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Friday, December 17, 2021 No comments

If the Kludge works, use it

Kludge. Jury-rig (or the variant, jerry-rig). Lash-up. Sunshine Engineering (named for Mr. Sunshine, who bodged lots of things together that I had to straighten out later). Whatever you call it, including the racist ones nobody should have used in the first place, it’s (so the dictionary says) “an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose.” Sometimes, the kludge is a necessity; a critical piece of equipment failed, deadlines are looming, and there’s no way to run to a nearby store to find what you need.

So… last week, someone called the wife. Her video business, that hasn't had any significant income in two or three years, still has a listing the in the Yellow Pages. “Can you put VHS video onto DVDs?” As she has done that before, she took the gig. Last time, we hooked a VCR into her commercial-grade DV deck and rolled tape. This time… not so much. The deck wouldn’t stay powered up, and wouldn’t open the tray (she was just passing through, but wanted the tape in there to be out so it wouldn’t interfere). She opined the deck got fried by one of the close lightning strikes we’ve had from time to time, and I couldn’t dismiss the possibility. Meanwhile, I was trying to find our cache of RCA-to-BNC adapters. We found plenty of the BNC-in/RCA-out types, but we needed the opposite. Mal-Wart dot commie carries them, but “not sold in stores.” The Mighty Zon could get us some by Thursday… it was Tuesday, and the wife was in DO SOMETHING NOW mode because she wanted to wrap this up by Friday. But with the DV deck apparently fried, there wasn’t any urgency to get the connectors anyway.

Seems to work fine for old VHS tapes
But! As the wife snarled something about taking her client’s tapes back to her, I remembered finding something else when looking for the adapters: my old Canon ZX-80 camcorder. When I say old, I mean I took footage of The Boy’s high school football games, so at least 15 years. Probably more like 17. The imager crapped out on it a long time ago, but I kept it around because I could at least play tapes into a Firewire connection, view on a tiny screen, or a bigger screen if I plugged in the included DV cable. In other words, it could do everything but take video itself. Being a tech writer, I kept the manual with the camcorder. There were lots of functions I never explored, and just in case…

Well, just in case arrived Tuesday night. I went down the table of contents, and found the vindication of my packrat ways on page 84: Converting Analog Signals to Digital Signals (Analog/Digital Converter). In this mode, you:

  • connect a VCR to the camcorder’s DV cable
  • connect a Firewire cable to the Mac
  • start capture on the Mac, play the tape, and relax
Sure, it’s a kludge, but time was tight. We have better camcorders, but I didn’t have time to find the manuals to figure out how to use them as video digitizers. Here, we hit Snag #2 (or is it #3? I lost count quickly): Final Cut Pro wasn’t capturing the video, or even seeing it. Looking at the documentation, I guessed FCP was too snooty to deal with an early-century consumer camcorder. So I tried iMovie, and iMovie told me:

(link to original)

So I guess iMovie is friendlier to the older, not so well-heeled, camcorders of the world. Since FCP has no problem importing iMovie assets, we were on the way.

Or so I thought. Snag (int(rand()*4))+3 came in this afternoon. Wife was again ranting about giving up and taking the tapes back to the client, because she couldn’t burn a DVD. I seem to remember us using Compressor to create MPEG-2 video, then using Toast to burn that, but we couldn’t remember the incantations and she wasn’t inclined to take the extra step. So I started troubleshooting. The DVD Burner app icon started bouncing, so I clicked it. “Couldn’t burn (click here for more information).” Clicking the helpful link told me what the initial “insert dual-layer disc” message should have told me in the first place: the video was too long to fit.

Solution: cut the video to 80 minutes so it fits on a DVD. Splitting video and moving it around is one of FCP’s strong suits, so the wife got to work on it.

As I type (10:30pm Friday evening), she has all the video on the system, and two or three DVDs burned. She’s behind schedule, but has a clear path to completion.

If the kludge works, use it… at least until you get a more elegant solution in hand. We’ll look into replacing the DV deck—looks like we might find something that works for around $400—and if she’s going to start back on her video work, it will pay for itself soon enough. Then, maybe, we can look at modernizing the intake end of things (i.e., the commercial-grade camcorders that are at least as old as that ZX-80). As I understand it, a lot of the newest models skip the tape drive and go directly to a SD card with some enormous amount of capacity. If that’s true, importing would mean sticking the SD card into the back of the iMac and copying the file. At that point, who needs a DV deck?

Tuesday, December 07, 2021 No comments

Computer-Aided Weeding

A couple weeks ago, I finally decided to start pulling in all the notes I’d saved up from Evernote and Google Keep into Logseq. I started with Evernote, just because.

First, I had to update the Evernote app on my iMac, so I could actually access my stuff. That should tell you how long it’s been since I actively used it.

After exporting, I used a utility called Yarle to convert the notes in each notebook to Markdown.

Now the hard part: deciding what I wanted to keep, and what to toss. The even harder part: cleaning up the sloppy mess that were most of those individual pages. There were over 400. Cleaning them up in Logseq was do-able, but slow. Lots of repeated stuff. This wasn’t a job for an outliner, it was a job for a high-powered text editor like Vim or Atom.

Unlike Vim, Atom sports a sidebar that displays all the files in the directory, and its regular expression parser recognizes newlines. So I could find blank strings using the expression ^- *\n (which means, “look for a line starting with a dash, followed by zero or more spaces, then a new line”) and get rid of them.

But the even bigger time-saver: realizing a lot of those entries were long outdated (some dated back to 2013) and deleting them. By the time I was done with that pass, I had 109 “keepers” left. From there, it was a matter of applying search and replace to fix common issues.

So with 3/4 of the pages deleted, and much of the boilerplate stuff from the remaining pages deleted as well (I just need the content, the source, and some info about the author). That means my assets folder has 4852 items in it, and most of them were no longer being linked to.

Now… am I going to make 4852 passes through my pages, by hand, to see if a pic can be deleted?

The shell (aka Terminal) is my machine gun for blasting a job like this.

# assume we're in the assets directory

mkdir -p ../assets_removed

for i in *; do

  grep -q "$i" ../pages/* || mv "$i" ../assets_removed


Let’s pick this apart, for those who need it.

The first line is just a comment. An important one, all the same. You need to be in your Logseq database’s assets directory for this to work correctly. BAD THINGS will happen otherwise! One of the nice things about using MacOS: if I eff something up, I can pull it out of the Time Machine backup and try again.

Next, we make a directory called assets_removed at the same level as the assets directory. Just in case we make a mistake, you know. The -p option is there to make the script shrug and move on if the directory already exists (if we’ve been here before, for example).

The third and fifth lines begin and end a loop, going through each of those >4800 graphic files.

Inside the loop, we search for the file name in the pages. The -q option is exactly what you want for a script like this; it returns success if grep finds the string and failure otherwise. The || (two vertical bars) means “execute the next part if it fails” (in this case, fails to find the file name)… and the next part moves the unused file to the assets_removed directory.

And I ended up with 255 files (out of nearly 5000) that were actually being used. The other ones are out of the way, and can be safely deleted once I verify that none of them are needed.

[UPDATE: After stepping through the pages again, I found 18 “false negatives” that had to be dragged back into the assets folder. That’s why you move them out of the way, instead of just nuking them.]

It took about a minute to grind through the assets directory, and a couple of minutes to set up the script, but that beats the heck out of hours (or days) doing it by hand! I’m fond of saying, I’m lazy enough to get the computer to do my work for me. It doesn’t always pay off this big, but it does pay off.

Off to get the Google Keep notes…

Thursday, November 18, 2021 No comments

Some updates to recent happenings

Backyard play area: I got another pair of eyebolts and hung the old bucket swing beside the nest swing. Charlie has long outgrown its previous iteration, but it’s perfect for AJ. She was a little apprehensive at first, as it’s fairly high off the ground; but once she realized there was a gate of sorts, she was all for it.

Up high is where the fun is!

Balloon: The planning commission met Tuesday to hear about the proposed tower. A lawyer for Verizon came, along with a rep from the company they’re outsourcing the tower ownership to. (I’m not sure quite what the deal is with that, if it’s a way to shield Verizon from any liability issues with the tower, or what.) Anyway, the neighbor to whom I sent the photo invited me to ride with them to the hearing.

