Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Freaky home

From a real estate listing. Kinda freaky.

(Source: The ''Lovely Listing'' blog.)


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another oddly small computer

Pretty impressive -- US$99, and expected to drop: The SheevaPlug.

"ARM-based 1.2GHz Sheeva embedded processor, 512MB of DDR2 memory, 512MB of flash storage, gigabit ethernet and USB 2.0"

Looks like it's more like a server, though, as there's no monitor port -- so ya gotta set it up through a network.

But, still neat-o. :)


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sawhorse as a workbench

I'm a busy guy (aren't we all?), and don't have a "real" workshop yet. But, there's a window of about an hour, between 4:30pm and 5:30pm, where I manage to squeeze in some ''shop time'': the sun's behind the trees, so it's shady enough for the kids to play outside (here in Australia) -- but the mozzies haven't yet come out. So I supervise the kids from the back porch.

So, here's my ''workshop'': (Note: with all of these photos, you can click to enlarge.)

Basically, my shop area consists of a wooden chair, a stump with a board nailed to it, and a modified sawhorse. And sometimes, two lidded plastic rubbish bins (not shown).

Oh, and sometimes -- if I'm dealing with really long boards, a board jack (the vertical thing, to the right of the sawhorse [see below]). Everything except the board jack lives outdoors, on the back porch -- under the eaves, where they're (mostly) sheltered from the rain. All of them have a coat or two of BLO (boiled linseed oil), which offers some marginal protection from the damp.

The wooden chair is usually used as a holder of tools and misc. parts (as are the tops of the rubbish bins): it's more ergonomic than bending over to pick up tools from the ground, and thing are less likely to get accidentally left outdoors overnight (to be rained and/or dewed upon, and therefore rust) if they're not on the ground.

I'll also place the chair next to the stump when I use it. The stump is used for four things: holding my saw vice when I sharpen saws; crosscutting things; hacking at things with a hatchet; and cutting or filing dowel-like thing (e.g. metal rods).

Crosscutting wood is achieved by using the two-by-four board as a cleat -- basically, like a built-in bench hook. Sometimes I clamp the wood in place.
As you can (barely!) see in the photo, I've cut the end of the cleat at a 45 degree angle: this allows me to cut the end of my boards from -45 to +45 degrees, as needed.

When I cut longer boards, I prop up the far end with a support I made that's the same height as the stump. It's made out of scrap two-by-fours: imagine an oddly-sturdy picture frame -- with stabilizing feet.

Here's the V-shaped notch I made in the end of the cleat, which I use for holding rod-shaped things...

...and here it is in use. Well, actually, this is just posed: I didn't have any dowels or rods within reach, so I'm just illustrating with a blue pen. I'd usually put my left knee on the stump, and cut off the overhanging right end of the dowel (I'm right-handed).

The sawhorse was rescued out of a construction dumpster: some clever worker (probably an apprentice) had managed to cut it in half with a circular saw (doh!). I took it home and mended it with an overly-thick slab of wood, top and bottom. (You can't see it in the next photo, but it's visible a few photos later.)

One of my mods was to insert some extra-long screws as planing stops. I use the two at the end (far right; in this photo they're partially extended -- you may have to click the photo to enlarge) only for longer boards: usually I use the ones at the left of the photo, as they're "inside" the legs, which is more stable for handplaning. The middle two holes (at a diagonal) are where two screws hold the top board to the rest of the saw horse: I filled the holes with beeswax, to keep the sawdust out of the holes

Here's a shot of the screws -- acting as planing stops -- in action.

Sometimes I have to stabilize the tail end of the board with a pair of clamps. If the board isn't thick enough to fully clear the clamp pads, I'll add a shim of wood to raise it up.
Oh! Look: you can see my ''fix'' to the sawhorse. New top layer [some sort of pretty heavy hardwood]; original middle layer [with the sawed-through gap, partially obscured by the horizontal clamp]; and the additional lower layer. Having three layers of wood at the top makes the sawhorse strangely top-heavy when carrying it -- but it's still stable when on the ground. It also adds mass -- which for a ''workbench'', is a Good Thing (e.g. The Schwarz's book on workbenches).

