Category Archives: howto

Mastodon, the Social Network(s)

Mastodon is sorta twitter  a distributed microblogging platform. Instead of a single server that everyone uses, there are many, many servers and no restrictions on setting them up. If you just want to get to microblogging and talk to other people who are using Mastodon, my short answer for you is: go sign up at That’s it! That’s all you need to do to get started!




Oh, some of you are still here! So, you might choose a different Mastodon server if you are looking to meet people who share your server. has all kind of people, so looking at the “local” timeline (just the people who are also on is going to find you a whole lot of different people who are there for different reasons. Maybe you want to find people to talk about computers with and feels more like your kind of people. Or something like, a server started by science fiction and fantasy fandom and writers – they welcome anyone and are going for a specific coffee shop chat kind of vibe. has a search function to help you find a server that fits you:

Screenshot 2018-04-03 20.59.18

I couldn’t get the full list into the screenshot, but I know some of you want to choose “in academia” for instance! (There exists a and I am following at least one person there)

What I did was start at and see who I was following the most and finding most interesting in the “global” timeline (every other server your server chooses to federate with – probably not all of them) and then get an account on a place that felt like “my kind of people”

Currently, I can be found on mastodon as





Closed-caption devices at yer regular mall theater, a report.

(I saw a Wrinkle in Time at Lloyd Center.) The device is eyeglasses with gadgets on the stems and a receiver attached by a cord. The gadgets project the captions onto the glasses.

Reading the captions wasn’t great – kind of felt like fighting a magic eye puzzle – but it was also good enough that I kept them on through the film, even tho the glasses were uncomfortable and i’m a cryer-at-movies

To get the device, I had to wait in line for the box office (we prebought tickets) and fill out a paper form with name/address/phone/movie/showtime – there were several people signed up on the same form (so you don’t get a picture) but only 1 for today

I did get the boyfriend to try them over his glasses before the movie started. (The device told us CC was on and what screen we were synced to.) It was tricky to get room between his glasses and the CC glasses to project the text on, but he was able to do it. For science, I should have tried again during the movie, but it’s a big tangle of equipment and I was actually watching the movie.

This post was originally a twitter thread.

Merch, no money up front: Big Cartel + Printful

Do you even occasionally have reason to sell things with your logo or design on them, but don’t want to have to figure out printing and inventory and all that shit?

Big Cartel makes it super easy to set up a store, and they have a free tier. Printful does print-on-demand and fulfillment, so you don’t create or ship the merchandise yourself.

All you need is:

  • a digital file of the image you want printed on things
  • a Stripe account or a Paypal business account
  • a credit card or Paypal account

Go create free accounts on Big Cartel and Printful.

In order for people to give you money, you need to setup payment options at Big Cartel. This is where that Stripe or Paypal business account comes in.

In order for Printful to send people things for you, you need to give Printful a payment method. They accept credit cards and Paypal.

Your Big Cartel shop is interacting directly with Stripe or Paypal, so you’re getting the money from orders however those platforms give it to you. Printful charges you item costs + shipping costs when they get the notice of the order from Big Cartel. (You can also load money ahead of time in your Printful “wallet.” A good option if you want to have tight control on how much gets charged to your card.) Within a couple of business days, they’ll have your merchandise created and sent to the customer. You do NOTHING after the initial setup.

The setup itself gets a little tricky in my mind, which is why I’m writing this up for you.

Create a product in your Big Cartel shop. If it’s a shirt or something with options/sizes (something where you will have Printful create different things to send out) go ahead and add the options when you create it. You don’t need to fill out much else right now.

Screenshot 2017-07-03 09.14.35.png

Over in Printful, it’s time to tell it about your Big Cartel shop, and have it pull over the items.

Click the Stores link in the header and then scroll down to this section:

Screenshot 2017-07-03 09.16.48.png

you want “Connect to an ecommerce platform”. Choose Big Cartel from the options, and then follow the prompts to get connected.

