Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pathway construction continues

More progress was made on the garden path as usual. I started the morning off by heading over to Home Depot to get a few more bricks. I also needed to ask several of the workers about how to split the bricks as there are several places in garden beds that need custom sized bricks. The answer was that I could either rent a brick splitter for $22 a day or I could buy a $5 masonry cutoff blade for my compound saw. I decided to buy the cutoff blade.

On the way home, I stopped in at a place selling rain barrels to check and see if they sold the rubber bung threaded adapters to fit a spigot into the bottom of the barrel. Unfortunately, they didn't sell them. The guy suggested that I could use a 1/2 inch pipe thread tap and tap the plastic in the barrel directly. While it would work, it's not a very thick wall in the barrel and would likely become damaged easily. Instead, I'll flip the barrel upside down and use PVC fittings to adapt the threaded fill plugs for a spigot arrangement. I'll then need to cut a hole in the bottom of the barrel, which is now at the top since the barrel is inverted. I'll use more PVC fittings to hook up the gutter downspout. A bit of silicon sealant applied around the downspout adapter will keep the mosquitoes from getting in and out of the barrel.

Once I arrived back home, I unloaded the bricks and started work on the garden path. By the end of the day, I was able to mix and pour seven bags of cement. That's about 14 feet of concrete that was poured. Hopefully no animals walk through it tonight as the concrete is still wet. I put a lot of things like chunks of plywood and even an old door over parts of the path to keep critters from walking on it. I'll find out tomorrow morning if I was successful. I did manage to take a picture of the path around mid day. More work was completed after this picture was taken but it gives an idea of how the path is shaping up.

I also spent a few minutes working on the brick step pad for the water spigot on the front side of the house. I had to expand the area a bit as I made a change to the mosaic pattern. The brick step pad is about half way complete at this point. My brother suggested another cool addition to the brick pad that I need to look into tomorrow. For now, the mosaic pattern will remain a mystery until the whole brick pad is completed. Once everything is complete, I'll take a picture and post it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mixing more concrete and planting rhubarb

It was a good day for making progress on the yard. The morning started slowly with a trip over to the local park to check for mulch. Unfortunately, there wasn't any mulch available so I'll have to check again tomorrow. On my way home, I stopped by Home Depot and picked up a small load of bricks to use for garden bed borders.

After returning home, I unloaded the bricks and started working on the garden path. I was able to finish digging and removing all the soil for the pathway. A few hours later and I had placed the weed block barrier, crushed gravel, and sand on the pathway. The big task of mixing and pouring concrete is the next major hurdle.

During the afternoon, I noticed that my potted rhubarb plant was looking a bit wilted. It was time to transfer it from the pot to the ground. I looked around and found a suitable location for the plant and proceeded to dig another garden bed. I created a half circle bed to keep the rhubarb contained. From what I hear, rhubarb can replicate fairly quickly and take over areas it wasn't intended to grow in, hence the garden bed. I ended up digging down about a foot deep and replaced the soil with some high quality compost. The rhubarb was then transplanted from the pot to the garden bed and was promptly watered. The final results are visible in the picture.

I then moved around to the front of the house and started another small project. On the front side of the house, there is a water spigot that I use for watering flower beds. I decided it would be a nice to add a very small brick stepping pad in front of the water spigot. I took an hour to dig out a rectangular area roughly 4 feet by 3 feet. I put weed block down, shoveled in a layer of crushed gravel, and packed the gravel. I then placed a bed of sand on top of the gravel to help level the bricks. The brick pad will have a custom Mosaic pattern. For now, I need to have about six bricks split in half so I can finish the Mosaic. I'll snap a picture of the brick stepping pad once it is completed.

After that, I mixed up a bag of concrete and poured it into the paver stone form. I only managed to mix and pour the one bag though as it started to lightly rain. It was almost dark so I ended up having my brother help me load up the dirt I had dug out earlier from the garden path. We hauled it up to my buddies house and dumped it. At that point, the sunlight was almost gone so I called it quits and headed home.

Tomorrow, I have three tasks to work on. First, I need to go check for mulch again. Second, I need to see if Home Depot can split bricks. If not, I'll have to find a way to split the bricks myself. And the last thing I need to work on is mixing and pouring more concrete using the paver stone form. It should be another busy day as usual!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The garden path construction project continues

The progress on the landscaping was slow again today. In the morning, it rained for a while so I couldn't get started right away. After it stopped raining, I took a detour and worked on adding a border zone under the chain link fence by the front gate. It's a difficult area to keep free of grass and requires using a weed trimmer to cut. To remedy this, I dug out an area wide enough to place a row of bricks as a buffer zone. The bricks allow the lawn mower wheels a place to roll and prevent the weeds from growing under the fence. The picture shows the row of concrete bricks after they were buried in the soil. There is a thin strip of pea gravel between the concrete bricks on this side of the fence and the windsor stones on the other side of the fence. It took me until around 1:00 PM before I finished this task.

I also met with the arborist to talk about the tress in my yard that need to be cut down. The cost of cutting down the two specific trees was more expensive than I had anticipated. I'll go ahead and have the two trees removed but it's really going to strain my budget considering all the other unexpected bills I received in the last two weeks.

After meeting with the arborist, I started digging out more soil from the garden path. I managed to dig out all but four or five feet of the path. The next thing on tap was a trip to my friends house to dispose of the soil I just dug out. On the return trip home, we stopped by Lowes and bought 11 bags of concrete for the pathway. Hopefully, I can get the bags of cement mixed and poured early this week otherwise I run the risk of the bags absorbing moisture and turning into solid blocks.

Tomorrow, I'll lay down more weed block fabric, crushed gravel, and sand on the freshly cleared area of the path. If it isn't raining in the afternoon, I'll try to mix and pour some concrete again.

One other task I need to do is to stop by the local park and see if I can get some tree mulch. The local park periodically has a storage area where the provide free mulch to the public. They don't always have mulch available so I'll have to make a special trip to check and see if any is available. When they do have mulch, sometimes it is nice and clean, other times it is full of sticks and bits of other unusable materials. I'll take a shovel and tarp with me tomorrow just in case they have some good quality mulch at the time.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Riddler Path

While digging out dirt for the garden path, something struck me as funny. I had just completed digging about 60 feet of the 75 foot pathway and stopped to look it over. Oddly enough, the dug out part of the path looks like a question mark. It looks like it is a mark left by the Riddler, from the Batman and Robin universe.

As for today's progress, I dug out about three quarters of the pathway. Weed block, rocks, and sand were placed on about half the path. After that, I went to Sky Nursery and bought a cubic yard of cedar grove compost. Everything ended up getting pretty muddy since it was sprinkling at the time. I did manage to dig out one of the flower beds next to the front step and fill it with the new compost. Now all I need to do is find something nice to plant in the bed.

The picture shows the point where I stopped work on the previous day. I had just mixed and poured the concrete for a single form of the paver stones. I'll need to repeat the same process about another 35 times to completely fill the path with paver stones. It's a lot of very hard work but I'm hoping it will turn out nice when all the work is complete.

The last thing I did for the day was to haul away another load of dirt and rocks. As I remove the soil from the pathway, I sift out the rocks put them in buckets. Once I have enough buckets to fill up the truck bed, I make a trip to haul them up to my friends house where we dump them. I will probably need to make one more trip up to my friends house as the pathway has a bit more dirt that needs to be removed to allow space for the crushed rock and sand I use for footing material.

