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The Cretaceous Clapper
January 26, 2017 2:00 PM | Posted in:

One of my favorite gifts last Christmas was completely unexpected: a sound-activated moving 3D triceratops wooden puzzle.

My wife found it at our local Steinmart (it's sadly no longer available via their website, but here's what appears to be an acceptable alternative).

The box looked a bit intimidating, as I've found that I'm usually less skilled than the average 8 year old when it comes to following instructions.

Triceratops puzzle box

My feeling of impending doom grew stronger when I removed the contents, consisting of three sheets of surprisingly sturdy wood (the puzzle pieces were pre-scored for easy extraction), a battery powered motor, and a large sheet of detailed instructions.

Triceratops puzzle pieces cutouts

Fortunately, the instructions were much clearer than I expected, as they not only included drawings of how each numbered piece fit with the others, but also photos of how the puzzle looked at each step. That combination of photos and drawings is something that should be standard for all assembly instructions that are more complicated than "install batteries." And the puzzle pieces were of higher than expected quality. I had to sand only a couple of pieces to make them fit together, something that the designers anticipated because they included a small piece of sandpaper for that purpose.

It took about an hour to assemble the dinosaur. And, as is always the case with my DIY projects, I had a piece left over:

Triceratops puzzle - leftover piece

I went back through the instructions a couple of times, and then asked my wife to do the same, and neither of us could find any reference to A20. Well played, Triceratops Puzzle Manufacturer.

Even with a possibly missing component, the final result was fairly impressive, especially if you're a fan of Ray Harryhausen's work in Jason and the Argonauts (and, really, who isn't?).

Completed triceratops 3D puzzle

"But, Eric..." I'm sure you're asking, "...how does it work? Is it realistic? Is the dinosaur on the box roaring, shooting out laser beams, or just throwing up?"

Wonder no more. The sound you hear at the very beginning of the following video is my snapping fingers (clapping one's hands while holding a camera is just as tricky as you imagine), which activates the device. There are actually three levels of activity depending on the number of claps (or finger snaps...or coughs, for that matter, as I discovered in startling fashion one evening).



I have it on good authority (well, almost adequate authority) that the "roar" is very close to the actual noises made by an actual triceratops, as it was modeled on fossilized sound waves discovered in a cave in remote Colorado (to be exact, in the sewer system under 16th Street in downtown Denver).*

One of my cousins who is a skilled builder of furniture and worker of wood advised me to apply some sandpaper to the bottoms of the dino's feet on one side to make it walk in a straight line, and I may do this someday, but the circular path has some advantages.

I think we can all agree that clapper technology has reached its pinnacle in this application.

*Not really. Prehistoric sound waves aren't fossilized; they're preserved in amber. Go watch Jurassic Park again.
My tenure as a boy scout was pretty short (even counting the preposterous time I spent as a Sea Scout in landlocked Fort Stockton), but the "be prepared" mindset stuck with me. I'm blessed/cursed with an imagination that places me in the most disastrous alternatives of any given scenario, and the fact that one of those alternatives hasn't yet occurred only means that the time of its arrival is closer than ever.

Granted, some of this is paranoia, but it's also common sense. Take jumper cables, for example. I've put a set in both of our cars, because you never know when you might encounter a dead battery (either yours or someone else's). Of course, the problem with jumper cables is that you need another car in order for them to be effective. This is not a problem if you're stranded in a populated area and you don't mind calling on the mercies of kindhearted (you hope) strangers, but you don't always get to choose where your car battery gives out.

DBPOWER jump starter carry case
The unit comes in a nice zippered carrying case.
The simple solution is to also carry a portable power source, one strong enough to start a car. Fortunately, advances in battery technology have given us that capability in a small, easy-to-use package...like the DBPOWER 600 amp jump starter, which I purchased after reading a review on this site. (Note: At the time of this writing, the unit is on sale for Prime members for half price at Amazon.com; just click on the preceding link.)

The lithium-ion battery that powers the device is strong enough to start a 6.5 liter gas or a 5.2 liter diesel engine. No, that won't start your Bugatti Veyron's V16 mill, but it will handle the largest engine you can get on a Ford F-150. That is impressive for a device that weights just over a pound and fits comfortably in the palm of my hand.

The DBPOWER 600 also serves as a power source or charger for home electronics, including USB-powered devices, and it has a plethora of adapters - none of which are Apple-compatible, by the way - for that purpose. It has a built-in flashlight (because batteries never die during the day) with strobe and SOS modes. And, inexplicably, it has an integrated compass...for which even my overactive imagination has thus far failed to identify a valid use.

OTOH, the compass does imply other non-car-related uses. While the carrying case is somewhat bulky, the unit itself would easily fit into a backpack for a hike or camping trip, and provide plenty of power to recharge a camera, tablet, or phone.

DBPOWER jump starter carry case
Accessories are easily retrieved.

DBPOWER jump starter
The unit itself is compact and easy to handle.

The manufacturer claims that the battery needs recharging only every four months, assuming that it hasn't been used. That's a fairly impressive standby time. It also purports to be able to jump start 30 cars before requiring a recharge. However, I'm of the opinion that if you're jumping 30 cars at a time, you're either incredibly helpful, or you're engaged in activities of questionable legality. Alternatively, if you're jump-starting your own car 30 times in succession, just go buy a dang battery, OK?

The device can be recharged either via your car's 12-volt DC outlet or a 120-volt AC plug. It does, of course, come with adapters for both.

DBPOWER jump starter controls and ports
The controls are clearly labeled and easy to use.

All of this is theoretical, of course, so I decided to put it to the test on my own vehicle, a Honda Ridgeline pickup with a 3.5 liter 6-cylinder engine. Not having a dead battery (there's never a mechanical malfunction around when you need one), I disconnected the battery leads, sacrificing my clock and radio settings for your edification. I figured this would be a true test of the device, because even when a battery doesn't have enough power to start an engine, it may still be providing some residual current that's additive to whatever the jump starter is providing. (I'm not a mechanic or an electrician, so I could be wrong about that.)

In any event, I powered up the jump starter, attached its clamps to the battery cables, and - voila! - the truck started immediately. I turned off the engine, disconnected the device, and then repeated the process. Again, the engine fired up without hesitation. And after two starts, the power level on the jump starter dropped from 99% to 98%. The 30-start-per-charge claim may actually be conservative based on this admittedly limited test.

By the way, if you've been intimidated in the past by jumper cables - knowing which to clamp to what - this device is drop-dead simple to use. You can only connect the clamps to the device one way...the correct way. Then, the red clamp goes on the positive battery terminal; the black goes on the negative. If you get them switched, the unit has circuitry to keep it from damaging your car's electronics, and that's A Very Good Thing.

DBPOWER jump starter with attached cables
Clamps attached, armed and ready for action

You can bet it will be a constant companion in my truck because, you know, you can never be too prepared. And, by the way, this would be a perfect gift for a student heading off to college for the first time.

Now, if I could only remember the code that's required to access and restore my navigation and audio system settings...

Attraction Satisfaction
June 2, 2016 3:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Perceptive Gazette readers will recall our recent traumatic bicycle wheel failure, which necessitated the replacement of both wheels on our recumbent tandem (the rear wheel failed, but we also replaced the front one out of an abundance of caution as well as to make sure the two matched). I'm happy to report that after a delay of more than a month, we're back on the road sporting new wheels, spokes, freewheel hub,  and cassette, and everything looks mahvelous.

Bike computer magnet pickupHowever - and there's always a however, isn't there? - I overlooked the fact that the new wheels and spokes meant that I would also have to recalibrate our computers. We have a Planet Bike wireless computer on the front and a wired model on the back, and both rely on a small magnet (see photo at right) mounted on a spoke to generate a signal transmitted to the computer that allows it to measure distance and speed. Each revolution of the wheel moves the magnet past a pickup mounted on the fork, and when calibrated to the wheel's circumference, the time it takes for each revolution is the key component of the speed and distance algorithms. With me so far?

Obviously, when the bike mechanic replaced the spokes, he had to remount the magnet. But since he had only the wheels and not the whole bike, there was no way for him to know exactly where to place the magnet. So, when I returned home with the new wheels, I had to put the magnet back in the right place, so that the transmitting unit would generate a signal.

