Slide Scanners

What to do when you’re retired and there’s a pandemic? Sort thru your thousands of photos and slides!

The photos were easy, and we can scan those on our all-in-one printer/scanner. But for slides you need a special device, and we got one of those this week.

“It’s going to take forever!” we said before. But I can tell you that I’ve done about 150 over a couple of evenings. Shove one in, press 2 buttons, shove in the next one, and so on. Take out the chip, use a little USB adapter to connect it to the PC, and copy all the files.

From there, you can take your time to edit, delete, improve, share… anything. And it’s pretty amazing how good these look (especially the ones from my folks’ wedding in 1948)!

NOT Amazon! This came from (cheaper with online coupon)

Refrigerator Alarms

One morning recently, I got up and came downstairs to find the refrigerator door hanging open. We had shoved something in a bit too tightly the night before, and it pushed the door open after we left. The fridge had been running all night; the temperature inside was in the mid-50s.

Yes, we had to throw some stuff out; fortunately our inventory was down. But it was time to look for a way to keep that from happening.

We ended up ordering two things, and are happy with both:

REFRIGERATOR DOOR ALARM: This little device sticks to the refrigerator door, with a magnet stuck to the freezer door just above it. As long as it senses the magnet, it’s happy. But open either door and it chirps. Keep the door open a while, and it chirps again. After a minute, it really starts complaining with a long and whiny BEEEP!!!

REFRIGERATOR DIGITAL THERMOMETER: While shopping for that little device, I ran across this. Two sensors–for the fridge and freezer–monitor the temperatures. A nice digital display hangs on the wall nearby.

I immediately found out our fridge and freezer were horribly maladjusted! The freezer was below zero; the fridge was in the upper 40s. I tweaked those two controls (they interact) over the next couple of days and they are now in the range recommended by various government agencies.

It’s also a real education about the variation of temperatures within the fridge. It’s about 15 degrees warmer in the door compartments than at the back wall (so now I know where to put my beer). The great thing is that you see these measurements without opening the door, which, of course, screws everything up.

The thermometer also has an alarm function which I’ve not yet set but will soon.

And the next step will be set up the Alexa SmartGuard function to listen for that alarm sound and, when it hears it, yell at us up in the bedroom. She can be trained to do things like that (for example, recognize the sound of a window breaking); we’ve not yet explored it.


OK, I know this is how Amazon watches my every move, and knows my every thought. But what don’t they know about me already?

We drank the Alexa Kool-Aid after doing a house sit for a very high-tech family in Oakland, California. “You’re going to love her!” they said, and I hope our eye-rolls were not visible.

But we quickly got used to saying “Alexa, play dinner jazz” or “Alexa, what’s the weather in Progreso?” or “Alexa, who won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005?” We ordered one while we were up there and brought her down with us.

We now have five of her, stationed in strategic locations. The most frequent use is to stream music wherever we are. (This requires a subscription to a service; we use Spotify for 99 pesos/month.) But we ask her questions, set timers and alarms (“Alexa, set a 30-minute timer” or “Alexa, set an alarm for 7:30AM Monday thru Friday.”), do conversions (“Alexa, how many grams in 13 ounces?”) and, of course, ask those Oscar questions.

But we also use her daily as an Intercom system. Our two offices are miles apart in our house, so I can just say “Alexa, drop in on Speranza’s office” and we can have a conversation.

We’re using a fraction of one percent of what she can do, but we continue to poke around. And she is very polite, sometimes offering to do more. (“Would you like me to set that alarm for you every day?”)

BY THE WAY: Remember the computer voice in Star Trek? Despite them being light years ahead of us, Alexa’s voice is completely realistic (maybe that’s what scares some folks).


A Suggestion from an Internet Veteran (circa 1995):

Especially in stressful times (and this may be the most stressful ever), you sometimes just want to let out a huge rant; to just let it all out. Unfortunately, Facebook makes that WAY too easy to do, and you may inadvertently say things you wish you hadn’t.

SO my suggestion (and I have used this for all those 25 years, and am using it as I write this now): instead of opening Facebook, just open up your text editor instead. That’s Notepad on your PC; might be something like “Text” “Notes” or “Memos” on your phone or tablet.

