Friday, February 28, 2014

In the shop: Trash Cart wrap-up

OK, after finishing up the welding the rest of the trash can cart project was pretty easy. Well- almost

First I tried out the steel frame to make sure it wouldn't fall apart (You know, my expert welding and all. . .)

I didn't have the proper bolts for the axels yet so I rigged up a temporary solution and stepped back to make sure I had everything right.

OK, make a note here. If the wheels you have say, right there on the side, that they are 16", don't believe it. They're actually closer to 15". Not a whole lot of difference but definitely enough so that my ground clearance was just too tight. It looked real close to the ground sitting there, which is good for getting the can in and out when dropping it up at the road, but not so good for dragging the cart up the drive behind the side-by-side and over the rocks. I know because I tried, only to have the thing occasionally launched into the air by various rocks or even big  tufts of grass. So back to the drill press where I fixed this latest cock-up by drilling new axel holes. . .

That issue resolved and tested, I built a simple box out of exterior ply, fitting the steel frame to it so I could drill the various holes in the right places, then later primed and painted it.

I used treated 4x4's for the railing posts, cutting them to length first. But then they were just too heavy for the scale of this project so I ran them through the jointer then planer to take them  from 3.5 inches square down until they looked right to me at about 2 7/8ths square. A quick run through a tilted blade on the table saw put a nice crown on the top of each post.

Back to the drill press where I drilled 3/4" holes 1 1/8" deep in the posts to take the 1/2" EMT that will be the rails.

I temporarily fastened the posts to the box and got the length I needed for the EMT by measuring the distance between faces of the posts and adding 2 inches. This left a quarter inch of play between the depth of the holes and the length of the EMT. (Don't ask me how I know to leave a little play in there, but I will say it's very tedious trimming off a quarter of an inch from the 25 lengths of EMT that make up the porch railing you are trying to build. . .) I then cut the EMT to length on my chop-saw with a cutoff blade mounted in it, clamping a temporary jig to the bed to make sure the lengths were all the same. (That's about all I ever use that chop-saw for anymore.)

Some stain on the posts to match the existing porch posts (Once they weather a little), some sanding on the EMT to remove the crud accumulated through years of storage and brighten them up a little, and a nice tough deep grey for the steel frame and box which more or less matches the porch deck, some assembly and we can call this project finished!

Apparently the trash can cart is 'adorable'.

Not quite the response I would have chosen. Something more along the lines of 'cool!' or 'rad!' or 'ingenious' would have done nicely; but I'll take adorable. . .

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In the shop: The greenhouse trailer

So while I've been working on the trash can cart I've also got this greenhouse trailer project going.

We have some gardening challenges around here. Besides siting on a piece of property with a checkerboard mix of heavy clay, sandy loam, and gravel depending on where you try sticking your shovel in, we have a wide range of creatures that are only too willing to eat anything we plant 'for them'. On top of that we have a difficult climate where a location with full sun is great for spring and fall but not so good during the blistering summer.

Well it just so happens that we have an old 10' utility trailer we don't use anymore, so as a partial solution to our gardening challenges we decided to repurpose that trailer into a mobile greenhouse/garden that we can move around as necessary with the tractor.

Since this thing will never see the road we can make it a full 10' wide and we can get away with exceeding the 1 ton load rating without too many dire consequences because tagging along behind the tractor over our rough ground the thing will never see speeds of more than 1 or 2 miles per hour.

By designing the side walls to the proper height, a single strip of 4' wide 2x3 welded wire fencing can wrap permanently around the walls as protection from critters and we can fit clear panels in place, or even just staple on heavy clear plastic, if we decide to garden through the winter.

The roof will be permanently covered with clear panels because I'm not too keen on the idea of climbing up there a couple times a year to install and remove seasonal panels.  With the open walls there will be plenty of ventilation under that roof and if we find that parking the greenhouse under the trees during the summer does not provide enough shade the roof is low enough that we can hang shade cloth on the inside of the rafters. A guttering system will allow us to collect rainwater off the roof so we don't waste any of that precious resource.

The doorway will be closed off with a pair of 2' wide sections, one pined in place for stability leaving the other hinged and latched normally for getting in and out on a daily basis. If necessary you can un-pin the other section, swing it open on its hinges and have plenty of room for moving large stuff in and out. 4 foot was chosen because it's a nice round number and also leaves enough permanently fixed wall to either side of the door to keep that end of the structure solidly braced. The door opening is right at 6' high which is no problem at all for my wife and, as long as I'm not wearing a tall hat and don't try jumping rope in the doorway, I'll fit through just fine too. (By the way, jumping rope is something I shouldn't be trying anywhere!)

The first thing I did was cut a couple pieces of 1.5x1.5 square tubing from stock left over from the trash cart project and weld them to the trailer frame as suspension stops. (My reciprocating saw is some 40 years old and if it's been sitting for more than a few minutes I have to beat the crap out of it with a dead-blow hammer to get it to run, but it still works!!) Over the years that trailer has carried a few heavy loads and there are shallow fender-cuts in the tires where the suspension travel was just a bit more than the fender clearance. Since I expect this thing to get really heavy with a whole garden full of plants in it I didn't want to risk having the fenders slice right through a tire or two! I had hoped that the primer would hide my less than expert vertical welding, but it clearly didn't. . .