That was pretty easy for the back wheel, but I ran into a puzzling problem on the front. No matter how I placed the magnet on the wheel, I couldn't make the transmitter send a signal to the main unit. I even replaced the battery in the transmitter, to no avail. It was as if the magnet was no longer strong enough to generate the signal (and I say that as if I understand exactly how the thing works, which I don't).

I knew all along that I was stretching the limits of the wireless unit to their max; the computer was designed for a "regular" bicycle, not a long-wheelbase recumbent, and the distance from the main unit to the transmitter was now - for whatever reason - just a tad too far.

As a last resort, I contemplated just buying a wired computer, but then I wondered whether the magnet strength had any bearing on the strength of the transmission. Yes, that's right: we're gonna need a bigger...magnet. And I knew just where to find one.

I happened to have two magnets from an old hard drive laying around my workbench. [What? Doesn't everyone disassemble their old hard drives and harvest the magnets?] If you've ever toyed with one of those neodymium magnets you know that the size-to-strength ratio is incredible. If the bike computer transmitter simply needed a stronger magnet, the hard drive component would likely provide a transmission of length of, say, from here to the moon.

I tested my theory by removing the transmitter from the fork, and waving the hard drive magnet over it while standing a couple of feet from the main unit. Sure enough, the unit immediately displayed speed. All I had to do was figure out how to mount the magnet on the spokes, reattach the transmitter to the fork, and get the two aligned.

That actually proved to be a pretty simple task (and if you've followed my DIY projects, you know how truly amazing that statement is). The magnet's mounting holes were exactly in the right place to affix it to two spokes using thin zip ties. In addition, the strength of the magnet meant that the transmitter's alignment didn't have to be as precise as in the past, so that was easily accomplished. Here's what the final installation looks like (I've highlighted the magnet and transmitter in yellow to make them easier to discern).

Hard drive magnet mounted to front wheel of bicycle

Now, if this was a race bike, this would be a really stupid thing to do. The new magnet is quite heavy, and the last place you want to add weight on a bicycle is the wheel. But this wheel by itself already weighs almost as much as some entire bikes - only a slight exaggeration - so the additional rolling weight is just not an issue. The only thing I worry about now is whether we'll be picking up stray pieces of metal from the side of the road as we cycle along...you know, things like old car wheels, anvils, or lengths of discarded rebar.

The morals of this story are twofold. One, there's always a solution if you can get creative enough. And (b), always tear up your old hard drives and save the spare parts.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I haven't actually tested this setup to see if the accuracy of the computer has been affected. After our next ride, I'll compare the distance reading to that of the rear computer (and probably also to my Map My Ride phone app) to see if this really was a workable solution.

DIY: Installing a Cylinder Lock in Drawers
February 27, 2016 12:30 PM | Posted in:

My latest DIY project was pretty simple but still intimidating as it involved drilling holes in our custom built-in cabinetry. As my pal Gene and I discussed over breakfast this morning, you can't uncut lumber or undrill holes (well, I can't), so measuring twice was just a starting point for me.

Here's one of the unsullied drawers into which I wanted to install a keyed lock:

Wooden drawer

And here are the components of the "simple" cylinder lock, which is a 1 3/4" lock in Antique Brass finish to match the drawer pulls:

Lock components

Thirteen pieces to deal with, and no instructions came with the locks. However, the website for the seller, Rockler, did provide a link to a PDF entitled "Technical Data" which did give some crucial measurements for placement of the hole and some subtle suggestions for installation. In addition, the plastic bag in which the lock was shipped had another link to the manufacturer's instructions, although they also were sadly lacking in detailed explanations of how all the parts should be assembled. But, between the two documents and my own keen intellect, I was confident that I could figure it out, and if I couldn't, I'd just superglue the lock plate over the hole I drilled and no one would be the wiser.

After measuring about a half dozen times, I marked the center point of the hole with a punch and began drilling a 3/4" hole. I used a Porter Cable Forstner bit, partly because it drills a really clean hole, but mainly because it's expensive and I rarely get to use it. 

I also discovered that alder wood is very slow drilling. The experts say it's one of the softest hardwoods, but if that's the case, I hate to drilling many holes in the hardest variety. In any event, the hole was drilled:

Hole drilled in drawer

The first installation step was to slip the trim washer (#2 in the first photo above) over the cylinder tube (#3) and insert the tube into the hole, like so:

Lock cylinder tube inserted in hole
Lock cylinder tube inserted in hole

The next step was to insert the lock cylinder (#1) into the tube (leaving the key in it to stabilize it), and then slide the spur washer (#4) over the cylinder tube and tighten it firmly against the back of the drawer with the hex lock nut (#5). Use the key to hold the cylinder in place while you tighten the lock nut. The teeth of the spur washer bite into the wood and ensure a tight, unmoving fit. 

Spur washer and lock nut (untightened) over cylinder tube

This is where is got a bit tricky, as ideally you'd have three hands to accomplish the next steps. I was lacking both a hand and any logical concept of what I was doing.

Part #7 are two types of stop washers, one of which allows the locking mechanism to turn 90º and the other allows it to turn 180º. Frankly, I couldn't figure out an application for the latter, but I'm sure there's a reason it's included. I chose the 90º version, which is the one on the right in the photo of the components. It slides over the end of the cylinder and must be positioned just so in order to allow the cam (#6) to rotate to the proper position (locked vs. unlocked).

You'll note that there are also two choices of cam, one for cabinets or drawers that overlap, and the other for those that close flush. Our drawers overlap, so I used the longer, flat cam. 

Once the stop washer and cam are in place, they are secured with the machine screw (#8). Again, it's important to use the key in the cylinder to hold things in the right position, but that means it's also very easy for the cam and/or stop washer to slide out of place while attempting to tighten the machine screw. I gave my mental vocabulary a workout while getting this done. But here's the final result; the top photo is the unlocked position and the locked position is in the next photo.

Lock installed
Lock installed

As you can tell, I didn't bother emptying the drawer before I installed the lock. I did put masking tape over the back of where the hole was drilled to minimize splintering, and inserted a manila folder over the files to catch any sawdust, but it turned out to be a pretty clean process...on that side, anyway. Forstner bits generate a lot of sawdust, though.

MLB and I were quite happy with the final installation. The lock mechanism was a perfect fit (but there are some spacers [#9] that can be inserted in the hole in the cam to ensure a tight fit if the thickness of the drawer or cabinet is slightly less), and the lock feels very secure. I definitely recommend this application for everything from childproofing to securing personal documents and/or office equipment from "thefts of convenience" (obviously, they won't stop a determined burglar). In addition, you can get the locks keyed either individually or alike, depending on the level of convenience you want.

Final lock installation

Footnote: Lest I ruin my well-deserved reputation as a DIY Disaster, I did end up with an uh-oh in the final installation. But I'm not going to tell you about it or even show it, because some things are better left as mysteries.
I've hired teenagers to mow our lawn for the past two summers, and one of the challenges in those arrangements was remembering to leave a gate unlocked so they could access the back yard. Because of travel plans and other scheduling uncertainties, that sometimes meant leaving the gate unlocked for days at a time. 

Our gate locks are keyed deadbolts and that means that we also have to grab a key to get into the back yard, and that's inconvenient. What we needed is a digital gate lock that would eliminate the need to loan out a key to third parties, or carry a key ourselves, or leave the gate unlocked.

I found a solution to these problems in the Lockey M-220 digital lock. This is a basic deadbolt lock that's designed to work in a variety of outdoor situations where you need some basic minimum security: pool gates, workshops, yard gates, etc. It's mechanical, not electronic, and thus there are no batteries to change. It's a rather inexpensive lock and is easy to install. At least, that's what the website led me to believe.

I ordered the lock via the above-linked website and when it arrived and I read the installation instructions, I got a familiar sinking feeling of being over my head, mechanically speaking.

First, there was a dizzying array of screws, bolts, spacers, rods, and tiny metal bits that looked like jigsaw puzzle pieces. There was also the troubling presence of a set of tweezers.

Then, there was the instructions. What can I say about those instructions? You know there have been clinical studies about the stress that IKEA's infamous DIY assemblies can cause. Well, if you're comfortable putting together an IKEA home nuclear reactor (aka Facinmelton) by looking at the instructions upside down in a broken mirror, you'll do just fine with the lock installation.