Now, type everything you want. Let your guts out, type EVERYTHING you have on your mind. Drink a glass of ice water halfway thru; that will cool you down while you finish.

When you’re done, go back through it. Read it slowly, edit and possibly delete some stuff. This will put your thoughts more in order, and will depressurize you even more.

All good? Now take what you wrote and make a decision: if this truly does express thoughts that will improve the state of the online world, simply SELECT ALL and COPY, then open Facebook and PASTE it in there.

(NEED HELP making that decision? Give it the Rotary International Four-Way Test. It’s just four questions:

  • Is it the TRUTH?
  • Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  • Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?)

And if what you wrote was really just to get it off your chest and reduce that very real pressure, remember you can just save it to your device, Email it to yourself, or do a Facebook post to ONLY ME.

Or, if you’ve really accomplished what you set out to do, just DELETE it and you’re done.

Not Leavin on a Jet Plane

With apologies to Peter Paul & Mary, I rewrote these lyrics during the coronavirus pandemic. This was a week in March 2020 when thousands of snowbirds, mostly Canadians, were trying to get home after wintering here in Yucatan, Mexico. Every day there was new, often conflicting information, and most of these lyrics just came to me. Enjoy, and feel free to copy and pass on. (The day after I wrote it and posted it on Facebook, it got forwarded to someone who recorded it. I’ll put that link at the end.)

All my bags were packed, I was ready to go
I was standing there outside your door
I wanted to wake you up to say goodbye
But a text came in; there won’t be a plane
The flight is cancelled, it’s such a pain
I lock my door; I look outside and sigh

Don’t kiss me, just smile at me
Stand at least six feet from me
Text me that you’ll never let me go
I was leavin’ on a jet plane
I don’t know when I can fly again
Oh, babe, I want to go.

So I’m trying to find another flight
For any time, both day and night
I’ll tell you now, nothing works at all
The lines are jammed, I can’t get thru
The Website’s down, I tried that too
I just feel like I’m up against a wall.


OK it’s time to face the fact
It makes no sense trying to go back
I close my eyes and see myself staying here
I dream about the days to come
And panicking is really dumb
Think back to when “Corona” was a beer.

So kiss me and smile for me
Stay here in my home with me
Self-quarantined but happy in our home
‘coz I’ve let go, of that jet plane
Don’t care if I go back again
Oh, babe, I love you so.

The video is embedded below. If it does not work, copy/paste this into your browser and it should come up:

A Second Monitor

I started using a second PC monitor many years ago.  At that time my PC was a big cream-colored box, and the two monitors were bulky, heavy, expensive TV-type things.

But the space, trouble and expensive were worth it.  I still say today, adding a second is the biggest productivity-increaser you can do.

Nowadays, most of us are working on a laptop, and that makes it far easier to add a second monitor!  You just plug it in to the HDMI connector on your laptop, and Windows will find it.  Go into your Display settings and you’ll find the place to tell Windows to “Extend my display onto this monitor.”  You have to tell Windows where the monitor physically is (mine is to the right and somewhat higher than the laptop), so that dragging windows from one to the other feels natural for  you.

Once you have your monitor working, you might also think about mounting it on the wall in front of  you.  As I’ve gone into literally hundreds of home and office workspaces over the years, maybe 1 out of 20 has the monitor up at eye level where it belongs.  Once that required unsightly plastic stackers (I piled up phone books, back when they existed) to raise the monitor, but modern flat-panel screens are very easy to mount on your wall.

(HINT:  if you’re doing this for the first time, you might want to get a piece of wood and stand it up between your desk and the wall.  Mount your monitor to THAT first; it’s much easier to work with wood screws and experiment with the height to get it just right.  Once you know where you want the monitor, you can take it off the board and then drill right thru the board to put your holes in the wall.)


LED Rolls of Lights

These things are amazing, easy to use, and really cheap.  There are now LED specialty shops all over the place (including two in Progreso on C.78 near the beach), and they’re sold at the big places like Niplito and (for more money) at Home Depot.  Easy to buy online too from places like Masluz.

A typical package has 5 meters of LED’s rolled up on a reel.  (Remember audio tapes and 8mm film?  It’s a reel like that.)  One end will have a connector on it, and you plug that into the power supply.  Plug the supply into an outlet and the whole strip lights up.