To get Printful to know about your product, you go back to that Stores dashboard and click the Sync button in the Product Sync column.

Here’s the other weird turn: this will take you to your Products page for that shop, and it seems like you should hit Edit here and create your product. Don’t do it! You want the Mockup Generator. It does a better job of walking you through creating print files that will work with the product. Then you can go back and hit Edit on the product page – and choose the print file you made in the Mockup Generator.

I hope this is enough to get you started. One way I have used this was to get a quick shop out to make Null Island shirts.

Visit to a Jewelry Workshop

I recently got to spend some quality time being underfoot at Mimosa Handcrafted. It was during the Christmas rush, so I tried not to interrogate them too much, but I was completely fascinated by the process of how designs became jewelry. So I’m writing it up here to make sure I have it straight and to share with the curious.

A little background first – my cousin Madeline created Mimosa Handcrafted several years ago, first as a side project. Over the years it has grown to be a full-time job for her and her husband Dawson, plus they have an employee, Courtney. Madeline and Dawson met studying landscape architecture at LSU. As you might imagine, they have great aesthetic senses and are very good at making them become reality.


Madeline makes the designs and most of the custom pieces. Dawson has taken over the process of making them into metal. They make their jewelry through lost wax casting.

Here’s my quick version of how it works:

Every piece of jewelry is created in wax first. A bunch of them are attached together so they can be cast efficiently. Surround the wax in plaster, let the plaster set, remove the wax. Boom, now you can pour hot metal into the plaster mold and get a clump of attached jewelry! It still needs to be detached and cleaned up, but you’ve gone from a piece of wax to a piece of metal.

And because I am a huge nerd for processes, here’s each step, with pictures and rambling:

1. Pieces are Created in Wax

There are two branches to this – new and custom pieces are created directly in wax, repeats get made in a silicon mold.

Madeline hand carves her designs, starting from a sketch.


Dawson creates a mold from the finished pieces, and then any of the team can squirt hot wax into it from this magic machine, the Injectomatic II.


2. Wax Pieces Get Attached to a “Tree”


This workbench is where it happens. The two open bowls are full of liquid wax. Red wax is extra sticky, the blue that you see everywhere is extra sturdy.

Off to the left, you see a black disc with a red stick of wax coming out of it – this is a bare tree. Each piece gets attached by a connection of wax called a “sprue.” For molded pieces the sprue is the bit where the wax gets injected into the mold. For custom pieces, someone has to glue a little wax sprue onto the shaped piece.

Then using dabs of the hot wax, each piece is glued to the tree.

2016-12-13 11.25.56.jpg

Cast tomorrow morning #lostwaxcasting #lostwax #riojeweler #mimosahandcrafted

A post shared by Dawson Ellis (@manmosahandcrafted) on

The trees go into containers so that plaster can go around them.

3. Mix Plaster, Remove Bubbles in a Bell Jar

4. Pour Plaster, Remove Bubbles


Bubbles in the plaster near the tree would leave extra bits of metal attached to the pieces. Or bubbles could make the plaster less strong, and the metal could break through bits – a blowout. Looks cool, but you have to totally start over.

I didn’t realize that generating a vacuum in your workshop was so common and so useful, but here’s a bell jar.

5. Allow Plaster to Set

I expected this to take days, but they told me it was more like a couple of hours.

6. Melt the Wax out in a Steam Bath


Late night de-waxing. #mimosahandcrafted #riojeweler #lostwax #lostwaxcasting

A post shared by Dawson Ellis (@manmosahandcrafted) on

This is Louisiana – so that’s a crawfish boil setup.

7. Burn off Rest of Wax and Set Plaster in Kiln


8. Melt Metal for a Given Tree

Since you know how much wax made up a tree, you can convert to find out how much metal it takes to replace that space. Dawson has a system where he marks each tree plaster, and precalculates the grams of bronze or silver to fill it up that tree.

