Monday, September 15, 2008

@ Bill's Gate - An attempt to fix my company's SharePoint problems

During a visit to see my father in Seattle, who was having heart surgery, I found myself with a lot of freetime during his post-surgery recovery time. While he slept, my wife and I decided to take a drive around town and we ended up at the University of Washington. Bored, we opened up the laptop and looked up points of interest. I remembered that Bill Gates lives around the floating bridge. A quick Google map search showed his address and a short route. We were on our way across the floating bridge but couldn't see an obvious monolith of a house. We decided to see just how close we could get.

10 minutes later and after going through a gauntlet of homes that I thought were unassuming in the neighborhood of the 2nd richest man on earth, we rolled down a twisty road towards the lake. Google maps showed one last turn and once we turned a wall of foliage, we were met by an even taller wall of dark stained wood which hooded a smaller wall with an opening above it.

Suddenly the smaller wall started to move and we realized it was Bill's gate. A silver Land Rover or Range Rover drove out of the gate and we quickly pulled over and stopped for fear of a Microsoft Defense System with *"lasers". I don't remember, but my wife recalled that when the gate was open, there was a security guard outside of a booth and just past Bill's gate.

Nothing happened - maybe the security guard turned Windows Defender off after being prompted every 5 seconds "Are you sure you want to perform this action?" - but we decided to turn around since the cameras that seemed to drape the wall like christmas lights were probably focused on us. Also, one had a red light that probably could have fired *"lasers".

As we pulled away, I had a delusional thought of how cool it would be to meet Bill Gates and ask him if he could fix our SharePoint problems... afterall, he should have been home since a guest just drove away.

We turned the car around yet again. At a distance and in the perspective of the security guard's eyes, he probably thought we were making room to charge the gate. A second approach to Bill's gate could be disasterous, I thought. 2nd thought, maybe I'll just have my wife take a quick shot of me holding my laptop in one hand and the other hand clenched towards Bill's gate for gits and shiggles.

I grabbed my laptop and coincidentally, had a SharePoint page already opened from when I VPN'ed into work earlier. I felt awkward as I thought that I looked "suspect" in my steps towards the security window. I was about 50 feet away when I thought of an over-zealous security guard with a license, sponsored by Microsoft, to kill. I thought I should leave, especially since there was a sign that said something to the effect of "Members Only", "NO TRESPASSING", "PRIVATE PROPERTY" (I can't remember). Maybe that was the point that security is allowed to start shooting... Yes, I do get very paranoid sometimes. So I quickly turned on my heels, headed back to the hospital and listened to my wife call everyone to tell them how much of a nerd I am :)

At the very least, we were able to take our thoughts away from our worries for my father that day and thank God he's making a quick recovery. Still, I'm determined to find a way to visit Bill's house after hearing about the Star Trek-looking pins that guests get(no I'm not that big of a nerd). The pins act as some sort of RFID transmitter that configures your surroundings to match your preferences. For example, if I set my favorite musician to Kate Earl, a friend from Alaska (get her CD!), the room that I'm in will play songs from her album. If I like paintings from Escher, then the frames will display his art. Hmmm... what to do... If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know!

*An Austin Powers reference

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hidden Room - My Secret BookCase Door

I had a chance to work from home one Friday and and after a few hours, started struggling with a headache. It was probably from my mother in law yelling at my wife. Actually, she was talking normally, but her poor eye sight caused by diabetes usually makes her talk loud enough for her to know she's being heard by the person she can't see 5 feet away from her. I sympathize deeply for her, but I needed to get some work done!
I decided to dust off the headphones and crank up the music. Unfortunately, my office area is in the open and the mom-in-law walks past my area often... "out of site, out of mind" is what I thought.
I needed to take more action and the answer was shown right before me as I sat down and ate lunch in front of my upgraded set which now has Direct TV. My co-worker, Murat, often touted the shows that I would likely enjoy on cable and for many years, I've lived with nothing more than a basic TV antenna. As HGTV broadcasted a home that had a secret door, I quickly thought of turning a couple of bookcases into a secret door.

Off to IKEA the next day...
I wanted to make a flush bookcase and it was difficult finding something I could afford, let alone fit perfectly flush into the 80" x 60" doorway. I found a $60 bookcase that was exactly 80" tall, but 31.5" wide. I was thinking of buying a pair of bookcases and getting rid of the left wall of the right case and vice versa to make everything fit, but that would be too much work and I'd rather be playing poker :( I gave up my search and went to Home Depot to start looking for materials to build everything from scratch.

Then another idea hit me as I walked by the sliding door area - instead of building or modifying the case, why not just make it a sliding door. This would allow for the 80" x 31.5" bookcases to be used :D

I searched every aisle of Home Depot for ideas on making this work, all the while, the workers were always offering assistance and my story had to be re-iterated a dozen times with the same strange look.