I didn't get a chance to pour any additional cement for the paver stones. It started raining just before I was going to pick up the bags of cement from Home Depot. I'll have to wait for the rain to stop before I can mix and pour any new cement forms at this point.

The tree arborist is stopping by tomorrow afternoon to give an estimate on how much it will cost to remove several trees. One tree has a trunk that formed into two separate growths. I want that one removed because trees like that aren't as strong as a normal tree. The tree has been there for years and hasn't been a problem but I'd rather play it safe and have it removed.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The first form based paver stones were cast today

Progress was a bit slower today as I'm near my limit endurance wise. I may take most of tomorrow and rest to rebuild some energy. A lot of work was completed, just at a slower pace than normal.

In the morning, I ended up hauling away a full truckload of sod. My friend called me back last night and said it was okay to dump the sod in the ravine. I loaded the heap of grass into the back of the truck and disposed of it before noon. The picture shows the heap of sod before I started hauling it away. It's a bit hard to tell how much grass is in the heap but trust me, it's a lot since it was a full truck load.

When I came back from hauling the grass, I started removing more dirt from the garden pathway. I was able to dig out about another 8 feet or so. After that, I finally tried my hand at casting some a set of pavers using cement. This is the first time I've ever worked with cement so there is a bit of a learning curve involved. My first mix didn't quite turn out perfect as it was just a tad bit too dry. I think it is better to err on the side of being dry for concrete as opposed to being too wet. Concrete that has too much water is weak and cracks easily. A concrete mix that is a bit too dry is simply hard too work with and is a bit harder to pack together well. I'll know in about 3 days how the first paver stones turned out as they should be dry enough to walk on at that point. I'll try to take a picture of the stones tomorrow and post on the blog.

I did take a picture of the pathway before I started work today. You can see where I've put down some crushed rock and a layer of sand in the pictures. It's a big job doing this. The section you see in the picture probably took about one day of prep work to get to that point.

If I have enough energy tomorrow, I'll dig out more of the pathway and lay down the crushed rock and sand. I might try to cast one more set of paver stones. I really wish one of my friends had an electric cement mixer as that is one of the more labor intensive parts of the job. When I mixed the cement today, it really took a toll on my energy levels. I have to move fast to mix the cement to make sure it doesn't dry too quickly before I can get it into the form.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The perfect crime, almost

It took up the full morning, but the hole where the second stump was dug out has now been filled in. The only traces that remain of the two out of control bushes are a couple of branches that are deeply embedded in the chain link fence. Other than that, you'd never know that the bushes had been there. Damn near a perfect crime if you ask me!

I spent the afternoon digging out more of the garden pathway. The path runs a total of 75 feet around the soon to be garden pond so there's a lot of digging. Previously, I skimmed off the grass to make the path outline. Today, I dug down to a depth of four inches to allow placing a one inch layer of crushed rock over a one inch layer of sand, which the paver stones will cover. I managed to dig out about 25 feet of the pathway. I then placed weed block down on about a 8 foot section and covered it with the crushed rock and sand. It looks good so far. Tomorrow, I'll stop by Home Depot and buy several bags of concrete to use in the paver stone form. I'll try to snap a picture for posting once I have a bit of concrete in place.

Tonight, I had to finish cleaning up the big pile of brush in the back driveway. My brother helped out and we were able to cut up everything except the residuals of the stump from the first bush I dug out. I'll take care of that tomorrow or Sunday.

Tomorrow, I'll pick up several bags of concrete and put down a few paver stones. I'll also make a trip over to my buddies house and dispose of some of the rocks and sod I have piled up. The pile of sod is probably about 10 feet long by 3 feet long by 3 feet high. It's pretty big and taking up a lot of valuable space so it needs to go as soon as possible. Those two tasks alone will probably consume the complete day.

Time to go take a shower and hit the sack. I'm totally exhausted as usual and don't have any more energy. A good nights sleep should get me ready to tackle another day of hard work!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Out with the stump, in with the rocks and sand

It was another productive day of moving forward with yard work. Initially, I started work on cutting the stump from the fence. I worked at that for several hours until I hit something in the stump that dulled the chainsaw blade. At that point, I switched over to working on adding a border to a flower bed. Using a mattock pick, I was able to remove the encroaching grass. Tomorrow, I'll stop at Home Depot and pick up a few bricks to see if I can come up with a decent looking weed barrier for the flower bed.

After that, my brother stopped over and we went to Sky Nursery and picked up a half cubic yard of crushed rock. I suspect that is the heaviest load I've ever carried with my 4x4. The tires were looking as very low due to all the weight. After unloading the rock using shovels and a wheelbarrow, it was time for another trip to pick up sand. The last task for the evening was when we finished removing the second stump. Tomorrow, I'll fill the hole back in where the roots were.

Since it was another long day, I'm going to crash and burn early again. Physical labor like that is hard, especially when a guy is in his mid 40's. My body just doesn't hold up as well as it did 10 years ago.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Total destruction - the backyard saga continues

I spent the bulk of today cutting and removing chunks of sod for a pathway today. I had to do it the old fashioned way, using muscle power. I took a mattock pick and simply worked my around the pathway slowly removing small strips of grass. If you look at the picture, you can see the path winding its way around the pond outline. The circular area just below the pond is where the chiminea will go. I'll dig the circular area out deeper and build up a flat surface area of stones to place the chiminea upon. There will also be enough room to put a pair of benches next to the chiminea. I still need to remove another layer of dirt before I'm ready for the next step. The next phase will be to dig a trench to about 4 inches deep and lay down a layer of weed block fabric. After that, a one inch layer of crushed rock is placed over the weed block. Next, a one inch layer of sand is placed over the crushed rock. Finally, the cement form is used to create the patch work stone path one segment at a time.

I'll keep the blog short today as I'm totally exhausted after spending the whole day working in the yard. The only thing I can manage at this point is to go take a shower and head to bed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Digging out stump number two

There simply isn't enough time in the day to get everything done. I probably only had a few minutes at most where I wasn't busy doing something today.

In the morning, I drove over to Redmond and talked with a company about establishing some contract work. I'll know the final outcome in about a week. If all goes well, I'll start back to work in the first week of May.

After that, I stopped at a few stores to check some things out. One place I stopped at was a fish store. They had three fish I'd be more than happy to add to the tank. They had a pair of bar gobies and a royal gramma. Unfortunately, the timing isn't right for any of these fish. The bar gobies require some copepods to be present in the tank for a food source. I haven't established a colony of copepods yet so it just wouldn't be right to add bar gobies yet. As for the royal gramma, I don't want to add any fish that might show aggression to new tank mates. I plan on adding the most timid fish first to let them establish there own area in the tank. After the shy fish have been added, I'll introduce the non-aggressive but somewhat territorial fish last. The rough plan at this point is to add a pair of bar gobies, a firefish goby, a six line wrasse, and a pair of false percula clownfish. It will take a while to add all these fish so this will be a slow process.

