Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Harnessing the Power of the Sun

For a while now I've had my game camera pointed at the birdhouse I set up to attract screech owls. In that time I have observed exactly zero owls.

I have, though, observed squirrels doing their daily rounds.

Whatever kind of bird this is.

Neighbourhood cats prowling around.

Some kind of chupacabra eating my garbage.

Some other neighbourhood cat eating a mouse.

The same cat not giving a fuck that it's broad daylight.

Possums being adorable garbage sharks.

Raccoons making booty calls.

Bobcats... Huh, didn't know they came all the way into the suburbs.

And of course rats lining up to leap onto my chimney and climb up onto my roof.

At least now I know how they were getting up there.

Hmm, yup, that's definitely a bobcat.

Anyway, in order to keep this camera going I need to actually charge the batteries every 6 to 9 months or so, otherwise the night shots start to look a bit underwhelming.

So in order to ease the load on the batteries, I thought to myself "you know, the perfect thing for this would be if I could somehow get a small solar panel, hook it up to a little lithium polymer pouch cell, and then wire that in as a supplemental supply to keep the camera going rather than relying on the NiMH AA cells all the time". As luck would have it, you can buy something exactly like that right off the shelf.

I might later look into putting together some sort of supplementary IR illumination. There's an IR flash on the camera itself, but because a lot of the IR reflects off the chimney and birdhouse, the stuff on the fence kinda gets lost in the darkness. I did a quick search and apparently someone used to manufacture a battery-powered IR illuminator, but it has since been discontinued.

I could probably get a wall-wart powered illuminator and hook it up to a second solar panel like I got, and then build a little IR detector that would only power it on for a brief moment as essentially a slave flash for the main camera.

But that's a project for another day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Pie, Potted

Cheesy chicken bacon broccoli.

Verdict: Tasty, though too salty. That's easy to fix though (and it was my own mistake of seasoning the filling before remembering that I had forgotten to add the bacon). The crust didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped but I was already doubting the recipe I was using while I was making it, so I'm gonna try a different one next time.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Fixing the Dog-Gone Trim

Something tells me that the previous owner had a dog with some anxiety issues.

This is the door leading from the house to the car hole, pictured from the car hole side. I'd previously repaired the door, but the jamb, brickmold and drywall also took some damage here.

So the first thing to do is to get back to good, solid wood. This means sawing off the ragged end of the brickmold and making some kerf cuts in the jamb.

Then chisel out the chewed up wood.

I ended up taking out about a quarter inch of the jamb.

I didn't use anything fancy for the replacement, just some leftover 2x4, cut and shaped to fit nicely in place. Some wood glue and a few brad nails holds it in place nicely, and a little love from my tub of long-suffering wood filler helps hide the seams and nail holes.

Finally a fresh coat of paint finishes the job nicely.

The drywall and brickmold can wait for another day.

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Most Frustrating Task

There are many things in the world that are frustrating. Perhaps one of the most frustrating of all is trying to sew stretch fabrics. I don't know why I do it to myself, but here we go.

Our task for today is to replace the elastic in these thermal cycling arm warmers. At some point back at my old apartment they got cooked by the dry cycle of the shitty all-in-one washer/dryer, and instead of the elastic stretching when you tug on it, it just makes unsettling crunching noises.

Sorry, tag. You're about to be removed.

After about an hour of ripping stitches, the old elastic has been liberated. As you can see by the fact that it's almost twice the size of the sleeve I pulled it out of, its willingness, and perhaps even ability, to contract to its original size had long since expired.

I'm going to omit recounting about two hours worth of swearing at inanimate objects and just skip to the end. Needless to say, sewing stretch fabrics is really not pleasant, as they tend to move around in the most obnoxious way under the presser foot, and there's simply no way to pin them well enough to keep them in place. Especially when there's so little seam allowance to work with.

I was careful to pose this photo to show off the least bad parts of the stitching.

There are two avenues I intend to explore after this experience.

The first is to try using a stretchable iron-on adhesive to substitute for the pinning, which I'm hoping will keep the different layers of fabric in place long enough to run them through the sewing machine.

