Sunday, May 31, 2015
Faces on trains
At left is the red emergency door-opening button on the commuter train. I hadn't noticed the face-like characteristics until I was sitting at the correct angle.
The "stick figure" doodling just emphasizes the point.
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Mod your tools - lawnmower
My electric lawnmower broke -- quite possibly because I was subjecting it to heavier tasks than what it was designed for -- so I had to pick up another one.
This one is used, and I picked it up cheap -- so I'll use it the way I need it, rather than "baby" it.
However, sometimes I need to use it to cut moderately high grass. When I don't have the catcher in, the cut grass piles up under the carriage, and the blade jams. But if I was to jam the back flap open, the cut grass -- and other debris! -- would shoot out at my lower legs: not very safe.
At the same time, however, the back of the catcher prevents the grass (and debris!) from shooting into my legs.
It seems to work.
Mod your tools, if you need to.
About five years ago, I asked a co-worker I was friends with why she'd replied to my e-mail at three in the morning: had she been working late?
It turns out that she is a "segmented sleeper". Apparently, segmented sleeping is when a person naturally wakes up in the middle of their sleep cycle: it's analogous to the notion that people ought to be taking naps at two or three in the afternoon.
So, it was normal for her to wake up in the early morning, do some scholarly reading or work on some journal articles (she's a professor), and then go back to sleep after an hour.
Back hundreds of years ago, segmented sleeping was apparently normal: peasants would wake up in the middle of the night, chat with their spouse, stoke the fire, maybe check on the animals -- and then go back to bed. But in modern times segmented sleeping is mis-described as "insomnia".
So, when I had learned about this back then, I had filed that way as "something interesting". But now it appears relevant: about two or three months ago, **I** started doing this.
Usually my sleep habits are pretty poor: even though my body prefers about eight hours of sleep, I'd typically go to bed around midnight (sometimes 1am, if I was disciplined I'd aim for 10am but really not 'til 11am), and get up at 6:30am. However, about twice a month over the last few months I'd wake up -- totally alert -- get up and putter around the house for an hour or so, and then go back to sleep.
The frequency of this behavior seems to be increasing: it happened about a week ago; and two nights ago; and last night.
Two nights ago, I went to bed around midnight; woke up around 3am or 3:30am (I checked the clock, but I don't remember precisely); lay back down and dozed off and on until 6:05am, upon which I got up and checked e-mail until the rest of the household got up at 6:30am.
And last night I woke up, also about 3am, and again dozed off and on until morning.
It does seem to correspond with when I've been getting sufficient sleep: maybe I don't sleep as deeply when I'm not sleep-deprived?
I've also heard that its not uncommon for sleep patterns to change as you age. And I'm comfortably middle-aged.
I don't mind it, though: kind of interesting.
Addendum: 5:02am, Sunday morning, 5/31/15. This is regarding the next sleep-cycle after I wrote the above: woke up, clock said about 3:50am, dozed, woke again about 4:45am, decided to get up for a bit. And here I am.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Neat-o psych effect
Found this while looking for something else. It's a Psychology thing, called the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Basically, people who aren't very skilled at something over-estimate how good they are (relative to other people), because they don't understand the activity enough to know how much they suck.
Meanwhile, people who are skilled tend to under-estimate their abilities -- because they think that other people find the task as easy as they do. (And, I would say, because their greater understanding allows them to better see the gap between what they are doing, and how it should be.)
Friday, May 15, 2015
A little bit of a worry
The boys had a birthday party after school today, at local trampoline-jumping place. It's a clever idea, to have a warehouse-style building with a zillion trampolines embedded in the floor: the kids enjoy it, and the place seems to have full bookings.
I noticed the below sign for a reserved parking slot near their side door:
In case you can't read it, it says "AMBULANCE PARKING ONLY".
That they need to reserve a parking spot for ambulances is a bit of a worry.
Perceive the opportunity
To my credit, however, I actually have these items organized enough that I can access them when I need them; I do actually make use of them; and for the last year or two I no longer retrieve "junk" unless I have a specific intended use for them.
So: today when my kids were at a birthday party at the trampoline place, I nipped over to the nearby shopping centre to get something to eat. While there, I stopped by an oddball liquidator's place. In the discount bin in the front, they had a bunch of the cable-tensioning devices (pictured). I saw them, pondered a moment, and went "Aha."
