July 2011

It’s inevitable that I have to blog about the hot weather.  I think this may be the summer that breaks the great heat wave of 1980.  It’s been over 100 degrees for over 21 days so far.  Not all of those are consecutive but that’s only because one day some pop-up storms came through and lowered the temperature to around 99.  That doesn’t really count as relief.

This is some pretty serious heat along with really bad drought.  This could cost the state a lot of money that we don’t really have.

Oh, well.  It usually cools off by October.

As I was driving in to work, I noticed a lot of people standing around outside.  Naturally, I thought “What’s going on?”

Then I remembered: we got an email yesterday announcing that one of our aircraft would be flying past the hangar at low altitude early in the morning on the way to someplace else.


The business I work for just won a contract to take over the operation of this thing – it’s a modified DC-10.  Modified in the sense of having a large open port on the left-hand side; a large infrared telescope looks out this window.  The plane is too large to land (or, more importantly, take off) at our airport so it has to live elsewhere and it’s rare for us to see it here but apparently we were “on the way” on its flight today so it paid us a quick visit. Normally it lives at a former air force base in another state.

It was obviously a significant moment: even the guys in the control tower walked outside the tower and onto the railing for a clearer look (presumably the actual air traffic controller stayed inside).  There were a number of others standing around all over the airport – I don’t know how word gets out but I suppose the aircraft pilot files a flight plan with a request for a flyby so the other pilots find out. Possibly, other aircraft owners and businesses have air traffic control radios that they hear this stuff with.

Anyway, it was cool.

I have a fascination with hand tools and hand-work.  I’ve seen some very impressive work done with only hand tools and so I’ve slowly been accumulating some along with the skill to use them.  The skill part is pretty slow but I keep at it.

Recently I bought a drawknife at a junk store over in Jenks.  I’ve often seen Roy Underhill and other guests on his show go at it with a drawknife so I bought one myself.

The edge is pretty dull and has a nick or two in it.  I originally thought that this was pretty much a tool for rough work but I think a bit of sharpening couldn’t hurt plus it would give me practice at holding a constant edge.  The whole thing is curved in two dimensions so that rules out using any of the jigs I have or might build.  This is going to rely on just holding it right and holding the file/stone correctly.  I once watched a guy at Plimoth Plantation do this with a scythe and he managed to get that down to a razor edge – enough to cut grass with easily.  I’ll try to do what he did.  Of course people tend to make things easy that are not necessarily easy.  I’ve learned that over and over with guitar playing.

I’ll have to take photos and document the whole thing.  Or not; I find that when I get my head down into something like this, I don’t fancy stopping to take a photo.  Plus this is the sort of thing that gets my hands dirty and/or oily and that keeps me from touching my camera. 

Not sure how well this is going to go; I went at it with a file last night and I accomplished little except getting some corrosion off the edge.  No iron filings to be seen yet.

I made a woodgas camp stove this weekend.  It was pretty fun.

I’ve seen this project on instructables.com before and now the same one has appeared in Make magazine so I decided to make one of my own.

It burns sticks but its can-within-a-can design provides more air near the top in order to burn the smoke and soot as well and so it’s very clean burning.  It’s made from a paint can, a soup can, and a tuna can. 

There was something very satisfying about it; probably because it was quick and cheap and worked very well although I haven’t yet put a pot on it to boil water or anything.  I only burned some scraps of hardwood from my scrap bin.  Evan was excited since he’s into camping and it’s something he could pick up and use directly.

It’s been hot enough lately that we haven’t done too much outside; as little as possible in fact.  And yet things get done.

We’ve made numerous trips to this and that store buying things for Erin’s future dorm room.  That process goes on indefinitely as the dorm she’s moving to is old fashioned and has almost no storage space for anything.  This presents an engineering problem that both Erin and Melissa relish.

Mel has also sat down and made two photo albums/scrapbooks: one from the performance of Little Shop of Horrors and the other from Erin’s graduation.  The latter is still in-work but will be done shortly.