The installation instructions were complicated enough without later discovering that some of them were actually for a different model of lock, and it didn't help that those steps were flagged with "IMPORTANT: DO THIS OR RISK RUINING THE LOCK!" and the "THIS" referred to a part that didn't exist on my particular model.

And, as if the installation instructions weren't obtuse enough, the process for changing the lock combination was more complicated than a NASA moon mission launch sequence. Plus, it involved tweezers.

Lock combination instructions
Lock parts

By the way, in those instructions it is never explained exactly what the "clear position" is, although failure to maintain it will bring an end to life in the universe as we know it. As it turns out, the clear position is the natural state of the lock; if you don't fool with the deadbolt while changing the combo, you'll be fine. So now you know, and the universe is safe.

Despite these challenges, and my total cluelessness, I embarked on the installation. And the first thing I discovered was that, because my life is nasty, brutish, and short, the lock was designed for a door that opens in the exact opposite direction of mine. Fortunately, the manufacturer anticipated this situation and provided some not-entirely-cryptic instructions for swapping the opening direction mechanism (there's a more technical term for that but I'm so over it).

The actual installation went fairly smoothly, meaning that by the end of the process, I had only slightly less than half of my tool collection gathered around the gate, even though the instructions assured me that I could do it with only a screwdriver. And tweezers.

Because of the construction of our metal gate, I had to do some trimming of the spacers and shims (is that redundant?) so that the main body rested flush against the gate. I also couldn't put the lock quite as close to the edge of the gate as I would like, meaning that the deadbolt didn't engage the, uh, engagement slot quite as much as I would like. But, again, this is not a maximum security installation and in the end, I was quite satisfied with the outcome.

Installed lock - outside gate
Installed lock - inside gate
The lock is NOT in the clear position.

Despite all my complaints and grumblings, I actually do recommend this lock for certain outdoor applications that don't require maximum security. There are other variations that have keypads on both sides, and that also have the more standard indoor deadbolts, and the lock comes in a variety of finishes.

There are two downsides to note, however. Changing the combination requires completely uninstalling the lock in order to get to the innards. (It also requires tweezers. Have I mentioned the tweezers?) This is a major pain, and I don't plan on doing it anytime soon.

Second, because of the mechanical nature of the locking mechanism, the unlock code is very simplistic. Even though it can be multiple digits, the order of the digits isn't important. So, an unlock code of 2143 is also 4321 and 1234 and so on. Again, this might be a big deal if it was on the front door of your home, but it's not for my installation.

An extra minor consideration if you want to install the lock on a metal gate as I did: the kit comes only with wood screws. Plan accordingly.

If you end up buying and installing one of these locks, I'd be interested to know if you invent any new vocabulary to go along with it. Drop me a line and let me know.

Adventures in TV mounting
January 17, 2015 3:12 PM | Posted in: ,

I bought an LED TV as a Christmas present for MLB as a replacement for the remaining CRT set in the house. That TV was installed inside the built-in cabinets in our workout room, mounted on a sliding metal platform that has a few degrees of rotation so that we theoretically could view it from anywhere in the room. In practice, however, the platform didn't extend far enough to clear the open cabinet door, and part of the screen was blocked from the view of someone on the treadmill. This was frustrating, especially to you-know-who. I fully realize that this might represent the ultimate first-world problem, but that's the way we roll.

The goals in replacing the old TV were to upgrade to a high-def, non-pan-and-scan picture as well as to place it so that we could see the entire screen from any point in the room. The latter would be a challenge, though, as the construction of the cabinet and its doors meant that not just any mounting bracket would work. I needed something with a relatively long extension but that would still fold flat so that we could close the doors when the TV wasn't in use.

TV mountI found what looked like an ideal solution on a website for Displays2Go, a "full-motion" tilting, swiveling, extending articulating arm mount that uses a gas strut for smooth and adjustable action. It also looks like something out of a Pixar animated short.

This mount extends up to 23" from the wall, the longest reach I found in a configuration small enough to fit inside our cabinet. It also allows 360º rotation, which I assume might be useful if you lay on your side while watching TV.

As an aside, this mount is manufactured by a company called North Bayou. In the time-honored Chinese tradition of stealing being intellectually influenced by American business innovation, that company's logo is suspiciously similar to that of New Balance. Nevertheless, the quality of their product is indisputable.

I mentioned earlier that I had installed a sliding platform for the previous TV, and this was to be an integral piece in my plan. Even though the mount had a long reach, it still wouldn't have been enough by itself to clear the cabinet door. My plan was to somehow attach the mount to the sliding platform, so that the combination of both would achieve the goal. The challenge was figuring out how to do this.

It turned out to be a relatively simple matter. I would sandwich a board vertically between two pairs of metal L-brackets which would in turn be bolted to the metal platform, forming a wall of sorts to which the mount would be secured. A key factor in this approach was the fact that the TV - a 32" Samsung - weighs only eleven pounds (another side note: it replaces a 60-pound TV), so I didn't have to worry about whether this mounting system would be sturdy enough.

So, I bought a 1/2" slab of pine at Lowe's, along with the required L-brackets, and put my plan into place. It took some cyphering to decide on the right placement to ensure that everything fit in the space and cleared the doors, open and closed, but the actual fabrication went pretty smoothly. The installation? Eh, not so much. Can you spot the problem below?

TV mount installed backwards

This would have been perfect had I (1) been planning to watch TV from outside the house, and (b) had X-ray vision. Neither of those things really fit our lifestyle. In my defense...well, I'm an idiot. We'll leave it at that.

Following a couple of hours and an extended workout of my vocabulary, I got everything pretty well in place. Here's how the setup looks with the TV extended:

TV mounted

The TV went onto the mount with a minimum of fuss, but I discovered that two of the mounting bolts are apparently designed to be burglar-resistant. I hadn't gorilla-tightened them but when I tried to remove the TV to fine-tune the setup, I was afraid I was going to have to drill out the mounting bolts. For whatever comfort it provides, no one is going to waltz in and heist our TV with nothing but a pocket knife.

This is how it folds up to fit inside the cabinet:

TV mounted

At some point, I'll put a coat of black paint on the board and brackets to prettify it up a bit.

The other complicating factor in this whole setup was that all the connections on the TV are on the right side, which of course is the furtherest from the cabinet when the mount is extended. I had to drill another hole in the shelf to route the cables closer to the set.  The upside is that it gave me an excuse to use a Forstner drill bit, which is so much more efficient than a run-of-the-mill hole bit. I also had some leftover Mockett desk grommets to finish out the hole (I highly recommend their products).

Cable management will be a bit cleaner once we get a Tivo in that room and I can replace the component A/V cables that connect the TV to our antique non-HD DVR with an HDMI cable. The DVR served us admirably for at least a dozen years, but I can't remember the last time we burned a DVD in it, and the absence of HD is now a non-starter given the new TV. And I challenge you to find a non-technical, non-CIA blog post with a single paragraph containing this many acronyms.

I do recommend the articulating arm TV mount if you need the maximum amount of flexibility positioning a flat screen TV or monitor. Note the limitations though: max screen size of 42" and max weight of 15 pounds.

Winter is Coming
November 9, 2014 7:34 PM | Posted in: ,

No, this isn't a Game of Thrones post. But we are anticipating our first freezing temperatures of the season this week, so preparations are underway at Casa Fire Ant.

It's slightly ironic that our landscape is looking better than it has all year, just in time for a killing frost. Here's a sample of some of our flowers as they appeared yesterday...

Hibiscus

Bougainvillea

Rose

Rose

Our bougainvillea and hibiscus are in pots. Neither species will survive our winter in the ground, so we move them into the garage for the duration. Some horticulturists will tell you that being inside for the winter is not good for bougainvillea, but we have plants that have survived ten or more winters that way. And some even recommend forced dormancy as a survival strategy. The plants are puny in the spring, but after a few weeks of warm weather, they're typically back to their happy selves. I suppose the fact that we move them outside occasionally when the winter weather isn't too brutal so they can get a little sunshine might contribute to their hardiness.

It's a pain to move eight or ten fairly large pots in and out of the garage, so this year I've built something that I hope will significantly reduce the effort. I cut in half a 4' x 8' piece of 3/4" plywood and then rejoined the two halves with hinges, and attached six heavy duty casters (two of which are lockable) to the bottom. I threaded a couple of ropes through each end to tow and steer the platform, stapled a sheet of thick plastic to protect it from water leaks, and - voilà! - a movable plant stand that will accommodate all of our pots at once.

