June 07, 2013

Troubleshooting my tankless water heater

I'm blogging this in the hopes that anyone else doing Google searches while trouble shooting their tankless water heater might find this info useful, because I couldn't find any information about this on the web.

The other day, our one year old tankless water heater seemed to crap out. No hot water from any taps, and there was a faint smell of gas around the unit. After about 30 seconds, the display blinked 11 and 12, both error codes.

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Looking up the documentation on it (it's a Rinnai RU98i), the error codes correspond to "No Ignition" and "No Flame", both saying that the burner isn't firing. The only homeowner tip is to check the gas lines to make sure gas is being piped into the unit. I checked mine and all the gas lines were clear and operating. Additionally it said if you smelled gas to shut the whole thing down and call a professional.

Eventually when the plumbing installer came out to troubleshoot, and we figured out the problem: the air intake/exhaust was covered up by masking tape/paper while our house was being painted. No air was going in and none was going out, so the gas smell was due to a backflow of air.

So that's my troubleshooting tip: if your Rinnai tankless water heater ever stops working and spits out error codes of 11 or 12, not only should you check the gas lines to make sure they're turned on, but also check the air intake/exhaust and any filters you have to make sure the unit is getting adequate new air while being able to spit out older air. I wish the documentation on the unit mentioned that, because I could have saved $150 on the plumber's visit.

May 22, 2013

CNN's always breaking news

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 11.57.44 AM

I've been an email subscriber to CNN's Breaking News alerts for over a decade. In the beginning, it was sporadic and you might only get an email every couple weeks when some major disaster happened in the world. About five years ago it became once every few days, but still limited to major news events. Lately, it has become several emails per day. At this point, I can't tell if CNN is really sharing large rare events or if they determined they could use this as a traffic source to their site to increase profits. Worse yet, instead of being limited to worldwide major events, the emails contain the results of reality shows, final scores in basketball games, or minor news about the US economy.

It's become such a frequent email that it no longer feels like a rare alert system for tomorrow's worldwide front page headlines, instead it feels like I'm following the most dramatic personal blog written by someone dealing with one daily tragedy after another.

May 01, 2013

Some ideas around Flickr sets



Rion totally nails something that has been sticking in my craw for the last six months or so. Ever since the rollouts of features that vastly improved the Flickr experience, the old design of the pages for holding sets of photos is really underwhelming. Here's what an epic set of photos taken by Jon Armstrong looks like as a set:

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Kind of boring right? It doesn't reveal too much about the incredible photography contained within when you click through one of the shots:

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I think they can do a lot more with the page for showing off a set, they could obviously go for larger photos, they could change the layout to be more like the "photos from contacts" page where images automatically expand to fill the available width and get to dominate the screen. Perhaps they could also change the sizing so that amazing small sets like Jon's above could be much larger, where a set of maybe 100 images are still larger, but not quite as large as a small set.

If I know anything about Flickr, it's that I would bet $1,000 someone has not only redesigned the set page eons ago, but it has been through testing and is being tweaked behind the scenes and will see the light of day someday soon. I also have another idea.

Flickr should start supporting blogging

How much  more impressive would Jon's photos from Utah be if his photo set looked more like the following mockup? (click for a larger version)

Write a title, a few short summary sentences, and then fill out the story between each photo. Yes, I know it looks a little like Medium, that's obviously a similar kind of layout. Yahoo, post-Marrisa Mayer has been doing some interesting things and Flickr seems newly rejuvenated. I love the service to death and wish it had uptake among my friends like it once did. I really think it's time to try some new wacky ideas on Flickr and perhaps doing something closer to something that looks like blogging, that lets people showcase their work and their prose is a way this could go.

Since Flickr doesn't currently support this, I tend to post these sorts of things on my own blog. Last summer I took an amazing family trip across Italy and came back with loads of great photos, but here's how they look as a Flickr set:

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And here's how some of those photos ended up on this very site:

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I would have no qualms about publishing that same story of taking trains across Italy on Flickr instead of my own site, and in the context of the whole set's images, it might make better sense there.

Anyway, I'd love to see more courageous moves coming out of Flickr, and one small place to start could be the sets pages.

April 22, 2013

Wired Anniversary Issue

Powell's had the new Wired early!

So I'm in the new WIRED issue! It was a little weird to see myself listed alongside industry giants, but I've been working on MetaFilter for 14 years now, so it probably aligned nicely with a 20th anniversary look back.