For narrower boards that would pass between the planing stops, I bridge the gap with a small piece of scrap wood. Note that I've also raised one of the other screws, for lateral support.
Depending on my mood, I'll sometimes raise two of the ''rear'' screws and use them as bench hooks for crosscutting smaller pieces -- instead of using the stump. But usually I just use the stump.

Since the sawhorse isn't particularly heavy -- although it's heavier than most sawhorses -- it used to pitch forward at the end of my planing stroke. I addressed this by attaching a hook to the underside of the tail end, and hanging a few ''sandbags'' from it.
The sandbags (or ''jugs o' ballast?'') are rinsed-out (and dry) juice containers, filled with (dry) sand. If I need more stability in the future, I'll mount another hook under the belly and hang another two sandbags. So far, though, it's sufficiently stable. Part of the stability comes from being on grass, rather than on a smooth floor: the feet of the sawhorse dig in to the turf a little, so it doesn't slide.

When I pack up shop for the night (i.e. when the mozzies come out, and the children go in), I unhook the sandbags before putting the sawhorse away: no sense in lifting more weight than necessary.

For working on the edges of boards (planing; cutting dovetails) I just clamp a cleat across the two legs (for vertical stability), then clamp the workpiece across the sawhorse's surface. Here's a side view (with a bit of the ''ballast jugs'' visible).

Here's an angle view of the same thing:
When planing, I put the workpiece at the end opposite to the ballast jugs. When cutting, I mount it at the ballast jug ends (more mass, so greater stability).

This setup isn't as fast (or elegant) as a face vice and a sliding board jack. But, it works. :)

Mounting boards for cutting the ends (e.g. dovetails; tenons) is done similarly (not shown), only I clamp the workpiece vertically to the sawhorse leg. Obviously, it's not **completely** vertical, as the sawhorse legs are splayed. But, that's o.k., as I cut to the line, not necessarily to ''horizontal''.

Somewhat ironically, I do have a workshop **building**: a detached two-car garage (no car; just ''stuff''). But it's filled with scavenged lumber, plus a whole lotta boxes and ''attic stuff'' (Christmas decorations; suitcases...). So at the moment, it's purely storage: no room to actually move around and **do** things.

When I have a free moment (i.e. a day where I'm not home watching the kids, yet can spare an hour or two away from work) I'll hit the local lumber yard and buy enough lumber to finish my half-completed lumber rack. (Note: Lumber yards and 2 y.o. children do not [safely] mix.) This will get my lumber up off the floor -- and allow me room to work.

I also have a bona-fide workbench, as well: my wife's great-grandfather's, who was a shipwright. (Woo! It even has a leg vice!) However, until I get some room cleared out, it's at my wife's uncle's house -- in his shop.

But meanwhile -- I'm makin' stuff (slowly!), using what I have.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alice Cooper is pretty tame

Listening to Alice Cooper on Grooveshark (free music streaming jukebox) --

Kinda funny: parents used to be all freaked out about him -- but actually his music is pretty melodic and gentle, and the lyrics are tamer than some of Britney Speare's stuff...


(Image from

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ironically good website

A few days ago, I discovered a website called Friends of Irony. Good stuff. This photo is an example.


Sunday, March 21, 2010


A few days ago I was outside around 6:15pm -- near dusk -- putting my tools away (another stint of doing minor woodworking while looking after the kids). I was near the back porch. I looked up. And there was a steady, but scattered, procession of bats flying overhead.

They were coming from somewhere beyond the front of the house; flying leisurely over the house, or our neighbors' houses; and disappearing into the woods behind us. I went inside and got The Girl, and we stood in the backyard for a while, watching the bats fly by. Some of them passed fairly overhead, such that we could see their shape pretty clearly as they passed above. Neat-o.