After ripping a single 2x10 down to a height that matches the distance from the trailer deck to the top of the top-rail, I screwed it securely right down the middle of the deck to act as a floor joist.

My original plan was to put a total of 4 lag bolts up through both top rails into each of the twelve 2x10 deck planks as well as screw the middle of each one down to that joist. After pondering on that a bit, mostly envisioning drilling 48 holes through the top rails, I decided that two lags per plank, one on each end, was plenty, especially since it wasn't like the greenhouse was going to be trying to fly off the trailer! I did all this rethinking when I was standing there in front of the bin of lags at the hardware store, so on the fly I quickly divided my original 48 lags in half and came up with 14 which I generously rounded up to 20. . .

OK, so; the project is on hold now until I can get back to a hardware store and pick up the rest of the lags I need, but in the mean time, if anyone finds a brain laying out there in the parking lot would they give me a call?? I seem to have misplaced mine. . .

Monday, February 24, 2014

In the shop: Trash Cart - why I don't weld

Burning trash in our part of the country used to be the norm, but for the past few years the drought has resulted in county-wide burn bans. Besides we recycle all the easy to burn paper and cardboard so it just makes sense to pay for trash collection.

Yes, we do have commercial trash collection out here! For a fee they give us one of those big black-plastic 2-wheeled totes and my wife drags it up to the county road and back once a week.  Now, we have a long and somewhat crude two-track gravel drive from the county road down to where our buildings are, and when I say down I mean down; not only do you need to make a long distance phone call from the buildings to the gate, but nothing on our property is flat and the drive is a bit steep in places. So for some time now she has been strapping the tote to the back of the side-by-side and dragging it along behind like a dog that doesn't want to go for a walk.

Now the wheels on these totes may work just fine when going the 30 to 50 feet from the garage to the curb and back on a paved driveway but they don’t get along quite so well on gravel. On our drive the tote doesn’t roll so much as drag and stumble and flop, and it’s pretty noisy, booming and crashing and scraping along loud enough to be heard down at the next ranch!

So the plan here is to build a two-wheeled cart for the tote, a chariot if you will, that the tote can live in during the week and will hitch up properly to the side-by-side for the journey up the drive on some decent wheels. To add a bit of class the cart is designed to mimic the look of the porch rails on my wife’s barn.

I have to admit this is not a new plan; it has been hanging around for – well – a long time now. My excuse is that the frame of the cart is steel and, being a wood man myself, I look at steel with some skepticism – OK, maybe skepticism bordering on fear. But I have been slowly sneaking up on it.

I bought the wheels from Tractor Supply sometime last year and the square steel tubing a month – OK, maybe two months, ago. The wheels have been sitting over along the wall in the shop collecting a nice thick layer of dust and the steel tubing has been sitting in the enclosed utility trailer along with the treated lumber and exterior grade ply, right where I put it the day I bought all that stuff.

But a few days ago I couldn’t put it off any longer. I could say it was because the weather was just right for welding outside, slightly overcast but dry, not too cold but not too warm, but I think the real problem was that I just ran out of excuses.

I had the steel supplier make all the cuts for me so that morning I started by drilling all the necessary holes in the various pieces and cutting a ‘bird-mouth’ in the business end of the piece that will be the drawbar. Much too soon I finished with all that and now all I had to do was weld the bits together in the right order; but there’s something you should know about me and welding.

I suck at it.

Oh I know there’s lots of bad welders out there but really, I suck.

For me welding goes something like this: drag out the gas powered stick welder; get everything set up; start the welder; strike an arc; shut the welder off and take a twenty minute break to get rid of the purple blob blocking my vision because I forgot to turn my auto-darkening helmet on first; discover the batteries in the helmet are low and when I turn it on the shield goes dark and stays that way; start the welder again and get all set up to strike an arc then lower my helmet and blindly stab at the steel in front of me, fusing stick to steel three or four times; lift the helmet and get set up to try again; finally strike a good arc and discover I can’t see a thing behind the shield because I forgot to take my polarized sunglasses off; correct that situation and strike an arc I can see only to find out that somewhere between positioning the stick and lowering the helmet I wandered off to the left about an inch; reposition the stick but now I can’t get an arc started because my aborted attempts have made the steel of the stick retreat way up inside the flux; chip the flux away and get myself set again; try the professional’s trick of flicking the helmet down with a quick nod only to have it bash me in the mouth; finally get an arc going that is in the vicinity of the right place only to have some splatter jump down the gap between my right pant leg and my knee pad; and – well, it just goes on like this.

By now I have one ugly looking tack-weld in place, more by accident than plan, and I have 7 joints to weld up on this thing!!!
Is it any wonder I avoid welding if at all possible???


