Visiting Bath

Since we first flew to London almost a month ago, we’ve:

  • Quarantined ourselves in a small London flat with unreliable WiFi for two weeks, pidgeons and all
  • Made our way from London to Oxford via the train, replete with our five suitcases and several bags
  • Moved between four other AirBnbs:
    • Three nights in a stone house in Wheatley
    • Two nights at a nice microstudio in central London
    • Five nights at a house in central Oxford
    • Two nights in a quaint cottage in Bath
    • Our current location, in a tiny garden home, presumably sitting in the middle of an empty field with no one around to transmit Covid to, because we are very responsible citizens of the world who would never, under any circumstances, jeopardize the strict, and very wise, rules laid down by the UK government

So, there’s a certain amount of recapping due. Life has seemed to alternate between being dreadfully dull and extremely exciting, sometimes switching in the course of just a few hours. Our two weeks in quarantine were punctuated occasionally by socially distanced human interaction when we would order food from Deliveroo, or if the construction workers would wake us up by peering in through our window in the early hours of the morning. This was the first span in several months (possibly years) that Chi hasn’t had anything to do, so she watched the entirety of Friends and a few other shows on Netflix. Additionally, both of our sleep schedules were somewhat erratic, perhaps culminating in one particularly disrupted night when we woke up from a nap at 4PM and didn’t go to bed again until the sun came out the next morning. Chai lattes from Pret a Manger made it somewhat better.

London during Coronavirus is much more shut down than either of us remembered it being before. After our 14 days inside, we wanted to find a coffee shop to do some work in the awkward period between having to vacate our AirBnb and taking the train to Oxford. Chi found a luggage storage place near the train station and a coffee shop which was still open, but we had to do a bit of walking to get between each of them (again, we have quite a bit of luggage with us). The coffee shop, Harrison’s Coffee, was a cute place with a basement which was well spread out. Later, when we took the train up to Oxford, we both slept for a good portion of the trip.

Our first location in Oxford was at a stone house in the nearby city of Wheately, which as far as either of us is concerned is well and truly in the countryside. We got fish and chips from a small shop nearby which ended up being much bigger than either of us was bargaining for (although as we found out the next day, cold fish and chips make a fairly decent breakfast). The place was pitch-black at night, and we could see the stars.

Our first week in Oxford involved Chi getting her card to be able to get into her dorm room and Ben getting a bike and joining a coworking space called the “Oxford Innospace”. Oxford is a very expansive university - you can ride a bike around for an hour and not repeat yourself, if you choose the right route, without even going out into the surrounding countryside. There’s cows and horses and stuff in the actual school grounds, and the architecture is pretty cool. If not for the constant weight of worry about the Coronvirus, it would be a pretty spectacular place to be.

Our first weekend, we went back into London, this time to actually see some sights. We ate a traditional English breakfast in the morning at Oxford, then caught the train into the city. We’ve both independently been to London and enjoyed going to the museums, in particular the Tate Modern, so we thought it would be fun to go together. We had a long, pretentious argument about what it means to enjoy a piece of artwork, and ate ramen and drank sake (scandelous by our normal standards of alcohol consumption). The next day, on our first full day in the city, we went to the Sky Garden, then got lunch at Borough Market, then went on a long tour of the Tower of London, including seeing the Royal Jewels. We did an awful lot of walking, but it was great getting to spend time in the city. For dinner, we got High Tea at the Dorchester, a swanky hotel next to Hyde Park at which Ben’s dad indulged in the same activity when he had visited many years previously - and this, at the bequest of his great-grandfather, who had also had High Tea at the Dorchester back after World War 2.

Our second weekend, we took a couple trains to Bath, and stayed with a really lovely couple in their house in the hills. Mary, Andy and their dog Reggie were the picture of a sweet British couple. Mary made us breakfast in the mornings. Chi had visited Bath before and was something of an expert on the attractions. On Saturday (our only full day in Bath), it was mostly rainy, which put a slight damper on our trip, but we had a very full day nonetheless. At 9:30 we went on a tour of the Roman Baths at the center of the city, walking through for almost two hours. When the bath was operational during the reign of the Roman Empire, it was covered by a ceiling, but the ceiling has since rotted away, leading to algae growth that gives it the green color it has now. The scale of the building was quite impressive, and the commentary during the tour did a lot to emphasize the religious, healing aspects of the baths for the Romans that lived here.

Then we walked through Bath Abbey, which saw the coronation of King Edgar the Peaceful in 973 AD. The abbey was undergoing construction in a large part, but there were some really intricate embroideries hanging on the walls. Afterwards, we got afternoon tea and rested our legs after so much walking. Chi was a lot more chatty than normal.