The next night, I also happened to be outside at about the same time, but this time I got B1 and we watched. (The Girl, and B2, were elsewhere -- I forget where.)

Tonight I forgot to go check, until it was past the time. I'll have to check it out tomorrow.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Returning to Aikido

My first martial art was Aikido: it's a reasonably peaceful martial art, where you throw people, or put them into wrist-locks/arm-locks -- as opposed to kicking them or punching them. Pretty good example here, and here, and here.

I took it for a year at my second round of college. But I stopped going once I got busy with coursework (my final semester). And instead of going back to it, I didn't take any martial arts (busy with working), and then drifted into karate for a semester, then Shaolin five animals kung fu, and then some other stuff.

However, while horsing around with The Girl in the doctor's waiting room (just needed a referral from the doctor), I realized that there were several throws that I realized I **used** to know, but now didn't know how the heck I did them -- if that makes any sense. That is: I kinda remembered how the throws end -- but not how to set them up. Which really isn't any use at all, is it? :)

So, I'm toying with the idea of getting back into Aikido -- at least, once the kids are old enough that it doesn't take both parents to round everyone up for bed. A branch of the university I work at (maybe 20 minutes from our house) offers it. I'll have to observe one of their classes, to see if they're good.


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Friday, March 19, 2010

If you're old enough you'll get this

If you're of the right age -- and watched movies as much as you ought to -- you'll get the reference.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

A bargain

Found this at a local pawn shop a few days ago. It's a marking gauge.

You can Google it if you want, but basically you use it to transfer measurements from one thing to another when you're doing woodworking.

There's a metal pin poking out of the bottom of the wooden arm. You set the distance between the pin and the big wooden plate to the thickness of a relevant piece of wood, then use it to scratch a horizontal line in from the edge of the board you'll be poking the other board through.

Actually, I guess now you don't have to Google it... :)

It's different from the other ones I have, as all my other marking gauges have square or rectangular arms, not round. Also, it's the first one held in place with a wedge: my other gauges have little locking screws.

Picked it up for twenty cents, Australian. That's about 15c U.S.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Pete's Day

Those of you who know me personally know that St. Pete's Day is a bit of a Religious Holiday for me. I love it when St. Pete squeezes through the keyhole to deliver platters of hot buttermilk pancakes for all the good little boys and girls.

Plus -- and more importantly -- a lotta people wear green!!!

In years where St. Pete's Day falls on a workday, I tend to go all out: green pants, shirt, bow tie, hat, and etc. This year, since I was working from home, I just wore a green shirt.

Still: a good day! :)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My new entertainment center

Hey -- my new entertainment center!


Actually, it's not. But it's totally something I would've done ten years ago, if I'd come across a dis-used 'fridge, and needed an entertainment centre.



Monday, March 15, 2010

The reality of kids

This is a further response to one of the comments to this post. I had to ponder my response for a while.

First: the reality of looking after little kids is that -- by definition -- if you're trying to get anything else done, then you can't give 100% of your attention to them. Thus, every proportion of your attention that you're **not** focusing on them is a potential opportunity for them to come into danger. That's just how it is.

At home, you've typically minimized or controlled the risks (or at least, have an awareness of them). But out and about, you're in an environment that's not completely under your control. If you're trying to actually accomplish something -- writing a check, filling out a form, doing a bank transaction -- that can easily ''steal your focus'' away from your kids.

This ''stealing focus'' is especially compounded by having multiple kids that you're supervising at once: you attend to one kid that's skinned her knee, and it's easy for one of the other kids to squirt away before you've realized it. It's tricky to keep tabs on three kids at once -- two of whom are two years old -- but I'm getting better at it.

Two-year-olds are especially tricky to handle: Two year olds are fast, and able to climb -- but ain't got no sense yet. Younger than two, and they're less mobile; older than two, and they've got some semblance of common sense.