I spent the afternoon digging and chopping on the second stump in the yard. I was able to dig out the stump but couldn't remove it due to the fact that so much of it was grown into the chain link fence. I'll take a second try at it tomorrow to remove as much from the fence as possible. Let me tell ya, after digging and chopping like that, every bone and muscle in my body aches! It takes a lot of effort to remove a stump.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sounding like a scratched record

I'm feeling a bit of déjà vu again as I spent the full day working in the yard. The morning started off with a trip to Home Depot to buy some Roman Stacker stones. While I was out loading up stones, it started snowing again. The snow came down quickly but didn't last long fortunately. I ended up making about 3 trips to Home Depot to haul stones for the backyard. Since my truck is still not working I had to use the car. What a pain!

By the end of the day, the stones were arranged as a curved border around the flower bed. I still haven't achieved the look I'm after but the picture shows the basic idea. The next step is to put down weed block fabric and a layer of small gravel beneath the stones. The weed block should prevent weeds from growing between the stones and the gravel will keep the stones from settling too much into the ground and becoming uneven.

Tomorrow, I have to go talk with a company about a potential contract opportunity. If all goes well, I may be returning to work in a few weeks. Working as a contractor is a unique experience as it's either feast or famine. When I am working, I'm usually so busy that about all I can do on week nights is come home after work, eat something and crash for the evening. Fortunately, weekends provide enough time to work around the house.

The little green chromis, Zippo, is doing well in the fish tank. Zippo has learned about the little floating food ring in the corner of the tank. The ring floats on the surface and acts as a pen to hold the fish food flakes in, that is until they water log and sink to the bottom. Since Zippo is eating and shows no sign of having developed ich, I'll add another fish. I'll provide another tank mate for Zippo as soon as I can find a firefish goby.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More landscaping work

I spent a lot of the day running about hunting for things in hardware stores and garden centers. The one thing I can't find anywhere is something I need for my rain barrels. The rain barrels I'm using do not have screw on tops, but instead have two threaded bungs in the top. This creates a problem since it's impossible to reach inside to thread a spigot into the base of the barrel. To install a spigot, I need some kind of rubber grommet to screw the spigot into. I checked with 4 different stores and not one of them had what I needed. Everyone I talked to knew what it was I was looking for but they didn't carry anything like it. I'll have to keep looking until I find it.

Basic ideas for the landscaping are starting to come together. After walking around the backyard a number of times and looking at the available space, I was able to come up with a rough sketch for the layout. The sketch is pretty crude as I used Paint to mimic what I'd drawn on paper. The sketch shows the basic layout of where major focal points are.

Currently in the backyard, the pond outline has been dug out and ready for a liner. There is also one of those swinging chairs which is pretty comfortable. As per the sketch, I'll add an iron chiminea and a pair of curved stone benches in one corner. Also, the flower bed will have a border of stones separating it from the grass. Winding throughout the backyard will be a cobblestone path. Well, not a cobblestone path but something similar. At Lowes, I found one of those cement forms that you can use as a template to create a somewhat random series of patterns. I'll thread the path around the pond so that it passes by the swing and the firepit area. The plan may change before everything is done but I like what I have so far.

Yesterday, I had to catch a ride with a friend to go pick up my car. My friend decided to stop at an estate sale on the way. While browsing through the house, I found an older Tandy 1000 HX computer. For me, most older Radio Shack computers are actually kind of cool and worthy of grabbing. But since this was a Tandy brand, it made me a bit hesitant. In the computing timeline, Tandy was what the Radio Shack brand of compter turned into near the end of the product lifespan. The person setting the prices at the estate sale said that they initially wanted $50 but would take $25. I thought about it for a bit and decided to pass as I didn't know enough details about the computer. I'm glad I passed up on the deal as it wasn't anything special. With the notable exception of PC9821 systems, I'm not really interested in older x86 based systems. The Tandy 1000 HX is basically an early PC compatible system that had one of the x86 based processors. A system like this might have value to a true collector, but that's not me. While I collect gadgets, I do so mainly because I like to fiddle with them when I have free time. I'm not really into the "Gotta catch 'em all!" Pokemon style of collecting.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Snow, rain gutters, and plant damage

Yesterdays freak snow storm made a pretty good mess of the plants in the yard. Considering the fact that it's April, I didn't have anything prepared to cover plants with. As a result, a number of plants and bushes suffered from the weight of the snow.
The arbor vitae didn't fare very well and ended up having their uppermost branches splayed in all different directions. The picture on the left shows the arbor vitae prior to the snow storm. The picture on the right shows the arbor vitae after the snow storm. I noticed that a number of the rose bushes had a number of smaller branches broken off. The roses looked mostly intact though and should pull through fine. As for the plants in the garden beds, I'll have to wait and see as most of them are still partially covered in snow.

The snow started me thinking about improving my existing rainwater capture system. Currently, I have one 55 gallon drum beside the back of the house that works very nicely in the summer. I use the rainwater barrel to fill a bucket for hand watering plants. The main problem is that there simply isn't enough water capacity to last more than 3 or 4 days in the hottest part of summer. I frequently run out of rainwater and have to resort to using the hose to keep things alive. This year, I'm looking at linking in a second barrel to expand the capacity the existing system. If I have enough time, I'll also build a new system next to the deck using a pair of rain barrels. The new system will be used to run soaker hoses in my main flower garden. Last year, I would get up every morning and spend a half an hour water the plants before I headed off to work. By linking two barrels together and inserting a water timer valve in the outlet system, there should be enough pressure to run a soaker hose. Another advantage is that by using a timer, I can automatically start the soaker hoses mid day when the plants need the water the most. The rain barrels don't look all that nice but they sure help with saving on the water bill!

One of the rain gutters at the front corner of the house is in drastic need of modification. The preexisting gutter pipe channels the water down next to the garage foundation which defeats the purpose of having the gutter in the first place. I'm looking at rerouting the gutter pipe the same way I did outback so as to send the water to a rain barrel. With a bit of digging and pipe splicing, I can tap into my rose garden irrigation system. I'll cut the PVC pipe that obtains a water feed from an old water manifold and reroute it to source from the rain barrel. I'll then reroute the manifold output into the rain barrel. That way, when the rain barrel is empty and no rain is in sight, I can partially fill the barrel and let it feed the soaker hoses. There's probably about a weeks effort involved in this project but it's worth it. Most anyone will tell you, a poorly done rainwater capture system ends up never being used while a well done system is constantly in service. The system around the back of the house is a good example of a well done system that is constantly used during the summer months.

As for my ginger brew status, there are four issues at hand that might require starting a new culture. First, I made the mistake of placing the culture in an unsterilized container. The recipe I followed didn't mention anything about sterilizing, but merely stated that the culture could be placed in a bowl covered with cloth. The more I read about ginger beer, the more I suspect that the flavor could be compromised due to not sterilizing everything beforehand. For the next batch, I'll soak a container with a mild mixture of bleach and water followed by a thorough rinsing with distilled water.

The next mistake was the fact that I used tap water to start the culture with. Although I'm not sure what chemicals the water treatment facility in my community uses, the tap water most likely contains either chlorine or chloramine. Both of these will slow the fermentation process. I'll either need to obtain distilled water or boil the water for the next batch to help remove the chlorine.

The third issue is that I suspect the yeast I used may not be active anymore. The culture is in day 5 of the 10 day start up cycle and still shows no signs of bubbles. This may be related to the temperature issue but I suspect the yeast is no longer active. I bought bakers yeast for bread making about a year ago and kept it in the fridge. It just hit the expiration date as per the label on the jar. From what I've been told, brewers yeast might be a better choice. A number of folks claim that the bakers yeast sold in the grocery store is pretty much inactive as compared to other yeasts purchased from stores catering to specifically to baking or brewing. I'll try a test I found on a site about bread making that helps determine if the yeast is still viable.

