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Friday, February 26, 2021 1 comment

I want to ride my Franken-trike

With near-incessant rain earlier this month, we brought one of Charlie’s tricycles inside for him to ride when it’s too soupy to ride outside. He has a Radio Flyer “Fold and Go” (it folds up quite nicely for transport) and one I got off the Zon (it has a push/steering bar for a parent). Encouragement and getting bigger means he doesn’t need to be pushed quite so much, and he’s quite happy to hop off and push his trike around just for grins. The Fold and Go is the inside trike, when one is needed.

Lately, the wife has been requiring me to go with her to take hay to the cows. This usually involves a huge roll of hay, and it’s more convenient (for her) with someone else to cut the twine holding it together before she rolls it out in the pasture. Charlie comes to watch. I really ought to get video of her hay-dispersal technique; it takes quite a bit of coordination. The tractor has an end-loader attachment, except there's a five-foot spike in place of a scoop bucket. She spears the hay on it, takes it out to where she wants it in the pasture, and drops it off. Then she uses the spike like a huge fingertip to flick the roll down whatever slope is convenient (this is Georgia, flat ground is a rarity unless it’s been leveled).

But I digress. Earlier this week, after returning from a hay-dispersing session, Charlie jumped on his trike and began riding. “Uh,” he said, then spun the pedals. The trike didn’t move.

I pulled the front wheel off the fork, and had a look…

It’s broke, Jim.

“I’ve been expecting that,” the wife opined. “He keeps running it into things.”

Charlie was going “ride?” and making his sign for cycling, so I thought things over. Back in Mason’s day (or maybe earlier), we picked up a Mongoose trike at a yard sale. It was fine until one of the rear wheels broke, then it got put aside. I used the good rear wheel when Charlie parked his Zon trike too close to the edge of the driveway and Big V’s widower caught a wheel. So my first thought was maybe I can pull the front wheel off the Mongoose and Frankenstein a working trike. No such luck—the mounts are completely different. I briefly considered an entire fork swap, but that would require both the Radio Flyer and the Mongoose to have the exact same fork tube diameter. They’re close, but it would be a lot of work to verify…

But hey! Why not pull the rear wheels off the Radio Flyer and put them on the Mongoose?

Sparks fly!
Like pretty much anything else at FAR Manor, easier said than done. Fortunately, both of them have a 3/8" axle, so swapping wheels was no problem. Push nuts are common on walking-speed rolling things, and they are one of the rare exceptions of being easier to put on than take off. I tried prying it off with a screwdriver, yanking with pliers… and finally decided to order some new ones and get out the Dremel.

The Dremel already had a metal cutting wheel on it from the last job (and I can’t for the life of me remember what that was), so I let 'er rip. I was very careful, and put only a small notch in the plastic. It wasn’t necessary to cut all the way through the push nut; just grooving it was enough to weaken it to where I could pull it off with pliers. The axle was in a frame tube, so it slid out and I got the second wheel off for the price of one.

With the wheels off, I put the big wire wheel on a drill and skimmed the surface rust off the Mongoose’s axles:

This, of course, took longer to get the drill and mount the wire wheel than to do the actual work. I sprayed some lube on the axles, more to prevent re-rusting than reduce rolling resistance.

With the axles ready to go, it was time for a test fit. OOPS, the inside of the wheels rubbed against the step. Fortunately, it required only a pair of thick washers to add the needed space:

Just a little extra space was all we needed.

The second test fit left me satisfied, and I waited for a box of push nuts I ordered off the Zon to arrive. Then, I had to re-assemble everything after I turned my back and Charlie tried to ride it. Fortunately, I managed to find the outside washers (one outside the garage and one in the gravel driveway), and Dizzle (Sizzle’s #2 son) found the missing bearing.

The new push nuts didn’t want to cooperate—it was afterwards that I remembered a reviewer saying to use a socket to even out the force—so I found the old Mongoose push nuts and popped them on instead.

Ready to ride?

Yup! I moved the seat as far back as it would go for Charlie, but a little time with a drill press might let me move it back a little farther. The Mongoose’s pedals have a longer… throw? moment arm? than his other trikes, so he seems to be able to get a little more power out of it, letting him get up the driveway a little better.

I wonder how long it will be until he realizes he can stand on that back step and push with one foot…

Sunday, February 14, 2021 1 comment

Got root?

Life on a farm—or FAR Manor—is a constant hack-fest. Sometimes, heavy equipment is required (and at other times, the heavy equipment is the subject).

A few weeks ago, I talked about the yard expansion (and roof work). The driveway loop/guest parking/equipment yard was most of what the wife wanted… except for one little thing. There had been a gigantic white pine, almost straight out from the front door. The same lightning strike that fried our light switches (and DSL box), 3.5 years ago, also nailed that tree. It was still green, but dying from the top down. So, while Bobcat was working general mayhem on the scrub and other flora, I finally relented and had him drop the big pine.