Second: Hyper-vigilance slows you down in your transactions. I have, for example, had to stop after **every**three words while filling in a postal form, when the boys were being especially squirrely. Luckily I was the only one in line; otherwise, I would have had to excuse myself to fill out the form separately, then get back in line. I've also had to pause between my first name and last name when signing a credit card slip, just to verify where my kids were.

The point is that hyper-vigilance isn't always practical. I suppose you could call its omission a calculated risk (e.g. signing your **full** name, and **then** looking up to see what your kids are doing). Nearly all the time, it pays off (getting things done, versus your child's safety). This balance between your children's safety and task-based expediency varies on the situation (e.g. the grocery store versus a lumber yard).

Third: The ''rabid dogs'' heuristic is an interesting idea -- but it wouldn't work. If my kids were **truly** in some sort of threat, my focus would be on getting them out of that situation, or possibly neutralizing the threat. In doing so, I'd be breaking social conventions (e.g. putting them up on tables). I **wouldn't** be making a bank deposit, mailing a package at the post office, or discussing changing my child's time slot at swimming class.

In sum: I think two-year-olds are at the pinnacle of intersection between ability to put themselves in danger and the lack of common sense. And I have two of them at once, which doubles (or maybe squares?) the potential for danger.

That's just how it is.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bargains don't last forever

Thursday morning I dropped The Girl off at gradeschool, then drove around with the boys to three local pawn shops. I try to make the rounds every month or two, just on the bizarrely slim chance that the guitar or electric bass that I lost in the burglary (2004?) somehow shows up.

At one of the pawn shops there was a white Stratocaster copy, with two missing tuning pegs and no doubt some other things wrong with it (bad electronics?). But, they only wanted AU$25 for it (about US$20). I went away to think about it: maybe use it for spare parts; maybe fix it up so it's usable. Either way, a really good price.

So, Friday morning I went back. And of course, it was gone. Gah!!! **That** was a wasted trip! (But, I saved myself twenty-five bucks...)

I think this is the third time that I've been caught like this -- all at pawn shops. The lesson: if it's a really, really good price, it probably won't be there tomorrow. Because I'm not the only music stuff bargain hunter around here.


Justice or vigilante?

On Friday, as I walked my daughter to school, someone in a big ol' Mercedes-Benz SUV was parked on the sidewalk. Everyone had to go around it.

On my way back from dropping her off, the SUV was still there. So, I phoned it in to the cops: asked them to come issue a parking ticket. (If you're driving a Mercedes, I figure you can afford a ticket.)

Maybe I was just being vindictive. But -- dang it! -- it really frosts my cookies when people think that they're ''special'', and the rules don't apply to **them**.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Lilly Allen

Lilly Allen has some catchy songs.

Bit of a potty mouth, though.


Who knew?

Well, how about that?

Last night, I added one o' them ''counters'' to my blog, just to see how many people are visiting.

Just took a look, and there's eight Americans, two Brazilians, one from Venezuela, one from the Netherlands, and one from Portugal.

Neat-o! And: Howdy! :)

It's gratifying to know that the stuff I write about is of interest -- or at least, Google-able! -- enough for folks that I don't know to stop by and have a look. :)


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Classes often needed

Hm. Had a good e-mail exchange with Guitar Cousin.

Softening of my position from my earlier post.

How about: "The lack of formal classes shouldn't be seen as an impediment to acquiring knowledge or a new skill"?

So, rather than: "Gee, I wish I knew more about how cars work. Too bad there's no car-repair classes nearby" -- you go buy a junker car for $500, put it up on blocks in the back yard (or in the garage), buy a few (used?) books on car repair and the anatomy of cars, and start tearing the sucker apart! And when you get stuck, buy the local mechanic a few beers in exchange for some tips and advice.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Notting Hill a good movie

Surprisingly, I suppose Notting Hill is one of my favorite movies. I have several movies on DVD that I put one just for one or two key scenes... but once I've watched those scenes, that's the end of it.

