Monday, September 26, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's collection of photos...

This young lady is Sharon Ann Reis, according to the inscription on the back in neat printing that I don't recognize.  The entire inscription: “Sharon Ann Reis Oct 1988 (12 years old)”.  I'll make the assumption that she is the daughter of my dad's Army buddy, Donald Reis.  We called him “Uncle Donald” even though he was not  related to us, and we had two actual Uncle Donalds already!  Of the three Uncle Donalds, he was my favorite.  I'd long thought that he'd been stationed with my dad for his tour of duty in Europe during WWII, but a few years ago I found out (by talking with Uncle Donald) that that was not the case.  They'd known each other during Army schooling, served separately after school, then got together again after they mustered out.  Uncle Donald is the one who first told me that my dad likely left a trail of my half-brothers and half-sisters as a result of his carousing in Italy – assuming one could believe the stories my dad told Uncle Donald.  I have since heard from a cousin that he'd heard similar stories about my dad from his father (my dad's oldest brother).

 The lab dates this in February 1959.  That's my brother Scott, imprisoned in a wire cage.  That cage was likely intended to protect a bush inside from marauding deer, but it serves well to protect the world from my brother, too! :)  The bags to the left of him in the photo are oak leaf mold bags, the burlap bags we used before my dad was able to get plastic bags.  To the right of him in the photo, a bit hard to make out, is a pile of oak leaf mold.  This tells me that the photo was taken in our old shed, on the far northern side of its floor, where we always had Pete unload his truckloads of leaf mold.  The concrete floor looks right, too.

This is me and my lovely bride Debbie, and the date would have been August 16, 1981.  We don't look quite the same any more; 35 years have changed us just a tad. :)  My mom had this photo mixed in with a large pile of photos of shrubs in a field.  There's probably a message there, but it's too cryptic for me to figure out!

Below are four photos of me.  The first one is undated, says “Tom” on the back in my mom's handwriting, and looks like a school photo.  The second one is dated by the lab as September 1957, and in my mom's handwriting on the back says “Tommy”.  I'd have been just five.  I've no idea where that was.  That Dixie cup would have been one of the old-fashioned kind made of waxed paper; don't see them any more!  The third photo is undated, part of a series that looks like we had a picnic on the Maine coastline. The last photo is obviously a school portrait, and on the back says in my mom's handwriting: “1964 Tommy Handsome!”.  The latter is not an assessment I ever hear any more! :)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  We had quite the rainstorm yesterday: a steady gentle rain most of the time, interspersed with downpours.  For the storm total, we're at 2.5", and it looks like that's the end of it.  The skies here are slowly clearing.  But ... now the forecast shows a good chance of rain a week from now!  :)

We've been having a rash of urinary tract infections in our cats – six or seven of them so far this year.  The first symptoms we notice is that there's an ammonia smell, and the cat's urine doesn't clump in the litter box.  Up until now we've been lucky in that we've been able to figure out which cat it is.  This time, though, we've got a challenge: one of the cats in our cattery (with 9 cats) has a UTI, and we don't know which one.  How can we identify which cat it is?  but when I started poking into the notion of a webcam, things started to look challenging: they need power, big storage, etc.  Then I had a brainstorm: use a trail camera!  These things are made in high volumes and are therefore quite inexpensive.  They're battery powered, as they're designed to be strapped to a tree.  Motion triggers them to either take a short video or a single snapshot.  They use infrared to take photos even in the dark.  So I ordered one, and this morning I set it up, aimed at the offending litter box (photo at right).  Probably that will trigger the cat to move to a new litter box! :)  It will be interesting to see whether this works.  Even if it doesn't, I'm going to set this up outside to see if I can get photos of deer and elk in our yard at night.

Well, we noted that the non-clumping litter is generally only appearing in one of our litter boxes.  Since cats are creatures of habit, and usually use the same litter box, that makes sense.  So Debbie had the idea of setting up a webcam that recorded, and we could watch the video to see which cat it was.

Yesterday we did lots of running around for various chores, and I didn't get a whole lot done.  I did, however, have a chance to start a conversation with an old Navy buddy of mine (Mike B.) over a project both of us would enjoy having: a programmable box joint jig.  If you're a woodworker, this will make sense to you, otherwise you can skip the rest of this post. :)  A box joint (also called a “finger joint”) is made by cutting "fingers" in the ends of two pieces of wood such that the fingers interleave perfectly with each other.  There are lots of ways to do this, but in all cases the cutting must be done very precisely, or else the fingers won't fit together correctly.  One way to do this (and perhaps the most common method) is to use a table saw, making repeated passes on the work piece to cut out the space between the fingers.  You can buy “jigs” designed to make this easier, but it's still quite a bit of work – error-prone work! – to get them cut right.