All well and good, and I rented a stump grinder to level it out, but Bobcat “forgot” to deal with the roots. Several of them were as big around as a decent-sized tree in their own right, and made humps in the driving area. This did not please the wife at all, and she complained about it off and on pretty much all the time. Finally, I realized that she actually wanted a solution, not just a gripe-fest.

“Maybe we can dig up the roots and pull them out with a tractor,” I suggested at last. She dismissed the idea at first (it was my idea, after all), but then warmed up to it. And so, a semi-dry evening found me outside with a shovel and a crowbar, loosening dirt around the offending roots and tossing it out of the way, until we had room to slip a chain underneath.

A tractor pulls up a large tree root.
It has been raining a lot in the last week, and more was on the way (and more yet is to come). But the wife went and got a tractor, and I dragged the chain out of the big garage. We started with a smaller, “practice” root, only as big around as my upper arm. I used a chainsaw to disconnect it from the stump, then wrapped the chain around it and hooked it to the tractor. Hoist… and up it came!

Now for the main event… um, nope. I couldn’t get the chain to stay around the bigger root, because there was a small branch diving deeper into the ground right where I’d cut it loose. I dug around it, then chainsaw’ed the branch away (but left about an inch to help keep the chain in place).

As the root started coming up, the rain started coming down. We got the thing out of the ground, I slid the chain toward the middle, and then raked a mat of dirt and gravel off it. Finally, she carried it out of the way.

The rain got close to being a downpour, and the wife put the tractor in high gear to get it back to its dry garage as I bolted inside and hit my head with a hair dryer.

Root has been got
So we got root, at least part of it. There's another one, almost this big, still attached to the stump. If we get a few dry hours, I’ll get that one dug out and cut away. At that point, we might be able to pull up the rest the stump with the tractor.

Too bad it’s pine… it would have been great firewood.

Monday, February 08, 2021 1 comment

Mason Minecraft Monday

We don’t do these as often as we like, but on occasion Mason will show me something that reminds me to tell him to send screenshots.

He’s at that age where he picks up a new obsession about twice a week, on average. The current one is a (for him) nostalgia trip: he and The Boy used to play Star Wars: Battlefront when Mason spent weekends at his place. We got him his own copy of the game, and he has zeroed in on the vehicles. In some ways, he and Charlie have a lot in common.

Lately, he has started building various Star Wars gadgetry in Minecraft, and he sent me a few screenshots.

X-wing fighters

Y-wing ships


AT-AT (aka Imperial Walker)

He said to tell you, “It's my first one, and it's small, and I’m going to make a bigger one.” I think he means all of the above.

I need to hit Publish, because there’s only a few minutes left in Monday. But I hope to see more intersection between Minecraft and his Obsession of the (Half)-Week.

Monday, February 01, 2021 No comments

Adventures of a #techcomm geek: Go API

Image source: openclipart.org
A couple weeks ago, I got an email from a product manager:

Can you convert these API documents to our format?

Attached were three Weird documents. I let my manager know about the request; he told me to make sure we had rights (the documents were from an OEM, we’re marketing a re-badged version of their product), and to loop in the other writer on this product.

I looped in the other writer, who used to sit right across from me when we had those quaint “office” and “commute” things. While both of us thought it might be best to do it the “right” way—that is, convert the docs to DITA and publish them through our CCMS—we both figured replacing logos and changing names would be good enough.

We both expected the other to pick it up, I suppose, and I was doing other things. The upshot was, I forgot to ping him about it. So Monday came around, and nothing had happened. I groaned at the prospect of using Weird for something more than a two-page HOWTO document, then thought about the scripts I wrote for pulling in documentation through Markdown. “If it becomes too much of a hairball to clean up,” I told myself, “I can always replace the logos and change the product names.”

As it turns out, Markdown is quite adequate for API documentation. There was some cleanup involved, but not as much as I had feared. Global search and replace took care of a lot of it. Most of the manual cleanup was the same kind of thing anyone does when bringing someone else’s documentation into their system—improving topic titles, adding boilerplate… you know the drill. It took about a day to knock the three documents (total of 600 pages, give or take) into shape, and another day to tweak things.

I went ahead and fed the bookmaps to our transform. It was only after I got a decent-looking PDF that I realized: all the topics were still in Markdown. In retrospect, that wasn’t too surprising: the toolkit converts those topics to DITA (temporarily) before processing them. Markdown is a lot easier to deal with when you’re doing cleanup stuff anyway, and I finished that before doing the uplift.

So by Wednesday evening, I was ready to upload the converted documents into the CCMS. The upload tool is more finicky than Morris the cat, and it uncovered a couple more cleanup issues. I resolved those Thursday morning, and we now have clean DITA in the system.

And yay, I didn’t have to touch Weird!

By the way, the conversion scripts are on Github. Just in case you need to do something like this.


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