But with Notting Hill, I often (accidentally!) end up watching the whole darned thing. Part of it, I realized today (yep -- accidentally watched it again) is that the movie has so many ups and downs in the story arc, and they all seem natural, rather than contrived.

Of course, YMMV: you may think it's too ''chick flick''. And that's fine. :)


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Classes not needed

This is my cranky, old man opinion. This holds in general, but with several exceptions -- e.g. a weekend first-aid class.

And I don't think weekend seminars necessarily count -- as those are a way of hooking up with someone more knowledgeable than yourself, to show you ''tricks of the trade'' -- I think that's valid.

Here's my contention: I think formal classes, and degree/certification programs, have their place. But I'm also a bit suspicious of them. For things that people claim to be interested in, I think that someone who is **truly** interested will learn for themselves through experience, plus reading: people are better off just having someone more knowledgeable than themselves to bounce questions off, and to oversee their work -- kind of a mentoring system.

Example #1: Someone claims to want to major in video game design, or be a video game programmer. So she/he passively waits until college, then enrolls in various Comp. Sci. courses. My contention is that if the person was **really** interested, she/he would have already programmed a simple video game in Python by the time she/he was sixteen. (I'm not a true "computer dude", nor video game player -- but I programmed a simple "Downhill Skier" game in Apple Basic when I was about fourteen.) If I owned a video game development company, I would totally prefer someone who programs their own games for the fun of it, versus someone whose only productivity came from coursework and class assignments -- and otherwise couldn't be bothered to program her own game.

Example #2: Going to art school is a great way to surround yourself with knowledgeable people. But someone who wants to be a professional painter (or draw-er, or sculptor) is probably **already** drawing, doodling, or sculpting nearly every free moment of the day. She or he draws a lot because she/he inherently enjoys it -- and therefore should already be danged good by the time she/he is eighteen. Art school should just be for handy tricks of the trade, like whether it's worth buying the most expensive oil paints (or "how cheap can I go?").

Example #3: Spending (literally) $50,000 on tuition for Audio Recording School. Sure, you get access to a pretty nice set of equipment. But you shouldn't be signing up for recording school if you haven't already logged thousands of hours with your 4-track recorder or DAW. And if you have -- well, how about spending that $50k on some nice equipment and starting you **own** recording studio?

Example #4: Music instrument lessons. If someone's truly interested, get them a good reference book, a pile of sheet music, and someone more knowledgeable to check in once a month to make sure she/he isn't developing completely bad form. If the person can't stick it out without weekly "deadlines" from a teacher, then the inherent interest clearly isn't there. If the person can't hear the errors she/he is making (either in pitch or in timing), then she/he doesn't have the ear to play well. By this reasoning, formalized lessons would only be for really little kids, or for people who enjoy the process of playing, despite being tone-deaf.

Auto shop classes, cooking classes, woodworking... If you claim to be a car person, you'd better have torn down an engine by the time you were sixteen; if you say you're into cooking, why aren't you buying every single cooking magazine you can get your hands on, and cooking weird, wild, new stuff every weekend?; what can you learn at a woodworking school that you couldn't learn on your own (with a good mentor or two)?

Also: I think seminars -- where folks get together and hash out ideas are worthwhile. But to have someone give a big ol' lecture, that just repeats the textbook? Maybe the textbook should just have been written better (maybe by the really good lecturer?).

Oh: Except for dangerous stuff. Example: Welding class. Don't want people burning holes in their workshops.

Make sense? Or am I being too harsh?


(ADDENDUM: See new blog posting.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Arcane expertises

Most people have in-depth knowledge about a lot of stuff: football, baseball, cars, cooking...

I'm weird, I suppose, in that I don't know much about stuff that I would consider ''mainstream'' -- the above-mentioned stuff, geography, history, politics, current events...