As if that weren't enough challenge, things get even more interesting if you want to make something with more than four sides.  For instance, if you want to make an octagonal serving tray with sides a few inches high, then those fingers have to be cut at an angle of 45° to the end (instead of the usual 90°).  Even more challenging is if you want something that has slanted sides.  For instance, suppose you want to make a hexagonal trash can, with 6" sides at the bottom, and 8" sides at the top.  That's quite challenging, as you need a compound angle. Then there's the question of the finger width.  Conventionally the fingers are all the same width, as that's the easiest way to do the work.  But aesthetically it would be interesting to be able to vary the finger width.

Mike saw a programmable box joint jig online, and that inspired us to come up with a much more capable version.  Mike and I have started a little collaboration for this gadget, which we're calling “BoxZilla”.  It will be able to do the simple 90° joints, but also the more complex joints as well.  It will be completely controlled by a Raspberry Pi computer, a little $35 wonder that's millions of times more powerful than the computers I started building in the '70s.  Mike is going to do the mechanical and electronic design and construction, and I'm going to do the software.  This will be a very fun project for both of us, and best of all both of us will hugely enjoy using the thing when we get done.  Mike is considering selling them, too.  We're just getting started on it now. I'll post about our progress from time-to-time...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Salesforce to bid on Twitter?

Salesforce to bid on Twitter?  That's like Ace Hardware bidding on Chipotles!  What the hell are they thinking!

You just can't make this stuff up...

Product endorsement...

Product endorsement...  Most burglars won't enter a home that they believe is occupied.  Of course there are exceptions, but the vast majority of burglars would rather avoid the risks associated with breaking in and entering an occupied home.  That's the reason people buy those gadgets to turn lights on and off at random: it makes a potential burglar think someone must be at home.  The trouble with the light switching gadgets is that real people don't actually turn lights on and off at random – and they actually don't turn them on and off very often, either.  What real people do do, though, is watch TV.  Lots and lots of TV.

Now we don't have a burglary problem around here – house burglaries are very rare, and most people here don't even bother locking their doors.  I suspect that's partly because any burglars would know that everyone here is armed to the teeth, and also of a mindset that says one less burglar in the world makes for a better world. :)  It's probably also partly because everyone here watches out for each other, and because there aren't a lot of people with interesting possessions to burgle.  So we generally don't worry about it at all.

But I saw this gadget for sale and thought it was so clever that I just had to see how well it actually worked.  It's a small device, about two inches square, that contains an array of multi-colored LEDs.  Starting at dusk and continuing for a settable amount of time, it blinks the LEDs to simulate what it looks like when someone is watching TV.  I've got mine aimed at the ceiling in our second floor TV room, and when I'm outside after dark it really does look just like someone is watching TV there.  If you drive down any street at night, you'll see lots of windows that look just like this.  The simulation is good enough that even with careful inspection I couldn't tell it was fake.  The price is quite low, and the power consumption is also quite low – this would cost only a few pennies per night to operate.  I'd be willing to bet that it's effective at deterring the type of burglar – the most common type – that will avoid entering a home that appears to be occupied.

Well done, whoever dreamed this up.  Very clever!

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  This Wednesday afternoon I had the opportunity to lend a hand to one of our neighbors, Nick and Maria S.  Normally these folks are quite self-sufficient: they have six kids, the oldest of whom are adults still living at home.  That's enough muscle-power to handle just about any job, but this week they got one that was beyond them. :)  They took delivery of twelve bales of hay, but not the old-fashioned bales that weigh 60 to 70 pounds – they got the medium-sized 800 to 1,000 pound bales.  The truck that delivered them had no fork lift or tractor, so the family got themselves all together and pushed the bales off his truck.  That made a random pile of bales scattered about their yard.  Maria called to ask if I could come over with my tractor and pile them up neatly, so they could cover them before the rains hit.  So I ran over and did that, which turned out to be more challenging than you might think, as there was little room to maneuver between the bales.  I ended up moving most of the bales off to one side, just to make some space – then I stared piling them up in a neat stack.  After I finished with that, the whole family went to work putting up a tarp to cover them, anticipating the rain storm in the forecast.  It felt good to help these good neighbors out, even if it was such a little thing...

