Monday, December 8, 2014

Our Roomba with a can on his head

I've posted about our iRobot Roomba before and how well engineered this little robotic vacuum is, (We call him Pierre, our little French maid.) but he lives in a pretty harsh environment down there on the raw concrete floor of our living quarters and sometimes things break down.

This time it was the bump-sensors.

He has a bumper wrapped around the front (Yes, even though he's round he does have a front!) with a pair of sensors behind it that can tell when he's run into something and whether it's center, right or left. Then he backs up a little, turns in the appropriate direction, and sets off again on his busy little way. If one of these sensors gets stuck he starts frantically backing up and spinning one way then backing up and spinning the other way, and backing up some more like a cat with it's head stuck inside a Dinty Moore stew can.

If I happened to be around when he started this weird dance a good swift kick on the nose used to sort him out again, (Otherwise he eventually gives up and parks himself wherever he happens to be and waits for us to come back home and trip over him.) but recently no amount of foot-abuse could sort him out. Clearly something has quit doing it's thing and an on-board diagnostic pointed at the left bump-sensor.

Apparently this is not unique to our Pierre because I came up with this web page that walked me step by step through the process of setting him right again.

The first step, getting the cover (Bottom) off and removing the battery is quick and simple, 4 screws and you're there.

After that it starts getting a little more complicated so I got out a small parts bin and, working from left to right, using one bin per step so the parts, mostly screws, didn't co-mingle into a mosh-pit type scenario which I'd never be able to sort out again, I carefully kept things organized.

First he's flipped right-side up and the outer covers are removed

Then the various bits that make up the controls and switches are unscrewed/lifted off 

and the main PCB unplugged, (9 connectors in all) unscrewed and removed, which exposes all the hard-wired bits, including the bump sensors tucked under the cliff sensor assembly. (Which keeps him from falling down the stairs, if we had stairs.)

One of the bump-sensors lifted out and dismantled to it's component parts

Until I got all the way down to the two bump-sensors.

What's missing in the photo above (Hey! I was up to my elbows in Pierre guts and didn't always get back to the camera!) is a little PCB (Printed Circuit Board) that has an infrared emitter on one end and receiver on the other and fits into the housing. If you look close at the bit in the top right of the photo you can see an opening in the curved end of it, a tiny window. Normally the emitter shines infrared rays through this little window and tickles the receiver. When Pierre runs into something the arm moves the window away and the receiver is no longer tickled so knows the robot has run into something bigger than itself and signals for it to back away.

The web site is focused on replacing the emitter and/or receiver on the little PCB since it's usually one of these that causes the problem. (Replacements only cost a couple bucks per set but you have to do the soldering.) Since the sensors are encased in the enclosure which has a dust-seal (The square, ribbed thingy which is rubber) the site holds out little hope that a good cleaning will solve the problem, but apparently they are unfamiliar with concrete dust which will get into everything and anything.

So, a good cleaning, some reassembly

Tiny screws are difficult for fat fingers to retrieve from those little compartments n the parts organizer, but a quick stir with a magnetic pickup solves the problem. Warning! If you lost a screw and can't find it anywhere and you wear glasses that have tiny little magnets for holding the matching sunglasses on, check them for the missing screw!  Ask me how I know this!  Go ahead! Ask!

                                                   and Pierre was back on the job again.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Generally speaking, quality craftsmanship means doing the job once, putting up your tools, and being done with it.

When it comes to welding that's not me. . .

 Not quite a year ago I built this cart for hauling the trashcan up to the county road for pickup behind a 4-wheeler. This morning the cart tried to become trash itself when a weld connecting the body of the cart to the towing portion very rudely highlighted the quality of my welding skills.

I briefly considered removing the wood portion of the cart from the steel chassis before affecting repairs, but the very first carriage bolt I attempted to remove in order to make this happen showed a marked tendency to spin in place, so I abandoned that plan.

 Instead I cleaned things up a little with a wire brush, clamped the wandering parts back where they belonged, and grabbed a couple (There's another one on hidden over there on the other side.) of brackets out of my project bin that would hopefully protect the wood bits while I muddled around with a live welding rod.