Friday, February 21, 2014

In the shop: Not my first rodeo

Was working on something this morning that needed measuring and in the process of doing so I threw my tape measure on floor, the concrete floor. It wasn't something I was trying to do, but somehow I managed to let it slip out of my hand and it hit the floor hard enough to bounce.

Now you'd think, given that I use that tape pretty much constantly, that I'd be throwing it on the concrete more often, but for some reason this is a reasonably rare event. But even so, I still remember, painfully remember, one time several months ago when the tape hit the floor just the right way, (Or wrong way, depending on your point of view.) that I promptly turned around and destroyed some nicely milled pine boards with it.

The boards were supposed to be drawer parts for a dresser I was making. I carefully cut them to length so they would fit nicely in the face-frame, but when I dry-fit them they were too short! Not just a little too short but really too short.

OK, not the first time I made a bone-headed mistake like that, so I cut fresh parts, being especially careful to make sure I was getting them the right length this time because now I was using up the spare boards I had milled just in case I needed them; but when I dry fit the new parts they were too short too!!!

Now I was pissed and there was a brief intermission while I threw a little temper-tantrum.

Eventually I settled down and resigned myself to doing all the setups all over again on three separate pieces of shop equipment in order to mill up some additional stock for my drawers. But first I grabbed a spare tape measure from the tool cabinet. Sure enough, I had cut both the first parts and the replacements the same 3/16's too short; except when I re-measured with the original tape they were the right length again.

What the heck was going on here???

It was pretty simple really. Too simple for it to have taken me so long to figure out. . .

But kudos to me today because I managed to remember to check before I destroyed anything.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Just Sayin': Dude! Way to go!

I was just sitting here reading my latest issue of Woodturning Design magazine (I know, I know; how geeksville can you get?!!) and came across an article about Michael Blankenship.

Michael took up woodturning about 10 years ago by listening to woodturning DVD's to teach himself the art. He continues learning as a member of  two different woodturning organizations, one of which he serves as the librarian of visual aids.

So what's the big deal? He turns beautiful bowls, boxes, vessels and finial-ed ornaments, but then there are a lot of wood-turners out there doing pretty much the same thing aren't there.

The thing is, Michael decided to become a wood-turner only after he went blind!

Oh - and he says proper lighting is over-rated; blind people and superglue do not get along together; and could someone help him find the bowl that just flew off the lathe??

If I'm ever faced with a challenge like that I hope I have the guts and drive he does to get up out of my chair and move on with life!!!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gardening: The Carrot Chronicles, part 2 (The do-over)

OK, you may recall my initial attempt at growing carrots in 1 gallon water jugs with the intent of starting a new jug every couple weeks to have a continuous harvest.

Well - it didn't work out so well. . . for two reasons.

The first was my own fault. It was raining light but steady the day I planted those first jugs so I didn't wet the potting mix down very much since I was going to sit them outside as soon as I had them ready. Think sink-hole in a bottle! The potting mix settled so much over the next couple days that the bottles were only 2/3 full and the surface, right where all those very tiny carrot seeds were trying to survive, was all cracked and turned over and just generally a mess!

The second reason it didn't work out so well was that a concern was raised about what chemicals might leach out of the plastic jugs when they were sitting in the sun. Now you can find plenty of proponents coming down on both sides of this issue (Turns out the initial report of this back in 2001came from a University of Idaho student theses and the chemical he claimed was leaching, DEHA, isn't even part of the makeup of water bottle plastics. It was later determined that the study was contaminated by the lab equipment itself, which does have DEHA in it.) but in the interests of playing it safe, I have relegated the water bottles to growing looking-at plants rather than eating plants.

So carrots, round two.

Today I prepared another one of my grow boxes and planted a small area of Danvers at one end and  Baby Fingers at the other. I marked the boundaries of the planted areas by embedding thin strips of wood in the potting mix.

The plan is to plant a couple more small areas in the same box in a couple-three weeks - assuming this experiment doesn't end the way the first try did! If all goes well I have enough room in one grow box for three different batches of each variety, which is probably about all I'll be able to grow to harvest before summer sneaks up and shuts down carrot growth.

Since this box is going to be sitting near the bird feeder until I manage to finish building the mobile greenhouse I felt like I needed to protect it a bit. If nothing else, in order to keep birdseed from planting itself among my carrots! Those birds are flocking the area right now, going through a full feeder of seed in a day and a half and they are messy! Seeds and seed hulls are all over the place!

The grow boxes come molded with 3/8" holes in the corners for adding covers and trellises. Looking around for something that would bend into a hoop and fit in these holes I grabbed some left over PVC baseboard and ripped 3/8" square sticks from it on the table saw.

By the way, the cut edges of the PVC are SHARP so beware of sliding your finger down the length of a fresh cut or you will have - well - a fresh cut!

I whittled the ends of my sticks down to something resembling round with a handy box cutter so they would fit in the molded holes and they worked great! Though I was careful to keep my body, and especially my face, out of the way in case one of the sticks was to shatter as I bent it into place.