I bought all six. I didn't write down the price, but I think it was $2 each -- which I checked later, and is substantially cheaper than what they cost at the hardware store.
What are they for? Well -- at **some** point in the future, I've wanted to make a gigantic backyard stringed instrument -- maybe 6m (20 ft) long. These will be the tuning devices, to raise each "string" (presumably a cable) to pitch.
(Technically, these will probably be the fine-tuners. Probably a large turnbuckle for the bulk tuning.)
Did woodworking demo at school
My sons' class was doing an "old technology" unit in school, and parents were asked to loan various examples of "old technology" to the class. I brought in a cassette walkman, a CRT computer monitor (which a boy argued with me that it was a t.v.!), a small scorp (see below), a (slightly broken!) marking gauge (below), and a wooden jack plane (see also below).
The teacher appreciated the loan -- but then asked when I could come by to demonstrate the tools. Ah! Sure.
I had arranged to do my hand tool woodworking demo this afternoon (Friday) -- because I had to leave work early anyhow, to pick up the boys right after school for a birthday party. So, that morning I loaded up my gear in the back of our small-ish SUV. However, when we got to the boys' classroom I saw that the class' schedule for the day (posted in the window) included an afternoon class that I didn't expect to be cancelled just for me.
I tried to find the teacher to clarify the situation, but she wasn't around. Then, just as the morning bell rang, the vice-principal appeared: she said that the boys' teacher had phoned in sick, but the substitute teacher would not be arriving for a few hours. So, the vice-principal would have to cover the class.
I asked if I could just do my woodworking demo in the morning -- as it would take the same amount of time out of my day to get to work late, or leave work early. The vice-principal was very willing to let me do the demo in the morning: otherwise, she didn't know what she was going to do with the kids until the substitute got there.
I moved my car, and managed to find a parking space really close to the classroom. And I explained the situation to two of the parents, who helped me unload my car. I reckon it took me about 15 minutes to set up.
Here's my pile of gear in the car:
With a little cleverness, I had managed to fit -- under the privacy screen! -- a plastic tub, a wooden tool tote, a milk crate, some pieces of wood, and a small portable workbench...
...plus (behind the orange tub) a bunch of clamps; across the legs of the workbench, two handsaws; and between the legs of the small workbench, two 20kg (44 lb) bags of sand, for ballast. In the back seat, I had a large plank.
Here's my basic setup, arranged around a dogbone-shaped cement bench just outside the boys' classroom. I arranged the various props by themes -- discussed in a moment. Under the workbench, you can see the plank (dangerously?) sticking out -- but it supports the 40kg (88lbs) of ballast that weights the bench down.
I took this photo at the end of my demo - so this shows how I finished.
I started off the session by talking about wood. I held up a short plank of wood that I had split "from the round" (i.e. from a short log), and talked about wood.
I asked the class where wood comes from. (Trees!) Then I asked if trees were pretty much the same now, as it was fifty years ago. (Yes.) How about now, compared to one hundred years ago? (Yes.) How about five hundred years ago? (Yes!)
OK, then. So, there are different types of tools for making things out of wood. A lot of new types of tools use electricity. But older types of tools don't use electricity -- because a long time ago people didn't have electricity in their homes. But the wood doesn't care whether you use old tools or new tools -- because the trees haven't changed -- so the wood hasn't changed -- so the old tools and the new tools both work just fine. (But, see below.)
I also held up a plastic tool tote, and a wooden tool tote.
I told then that a long time ago, most things were made out of wood, and or metal, because plastic hadn't been invented yet. The nice thing about making things out of wood is that a person can make things for themselves, or have a friend or family member make it for you. This tool tote was made by my grandfather, who made a lot of things out of wood, for the family.
But now-a-days, with plastic -- it's very cheap to make (you just get a shape, and squirt the melted plastic into the shape, let it get hard and then pop it out). But it's usually not as strong -- and also, I think plastic doesn't look as nice as wood.
Here's another example. If you want corners to be the same exact angle as a square or rectangle, you need a tool like this so you can make sure. The yellow plastic one is called a "Speed square". But a long time ago they used to use the "try square". What is the yellow tool made out of? (Plastic!) Right! And what is the try square made out of? (Wood! Metal!) Yep -- that's right. And, again -- I think the wooden tool looks better. But both do the job that you need them to do.