The last issue is related to the ambient room temperature where the culture is stored. I keep the thermostat set low in my house, very low. I'm a tightwad when it comes to heating the place and wear a coat about the house most of the time. My house is referred to as Ice Station Zebra during the winter months. One recipe I read suggested that the room temperature should be no less than 70 degrees F or 21 degrees C. The indoor temperature in the house has been quite a bit cooler than that this week. As it stands, I think it's just too cold for the yeast to do its thing. I may have to rig up something to keep the culture warm enough, either that or I quite being a scrooge and crank up the heat. Damn high cost of living!

While these issues may not be a serious problem, starting a new culture using my new knowledge might be the best option. I'll wait a day or two more to see if I can get a nice frothy culture going from my current culture. If not, I'll try cooking up a new batch.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Whiskey barrels, brew shops, and totem pole filters

After numerous delays, I was able to find time to visit the beer brewing shop this morning. After talking with an employee for a few minutes, I picked up one pair of single gallon glass jugs, airlocks, and stoppers. By having two of each item, I can use one for actively fermenting a batch while I can take time to clean the unused items. One other object I picked up was a bottle brush as those glass jugs would be tricky to clean otherwise.

Also, my sister and I have been emailing each other about how she makes ginger beer. Her approach is to use water kefir. She makes small batches for my mother and that's what kick started my interest in the ginger brew. The kefir produces a rather bitey and very low sugar drink. I'm like an old duffer at this stage and have a strong preference for sour tangy things as opposed to sweet sugary stuff. Now all I have to do is come up with a recipe that provides the sour tangy taste I 'm looking for. This should be another interesting journey.

I've been blue skying a bit more about the whiskey barrel. Besides working on the totem pole filtration system, I'm looking into increasing the water volume and surface area by linking in another whiskey barrel. The second barrel will be partially filled with gravel and will be placed slightly lower than the first barrel. The first barrel will be lined with a plastic insert that has an overflow spout that will allow water to tumble into the second barrel. The only thing I need to find at this point is the second whiskey barrel as I have the plastic insert sitting in the backyard already. As for the gravel, I'm going to wash the small rocks I accumulated from digging the root out in the yard. The gravel will provide lots of surface for bacteria to grow and consume the ammonia the fish produce. That in turn should provide a more stable environment. Not to mention that the increase in water volume will help equalize water temperatures, especially important in the summer months.

Predators are still a bit of a problem but I may have a partial defense mechanism. In one of the barrels, I'll add a small pipe or block that has openings in it. The pipe needs to be heavy enough to prevent the raccoons from lifting it and the openings need to be large enough to provide the fish with a place to hide from raccoon paws.

The weather out here is weird. At the moment, there are large pieces of sleet raining down outside. I was going to head over to Lowes and do a bit of browsing for garden pond items but that will have to wait until the sleet stops. Since my 4x4 is not operating, I'm using my backup vehicle which is a early 90's 5.0 liter mustang. The mustang is a bit of a problem in rain or snow. Being a rear wheel drive vehicle with lots of low end torque make it a bear to handle in less than ideal condition like this. It breaks the tires loose quite easily and starts to fishtail.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More stump pulling

I spent the morning and most of the afternoon working in the yard. After a lot of digging and chopping, I was able to remove one of the stumps from the yard today. The photos show the stump destruction in all its glory. The first photo shows the hole after the stump was removed, the second photo shows the pile of dirt I had to dig out, and the third photo shows the defeated stump that has now taken residence in my secondary driveway. If you look closely at the first photo of the hole in the ground, you can see some of the branches that are have grown around the links in the fence. It will be quite the challenge to remove them from the fence without damaging the links. There's still one more stump to remove in the side yard but it will have to wait until my muscles aren't quite so sore.

Nothing like a pick, shovel, and chainsaw to wreak havoc upon the yard! Filling the soil back in where the stump resided was quite a bit easier than it was digging it out. I even managed to sift out the rocks from most of the soil using a screen box assembly. Of course, now I have half a dozen 5 gallon buckets full of rocks sitting around in the yard.
When my 4x4 truck is running again, I can haul the rocks to a friends house and dump them in a ravine on his property.
I also managed to reduce the size of the seemingly endless pile of brush that came from the two bushes I chopped down. I cut up the smaller sized branches so they'd fit in my yard waste tote. The brush pile needs to be reduced as quickly as possible due to the ordinance police officer that roams about the community writing up violators of city rules.

Later in the afternoon, I headed over to my brothers to work on my 4x4 truck again. After assembling the engine, we started it up and found a few problems. Notably, a gasket under the intake manifold was leaking coolant. It's a troublesome place to get to so it means I have to remove the head from the engine again. At this point, we're getting pretty fast at removing and installing the head as it only takes about 2 hours to pull it and another 2 hours to reassemble. Basically, if we get a good sunny day, we can do it in an afternoon.

I still haven't found time to make it to the brewery shop yet to pick up some brewing gear. I've spent so much time in the yard and working on the truck the last few days that the shop was closed by the time I finished with the daily tasks. There's still about a week before the starter culture is ready for anyway so I'm not in any real hurry at this point. Tomorrow looks good for a trip to the shop though as it will probably be raining. That means I can't work outside in the yard or on the truck. Hopefully, I can stop by the shop in the morning to find the equipment I need.

The little green chromis is looking quite happy in the saltwater tank at this point. He/she is venturing out of the rocks and into the open water more frequently at this point. Pretty soon, I'll start looking for a firefish goby to add to the tank. Firefish can either be orange and black or purple in color. I'll probably only find the orange and black ones in the local fish stores though. The purple ones are less common to find and usually quite a bit more pricey. Orange and black is just fine by me.

Recently, I've been thinking about rebuilding a half whiskey barrel garden pond that I have on my deck. One of the less attractive looking gadgets I built for it was a biofiltration system. The intent of the biofiltration system is to improve water quality by providing lots of usable surface area for helpful bacteria. A good filtration system helps with the nitrogen cycle which translates into happy fishies! Being an engineer, I naturally built my own filtration system. The filtration system was housed inside an old jug that originally held olives. While it's functional, it severely lacks in aesthetics. The jug is just plain butt ugly sitting on the deck next to the whiskey barrel. To remedy this, I started thinking about ways to put the filtration system inside something more attractive. After a bit of thinking and surfing the Internet for ideas, I struck pay dirt. I found a picture of a totem pole that felt like a good fit for this. The intent is to move the filtration system inside a large 6 inch PVC pipe and decorate the outside of the pipe to look like a mini-totem pole. For the water spout, I'd like to use a raven's head with the beak providing the outlet. I can visualize the idea at this point. The tricky part will be building up the totem creatures around the pipe. A bit of wire mesh should provide a basic framework. The bird face will need to be fashioned from some sort of clay and built up in layers. I need to find some sort of clay that doesn't require a kiln to dry and it must be weather resistant. I'll check some of the local art stores and see what they suggest. The biggest problem will be sculpting the raven to look decent. My art skills are not quite as good as they could be so it may be a bit of a challenge. If I can pull this one off, it will make one hell of a cool item on my deck!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Looka here, I could dig choppin on a stump and draggin it through the garden!