A quick note about the short interview: we talked for 20-30min but it was edited down to a pretty small space. Most of the questions I was answering were about Ask MetaFilter (the Q&A section) so they sound a bit weird when applied to MetaFilter in general. When they asked me what internet things I hated, I couldn't actually think of any at first, and only later on in the interview I mentioned that Buzzfeed is sometimes annoying in that "stories" are often just a list of animated GIFs when I really wanted to read an article, and they might use that list of GIF as a comedy device a bit too much. But I'm not as down on Buzzfeed as the article would suggest. There are things I like at Buzzfeed, the FWD technology blog has been one of my favorites of the genre since it launched. They also do some impressive longform journalism, so they're not all bad.

It should be in stores now and I was honored to be a part of it. Oh, and that hot tub pulled by bike for a bike-based midwife was a real suggestion on BikePortland.org.

April 21, 2013

Pulling off a surprise party in this day and age


Pulling off a surprise birthday party in this day and age isn't as easy as it seems, especially when the subject of a surprise (Andy Baio in this case) is totally plugged in with the technology world. Every movement and moment in our digital lives can leave a trace. Think about all the status updates, phone photos, and check-ins that 25 people can produce, and now think about how hard it is to hide all that from someone that is connected to all those 25 people. It's not easy, but it is possible. Here are some things that made one party a success:

  • I live outside of Portland and once every month or two I meet up with Andy when I head into town. Andy's wife came up with the idea I could lure him pretty much anywhere if I just said "oh hey, I'm nearby, want to meet up at this nearby location?"
  • She created a private event Facebook group of everyone but Andy, and it actually worked. No accidental leaks into his friend timeline, everyone got status updates, calendar reminders, and could see the guest list. I'm kind of surprised this part worked, about the only hard part was stealth inviting everyone we could think of (did our Facebook friends overlap with enough/all of his?)
  • When he asked about throwing a party for his birthday, Andy's wife lied to him saying she was too busy this weekend and maybe they could plan something a week after.
  • A couple hours before the party I faked a Foursquare check-in at the OMSI museum (I was actually driving into Portland at the time), knowing Andy might see it and think I was nearby (at the party Andy said yeah, he saw it and completely believed it).
  • At a precise time in the afternoon I sent a text that I was leaving the museum with my family, we were thinking of grabbing a beer at a pub by his house, and if he wasn't doing anything, to drop by.
  • Andy's wife was stalling him all day, he was dying to go out and get some fresh air and said yes immediately, and they showed up 15min later.
  • He didn't realize it was a huge surprise until the last possible second when he walked in and saw everyone waiting for him. We even had the proverbial out-of-state friend to seal the deal and make it a really great surprise party.

April 04, 2013

"Waiting for a second chance"

Waiting for a second chance

(photo by Marrkus Spiering)

Car feature context

I bought a Mexican Coke at a gas station yesterday, and as I was driving away I remembered that they don't have twist-offs caps.

As I looked around my car's interior for something to pry it open with, I thought with all seriousness "Why isn't there a bottle opener hidden somewhere in the lower part of a car's dashboard?!" before realizing that's actually a terrible idea in other contexts.

March 23, 2013

Emails I actually look forward to

I've been meaning to write a post for the past few months on the select group of things I actually enjoy over email. I still go through 100 or so messages every day and most of them are either things I ignore or things that require attention and work from me, leaving very few that I look forward to and enjoy. I put this post off for so long that Jason Kottke already wrote about one of those beloved emails, the weekly Quora email.

Just to build on what Jason already wrote, by a fluke of weird Facebook integration, I have two separate accounts at Quora (I asked, but they can't be merged) listed as Matt Haughey and Matthew Haughey, one of those having more of my personal hobbies in the profile. I get two weekly emails instead of one and as a result, I can kind of see what is happening behind the scenes. At least half of the email contents are identical. I suspect they are plucking questions from their popular pile and they're almost always intriguing. The rest stick to personal subjects and here's where I am continually impressed. One of my accounts has "cycling" attached to it and I get really niche questions about bike racing, training, and equipment, sometimes with only 1-2 answers and they are fascinating and I'm amazed at how well they are at digging up niche content I want to read about. My other account skews more towards technical web development questions and those are often quite good as well. I'm kind of in awe about how they do so well with an automated message each week, I'd be curious to know what kind of technology and workflow they've built to make the weekly emails so good.