There are also LED strips made up of red green and blue (RGB) LEDs.  These will come with a controller that connects in between the strip and the power supply, as well as a little remote control the size of a credit card.  These strips let you change the colors, dim them, and even start them animating with constant color changes.

And what can you do with these things?

  • If you have a recessed area at the top of a wall, unroll a strip for beautiful indirect lighting.
  • Stick a strip under a shelf for even lighting along the entire length.
  • Light an entire china cabinet by running strips vertically down the sides.
  • If you buy a strip rated for use outdoors, string it along anything to light the area.

MOUNTING THE STRIP:  The flexible LED strips come with an adhesive strip along its entire length; you take off the backing and press it in place.  That’s great provided your surface is perfectly smooth, and perfectly clean.  I find that strip does not work well, but there are lots of little clips (made for purposes like holding wire to a wall) that can be used to hold it up.

CUTTING THE STRIP:  LED strips cut easily with sharp scissors or wirecutters.  BUT you must be careful to cut the trip at the right place!  You will see the little square LEDs, and between them will be pairs of small copper foil surfaces.  Cut the strip right across that copper foil, so you leave a bit on each of your cut ends.  If you do this, you’ll be able later to solder thin wires to them and use the part you cut off for something else.

ADDED SEPT 2020:  I had to replace a strip this summer, and the new ones came without a remotecontrol.  These operate thru Wifi or Bluetooth from your phone, tablet or home assistant (e.g., Alexa).  The app, called Tuyasmart, lets me adjust the colors and brightness and also set timed events (turn on every evening at 7PM, off at 10:15PM, etc.).  A very nice addition, although if it loses its wifi connection I have to go up a ladder to reset it.


Plugs and counters

SUBCATEGORY: new construction/remodeling

This is just an easy idea that we’ve now done in two houses (in two countries).

It is simply this:  when designing your kitchen or bathroom, have an AC outlet (or two) installed under the counter, in a place where you will be able to reach it.  Then have a 1-inch (2 or 3 cm) hole drilled above it in your countertop.

Why?  So that the cords of your always-connected counter appliances–toothbrush/WaterPik in the bathroom; coffeemaker/grinder/toaster–stay totally out of your way and out of sight, all the time.  (You might even have a shelf under the bathroom counter for the toothbrush, REALLY keeping that ugly thing out of sight.)

5 July–Lessons Learned

Two days and nearly 200 really nice Facebook reactions and comments later, and I’m feeling very good about La Sirena.  Her name is “Serena,” which is not very original but is the right word for the way I’ve been pronouncing her name up to now.  (“Sirena” gets pronounced see-RAY-nah in español; “Serena” is more se-REY-nah which is better.)

I went back thru the site looking for things that worked and others that didn’t.  For those of you thinking of doing something like this yourself, I offer all these helpful hints!  Some may apply to you and help you out.


This first lesson is WAY down in the process.  but it is so important I’m putting it first.  I had no idea how dangerous a bench grinder can be.  The fact is, I am very lucky that I never took a big chunk out of one of my fingers while using this thing.  At first I was not even using gloves, and it was a fortunately-very-small scrape of a knuckle that woke me up.  One wrong move and you could be down to bare bone in a split second.  I DID wear gloves from then on, and even wrapped the index fingers in ductape to give more protection.

Eye protection–an absolute must.  Even with the guards on the grinder, stuff BOUNCES.

And I did this entire project wearing little rubber slip-on loafers.  One day a tiny bit of white-hot tile dropped down in one of them.  I think the burn is third degree since six weeks later it is still healing.  Only the fact that it is so tiny kept this from being serious.  It’s very hot here, and long pants would have killed me, but some additional protection would have been a REALLY good idea.

OK, now to a more consecutive list:

Although this was a great experience, I really would advise doing something SMALL first!  A 2-foot-square design on plywood would be a great start.

I grabbed lots of images off the Web and pulled them into Photoshop.  It was easy to do lots of interations and move things around.  (In the original image she is swimming to the left!)  Remember that the design had to be driven by the available material, not the other way around.

I ordered the brown mosaic transfer paper from Mosaic Art Supply in the USA way back in May 2017.  Although I used it a lot less than I thought I would, it was EXACTLY the right thing to get the critical head and body from the table to the wall.  I really want to SHOUT OUT those folks; they stuck with me all the way thru this thing.