I then talked about working with wood. I held up one of my short planks and pointed out the fibres, which were pretty obvious because I'd split the plank with wedges, rather than sawing it -- so there were many shredded, trailing bits. I demonstrated, with a heavy hammer, and a splitting wedge...
...that splitting off a piece with the grain is pretty fast, and pretty easy. Whereas trying to split it across the grain (Whack!) doesn't do much except make a dent.
This led to saws. If you want to make a piece of wood smaller, you could use a saw. How many of you have seen a saw that looks like this, around your house? (About a third of the class.) Well, these saws are fast -- but they are pretty loud-- so you need to protect your hearing with hearing protectors. And you need to wear safety goggles in case pieces fly at your face. And these types of saw creates teeny, tiny pieces of sawdust, which you can accidentally breathe in -- so you need to wear a dust mask (whoops! which I forgot to bring).
But, these types of saw were too expensive for most people, until about the time that your grandparents were little kids. Before that time, most people used saws like these:
I explained that the zig-zaggy bits are called "teeth", and that the larger the teeth, the faster the cut -- but they also make the end of the wood more messy than the smaller teeth. I said that the smallest one is called a "backsaw". (The other two are both filed for rip cutting -- but I didn't go into crosscut versus rip.)
Then I did a little demonstration, by cutting a scrap piece of wood (not shown), and seeing if the saw with the larger teeth really did cut faster.
But, first! If you're going to make a cut, you have to make a line -- so you know where to cut! So I showed the class how you use a trysquare (left) and a marking knife (home-made, second from right), or else a marking gauge (either of the two wooden things), to draw a line. I demonstrated how, with hand-tool woodworking, you often don't actually measure things -- because you're just making cuts relative to other pieces of wood.
So, I made two cut lines, using a marking gauge, and then used the small workbench (really, a large sawbench), and cut the same piece twice -- with the class chanting "one alligator, two alligator...", to time me. With the medium-toothed saw (far right, earlier photo), it took "16 alligators" to cut through, whereas the larger saw (in the middle, earlier photo) took "10 alligators" -- and that was even with it binding once (which slowed me down).
I then wanted to talk about making holes -- but before I attached the wood to the workbench, I discussed clamps.
I explained that the wooden clamps were a very old style -- especially if they used wooden threads instead of metal (I actually said "this part here", instead of "threads"). The next ones over (I held them up, in turn) are "G-clamps" -- or sometimes "C-clamps", because they look like those letters. (One kid denied that it looked like a "G" -- and after we went back and forth, I told him that he had no imagination.)
The next clamp (with the red handle) is an "F-clamp" (same reason). And the final type is a bar clamp, which is the most modern of the four.
Then I used some of the clamps to attach my board to the workbench (with a sacrificial board underneath it -- so I didn't drill into the workbench itself).
And, I talked about drills. Holding each one up, I showed how the grey drill uses electricity (and is made of plastic!) -- whereas in the old days they might use (from left to right) a gimlet, a bradawl (I mimed its use), a brace and bit, or an "eggbeater" style drill. I also showed how a power drill might use a spade bit to drill a big hole, whereas in the old days you would use a brace and bit.
And then I drilled a hole (not shown) with the brace and bit.
Somewhat arbitrarily, I then talked about scorps --
And I also talked about hammers and mallets. I told them that basically, if the hitting part is made out of metal, it's a hammer; if the hitting part is made of wood, or rubber, or plastic, then it's a mallet. Then I held up each of the below and had them declare whether it was a hammer! Or a mallet! (The vice-principal also said that she didn't know that, either!)
Finally, I talked about handplanes. I didn't go into detail -- but I did say that really old ones are wooden, whereas the ones that came out about a hundred years ago are made of metal.
I then discussed (briefly!) about how a slab of wood is converted into a board. I clamped some battens (i.e. pieces of wood, used as stops) to the workbench, and using the wooden plane (which I've set up as a scrub plane -- it takes big bites!), I briefly demonstrated flattening the face of a board.