Here's what it looks like unburdened:

Rolling Plant Platform

And here's what the loaded version looks like:

Rolling Plant Platform

In case you're wondering, the hinges make it easier to store the platform. I can fold and lean it against a wall during the offseason.

I'm pretty happy with the way this turned out, although the construction wasn't without mishap. In accordance with my usual modus operandi, in which I essentially always have to redo a significant step that I messed up, I discovered that I countersunk the bolt holes on the wrong side of the boards and had to move the hinges to the other side so that the wheels didn't interfere with folding the platform. In addition, I failed to account for the countersinking and the bolts I used interfered with the wheels so I had to cut them off with a Dremel tool. Fortunately, I've done enough of this boneheaded stuff that I actually build in an allowance for it in my timeline and budget, and I'm disappointed in those rare instances that everything goes right the first time. OK, just kidding. I've NEVER had a project where everything went right the first time. But I've resolved to be disappointed if it ever does.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't actually tried to pull the loaded platform into the garage, so I may be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow night when I bring everything in for the first time. I did do a test run with Debbie sitting on it, but she weighs SO MUCH LESS than these plants - I mean, really, it's like comparing a feather to a dump truck...seriously! (she's right behind me, isn't she?) - that I'm not sure how realistic a test it was. I'll let you know if, when I unlock the wheels, the whole thing plummets down the driveway and drags me across the alley and through the neighbors' fence and into their pool. Or you can watch for the report on the evening news.

OK, I know some of you are geeky enough to be disappointed that this wasn't a Game of Throne post, so this is for you:

Winter is Coming Meme

Are you ready for winter? Have you messed up a project lately? Do you watch Game of Thrones? All of these are fodder for further discussion, especially the second one, as it will make me feel better. Email me or leave a comment on Facebook.

Slinging Henry
December 7, 2013 3:25 PM | Posted in: ,

After almost a year of fearful contemplation, and thanks in no small part to a bit of cabin fever (it's been really cold for TWO DAYS!), I finally worked up the courage to mount a sling to my Henry Golden Boy rifle. If that doesn't sound all that courageous, then you've never seen that beautiful walnut stock and entertained the idea of drilling a hole into the heart of it, a hole that can't be undrilled if not done perfectly the first time. I'm not a gunsmith and the risk of defacing a beautiful firearm was not one I take lightly.

As it turned out, the contemplation was worse than the execution, and it's with great relief that I present the results.

Photo of rifle stock

This is where the drilling came in. See what I mean about the beautiful wood? That simple-looking fitting was complicated by the fact that it required drilling a 5/32" hole inside a 7/32" starter hole - with each having to be drilled to a specific depth - along with the additional facts that I don't have (1) a gun vise or (2) a drill press or (3) a drill bit depth collar. Or, for that matter, (4) any inherent skill to perform this task.

I've never let lack of proper tools or basic proficiency stand in my way of performing delicate operations on expensive equipment, relying instead on God's grace for children and fools along with a knack for Texan engineering (and a spooky ability to cover up mistakes). So I addressed the first three issues with a shop vise, some microfiber towels, and a strip of orange duct tape.

Photos of southern engineering

Fortunately, the fourth shortcoming was set aside for the next job, and the outcome of this little project was pleasantly successful.

Photo of rifle with sling

The only remaining task is to change my name.
We're going to have some remodeling work done on the house, meaning that we'll have a crew of people we don't know in our home for a week. And while they work for a reputable local contractor, there's something a little unsettling about having strangers in your house while you're not there.

While we could burn some vacation and babysit the crew all week, that seems to be a bit of overkill. It seems more reasonable to take some simple steps to "help honest people stay honest." To that end, I've installed key-locking doorknobs on the master bedroom and closet, since access to those rooms won't be required for the work.

However, our bedroom door opens outward, with the hinges exposed, so that a lock can be thwarted by popping out the hinge pins. Again, it's highly improbable that anyone is going to try that - but there's a simple solution that will remove even that little bit of insecurity. I've installed a couple of secure hinge plate studs. As a public service, because step-by-step instructions are lacking on the web, I've documented the process in case you're interested in doing the same thing at your house.

The concept is simple. The stud is installed into one side of the hinge plate, and it protrudes a quarter inch or so. A hole is drilled into the other side of the hinge plate, directly offsetting the stud, and when the door is closed, the stud fits snugly into the hole. Even if the hinge pins are removed the door can't be lifted or pulled off the hinges.

Following is a step-by-step overview of the process. [Tools needed: electric drill and bit, 1 1/2" cabinet screw, Dremel tool with a carbide cut-off blade or small hacksaw, masking tape]

First, pick a drill bit just slightly larger in diameter than the body of the screw. Drill a hole into the side of the hinge plate mounted on the door frame. Be careful to drill only through the metal of the hinge plate and not all the way into the wood. You'll want the screw to fit tightly into the door frame.

Photo
Yes, our door hinges are dusty. Don't judge.

Insert the screw leaving about 3/4" sticking out.

Photo
You'll transform this lowly screw into a rugged stud.

Using a Dremel or other rotary tool with a cut-off blade (or a small hacksaw if you have room to use it), slice the head off the screw so that about 1/2" protrudes from the hinge plate.

Photo
It doesn't look like much, but appearances are deceiving.

Next, you'll drill the hole into the other side of the hinge plate, into which the stud will fit when the door is closed. But, you ask, how can I make sure I'm drilling in just the right spot? That's where the masking tape comes in. Apply a piece of tape across the hinge plate where the hole will be drilled, and close the door gently but firmly so that the stud leaves an impression in the tape. Voila! That's where you drill.

Photo
It's hard to make out, but the indentation is definitely there.

Drill a hole using the same bit as before, but this time, drill all the way through the metal and into the wood far enough to accommodate the stud.

Photo
Pretty simple, huh?

And that's it. You'll want to repeat this at least once more for maximum benefit - studs on the top and bottom hinge plates will be the most effective placement.

If this seems like too much work, you can always order security studs, but even then you'll have to do some drilling.
Fellow [occasional] blogger Jen posted a link to this list of "50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World." In a previous era, "life hacks" were referred to as "Hints from Heloise," but that's another topic for another time.

Anyway, after skimming through the article, I started wondering what future extraterrestrial archeologists might glean about our culture, assuming the list survived after our world's inevitable extinction caused by a lethal combination of Honey Boo Boo and zombies.

I think the first thing they'd find is that we were obsessed with mastering our electrical and electronics cables, a task that was apparently more challenging than it looks. Six of the fifty deal with taming unruly cords and cables. We should forgive those future investigators if they arrive at the conclusion that we were ultimately throttled to death by our own devices.

Mmmmmmm....We also couldn't be bothered with conventional ideas of food preparation. Otherwise, we wouldn't be skewering strawberries with soda straws, or concocting confections in our coffee cups, or doctoring discards with dollops of dairy. On the other hand, they would doubtless approve of the recipe for bacon pancakes. There's not a force in the 'verse that doesn't endorse bacon as a delicious alternative to actual nutrition.

Finally, we will be judged and found wanting by our textiles. A race that needs step-by-step instructions for folding its bedclothes has obviously earned its destruction to make way for a more intelligent life form.

Future historians may discern that humans were never able to conquer poverty, much less cure the common cold, but by George, we did finally overcome the inherent limitations of those little paper ketchup cups, and that's not nothing.

Air Conditioning for the Great Outdoors
July 24, 2012 10:01 PM | Posted in:

Cue "Tim Taylor Official Primal Ape Tool Time Grunts"

Do you have one of these in your garage? No? So sad.

How can you resist a massive device called the Cyclone 3000?

My wife claims that it will make the area much more comfortable for practicing ballroom dance steps during summer months, but I can assure you that's it really for very manly, possibly dangerous, activities involving spinning blades and screaming metal.

Oh, wait. That's just my blender. Hey, mechanics get thirsty, too.

portacool.jpg
Of course, as with any of my DIY projects, this one wasn't without its challenges. First, I failed to read between the lines of the fine print, and missed the fact that this particular unit can be filled only with a garden hose (I was hoping to be able to fill it with a bucket and funnel so I could minimize the use of tap water, which will quickly gunk up the works*). Then I discovered that our only hose was hopelessly bonded to the sprayer that has been attached to it for the past four years. (And let's not discuss the fact that the only hose bib close enough to the garage is underground, meaning that I have to brave huge deadly poison-spitting spiders with bad attitudes in order get a water supply.)

