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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.


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