Meltdown #lostwaxcasting #lostwax #mimosahandcrafted #riojeweler

A post shared by Dawson Ellis (@manmosahandcrafted) on

They have two melters (there’s probably a fancy word) for the metal, each has a graphite flask that will withstand about 3000 degrees – the metal is melted at about 2000 degrees.


9. Pour Metal into the Plaster Mold

Beautiful day for Casting #mimosahandcrafted #riojeweler #lostwaxcasting #lostwax

A post shared by Dawson Ellis (@manmosahandcrafted) on

Be careful. It’s hot.

10. Pull the Air out with a Vacuum

This thing is a  vacuum table


It pulls the air out through the (porous) plaster. This sucks the metal into all the tiny spaces.

Back to amazed at standard workshop uses for generating a vacuum.

11. Let the Metal Set

This takes several minutes, which I found surprisingly short.

12. Quench the Mold, Retrieve the Metal Tree


It’s still real hot, the tongs are important.

Most of the plaster will fall right out. Hose off as much of the rest as you can.

The plaster gets discarded at this stage. Dawson tries to dry out a tub worth so that it’s not as annoying to move, but it’s still heavy.

Whoa – we have jewelry made of metal now!!!

13. Clip the Pieces off the Tree

Gotta separate allllll of these from each other.

14. Pop Them in a Tumbler to Remove the Rest of the Plaster


15. Grind off the Sprue and Any Other Metal Sticky-Out Bits

They were a little worried that the grind wheel would wear down too much before they got through the Christmas orders – but they managed!

16. Clean, Buff, and Assemble the Final Piece

Some of the pieces have extra bits, like the Pelican Cuff can have a turquoise eye, or the Diffuser line all include terra cotta disks to hold essential oils. But all of them get lovingly polished and packaged before going on to new homes.

I hope it seems straightforward here, even though there are a lot of steps and a lot of places it can go wrong. It took two days of following Dawson around to see all of these steps – because they are all going on all the time! Madeline will be working on custom pieces while Dawson mixes plaster and Courtney grinds down new pieces. Or Madeline will be buffing jewelry while Dawson melts wax and Courtney handles packaging and shipping. Even in between each of these stages, more stuff gets fit in: waiting for the metal to cool gives Dawson a few minutes to set turquoise eyes in pelican cuffs. I’m so grateful to all of them for finding time to answer my questions while they were so busy. As you can tell, I really learned a lot!

(Scientific) Python on a new Mac

UPDATE: trying this on a new computer in June of 2017. Failing to get --with-python3 to work, and the python tap seems to be gone.


Sasha just asked about this, and then I realized I was saving a list in my shiny new data repo README at work. I emailed her that list and she suggested a blog post. It was great to be asked this while it was still fresh in my mind.

A few notes:

Everyone told me that the science/math/computing Python libs were happy with Python 3 so seemed like a good time to switch over

I just saw the brew tap command for the first time when I was googling all this.

same for --with-python3and then pip3

– brew install postgresql
– brew install python3
– brew tap Homebrew/python
– brew install numpy –with-python3
– brew install matplotlib –with-python3
– brew install scipy –with-python3
– brew install scikit –with-python3
– brew install scikit-learn –with-python3
– brew install leiningen
– pip3 install scikit-learn
– pip3 install pandas
– pip3 install jupyter

Survival Analysis:
– pip3 install lifelines

ggplot and prereqs
– pip3 install patsy
– pip3 install statsmodels
– pip3 install brewer2mpl
– pip3 install ggplot

What other scientific libs should I definitely have?

Am I going to run into any gotchas in Python 3?

How to get on IRC (freenode) with IRCCloud

Fill out the form on the front page to Sign Up, then you should see this screen:
Choose “Freenode” from the dropdown

Put in an all one word nickname to use on irc (think of it as a username), you can put in a real name if you want, but you don’t have to, and you can go ahead and list any channels you want to join. Click “Join network”

A whole bunch of esoteric dork stuff will happen on the screen, but EVENTUALLY you should see something like the screen above, where you can talk in the channel you set it to join.