Bath was also home to Jane Austen for a good part of her young adulthood, so after we got afternoon tea we went to a museum dedicated to her. There were some videos with some very high-quality reenactments of her life, and we got to try out using a quill pen for the first time. We also walked around a house in No. 1 Royal Crescent. Perhaps the most uncharacteristic thing we did was to go drink beer and eat bar food at a pub called The Crystal Palace for a few hours. The combination of alcohol and lots of exercise knocked us out - Ben ended up falling asleep at about 8 PM.

All around, it’s been a pretty fun month in England. It’s looking increasingly like we might have to go back to the United States a bit early, but we’ve gotten to do a good amount of traveling around and spent time wandering.

First Day in London

We landed in London at 8:01 AM after a 7-hour flight from Atlanta. All around, it was a bit stressful. We drove Chi’s car from Nashville to her parents’ house in Cary, North Carolina on Saturday, which was about an eight hour drive, after a long week of work and packing for both of us. We spent a great two days with her parents and Susu, eating lots of her mom’s food. We watched “The Social Dilemma” with Susu and packed two weeks worth of food into two large suitcases, with an ability for weight estimation that would rival Rain Man. Even the woman at the flight desk was impressed when all four of our suitcases totalled almost exactly 50 pounds each.

Anyway, once we actually got to the boarding gate we figured everything would be smooth sailing (or as they say in Britian, “crumpets and raspberry jam”). Not so! Our flight into Atlanta was due to arrive at 6:00 on the dot, and our original flight to London was due to leave at 9:55, giving us plenty of time to transfer our luggage from Southwest to Delta. While waiting for the flight to take off and reviewing our itinerary, however, Ben realized that Delta had switched our flight sometime about a week ago, and now it would leave at 7:17. Which was cutting it a bit close. Ever the level-headed managerial type, Chi reassured us that we would be able to make the flight or find a reasonable alternative, and came up with a plan for once we reached Atlanta.

The minutes passed. We both waited with baited breath. Beads of sweat dripped slowly from our face shields down into our masks. The air was pregnant with what was to come. Then, from the captain’s quarters, an announcement: the flight would be landing twenty minutes early. We waited, with the intensity and focus of a pair of gazelles that have just spotted a cheetah, unable to concentrate on anything except our plan. In a flash (or slightly longer), the cabin doors opened. Chi’s natural intimidation and raw physical strength cleared a path from our seats to the exit doors. Ben set off to the Delta ticket counter, Chi to the baggage claim, with a short stopover in the bathroom.

At the Atlanta airport there’s a train between the terminals, with a parallel walking path in case you don’t want to ride it. We were in terminal E and had to get to the baggage claim area, five terminals over. When he arrived at the train, Ben saw that it was one minute and twenty seconds away. That was a one minute and twenty seconds that he didn’t have. Ben ran down the walking path - terminal D. The train now read 55 seconds away. Still too much time. He ran to the next one - terminal C. Now it was 20 seconds away. Ben had saved a whole minute by running rather than waiting for the train. A genius, and physical specimen to boot.

While Chi went to the baggage claim, Ben went to secure our tickets. The man at the ticket gate was very friendly, and helped us get our tickets sorted. Once our baggage arrived from Southwest, Chi phoned and we dragged it over to the drop-off counter. All told, we made it by a hair - a two minute wide hair.

Also Ben has TSA pre-check and Chi does not. He’s never been more humiliated in his life than when he had to take off his shoes and take his laptop out of his bag to go through security. Just a side note.

We got on the plane, though! Our assigned seats were next to each other, on the far right-hand side of the plane. The plane was almost completely empty. We watched Tron - the 1982 Tron, not the newer one - and it’s now Ben’s favorite movie, narrowly edging out the 1995 classic Hackers. It’s a must-see movie for programmers everywhere. After that, we stretched out across a row of seats and slept for the remainder of the flight.

Ben is a very important person. He had a lot of clout in many social arenas, flying being one of them. Chi awoke a bit before Ben did. As we neared London, two of the Delta flight attendents came down the aisles searching anxiously for a certain “Benjamin Bolte.” In her naivety, perhaps forgetting for a moment who exactly she was engaged to, Chi worried that Ben was in trouble with the airline. Fingers trembling, she pointed to the seat where Ben was peacefully reclined, Buddha-like. The attendant apologetically awoke him, thanked him for his loyalty as - not a Bronze, but - a Silver Medallion Delta Frequent Flyer, and asked, prostrate, if he would care for a cinnamon roll, or perhaps a cup of their finest coffee.