But I do have a few fairly deep pockets of knowledge. Maybe not enough to make me an ''expert'' on any of these. But enough to converse intelligently with experts, and potentially ask some fairly probing, ''clarifying'' questions of them.

This last week, a work colleague tested out a questionnaire on me, for a study examining intimate partner homicides (the people interviewed will be in prison when interviewed). I was pleasantly surprised that not only was I able to make some pretty good (IMO) suggestions regarding some holes and possible mis-interpretations in the questionnaire, but I was also able to provide a few alternate solutions. Many of these solutions were based upon how other studies have set up their questionnaires -- and it occurred to me that I've examined a lot more questionnaires than ''normal folk'' would have.

About two months ago, I was over in the shed of one of my next-door brother-in-laws (I have one on either side), and the conversation turned to milling lumber (i.e. turning logs into 2" x 4"s and other sizes). I explained to him the distinction between flatsawn versus quartersawn versus riven boards, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. This knowledge stems from my interest in woodworking -- but the particulars of milling lumber is a sub-speciality within woodworking: I'm not sure how many woodworkers delve into this stuff.

I also know more about martial arts than most folks (I **think** more than my brother does -- although he probably has more hours logged than I do). The differences between
different styles of kung fu (Mantis, Crane, Dragon; Northern vs. Southern), different flavors of martial arts (internal vs. external; hard vs. soft), and various specific styles (Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Ju Jitsu, Aikido, Hapkido, Escrima, Capoeria...).

Plus I know about recording techniques (mostly).

I know enough about this stuff to do things -- but not enough to be on a quiz show.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Martial arts coincidence

Interesting! Was doing a Google image search for "leg sweep", for the "expertises" blog entry (see below) -- and the first hit was to a women-centred martial arts school.

I was curious about it, so I browsed the website. Turns out it's **in Seattle** -- my hometown.

What are the odds...?


Nicely timed

If you want to be happy in life, it helps to enjoy the little things.

Today, while making lunchtime sandwiches for the boys, the jar of jam, and the jar of peanut butter, ran out at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME!!! Even though they are different sizes (500g of jam; 550g of peanut butter).

Even more neat-o, I'd opened them on the same date -- so both lasted exactly as long.

Such a convergence. :)


Saturday, March 06, 2010

A bold new catchphrase

Inspired by Old Roommate's online comic: the new catchphrase for 2010.

"That only works on the ferret."

I envision it as a universal rebuttal to old, worn-out catchphrases.

  • "Show me the money!" "That only works on the ferret."
  • "Talk to the hand." "That only works on the ferret."
  • "These are not the droids you're looking for." "That only works on the ferret."

For some reason, as I wrote the above, I had a flash of Han Solo saying it ("That only works on the ferret.") Dunno why.

'T'would also work well against whiny children. "PLEEEZE, Daddy...???" "That only works on the ferret."


Friday, March 05, 2010

Repurposed 737s as homes

A company that will mount a decommissioned Boeing 737 on a pedestal for you, plus do the interior.

Prices start at $200,000 -- but you need to already have the land. They recommend an acre, up to five acres.


Little kid riddle

I'm finding that little kids are a little... literal... when it comes to humor.

My daughter's riddle, as told this morning in the car on the way to school:

Q: ''Why did the horse, the cow, the pig… and the sheep… cross the road?"

A: "Betuz two wanted to go home, and two wanted to go shopping.''


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Good life advice

This lady has had a rougher life than I have. But, at my age of 40 (or 41? I lose track), the advice seems legit.

Good life advice.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Proper weather

It's rained off and on -- and fairly heavily at times -- for the past five or so days. Grey skies... drizzle drizzle drizzle...

Now **this** is PROPER weather!!! (says the boy from Seattle)


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Best job in the world

A few days ago, when I picked The Girl up from gradeschool, I saw the P.E. teacher running about on the play field with a class full of kids. And I thought to myself, That has to be the best job in the world: Running around outside, playing games with laughing little kids. And getting paid for it.