Finally - I came up with some materials to perform my implementation and design - not design and implementation...
  • $10......4 - 2" casters (non-swivel); I noted from IKEA the base had a 2" base so a simple washer would give me the
  • $8........1 - 60" closet track
  • $7.50...10 - L' brackets
  • $4.........4 - 1"x4" boards
  • $120.....2 - IKEA bookcases

About $150 later, I put one of the cases together and started drawing up lines on the tile to see where everything would go and it looked like one of the bookcases would overlap the outer doorframe by a couple of inches while the other would barely cover the other side.

I put the other case together and everything seemed to match the plans, so I started to add the casters to the bottom of the sliding bookcase.

Perfect! The casters bolted to the bottom raised the bookcase about 1/16". The bookcases standing next to each other were flush to the eye.

I added 3 L' brackets to both sides of the book case as most of the bookcase's weight will be on the bottom shelf, which is being supported by two screws... not good.

The next step was making one door imovable and the other easy to slide. The biggest concern was keeping the line that the casters would travel perfectly straight. The second concern was the alignment at the top and keeping ti from scraping the wall. This is where the closet track was needed.

Atop the moveable case, I secured a 1x4 board and bolted down the guides (the wheel-thingy that goes into the closet track). This kept the bookcase from falling forward and from touching the wall when moved. It had to be set so that the support stays solid from open to close, so the guides were placed in the middle and the far right of the bookcase's top. This way the guides would stay in the track at all times.

Test run 1...
Everything was ready, but it didn't go smoothly - literally. The casters would drop into the grout of the tile and this would cause one side of the bookcase to drop 1/32". This may not sound like much, but it made a wave of sounds from the guides vibrating the track, which vibrated the wall. It also didn't help that the bookcase is cheap and has a cardboard backing which also made a rumbling sound since it was not completely snug, even though it was nailed down. Another noticable problem was the bottom of the bookcase scraping the wall... arghh!

2nd trip to Home Depot...
To fix the caster-speed bump problem, I grabbed a tube of clear silicone. I looked everywhere for something that could act as a caster to keep the bottom of the bookcase from scraping, but the closest thing I could find was a closet guide wheel - similar to the one used on top of the case.

Test run 2...
Much better! The casters rolled over the silicone filled grout, which I kept only to the grooves where the wheels rolled. Additionally, I filled the grout between a couple of slivers of plastic wrap to keep the mess to a minimum. No more vibrations from the walls, but there was still some noise form the cardboard backing. I filled the edges of the backing with the rest of the silicone. Now the bottom of the bookcase was in need of attention.

Test run 3...
The bottom of the bookcase runs well now, but at the cost of an unsightly strip of metal on the outside that was used to keep the bottom closet guide wheel from digging into the outside drywall. Nothing some wall-matching paint and a plant can't hide :)

Finishing touches - bookcase animation below doesn't seem to work :(

Now that everything opened and closed as it should, it was time to add handles and locks. I still haven't worked on a lock that is controlled from the inside and accessible from the outside. I need control from the inside for fear 0f the wife locking me in... I can read her mind. On the outside, I draped the edges with plants and vines. The foliage covers the outside rails and tracks well, but it can still be improved upon.

Any ideas for a lock system, please let me know!

iPhone Saved the Day... not the Techie!

I think I am no longer the hero of my family when it comes to fixing technical problems. I also
I think that there will be a dramatic decrease in technology support thoughout many companies very soon. The reason - technology is becoming more user-friendly. Take the iPhone for instance. I was visiting my ill father in Seattle and we needed to see him before surgery at 6am. We had our 5 minute route remembered and we left the hotel at 5:30am. Laptop - check, camera - check, stuff to read while waiting for the planned 6-8 hour surgery - check. We were all set and on the road , but up ahead, a train started to cross the road. We thought we might lose a couple of minutes and sat for a minute to let it pass. Unfortunately, the train came to a complete stop in front of us. My mother pulled out her iPhone, fired up Google maps and we found our alternate route in moments. We made it just in time for my son to hold his grandfather's hand before going in for heart surgery. Saved by an iPhone - and at the hands of my mom! While we sat in the waiting room, I found myself spending more time playing with the iPhone than reading or working on the laptop... I think I found the present that the wife will let me buy for my birthday :)

Here's the route in case you were wondering or have nothing better to do:,+Seattle,+WA+98108+(Georgetown+Inn)&daddr=1660+S+Columbian+Way,+Seattle,+WA+98108+(VA+Hospital)&mra=pe&mrcr=0&doflg=ptm&sll=47.565523,-122.306328&sspn=0.082122,0.146942&ie=UTF8&ll=47.551101,-122.314868&spn=0.010268,0.018368&z=16