My first real problem was with the sticky-back glass tiles, which over the months on the table really stuck themselves HARD and had to be pried off.  That’s a warning: don’t let your project sit around for six months like I did.

This was before putting those two transfer-paper areas up on the wall.  It is a VERY good thing that I used a level to draw a line on the wall, and then gave my best “This should be horizontal” line on the surface of the paper.  If I had not done that, I really would have been in a bind trying to get the sheets up at the right angle.  Remember, I could NOT see the tiles–they were under the paper as I pressed it all to the wall.

This stuff is priceless.  In Mexico it is Resistol’s No Mas Clavos (“No More Nails”).  I think in the USA this would be Liquid Nails, but look around.  It has to grab IMMEDIATELY and not come off the wall.  It should be thick, and helpful if it’s either white or clear.

On that same page is the first time we see the hair on the wall.  This really is a beautiful material; it was left over from our bathroom remodel.  In Mexico it comes from Castel and you can see it on this page, but I know it’s imported and available in other countries (probably the USA) as well.

The tailfin really did not come out the shape I had hoped for; I wanted a lot more definition between the two sides of it.  The rule here is to STAND BACK MUCH MORE OFTEN and get the big picture.  Doing a pencil drawing here would have really helped me, I think.

This page shows the big paper printout on the table; it was finally uncovered enough to see.  It was a HUGE help in laying out La Sirena at the beginning.  I printed this out using Adobe InDesign; if you do not have software that lets you print something huge over multiple pages, then take your image to a shop that has a big chartplotter.

This page is about not having enough tile.  I know this happened because (1) we moved her over a bit, requiring more tile at the left end of her tail, and (2) I was putting up tile closer together than I did on the table (which made it look MUCH better).  Moral: start with more than you need!!

As part of that, I also had to change my whole process.  I really could not spread adhesive on the wall, and then turn around and try to find tiles to fit.  That’s great with a huge inventory of different sizes and shapes; but the fewer you have, the harder it gets, and the more cutting and grinding you khave to do.  SO the process became finding/fitting/grinding tiles and taping them up (same page as above), then after doing 30 or so, mixing cement and gluing them all up at once.

Ah, this was interesting, and very Mexican! The top edge of our wall was very uneven, and not level.  That meant I had to use large tiles (easy to see in the photos so that sufficent tile would be cemented to the wall.  Over the following days I would take whatever cement was left in the bucket after fastening the taped-up tiles, scoop it up in my hand and stuff it gently behind those sticking-up tiles.  At this point, it’s a pretty smooth line up there; the tiles are cemented 100% up the back.

This was fun.  I forgot who suggested dropping in some fish, but it was a REALLY good idea.  A quick trip to downtown Progreso found some ceramic fish being sold to cruise-ship visitors at ridiculous prices, and (two blocks away) these fine specimens priced very reasonably.  The fish look good, break up the sea, give La Sirena something to reach out to, AND meant I didn’t need so much tile!

This is a little artistic inspiration that nobody is ever going to notice except me.  I had a few dozen tiles with bubble patterns in them, and I decided to let these come from her mouth and up to the top edge.  It was fun doing that, and I’m glad they are there.  But the pattern is so subtle that I have to point it out from up close.  (So, this is your and  my little secret.)

On that same page, a very good idea for laying out more of the “top row” tiles.  Going up and down that little stepstool got exhausting; easily 100 times a day.  But I realized that for the top row, I could just lay tiles on a single row on the table, and then cement and out them all up at once.  No blue tape (which there was nothing to stick to up there anyway).  Worked!

There were HOURS spent scraping excess cement out from between the tiles.  This picking tool was priceless.  Radio Shack throws this in with their $11.00 soldering iron set; I don’t know another way to get one.  I used both ends–the little flat angled one and the pointy one–both to very good effect.  It lasted all the way until last week then finally snapped.  I ground down a small screwdriver for the last few days.

An existential crisis here.  I asked myself “Is there so much color up there that Sirena is getting lost?”  I was getting a lot of green tile that wasn’t the boring 1950’s bathroom stuff; this was brighter colors which I had to spread out.  Trying to make things consciously look random is a real challenge!  I think it came out OK in the end.