The next step should have been to drape row-cover over my hoops and clip it into place with tiny little spring clamps (You can never have too may tiny little spring clamps!) but, of course, I don't have any row cover. So for now I used some landscape cloth, which I did have. I'll have to remember to get some proper row cover before the seeds sprout or they won't be getting enough light!

While I was in a gardening mood I started a third batch of broccoli and spinach seeds, transplanted all the tomatoes to larger containers, and, what the heck, started a new batch of the Flordade tomatoes, the first batch of which was a total flop with two of nine seeds sprouting and then barely hanging on. Maybe it was too early in the season for that first batch??? We'll see.

Not quite done for the day, I grabbed an old enameled coffee pot that's been sitting around ever since I had to remove it from my camper when it started to rust through, years ago now, drilled a couple holes an inch or so up the sides, filled it with potting mix, (Which I wet down well so it wouldn't settle later!) and planted a few Salvia seeds in the middle and Alyssum around the edges and in the spout. I can just hear the horrified gasps from gardeners that know what they're doing, but, in case you haven't figured it out, I don't know what I'm doing. Hey! all of life is an experiment, you might as well have fun with it!

Oh, and the two water jugs have now been properly filled with mix and one has been planted with some Johnny Jump-up's and the other with some California Poppy's.

In case you're wondering, my choices have nothing to do with a master plan or anything as sophisticated as that; they were just based on what seed packets we had laying around.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Maintenance: And then there was air

OK, finally got my hands on a new air compressor. As promised, I got the biggest I could afford - well, OK - the afford part is up for interpretation. . . My own fault really. Harbor Freight has an air compressor under their Central Pneumatic brand that is the same size and specs for about 22% less than the Craftsman I ended up buying, and for all I know they are both built on the same assembly line with the same parts, not at all uncommon these days. But, being a little old school; which is OK since I am a little old; I paid the extra bucks and went with the tried and true Craftsman.

I also went with an oiled compressor this time instead of the oil-less and man what a difference in noise! From my research I knew it had a break-in period where you open the drain valve and let the thing run for 30 minutes straight to seat the rings properly. So when I unloaded it from the van I plugged it into the RV post outside the barn then hesitated to turn it on because my earplugs were still inside the barn and not in my ears. You see I already have a raging case of tinnitus and there's no sense in making it worse any sooner than necessary! But deciding it was OK because I was just going to throw the switch and walk away I - well - threw the switch; and all I got from it was this quiet little puttering!

With my old, oil-free compressor you couldn't talk while it hammered madly away, this new one, well in  a few minutes you'd probably forget it was running until that big hiss as the pressure switch trips and shuts it off. And it probably won't run for more than a few minutes at a time anyway since it only took 6 minutes to fill the 27 gallon tank from 0 to 150 lbs. and 1 minute 20 seconds to recharge the tank from 115 lbs. to 150. I never timed the old air compressor but I know it took longer than that to recharge a 12 gallon tank from 120 to 135 and it was doing it at a piss-poor 3.5cfm@90psi with a 3 horsepower motor where the new compressor does it at 5.9cmf@90psi with a 2 horsepower motor!

I see people commenting on the maintenance free aspect of the oil-less compressors and that is a valid consideration, but it's going to take one heck of a lot of 1 1/2 minute tank recharges to reach the 100 hour oil change interval!! I think I can live with that.

Because this thing is so quiet it saved me from having to reconfigure my sound cabinet in order to fit this relative monster in there alongside the dust collector. Instead I just parked it against the wall between the rodent-proof containers of deer corn and bird seed to the left and the kiln to the right. I had to change some quick-connect fittings around so I could plug it into my air pipe system but that took all of a couple minutes and now I'm ready to go again. Though I do need to add a hook for the hose rather than hang it off the band-saw extension table like that. And I'll probably build some sort of simple base for it to sit on to make it easier to reach the drain valve.

And yes, I've learned my lesson and will be using that drain valve often because, after what I paid, if I mess this one up I'll probably be limited to using lung-power, and I don't think that's going to cut it!!!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mainenance: The stuff I get into!!

Our space is small but that doesn't mean we can't splurge on a luxury to two. One of those splurges is an IRobot Rumba. We call him Pierre - our little French maid, and when we leave the house to make a shopping run we just punch his button and leave him to sweep and vacuum the place for us. He even has his own living quarters by the door where he can keep himself charged up and ready to go.

Pierre is hard working and, despite being French, surprisingly effective, but we are kind of hard on him. For one thing we spend most of our days moving back and forth between inside and outside - a lot! - and since we're not inclined to take our boots off every time we do (The refrigerator is out in the barn where we don't have to listen to it run all the time. Can you imagine trying to make dinner if you had to take your boots on and off with every trip!!!) we are constantly tracking grit into the house. On top of that our floor is raw concrete so is pretty tough on Pierre's underpinnings.