The second is to try getting a coverstitch machine. The upside is that this type of sewing machine is basically designed for the task of sewing stretch fabrics. The downside is that the price of entry generally starts around $500, which is a lot of money for something I might only use once or twice a year.

Leaning Tower of Tree-za

When last we left our handsome bay laurel, it looked roughly like this.

Stately and elegant. What's not immediately obvious in this photo, though, is that the nursery stake is still in place. I was later curious how long it was intended to be left on, and the internet told me that it should actually be removed immediately after planting.

So off it comes.

Oh, hm. That's not ideal.

The good news is that the roots are plenty strong enough to keep the trunk upright. Well, the base of the trunk, that is. It's just the top half that seems to have interesting ideas about what growing upright it supposed to look like.

Time to add a proper stake, I guess.

This should hopefully only need to stay staked for a year. Hopefully. I guess we'll see how things look next xmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

That's a-Mornay

I've cooked up two batches of pot pies so far, both using a fairly standard pork stew filling. But there's more to the world of pot pies than just pork, and there was one variety in particular that I wanted to try my hand at reproducing: cheesy chicken bacon.

To make a cheesy chicken bacon filling, one must first start with cheese. But simply adding cheddar cheese to the pot pie would result in a greasy, curdled mess since the milk fat would melt and separate from the cheese solids. We must do science.

To keep the components emulsified, and to lend a velvety texture, we actually start by making a béchamel sauce. This is where you prepare a roux of butter and flour, and then whisk in whole milk or cream (I decided to go with whole milk since this was already going in very rich directions). This turns the béchamel into a mornay.

The recipe I used called for 1/4lb of butter, 1/2c flour, 3c whole milk, and a half pound of sharp cheddar. It also requested the addition of mustard powder, nutmeg, white pepper and salt. I skipped the nutmeg because I didn't feel like buying some. I might try it in the next batch, who knows.

So that's the cheese part figured out, next up is the chicken.

I'd been a bit disappointed in the flavour I was able to get out of the pork I'd used in the previous pot pie batches, so for the chicken thighs I decided to brine it overnight in 2c water with 2tbsp salt, and then roast it in the oven until it got some color on it. This turned out really quite well, and I expect I'll be brining my meats from now on.

The bacon part is pretty self-explanatory, but what's left out of the description is the vegetables. This would be a pretty overwhelmingly rich pot pie if there wasn't a bit of greenery mixed in, so I opted to go down the obvious route of using broccoli; about a pound of it before I trimmed it down into its canonical tiny tree form and tossed the stems. Yes, I know the stems are edible and taste just fine, but they're also not expensive or rare so I can choose to only eat the trees instead.

So, into the pot goes the cooked chicken, crisped bacon, and raw miniature forest (the broccoli will cook when the pot pies bake).

Now this is starting to look really good, but it's far from being a pot pie. For that, we need pots, and we need to form pies.

Initially I had used store-bought puff pastry. This worked well, but availability had been a bit spotty, so on the second batch I used store-bought pie crust. It also worked ok, but wasn't really as good. Caught between these two unappealing alternatives, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and make the puff pastry myself.

For some silly reason, I decided to go with the cheater puff pastry, where you basically shred the butter into the flour and then do the roll-and-fold deal. I don't know why I did this, because to be honest it actually ended up being more troublesome and annoying than just doing it the regular way. I think in future I'll just do the traditional butter-slab method.

But, that said, it worked out well and my pies were successfully encrusted.

How do they taste? Well, that's a mystery for me to investigate next Tuesday. Until then they'll be sitting in the freezer patiently waiting for their turn to be cooked.

Through Time and Space

On a previous episode of this blog, I documented my adventure to nearly the tippy-top of Loma Prieta, upon which I took a photo of the nearby, yet frustratingly inaccessible Mt Um.

Well, not so much inaccessible, but rather "can't get there from here". I've ridden to the top previously, and I decided it was about time to do it again. On Monday, specifically, because it was supposed to start raining on Tuesday. Supposed to. Hasn't yet, but whatever.

Anyway, the ride. It was cold. It was very, very cold. While in absolute temperature it was warmer than Friday's ride to Loma Prieta, the pattern of the temperature was rather unfortunately inverted: it was warm down in the valley where I was sheltered from the wind, and cold as all hell up at the summit where the wind was blowing pretty strong.

