Friday, December 26, 2008

Kitchen Clocks

For most electronics these days, it's the little extra features that make people go "Wow!" or "I've got to have it." But one thing that has become ubiquitous on everything is a clock. Here are the clocks in our kitchen.

But my wife must really be driven by the clock (Not!). She wanted a kitchen clock to go on the soffit. The old one died and she didn't think it matched our walls anyway. Finding a clock to fit was a challenge. Most were too big to fit the space or just didn't look right. While Christmas shopping, I got inspired and decided I should build a clock. Not just a clock that would hang on the wall, but one that would be built into the wall.

Obviously I couldn't hide a built in clock before Christmas so I had a little bit of fun wrapping her gifts. First she opened a battery holder. The next package had a blank wall face plate and mounting bracket. She gave me a very confused look. :-) The final package had the clock mechanism, but it still wasn't obvious what I was up to.

Above the sink behind the wood panel I cut a hole for the mounting bracket and face plate. It is here the I reached my arm in to place the clock mechanism in the hole I drilled in the soffit. I soldered wires to the clock mechanism so that I could put the battery holder right behind the face plate.

My wife and I figure that if we ever move, the new owners will be scratching their head for a bit when the clock stops running.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween Creativity

This year Halloween had the usual activities going on at our house: pumpkin carving, costumes, lots of sugar. When my girls picked out pumpkins, one already had in mind that she wanted to make a Larry pumpkin. When we finally got around to carving them, her sister decided that her pumpkin would make a great Bob.

Usually I spray the pumpkins with a coat of WD-40 to help keep them fresher. Since we carved them only a couple of days before hand, I didn't think it was necessary. Unfortunately, there were some squirrels that didn't like our choice of designs and decided to add their own touch the next morning. My girls were not amused with their Mike Wazowski pumpkins.

My youngest's pumpkin was untouched until a day later, and then, just a little on the bottom of the mouth. She commented that it lost a tooth. (She's got a good sense of humor).

This year my wife wanted to join a few other families for a Halloween party for the adults and the kids. This meant that she wanted us to dress up in our costumes that she had made for my college roommate's masquerade wedding (I was Robin Hood). The night before I gave my parents a call to borrow the old long bow from when I was a kid. Unfortunately, it was located at my nephew's house which was farther than I wanted to drive to (besides, my wife wasn't home, and the kids were in bed). Time to get creative.

I rummaged around in the garage and found a piece of screen molding. To bend it, I filled up the bath tub with hot water and wedged it in with a slight bend. After about an hour, I bent it more and held the center down with a brick. I left it in the tub overnight (which drains on its own I found out). After a couple of notches with a Dremel tool and some string I had myself a decent bow.

Friday, July 4, 2008

BBQ Sauce Mop

One of my favorite things about summer is all of the extra time to grill. Now, don't get me wrong, I grill all winter long. It's just a lot easier to grill during the summer. Tomorrow I'm going to spend the afternoon tending to a brisket on my grill.

One thing I've seen in my grilling books is a sauce mop for keeping the brisket moist. I saw one recently at a store, but the store is farther than I'm willing to spend the money on gas to go back and get it. So I thought I could try to make my own. I stopped at Walmart and bought a replacement cotton mop head. With that and a dowel rod, I'd be in business.

Using only a small portion of the cotton yarn from the mop head, I fashioned myself a decent BBQ mop. In fact I was quite proud of my handiwork.

But I don't think I want to use it. The cotton mop is shedding lint more than a Husky in the spring. I thought maybe if I kept the cut ends up (and left loops at the bottom) that that would fix the shedding problem.
It's better, but still sheds. Has any one made their own BBQ sauce mop? I don't think I want extra cotton on my brisket tomorrow for dinner.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Finding bugs

As a software engineer, I am often faced with the responsibility that when bugs are found to hunt out the source of the bugs and eradicate them. My wife wishes I could do the same for the ants in the kitchen, but no such luck yet.

When I was a kid, I loved trash day. My friends and I would hop on our bikes and troll the neighborhood to see what we could find. It's amazing what perfectly good junk you could find. As an adult, I still enjoy trash days and drive a little slower to see what I can pick up. Usually the professional scavengers have picked up anything worthwhile, but I have stumbled on a few things that I have even managed to convince my wife to let me keep. I'll have to share some of what I have created with this stuff later.