Finally (audience participation!), I switched to the metal plane (a #4 smoother), which I'd set to take a very fine cut -- because they're little kids, so a fine setting would be easier for them to push. The kids lined up behind the board; I stood on the far side of the workbench (which screwed up my back a little, hunching over) and fell into a pretty stable pattern of:
-(I hold it, to demonstrate) Right hand goes on the back handle, point your finger
-Left hand (slap!) goes onto the round knob
-Your turn! (hand it to the child; correct the hand position)
-Have them take three swipes, with me pinching the cheeks of the handplane and pulling it forward, to assist
-Have them cup their hands, like they're holding water in their hands; turn the handplane over and dump the shavings into their hand, saying "Look! You made these!"
The section inside the red rectangle the cumulative smooth-planing of a classroom of little kids -- plus the vice principal, who had never used a handplane before (by this time, the substitute teacher had arrived). I also showed her the trick of angling the handplane a bit, to get a lower effective cutting angle against the wood.
So! A blitz of information. My hope is that at least some of the kids will remember:
-The difference between a hammer and a mallet, and
-That when you use a handplane, you point your finger (most people don't know that).
Monday, May 11, 2015
A total fabrication
About three weeks ago I was carrying a somewhat heavy load in the back of my Land Rover; the load shifted; and the bracket that holds the retractable "privacy screen" over the cargo bay broke off.
My experience with car parts -- especially the parts made of plastic -- is that they charge a lot more than what the part is worth (a molded piece of plastic??!!). I'm guessing that a replacement for this part would've cost me AU$50-$100. Not worth it.
But, I do like having the screen over the cargo bay.
So, I decided to fabricate a replacement. I got into woodworking in the first place for pragmatic reasons: custom-making shelves and such for my recording gear that fit very specific space requirements (basically, in my bedroom in a shared two bedroom apartment). So this is just a continuation of that.
In this first shot you can see the broken-out bottom of the original bracket. There's not supposed to be the large holes on the bottom: it's supposed to have just a small screw hole -- but that section was torn out.
The piece of wood is an offcut from my next door neighbor's deck, which they built about seven years ago.
Here's another shot, where you can see that the scrap of wood is a pretty good size: not too much waste.
And, the thickness is already pretty close to what I'll need.
Normally I'd show a few of the steps in the construction -- but this time, I couldn't be bothered.
The final product is the result of work spread across two weekends: a little per day, over three days.
Except for a using a power drill to drill the holes, I used only traditional woodworking hand tools: no electricity.
-a marking gauge and a bevel guage for the layout, plus a homemade marking knife for the actual marking;
-two chisels (and a paternal grandfather wooden mallet) for the stopped dado, followed by a router plane to make the depth consistent;
-a backsaw (and a bench hook) for cutting off the excess;
-and a rasp and a file for the final shaping. Plus some sandpaper.
Front view. You can see how the holes in the bottom are supposed to look.
Top view. I used a router plane to make the depth of the stopped dado the same as the depth of the original item's slot.
Back view. I made a mistake partway through, and scribed lines on the back (Dangit!). But I decided that I'd invested enough time that it wasn't worth scrapping my progress and going back to the beginning. I did sand it back a little -- but I didn't want to reduce the thickness too much. The way I've left it is a good compromise.
Then I gave it a coat of Danish oil/tung oil -- which was my paternal grandfather's preferred woodworking finish.
I could've spent 40% more time, to make it 5% better -- but given its purpose (it's in the back of a car -- not in a living room), I didn't think the cost-to-benefit ratio was worth it. Plus, I have a fairly large backlog of partially-finished projects (and yardwork): I don't have time to muck around like that; I need to maximize my rate of completion.
A completed project is a good project. I have far too many projects that are nearly finished -- and are therefore un-useable.
If I truly felt strongly enough about it, I could come back to it, remove it from the car, and make it 5% better. But, I won't. :)
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Nearly a Mother's Day song
Well -- I was going record a Mother's Day song that The Girl wrote, and that I arranged -- and e-mail the recording to my Mom for Mother's Day.
Originally it was supposed to be a skit that we'd shoot video footage of, and then edit. At least, that was the plan Saturday night (Australia is 3/4 of a day ahead of the U.S.).
But the morning of Mother's Day (i.e. Sunday, this morning), The Girl decided she'd rather write a song. Ah.
This was pretty much the first time I'd tried to multitrack record anything since moving to Australia in the early 2000s. So, it took a little time to cobble together a working signal chain of gear.