After buying a new hose, I attached it to the unit and discovered that the inexplicably split rubber washer isn't particularly effective, even after tightening the hose strongly enough that I had to disassemble the input valve to separate it from the unit after filling the tank. In other words, it took me an hour to get the air conditioner running, a task that would take a normal person about four minutes. But in the end, the unit worked beautifully, and it will indeed make the garage a more hospitable place for...whatever.

*This is a highly technical term. Look it up.

Big Toys Time
February 5, 2012 2:49 PM | Posted in: ,

It's only appropriate on this Super Bowl Sunday, a day devoted to over-the-top, larger-than-life, dumber-than-a-stump shenanigans that we at the Gazette focus briefly (in keeping with our attention spans) on some truly big toys.

I shot the following video through my pickup window on Friday, in Fort Stockton. It shows a coupla BA'd truck beds being transported through town. They came up the Sanderson Highway -- puzzling in and of itself -- and turned left onto Dickinson Boulevard where they no doubt brought all traffic in town to a halt. (I had another agenda so I couldn't be bothered to follow. So much for journalistic curiosity.) I also haven't a guess as to where they were headed. Are they using equipment like this at the nuclear waste disposal site in Andrews (city motto: "The stars at night aren't the only thing glowing around here.")?

By the way, that's a 34-wheeler doing the heavy lifting.



Then there's this. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of clear-cutting forests, you have to marvel at the engineering that goes into this machine. I wonder about two things, though. First, what's the MTBF? And second, what does the one that produces toothpicks look like?


My Excellent Christmas Lights Adventure
December 4, 2011 8:50 PM | Posted in:

First, the lessons. (A) Just because something is labeled doesn't mean that it's labeled correctly. And (2) The solution to the problem is probably more simple than you think, if you haven't pushed all the buttons.

I spent three hours yesterday afternoon putting up our Christmas lights. This included twelve strings of lights around the eaves of the house, which required much ladder work along with some precarious roof balancing and stretching to reach the places the ladder wouldn't. I hung a lighted fake garland around our doorway, and hotglued two strands of lights, one individual bulb at a time while atop a 12' ladder, around our brick archway. In other words, I went to a fair amount of life-threatening trouble.

Christmas Vacation movie poster
I then ran a series of extension cords to a heavy duty power strip attached to a heavy duty timer, which was in turn attached to the GFCI outlet on our front porch, thereby ensuring that no actual human intervention would be required to ensure a nightly (and morningly) sincere and tasteful public display of our Christmas spirit.

Darkness fell across the neighborhood and we were ready to experience a wattage-filled Christmas miracle. The timer counted down and...

Say, do you remember that scene from Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswald expectantly connects the thousands of lights to the power source? Sure you do. It's a classic movie scene, never to be repeated. Well, until now, when our Christmas lights filled the darkness with more darkness (except that our neighbors' lights were lit, lucky dogs).

I methodically started checking the electrical connections and components. I made sure the power strip was turned on, the GFCI outlet reset, the timer was working. I bypassed the timer, plugging the power strip directly to the outlet. Still nothing.

At that point, I reflected on what my friend Tommy had told me about having to replace several GFCI outlets in his house on multiple occasions, because they went bad. His were all indoors; mine was outdoors, exposed to the elements, so it probably was more susceptible to malfunctioning.

So, this afternoon I drove to Lowe's and bought a new outlet (a non-GFCI outlet, at that; not gonna mess wit dat stuff anymore). As soon as I got home, I flipped the breaker in the garage that was labeled "Entry Light/Front Porch," pulled the old outlet, and prepared to install the new one. The old one was designed for push-in connection; the new one had screw connectors, so I had to strip insulation to expose enough of the wire to wrap around the screws. As I was preparing to strip the insulation, I touched the "dead" hot wire with a screwdriver. Imagine my surprise at the resulting spark, pop, and alarm. The spark and pop were from the tool touching a live wire; the alarm was the uninterruptible power supply in my office reacting to the loss of power when the breaker tripped. Yes, that would be the breaker labeled "Office," which I apparently should have realized meant "Office...oh, and also the completely unrelated exterior outlet on the front porch." 

No harm; no foul. But that's why they invented volt meters, and I'll remember that in the future.

Now the power is really turned off, so I finish installing the outlet (incidentally, Debbie is standing by, phone in hand, and has already dialed "9-1"). Feeling triumphal for having changed out the outlet without getting electrocuted, I plugged in the lights and...

Say, do you remember that scene from Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswald expectantly connects the thousands of lights to the power source?

Meh. Still no wattage. I was out of ideas, other than to run the whole shooting match to different outlets, losing the clean installation as well as the timer. As I started to disconnect everything in preparation for Plan B, I felt something on the end of the power strip. Something that felt suspiciously like...like...could it be? A reset button?! Are you kidding me?

Long story made short: I reset the power strip, and we have lights. And lessons learned.

And a newly relabeled breaker box.

TiGr Bike Lock
November 20, 2011 7:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Update (2/2012): The Tigr Lock website has launched and the locks are now available for purchase. They're not inexpensive, but they're also not cheap, if you know what I mean.

I took delivery of a new bike lock yesterday. I realize that sounds like dull news, or no news at all, but it's actually quite exciting. I've been anticipating this since I first found the project on Kickstarter. The inventor's fundraising efforts were quite successful, as he got almost three times the amount of money he initially sought, proof that his concept was attractive to a lot of people. I signed up as a backer, which is why I got one before they hit the general market.

That concept is simple: create a bicycle lock that's light and yet almost impossible to break, a combination that's the locksmith's holy grail. Most bike locks are either very bulky and heavy, or too flimsy to provide real security. And even the bulkiest locks are subject to breakage by a determined thief with a small hydraulic jack.





The TiGR lock overcomes these challenges in elegant fashion. In fact, the lock's slogan is "Elegant Bike Security." The lock consists of a 48" long, 1/8" thick strip of titanium bent in the middle. The two ends are brought together into a cylindrical lock that spins freely, meaning that it can't be twisted off. The flexibility of the long strip of titanium makes it immune to jacking, and the inherent toughness of the metal means that a thief would need a lot of time and some serious power tools to cut it. This is the sort of lock that makes thieves look for easier prey.

The length and flexibility of the lock's body means that it's easier to secure your bike to an immovable object like a light pole or parking meter.

The only downside I see to the lock is that transporting is less than, ah, elegant. It comes with a couple of velcro strap and the suggestion is to affix it to one of your bike's frame tubes. That will work, but won't look great. That's probably a small price to pay for peace of mind.

I'm not sure when the TiGr lock will be available to the public, or what the final pricing will be. I'm not sure they're set up for manufacturing in mass quantities but I suspect that will come once word gets out. The only other thing they need to fix is their QR code imprinting process, as shown in the third photo above. My phone won't scan it. That just won't do; I insist that my bike locks be scannable!

Installing a BHP
October 25, 2011 10:05 PM | Posted in: ,

Big Honkin' Plotter, that is. Or, to be less dramatic and more boring, an HP T-1300 Designjet large format plotter. Yep, that's what I [almost] singlehandedly assembled and put into operation at the office yesterday, in fulfillment of my loosely-defined IT responsibilities.

It was actually ridiculously easy, despite having 94 discrete steps in the instruction manual from unboxing-to-printing. Some of those steps were along the lines of "remove dessication packet," or "open printer cover." I didn't mind; it was a welcome change from too many do-it-yourself projects where the instructions were badly translated from Serbian, or simplified into one "assemble the unit and enjoy!" instruction, which is OK if it's referring to, say, a shovel, but not so good for a propane barbecue grill.

Anyway, while I did most of the assemblage by my lonesome, I did enlist some strong backs to help lift the almost-200-pound device to its feet, thereby avoiding any embarrassing job-related injuries. And to top it off, the darned thing actually worked after I got it connected to the network.

Still, it's one big piece of machinery. How big, you ask? You be the judge.

Aircraft Carrier vs Plotter
Items not drawn exactly to scale

Knifed
July 27, 2011 6:23 AM | Posted in:

Say, I think I forgot to tell you about the cool anniversary gift MLB presented me during our recent trip to Santa Fe. That's a photo of it floating off to the right.