As usual for winter rides up Mt Um, it actually wasn't all that bad until I got up to the ridge line at the summit, which is a fairly flat 2 miles on the very unsheltered west side of the mountain. Being flat means that I'm generating a lot less heat than when I'm climbing, and also going much faster through the wind than when I'm slugging it out against gravity. To make things worse, I was also soaked with sweat by that point.

Anyway, the actual tippy-top of the peak of Mt Um was closed for construction. I guess they needed to patch Log4j on the transmitter that broadcasts the signal that makes all the frogs gay. Or something, I dunno. So instead I stopped at the picnic area just below the summit and munched on a clif bar, then snapped a photo of Loma Prieta from Mt Um.

Of course the wide-angle lens is working against me again, so enjoy some potato-zoom.

It's kind of like a selfie, but separated in both space and time. You can see the ridge line in this photo where the fire road leading between Mt Um and Loma Prieta remains frustratingly inaccessible.

Speaking of selfies.

I'm not smiling, my face is just frozen in that position.

I think I'll stay off the mountains for a while, until it warms up a little.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Up, Up and Away

So to start off my end of year vacation I decided to ride Blackbirb up to the top of Loma Prieta. And by the top I mean "almost, but not quite, the top" because some cantankerous land owners won't let Midpen open up that part of Sierra Azul to public access.

But why am I climbing the mountain?

For the views, mostly. It felt like it had been a while since I saw the pacific.

It looks nice from up there.

With the waves catching the sun.

But I'd also never ridden up to Summit via Lexington. I'd only done it the long way via Mt Madonna.

Did I mention it was cold? It was very cold. It didn't crack +5c until I had reached Loma Prieta Ave, and eventually crept up to +15c in the sunny spots along the ridge line leading towards the mountain itself. Dropping back down it was still only +10c in the shady areas.

This here is sort of the long-term goal. Along that ridgeline to the right is a fire road that leads all the way from Loma Prieta to Mt Um. You can see the cube in the distance, which actually looks a lot farther away than it really is due to the wide angle lens on my iPhone. This is what it looks like closer up.

And potato quality thanks to the digital zoom.

Anyway, the road is almost entirely within the bounds of Sierra Azul, but again due to the cranky landowners it's not open to the public. Either this trail or the trail that drops down to Almaden Reservoir would make it incredibly more convenient to do rides along Summit.

Some day, perhaps.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Bitter Cold of Winter

The lantana is showing signs of jack frost nibbling on its toes.

Starting from the worst.

Not a good look, but there's still green leaves underneath.

This one is a bit better but still took a hit.

This one just has a bit of damage here and there.

And finally this one looks almost untouched, but I think the leaves are a bit more pale than they ought to be.

Hopefully they survive the winter. They weren't exactly expensive to buy or anything, but all the same I'd rather not have to deal with the hassle of replanting them, and I especially don't want to have to deal with waiting around until next fall to find them if they go out of season.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Spaghetti Containment

For a while I've been looking for a way to tidy up the cables under my two standing desks.

It's not the worst thing in the world for them to be like they are, but it's also not really ideal. When I put my feet up on my subwoofer, for instance, the cables tend to tickle my toes. Plus I'd just like it to look tidier.

But that means I need to find a solution to actually contain the cables, preferably one that doesn't get really frustrating when I need to add, remove or change something.

Thankfully, cable raceways exist. The ones I got are maybe a smidge on the small side, but they seem to work well enough and were a lot cheaper than the slightly larger versions. I'm honestly not sure if the larger version would even add that much more convenience, though, as large cables tend to be highly annoying to try to shove into a raceway regardless.

I found that a few cables were too short to properly reach through the raceways and still make it to their destinations, so I've got some replacements ordered up on Amazon, and they should be here sooner or later. There's also a few things that have short cords that aren't going to get any longer, like my amplifier and my alarm clock. I could maybe add an extension cord or splice in a whole new cord, but it doesn't bother me enough to bother with either of those things.

The majority of the cables have been tidied, and that's good enough for me.