Poor thing looks like a turtle turned over on its back!
But IRobot has done an excellent job of designing a product that the consumer can take apart, replace parts - which are readily available - and just generally keep it running, right down to using captured screws so none of them go skittering off to those un-findable hiding spots every workbench seems to have. I suspect the fact that much of the market for  IRobot's various robots is military and police departments has something to do with their FRU (Field Replaceable Unit) design.(Not like our air-popper which now lets out a terrible scream every time we start a batch of popcorn. I tried to get to the motor and bearings inside there but discovered the thing is assembled by gluing it together so the only fix is to throw it away.)

So, over the years we've had Pierre we've replaced bits and pieces here and there but the other day he threw a new kind of temper tantrum (And not the cute kind like when the little bump-sensor on the front gets stuck and he starts spinning around on the floor like a cat desperately trying to back his head out of a can!) This time I noticed that he sounded different and a quick check showed he wasn't picking up the grit. On further investigation I discovered that the vacuum part of him was working fine but the brushes underneath weren't spinning and picking up the heavier stuff. Well I'm no expert, but that can't be good!

I knew the problem was in the brush unit but I didn't really know what was in there. Maybe a belt was worn out, a clutch was dirty, the motor wasn't getting juice?? Who knows. But what the hell, he already doesn't work, so how much worse can I make it?!

I took my screwdriver to him and started performing surgery; blind surgery. And found he has a whole gearbox inside that red brush-carrier. A gearbox that wasn't gearing anymore. . . Fortunately IRobot thought of that and designed the motor that turns those gears with a clutch so nothing was burned up. Not knowing what I was doing still didn't stop me and I kept taking more and more bits apart until I opened up the gear box and found it all bound up. Fortunately I was able to pop each gear loose and clean the gunk out of them and the housing with alcohol and an old electric toothbrush (Honest! I used an old one!) and I even managed to get all the bits put back in the right places again! I don't know exactly what sort of grease was in there in the first place but now he has a load of lithium grease in his gears and is back to doing the job he's paid to do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gardening: The Carrot Chronicles

More like the carrot experiment but that just doesn't sound quite so good.

So it hovering in the mid 30's around here and raining, which makes for an uncomfortable cold, but according to my research carrots are to be put out 2-4 weeks before last frost and around here that's like right now! Being cool weather crops we have a short window in the spring to get carrots grown to harvest size before they bolt in the heat, so we can't be messing around!

I have a bunch of water jugs all stacked up in the barn. (And sitting in the way of course. I just had to pick them all back up and restack them yesterday and that's the second time I've knocked them down!) I started stacking them because the way these particular jugs are designed, with the bottom deeply indented to match the top, they stack pretty nicely and I figured I'd find some use for them along the way. So I think maybe I have; at least for some of them.

There's only the two of us and carrots are not our favorite vegetable so I figured a jug of carrots every two weeks or so might just be the ticket. We happened to have two different varieties, Danvers and Little Finger, so today I cut the top off two of the jugs, braved the rain and cold to run out to the trash-can full of potting mix to fill them up, then sifted in some carrot seeds and brushed the mix around to cover them.

Rather than drilling drainage holes in the bottom of the jugs I drilled a series of holes around them about an inch and a quarter up from the bottom. I'm going to see if the little reservoir this creates down there eases the watering issue. If not, if they stay too wet, then it's easy to fix by drilling some holes in the bottom of the jugs.

So now the seeds have gone from the freezer where we store them to sitting outside in the cold rain and 36 degree temperature. . . Not sure they'll appreciate that!

If these seem to be doing alright and it looks like we can fit a half dozen or so per jug, I'll do another set in two weeks.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gardening: Let there be light!! (Please!)

OK, as reported before, got the first spring seeds started back in the middle of January. Well the spinach and broccoli sprouted pretty quickly, within 4 days. The tomatoes took a bit longer, more like 6 to 8 days for the Cherokee Purple and the Yellow Pear, and a whopping 11 days for the Flordade. For the most part things are going pretty well, right? Well - not so right. We have very limited 'inside' space so the seed flat was relegated to the top of the refrigerator which actually lives out in the barn.

Leggy broccoli that can't even stand up on its own
The barn isn't heated but temperature isn't a concern out there since it is well insulated and doesn't drop below 50 degrees and it's even warmer on top of the fridge. Light - well that's a different story. In fact there are no windows in the barn at all so the only light comes from some shop-lights some 14' above the floor that are only on when one or the other of us is actually out there.

The Cherokee Purple tomatoes seem to be doing alright though
Long story short (I know - too late to make it short. . .) before I could get a handle on the light situation the broccoli and spinach were shooting for the sky trying to find the sun. They shot up so high so fast they can't stand up straight anymore!

The only other place we have that is both somewhat protected from low temperatures and has a window is the countertop in my van. Except that window is heavily tinted and all I managed to succeed in doing was get the plants to lean one way or the other, depending on which way I turned the seed tray.

The obvious solution, and one I should have taken care of first, is a grow-box. A fancy way of saying some shelves with lights.