So they had a nice little presentation, justifying why the tower was needed. They wanted both a Special Use permit (to put the tower on a piece of agricultural property), and a variance. Towers have to be spaced 3 miles (4.8km) apart here, and the location is 220 feet (67m) short of 3 miles. The tower is spec’ed at 190 feet (58m) high, plus 5 feet (1.6m) for a lightning rod, just short of the height that requires flashing lights.

After they finished, they invited members of the public up to speak for or against the tower. There were only a handful of citizens, and we were all nearby residents. Personally, it's “not my dog, not my fight.” The trees along the road would hide it for me, even if it did have a blinkenlight up top. But being a good neighbor, sometimes, means supporting your neighbors when they feel strongly about an issue (to a point… if they think #Dolt45 is the second coming of Christ, I’m not supporting that).

Anyway, the commish for our district is also the chairman, and said he thus wouldn’t be voting (although he seemed to lean toward supporting it). The others were less convinced, and thus both the Special Use and variance were voted down 3-0 (with the chairman abstaining). Shocker!

As we stood around outside, chatting about the next move, our commish came by and said, “You’ll need to be here December 16 for the county board meeting.” The board can, as I gather, overturn the planning commission's decisions… which means it’s more of a recommendation than a decision. I guess that means we (the neighborhood) need to come up with our own counter-presentation. I don’t have any qualms about public speaking; I’ve done a dozen or more sermons at church, so I’ll take point on this one.

One salient point, that one of the neighbors brought up: after they get the 190-foot tower up, what will stop them from coming back later and insisting they need a bigger tower at that spot? Then we get Das Blinkenlights, and maybe it is my dog in the fight. They should have chosen our pasture to put that stupid thing up in… it wouldn’t have even bothered the cows.

The thing is, Verizon could short-circuit all the opposition with a little honey. The local phone company laid a bunch of fiber along the road, going straight to the proposed tower site, and it’s mostly dark. If they offered to light up that fiber and give everyone a far better Internet connection (for free) than our flaky DSL, they might end up with one or two holdouts. Stay tuned, there will be more next month. I'm sure Goliath isn’t done with us yet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021 No comments

Backyard entertainment, Phase 1 (part 3, finishing touches)

 I’m fond of saying, “In for a dime, in for a dollar.” Or as one of the villains in White Pickups put it, “Go big, or go home?” In other words, I’ve already sunk a fair amount of time and money into this project. No sense in leaving it 90% done. Besides, I needed at least one thing for Charlie. Mason got his treehouse and extreme swing, after all.

So I ordered the bits that I figured would finish it up: a nest swing and a climbing net. The swing was, after all the other stuff I did for the platform, nearly trivial: put it together, screw a couple of eyebolts into the bottom of one support, and hang the swing. I got another 8 feet (2.4m) of decking, and had just enough to piece together the last of the open joist area. And I had exactly enough screws to finish (after finding two in the bottom of my tool bag).

Anyway, Charlie likes the swing.

One more thing to go: the ladder. I wanted something more permanent, so I started reading the instructions for the climbing net. Uh-oh… it wants a 4x4. Upon further reading, and using some of my tech writer skills to interpret what was really going on here, I realized the intent was to sling the 4x4 under decking that stuck out past the support beam, and the 6" eyebolts at the top of the net went all the way through both. The end of the decking only sticks out about 1/2". Scrounging around, I found a 4x6 that was long enough for the job. Some Timber-Lok screws secured it to the beam (and stuck out far enough that we felt it necessary to hacksaw the pointy ends). But I didn’t have a drill that would go through the wide side of a 4x6. Back to the Despot to get a 12" bit (I would have settled for 8" but they didn’t have any).

Mason: “That’s long!… and it went all the way through!” Well yeah, that was the whole point. It worked best to go in about an inch, pull out to shuck the shavings, and repeat until it went through.

Now the instructions said to run the eyebolts up from underneath, secure them at the top, then use provided plastic covers. Mason suggested doing it backwards—and since the eyebolts barely clear the top of the decking, it worked pretty well to reverse it.

How to secure it at the bottom? A few augur stakes would be just the thing, but I don’t have any laying around. But I did have a plastic maul handle laying around. It released the business end a long time ago, and has been sitting in a corner ever since. I hacksaw’ed it in half, used a 1/2" spade bit to put a hole in one end of each half, then pounded them into the ground. The bottom of the climbing net had convenient loose ends to tie to a stake, and I threaded them through the holes and tied it all down.

It works pretty well. It even holds me up, although the ladder is a bit more convenient for me. Oh well.

(The girls are the daughters of a guy who helps the wife with farm stuff. The older one, on the net, is Mason’s age and also in advanced classes. And yes, the two of them do some scuffle-flirting as 12 year olds do.)

So that’s Phase 1 complete! Mason has grandiose ideas for upgrades, including walls (although he thinks railings would be bad), a roof, and maybe even a second floor? He’s likely to get a canopy for a roof, and a zipline going off the other side, for Phase 2. I might put up a couple more eyebolts, to hang the bucket swing for AJ. She likes the nest swing, but wants someone riding with her.

Mason also likes the nest swing, by the way. He found that the Wi-Fi reaches to it, and has laid in it with his iPad to play Minecraft. But being November, it’s taking a turn for the colder. The kids are putting the shorts away for the duration.

Backyard entertainment, Phase 1 (part 2, deck and rope swing)

With the framework complete, I tossed four planks onto the joists. Given the length of the boards, I decided to start in the center and work my way out. This worked very much like the support beams: put a deck screw on one end (using a hip square to space them), scoot across to the other end, space and screw down, then work back and put down more screws along the way.

Well, it wasn’t quite done. I calculated 11 boards should be just enough to cover it, and I could have sworn I’d ordered 11, but they gave me 10. Checking the order later confirmed that I’d asked for 10. I’m not sure how that happened, but it was just one corner that was see-through. Mason was ready to move in! Even with my chunky bod on the thing, there’s no sag or sway, so I was happy with my over-engineering.

With the deck complete enough, it was time to accessorize. Mason had already picked out a nearby branch for a rope swing (you can see the spool on the ground in the third pic), and he chose well. I tied a lug nut to the end of a fishing line, and cast. It went over on the first try!… and kept going… and going… and ended up over a second tree. We ended up breaking the line, trying to get it free, and subsequent casts gave us none of the luck of the first one. I tried casting from the other side, and ended up sailing it all the way across the back yard and into yet another tree.

Mason, who is a perfectionist with a short fuse, was getting increasingly frustrated at this point. I said, “Using a bow and arrow is another way to do this. Too bad we don’t have one.” Mason immediately brightened, ran into the house… and came out with a bow and arrow. We had bought it for him for Christmas a few years ago, and I don’t remember him using it much. But we tied the line to the arrow, and (after a few attempts), he got it over the limb. Not exactly where we wanted it, but it turned out to be a better spot anyway.

Next snag! We tied the rope to the fishing line, and found it wasn’t quite strong enough to get the rope up and over the limb. Mason was re-entering his funk, when I suggested we use the smaller rope I keep around for camping trips or shaking drones out of trees. It wasn’t quite long enough to go all the way up and over, but it was long enough that the fishing line held until we could grab the small rope and pull the big rope down. I tied a slipknot (showing Mason how it’s done), and hauled on the rope until the knot was at the limb. I hung on it to test it—if it held me, it will certainly hold Mason—and all was well.

It was not long at all before Mason was launching off the platform on it…

At this point, Mason was good to go. But Charlie needed something, because he can’t be allowed up top, and I wasn’t going to have the stepladder as a permanent access method. The next part will wrap up Phase 1.

Backyard entertainment, Phase 1 (part 1, framework)

This has been going on for a while, but I wanted to make sure it got done before posting, so I didn’t end up with a start without a finish.