Photo of Benchmade knivesYep, it's a knife...a Benchmade Model 470 Osborne Emissary, to be exact, and it's the best knife I've ever owned. It's got a 3" blade made from S30V stainless steel (a powder-made steel) with ambidextrous thumb-studs and a spring assist that allow easy one-handed opening. The aluminum alloy frame makes the knife quite lightweight (just over 2 ounces), including the reversible pocket clip. It's even got a safety catch that prevents it from opening (or closing...although that seems like overkill, given that it's got a bulletproof locking mechanism). American Handgunner Magazine describes it as "...a knife with the strength, speed and refined looks to go from a boardroom to a back alley, and handle either with ease." I don't frequent either of those things, but it works just as well in the garage or back yard.

I've always carried a pocketknife, and until now my primary knife was an old and tiny Swiss army knife, the one with the fingernail file, scissors, screwdriver tip, tweezers, and toothpick. Frankly, the Benchmade is overkill for most of the tasks I use the little one for, but it's such a finely-crafted tool that I can't not carry it. (And, in reality, I used it three times yesterday afternoon for various chores around the house, so it's not just a showpiece.)

Benchmade knifes are high quality, made-in-America products, and they're not inexpensive. But a good knife will outlive you, assuming you don't lose it. I bought my brother a Subrosa - a bigger model than mine; his work calls for it - for his birthday earlier this year and he loves it. If you're in the market for a new knife, skip the department store brands and check out Benchmade. And if you live in West Texas, you can buy these knives at prices under the MSRP at the new Bear Claw location in Midland, on the Andrews Highway just west of the hospital. You can also buy them online at substantial discounts over the Benchmade website's prices, but there's nothing like being able to handle a blade before making the buy.

Embarrassing confession: I wrote this entire post about the wrong knife and even had the wrong photo, and realized it only as I was about to save it. In my defense, the Benchmade website refers only to the "470 Emissary" while the knife itself is marked "Osborne Design." A search for "Osborne" on the website turned up a model similar to mine, so similar in fact that I didn't initially notice the difference in the photo. Perhaps I'm not qualified to carry a knife.

Road Warrior Gear
July 22, 2011 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't travel much on business, or conduct much business when I travel, but when I do, I have a handful of accessories that I always pack to make the trip more efficient. In addition to the usual electronics (e.g. notebook computer and iPad and associated cables and chargers), here's what I bring:

Photo - Various pieces of road warrior gear

  • eBags backpack: I switched to a backpack from a traditional computer bag last year, and I'm never going back. Besides having a plethora of pockets and pouches for storing all kinds of gears and accessories, a backpack doesn't scream "steal me because I have $2,000 of equipment inside!" Plus, a backpack frees up your hands for carrying suitcases or coffee.

  • Eagle Creek mesh bag: This is one of the handiest accessories I've run across. Everything you see in the photo (except the backpack and the table!) will fit into this three-compartment (two smaller ones are on the back side) zippered bag...along with the power adapters and cables for my laptop, phone and iPad. The mesh bag then stores nicely inside the backpack's middle compartment.

  • Kensington notebook lock: This won't prevent a determined burglar from making off with your computer, but it will thwart snatch-and-run thefts by passers-by who peek in while the housekeeping crew is busy leaving you those useless little soaps.

  • Nite Ize gear ties: I've just discovered these at REI, and I buy a pair every time I'm in a store. They're twist ties on steroids, and their usefulness is limited only by your imagination. Plus, they're fun to play with! They come in multiple sizes and the big ones are truly heavy duty. Bend them to use as a makeshift tripod for your compact digital camera, or a document holder when you're typing.

  • 1-to-3 AC adapter and 12" power cords: Hotels are getting more savvy about providing abundant AC outlets, but you still occasionally find one that just won't accommodate all your electronic charging needs. These simple accessories multiply the available outlets, and the short power cords accommodate adapter bricks.
How about you? What are your "must have" business travel accessories?

A Tale of Two Nets
July 13, 2011 1:08 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, before we get started, I'll wait here while you go watch this. G'head, it's OK; just don't get distracted by videos of babies biting kids' fingers, or mimes. I'll wait here.

*finger tapping; random whistling*

Yeah, that was pretty awesome alright, seeing a whale rescued from a fishing net. My aunt in Albuquerque sent me that link, and little did I know that just a couple of days after watching that movie, I'd be doing a similar rescue. Yes, humpbacks aren't the only things that can have near-death encounters with nets.

It happened this morning, as I was preparing to mow the lawn. I had opened the gate to the backyard, weedeater already running, and I held it in one hand, inside the gate, while reaching around to grab the gate handle with the other hand. That's when disaster struck, and I was faced with the possibility that things would never be the same again.

Here...see for yourself.

Photo of weedeater entangled in bird netting covering a tomato plant

That, my friends, is a sight that no homeowner or lawn care professional ever wants or expects to see: a weedeater hopelessly (it appears) entangled in the voracious clutches of bird netting covering a tomato plant.

I acted as quickly as I knew how, running through the options open to me, and settling on the one drastic last hope. I pulled my trusty ARCO Permian swiss army knife from my pocket and set to work on the net, conscious of the precious seconds ticking away until my faithful companion might never again drink deeply of unleaded gasoline in preparation for a good day's work. I struggled mightily as the netting fought back, as netting will do when protecting its helpless prey in the face of would-be rescuers. The battle pitched back and forth, up and down, over and under; I grew nauseous.

In the end, however, through a combination of grit, determination, and pure luck, I was successful in freeing the trimmer, and the net retreated, licking its wounds and no doubt plotting its revenge. 

You might be successful next time, mi amigo, but not today. No, not today.

Spousal Challenge
April 15, 2011 5:02 PM | Posted in: ,

Ladies, when it comes to manly things, don't ever tell your husband that something he's trying isn't going to work. It's like trying to teach a pig to dance. It never works, and it annoys the pig. 

For example, don't ever say something like this:

"I don't think you can get forty bags of mulch in this pickup."

Or this:

"I don't think those will ride like that."

Because if you do, you'll ensure that he does something like this:

Photo of Honda Ridgeline loaded with 40 bags of mulch

On the other hand, I guess this tactic might be effective in getting something done that might not otherwise get done.

Brain Wracking Rack
April 5, 2011 2:26 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the challenges of owning a bicycle with a wheelbase of more than 9' is transporting it. Conventional bike racks just don't work.

In the past, we've used a Thule roof rack system along with a Thule tandem carrier that I extended with a length of square tubing and a second welded-on "foot" for attaching it to the rack. Here's what the bike looked like mounted on our previous vehicle, a Dodge Durango.


As you can imagine, lifting a 50 pound bike up and onto the carrier was quite a job. Fortunately, I was able to effectively supervise my wife as she did the job and I thought it worked quite well. OK, you got me...this was a two-person job, one of which I could never farm out to somebody else.

Now that we have a pickup, you'd think the job would be considerably easier, wouldn't you? But the bike's wheelbase is only about a half foot shorter than the truck's, and the bike is several feet longer than the truck bed with the tailgate down. Nevertheless, by continuing to use the Thule carrier and enough tie-downs to moor the Queen Elizabeth, we can transport the bike in the Ridgeline's bed in effective, if ungainly, fashion. Click on the following photos for evidence.


Now, the issue should be obvious. While the bike is quite secure, I worry about it extending so far in back of the vehicle. There's little chance that someone would run into it during the daytime (it's apparently quite an eye-catching sight traveling down the highway, judging by the reaction of other drivers on I-20 last weekend), but night is a different matter. I'll mount reflectors on the carrier for nighttime use, but I'd prefer a completely different solution. We may have to revert back to the roof rack approach, which is unfortunate, as it will require both of us to load and unload. I can handle the current setup by myself.

I don't want to alarm anyone, but there could be a welding project in my future!

Drillcycle
March 10, 2011 6:26 AM | Posted in: ,

OK, this is just awesome. This guy Nils Ferber built a...a...well, I'm not sure what to call it, but it's a vehicle that's powered by a couple of 18-volt cordless drills. (If your first question is "why," then, sadly, this blog isn't for you.) The Drillcycle reportedly has a top speed of almost 20 mph. Click on each photo to see a larger version:



More details on this project are found here, and a description of the design and fabrication process is here.

Given the rider's position, a full-face helmet is certainly justified; one can generate a serious case of road rash even at 15 mph. 

