. In writing the PostScript, I reused the hashmarks subroutine that I had written for my ruler card.

You may think the Celsius<=>Fahrenheit conversion so simple that this card is a waste. But it's much faster to scan the card than to pull out the calculator and do the 9/5 and 32 thing. Especially when you don't have your calculator with you. (Yes, there's a calculator on my cell phone, but it's amazingly inconvenient.)

You may also think the scale on the right is useless. It probably is for you, but I used it twice today when I needed to convert the melting points of a some metal alloys. If you dig into the PS file, you'll see that the code for the scale on the right is on lines 114-174. Cut these out, and you'll have the everyday temperature scale by itself. Change first number on line 59 from 3.50 to 4.25, and you'll move the scale to the center of the card.

A slight alteration of this card would be useful for traveling in another country: the temperature scale on the left and a currency conversion scale on the right would take care of two common issues for Americans abroad. Pounds<=>kilograms and miles<=>kilometers could be on the back side.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Ruler Card for Hipster PDA

A couple of weeks ago, the great 43 Folders
had a post about a set of interesting PDF templates made by John Norris for the Hipster PDA. One of the templates was a ruler, which I thought was a great idea but poorly executed because they looked like bitmaps that were fuzzy. So I decided to make my own crisp PDF versions. Since I don't know how to write PDF directly, I wrote a PostScript file that I then converted to a PDF using ps2pdf.

This is what it looks like.

Index card ruler

(I've since learned that the original source of the ruler John Norris used is a nice collection of PostScript and PDF rulers made by Michael Vendian. Somehow it got converted to a bitmap when John made up his templates. It's possible that had I learned this earlier I would have tried adapting one or two of Vendian's rulers. I'm glad I didn't because the format of mine is different enough that adapting would have been more effort than writing from scratch.)

A few notes on the construction and use:

  • I found that my printer (an HP LaserJet 2200) prints a bit small. When I held an actual ruler up to my first version of the index card rulers, the 4.5 inch mark on the index card was less than 4.5 inches from the zero. So I stuck in a fudge factor of 1.0035, which I called adjust, near the top of the PostScript file and used it to spread out the marks. If you find that your printer doesn't print the index card ruler accurately, you can change this value to whatever works for you.

  • Both the PostScript and PDF versions have the ruler positioned near the top center of a letter-sized sheet of paper. This works for me when printing the rulers on a manually-fed index card. If your printer works differently from mine, you'll have to adjust the initial position of the rulers; You'll find it on line 60 of the PostScript file. The comment above line 60 explains what it does and should give you enough info to make the changes you need.

  • After printing, I slice off the blank margins so the hash marks run right to the edge of the card, which makes it more like a real ruler. The card is now about a half-inch narrower than the others in my stack, so it's easy to locate quickly.

  • Within the PostScript file is a function, called hashmarks, that I wrote in a pretty general way. I've just reused it to make a temperature conversion card that I'll post about tomorrow. I see it being useful for making other conversion cards, too. I'm decent at mental arithmetic, but a simple dollars<=>pounds conversion card would have been a big help when I vacationed in London a couple of years ago.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Desk set

Yesterday I bought some kitchen drawer organizer bins at Target, and today I cleaned out the upper left drawer of my desk and put the bins in. The results are:


If you look closely, you'll see that the bin with the binder clips and the bin with the paper clip dispenser were cut. They used to be one bin the same size as the bin with the pencil and leads, but I cut it in two to arrange things this way.

The bins are sold under the "Organized Kitchen" label, a house brand of Target, and come in several sizes. Here I'm using a 6x15, two 6x9s, and two 3x9s (including the one I cut). My Target offered a bundled set of these bins that included some 3x3s and 3x6s, so if I had bought that set I wouldn't have had to cut the 3x9. But I wasn't really sure how I was going to arrange the bins when I was at the store, and the bundle seems to have more small bins than I needed. The 3x3s and the 3x6s weren't available individually.

The index cards are for my Hipster PDA. Merlin Mann's site is a great place to waste time figuring out how to become more productive.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What about Poland?

According to the AP: Poland said Wednesday it will cut its 1,700-troop deployment to Iraq this summer by as many as 300 troops.

"What's he say to Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland?"

Monday, June 13, 2005


Today, on the drive home from work, I heard a commercial promising prospective Chevy buyers the Chevy Employee Discount, that is, the same deal that GM workers get. This is an interestingly-timed marketing campaign, since we just learned last week the kind of deal GM workers get.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Looks like their plans fell through

When I was a kid, there was a joke about how a true intellectual could listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger.

[For you kids out there, the William Tell Overture was the Lone Ranger's theme music for both the radio and TV shows.]

[And yes, radio once had shows that weren't just music, news, or talk. Not that I'm old enough to remember it directly.]

In a sort of reverse musical connection, I wonder how many middle-aged people were able to hear this story about a father and son arrested for Al Qaeda connections in Lodi, CA without CCR starting up in their heads. If I only had a dol-lar...