Mason and I talked last year about setting up a treehouse. I had plans for an octagonal one, with the tree in the center, but I had neither the skill nor the equipment for tackling something like that. But as fall started, we were poking around the backyard (that got expanded about a year ago), and Mason looked at a trio of trees… arranged in a near-perfect equilateral triangle, about 12 feet (about 3.6m) on a side. “We could put it up here!” he said.

I remembered a smaller platform I set up for The Boy, when he was about 9. It was arranged similarly, in a triangle of trees. Definitely something within my skill and equipment sets, as both had improved in the past 20+ years. So that night, I sat down and started mathing it out—how many 12' 2x10 boards for the supports and joists, how many 5/4x6 decking planks—and made my grocery list.

The order was ready the next day, so we jumped in M.O. the B.B. to “pickup” the load. A few hundred pounds of lumber doesn’t even start to settle the suspension, but the support lumber did stick out somewhat past the lowered tailgate. I tied a safety flag to the end, and clattered home.

I got the first two boards up without much effort: put one 6" Timber-Lok screw through it and into the tree, lift up the other end, level it, then screw it in. You can see I put three screws in each end; if I’m reading the box correctly, that should support about 700 lbs (317kg). There’s two supports for each corner, so (assuming weight is evenly distributed) the platform should be good for about 4200 lbs (950kg) minus the weight of the platform itself. Over-engineered? Maybe. Mason and his friends are 8-10 feet off the ground. It needs to be safe.

The third, highest off the ground due to the slope of the yard, took some more effort. I finally tied a rope around it and used one of the other supports as a pulley. That actually worked better than expected, and I soon had it bolted in place.

Mason had to try it out, of course, unfinished as it was.

Now it was time to measure and cut the joists. I spaced them on roughly 2-foot (0.6m) centers, set the circular saw to cut the ends at the right angle, and used joist hangers (plus a Timber-Lok screw) to make sure it stayed in place. I got up all but the last (heaviest) one on Saturday, and Sunday brought rain. (Yes, this was something done over several weeks.)

With a lot of heave-ho’ing, some unsafe work practices (Charlie missed getting bonked with a falling 2x10 by inches), and many magic words, I finally got the last joist into the hangers and used a hammer to pound it down level with the support beams.

Yay, time to put down the decking! That comes in the next post.

Monday, November 08, 2021 1 comment


A Saturday afternoon mini-adventure started with a text from Daughter Dearest: Can you take big butt truck to help get sizzles truck unstuck

This was quickly followed up by a phone call, asking me to pick up Sizzle’s boys and take them along (in the slim hope that they could push Sizzle out). Charlie had been jonesing for a ride in M.O. the B.B anyway, so I loaded him up, got the boys, and headed on down. Sizzle was at the campsite, presumably for some deer hunting, and I don’t know what possessed him to get off the high ground… but when I saw the situation, I figured pushing would not be enough.

Of course, I was right. :-P

Another project, that shall soon see the light of blog, entailed my having a spool of 1/2" rope handy. We clattered back up to FAR Manor, got the spool, and returned (turning around at the dam to get oriented for pulling stuff). Meanwhile, Sizzle had attached a heavy-duty ratchet strap to the front of his truck… a Nissan, for which The Boy and Daughter Dearest had taken a road trip up to Nashville to get a replacement motor for… but I digress.

He tied the rope to the ratchet strap, while I wove it through the hitch on M.O. the B.B.'s end. We put our trucks in gear, and mine did its usual “Pfft, I’m towing something?” routine as I crept forward. I stopped, because it was clear that Sizzle was going to get pulled into a tree before he got clear of it. We rearranged stuff to bypass the tree, and started anew. This time, we got Sizzle up on the two-track. “M.O.” stands for Massive Overkill, and that’s what it is… except when nothing else will do.

At Sizzle’s request, his guys piled into his truck, and I clattered on home.

I was too busy doing the tow to get pictures, so I’ll leave you with a shot of the pond, ringed with weeds in glorious flower (I took it while turning around). Wife is planning to nail them, so they might not be around next year.

Now that is some fall color, huh? May your fall be filled with color and miss the part with the stuck trucks.

The balloon goes up

Everybody around FAR Manor got a letter, week before last: Verizon wants to put a 190' (58m) tower on a hill across the highway, but (and it’s not a bad idea) they want to make sure the tower will actually do the job before they sink a bunch of $$$ into building it. Therefore, they planned to do a balloon test on November 1. This basically entails (I think) lofting a balloon carrying a microcell, and seeing if it will link to the nearest existing tower.

Some of the neighbors, especially the ones who know the wife, came by to talk about it. Not that it matters… Verizon already had good coverage out here, but they do seem to think that Lily Tomlin as Ernestine is their guiding light. They don’t care, they don’t have to care; if they want to put up a tower than up it goes.

None of us really knew what the balloon test was going to look like, so I was thinking I might launch a drone if it was calm enough. My oldest drone, a Sharper Image DX-4, had just received a new controller. Since it has a Wi-Fi connection that can transmit video and stills to a connected phone, I hoped it would let me get a good real-time view. Well, the app hasn't been updated in years, and froze showing the sidewalk.

Monday arrived, and I found it calm outside. I thought maybe I could launch the Holystone, which meant I'd be flying blind, but would get something. But there was enough wind to push the drone around, and make me continually be guiding it, to make it worth trying.

OK, time to pull out the Big Gun (aka the Canon). I put the long zoom lens on, and walked down to the road. About 50 feet before the intersection to the dirt road, there’s a break in the trees… and I saw the balloon.

Rather anti-climatic, if you ask me. When I first saw it, it was actually below the tree line. But it rose up, and bobbed up and down for a good while. I took pics, but nothing really stood out. One neighbor said the pic is "ammo,” but we’re talking Verizon here. It’s maybe a .22 against a tank. The only way I can see their affecting things is to use the tower as target practice. With as many guns as there are around here…and some of the people are likely to have swallowed that 5G/vaccine chip/boogabooga nonsense, it could be a volatile situation.

I don’t call it the free-range insane asylum for nothing!

Monday, November 01, 2021 1 comment

Trick or treat!

The wore-out Grim Reaper might not worry you, but Charlie could cute you to death in his Power Rangers outfit.

Candy… or else!

Yes, that's a real scythe. The blade is very rusty, and about 1/3 of the snath (handle) is missing. The sign hanging off the blade reads, Wore OUT (I hate pandemics!). Yeah, as Death said in his New Year’s message, he’s had enough. I’ll hit the edge with my Dremel, and we can use it to hack weeds under fence lines.

But, as I so often do, I digress. A local charity sponsors trunk-or-treat at the biggest county park, and I took Charlie. We went to about four booths, then there was a line longer than Charlie was willing to deal with. He grabbed my hand and started walking at random.

Finally, I suggested, “Do you want to go to the playground?” He often considers such questions thoroughly before answering, but not this time. “Yeah!”

We were early adopters. There were two or three kids in the playground area when we arrived, but there were well over a dozen by the time we left. Charlie did really well climbing around on the jungle gym, and even tackled the scariest climbs to the high slide (he only slipped once, and I backstopped him). He stumbled on some steps in the mid-section, and bonked his head on the railing. That required a few minutes getting cuddled on a bench, then he went back to it for a few minutes before retreating to the bench… then telling me he needed a potty run.

Wife suggested I get us Taco Bell, since I was 2/3 of the way there, so that’s where we went next. Charlie came home with a small portion of candy… but Mason brought a gigantic bag, hitting a subdivision with a friend of his, so there’s more than enough to go around.

Oh… and if you want to know about the next Accidental Sorcerers book, I’ve finished the draft. I’m looking for beta readers, now.

Sunday, July 25, 2021 2 comments

Pitter-patter, part 3 (home again, home again)

The dynamic completely changed, once Charlie was in the mix. Mason went full-on micromanager, completely losing his shorts over the most trivial things.

As for Charlie, his happy place is the pool. Put floaties on him, toss him in the pool, and he’s good. The outdoor pool at the clubhouse is usually pretty cold (with 2018-2020 being exceptions), but Charlie doesn’t care about a little cold. (A lot cold is enough to get him out, but this wasn’t a lot cold.) Mason insisted on the indoor pool, but the outdoor one was tolerable even for me. So Charlie and I played around, while Mason sat in a chair and sulked because he wasn't getting his way.