I wonder what Nils could do with a chainsaw?

Link via Dudecraft

Craftsman Cordless Inflator
February 5, 2011 10:28 AM | Posted in:

I was a little skeptical when I opened the Christmas gift from my brother and saw what looked like a cordless drill. It was actually a Craftsman "cordless inflator" - a portable air pump that uses the standard Sears 19.2 volt battery system. I had no doubt that it was a reliable piece of equipment, but given its small size, how could it be an effective tool for inflating tires?

Photo - Cordless InflatorAs it turns out, this little guy can move an amazing amount of air in a very short period, and has replaced the floor pump that I previously used to inflate our bicycle tires, as well as the 12-volt inflator I used for bigger jobs.

The inflator has a built-in pressure gauge, and the unit is rated to 200 psi, meaning it easily inflates our 110 psi bike tires. And did I mention it moves a lot of air? Earlier this week, the tire pressure monitoring system on my Honda Ridgeline indicated that one of truck's tires was under-inflated. It took less than two minutes for the Craftsman inflator to bring the tire's pressure from 27 to 31 psi.

The inflator also has a nifty automatic shut-off feature that allows you to specify a pressure setting that turns off the pump once that pressure is achieved.

The only caveat is that the pressure gauge accuracy needs to be calibrated. In the case of my unit, the gauge reads 4-5 psi high, meaning that I need to set it for around 35 psi to achieve 30 psi (I determined this by using the Ridgeline's built-in pressure monitoring...assuming that it's accurate. But I also double-checked it with a pencil gauge.). But once you know the adjustment, operation is a no-brainer.

If you already have tools that use the Sears 19.2 volt battery system, this inflator would be a very economical and useful addition to your workshop or garage. The unit comes with a battery, but it doesn't include a charger, so you'll need to factor in that purchase if you don't already own any related products, and those chargers are not inexpensive.

Mad Woodworking Skillz
January 10, 2011 9:24 AM | Posted in: ,

I once carved a rattlesnake out of a two-by-four. Took me three days. And several two-by-fours.



Link via Neatorama
Taking a cue from another local blogger who is recycling some of her material (I don't have clearance to link, in case you're wondering), and in response to something that recently arose on Facebook (an exchange between two sisters, one of which happens to be my spousal unit), it seems appropriate - essential, even - to revisit an event that occurred during the Christmas of 2006.


OK, so where were we? Let's see...peace, joy, presents, blah, blah, blah...oh yeah, plumbing.

We have to backtrack to early Christmas afternoon, when some potato peels were fed to the garbage disposer in my father-in-law's kitchen sink. I'm not saying who did it, or what volume was sent down the drain; that's not important and won't be, until we bring it up again at a future family gathering.

Anyway, we all know that while garbage disposers are marketed as being able to, you know, dispose of garbage, their actual function is to keep the federal government's Full Employment Act for Plumbers in effect, and the insertion of anything more substantial than melted ice and not more than eight sesame seeds at one time is a really bad idea.

So, the end result was a clogged kitchen drain. No big deal; happens all the time, especially during holidays, when professional help is unavailable, and the liquor stores are closed, too. We went ahead and ate Christmas dinner (consisting of the traditional brisket, pinto beans, mashed potatoes [peels off, unfortunately], and crescent rolls, the latter suffering greatly at the hands of the Nephew, who eats them by the dozen) and then waited until the Dallas Cowboys were looking especially ugly during another nationally televised embarrassment to explore the possibility that the clog was just under the sink. Which, of course, it wasn't. It never is, but you still have to disconnect all the pipes and get doused with yucky water in order to confirm what you knew all along.

We sent a poor man's plumbing snake (a metal tape measure) down the pipe that ran through the kitchen wall, hoping the clog was nearby. Which, of course, it wasn't. So we quickly reached the end of the very short checklist of Things I Know How To Do When It Comes To Plumbing, except for the last item, which doesn't do you any good on Christmas Day in Fort Stockton, because it's "Call a plumber," and good luck with that. Heck, even Wal-Mart was closed so we couldn't buy and apply the requisite ten gallons of Drano (The Extra Useless Version). We were somewhat optimistic that we'd make progress because we were able to send a pretty good load of water down the drain before it backed up again, so chances were that the clog was becoming more porous. Perhaps it would miraculously dissolve. It was, after all, Christmas. Did I mention that already?

So we did the next best thing which was to rejoin the Cowboy fiasco still in progress, biding our time until something more entertaining came on TV. We were just settling into a state of Christmas miasma...no, wait...that's not the right word. Myopia? Misanthropy? Something starting with an "m." Anyway, we were pleasantly zoning out when it happened. Without warning, great gouts of evil black water began spouting up from the double sink in the kitchen, as if we'd tapped the very springs of hell.

Much running around and yelling and waving of arms ensued, by parties varied and sundry, including the dogs, who, while limited by a lack of arms, more than compensated with what passed for yelling. It was a malevolent mystery (more "m" words, except those are right, I think): where could the water be coming from? The dishwasher wasn't running; even we were smart enough to know better than that.

Then I heard that familiar ka-chunk...ka-chunk. I ran into the garage, opened the laundry room door, and -- sure enough -- the clothes washer was busily pumping black water back into the kitchen sink, where it was attempting to re-create an Everglades Christmas. I slammed my palm against the knob to turn the washing machine off, and ran back inside to survey the damage. The kitchen carpet was completely saturated, all the way into the dining room. We rushed out to the workshop and grabbed the big honkin' Sears wet/dry shop vac and I started squeegeeing the water from the floor. Fortunately, the carpet is thin and not laid over a pad, so the vacuum was pretty effective in getting the excess water up; after all, those Craftsman shop vacs will suck the skin off an anvil. After the emergency vacuuming, we set out a box fan and let the dry west Texas air do its thing.

Nobody fessed up to starting the washing machine, and I can't argue with that, since there weren't any clothes in it. All we can figure is that all that water we thought we were putting down the drain and which was moving through the "porous clog" was, in fact, backing up into the washing machine, which at some point, for reasons and by abilities still unperceived, decided that it was time to drain, sending the water back whence it came. If anyone has a better explanation, we'll be happy to entertain it.

It made for quite an exciting Christmas evening, which we capped off by watching the first few episodes from the first season of Northern Exposure. So, things could have been worse.

Well, they actually did get that way, but that's another story for another time.

The December issue of MacWorld has a good tutorial for setting an "if found" message on the home screen of your iPhone. This is accomplished by creating an image to use as wallpaper on your iDevice, and that image is overlaid with text giving instructions regarding how to get in touch with the rightful owner of the lost device.

The example in the magazine uses the following text:

If found, please return phone to Dan Miller 415/555-5555

I'm not crazy about this example. For one thing, it's illogical; you can't return a phone to a name and a phone number. Also, I don't like the privacy implications of putting my name on my phone's screen, along with a phone number.

I think a better approach is what I've done, as shown below.

iPhone Wallpaper

No name, no extraneous text, and the phone number I actually used in place of the sample shown above is my wife's mobile phone, making it harder to cross-reference to a person. But this also has the advantage of increasing the odds of the caller actually reaching someone quickly.

I think I'm more likely to misplace or drop my phone when I'm traveling, and most of my traveling nowadays is done with my wife. Using her cell number means that we wouldn't have to wait until we got home to get information about the missing phone. I'm simply playing the odds.

While MacWorld's tutorial is directed toward the iPhone, the technique will also work for iPad and iPod touch users. The iPod's screen resolution is the same as the iPhone's (320 x 480 pixels), but the iPad's is 768 x 1024 pixels.

Here are the steps for creating your custom "If Found" message.

  1. Find a photo or image that you want to use as your wallpaper, and crop it for the device you're creating the wallpaper for (again, 320x480px for iPhone/iPod touch; 768x1024px for iPad)

  2. Use a photo editing program to overlay the cropped image with the text you want to use

  3. Save the edited image in JPG format

  4. Import the image into iPhoto

  5. Connect your iDevice to your computer, open iTunes, and on the Photos tab of your connected device, make sure that Sync Photos from iPhoto is checked, and that the event or album containing the image that you just imported is also checked. Sync your device to transfer the image to the iPhone/Pod/Pad.