Oh man, talk about work! I started the day out with the typical ritual. When I first get up, I have to stand for a minimum of 20 minutes before I can sit down due to problems with a damaged disc in my lower back. I use that time to make breakfast and chow down. After that I have to sit for another 20 minutes to let my back relax the muscles a bit. I used that time to do a bit of research about ginger beer brewing. Afterwards, I headed outdoors to check if the utility companies had finished marking the pipes running underground on my property. Sure enough, the water line was marked out with spray paint. The gas and electric were marked as not present on that side of the property so no worries there. To my surprise, the sewer line had been marked even though it wasn't on that side of the property. Since none of these lines ran near the stump, I was able to start digging. You can see from the picture that I managed to dig about half the dirt out around the stump. That took about two hours of work using a pick and shovel. A reciprocating saw would be really helpful now but they are a bit on the pricey side. I'll have to rely on manual labor to get the stump out. I'm taking a break currently, listening to a mix by Xerxes on DI.FM streaming radio.

Most of the remainder of the day will be spent working on the truck engine if it doesn't rain again like yesterday. Hopefully today will work out a bit better than yesterday and I can finish the assembly. If I have a bit of extra time, I'll run down to the brewery shop to pick up items for the ginger beer.

The little green chromis fish I picked up yesterday seems to be doing nicely. The little fella zips in and out of the rocks and darts around the tank looking quite healthy. One thing I need to do for the tank is to fix the light timer. It's currently a bit messed up and doesn't turn the lights on or off at the correct time. That should be a relatively easy fix though as it's a mechanical timer and simply needs some minor adjustments.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fish and chips

It's another busy day as usual. At the moment, I'm taking a lunch break and listening to some trance music by Carrie Skipper, the "Time goes by" Floris De Hann mix. Pretty cool stuff!

Last week, I placed a call to the "Call before you dig" service so that I could dig out a couple of stumps in my yard. As of this morning, I see that the water lines were marked. I'll have to wait until tomorrow before I can proceed as I have no way of knowing if all the utility companies have come and gone yet. I can start digging tomorrow as it is at the three day limit they require one to wait before digging. So on Wednesday, I'll dig out one stump and plant the trumpet vine. The trumpet vine will be placed in a five gallon bucket that has the bottom cut out. Hopefully, the bucket will minimize the spreading of the roots.

After inspecting the marked utilities, I decided it was time to go hunt for fish again. This time I headed down to Ballard and checked out a Petco. Fortunately, they had one single green chromis. You can see the chromis in the center of the photo just above the PVC pipe. It was just a little fella, about an inch long. That was the perfect size as a small fish will introduce a small bio load to the tank. Considering the tank is an 80 gallon, this little guy will have lots of area to zip about in.

The process of brewing some ginger beer is making some progress. I'm in the second day of creating a starter batch of ginger brew culture. The whole process requires 10 days to get the culture up and going. After the 10 days, I start the batch of ginger beer. I'll be most curious to see how this turns out as it is my first attempt. I suspect I'll need to make some changes as started with cane sugar to feed the yeast. From the material I've read on the subject, honey or corn sugar will produce a better flavor than cane sugar. Starting tonight, I'll try feeding the starter culture honey instead of cane sugar for the remaining 8 days of the start up.

If I get a chance, I'll stop by a beer brewing shop tomorrow and pick up an air lock for use in the final stage of brewing. I believe the airlock allows the gases produced from fermenting to escape and prevents air from contaminating the culture. Allowing the gases to escape prevents dealing with the exploding bottle syndrome and the massive cleanup that is required as a result. I recall my Dad talking about the same issue happening when he watched his uncles brewing real beer. My dad grew up in the 30's during prohibition, so his uncles had a tendency to brew their own beer. If you can't buy it, you brew it was their philosophy. They would cook up a batch of beer and let it ferment in containers that they hid from the revenuers by storing them in the ground. I recall him talking about one instance where the local sheriff had stopped out to talk with his uncle about something when one of the buried bottles built too much pressure and burst. Apparently, the sheriff didn't figure out what it was and left much to the relief of everyone.

Later this afternoon, I'll head over to my brothers house and start work on my truck again. A few weeks ago, the engine had blown a head gasket while I was out driving around. After hauling the truck over to my brothers driveway, we did a compression check on the engine and found that the number 4 cylinder had extremely low pressure. That confirmed the gasket had failed. We tore the upper part of the engine apart and found where the gasket failed. A quick check of the head and the block didn't reveal any other visible damage so we put in a new head gasket and put it back together. We started the engine up and everything looked good for about 30 seconds. Unfortunately, the engine started producing more and more steam at the tailpipe the longer it ran. We shut the engine down and did a quick compression test again. Everything looked good which indicated the gasket had sealed properly as the cylinder pressures were all in the expected range. After trying a number of tests, we decided the head may have had a small crack we missed. So we tore the engine back down again and took the head to a machine shop for pressure testing. The head passed all the tests flawlessly. The machinist claimed that there may not be a problem. He indicated we needed to get the engine up to full operating temperature and burn all the moisture out of the exhaust system. I'm extremely skeptical but will give it a try this afternoon. In the least, by running it for a longer period of time, we can verify if there is a water leak by monitoring the water level in the coolant system. Yuck, what a weird problem! Oh well, it's just another one of the lessons life hands us to learn from.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Choosing fish for my Saltwater Tank

I just spent the morning updating forms for things like automated billing. I thought going to paperless billing was supposed to make life easier too. What a pain!

On a different note, the saltwater tank is ready for an inhabitant at this point. The first few fish need to be non-Territorial as I don't want them establishing dominance and picking on any new fish that are introduced to the tank at later point. A green chromis or a firefish goby are good choices due to the fact I will only be adding one fish at a time. There's a lot of conflicting information on the Internet about how many of either of these fish need to be kept in the tank to prevent having problems. From my experience, both the firefish and the green chromis will pick on each other unless there is only one. An 80 gallon tank isn't big enough to add 7 or 8 as I would like to have some other fish too. I stopped by a couple of Petco stores yesterday but couldn't find either of these fish. I may need to go to Saltwater City or the Fish Store and see what I can find.

One fish I won't add is most any damsel. In the past, I had a Yellow Tale Blue Damsel someone gave to me. A friend heard that I had a saltwater tank and he wanted to give away some of his live rock and the damsel since he was converting his tank to cold water. It was a beautiful fish but extremely aggressive. It would pick on anything that was added to the tank. It had no problem attacking my arm anytime I was cleaning the tank or moving rocks. The biggest problem was when I decided to give the little fella away. It was so fast and agile that it was impossible to net. I had to remove everything from the tank to catch it. I'll be careful in my fish selection this time since I don't want to disturb the tank ecosystem like that again.