Speaking of the rain, we've been getting quite a rainstorm the past couple of days.  The current radar picture is at right, and for the moment the storm is in decline.  The forecast says we should expect heavy rain tonight, though.  It looks like the storm total will be close to 3", and that means it's a goopy mess outside right now: mud season has arrived!  With all the construction work around our house, the grass is gone from large swaths of our yard – it's been replaced by a gluey mud after the rain.  That means we have to be very careful exactly where we walk the dogs, because the field spaniels with their hairy paws will pick up several pounds of mud apiece.  We try to stick to pavement or wet grass; that way we just bring in water. :)

Yesterday morning I finished cleaning up the mess in Debbie's office, and Michelle (our friend and cleaning lady) made it all beautiful.  The photo at right is what it looks like if you walk in.  Also in there is a 24 port Cisco switch, a MikroTek router, a cable modem, and a Chamberlain modem for the garage doors – not to mention a bazillion power cords, network wires, audio cables, etc., etc.  All of that stuff is mounted up under the table at left in the photo, on the left side of the desk, and behind the desk.  If you get down on the floor you can see all this stuff, as in the photos below.  The nice part of all this from my point of view is that with very little effort I can see all the lights (especially on the cable modem, which is the most frequent source of problems) and get to all the cables.  Win!

Yesterday afternoon we had a nice lunch at Angie's (their pot roast special – delicious!), to Aggie's for a nice ice cream cone (also delicious!), and then out for a drive up to Hardware Ranch with Miki and Race along for the ride.  The fall color on the drive up to Hardware Ranch was just gorgeous – the oranges of oaks and the reds of maples were all around us, and the yellow of box elders and quaking aspen were starting to appear as well.  We have friends coming in for a visit on Sunday; I'm hoping the color is still good for them to enjoy.  We didn't see much wildlife, especially not birds, in the rain – but Debbie got a good view of a northern Harrier, and we both got to watch a meadowlark she spotted sitting in a bush just six feet or so from the truck.  We also saw two groups of deer, and a gorgeous rainbow (it was raining lightly on most of the trip).  Some photos from the trip below:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A couple of product endorsements...

A couple of product endorsements... 

The first one is for dog owners.  We have four pooches ourselves, two of whom are six-month-old puppies.  All four are prodigious producers of poop – most especially the two puppies.  For years we've been cleaning our yard with the standard equipment: a tiny little lawn rake and a big scoop.  I've always hated those things – they don't work very well at all. The rake usually either doesn't budge the poop (especially if it's a steaming freshie), or it shoots the poop onto your pant leg or into the neighbor's yard.  Horrible design, just slightly better than using your bare fingers.  In doing some research on Amazon into alternatives, I came across the Nature's Miracle Jaw Scoop, pictured at right.  I chose this photo because it shows the working end – a simple-looking toothy set of jaws.  The thing works incredibly well.  To compare it to the old-fashioned rake is like comparing a SpaceX rocket to a dime-store Roman Candle.  But here's the thing: even though it's quite obvious how the mechanism is put together and how it moves, I cannot come up with a rational explanation for how well it works.  I've concluded, therefore, that this product is the result of a collaboration between Gandalf, Thorin, and Elrond – it must be deeply infused with magic to work as well as it does.  There's no skill required of the operator: you just pull the handle to open the jaws of pooply death, drop it over the offending turd pile, let go of the handle, and lift up.  The turd pile is removed, everything else remains.  It's truly a wonderful thing.  If you own a dog and you don't already have one of these, order it now.  You can thank me later.  Even if you don't own a dog, you might want one of these so you can marvel at its functional perfection!

Then there's this little gem: the Peeps Eyeglasses Cleaner.  This doesn't require any magic to work; it's obvious how it works once you use it.  It comes in a little case that's easy to carry, it includes a little brush for getting dust off, but the really good part is what you see in the photo: two small carbon-fiber pads that squeeze against both sides of your lens at the same time.  You simply swipe these around a bit, and every trace of dirt and oil is gone from your glasses, presto!  I had high hopes for its utility just on examining the advertisement; the reality is even better than that.  This is the first thing I've found that does a flawless job of cleaning lenses in nearly 60 years of wearing glasses.  If you are a glasses wearer and care at all about clean lenses (I know some people really don't care, but I sure do!), then just go get one of these.  You'll love 'em!

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection.  All of these photos are modern copies of older photos, and I do not have the originals.  None of them are dated by the lab.

There are no notes on this photo to help me out.  The woman at the far left is my mom's sister (my aunt) Betty.  The child in front of her, back to the camera, looks like Scott to me, but that's a guess.  The woman at the far right, facing the camera, might be my mom, but I'm not sure.  I recognize the house: that's my aunt Betty's home when I was small.  I don't recognize anyone else in the photo.  Maybe some of my relatives can help with this one.

This one is labeled “Don” on the back, in my mom's handwriting.  He's got a book open in front of him, but it appears to be a studio shot – perhaps a slightly more creative than usual school photo?  None of my relatives had a clue how to set up lighting for portraits, so I know this couldn't possibly have been taken by them. :)  He looks to be about 14 or 15 to me, and he was born (I think) in 1937, so this would place the photo in '41 or '42 – wartime for the U.S.