I think I'm starting to get the mechanics of welding down since this time I didn't blind myself by forgetting to turn the self-darkening shield on or leave any stray scars or burn marks behind by aimlessly waving a live welding rod around,

but clearly I still need help, lots of help, with the actual welding part of the process!!!

As ugly as this looks, the joint survived several blows from a hammer before I tried disguising the mess with a fresh spritz of paint. The last weld survived approximately 45 round trips up to the county road, the counter is ticking for this weld. . .

Monday, November 24, 2014


OK!  According to the rain gauge this has been a very good month for wetness, and around here we like good months for wetness.

Long term average rainfall for November here is 3.36" but this November we pulled down a whopping 8.71", nearly 5 of that in the past 3 days. That puts us 4" over the average annual rainfall with December yet to go. That means that since 2009 when the drought really kicked in we are only down by 17".

But now the sun is back and that's good too!

To celebrate I got the camera out this morning.

This shot proves, despite what some think, that we do in fact have seasons down here in Texas, including a touch of color.

The seasonal changes might be a little more subtle than elsewhere, but then again we don't need a blizzard dumping a couple feet of snow that then hangs around for months to help us appreciate the warmth of a spring morning either. A week or so of freezing nights and daytime highs in the 40's with a stiff north wind will do quite nicely thank you very much!

This is just a lowly well-house, but even the mundane take on a special something in the right light.

And here I was supposed to have a couple photo's taken a little later in the day showing a lone, and very big and scary, snapper sunning itself on the bank at one end of the pond, and way over at the other end, well out of range of being - well - snapped, a taunting clique of various sized box turtles, only I didn't realize until I went to retrieve what arguably might have been the best photos I've ever taken in my life (Of course I have no proof of that but I'm sticking to it.) that the memory card was in the laptop at the time and not in the camera. . .

Sure, when you pull that particular bone-headed stunt a little reminder pops up in the vewfinder; 'No memory card!!'; but it seems to me it would be a simple thing to really idiot proof the whole operation (Because clearly there are real idiots out there!) and just disable the camera when the card isn't in it. . .

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Putting the monkey back in the box, at least until next time

I'm way late in getting this posted as the events that follow happened a while ago now, but I'm finally getting around to it.

If you have a good memory you might remember that I was in the middle of a chainsaw job when said chainsaw fell victim to a wrench the dang monkey was throwing around.

Well a few days later I had opportunity to purchase a few feet of the fuel line I needed and shortly after that the chainsaw once again looked like a chainsaw and not a pile of scrap on the corner of my workbench.

Oh boy! I'm supposed to make this back into something?!!!

The new, shiny yellow fuel line in place and ready to go!

My reassembled throttle controls even look like the before photo I took!!

And humpty all put back together again.

Except that the dang thing wouldn't run worth shiitake!! (And not the mushroom kind. . .) In fact it sounded suspiciously like the 4-wheeler that's been sitting in pieces over in a corner of the barn for months now because I can't seem to make it work despite the hours and hours I've put into it.

The dang thing (Chainsaw and 4-wheeler) won't idle at all and when I open the throttle it bogs down and has no power.

Given my track record with things mechanical, and especially things carburetor, I had virtually no hopes of redemption as I tore the chainsaw back down again.

I had gone on line and done some searching and even watched two videos on installing rebuild kits into chainsaw carburetors and got the impression that the people doing things like this don't think it's that big a deal. But then they've never seen me try it!

I had to get the carburetor out to find the brand and model before I could order a rebuild kit and as long as I had it out I went ahead and took it apart.

 What the hell, it already doesn't work. What's the worst I can do? Make it not work even more??

As long as I had it apart I figured I might as well practice putting it back together again. After all, if I can't manage that there's no sense in spending money on a rebuild kit is there!

So I put on some nitrile gloves, grabbed the air-hose, a face shield and a can of carb cleaner and had at it.

Well I don't know if it was pure luck or if I was suddenly channeling an expert mechanic from the great beyond, but after I did all that screwing around with it the dang thing worked!!

Figuring there was a time limit on this good fortune I quickly suited up in my chaps, long-sleeved shirt and face-shielded hardhat and finished cutting the cribbing I needed with my rejuvenated saw!