Once we’d landed, we walked for several minutes through Heathrow airport. At the border control, the guard interrogated Ben as to why he was accompanying Chi, but ultimately allowed him to pass. We got our bags, loading most of them on to a trolley. Since our flight had arrived earlier than we’d expected, we contacted the AirBnB host and asked if we could check in early, to which he happly agreed. When Chi came to London in college, she was a poor, miserly student, but now, as a poor, miserly medical student who happens to be engaged to someone with disposable income, we were able to take the Heathrow Express from the airport to Paddington Station in London, a quick, comfortable 15 minute ride rather than the typical hour-long jaunt on the tube. From there, we took our bags in a black cab to the AirBnB, which was located next to Reagent’s Park in Central London.

We had some trouble getting into the flat. At first the host hadn’t given us the information for the lockbox, and when he did, we couldn’t find the box itself. After we found it, the code we’d been given wouldn’t work, and the host gave us a different code. Once inside, there appeared to not be an elevator, and we would have to carry our 200 pounds of luggage one by one to our 5th floor flat. But fortunately someone in passing mentioned that the lift was just around the corner.

As we’re writing this, we’re sitting on the couch. It’s a bit after 10 PM. We took a nap for a few hours earlier, and we’re both quite jetlagged so we don’t feel too tired. We might stay up and watch some British movie like Sherlock, featuring the prolific British actor Robert Downey Junior. We had our first dinner of Udon noodles. Also, Chi ate crackers and sardines for the first time ever, and liked them. Ironically our condo in Nashville has about ten cans of sardines from Chi’s apartment, which were delegated basically as apocolypse food. But it’s always nice to try new things.

3D Printed Air Planter Bookend

Inspiration

Before the quarantine period, the 3 hours in the pottery studio were among my favorite hours of the week. With soft music from the radio and chatter from other students, I was completely immersed in the present. Unlike most other aspects of my life, I rarely had a plan when I started kneading the freshly cut piece of clay. Even though Ben would be quite encouraging, I have to admit that I am not very good and still have a lot left to learn. During the last session before our city’s stay-at-home order, a decorative dish for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary was ready for the kiln, and I built a bookend with a cylindrical flower holder.

Pottery Pieces

Since then, the pieces probably found home on the studio’s shelves. With the arrival of our many new air plants (gifted by Julia), we printed Bulbasaur planters as seen in a previous post. However, some of our plants still needed a place, and my books remained held in place by candles.

Design

We designed a bookend that fulfilled both of these purposes. We measured the air plants’ radius and height to determine an average opening diameter (width - padding). Given the majority of our books are 8.5 x 5.5 inches, we approximated the bookend’s height to be approximately half. Here’s our code in openSCAD.

We were drawn to the symmetry as seen in our final STL. The lowest level contained dome-shaped openings for our plants. In contrast, the upper levels had cylindrical space to hold stationery and flowers.

Troubleshooting

Our first printing attempt was halted by the thermistor accidentally falling off from the nozzle. As we tried to remove the failed build from the glass bed, parts of the bottom cracked and left a gaping hole. Concerned about the similar fate of our future prints, we upgraded Jules (our 3-D printer) with a better carbon-silicone printing platform. By forming strong cohesion, the heatbed allowed for much easier removal of the print. Despite the extra hours of installing the plate to fit our machine and calibrating, we were quite happy with the results. Ben also patiently changed printing parameters such as increasing the layer height to shorten our printing time by a third.

Final Reveal

After 4 hours of printing, our books found new company on the shelf: a wood PLA bookend. As planned, our 3 air plants occupied the bottom level. The blue pencil with the inscribed “I need a god** nap” was from a small stationery stand within the Last Bookstore, where we visited during our first ever trip together to LA. The baby’s breath were dried and collected from a rose bouquet Ben gifted me for Valentine’s day.

Bookend

Our adventure with 3-D printing thus far has been a process of trial and error. I still miss my pottery studio. Though, for now, I am glad we had a chance to discover the magic of experimenting with PLA and Jules.

3D Printed Laptop Stand

Preface: this isn’t an actual stand, it is just a stand to hold a laptop upright so that it takes up less desk space. In my opinion this constitutes a real stand, but when he told his friend Matt about it Matt assumed it meant some kind of stand to elevate a laptop to eye level height, which it isn’t. Although Chi wanted to print this, so we might do that in a future project.