After maybe an hour (I’m not keeping track of time on vacation, what’s the point?), Charlie decided he would be okay going to the indoor pool. Mason, finally getting what he wanted, joined in.

At this point, I should point out that there’s a third pool, next to the waterslide and close to the diner and country store. It was closed for much of the week, since some moron had gone tubing, didn’t shower, and introduced algae. For some reason, this pool is often warmer than the outdoor pool at the clubhouse, but it had a definite green tinge. I’m not sure why that would be a problem, since the lake is also a good place to swim (and is often warmer than the outdoor pools, and I have no idea why). Maybe the algae had some irritant qualities.

But I digress. By Friday, they had dumped enough chlorine into the pool to kill the algae, and re-opened it. Charlie was so happy to be in the pool, he wanted to hug everyone in the area… literally. He spun around with a huge grin, arms wide open, making his happy noise. Several folks thought it charming, anyway. It was noticeably warmer than the clubhouse outdoor pool, and it also has a “real” deep end (8 feet). People invited Charlie, then Mason, into their games, and I just hung out and kept an eye on the rugrats. Mason complained about the amount of chlorine in the pool, but he was wearing a diving mask so I’m not sure what his actual issue was (besides just complaining).

Mason brought a couple of R/C vehicles along for the final leg of our outing. Charlie enjoyed watching them whizz up and down the lane. Someone came up in a golf cart, and suggested a “race.” The R/C truck won (those electric motors can go from zero to top speed pretty quick).

By Saturday morning, I’d had all I could take of Mason’s attitude, his constant ordering everyone around (especially Charlie) and refusing to help. He’s been throwing up all this anti-spanking “evidence” at us, trying to dodge the consequences of his actions, so I simply told him he could have no electronics (no iPad, no Xbox, no Switch, no nothing) until his attitude got better. That probably hurt more than any spanking, anyway.

I’d loaded all the non-essentials into M.O. the B.B. Friday evening, so (with Mason’s ultra-reluctant help) we broke camp Saturday morning and headed on back to the manor. The outdoor rug stank with mildew, and needs a good cleaning, and the Starflyer needs some attention as well. I’m trying to decide whether to get the A/C fixed, or just replace it with an exhaust fan and stuff a window A/C unit in a convenient spot. Whichever way I go, I’d like to have it completely functional before I sell it and go with something else. Then again, campers are going for a premium right now… anyone want a lightweight camper with a few minor issues?

We got home, to find the wife there. They had drove up to their retreat, then the sister-in-law hosed up her foot when they went to get groceries. And when I say “hosed,” it was several times worse than either of mine. They ended up coming back. BUMMER. The wife needed a break more than I did, and I had somewhat of a break even with Mason making things as miserable as possible.

Back to work, and everything else. The boys will be in school soon, although I don’t know how long Delta will let that happen.

Thursday, July 22, 2021 No comments

Pitter-patter, part 2

Rain on a popup is a special kind of noise. What hits the bunkends is a nice pitter-patter sound, actually quite soothing. What hits the roof in the middle is anything but soothing: it’s somewhere between a pop and a snap noise. And that’s what we contended with for much of the night.

The Starflyer’s A/C isn’t working, despite my replacing the starter capacitor, so we had to make do with fans. I claimed the fan/light combo, since Mason swiped it last time. He groaned, but didn’t press the issue. Fortunately, it never got out of the low 80s (F) for highs each day… I guess the rain helped with that.

Staying dry on a wet night
With the awning and the EZup, and no wind pushing the rain around, there were dry spots to take a chair and a beer outside while Mason was zorched out (or doing late-night iPad sessions while pretending to be asleep). The EZup framework also provided a convenient place to hang swim suits and towels, to get them a little dry, anyway.

So this was our routine, the first few nights. Charlie has his therapy sessions on Monday and Tuesday, and the wife was going to have some fun with her sister on a long weekend starting Thursday, so we went home Wednesday afternoon.

The foot improved with (not enough) rest. By Thursday morning, I could walk on it almost normally for an hour or two before it started giving me grief again. Extra-strength Tylenol helped to extend the time I could use it, and propping it on a pillow at night made it less cranky in the mornings. We took a brief bike ride on Wednesday, and it was okay. Our campsite is at the bottom of the hill, so we could coast back “home.”

Thursday, Charlie had a neurological evaluation scheduled at ENEC in Decatur, so I drove us down there. In the vein of combining trips, wife had her bags packed and in the back of the van, and all we had to do was figure out where to get lunch and meet the sister-in-law. We settled on a place called Grub (Burger Bar), that served up what the wife described as “the best burger I’ve had in a long time.”

So they tossed the wife’s bags into her sister’s vehicle, Charlie told them “bye-bye,” and away they went. We also went… back to the manor, to get Charlie’s stuff and get Mason while we were at it. M.O. the B.B. chugged on back to the campsite, and we did manage to get about 40 minutes at the pool before it closed for the evening.

Sunday, July 18, 2021 No comments

Pitter-patter, part 1

Pretty similar to last time
The wife’s sister decided the two of them needed a long weekend out. Wife floated it by me, and I thought it would be a good idea for her to have a little fun time, far away from FAR Manor and the adjacent farm. Plus, maybe I could take the boys out camping or something, right?

So I called the resort to see if I could swap our week in September for something in July. Nope! All the condos were slammed. EVERYONE is (or was) trying to get out and enjoy some vacation time in that brief period before the Delta variant decided to try culling the idiots who have made such a mess of things over the last… oh, who am I kidding, my entire lifetime.

But I digress, as usual. The woman who runs the condos gave me the number for the campground (different part of the resort) and they had openings. “You can have slot 38.” As we have a new pastor at church, and I’m nominally head of SPRC (what passes for HR in a Methodist church), I decided to go in Sunday afternoon and leave Saturday morning.

On Saturday, I decided to buzz up to the resort to see what #38 looked like, because M.O. the B.B. isn’t exactly the easiest thing to maneuver around in tight quarters. I took the boys with me, so we could hit the pool as well (the pool is Charlie’s happy place). Turns out it’s the same space I had last time we came up!

Sunday afternoon involved lots of packing up. Wife bought a Thermacell gadget (it does a pretty good job at repelling skeeters and the like) at Tractor Supply a while back, but they didn’t have any extra fuel cartridges at the time. I ordered a pack from the Mighty Zon, who told me they would be in on Friday… then Saturday… then Sunday. (Can someone explain why I’m paying Prime fees when 2-day delivery is 4 days so often?) Fortunately, the shipment arrived before we were ready to go.

Lots of rain in the forecast, but we had a good dry slot as I rolled M.O. the B.B. into the road around 4:30pm. It stayed dry long enough to get the essentials set up, too. This time, I brought the EZup to put over the picnic table (instead of dragging it under the awning). With Mason’s reluctant help, we got it hoisted. I’m trying to get screens for the EZup, but their website isn’t cooperating and they weren’t really needed for this trip.

I’ve had a little more practice backing a trailer over the last two-ish years, but not enough. I did realize I needed to position the backend of the Starflyer at the edge of the driveway, this time. It only took two tries, rather than five or six, to get it into position this time.

Mason and I both brought our bikes, but I’d managed to hose my right foot… just as the left was feeling better. Mason was trying to wheelie his mountain bike back on Thursday, and I thought maybe a visual would help him. I stuck my sandal’ed feet into the toe straps, put the bike in granny gear, and gave the pedal a good push. The ol’ Raleigh lofted all the way up, and spit my right foot out of the strap. The pedal put some impressive gouges in my lower leg, and I’m still trying to figure out what I hit my heel on. The upshot is, I’m once again gimping around—two days after getting over whatever was wrong with my left foot.

Fortunately, for now, it’s just Mason and me. Charlie has therapy Monday and Tuesday. We’ll run home Wednesday night and bring both boys up on Thursday. Of course, I forgot several things, and we ended up making a Mal*Wart run (because I had no other choice) to get them.