On the back, in my mom's handwriting: “Bonnie”.  I wouldn't have recognized this as my mom's younger sister (my aunt) Bonnie.  I believe Bonnie was born in '39, and she looks to be about 3 or 4 in this photo, which would date it to '42 or '43 – wartime for the U.S.  I don't recognize the door or steps she's sitting on.

Finally, here's my aunt Bonnie again.  This is definitely a studio shot, and on the back in my mom's handwriting: “Bonnie - senior”  I presume that means high school senior, which (if she was 17) would place this in '56.  She appears here about like my earliest memories of her, so that hangs together.  On her hairline, above her right eye (on the left in the photo) there's a white spot that I suspect is a photo artifact.  I don't remember her having a scar or birthmark like that. 

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Yesterday was a day of progress on several fronts.  It was also a great way to make me tired. :)  Especially since I had only slept for a few hours the night before!

Our builder's crew showed up and finished “skinning” the roof of our new mud room.  After that, our roofer showed up and installed the waterproof underlayment (that goes under the steel, which he says he'll have up early next week).  Some photos:

The door cutout isn't the right size yet.  The door going in there is a normal sized door (36" wide), but it will have a glassed arch over the top of it, and sidelights on each side.  The hole you see in the second photo will actually be wider (to accommodate the sidelights); the overall hole may be shorter (once we get the door and see how high the arch turned out to be).  The three doors we bought for the three different parts of our construction project all turned out to be custom doors, so we can't just look up the dimensions in a catalog.

Then in the afternoon, we had an occurrence that absolutely stunned us: the fellow who was supposed to start working on our yard (sprinklers, sod, etc.) a little over a month ago finally showed up!  He worked until 9 pm and got the grading done for where our deck is going (photo at right), and also installed some temporary pipe to get the water from our downspouts away from the house. 

There was a bit of urgency about the downspouts because we have 3" of rain in the forecast for the next few days.  That's also what motivated the builder and roofer to show up today.  After the builders got done, I ran and got some plastic to staple up over the rough cutouts for the door and windows in the mud room.  And it poured last night!  There's a small leak somewhere in the mud room, but it's basically dry - no harm done.  The sun room is completely dry.  This storm was its first real test, and it passed with flying colors.  Yay!

In between working with all the contractors and putting up plastic, I also managed to finish working on the wiring in Debbie's office.  You'd never know all that equipment and cabling was there!  I didn't take photos yet because I haven't cleaned up (that's on this morning's agenda).  I'll take a couple photos when that's finished.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  It was a busy day at the compound here yesterday!  So much so that I never did sit down at my computer – missed a day of blogging.

In the morning, and in between other projects, I worked on Debbie's office.  Her beautiful new office furniture really shouldn't be festooned with electronic infrastructure gear (router, switch, etc.) and a bazillion cables.  So I'm in the process of mounting all that gear up underneath her furniture, out of sight altogether.  Only the gear she actually needs to touch and see will be visible on her desk, and nearly all the cables will be hidden from view.  I'm about halfway done with that now.  The challenging mechanical part of that project was mounting the gear, and I've finished that.  I did it by fabricating brackets out of aluminum bar stock, and screwing them into the bottom of the slabs that make her table and desk top.  It worked great!

Around noon a truck pulled up on the highway – our new kennel had arrived!  This is a really nicely made kennel, Lucky Dog brand, that went on sale at Tractor Supply Company last week.  I ordered two 10' by 10' kennels.  We've got one of these kennels (a much smaller model!) in our cattery, so I was already familiar with how they worked.  It's basically a bunch of 5' wide panels, each made of welded steel tubing and then powder-coated.  There is a simple pair of clamp connectors between adjacent panels – and here's the part I was counting on: you can adjust those to any angle you want.  So the two kennels I ordered had a total of 16 5' wide panels.  I arranged them as a 16-sided polygon, which provides roughly 500 square feet of enclosed area for the puppies to play in.  That arrangement is way better than the 200 square feet those kennels would nominally enclose!  The shipment weighed 660 pounds, well within the capability of my little Kubota tractor.  So I just forked it off the tractor-trailer, hauled it into our yard, set it down, and went to work setting it up.  It took me about three hours all together, and I didn't need any help.  Not bad at all!  The puppies are cavorting inside of it as I write this.  :)

Also yesterday, our builder showed up and started framing the mud room roof (photos as of last night below).  They're already here this morning to finish the job, and our roofer should be here later to put waterproofing on the top (the standing seam steel will come later).  I'm going to staple some clear plastic up on the window and door holes this afternoon – there's 2.5" of rain in our forecast, starting this evening and continuing through Saturday.  If I don't button that up a bit, we're going to have a swimming pool in there!  Last night I could begin to see, for the first time, how the mud room will change the appearance of our house...