The Covid-19 induced quarantine has hit the world hard, but perhaps none have been hit harder than the tech worker. Indeed, these creatures have hitherto known nothing but a life of free food, snacks, massages and standing desks. Yes, while many across the country are struggling through such trivialities as the deaths and sicknesses of loved ones or crippling job loss and unemployment, these tech workers have had to deal with the horrors of having to cook food for themselves, and dealing with sometimes spotty wifi.

This is obviously sarcastic. Both Chi and I have been extremely fortunate to be able to stay safe inside together during this pandemic without having to worry about losing our jobs. However, it has taken some time to get used to our new arrangement. Besides going from living in different timezones to spending 24 hours a day within the same 500 square foot studio apartment, it’s been interesting to adjust to the challenges of working remotely. I bought a fancy new monitor and standing desk on Amazon, because otherwise I was going for whole days without even standing up. About two weeks into quarantine, my work laptop’s i key started to get stuck, which makes a big difference as a programmer who is terrible at coming up with unique variable names, so I also bought a new keyboard and mouse (the laptop in question is one of the Macbooks with the really crummy butterfly keyboards - it is not the first laptop I’ve had which has had this problem 😕).

Tragically, however, the keyboard doesn’t leave a whole lot of desk space. Enter the 3D printer. Inspired by the Nintendo Switch stand, I wanted something to store my laptop upright so that I could just plug it into my monitor. There’s this little 2FA USB fob thing on the side that I needed to keep available too. I got the laptop dimensions from Apple’s website, and Chi and I whipped out OpenSCAD and went about designing the holder (as in one of our previous posts, a non-negligible amount of the designing process took place while watching a movie with Chi’s sister, although in this case it was a zombie movie which we actually thought was terrifying).

The final design was actually quite a bit more complicated than I thought it would be. During college, Chi did a course on architecture of cathedrals and was adamant about including buttresses, hence the unfortunately-named butwid and butfact variables.

Here’s the final STL, using the parameters from the above code. It’s parameteric so if you want to make one yourself, you can mess with the variables at the top.

We used the same nGen Colorfabb filament from the dishwasher build. This might not have been such a good idea, since we didn’t really need it to be dishwasher safe or anything, and the nGen filament seems to be a bit more prone to leaving strands behind and clumping up aroudn the main verticals than the PLA is (although this might have just been the design - we don’t have enough experience printing stuff yet, I think).

Here it is in action. It actually turned out quite well, despite some rough edges at the top. I thought I might need to put in some foam padding or something, but the plastic seems to be soft enough that I’m not too worried about scratching my laptop or anything.

Stand

Stay safe!

3D Printed Dishwasher Chopstick Catcher

Inspired by a really cool project on /r/functionalprint, I wanted to print a plastic piece that would fit into the dishwasher utensil tray and prevent chopsticks from falling through the bottom. After the bulbasaur planter, this was our first functional 3D print. It seemed like an ideal project - it was pretty specific to our dishwasher and unlikely to be something that we could buy online, and it wasn’t too big so it wouldn’t take too much time or filament to print.

The first step was to figure out the right dimensions of the tray. There were a few ways we tried. First, we tried taking a pink sticky note and tracing around the bottom of the tray. This worked pretty well, but it didn’t feel enough like what an actual engineer would do, so afterwards we took calipers to the tray to double check our measurements.

Initial design

I spent about half and hour designing the piece in OpenSCAD while we were watching a movie called Okja with Chi’s sister. It ended up being a pretty fun challenge to add the slots in the right way - we ended up having to be a bit clever with the offset function. For such a seemingly complex piece, it didn’t end up taking very much code at all.

Here’s the final STL. It is pretty specific to our dishwasher tray, but the general idea is probably relevant to most dishwashers (this has been a thorn in my side for years).

We also had to find a printer filament that would be dishwasher safe. Regular PLA wouldn’t work, and ABS, which is what most people use for this kind of stuff, was smelled really bad (we’re stuck inside because of the coronavirus outbreak, and opening the window didn’t cut it). Plus, our 3D printer had trouble getting hot enough to melt ABS reliably, and even when it did, it got everywhere and was a pain to get working.

However, not to worry! Chi’s sister’s boyfriend Marc recommended using nGen Colorfabb filament, which was fantastic. On the first print, I got greedy and tried to remove the print before the tray had finished cooling down, which ended up shattering the piece. Lesson learned: the cooling process is important, because when the plastic cools down, the contraction pulls it back from the glass surface.

And here it is, the final product in action!

Catcher

Honestly game changing. Better living through technology.