Thursday, July 08, 2021 1 comment

Ah… the crunchy nuggets

Back in the 70s, when we hunted wild tacos with spears to get lunch, W.C. Fritos was the animated spokesperson for one of Frito-Lay’s primary products (and I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one). One of his taglines was “Greetings, my little chip-a-dees,” and another was “Ah… the crunchy nuggets.”

Fast-forwarding 45+ years…

Mason’s current obsession/YouTube rabbit hole is making replica weapons from cardboard. He has made several decent axes (and spears), and is working on more. We have plenty of unused cardboard around, and (due to disrespectful yapping) is now grounded off the iPad, so he's doing something semi-creative.

I told you that to tell you this:

While I was trying to get supper together, Mason had made a spear out of cardboard and some unused utility handle, and was hassling Rosie the Stupidog. Charlie was yelling “Stop, Mason!" over and over, and I joined the chorus when I saw what was going on. Of course, Mason kept on doing what he was doing.

Then… Charlie took matters into his own hands. He swung an arm around and smacked Mason square in the nuts.

Ah… the crunchy nuggets.

Mason staggered around, trying both not to laugh nor cry out in pain. Meanwhile, I was trying to not fall on the floor in laughter while telling Charlie that was NOT an appropriate thing to do. #parentingfail

The thing is, Charlie picks up on pretty much everything that Mason does. Mason likes to play rough with Charlie, and Charlie thinks it’s fine to do the same things to Mason (who often goes full-blown Drama Queen when it happens). So when Mason acts like he’s the substitute parent, Charlie doesn’t recognize the dynamics… and things like this can happen. Just not so spectacular (or hilarious). Most of the time.

So what will the boys come up with next?

Monday, June 21, 2021 2 comments

The next generation of information management

Some 15 years ago, I was enjoying Journler. The thing I really liked about it back then was, it could post an entry straight to Blogger. Of course, Google likes to screw around with Blogger. They broke the posting mechanism that Journler used, and now they’re concentrating on keeping it deliberately broken for Safari users. Over the years, Journler slowly sunk into the morass of apps that got left behind by advances in MacOS.  I continued to use it to capture flash fiction, scenes, and chunks of longer stories, until it became unusable. The source code for Journler has been available on Github for a long time, but I just now found out about it.

But I digress. As Journler wheezed and died, I tried a variety of paper and app systems to capture stuff I wanted to come back to later. Evernote was okay, until they crippled the free version to support only two devices (previously five). Google Keep held my interest for a long time; but I’m trying to extricate myself as much as possible from Google these days—and if I could find something better that isn’t WordPress, I’d go through the hassle of moving everything. Perhaps my longest-running attempt has been using Tines to keep notes and to-do lists organized. And yet, I’m always keeping my nose in the air, sniffing for a better way of doing things.

Recently, I started looking at journaling apps. Day One came highly recommended, and had the huge advantage of both Mac and iOS apps that talked to each other. I gave it as honest a chance as I could—downloading both the MacOS and iOS apps—and even with the daily prompt on my phone, I never really warmed up to it.

Someone suggested Logseq last week, and it sounded interesting enough to give it a try. The developers describe it as “a privacy-first, open source knowledge base,” and the videos they link to from the home page (an enthusiastic user who describes how to make the most of it) convinced me to give it a try. It can run either as a webapp, writing to your hard drive, or as a standalone desktop app. The developer says he was heavily influenced by Roam Research, Org Mode (Logseq supports Org Mode, although it defaults to Markdown), Tiddlywiki, and Workflowy.

The interface looks invitingly plain, at first. You’re presented with a journal page with today’s date on it, but otherwise blank. Start typing, and it supports Markdown (a big plus)… oh, wait. It’s also an outliner (and given my long-term relationship with Tines, that’s another big plus). Oh, type two square brackets and enter a title, like a Wiki link, and you get a new page that you can click to enter (yeah, I’ve always been fond of Wikis). Oh, type /TODO Download the desktop app on a line, and you get a to-do entry. Put hashtags on entries you think you’ll need to come back to later.

Clusters show groups of related entries
This seems like a chaotic way of doing things… until you display the graph. Then, Logseq gathers up all those scattered to-do entries, those hashtagged items, and other things, and pulls them all together. Some call this a digital garden or digital knowledge garden—me, I just call it software magic. Of course, you get out what you put in. You can create custom queries to pull things together based on how you want them. If you leave it running overnight, click the little “paw print” icon at the top left to open the new day’s journal page. Maybe this is what makes Logseq so much more approachable for me.

It took me a day or two to realize that this is the most natural approach for working with Logseq. There’s a lot of layers to it, and this brief post isn’t doing it justice. I’m using it at home with the desktop app, and at work using the webapp (because Doze complained about how not safe the desktop app was). Either approach works fine.

There’s a mobile app called Obsidian that can be set up to work with Logseq’s files, but it’s a private beta right now and I don’t need it just yet.

Now I have to figure out how to pour all the different entries in all the different paper and pixel systems I’ve accumulated over the years into Logseq. Someone wrote a script to convert Google Keep to Markdown, so that’s settled. I hope I can write a script to pull all my old Journler entries in.

Monday, June 14, 2021 2 comments

Resurrecting an old dirt bike (part 1)

Mason's latest obsession (the bi-weekly obsessions have mellowed into bi-monthly) is getting a dirt bike. We still have the one we got for The Boy; it has been (mostly) sitting under a tarp for a couple decades. Saturday, we dragged it into the driveway and got started.

1978 Yamaha DT100E… and Mason, who blinked at the wrong moment. (The seat is also flipped up.)

I'm not sure why it was put up in the first place, but we’ll give it a good shot to get running again. Despite it being 43 years old, and thrashed pretty thoroughly before The Boy got hold of it, I think we can do it. After all, I’m even older, and have been thrashed around a lot, but I’m still going. After the initial blush of enthusiasm, Mason realized it was going to require some work to get this thing going, and started grousing about getting a new one. After a few rounds of “this is what you’ve got to work with,” he came around. A co-worker graciously offered to gift him some safety gear! (I have mixed feelings about my current employer… I have many issues, but they have taken an intelligent approach to the pandemic and my co-workers totally rawk.)

So, we got started. The gas tank was filled with rust and sludge, and the carb was a mess—white powdery stuff dried up inside, and the choke and idle adjust frozen. (I would have thought I’d have known to drain the fuel out of the dang thing.) The cables were frozen. None of the above are show-stoppers—a week’s soak in Simple Green fixes most carb problems, gas tanks can be cleaned out by pouring a handful of screws in it and shaking, and I have a cable lubing tool.

We got an impressive amount of crud out of the tank. I’m not sure it’s done just yet, but we should be down to details now. De-crud’ing a gas tank is a matter of pouring in a handful of small hardware (screws, nuts, etc.) and shaking. We started with some gas in it on Saturday, got sludge out, let it dry yesterday, then put the screws back in for more shaking. Blowing compressed air in blasts out an impressive amount of stuff, the majority of it dust but some sand-sized particles as well. Once the particles are no longer an issue, I’ll probably get some liner to seal off further rust.

The throttle was frozen to the handlebar, it turned out—once I got it off, we applied a wire wheel and file to the handlebar until the rust was no longer binding the throttle sleeve. A little cable lube sprayed down the top of the clutch and brake cables got them cooperating.

The carb is at Travis's place (he works on most of the farm stuff); when we brought some parts to fix the Kubota SUV/golf cart, I told him about the project and he offered us the use of his whizbang carb cleaner—it uses sonic waves to do in a couple hours what soaking in Simple Green does in a week. We'll have the carb back tomorrow. In the meantime, we need to get new grips, an air filter, probably new tires (maybe later). Lube and adjust the chain. There’s an off-road place in the next town up, and we at least got grips today. Mason also wants brush guards, which isn’t a bad idea, but we’ll get it running first.

While I was working on the important stuff, Mason decided to hit it with some spray paint. The back fender is now silver. The bike was originally orange, and a previous owner painted it Yamaha Blue. I’ve had to repeatedly remind Mason that, if you want to do it right, you have to take the bike pretty much entirely apart to paint it. Well, I would probably have wanted to paint it first thing when I was 11. Aging sucks, but it does bring a little perspective along with it. Meanwhile, Charlie wanted to apply wrenches to it, and Mason went off the rails (as he often does when Charlie wants to get in on the action).