The half whiskey barrel pond I have out back is begging for a bit of attention lately. It's been sitting idle ever since a raccoon decided to go a few rounds with it a couple of years ago. At the time, the raccoon pulled everything out including the water pump. I suspect the raccoon was searching for food but it sure did a number on the contents of the barrel. That damn raccoon even pulled out sections of the EDPM liner. Talk about being curious. Fortunately, only the tacks came loose on the liner and I was able to reposition the liner as necessary. At this point, I need to find a new water pump and a plant or two. Most likely I'll have to put a screen mesh over the barrel as the raccoons are still about. I hear them crawling up onto my roof sometimes at night as they like to dig in the rain gutters looking for bugs. The other thing that is fun to add to the whiskey barrel is a male beta fish and a few small feeder goldfish. Before the raccoons came around, I was able to successfully keep both fish in the barrel. It was quite relaxing to watch the fish dart about in the little barrel. I'll have to give it a try again and see if I can fend off the predators. Hmm, me thinks it's time for a bit of alien vs predator!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Garden beds and Ginger Beer

Well, I managed to stop at Home Depot today, twice as a matter of fact. The first time, I stopped to buy some additional border stones to finish off the garden beds in the front yard. After arriving back home with the new stones, I started digging out the garden bed outline. It quickly became apparent that I would need to provide some edging for a thin strip between one edge of the bed and the sidewalk. So back to Home Depot I go. This time I end up buying an 80 pound bag of pea gravel. Trying to move the bag was a bit of a challenge as my lower back doesn't tolerate lifting due to prior injuries. I managed to get it into the car and headed back home. A bit of caution was required in removing the bag again. Hopefully, my back doesn't slip a disc tomorrow due to moving heavy stuff like the gravel. Fortunately, one bag of gravel filled in the border strip. Tomorrow, I need to lay down one more section of weed block and the third planting bed will be ready to go.

I have to admit, the yard still looks like a bomb went off in it. For all the work I've put in, there's still a long way to go. It does look quite a bit better than it did at the start of the year though.

I ended up talking on the phone for a couple hours with several of my friends. One of my friends, Barbara, has a lung infection and has been out of work for almost two weeks now. She's quite the friend. When my previous contract ended, she brought in a chocolate cheese cake that I shared with the whole department. It was fantastic! Barbara should have been a pastry chef as she's really quite talented. I also spent a bit of time talking with a buddy of mine, Dave, that I worked with multiple times in the past. He's a pretty good character too! You just can't have enough friends if you ask me.

I was able to start the first step of brewing the ginger beer tonight. I mixed up what is called "the bug". More or less, it's a culture of yeast that feeds off sugar and ginger. The recipe I'm using takes about 10 days to get the initial yeast culture up running. I used cane sugar for the initial start up step but will start using honey for the remaining period. Hopefully, the honey will provide a better flavor as per some of the comments I found on the Internet. At this point, I'm most curious what my first batch of ginger beer will turn out like.

More Yard Work

Earlier today, I spent a bit of time working on the front step. I dug out the grass in the half circle garden bed and placed weed block down in two of the three garden beds. I'll probably swing over to Home Depot later today and pick up a few more border stones to finish off the third area. The photo on the right shows two of the beds that are near the front door. The third garden bed is next to the front gate.

I also managed to uploaded more pictures to my website today. Updates were made to both the game console and landscaping pages. There's a moderate amount of content on the site at this point but it's rather diverse. That fits my personality well though as I'm typically working with a number of projects that are sometimes at opposite ends of the spectrum.

While I'm over at Home Depot, I'll probably also stop by a grocery store and pick up a few more items I need for the ginger brew. Most everything is ready and I'll probably try my hand at the first batch this week.

I'll skip working on the truck today as there are a few raindrops falling. I don't want everything to get wet since the truck is in the driveway and not in the garage. I'll try working on it again tomorrow if the weather clears up.

My brothers and I took my mother out to Molbaks Nursery to look at flowers yesterday. The weather was exceptionally nice being in the lower 60's and sunny. We spent over an hour roaming around looking at plants and talking. It was good exercise for my Mom. I ended up buying a Trumpet Vine, a Rhubarb plant, and some alfalfa meal for my roses. I tried to find some Horse Radish plants but was told they are only stocked in January. The Trumpet Vine will be used to cover the fence on the eastern side my house. I'm not sure where the Rhubarb will be planted at this point.

After returning home, I talked one brother into stopping by my house to help finish taking down a bush that was becoming problematic. The chainsaw made quick work of that task and it was on to other tasks. One of my neighbors invited me over for a few minutes to take some extra plants they had in their yard. I ended up taking a few clumps of Japanese Iris, a miniature Plum tree, and some Euphorbia plants. I managed to plant the Japanese Iris this morning but the others will have to wait until I can find an appropriate location to plant them.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Time for a trip to the garden center

Yesterday was busy as usual. The morning started off with the city running a jackhammer in the street to work on some utilities. Once I started moving about and convinced my back to loosen up, it was out to cut down more brush. I managed to cut down most of the second large bush that was growing in between the cyclone fence. There are about 5 medium sized branches left and will be cut down later today. Since the stumps need to be removed, I called the "Call before you dig" number and requested they mark the utilities on the street side where the bushes were. I should be able to dig one of the roots out but the second stump will be difficult due to it's placement.

After I came home from working on the truck last evening, I decided to try something different. I've been thinking about getting back into the dating scene again. The last time I was trying to ask a girl out was about two years ago. Man, that's a long dry spell. To kick start things again, I put up an ad on a free online dating site, one of the friend finder sites. I doubt I'll have much success from places like that but it's certainly worth a try. I suspect the more successful route is to do some of the day hike trips that the various singles groups provide. I'll definitely need to get my lower back in better condition before I try that though. I probably should try taking some dancing lessons too so that I can get out and have fun with the ladies. Having two left feet and a lack of confidence in dancing style are a bit of a problem. It would be kind of fun to get out into the wild and chase after the girls again though. If nothing else, having fun with the ladies is what makes a part of life worth while.

I also worked on putting the truck engine back together but it was slow progress due to a number of small problems. I had to make two trips to the auto parts store for gaskets and had to disassemble several valves due finding an extra spring washer that hadn't been installed. I'll probably skip working on the truck today and tackle it again on Sunday.

I spent about an hour this morning taking more pictures of gadgets and updating the Cool Devices website. Some of the more photos were of things like the original box for the Tyco slot car racing set. If I'm really lucky, I might be able to add a photo of an Atari ST, but I'm not holding my breath. The ST is on Craigs List and may have been sold already. I'll know by tomorrow.

Later today, my brothers and I are taking our 85 year old mother out to Molbaks Nursery to look at flowers. While we're there, I'm going to look for some dwarf citrus trees to place in pots on my deck. To simplify the maintenance task of watering, a drip system will be rigged up. I'm also looking to find a pair of trumpet vines to cover the cyclone fence by the side of the house where the two bushes were that I cut down.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Slow progress again

Not much time to blog today as it was a busy but non-productive day. First off, the head for the 22R engine came back from the machine shop. It passed the pressure tests indicating there are no cracks. I'm baffled at where the water is leaking such that it causes all the steam at the tailpipe. We're going to try reassembling the engine tomorrow and doing a few diagnostic tests.

I didn't get much of a chance to work in the yard either. I was intending on whacking down another shrub that has grown into the cyclone fence but a car was parked right next it. I didn't want to take a chance of something falling over on the car. As I arrived home tonight, whoever owned the car was getting ready to move it. I should be able to take another shot at pulling the shrub down tomorrow.

On another note, I tried something new yesterday, ginger beer. I was expecting something fairly sweet like ginger ale but was pleasantly surprised by a nice citrus flavor, very low sweetness, and really good carbonated kick. I'm going to try brewing up a batch myself to see if I can come up with something interesting. I'll post more details later.

