Saturday, January 28, 2023

That Sinking Feeling

So this morning, after I got out of the shower, I sat down on the foot of my bed to dry myself off. As I usually do.

Then suddenly, I got a peculiar sinking feeling.

Hmm, my bed is not supposed to be shaped like that.

Ah, there's the problem.

Yes, the central beam holding up my bed seems to have had enough of keeping my butt off the ground. This is very unfortunate. It appears as though the metal just tore itself asunder.

For context, this is what it's supposed to look like.

Woe be upon those poor souls who are ill equipped to deal with such calamities. I, however, have a fully stocked workshop with at least a reasonable collection of metalworking tools.

The first order of business is to flatten the torn metal back down, and scuff off the zinc coating. I made sure to heat the metal with my plumbing torch as I bent it, so that it wouldn't fatigue and crack further.

Yes, that's looking better already. Now I just need to pull out the welder and lay a bead on this crack to bond it together once more.

I set up the welder to a nice low 50A, DCEP, and loaded up a 3/32 6013 rod which is ideal for welding thin material.

Alright, so, good news first: there's no longer a crack on this side.

Something tells me that there's more than one definition of "thin material", and perhaps the 1mm galvanized steel this is made of is a wee bit on the "too thin" side.

But, I've come this far, and it's already broken, so let's try again. I switched to DCEN for less penetration (as it seems that sufficient weld penetration wasn't going to be a problem for this job), clamped a piece of aluminum flat bar to the backside of the weld to draw away extra heat, and gave it another go.

Ok, well, that's better but not great. I was still fighting with the base metal burning back too quickly, and trying to fill in the eroded edges just ended up eating more metal than it deposited. It's possible that a 1/16 6013 rod might be able to do the job here, but that's getting into pretty specialized supplies.

Really, this just wasn't a great use case for stick welding. What I really needed was to get a bottle of argon, some filler rod, and some lanthanated tungsten electrodes to TIG weld this together. So, I hopped in my van and made a little supply run.

... to Ikea, for a new center support. It's $15; I ain't gonna waste any more of my time trying to rescue the old one. Knowing when to spend time, and when to spend money, is the key to enjoying one's hobbies.

I also picked up some new pillows while I was there, since my current batch has been in service since 2017 and 6 years is long enough.

So now the bed is back together and better than ever, and I'm looking forward to a restful night's sleep tonight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Going Vertical

So the clutter in my car hole has been getting a little inconvenient. I've been putting off dealing with it since I didn't want to dump a bunch of money into a temporary solution when I had some longer term plans I wanted to pursue to address the problem more completely.

However, those plans have been pushed back a few too many times, and I decided it was probably time to just give in to the endless cycle of perpetual temporary solutions.

In total, if you perched yourself atop my band saw, it looked like this.

Normally you'd be able to spin this 360 photo around, but Google made some changes to how images are served on blogger and so the JS I was using before doesn't work anymore. Thanks, Google.

There was the corner of tools.

The aisle of gardening chemicals and paint.

And the wall of... other stuff, I guess.

So, I made a stab at organizing this stuff by piling it onto some new shelving units. Up first was a 48-inch unit between the dryer and the door.

A 72 inch unit towards the car door.

I put the uppermost shelf a little low because I was worried about it interfering with the door, but I later shifted it up to the top after I realized that all the stuff I put on it was pretty short.

And here's a shot of the clear space I opened up in the former hall of garden chemicals.

And the grand overview.

Just pretend it doesn't look really distorted.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Another Year, Another Haircut

The ornamental grass tuft at the back corner of my front yard got a little shaggy and sheddy after the recent storms.

I wasn't originally planning to give it a haircut this year, as it regrows just fine through the dead blades of the previous year's growth, but since it was dumping a lot of blades onto the mulch and into the rocks of the fake stream, I decided to trim it back.

This looks much more tidy. Also kind of ugly, until it grows back.

In gardening, ugliness is both fleetingly temporary, and ever present in one form or another. The only constant is change.

Friday, January 20, 2023


So I've decided to try my hand at crochet. I think I was probably around 5 years old the last time I tried crochet, and the only thing I learned to do was a very, very basic rectangular crochet, which I may or may not have persisted at long enough to make a somewhat passable scarf.

Not that anyone would ever want to wear a scarf crocheted out of scratchy cheap acrylic yarn.

Anyway, this time I'm swinging to the opposite extreme, crocheting lace. And using better quality yarn (or crochet thread, as the case may be).