The shelf issue was solved by emptying one of our many rolling shelving units of the crap that was important when I put it there yet hasn't been touched since; you know what I'm talking about, everybody's got crap like that. The light situation wasn't so easy, or inexpensive. Long ago I replaced some of the T12 shop lights in the barn with more efficient T8 fixtures so I hunted around for those old fixtures but must have given them away. So I hiked on over to one of the big-box stores and found a 48", 4 lamp T8 fixture that would do the job. Of course it came with no lamps and I was down to a single spare back at the barn so I bought a case of 6500 kelvin lamps, and while I was hunting them down came across some tube protectors so picked up 4 of those as well.

My sparsely populated seed grower with the front moving
blanket folded up on top for access
Light fixture in hand I adjusted the shelf spacing so I had two slots just high enough to slide the light fixture in (I'm planning on adding the second when I outgrow the first one.) and below each of those, a taller space to slide seed trays into. As an extra bonus, I have one more shelf above the top light fixture that just happens to be at the right height for standing and working on my computer. (I spent the last 7 years of my working career at a stand-up desk because I found I was on the go so much during the day sitting down just didn't make much sense and I still like to stand when working on the computer.)

Rather than get fancy with adjustable shelves or lights, I'll just set the seed tray on some blocks to get it closer to the light until the plants get taller then I'll remove the blocks. And to finish the whole thing off I draped it with some of the moving blankets I use when building delicate furniture.

Shelving unit:           Free since I already had it.
Moving Blankets:     Ditto
Light fixture:            $49.98
Lamps:                     $ 3.33 each   $13.32 total
Tube guards:            $ 3.68 each   $14.72 total (Yeah, I know, maybe not such a good idea.)

Total cost:               $78.02 (Man oh man! that first tomato is going to be really expensive!!)

The Beef-Steak Tomatoes will be thinned to one per cell
once the true-leaves are out
The original, and leggy broccoli and spinach center left and
the new batch of each on the right
It's been in use for a couple weeks now and seems to be doing the job just fine. They're still going, sort of, but I'm not sure if the first batch of broccoli and spinach is going to make it in the long run so I started a fresh batch of each right at the end of January. I also gave up on the Flordade since of the 9 seeds I planted only one sprouted but it is really puny and not going to win any strong-man contests.  (Update, a second, in the same pot as the first of course, finally sprouted 22 days after it was put in the ground!!)  In their place I started some traditional Beef-Steaks, which sprouted, 9 for 9, in three days.

This new batch of broccoli, grown under lights, looks
much better than the original batch grown in the dark
While all this was going on I got some onion sets in the ground too. Not actually in the ground but in one of the Grow-Boxes I bought in a moment of weakness. These things have a water reservoir in the bottom and are supposed to be self watering. We'll see if they actually work since the potting mix, which is what the instruction say is the only thing to be used in them, seems to stay awful wet.
Onion sets in the Grow-Box. It never gets down to 20 degrees
around here so they are safe outside without protection.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Maintenance: Oh Crap!!

That's not right, is it?

We had a pretty good cold snap in our part of the country and I was working on some model railroad kits inside the living quarters we have tucked into one corner of the barn, the only heated space around, when I heard the air compressor cycle on out in the barn. And I heard it and heard it and heard it. . . Something was wrong! It doesn’t usually run near that long when catching up to incidental leaks in the system.

I bundled up to go out to the 50 degree barn (Less than 30 outside the barn.) expecting to find a burst hose or cracked fitting, but nothing; so I opened the door to the sound-deadening cabinet where the compressor lives and checked the gauges. They were both, the tank gauge and the regulated gauge, sitting on 120 lbs. which is about right for the regulated pressure but low for the tank since it’s usually up around 135. I watched for a while and, despite the compressor running, neither gauge was moving. That didn’t seem good and I had visions of that video of a distracted guy standing in front of a tractor-tire inner tube as it grossly overinflated before bursting, except if this thing burst there was going to bits of steel flying around and flying steel doesn't mix well with my flesh, so I killed power to it before something bad happened.

 The next day was quite a bit warmer so I drug the compressor out of its little cabinet to see what I could do for it. I bled it down and clearly one of the gauges was stuck. I took that apart, knocked off some of the rust, WD40’ed the crap out of it, banged it around, and actually got it working again, though I had to pull the needle off the shaft to re-zero it. Emboldened by my success I then pulled the pressure switch off since it was clearly not working either, did the WD40 and banging routine again since there was rust built up inside it too; a lot of rust! I then stuck an Allen key, the biggest one that would go through the hole, into the business end of the switch and tried squeezing the whole thing in one of my vices to simulate air pressure building up, but only succeed in bending my Allen key.

Even as I was doing all this I knew I was just putting off the inevitable, because the more I messed around the harder and harder it became to ignore the sloshing noise I got every time I joggled the compressor tank. I don’t know about where you live, but around here air doesn’t slosh like that. . .


OK, show of hands; who here thinks I should have been draining the tank more often than – oh, say, once every two years?? (If you're undecided, just so you know, there's more of that rusty syrup oozing off to the left and puddle-ing out in the gravel drive. . .)

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I’ve clearly screwed myself; a full penetration, no romantic dinner first, no lube during and no cuddling afterwards, screwing.