And finally, a quick tale. Recently, I needed to rent a pressure tester for my trucks coolant system so I stopped by a large automotive parts store. To protect the innocent, or not so innocent, we'll call the company Blasphemers Auto. First off, I rent the pressure tester and head for home. Once there, I try to hook everything up but find I need an adapter to fit the radiator neck. Back to the Blasphemers Auto I go and after a few minutes of explaining I finally obtain an adapter. Back home I go. That was my second mistake. I should have fitted the adapter to the pressure tester while I was in the store as they just didn't work together. The pressure tester's business end didn't fit inside the adapter as it was just a tiny bit too large. Back to the store I go for a third time. I explain the situation and ask one of the workers to try it himself. After a few minutes of futzing, the worker heads for a hammer. I kid you not! He then proceeds to "adjust" the business end of the pressure tester. At one point, he asks me if I'm nervous that he'll break it. I answer that I don't care as long as someone doesn't try to take any damages out of my deposit. He assures me that won't happen. After a bit more of hammering on the brass fitting for the pressure tester, he manages to get it almost to fit inside the adapter. The brass fitting at this stage is so smashed up it wouldn't have sealed anyway. At this point, he tries to remove the brass fitting end from the adapter, it's stuck, totally stuck. At that point he declares that it's not going to work and tosses it towards the counter. The poor little tester didn't quite make the distance and hits floor. The pressure gauge breaks sending plastic parts flying. Let's just say I obtained my refund and headed for the door. And true to his words, he made sure I receive the full refund. The only thing I felt uncomfortable about was the fact that the item was returned as "damaged". It didn't say who damaged it so some manager somewhere is probably trying to determine if they can charge the damages back to me. They damn well better not as I took good care of the tester while it was in my possession! That had to have been one of the more interesting spectacles I've seen in quite a while.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Busy work

Well, it's the end of the day and I'm exhausted as usual. The head went into the machine shop for pressure testing and I'll know the results tomorrow. The machinist took a look at the head and didn't see any blatant issues so I'm not quite sure what to expect. I may have to turn this into a long term project if he doesn't find any problems. That means finding another backup car to get me through while I rebuild the truck engine completely.

After dropping the head off at the machine shop, we stopped back at my house to do some yard work. I ended up cutting down a few limbs that were providing too much shade for my rose garden. Next up, the dwarf ornamental tree in the front yard received a healthy pruning. And finally, we chopped down about 75% of a bush that was growing into my cyclone fence. I'll chop down the remainder of it tomorrow. Eventually, I'll have to contact the "Call before you dig" phone number to have my utilities marked so I can dig out the stump.

Tomorrow should be another busy day as usual. So much work and so little time. At least I'm making good progress.

Electro-mechanical game project

More changes have been made to the Cool Devices web site. A section was added that provides some details about the Bingo machine project. I also included a new page in the fish section that talks about the feeder fish I used to raise. The game console section had a number of new new photos uploaded. And last but not least, the garden section has some new pictures. The website content is growing slowly but steadily at this point.

Monday, April 7, 2008

World War II picture vs Mr. Gasket.

Today's been busy as usual. The morning time was used for work around the house, the afternoon was used for working on the truck, and the late evening was used to update this blog and my web site.

Earlier in the morning, I had to do something I'm not all that fond of, chopping up scrub brush from around the yard. The task mainly consists of using a pair of clippers to hack up small brush so that it will fit in my yard waste dumpster. Mostly, it's just time consuming and boring.

In the afternoon, I finished pulling the head from the truck and we hauled it in the garage for closer inspection. We still can't find any cracks that are causing the leakage of coolant into the number 4 cylinder. We also did a quick check of the block with no tell tale indications. So, the head will go into the machine shop tomorrow for a pressure test to see if they can find any hairline cracks. I'll decide what to do from that point once I have more information to base a decision off from.

It wasn't until around 9:00 tonight that I arrived home from my brothers. I decided to spend a few minutes working on the scanner and was finally able to get a driver up and running under XP. That allowed me to scan in the picture of my old man when he was in Luzon during World War II. I posted the picture over on my Cool Devices web site (see link in left pane).

Since I'm tired, hungry, and burned out, I'm going to call it an evening and get ready to crash. I'll try to post some additional stuff tomorrow.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Website updates

I spent a few hours this morning taking pictures and uploading them to my Cool Devices website. There are still a lot of photos missing for various devices at this point. Eventually, I hope to have pictures of the bulk of my gear posted on the website. It's a slow and time consuming process but I'm making good progress.

I also added some new goodies to the collection yesterday. I found a Pioneer CLD D504 LaserDisc player at the Goodwill. It was missing a remote but at least it offers automatic side flipping, a feature that my Philips player was sorely missing. I also found a power supply for a Gamecube. Very handy as I've seen several cheaply priced Gamecubes surface in the thrift shops without power supplies. I always like to have a backup device on hand and I've only have one Gamecube at this point so finding another cube for $10 would satisfy the backup condition.

Besides working on the truck today, I was also able to add another section to my website. There is a section that recants some of the stories my Dad told me about when he was in the Infantry during World War II. When Dad was still around, he talked about some interesting stuff. I figured adding a story section to the website might provide some interesting reading for others. Sadly, I don't recall many stories, but I'll add things as they come to mind. I have a cool picture of him when he was in the Philipines that I'm trying to locate. Once I turn it up, I'll scan it and post it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

My old Peavey DPM-3 Synthesizer and Iron Man comics

Anyone who reads this blog regularly probably thinks I'm the biggest cheapskate in the world with all the thrift storing hopping I do. I'm cheap because everyone once in a while I give useful things to people who are my friends. Sometimes I give away some very pricey goodies such as the following paragaphs talk about.

I was adding some content to my website this morning and another one of those lost memories surfaced this morning. This isn't that old a memory as it happened in the mid 90's. At the time, I was living in the Phinney Ridge area near the zoo. I was tinkering with game development and one of the neighbors kids, Herman, found out about my interest. He really wanted to break into the gaming industry and was looking for ways to achieve his goal. I figured I might be able to supply a good influence for him and got him involved in the development of a Space Invaders clone. I'm not sure if I was a good influence or not but I gave it a try.

Herman designed the graphics for the game and did a pretty good job for someone just starting high school. We even reached a point where we could publish a beta on the Internet. While we were developing the software, Herman would check out the gear I had that was scattered about. He really liked the rack of music related gear which contained a Peavey Sampler and a Synthesizer. I remember people giving me things as a kid when I couldn't afford stuff. It was about that time I started thinking it was my turn to return a similar favor to someone else. I decided I would give the gear to Herman with the hopes he could use it to bootstrap into a career in gaming industry. Man, his eyes lit up so much when I pointed at the rack and a couple DAT decks and said, "It's yours! Enjoy!" He grabbed his treasure and was off to his house to tinker. Hopefully Herman will remember the same thing at some point in his future and pass along a well timed present to someone else who would benefit.

Sometimes I recall things people gave to me that had a lasting impact on me. For example, when I was a kid, I remember the first time I ever read a Marvel comic book. One of our cousins had sent out a box of "hand me downs". Inside were a few comic books, specifically, issues of Iron Man. I remember turning the brightly colored pages with a level of excitement as I watched a unique and entertaining story unfold. That was it, I was done for! This guy in a powered exoskeleton was just way too cool! I didn't really have access to comics at the time as I lived on a farm, was fairly poor, and was mostly a loner because there weren't any kids my age who lived near by. But fortunately for me, I had an older brother who would eventually go to college a number of years later. He somehow managed to bring home a few goodies for me here and there. Occasionally on weekends he'd bring home stuff such as heavy metal LPs, the occasional book, and one time, a number of brand new to me issues of Iron Man. I was in seventh heaven as I read through story arcs with characters like "The Spymaster"! The comic was filled with so much techie goodness that it fired my imagination up and helped kindle interest in technology!