I did a test swatch of this pattern which incorporates a pineapple motif. Designed by someone who has never, in their entire life, seen a pineapple in person.

I made a few mistakes and "creative deviations" with this.

The major mistake was misunderstanding the technique for double and single crochet, and accidentally inserting an extra chain stitch at the base that isn't intended to be there. So, all my crochet stitches are just a little bit too long. I also occasionally miscounted or mis-aimed my stitches and had to undo a bit of work to correct it.

The creative decision was mostly around how I decided to fix each row to the previous one. You're normally meant to wiggle the crochet hook into the top V of thread on the previous row, but especially with how many stitches a lace pattern can often stuff into one stitch on the previous row, I decided it would be prudent to, instead, just hook fully under the stitch on the previous row instead. I think this worked out fairly well, with the exception of one or two places where I didn't have an isolated chain switch to wrap around.

In the end I think the pattern turned out kind of pretty. I think I'll omit the row of shells on the right hand side in the photo, though. It makes the lace a bit wide and I don't really feel a strong urge to weave a ribbon through it for the application I have in mind.

What did turn out a bit odd was the unexpected dimensionality of the finished swatch.

I'm pretty sure it's supposed to lay flat, and I'm not really sure what's causing the "pineapples" to bubble up like this. It's not the worst thing in the world in this case, since being rounded is certainly a pineapple-esque trait, but I would like to get to the bottom of it before committing to crocheting a larger piece.

I suspect it might, possibly, be due to the accidentally longer stitches I was using, but that should have self-compensated across the piece, so in the end I'm just a little bit puzzled. I might try blocking this to see if it flattens itself out.

The slanted pineapple-and-shell pattern that the main body of this lace is composed of is a very old, well tested lace pattern so I don't immediately suspect that the pattern is to blame.

It is a mystery.

Edit a day later: Blocking seems to have helped.

It hasn't fully dried yet, but I assume it's not going to curl up like a potato chip when it does. Maybe. I dunno?

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Pearls Before Swine

This week I decided to change things up a little, and try cooking barley porridge. I have no particular reason for this, other than to add variety. So, let's give it a try.

I'm working off my usual rolled oats recipe, so we'll start with 55g of pearl barley.

Various sources suggest rinsing and soaking the barley before cooking, so I gave it a quick rinse and then added a bunch of water to let it soak overnight.

The next morning it seemed to have absorbed some of the water, so I'd call that step a success.

I poured off the soaking water and added 250ml of fresh water, so that I'd know how much I was actually cooking with. I did not measure the soaking water.

Next up I added my usual seasonings: some salt, cinnamon, allspice, clove and cayenne.

And then comes the heat.

I simmered it down to roughly porridge consistency, like so.

And this took about 20 minutes.

Various sources claim to need to cook it for upwards of 40 minutes, so adding more water and simmering it for longer probably wouldn't hurt anything. I found the texture at this point to be quite pleasant, the barley was soft and chewy and the remaining moisture was starchy and creamy.

Finally, we top things off with butter, molasses and the roulette wheel of jams today said that apricot preserves were on the menu today.

This gets mixed in and then it's all topped off with milk. I didn't take a picture of it at that point, because I've learned over the year that porridge with milk looks delicious and tastes delicious, but it very much does not photograph delicious. So, just picture it in your mind instead.

Anyway, the result was, indeed, quite delicious.

Relieving the Pressure

I think my retaining wall may have been a horse in a former life.

Something just gives me that impression.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The other kind of CD

Due to various shufflings-around at work, the payout for my yearly bonus no longer conveniently coincides with when my property taxes come due. As such, I decided to take advantage of the somewhat peculiar financial instrument known as a "Certificate of Deposit" or "CD" for short.

These pay out actual, real, noticeable amounts of interest if you pick the right term length, and you can even get them in a no-penalty version where you can cash them out whenever you please. I opted for the latter as my bank was only offering good rates on the no-penalty, the 3 month (too short) and the 12 month (too long) terms.

However, I may have misjudged exactly when I'll be able to access the funds.

Hmm, I'm pretty sure I can trust these people to keep my money safe, right?

Anyway, the 3.4% I'll earn on the $10k I dropped in there will at least be better than what I've made on my regular savings account, which I opened back in 2010 or so.

Yup, been making some big money there I tell you what.

Please Remain Seated

Way back, somewhere around the dawn of time, I bought a chair from Ikea. It has generally been serving me well since then, and I've been using it as my WFH throne since the end of all things.