Even if I did manage to get all the bits working again I now have visions of a tank that’s rusted nearly through from the inside and just waiting for the right moment to explode.

It wasn’t in the budget, but guess what I’m going to be buying next week.

And guess what I’m going to be adding to my list of monthly maintenance items now. . .

Friday, February 7, 2014

Just sayin': Digital security

Warning, as the title indicates, this post verges on being a rant!

I just had to go through the process of changing the password and security questions on one of my financial accounts – yet again – and this reminded me all over again that sometimes we get pretty dumb about digital security.

Don’t get me wrong, I used to work in the digital world and I don't take digital security lightly, but that's just my point. We are often under the mistaken impression that the processes in place have secured our accounts when often they really haven't.
Take expiring passwords. We jump through hoops that make us feel good about our security, namely changing passwords regularly, but it's often not actually doing anything useful for us. For example, in the corporate world, where a hacked account can be used to surreptitiously sneak in and pilfer little bits of information time and time again as long as it’s done intelligently and doesn’t trip any alarms, regularly changing passwords makes sense. This means even the successful account hacker has a limited amount of time to get up to their nefarious deeds before access is denied and they need to start over again. But what is the sense in forcing me to change the password on a financial account?? The hacker isn’t trying to get my client list or discover my business strategy for the 4th quarter, he/she is after funds and that’s something that’s going to be noticed pretty damn quickly! And then I’m hardly likely to sit around waiting for my current password to expire before changing it!

And the security question thing is a joke!

It doesn’t get asked very often, at least that’s my experience, but once in a while, if there is a question about the integrity of the account access, then the security question & answer thing is supposed to provide another layer of protection.

Yeah right! How hard do you think it is for me, or anyone else, to come up with your mother’s maiden name??? That’s public information!! So is the name of the high school you attended or the street your first house was on and your mother’s father’s first name. All questions I've seen on the lists of security questions you can choose from.

Now you have to be a pretty interesting target for someone to invest the time it takes to find some of this information and I suspect most of us just aren’t that interesting, but the point is, that information is out there so these types of so-called security questions aren’t really providing security at all!

And in this day and age of social networking where we tend to forget we aren’t just having a conversation with a ‘friend’ but rather with the entire world, even the answers to seemingly more obscure questions, such as the name of your first pet or your favorite color, aren’t necessarily that hard to come by.

But of course, effective or not, secure or not, security questions are not going to go away. There’s a whole economy built up on supplying ‘security’ for a fee. A whole bunch of third-party companies exist only because they are selling security services to anyone that will bite, corporations, banks, mom-and-pops, even high profile private individuals, and they do this by convincing clients, including my banker, who, to be fair, is a financial person and doesn’t know diddly-squat about digital security, that expiring passwords and a secondary wall of standard security questions is the way to go. So, since I can't fix the underlying issues, nor am I interested in trying, my solution is to offer up nonsense.

For instance I would never, under any circumstances, secure an account with my mother’s actual maiden name but, since there is a high likelihood that someone is going to ask me to do so at some point my strategy is to give a nonsense answer. What’s my mother’s maiden name? King Henry the Third. Obviously that’s not really her maiden name, (Nor is it the answer I actually use which is just as nonsensical but I’m clearly not going to tell you what it is!!) so now the answer to that question is undiscoverable unless I tell someone what it is, (And if I do that I deserve what happens next!) and it still works even though the answer is technically wrong. It works because you get asked one of your security questions, you give them the answer they expect, and you’re in. Nobody’s checking to see if you really did live on Dining Room Street when you were 20, they just want the answer to match the question.

I’ve further developed this strategy to address the fact that I have a number of different accounts of various types and most of them have some variant of the security question defense. Some of these accounts are secured with a single security question but many others have three different questions that may be asked at random, requiring three different answers. So, other than writing them down, which opens a whole ‘nother can of worms, how to keep all these answers straight when the answers are random nonsense?

It’s pretty simple actually. Pretty much every time, you can count on at least one of the available choices to ask about a name, another to ask about a street and yet another to ask about a pet. It doesn’t matter what the actual question is,;what street was your first apartment on?, what street do your parents live on?; what street is your favorite restaurant on?; as long as it has ‘street’ in it I have a stock, nonsensical, answer, the same with any question that has ‘name’ or ‘pet’ in it. Now I only have three answers to remember for all my accounts and I’m not quite so old that I can’t remember three words.

Once in a while you won’t get all three, name, street and pet, offered up, but in my experience you are allowed more than one try at getting through the security question bit so as long as even one of the questions fits your standard nonsense answers you’re all right.

And now for something slightly different, but still along the same general lines; if you ever have the need to call your doctor about something; test results, prescription, insurance status, whatever; whoever answers the phone is most likely going to verify that it’s really you by asking for your birthdate. get that right and they'll tell you anything. Though nearly criminally stupid, this is very common in the whole medical industry, including insurance companies!