With that in place I slapped together a crude platform with some scraps of treated lumber I had laying around and stacked my handful of oak rounds on it where I'll let them dry a few months (The tree was already dead so they've got a good head start on drying already.) before splitting into firewood chunks.

Up until this point I was thinking about trading my basket of 4-wheeler for a couple loads of gravel, but now I'm feeling all manly and macho and just bought a brand new can of carb cleaner, so maybe I'll take another crack at it. . .

If nothing else it will slap the manly right back out of me and I've found that carrying around false manly can be a dangerous thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The monkey throws a wrench or two

We were up on the hill above our little patio the other day staking out the location of a privacy screen.

We are intensely private people (Others have another, less flattering, way of putting it but we're sticking with intensely private thank you.) and maintain a naturally thick and heavy growth along our fence line to block the view in, but if the weekend neighbors to the north come right up to a particular section of fence-line, and if it's winter when the vegetation is a little sparser, they might be able to get a glimpse or two of our little patio area. So we're going to put a natural cedar-stick screen up there in that band of growth on our side of the fence to make it a little denser.

(When that property to the north went up for sale we intended to buy it to increase our privacy buffer but it was grossly overpriced. While we were waiting for reality to drop the price to something more reasonable some damn fool that should know better (He lives in the city but sells farm insurance in the area so knows the land values.) paid way too much and bought the place out from under us. Not to mention the upward kick that gave all of our property taxes that year!)

The day after we set out the stakes marking the limits of our intended screen we made a run into town. It was a windy day and when we got back we discovered that an old oak had fallen right on top of our stakes!

Wrench One!

Which is exactly why we stay out of the woods on windy days around here! We have lots of Water and Post Oak and when these trees die they get brittle and tend to come down with no warning.

First they shed the larger branches (With a single, sharp crack followed by a thud and believe me, you don't want to be part of that thud as the branch hits the ground!) and eventually the denuded trunk is held up by - well - not much, and a little wind in the right place snaps off what little is left of the root system and down it comes!

As long as we're not underneath it when that happens we can simply clean up the results. In this case, since the wood was still in pretty decent shape I decided to cut it into fireplace sized chunks. Not that we have a fireplace, or even a fire ring, but who knows, someday we might. . .

Of course now I need some sort of wood rack to put the rounds into to keep them dry and rot free until I get around to splitting them. I have several treated 2x10's left over from other projects I can make a platform with, so I drug out a couple of railroad ties we've had laying around for years intending to cut them into cribbing to keep the platform up off the ground. Only the chainsaw that I had just used to cut the tree into rounds decided it wasn't going to work anymore and barely managed one cut.

Wrench Two!

I checked the usual culprits, fresh fuel, chain not binding, pull and clean the plug, but that was just wishful thinking since I had a sinking feeling I knew what the issue was all along.

You see, when I pumped the primer bulb after putting fresh fuel in the saw, I noticed I was getting lots of teeny tiny bubbles and teeny tiny bubbles are not normal! So I drained the fresh fuel back out and did some poking around inside the fuel tank where I found the weighted fuel filter just rattling around loose instead of hanging on the end of the fuel line where it belongs. I fished the end of the fuel line out to where I could see it and found it was split and rotten.

Once again that ridiculously inefficient and environmentally questionable gas-alcohol mix that's been forced on us by well meaning but short sighted environmentalists helped along by savvy agribusiness has bitten me in the ass! Despite draining the fuel tank between uses, the alcohol has still managed to rot the fuel line.

So, forced into the role of mechanic, a role I'm not very well suited for, I started taking lots of pictures and disassembling the saw so I could get in there and replace the fuel lines.

The lines to and from the primer bulb are in pretty good shape, which is a good thing because the one running back into the fuel tank, the longer one on the top in the photo above, goes to some sort of fitting inside the tank and just doesn't want to come loose. Afraid I would  break something with disastrous results if I pulled any harder, I decided to just leave it as is. But as long as I was there I went ahead and replaced the shorter line even though it was still in good shape, (This rotting of the fuel line issue is not new and I have a stock of new, alcohol resistant, tubing on hand.)

but for some strange and frustrating reason, the particular bit of fuel line that runs from the filter in the tank up to the carburetor is a different size!! And of course I don't have that size. . .