Last week, I peered in a trash bin in a lab at work and stumbled across a couple of gems that I had to recycle. One is kept safely tucked away for next year's white elephant exchange with my cousins. The other was a simple 8 screw terminal block. I figured I could use that for something in my work shop and proceeded to cut off the attached wires (mainly because I was lazy and didn't want to loosen all of the screws). When I got back to my desk inspiration struck.

After bringing in a camera to snap a picture of this creation, it wasn't until I got home that inspiration struck again and I realized that the bug was not complete. This post would have to wait for a second picture. Last year at a Christamas grab bag gift exchange my wife landed a tic-tac-toe game where two different color sets of stone heads were used to play. As an office toy, it is quite amusing. Too bad that the only thing that tic-tac-toe is good for is to avert global thermonuclear war. The head was perfect for my bug.

My bug creation is fairly small. If you want to see some big bugs, check out the current exhibit at the Morton Arboretum.
It's a good thing I'm not trying to evict those ants from my kitchen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Of Mice and Corn

This past weekend our church had an open gym outreach event: inflatable bouncy things for the kids; volleyball, basketball, and corn hole for the adults. Earlier in the week I went to check on my bags to see if any needed to be repaired. I took one look in the bag and now I had the answer for the question from the previous weekend: "Why is there popcorn in my boots?"

Fortunately there was some time to handle this. Online I found corn hole bags at a local retailer for $20-$25 and thought for sure that I could make them for less (plus I was very particular in wanting orange and blue). As luck would have it the local fabric store had multiple 40% off coupons that week.

One of the problems I encountered with my earlier sets of bags was that I had to keep repairing the seams. Anyone that has played cornhole (or bags in my part of the country) know that the bags take a beating. While an exploding bag is fun to see, it is less amusing when you have to play a bag short. When I made this set of bags, I wanted to prevent catastrophic failure. I used a triple stitch for all my machine stitching. In addition, there is a backup row of triple stitches for when the primary one fails. This way an unstressed seam now takes over and no corn is lost. btw this blows through the thread real fast. (The one side that doesn't have the second row of stitching is where the fabric is folded)

Filling the bags provided another opportunity in problem solving. Corn jams up the funnels in our kitchen too easily. The ones I have in the garage weren't much better. The funnels we use for canning are too big mouthed. At first I tried creating a cone with a piece of paper but it was hard to handle. I finally cut the bottom off one of the ubiquitous water bottles. The corn flowed quite nicely (a 2-liter bottle would have worked better, but we didn't have any).

After filling the bags with a pound of feed corn (I have extra if you want some), I wanted to machine stitch the backup row before hand stitching the gap. With a full bag, this is difficult to do as the now three dimensional bag gets in the way. I finally figured out (after making a number of the bags) that what I really needed to do was leave a tab where I turned the bag. I could then easily stitch the reinforcing row of stitches and then tuck it into the bag before hand sewing.

Still being paranoid, I had one more trick up my sleeve. Make an extra bag. Who wouda thunk? Cornhole is played with 4 bags for each team. My sets have 5!

The bags should now be able to survive much playing time. Now to get those stupid mice.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Putting Practice

This past winter we've had a lot more snow than usual. I don't mind so much. I enjoy each season in its season. I also enjoy those 45 degree day anomalies mid-winter so that I can get out and disc golf. I'm not that great of a player; I need a lot of practice. One year my wife had a Longaberger basket party. I let her get a basket if I could get a basket. She puts food in hers, I putt at mine.

The disc golf basket I bought on Ebay was an Instep Portable. It's cheap, easy to take apart and move, and works ok. It suffers from too many putts going through the chains and out the back. The other problem with it is a design flaw where the top of the entrapment section is the same diameter as the bottom section which catches the discs. This causes way too many bounce outs even when the disc is thrown dead center.

Many players try to correct the former by adding a second set of inner chains. I had done this as well when it was my primary practice basket, but it does nothing for the latter.

Last week I realized that I was getting rusty and needed to get some practice in. My basement is not very big (there's another rant: why build a basement with half of it wasted as just a crawlspace), but it has to do.

In one corner of the basement, I hung a blanket by the joists using some of my mini bar clamps, (I love those things). This way, when I miss, it will be quieter and I won't be putting dents in the drywall. The other thing I did was put a string about five links down to shrink the target area. My thought is that when I'm putting out on the course, the basket will seem huge and much easier.