Now it may look as though this chair has worn the years quite well, but if we look a little deeper, we start to see a picture painted that's not quite so rosy.

It is, unfortunately, pretty messed up. Not quite as obvious in this photo, but the padding (which is just a fairly thin layer of foam) has also completely collapsed, which makes it a less than ideal place to spend my working hours.

I seem to recall this chair being quite inexpensive, and considering it's made out of plywood and polystyrene foam under that less-than-durable fabric I certainly got what I paid for. I'm not sure exactly what it cost new though, as it seems Ikea has recycled the name and some of the looks for a new model of chair that they're selling for $330-$350, which is definitely a lot more than I paid for mine.

Anyway, fast forward to today and this box shows up on my doorstep.

After a few minutes of "OH GOD WHAT DID I DRUNK BUY ON AMAZON THIS TIME" panic I realized that it was actually my new chair showing up a week earlier than expected.

The important features of this chair for me were that it have a wide, flat seat first of all. I have meaty legs and I like to let them spread out a little, and I've never gotten along with sitting with my knees pointed straight forward and together. Secondly, it needed to not have arms, since the workbench I have my office set up on has a fairly wide support rail that goes along the front, which interferes with chair arms should I try to scoot forward so I'm a reasonable distance from the desk. I also didn't want a chair with wheels, as I find wheels on chairs to oddly be more trouble than their worth.

This chair checks all those boxes, and with a little bit of luck it'll serve me comfortably for many years to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Induced Heat

While I was sitting in the dark yesterday, waiting for the power to come back on, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to buy an induction cooktop.

This might seem like a peculiar thing to be inspired to do, but hear me out. While my gas stovetop can be run without electricity, if I don't mind lighting the burners with a match or something, I can't run the range hood to vent the exhaust outside, and so it's not really an entirely ideal solution. It will certainly work in the absence of any other options, but other options do exist.

Since I have a generator, running a portable induction cooktop is a viable and quite reasonable option. Yes, I know the box says "built-in", but it can run standalone just fine. More on that in a bit.

I also just had a hankering to try out induction cooking, since it's supposed to be all fancy-technological and magical and so on. Since these single-burner units can be had for under $100 ($67 for this one in particular) there's really not a lot holding me back.

The third factor is that if I'm going to put a cooktop of any sort in my van build, it makes the most sense for it to be an induction cooktop. This is why I picked a model that could be used freestanding, but which could also be installed flush with a countertop: I'll play around with it in my kitchen for now, and then later on I'll install it into my van.

It did turn out to be a fair bit larger than it appeared to be in the marketing photos.

Which is not a bad thing, it's just a thing that is.

But anyway, the playing around part. Everyone always gushes about how quickly it can boil water, so let's see how it does with 2 cups of the stuff, starting off at a Nice temperature.

And into the pot it goes to boil.

And the verdict.

Not half bad.

One of the interesting things about induction cookers is that along with just being able to set a power level to operate at, you can also pick a target temperature and it'll use a little thermistor just underneath the glass to try to keep the bottom of the pot and/or pan at that temperature. That means I can set a pot to simmer at, say, 200f and it'll just simmer along at roughly 200f, give or take. I don't have to worry about twiddling with the knobs to make sure that it stays boiling but not boiling over, like I would have to do with most other types of cooktops. Nice.

One concern I had was that people often complain about the noise that induction cookers make. This one has a fan that isn't anywhere near silent, but it's mostly just an inoffensive whooshing noise. There was almost no high pitched squealing when I used this laminated stainless pot, though it did make a bit more noise with the laminated aluminum frypan I tried (it luckily has a steel core for induction compatibility).

All in all I think I like it. I'm not 100% sold on having touch-buttons rather than actual knobs so if I replace my stove in the future with an induction model I might shop around for one with a more tactile interface, but other than that I've got no complaints. I can see myself putting some miles on this unit.

In terms of running this in the van, I'll have to be sure to size the battery bank appropriately. At full zoot this thing will suck 1800w out of the wall, so for an average sized LFP battery bank that stores about 1kWh, that'll give me a ballpark minimum of 30 minutes of cooking time, though I expect I'd get a fair bit more since I'm not going to be running the cooker at max power the whole time. If I get curious enough I might pick up a kill-a-watt to plug this into and see how much sparky-juice this thing sucks up while cooking a few sample meals.

I will enjoy playing with this.