  6. Disconnect the device from your computer and open the Settings panel. Select the Wallpaper setting and navigate to Last Import. Choose the image you created and click the Set Lock Screen button. You can also use the image for your Home Screen wallpaper, but it's not essential, and may not be advisable since the "return phone" text will make for a distracting background for your device's icons.

Tool Fool
September 18, 2010 12:58 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was returning from Sonic with our foot-long coneys and tots (hey, don't judge...you know you love 'em, too, especially topped with jalapeños and onions) and as I drove around the curve in front of the clubhouse, something black and tool-like resting in the middle of the street caught my eye. I backed up, open the car door, and retrieved the object.

It was a lock-back razor knife housed in a carabiner-style frame, with swivel-out screwdrivers, one flat and one Phillips. I felt guilty picking it up - what if the owner realizes he lost it and comes looking for it? - but decided to take it home and send out a message on the neighborhood mailing list to see if anyone claimed it. If not, well, finders-keepers and all that.

I put the tool on my workbench and we ate our guilty pleasures* and then I remembered my plan to email a note to the neighborhood. I went into the garage, picked up the tool, and thought, "this looks an awful lot like the one I have, only mine doesn't have the screwdrivers." I decided to compare the two, and reached up to the rack where I kept mine handy for all the box cutting work. I reached in vain, as mine was mysteriously missing.

Only then did I realize that the owner of the lost tool was actually me. I had used it earlier in the afternoon to break down a carton so it would fit in the trash, and I laid it on the truck bed rail. I forgot to put it in its rightful place and when I later left for Sonic, it made it about two blocks (and two corners) before falling into the middle of the street, waiting for someone to pick it up. Which I did about twenty minutes later.

There are many morals to this story, chief among them being that hot dogs destroy one's cognitive abilities; also, you probably don't know your tools as well as you think. But at least I didn't have to feel guilty about taking someone else's lost property.

*Our 25 mile bike ride this morning served as our penance, and believe me, it felt like it.

Gate Completed (No, really)
April 5, 2010 2:29 PM | Posted in:

I know that I previously reported that our Anti-Bunny/Tumbleweed gate was completed, and it was functional. But I still had some cosmetic details to work out, and I wasn't sure when I would get to them, or how successful I'd be, so I didn't say anything at the time.

Well, here's the actual completed version:

Photo of gate

The little coyote was created by my brother years ago and it was hanging on a different gate at our old house. I wasn't sure I could "re-purpose" it for this gate because of the mounting mechanisms, but the carbide cutter on the trusty Dremel tool solved that problem.

We think he's quite dapper, howling at the Texas star. (The neighborhood coyotes apparently agree, as they've been more vocal than usual lately.)

AB/T Gate Completed
March 19, 2010 3:13 PM | Posted in:

Did you miss me? I've been berry, berry busy, working on a special pwoject to defeat those wascally wabbits, and it's finally finished. I pwesent to you the world's most time-consuming Anti-Bunny/Tumbleweed Gate:

Steel gate

This gate took me approximately 18,000 hours to complete, with 463 discreet steps and 139 different tools (power and other), not to mention enough steel to build a suspension bridge over a decent-sized river. But that's not important; what's important is that my wife's ground cover will no longer be bunny food*, nor shall this section of our yard become the equivalent of the elephants' graveyard for tumbleweeds.

*Unless, that is, they learn to pole vault. And, frankly, I'm a bit worried about that prospect.

Another Solution in Search of a Problem
December 3, 2009 2:22 PM | Posted in: ,

I may have to create a new category for these things, defined, more or less, as cool things to do which have dubious benefits. (Of course, that would probably apply to most of my life, but that's not important.)

Anyway, someone has posted step-by-step instructions for converting an AC wall outlet to USB, presumably so you can plug your iPod or iPhone directly into the wall to recharge it. At first, this struck me as one of those "why didn't I think of this?" ideas, at least until I saw the approach they are taking.

The whole project is essentially hard-wiring a USB mini-charger to an AC circuit, then gluing the mini-charger to the back of a standard wall plate. From my perspective, all you've accomplished in doing this is (1) spending 30 minutes of your time (2) playing with potentially fatal electricity to (3) replace a perfectly adaptable wall outlet with a limited purpose USB outlet, (4) using something that was meant to be plugged into said wall outlet to begin with. I mean, if you already have the mini-chargers, why limit their use to one location by integrating them into a wall plate?

I give this project a rating of one ant (out of five, in case you're keeping track). They could have at least provided instructions on how to make the outlet glow in the dark or something equally useful.

The Hapless Mechanic - Pt. 73
May 24, 2008 12:02 PM | Posted in: ,

So we come out of IHOP after breakfast this morning and Gene points at our car and exclaims, "you have a flat tire!" Even a mechanically-challenged person like me could tell that he was right; the driver's side rear tire was as flat as one of the pancakes I'd just consumed. The cause was obvious: we'd apparently picked up a nail on the way out of the neighborhood, something I had long before figured was inevitable given the amount of ongoing construction.

It took me a couple of minutes to remember how to drop the spare from under the car, while Gene pulled out the jack and related tools. While I was retrieving the spare, he broke loose the lug nuts. We jacked up the car and I began to remove the wheel. Five nuts came loose without a hitch. The sixth didn't. In fact, after a couple of rotations, it refused to budge.

I'm not sure what I'd done if I'd been by myself, as I've never experienced this problem before. Fortunately, Gene is an experienced mechanic and he immediately knew the only logical solution. "Break it." Now, if you've been paying attention, you know that's right up my avenue of expertise, but rarely have I gotten instructions to do it. So I put my back into it and snapped the stud. It was pretty obvious that when the tire had been mounted, the mechanic had gotten too aggressive with the air wrench and stripped the stud, and breaking it was the only way to remove the wheel.

One broken stud meant a more complicated repair than just a flat tire, but it wasn't a disaster. But my mechanical adventures never end so cleanly, and it was about that time that the car gently but resolutely fell backwards off the jack, something that is never A Good Thing. Happily, we were all out of the way and no one was injured, if you don't count the lug nut that I had re-affixed to the wheel while I was breaking off the damaged one. When we jacked up the car again, I found that it, too, was stripped. <em>Snap.</em> We're now down to four functioning lug nuts, and that's pretty much as far down that path as you want to go.

My initial plan was to take the car to a repair shop, but I ran across this video on removing a broken lug nut stud and this one on replacing a stud. The process seemed quite straightforward, and so I decided just to try it myself. In retrospect, I should have just hit myself in the head with a ball-peen hammer.

I drove ñ gingerly, if one can actually do that ñ to the nearest of the approximately 8,000 auto parts stores we have in Midland, and bought a couple of lug nuts, studs, and some Liquid Wrench. I returned home - still gingerly - and parked in the garage. The first order of business was to put on some good mechanicking music, so I hooked up the iPod and fired up some of Tommy Castro's blues.

I removed the wheel and immediately discovered why I had not chosen wisely. The videos linked above show a nicely disassembled wheel, sans brake drum. What it obviously didn't show was the agony that was associated with removing a stuck brake drum in order to replace the studs. I tapped and sprayed, sprayed and tapped, uttered a few incantations over the rusted axle flange, and tapped some more. The drum was still as tight as a, well, drum. So I resorted to the last thing you really want to do in a case like this: I set the car on fire.

No, not really. I called for help. I dialed Gene's cell number to see if he had any tips for getting the drum loose. He started asking a bunch of questions about whether I had done this or that to that or this, and not only didn't I know the answers, I didn't even recognize the questions. At that point, I figured the best thing to do was re-assemble everything and fall back to my original plan: pay someone who knows what they're doing and has the tools to do it with. But, being the all-around good guy and good friend that he is, he insisted on loading up his tools and coming over for an in-home consultation.

Long story shortened. Even Gene's tools and expertise couldn't loosen the stuck brake drum (it's too big for his puller), so we reluctantly agreed to give up the quest (it bothered him more than it did me). I've been putting off having the brakes on the Durango serviced, and this will give me an excuse to kill two birds with one impact wrench.

And, of course, this being a holiday weekend, I'll have to wait until next week to get everything back in order. Still, it's all fixable and nobody got hurt, and that makes for a successful mechanic experience in my sad history. What I'm worried about most of all now is what the term "stripping a stud" is going to do to the Gazette's search engine traffic, IYKWIM.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, folks!

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Tools & DIY category.

Thinking Allowed is the previous category.

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