If we do get it running, it will be kind of interesting to see how things pan out. He has wondered out loud if it’s too big, and has talked about wanting to do wheelies and stoppies (the latter is when you grab enough front brake to loft the back tire). The answer to that is, “maybe.” He’ll have to learn to work a manual clutch, a skill that will serve him will if he inherits the Miata. Back in The Boy’s day, I put a larger rear sprocket on it to slow down the top end (I pitched it to The Boy as “it’s easier to do wheelies”)… although I think it will hit 50MPH with a little running room as is.

I can see him tailing the Kubota, while we work on the fence, and maybe he'll ride the fence line and let us know about issues (before the cows get loose again). We can always hope he’ll use his power(sports) for good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 2 comments

Busy weekend

I had a busy weekend, but a good chunk of it was the busy stuff I wanted to handle (for a change).

One of the things at FAR Manor that had languished for a long time was the deck out back. The Boy had put up the framework for the railings, and was planning to finish it out, but… things happened. “They” say there are three ways to get things done:
  1. Do it yourself.
  2. Pay someone else to do it.
  3. Tell your kids to NOT do it.
Mason, if told to not do something that smacks of work, will have a rare moment of obedience. Daughter Dearest isn’t exactly the construction type, Charlie is willing but not able just yet, so Number Three didn’t apply. I really wasn’t keen on paying someone to do something I could do in an afternoon or two, so cross off Number Two.

I made a shopping list, punched it into the Home Despot app, and told them I’d come pick it up. When the “It’s ready!” text come in, I loaded Mason and Charlie into M.O. the B.B. and we clattered off to the retail district. As I was tying down the load, I realized something important: instead of 10 2x2s and one 1x4, they gave me eleven 1x4s! I went back inside and let them know what happened, and they sent someone out with the right lumber.

One of the things that inspired me to get this done, was the wife finding a palm nailer on the deck. I had no clue what it was, and looked up the brand and model number online. It’s an air-driven nail gun, but it drives regular nails and bangs them down like someone wielding a hammer at 4x speed. I had no clue such a thing existed, before it appeared at FAR Manor. Cut a picket to size, get it into the right place, line the nail up on the top rail, and let fly with the nailer. Then toenail the bottom into place.

I made quick work of the pickets, but there are large gaps—I have a slide and small climbing wall coming off the deck. My clever thought was to put doors, or gates, across those openings, so they can be used or closed off when AJ is out there.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any commercial gates that size, and the one I need at the top of the stairs would cost a lot more than what I would need to build one. So I started envisioning what a gate might look like—it would need crossbars, so I could attach hinges, but be light enough to not sag under its own weight. After a little finagling, this is what I came up with:

This particular gate closes off the slide. A few feet to its left, I need to set up double gates for the climbing wall. Oncoming rain and darkness worked against me, and this was the only gate I was able to finish and mount before I was through. Of course, I’d forgotten to put latches in my order, so that’s something I’ll have to tackle next weekend.

Sunday, after church, we decided to run out to get lunch. Culver’s is intelligent, and hasn’t opened their inside dining area yet, and we’re fine with that. We went through the drive-thru, got what we wanted, then decamped to a nearby bank parking lot where we parked in the shade and rolled down windows. That’s how we’ve rolled during the pandemic, so far, and it’s gonna be soooooo weird to eat inside with other people around.

But I digress. The wife wanted to get some fencing fixed, but I wanted to get some cheese started. Fortunately, after heating the milk and adding rennet, it has to sit for a while. So I put the lid on the pot, and said “Let’s get that fencing dealt with.”

Returning from the fencing work, I had a look at the pot. The recipe said the cheese would set in 90 minutes, but it hadn’t even started. I decided to leave it, to let the rennet work a little longer, and hoped for the best. My rennet has been around for a long time, and maybe it’s starting to wheeze. The original recipe used liquid rennet, and I’m going to get some for my next attempt.

Quejio Fresco
I’ve made soft cheese before, especially using homogenized and pasteurized milk, and it’s far easier to get good results using raw milk. But, you work with what you can get. Anyway, after four or five hours, the milk finally set up. I cut up the curds, spooned them into the mold, and let it start draining. I had to separate it into two batches at first, because (even starting with only two quarts of milk) it wouldn’t all fit into the mold. After about half an hour, enough whey had drained out that I could consolidate the two batches.

I used a recipe for quejio fresco this time. I’ve made Neufchatel before, and I think I like this one better. One idea I hit upon, was to put the cheese mold on a splatter screen (a screen you usually put over a frying pan, to keep bacon from exacting revenge upon its cook) over a large bowl, as a draining system. This worked very well, because you don’t have to constantly pour the whey out (and if you want to use the whey for ricotta or some other recipe, it’s an easy catch). You can see the splatter screen’s pattern on top of the cheese.

After unwrapping the cheesecloth, and shrugging at the lopsided appearance, I took it out to show the wife. AJ was in her lap, and immediately gave me the “eat” sign. AJ sort of grazes her way through the day when she’s at FAR Manor, usually eating something. Anyway, I cut a sliver off one side, and brought it out. AJ scarfed it right down.

Later in the evening, I spread some on a rosemary cracker (it’s soft and spreadable) and gave it to the wife. After requesting seconds, she said, “This is really good. Good thing I’m going to be out and about tomorrow.” So both the youngest and oldest girlies in the manor approved of my efforts! In the Azores, where this cheese originated, they often have it for breakfast on crusty bread. I’m going to put some on toast in the morning.

I’m slowly getting back into the mix. I should tackle taxes next. :P

Monday, May 10, 2021 2 comments

A second (frosty) bullet, dodged

Gardening in Georgia is always a crapshoot. One can usually deploy plants that don’t handle frost well once mid-April rolls around… but not always.

As I mentioned earlier, I bought new tomato plants after a late frost whacked the first set. But winter wasn’t done dicking around with us—another frost was on the way. I’d put the first set of plants in the ground, and they had started to revive. Since the bottom set of shoots (that had been covered in mulch) still looked healthy after the frostbite, I decided to cover the in-ground plants in mulch and put plastic over them.

The containers, I hoisted onto a pickup truck and put them in the garage for the night. Why take chances if some of your garden is semi-mobile?

This worked pretty well, in the end. The mulch-covered plants endured the freeze without (further) damage, and started growing better soon after. The container plants had no problem spending a night in the garage, either.

All the plants, even the in-ground ones, are sporting blooms now. A couple of the container plants have small greenies on them. I’m looking forward to the first harvest!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021 No comments

Action shot

A few weeks ago, one of the other parents on Mason’s soccer team sent some pictures they took during the game to the group text. I cropped some extraneous stuff to get this great shot of Mason booting one:

Here it comes!

His team is now 3-1 on the season, after the two-week Spring Break hiatus. We went to Blue Ridge (about an hour’s drive) on Saturday, and they did pretty well. This is the first game that they dominated when the other team had girls (I don’t know why, except that I’d guess that any girls in the boys’ league are solid team players, and these girls were no exception). As goalie, Mason let a ball get by him in the first half (one that he should have handled), but his team was up 5-1 at the half. Coaches like to put Mason in goal in the first half, and striker in the second half (he’s fast, and not worn out in the first half), and he scored three more to make up for it (they won, 8-1). It’s amazing, how much better they’re playing this season. For the players that left, the replacements brought a chemistry that makes them all a better team. They’re passing better, defending better, working together better. We’re seeing improvements even from game to game.

One of the more hilarious moments of last weekend’s game: both teams had kids named Avery and Cash. “What are the odds?” the opposing coaches joked. Our own Cash joined the team just last week, had one practice, then played his first soccer game on Saturday. He’s a natural in the backfield as a defender. His primary sport is competitive swimming, so stamina isn’t going to be an issue! (We also have a Mason, Grayson, and Kason. All we need to round out the team is a Jason.)

The only low point was when Charlie (not my Charlie) got an elbow to the head in the first half. He had banged his head the day before, so this was the first time I’ve personally seen the league’s concussion protocols invoked. He sat out the rest of the game, with an ice pack on his head—a pity, because he was doing pretty well up to that point. He was better today at practice, but said he didn’t feel 100%.