Wrench Three!

So now the whole disassembled mess is cluttering up a corner of my workbench until we make another run into town and I can get the right tubing. . . Which will hopefully be soon since all my nicely cut rounds are still sitting out there on the ground!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Grasshopper love

In the greenhouse no less!!  Not sure that's the place I want a bunch of grasshopperets running around. . .

Note his glazed eyes and how he's hanging on for dear life.

Been there, done that!

I feel for you dude.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In the garden: Fall !!!

It's officially fall and around here that means our second growing season is under way.

Only mine is off to a pretty poor start. . .

I put in some lettuces, two small patches of different varieties, with the intention of adding more every few weeks or so to extend the harvest. They went in the ground September 10th and by the time they finally sprouted 11 days later I was beginning to think they were a bust! A few of the sprouts are just now sending up true leaves. I'll probably wait a little longer to let them mature a bit more before planting a second batch.

I also set out some radish seeds at the same time but that has definitely turned out to be a bust.  I got this one lone, deformed sprout for my efforts. I'll try setting out some fresh seed today and see what happens.

Around here broccoli transplants go into the ground in October so while I was planting the other stuff I started a few seeds under the grow light. As usual my grow light starts were pretty pathetic. Even though I had them right up close to the light and the light on from the time the seeds were put in the pots, the plants shot up as if they were in the dark and desperately trying to find light. As is often the case when this happens, it resulted in very weak sprouts that just didn't make it.

So I've planted a few more broccoli seeds but this time I'm leaving the grow-tray out in the greenhouse, cover on for protection against marauding grasshoppers and sitting up on an unused planter for faster night-time cooling. We'll see if that does any better.

Fall also means the humming birds are abandoning us for warmer climes. They turn up in droves in early September but before the month is out they're suddenly gone. One day there's the constant drone of dozens battling around the feeder, the next day there's one or two stragglers left. While they were here they went through two and a half gallons of syrup, requiring refilling the feeder every 10 hours or so, now I'll probably end up tossing the half gallon I have left since it won't keep until they return in the spring.

But we still have a few of the usual creatures hanging around.

It will probably be November before the frogs and toads pull the blanket over their heads to wait for warmer weather, sometime in late February, early March.

And most of the insects, including this striking beetle which I found standing next to me this morning, will disappear for a few months as well. 

But the rabbits, though their numbers will diminish, will stick around through the winter, helping to clean up the seed birds have tossed out of the feeders.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

'shrooms anyone??

I looked out across the field this morning and thought we had some trash laying out there, maybe a paper towel that got loose and was blowing around, but when I went out to pick it up I found this instead.

Nope, not Frisbee's, not paper plates, not even wheels off a child's wagon; but mushrooms.

Since my last post about the Evening Star Rain Lilly's we've added another 2.5" of rain and have far exceeded the 100 year average for September, which is a really good thing when you're in a 7 year drought. In fact for this year so far we are 5 inches ahead of the average and the last time we were on the good side of that average was 2009.

For right now, the last of that rain fell about 24 hours ago and since then it's been warm and humid, just what these guys live for.

They're so big I was able to get this photo of the underside with my relatively large Cannon SX50 without disturbing them.

Just so you know, not being a 'shroom guy, and having a reasonable sense of self-preservation, I left these specimens alone rather than risk a pharmacological disaster.

So they're still out there doing their mushroomy thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Evening Star in the morning

It rained most the night around here, adding another inch and a half to our September total of 2.61" We still have an inch to go to reach the long-term September average but considering that in August we had absolutely no measurable rainfall at all, I'd say we're doing pretty good. And there may be more rain coming tonight as the remnants of a Pacific hurricane drift our way.

You can't smell this but it's almost chocolaty

One immediate result, besides lots of red-clay mud tracked into the house, is the sudden appearance of the Evening Star Rain Lilly. These little guys, each on the end of a long stalk, are very delicate and don't usually last very long. In fact the stalks often lay over in the slightest of breezes or the lightest of rains.