I still like Iron Man to this day and will eventually track down some "new to me" copies. For now, I'll have to be satisfied with memories as my old issues are stored away somewhere at the farm.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rainy day

It was raining off and on for most of the day. That prevented doing any work on the truck since it's outside in my brother driveway. The reason the truck is outside is because neither of us have room in our garages. No problem with the rain delay as I have plenty of other work to do.

One of the first tasks I tackled between the rain showers was to do a bit more landscaping. I bought a small pack of Cannas from Home Depot yesterday and needed to get them in the ground soon. Unfortunately, I decided to take the package back for an exchange because about 1/3 of the bulbs were either bad or missing.

From that point, I proceeded to clean up scrub brush around the yard. Brush clean up is a regular task for me due to a number of issues. For example, a previous owner had planted several bushes right next to the cyclone fence. The net result was half the bush on each side of the fence with a number of limbs weaving in and out or growing around the fence. I ended up trimming up a few of the limbs that were choking the sunlight out of the yard. I stacked up a small pile of branches before it started raining heavier enough to end that task. Ultimately, I'll remove both bushes and dig the stumps but it will be a pain. One bush is right next to the water main feeding the house. That means I have to stop down at the city office and look at the plans for the water lines. I may need a permit to dig too so I'll have to check into that too.

Next up on deck was doing taxes. I was able to finish my taxes today but still need to do my mothers taxes so she can obtain the $600 tax refund that was approved last February. She's long since retired and is at the age where figuring out things like this are easier if one of the kids takes care of it. Sounds like I need to do a 1040A for her so I'll tackle that sometime next week.

After the taxes were completed, I headed out for Home Depot. On the way to and from Home Depot, I passed by three thrift stores. The first was a Goodwill and they had a few interesting things. The first thing I found was a fat Playstation 2 for $35. I didn't pick it up because I already have a PS2 fatty. The next thing I found was a Sega Dreamcast VMU. The VMU was with a controller and was priced at $7 which was more than I'm willing to pay for a VMU. I've seen folks separate hardware and try to get a part of it cheaper but I didn't want to do that as it's really cheating the person who would ends up buying the tagged item it was removed from. So I continued poking around and ended up finding something useful. I found a Defender cartridge for my TI 99/4A system. Now if only I could find a editor/assembler cartridge!

My next stop was at a Desseret thrift store. The only thing I saw that was remotely interesting was a Dell Axim PDA that was in their collectibles counter area. It didn't have a price tag so I didn't bother checking. In most cases for me, if I have to ask, I can't afford it. I must admit that an Axim holds some value because I could use it to test my .NET based centipede clone. Next time I stop by Desseret, I'll check and see if they've put a price tag on the PDA.

Stop number three was at Home Depot. After explaining the problem to the checker, I trotted out and found a replacement pack of bulbs on the floor and had her scan it so I could head out again.

Finally, I stopped by a Value Village. The only thing that even caught my eye there was an Xbox extender cable for one dollar. The checkout line was very long at the time so I decided to pass on the cable. So it was out the door and back home.

I also spent a bit of time surfing the Internet and Ebay looking for retro computer hardware to do some grass roots programming on. After a bit of scanning around, it looks like an SGI Indigo Iris system might be a good choice to tinker with. The Iris systems have a MIPS processor. I don't have a single computer with a MIPS and it would provide a good foundation to understand playstation programming if nothing else. What's even more cool is the fact that they have a Motorola 56000 DSP chip. The only other computer I'm aware of currently that has a 56000 in it is the Atari Falcon. The last time I saw a Falcon for sale was on Ebay and it went for over $600 which is way beyond my thrift store mentality budget. I think I might be able to put an R3000 based Iris together for around $100 if I'm patient and pick up the necessary pieces such as a keyboard and mouse on the cheap. I'd like to get the R4000 based Iris but I suspect it is much more expensive. And considering the fact that I'm only "old school" hacking at it, I don't need a powerhouse so a R3000 should suffice. Looks like I need to track down some programming manuals for MIPS processors. I suspect there are a number of PDFs on the web for learning MIPS architecture.

I also saw a TI 990 minicomputer for sale on Ebay, way too cool! It was going for $800 buy it now and you had to arrange your own shipping. The TI reminded me of the old Data General Eclipse S/130 I had in set up in my living room when I was in my young 20's. Big and power hungry but quite the conversation piece. Trying to keep a mini around the house would be a bit much now but the idea is still intriguing. Old school minicomputers are really quite the beasts. They provided implementations for a number of up and coming technologies in my opinion. Funny that the concept of a mini died out but mainframes still hung around.

I also browsed through Craigs List to see what kind of goodies were up for grabs. I found an ad where someone was giving away an old Mac LC1 that wasn't working. I sent off and email but never heard back so it must have already been snagged. It's no big deal missing out on it though, as I'm not sure if I could have repaired it. Seems the Macs get snarfed up really fast off Craigs List. Last time I tried to obtain a Mac was when someone gave away a Color Mac... let me tell ya, that one was gone in a flash, long before I even sent my email to the poster.

Busy week as usual

As always, it's been a busy week. We replaced the head gasket after tearing the engine apart the previous week. Since I'm unemployed at the moment, I took a gamble and didn't have the head magnafluxed. A quick visual inspection of both the head and block look good so it was time to put the engine back together. At the start of the week, the engine for the truck was assembled and ready for a test. The first test yielded a fairly loud engine noise which turned out to be a crimped hose in the emission controls system. It was time for another test after routing the hose properly. Unfortunately, the results weren't good. When starting the engine, it stumbles and misses for about 5 to 10 seconds and then starts running normally with a periodic miss. But the longer it runs, the more steam comes out the tailpipe. Not a good sign, especially when you're unemployed. It appears the overheating issue caused bigger problems then expected. Most likely there is a hairline fracture somewhere in the head or block. We'll looks like the engine is coming back out again for further investigation. Looks like the upcoming week will be just as busy as this week.

On the plus side, the saltwater fish tank is cycling nicely. In a week or two, I should be able to introduce some plant life if nothing else. I don't want to think about what the electric bill is going to be again though. Last time I had all the gear running for the fish tank, it cost me between $30 to $40 extra a month during the high rate months. But it will be nice to see some fish moving around in there again. It's very relaxing to watch the little fish zipping about in the tank. I'll have to make sure I add a redhead goby, a bicolor blenny, and a six line wrasse. I've had all three of these fish in the past and they had a lot of personality.

I took a day off from truck repairs yesterday and did a lot of yard work. Besides mowing the grass and weeding, I also managed to get in a bit of landscaping. Home Depot had some border stones that they lowered the price from $1.55 to 0.99 cents. I ended up making several trips with my car to haul about two dozen stones home. At this point, the stones are only set in place to give a rough idea of what the outcome will look like. The ground needs to be leveled out a bit and weed block set in place before the stones are seated in the ground properly. I'll snap some pictures of the latest changes and put them on my website.