The head coach is giving the team a “clinic” on Friday evenings, for the guys who want to try out for the middle school soccer team. Dizzle told me the team is “not very good,” but I think Mason and several of his teammates would definitely be assets. They might surprise the rest of the league this winter, the way the Sounders are surprising the rec league this spring.

A couple of team quirks: first, they sing “Happy Birthday” to any teammate who arrives to practice late. Today, while practicing penalty kicks, a few of them started singing the national anthem. The head coach and I decided that it might be worth trying during a real game, if the opposing team gets a penalty kick against us. Worst that could happen, the ref tells us to knock it off.

So yeah, we’re having some fun this season. I think we have a rematch against the team that beat us, and we might even surprise them.

Sunday, April 11, 2021 1 comment

What I did on my Spring Break staycation

Mason was out of school, this last week, and I’ve decided to try taking days off when he’s off—just in case we get the chance to do something together. But I had a week, and there was no rain forecast for the first half of it, so I decided to try getting as much stuff done outdoors as possible. I had seriously considered taking the Starflyer down to the pond for the first half of the week, but realized it would clash hard with all the stuff I wanted to deal with.

First, this year I wanted to have a container garden (mostly). The farm has plenty of plastic tubs laying around, the containers for minerals given to the moofers. There are several places in the back yard where dirt piled up against trees, and much of it is loamy stuff with some clay deposits. I dug out enough to fill four tubs, drilled drain holes in the tubs, and stuck container-friendly tomato plants in them. A late frost whacked them pretty hard (despite our covering them with plastic sheets and leaving buckets of water underneath as heat sources), so I got replacements and stuck the frostbit ones in the ground… along with two jalapeƱo plants. The bottom shoots, that were covered in mulch, survived the frost. Maybe if this happens again, I’ll just pile mulch over the plants as well. Or, I’ll just wait for that first April frost next year.

Buried treasure
Next, I tackled The Boy’s old car (a black Integra, which inspired the name for the Blackuras, a street racing gang that draws Blink’s attention). The left rear brake caliper was stuck, and the car had sat in its spot for several months. When I put it there, the stuck tire picked up a piece of gravel, and you can still see the arcing “chalk” mark it left behind. So I bled some brake fluid out of the caliper, and tried prying it apart with heavy-duty screwdrivers and a prybar, without luck. What worked was smacking the moving part of the caliper with a hammer until it loosened up. After cleaning it out, and finding some interesting stuff (including a portable charger) I moved it to the new equipment yard and made a mental note to replace that caliper. Like my old Civic, the floor of the trunk is rusted through, so some Dremel and pop-rivet work is in my future. I hope I can get Mason interested in fixing it up a bit, then when he’s old enough to drive I’ll give him the car. (Although he’ll probably want my Miata instead.)

Good as new!
With the car out of the way, there was plenty of room to roll out the worn out washer and dryer that we replaced earlier this year. But first, the landscaping trailer the wife had bought some years back needed some serious electrical work. The plug was gone completely, both taillights were smashed, and so were two of the four marker lights. Fortunately, Tractor Supply had me covered. A $25 kit included taillights, two marker lights, a license plate mount, and the entire wiring harness—in other words, everything I needed for the electrical part. The marker lights were stud-mount, which meant I had to drill a 1/4" hole in between the old mounting holes. Since I live in the South, I learned that WD-40 works quite well as a cutting oil. I spent much of Monday afternoon hacking on the trailer. Once I finished the road (driver’s) side, the curb (passenger) side went pretty quickly. I plugged it into the farm truck, and realized the reason I wasn’t getting taillights was because the truck had a broken wire. The kit included some splices, and I didn’t need two of them, so I used one to fix that.

Tuesday, we loaded the washer and dryer onto the trailer, plus the furnace we replaced last year and a lawn mower with a bent crankshaft (I hit a small stump… it’s FAR Manor, why are you surprised?), plus the aluminum cans we’d let pile up for years, and took it all to the scrapyard. Mason and Dizzle rode along, and had great fun launching the lawn mower off the edge of the concrete. The only snag we hit was when they went to cut the check—it turns out that The Boy (who shared my first name, although he mostly went by his first middle name) had brought loads to the scrapyard. When they said, “Lawrence?” I assumed the wife had used my name for whatever reason. But she had been there as well, so I had them re-cut the check in her name. It all goes into the same accounts, after all. So we returned to the Manor, $41 richer (and more importantly, less crap laying around). They promised to set me up with my own account, next time.

But the trailer was not quite finished. It has a mesh ramp, that doubles as a parachute when towing it. When it was new, it had spring-loaded pins that would hold the ramp up for traveling, but they broke. Bobcat just flopped the ramp onto the trailer when empty, and used rope to hold it up when loaded. I used ratchet straps, but I really wanted it to be properly functional. Back to Tractor Supply… I found some long 1/2" pins that would do the job. To get everything back into alignment, I used a four-pound maul (the flat end) to bang things into place. Yes, percussive maintenance is a valid way of fixing certain issues, and quite satisfying. It was even more satisfying to have two such opportunities in one week. “This is how we fix problems at FAR Manor!” (Or as one of my college friends was fond of saying, “Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer.”)

By Wednesday, I was pretty stiff. Monday had included soccer practice, even though Mason’s team had two weekends off, and the head coach (I'm the asst. coach this season) knows exactly what motivates his players: a scrimmage. Last season, we did a series of scrimmages against the parents, and the parents pwn3d them because they weren’t passing. Something must have clicked between last season and this one, because they’re mostly holding their own now. They’re passing better, and are 1-1 vs. the parents and 2-1 vs. the real teams. (They were like 1-7-1 last season, and never beat the parents, so this is already a huge improvement.) To toot my own horn, I took the assistant-coach position so I could advocate (guilt-free) for more passing drills… I’ve observed that, at least at this level, the team with the better passing game wins at least 85% of the time. The head coach came up with some drills that emphasize passing, and it has helped a lot.

Mason’s team has practice on Mondays and Thursdays, and we were planning a parent-team scrimmage. I was slightly less stiff, but there was still a lingering muscle pull in my right leg (just under my butt). Monday, I pulled the left side, but slightly less. I joked about needing a butt replacement, but mostly held up my end. Of the three who played goalie on our side, I was the only one who didn’t let a ball get past (OK, that was mostly luck). Now the rain was supposed to come in by Thursday, but retreated to Friday except for an occasional sprinkle.

But when Friday came around, the rain retreated again. Now I have to admit, Charlie thought this was wonderful. It meant he could spend more time outside, and we did some “throw disc” long after I figured it would be far too wet. I didn't do much, but that helped a lot with the stiffness issues.

Yesterday morning, our friends came by with more chicken. Last time, we got six. We gave two to Daughter Dearest and Sizzle, two more to the preacher (who returned one smoked, yum), and the others went into the freezer. This time, they brought about two dozen. Since this was a freebie, and there was no way we could deal with that much, the wife started making phone calls while we broke out the vacuum sealer. She hit upon a great idea, to stuff a couple of them in the Instant Pot and then de-bone them. I found some suggestions online, and we bagged up the rest for both us and several others. We had chicken casserole for supper, and at least two more chicken-based meals bagged and frozen. Meanwhile, I have to figure out where I put my beer-can chicken stand. I used it once, and it turned out very well.

The rain finally arrived, and pretty much went all day. I had planned for more rain days, and a few improvements to the homemade worker’s paradise, but there was one I knew I could tackle: I wanted a shelf above the coffee station, to keep things that didn't need to be on the table all the time. I’d found some shelf brackets a few weeks prior, and a wrecked bookshelf provided the actual shelving. A nail head poking out of the paint told me where one stud was, and I measured to find the others. I had to run across to the detached garage, during (of course) one of the heavier rain periods, to grab a pack of wood screws. I had to reposition brackets a couple of times—I think the studs weren’t placed evenly—but eventually all the screws found something to bite. I only had to take off and flip one bracket, that I’d put on the wrong way.