The other email I look forward to is a daily digest of links culled from my Twitter followers by Percolate. Here's what a typical day's email looks like. I follow about 500 people on Twitter, and this site automatically figures out not just what links my friends talked about the most, but also the most interesting links that only 1 or 2 people linked to from Twitter. I don't know how they're doing this on the backend, but since most days I don't have time to read an entire 24hrs of my timeline at Twitter, this is a nice fall back of interesting links shared by my friends.

Lastly, I like getting Dave Pell's NextDraft each afternoon. It's basically a general interest blog (that doesn't exist as a blog online) delivered by email and it's a good overview of what the internet is currently interested in and/or freaking out about. There's also a dose of pop culture stuff I would completely miss otherwise.

Those are the three emails I love getting every so often. I haven't yet subscribed to Evening Edition or The Brief, even though I've heard good things about both summaries-via-email services.

Auto uploads of data to Strava from a Garmin Edge 510

image from static.garmincdn.comThis is a pretty niche trick, but I recently figured out how to finally upload activities to Strava wirelessly using the latest Garmin Edge 510.

The newest Garmin Edge computers offer bluetooth sync to your phone, which is then used for real-time mapping of your rides, weather alerts, and when you're done with a ride, automatic uploads of data to the Garmin Connect site. It's very handy to just press "Save" at the end of your ride and have your data uploaded to their site but the only problem is the Garmin Connect site pales in comparison to the fitness site Strava, which offers more tools for analysis as well as a ton of social features. The problem with getting data to Strava is you have to sync your Edge bike computer with a USB cable after every ride, even though you can go a week or two without needing a charge.

Ever since I got the Edge 510, I've wondered how to easily transfer ride files from Garmin Connect to Strava so I could skip the cable-required-sync, and after a bunch of research I found a fairly odd little hack is available at GarminSync.com. The downside is that Strava doesn't currently offer an API, so you have to store your username/password at GarminSync, but once linked up, it does exactly what I wanted. You hit "Save" on your bike computer, it uploads to Garmin Connect, and a few minutes later that ride is also posted to your Strava account. It's great and does exactly what I wanted.

I suspect Garmin's running watches will soon share smartphone features as well, so this auto-upload-to-Strava thing may come in handy there too someday.

How to make your own Fusion drive

I've got a previous generation iMac, the first that came with a 256Gb SSD drive as an option, and I also had a 2Tb hard drive added to it, for longer term storage of things like photos, music, and movies that didn't fit on the first drive. It has worked well since I bought it a couple summers ago, the OS and applications reside on the SSD and are lightning fast, totally worth the expense of adding SSD as an option, while archived stuff and media still work well on the larger hard drive.

The downside to this setup was that it required lots of hacks to do things like symlink home folders to the larger drive and I had to tell every app to store data in a custom location on the bigger hard drive (apps always defaulted to storage on the SSD). It was a pain to manage and when my storage needs exceeded the 256Gb+2Tb capacity, I recently bought a new iMac featuring a 3Tb Fusion drive.

Last Fall, the newest iMac debuted with a Fusion drive, based on a combination SSD/HD setup that puts most frequently used files on the SSD to speed up operations while automatically moving larger files and seldom used files to the hard drive. It "cloaks" the two disks into appearing as a single disk, making file management among your apps and OS much easier.

As I recently found out, if you have the dual SSD/HD setup in a mac, you can also create a Fusion drive, combining the two. I found loads of conflicting information about this online but wanted to write up what worked for me.


1. This will require erasing your drives eventually, so it works best when you're setting things up from scratch or when you're ready to start over. Be sure to backup all your old data to external disks before proceeding. I suggest Carbon Copy Cloner to backup both existing drives in your iMac to a single external large drive.

2. Download the OS X Recovery tool and install it onto a USB key. This lets you boot to a USB thumb drive and run a minimal set of tools like disk utility and the terminal, both necessary for the operation. You must do this on the machine you intend to turn into a Fusion drive. 

3. Boot up your mac with the option key held down to boot to your recovery drive. Select the orange USB drive option and it should say "Recovery Disk" on it.

4. Follow the instructions here at cnet. It starts with making new single partitions on each drive, both your SSD and your hard drive. Then you close Disk Utility and go to the menu bar to run Terminal. Do the set of commands listed at cnet. My commands to create the combined drive used disk0 and disk1s2.

5. When complete, quit Terminal and the main utilities menu will pop up again. You can double-check your work by seeing only one physical disk in the Disk Utility app, and when you're done simply run the  "Reinstall OS X" option and let it do its thing.