And then I had to work out a bassline. And although I've been practicing more guitar over the last month then previously, I'm not as facile(?) as I once was. So even once I worked out the bassline, I had a hard time switching between the parts (verse; chorus; bridge; interlude; ending) without screwing up.
Plus, technical difficulties: getting the software to work the way I wanted it to.
Finally, about 7pm tonight, I called it: not gonna happen. Especially since the kids hadn't recorded their parts, it was bedtime for them, and I didn't want to stay up crazy late on a work night.
So, I e-mailed my mom a Happy Mother's Day, anyhow -- and told her that I'd **tried** to record a song. And she was pleased that we'd thought of her.
Saturday, May 09, 2015
I gave her some advice, as her father: "I don't want you wearing anything you can't fight in."
By that I mean: no super-high heels. No constrictive dresses or skirts.
Guys' clothing tends to be fairly neutral: flat, comfortable shoes; some variety of pants. Whereas female clothing -- especially as they get older -- can let "fashion" override practicality.
I should probably add "...or run in." But "fight in" is more empowering.
As I've probably mentioned, she and one of her brothers take Tae Kwon Do once a week. When she turns sixteen, she's going to take a term of Krav Maga with me. The boys, too, when they're of age.
Taking Krav Maga is like taking an "un- first aid" course: it teaches you how to not get hurt.
Wednesday, May 06, 2015
Replacing the tape
I enjoy having available the tools and resources I need; and I hate being unprepared. Thus, I tend to have an "every-day carry" attitude: there's a list of things that I **always** have with me.
There are websites that explore this issue, such as this one where people can submit their own EDC kit. Not surprisingly, a lot of Americans include firearms in their kit.
I basically have two layers of everyday carry: on my person, and in my work bag.
My "on my person" kit is basically what's in my pockets and on my belt: basically a pocket knife, two (small) multitools, a harmonica (of course!), my wallet, a small mirror, a small tape measure, two pens, two guitar picks, and some other things (it's a rather long list). Oh: and a hankie.
In my work bag I have "something to read" (typically 2-3 magazines), a flannel shirt (in case I get cold), a floppy hat (in case it's sunny -- or cold), sunscreen, bug repellent, some pens, some bits and pieces of a self-assembled first aid kit, and some other things (again, the list continues).
Well, yesterday (Tuesday), while rushing to catch the train home, after work, I passed a homeless guy who was shuffling along, with the sole of his shoe flapping with each step: it was only held on by the glue under the toe-end of his shoe.
But, as I kept going, I realized how bad I would feel if I **didn't** stop and help. So I stopped at the intersection, and rummaged through my bag as I let the crosswalk light turn from "Walk" to "Don't Walk".
And just as he reached the corner, I found it. I handed him the roll of medical tape, explained that it was for wrapping his shoe so it wouldn't fall apart, and then as I signal turned back to "Walk" I dashed across the street.
And I managed to catch my train. So, all good.
But! Now my "kit" was missing tape. So today (Weds), I went to the cheapy store and picked up an eight-pack of electrical tape. Four of the rolls went into my "work bag", and the other four will go into my toolbox of electronics supplies.
Electrical tape isn't the same as medical tape, I realize: but all I really need it for is for short-term binding. And the price is right: medical tape is oddly overpriced in Australia (and maybe in the U.S.) -- given what it is.
I considered getting duct tape -- but the rolls are too thick to fit comfortably in my work bag, and I wasn't sure how to cut it into a thinner roll. So I went with electrical tape.
Sunday, May 03, 2015
This morning I noticed a guy wearing a Chicago Bulls baseball cap. I'm not into sports -- but isn't the Bears the Chicago baseball team?
So, putting a football team on a baseball cap -- that seems... incorrect.
(May 8, 2015 -- UPDATE -- Perhaps my intended point was that somehow baseball caps have become universal enough to be divorced from the sport that spawned them. To use the teams that I actually am familiar with: having a "fan" baseball jersey that says "Mariners", or a "fake" football jersey that says "Seahawks", or a basketball jersey that says "Supersonics" makes sense. But a basketball jersey that says "Mariners" would be weird.
But a baseball hat that says "Supersonics" would be accepted. And no one notices the disjuncture.)