I found what I hope is a very good sealer for the tiles.  Barniz (varnish) from Bexel is made to work on all porous surfaces including ceramic.  I brushed that on any tile that did not look like it still has its glaze; I had no trouble at all getting the excess grout off afterwards.

I was very disappointed in the grouting float that I bought from Home Depot.  Tiny bits of the black rubber came off in the grout; although you have to look hard to see them, I really expected better.

Funny thing is, every Mexican construction guy I talked to said the same thing: to use a Sandala de Playa!  That is, a flip-flop. The rubber base of these is exactly the right thing, and you can probably find one that’s the same color as your grout.  I’m serious. EVERY professional tile guy down here grouts with these things.

The other thing on this page is the problem with the shells.  I should not have glued these to the concrete wall, the ended up way deeper than the top of the tiles and would be completely buried by the grout.  SOLVED easily enough: since shells are unlimited and costless here at the beach, I found some of the same size and just glued them over the tops of each one.

The grouting bag was a problem too.  It is way too big for this kind of detail work, and the whole is also too big.  Solved by cutting it down, and shoving a grommet in the hole.  There is a much better solution on the Mosaic Art Supply site using an actual cake decorators nozzle.

Going to their site for help after my first difficulties with the bag brought me one more no-brainer idea for this page:  Go look for help FIRST!

Which is what I hope you did coming to this page.  And now that you’re all versed on what can go right and wrong, Go forth and TILE!

5 July, 2018



On 30 April 2017, I downloaded some mermaid images off the Web.  I’m calling that the official start date of the La Sirena project.

2:30 PM on 3 July 2018, 429 days later, the mosaic is officially completed.  Here she is!


There was an initial flurry of work in May and June of last year.  I did the design, printed it out full-size and spread it out on three long tables.  All of Sirena was laid out on top of the design, and I even put up a few tiles (the ones in the far lower left corner).   Then we started traveling and did a lot of construction work on the house, so the next six months the project was on hiatus.  It all restarted in January of this year, and this blog went online soon after.

La Sirena is a bit larger than planned; about 30 inches high (it varies since there is no such thing as a straight line in Mexican construction) and 13’10” long.  A fast calculation says there are more than 2,000 tiles up there (maybe I’ll count them one day).


Today started with grouting all the seafloor.  This was much harder than the ocean end of the project, because of all the shells. I could not use the grout float on much of the area without getting grout all over them, so I ended up using a ScotchBrite sponge for a lot of it.

This photo shows what I mean; the shells were about a foot apart or less.  You can also see the little “surprise” I mentioned on the Last Tile post; I inserted a mermaid pendant which was made and given to us a few years ago by our friend and mermaid enthusiast Pat Scott.  (Thanks, Pat!)

After grouting the seafloor, I got to work with the Grouting Bag filling in the crevices that I couldn’t get at with the float.  The bag is a large version of a cake decorator’s frosting bag and works the same way.

In this photo you can see the blue nozzle at the end of the rolled-up bag.  I’m squeezing the grout into the empty spaces around the fish.

I’m glad I only mixed up a little grout for my first try at this.  The bag was way too big and so was the nozzle.

Over lunch I looked on the Web for some clues on how to improve the process.  (Note to self: do this before you start something new!)  I learned that these bags really aren’t made with mosaics in mind; they’re for things like stone walls that still have big gaps but aren’t suitable for the grout float.

I looked around for a way to make the hole smaller, and came up with a brass grommet. Glued it in with hot glue and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be pushed out by the grout.

It worked!   That and cutting the bag down to about 2/3 it’s original size (so it was much easier to handle) made the rest of the detail work go very well.  There was a LOT of it: the pottery fish, Sirena’s shell necklace, belt and bracelets; around her hair, and around all those shells and the starfish.

And after the detail grouting was done, there was a lot of scrubbing to do.  Seems like excess grout was everywhere, and some of it was pretty tough to get off.  I’ll probably be seeing wayward bits for months; I’ll scrape them if they bother me.  (It’s amazing what you don’t see if you’re not really looking for it.)

So that’s it!  By far the biggest art project I’ve ever done; one of the biggest projects of ANY kind, in fact.

Which brings me to the next big question:  What am I going to do tomorrow??


Next page:  Nope, we’re done! 
(Unless I do a “lessons Learned” page, but I’ll think about that first.)