A little yard work today wrapped things up. I went after the smaller (diameter) stumps that dot the back yard; I focused on those because they’re not so easy to see. Some I sawed out, some we dug up, several got the loppers. There are a couple dozen larger stumps, but they’re easy to spot and shouldn’t give a lawn mower a fatal surprise. If next weekend cooperates, I’ll rent a stump grinder and have at 'em.

So, back to work tomorrow. I’ll probably spend most of Monday weeding emails.

Sunday, March 21, 2021 No comments

Take our best shots

Fire away!

Charlie and I have been chucking our golf discs around the house when weather permits (and it permitted much of the last couple weeks). Of course, Charlie is a fiend for going outside, and he realizes I like doing this, so he tries to entice me with “throw disc?” Not when I’m working, unfortunately, although I should probably take a short health break in the afternoons. The problem with taking Charlie outside for a short break, though, is that he doesn’t want to have a short time outside. If I don’t have a call right after lunch, though, we might do a round.

He’s improved a LOT in the last couple of weeks. It used to be, he could barely get five feet out of a throw. Watch him now:

Meanwhile, I started taking a serious poke at getting the wife and I vaccinated, so we can Say No to the Ro for good. The Georgia Dept. of Public Health has a page that helps. My first attempt was fruitless, but on the second try (last Thursday), I got an appointment for this Thursday! The only drawback was, it's in Marietta. Oh well, people have been driving to Alabama to get vaccinated, as they had some looser requirements than Georgia for certain segments (teachers and clergy) until recently. Mississippi and the Cherokee Nation are both offering vaccines to all comers as well, which leads me to wonder if vaccine tourism is going to be a thing for a while.

I put both the wife and myself in pre-registration, thinking we might end up at the mass vaccination site in Clarksville. The wife pointed out that we should stagger our appointments, in case we both had to spend a day in bed with two kids running loose, and told me to get mine first. But she never got an email, so I ran her info through again. I immediately got her an appointment for tomorrow afternoon, in the next county over! So although I got my appointment first, she’ll get her shot first. I took Thursday and Friday off work, one day for the drive down (wow… I’ll be going somewhere!) and the next in case I need to rest up for the day.

We spent much of yesterday digging through the stuff stacked in the garage. Wife was getting inconvenienced at the narrow clearance between the stuff and her van. I found many things she was missing, filled a large garbage bag with trash, and stumbled across a cooler full of Caffeine Free Coke Zero and Diet Mountain Dew. It must have been The Boy’s, which means it was sitting there for well over a year. Several of the cans had lost pressure, and the cooler had a couple inches of yuck-colored fluid in it. I kept the good cans and put them in the fridge. The Coke Zeros are Mason’s, the others are mine.

With the van backed out, Mason decided to take up his dad’s skateboards. I showed him a video of how to do an ollie, and he was “that’s gotta be CGI or something.” I assured him no, I’d seen his dad do it, and explained the physics of it as best as I could. After an hour or so, Mason was able to get at least a little air!

So everyone is taking their best shots at FAR Manor. And I tell you, I will never be so happy to be stuck with a needle as I will be this Thursday.

Friday, March 05, 2021 No comments

Up too soon

Image source: openclipart.org
As Daughter Dearest has to be at school at way-too-early a.m., she drops AJ off at our place through the week. Wife gets the baby, she squawks on and off—sometimes waking me up, sometimes I integrate the noise into my morning dreams.

So the wife arbitrarily decided that I would get AJ on Friday not-quite-mornings. I didn't agree to that, or anything else, but whatever. Not that I would have said no if I’d been consulted about AJ in the morning, but nobody bothered to ask.

Thus, her 6 a.m. alarm went off. Some mornings, she’s in the living room recliner (having been put to sleep by the Hallmark Channel). Some mornings, she fumbles for the phone in our bed. And… on occasion, the phone goes off in the bathroom, while she’s in the living room, and I have to silence the mofo and give it to her.

But this morning, she was in bed, with her phone within easy reach. After a few minutes, she said, “AJ will be here any minute.”

Dropping plenty of F-bombs, I threw on a pair of long johns and a T-shirt, and staggered into the living room as I saw headlights drift by the window. I flipped on lights and got to the door in time for DD to bring Granddaughter Dearest in.

After Mama, AJ’s favorite person is Grandmom (but not by much). Granddad is down in the long tail, especially at 6-effing a.m. So when DD handed her over to Granddad, she started howling. DD’s hasty exit did nothing to settle the situation… fortunately, I did have a bottle handy. After some continued howling, she decided to chow down on the milk.

But it was too late. Rosie, aka Doofus, aka Stupidog, decided something was WRONG and hustled down the hall to jump on the wife. Charlie, who had staggered into our room some time during the night (which is unfortunately typical), was already up and around (“Hi, AJ! Hiiiiiiii!”). So wife got to sleep in for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. AJ immediately started howling again when Grandmom didn’t get her right away, but she was busy getting breakfast ready for both AJ and Charlie.

Wife turned on my coffee maker, but I opted to flop back into bed once she had AJ. I could always reheat my joe in the microwave, after all, and that’s what I did. Then I made espresso, and that got me through the rest of the morning.

To be honest, I hope that’s the last 6 a.m. wakeup call for me. I’ve never been a morning person.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021 No comments

A glut of meat

As I’ve said, there were a few upsides to the pandemic (for us, anyway). Avoiding restaurants, for one thing, meant we made a dent in our overloaded pantry and freezers. So there was space… fortunately.

As Mik Dragonrider observed, cattle are born knowing all profanity, and gladly teach it to anyone around them. Like people, adolescent cattle like to test boundaries. In their case, the boundaries are usually physical (i.e. fences). Younger calves can (and often do) slip between the barbed wire strands—the grass is always greener on the other side, after all. Larger calves, and full-grown cows with a taste for adventure, have to probe for loose (or broken) wires. The SOBs are always finding—or making—holes in the fences.

But one particular bull calf took a different approach. Instead of finding loose spots, he just jumped over the fence. Whenever he pleased.

Devolved T-rex
A digression: the parents of the Evil Twins have a friend who works in a chicken processing plant (a magical place where evil chickens become good chickens). Over the weekend, they brought us a box of whole (processed) chicken—seven in total, around 30 pounds of bone-in poultry. Fortunately, we have a vacuum sealer, and bagged the bounty. Three of them went to Daughter Dearest. I offered one to the preacher, and he said “Bring two, I'll smoke them and give you one back.” Works for me!

Back to the calf. We have a holding pen, where cows going to market get diverted, and somehow the wife got Jumpy in there. With grain and alfalfa pellets, he decided he preferred it to jumping out to the pasture. The family who re-roofed the manor, and generally hangs out with us, went in halfies with us on the calf. It helped that they have a trailer and a 4x4 pickup (it has been seriously soupy in the pasture, with all the rain this winter). The wife wielded a stick, and Jumpy found himself in a trailer. He tried to jump out a couple of times, but only banged his head against the lattice over the trailer.

While we were waiting for the processors to do their thing with Jumpy, the other family gave us a few packs of venison. Most of it is ground, but there are some tenderloin “medallions” in there. I refer to the latter as “douche steak,” because the wife uses a vinegar/water marinade (then rolled in bread crumbs and pan-fried… it’s really good stuff).

We have steak!
Yesterday, while Charlie was at his therapy session, the processor let the wife know Jumpy was ready to come home. We had anticipated this, and I chucked all of our coolers into the back of Moby Yo (the great white minivan) before she left. Of course, the processor had already boxed up the packages, so the coolers weren’t necessary, but better to have and not need than to need and not have, right?

We ended up with two boxes. One was all the really good stuff: brisket, ribeye, strip, filet, flank steak, one roast, and a few other cuts. The second box was ground chuck, still good stuff, partitioned into one-pound packs (perfect for us).

So, Jumpy’s last jump landed himself in our freezer. I did half-and-half venison and ground chuck yesterday evening for tacos, and the wife kept raving about how good it was (she was really hungry, but still). There are leftovers for my lunch, which is even better.

With all the beef and chicken in the freezer, I expect the wife will be craving pork before too long…


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