Just how hard is it to come up with someone’s birthdate? In case you don’t know the answer; not very. Not only is it public information, but we tend to make it even easier than that! How many social networking sites, email accounts, etc. either insist, or make it an option, that you give your birthdate? Just now I only had to click through three random blogs on a popular blogging site to come up with names and birthdates of two people and I didn’t even have to click the ‘view complete profile’ link on one of them to do it. Pretty damn scary.

Just like with my mother’s maiden name, I would never give out my actual birthdate, and not because I don’t want people to know how long I’ve been around. In fact I usually use the correct year, because hey! I’m at an age now where I can see my own eyebrows without a mirror and can pluck ear-hairs with my bare fingers, and I’ve earned every one of those years dang-it! But I change the month and day to something that's not mine. Again, I have a stock answer so it's easy to remember and now, though my birthday is just as easy to find as anyone else's, if someone tries to use that information to gain access to my stuff, it won't work. . .
It's not perfect, theoretically if something akin to the recent Target hack happens to one of the institutions I do business with, my nonsensical answers or birthdate might be compromised, but it's certainly better than just going along with the herd while there's wolves lurking in the tree line!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Birdwatching: Double surprize

It was a cold one today! Broke freezing for a couple of hours but only by one degree.

Eastern Bluebird
I was taking a break inside from spending most of the morning outside working on a few things when I saw an infrequent visitor to the feeder. Actually not the feeder but rather the water tub, which has stayed nicely ice-free today, probably because it's half buried in the ground. (Our insulated well-house never seems to drop below 50 degrees even during prolonged cold spells. I credit the bare earth floor for keeping it warm in there.)

Bluebird and Goldfinch
Bluebirds have been making a comeback around here but are still a bit unusual especially around the feeder since they aren't really seed eaters, so I grabbed my camera and began shooting. Shooting through the glass can be a bit tricky; I like to photograph birds in sports mode which shoots one image after the other as long as I hold the button down, but sometimes the glass seems to confuse the autofocus, then I have to switch to manual mode which only allows one shot per button-push, so I've managed to miss some really good shots because of that glass, but I've also managed to get a few decent ones as well.

Cedar Waxwing hiding between a male and female Bluebird
It wasn't until I was going through the photos this evening that I realized that a single Cedar Waxwing was mixed in amongst the Eastern Bluebirds!

Maybe the Waxwing isn't entirely welcome??

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Model Railroading: Roofing the shack

Not tin roofing yet but getting there
It’s been a cold winter this year and the other day was one of those where I just couldn’t work up the ambition to spend much time outside, or even out in my unheated shop, so I collected some of my model railroading stuff and hunkered down in the heated living quarters.

I'm not sure but it might be easier to roof the full sized shack!
I decided to finally put the roof on the third of three shacks from the Bar Mills Shack Pack kit. I don’t have a layout yet, let alone a spot for the shacks to go but when I bought the kit I figured there’s always shacks around so I’ll find someplace for them when I finally do get around to building the layout.

This is a great little kit with three different kinds of shacks in it. I built two of them as moderately worn and beat up, but for additional variety I built the final one, the one I still needed a roof for, as in a little better shape, not perfect, but not falling down either. I also left off some of the trim on this shack for a cleaner, more modern look.

Getting rid of the shine with flat clear sealer
    The kit comes with tar-paper roofing, which I used as is on one of the shacks. For the second I modified the roofing to look more like shingles by hand cutting each little (Very little since I model in N scale!) shingle by hand. It’s not going to pass the scrutiny of a rivet-counter, but I think it gets the point across, which is – well – the whole point, isn’t it?

And the finished collection
For the third shack I wanted a bit more variety so will save the kit’s left over roofing material for something else. Instead I decided to tackle making my own corrugated tin roofing for it. After a bit of web research and only one failed attempt, (I prefer to think of it as a practice run. . .) I was off and running.

With a toothbrush to give a sense of size
Grabbing one of my bastard files, a dental pick and a little bit of regular-weight tin foil cut into scale 8 foot wide strips, more or less, I went to work. By laying a strip of the tin foil down on the file, at an angle so the file’s teeth are perpendicular to the edge of the foil strip, then using the rounded part of the dental pick just behind the point to crease the foil down between each tooth of the file I came up with something that looks like tin roofing. OK, maybe you have to use your imagination at this point but I wasn’t done yet.
After ‘creating’ the roofing strips I cut them to width and glued them in place with Elmer’s ProBond since it’s claim to fame is bonding all sorts of different materials together. A bit of ‘weathering’ with a brownish-red fine point marker (It would have been better to use a colored pencil instead but I can’t remember right now where they are and the bag full of markers was right there. . .) and a thin wash of grey paint and Wallah! a roof.

Again, not going to pass muster with rivet-counters, but I think it does a reasonable job of mimicking a tin roof.

Out to the shop for a quick spray of flat clear sealer (That has been warming up in a pail of hot water so it will spray properly.) to take the non-prototypical sheen off everything and the shacks are now tucked away just waiting for someplace to go. (I have got to get started on the layout! – one of these days – maybe.)