The interesting thing about this is that I think it improved the basket on the two issues I had with it. Since the chains now hang closer together, the number of split throughs is reduced. The string also effectively reduces the upper diameter giving the bottom basket a much better shot at catching the disc as it falls down. Even on high putts, it seems to catch better since the chains are pulled back at a 45 degree angle causing them to deflect the disc down. Normally if a disc hits the upper 4 chains on this basket there is no give, and the disc falls outside the section catching the disc.

Now if I could just improve my putting as much as the I improved my practice basket...

Monday, January 14, 2008

How not to curl your hair

It was Saturday night. All of my girls took their shower or bath to get ready for church the next day. As each was done, they came down to where I was reading and I brushed their hair for them. It's one of those things that they usually just don't take the time to do well. I made sure that each of them had smooth, tangle free hair.

Just about the time that the oldest should have been coming down for a kiss good night, I heard her come down the stairs. "Help!" "What did you do?" "I tried curling my hair with my comb." Oh my! I have no idea how many times she twisted her hair around her comb, but it was firmly attached. I knew what my wife would do. She'd just cut it off, and take her to the hair dresser on Monday to get it "fixed", which would probably result in shoulder length hair.

I approached it as more of a puzzle. I slowly tried to unwind a little bit of hair. Having a tough time with the fine tooth comb, I pulled out a toothpick to be able to guide a few strands at a time. My girls think I use toothpicks for everything. I'm sure one of these years I'll get a box for my birthday. I'm not like either of my grandfathers who often had toothpicks in their mouths. But I do use them to mix epoxy for gluing back together Polly Pockets or to shim wheels for pinewood derby cars or for filling in holes to redrill later for a screw or placing down Perler beads or ... Ok, enough.

The toothpick helped, but the hair was not budging. I tried soaking the hair with detangler spray. Still no luck. Everynow and then I'd be able to get enough undone to unwrap it once, but the gap between what was twisted on her head and the comb was shrinking and the comb was long enough that I couldn't get the hair around the end anymore. I was just getting to the point where my wife would have started (ie. cutting it off) when inspiration struck. I tried to break the teeth off the comb to ease the detangling operation. Darn unbreakable combs. By this time my wife had come down to see how I had progressed. She knew I had much more patience for these things.

Since my wife was there I asked her to go fetch the wire cutters I got her for Christmas (yes, that's two times I bought her tools as gifts in 2007). I started systematically pruning the comb, unwinding the hair and pushing it over to allow another cut to further make the comb smaller. Once the comb was completely destroyed and removed from her hair, it didn't take long to slowly work out the tangles (especially since it was already saturated with detangler spray).

My daughter learned an important lesson, hopefully her sisters will learn from her, and I learned that a toothpick is not the be-all-to-end-all tool my daughters would have me think it is.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Finding that perfect gift

Each year I try to find an ornament for all of the girls (including my wife) that fits with something at least half way notable from the preceding year. I'm not sure why I started this tradition, it seemed like a good idea at the time. This is the only gift that I really sweat about as it takes a lot of leg work trying to find the right ornament. That said, the effort is worth it; each year when we decorate the tree the girls look fondly back on these small symbols of yesteryear.

My wife is probably the hardest to find the right ornament for. My daughters are always into something new and usually it's not too hard to find something appropriate. As they get older and get past the Disney princess phase, it will become more difficult. But for my wife its difficult just coming up with the appropriate theme, let alone an ornament to match that theme. Sometimes I have had to be somewhat clever (e.g. finding a mini Clue board game ornament the year she wrote a murder mystery play put on by our church).

This year the theme was her new book. Finding the right ornament was going to be tough. One year I did the Snoopy at a typewriter ornament, but what to do this year? I finally had to resort to making it myself. This was especially apt as one portion of her book was about making gifts for people using a small budget.

I measured her book and reduced the dimensions down about one third and cut a piece of wood to that size on my table saw. If I had thickness planer I would have used that, but I don't. My father-in-law has one, but I was trying to do this without her realizing I was up to something. Anyway, I painted this small block of wood white. For the cover, I took three of her books (we have plenty lying around the house waiting to be sold. If you want one, we'd love to sell you one), and placed them on our scanner so that I could recreate the cover in one image. Since my wife does plenty of scrapbooking, I was able to find a ribbon that matched the colors on the cover of her book. How fortuitous. I affixed that to the spine of the block with double sided tape and glued the cover on with a spray adhesive. I had to be careful not to over spray it and saturate the paper. I actually made two of these. The first I didn't paint the wood completely, and overdid the spray. Good thing I didn't wait until the last minute.

Needless to say, I think this ornament was one of her favorite gifts this year. Whew!