We’ve also been getting the cars all fixed up.  Erin’s car had a water pump fail and then the air conditioner.  After taking care of that we decided to deal with all the other little things on the other cars since Melissa is not working during the summer and we can therefore put one in the shop and not have any transportation issues.  So we put Evan’s car in (We had him drive over here and get my car and leave his) to have the door lock fixed and the upholstery repaired.  That upholstery thing was there when I bought the car all those years ago and I never bothered to fix it when I drove it and now after he’s been driving it for three years, I finally dealt with it.  He’s happy though.  Then there’s my current car which has three very annoying but relatively unimportant things that I finally decided to have fixed.  So when I give it to Erin to take off to college, it will be fully functional. 

It’s expensive but it feels good to have everything taken care of and working like it should.  Like I paid for it to function originally.

In the meantime, I’ve been building a desk to put in Evan’s room for me to do my projects on.  Evan took the one that was in there (not surprisingly) so I’ve had the opportunity to build another one to my exact specifications.  I don’t actually have any specifications – I just need a flat surface so I bought another slab door along with two two-drawer file cabinets to put it on and now I have a desk for about $100.  Not quite actually; I chose to use up the remains of a can of polyurethane varnish and make the desk top a little prettier.  At least stuff won’t soak into it and stain it now when I spill something.  

Then there’s the pile of books that have accumulated that I want to read.  And also the new song I want to learn to play on the guitar.  I’ve been doing all these things and have budgeted my time rather carefully to include it all. 

The guitar song is particularly frustrating for some reason but I’m slogging on hoping that one day my fingers will miraculously just do what they’re supposed to do.  I decided quite some time ago that you can’t claim to play an instrument if you only know two or three songs.  I figure you need to be able to pick up a guitar and play for at least one hour without repeating yourself in order to claim that you know anything.  I still can’t read music and play it without some study so I have to wait until I can play from memory. By this standard, I have a long way to go although I guess I could play for about 20 minutes at this point.  I can play four or five songs although two of them are a pretty rough in places. 

I make time for some of this by playing hooky from church.  I love my spare time and I’ve had a difficult time lately finding anything to interest me at church.  This is probably pretty common for people whose kids are going off to college; the kids are no longer heavily involved at church and we realize that much of what we’ve been doing at the church has been centered around them and now we’re re-evaluating what we want to do with ourselves from now on.  I have a theory that most people are not comfortable with their own thoughts and would rather be entertained by others.  They need to be around crowds of other people or entertained by the TV.  The church fills that role for these people but I have no trouble coming up with ways to entertain myself so it can be tough choice for me to go there as opposed to doing something else.

There are some large projects on the horizon.  Our house is over thirty years old and some things need to be addressed.  Especially if we intend to make good on our goal of moving to another house that we like better.  We’ll need new countertops and flooring in the kitchen for starters.

So life goes on; full of transitions and activities.  I am very glad at this time of year (that is, the hot time of year) that I hired someone to mow my lawn for me.  That’s an activity that I have never had much of a liking for.

I just paid around $500 to have all four brake sets redone on my car.  This is something I know how to do but just didn’t want to do.  But boy did I pay for it.

Disk brakes are pretty easy to deal with in principle.  I’ve replaced the pads several times on other cars as well as taking the disk rotors to Autozone to have them re-machined a time or two.  This is a really cheap thing to do but it tends to blow half a day what with taking them off, cleaning up your hands, driving another car to the parts place and then waiting several hours for all the other do-it-yourselfers ahead of you in line to get their rotors re-machined also. But that’s the classic trade-off: your time versus your money. 

This time though, I gave up.  I jacked the car up quite some time ago to check the pads.  The brake caliper is held on with only one bolt; remove this and you can swing the caliper out of the way and the pads are removed easily.  But that one bolt was on really tight.  I work at a desk all day and my arm strength is about what you’d expect for a scientist.  I therefore could not budge the bolt.  One can purchase a ‘breaker bar’ that will attach to the wrench socket that is nothing more than a longer lever arm. You can apply more force to the bolt that way but I don’t have one of those.  Presumably once I got it loose I would not put it back with such force and I would never need that breaker bar again. So why bother with it?  I sought out a piece of pipe that I could put over the wrench instead.  I have such a pipe but I found that with my car just barely jacked up off the floor (that’s as high as my jack will go), there was not sufficient space to swing the wrench-with-extension.  If the car had been on a lift, everything would have been possible but not in this geometry.

This has happened before; I had a Honda with a similarly stubborn caliper bolt and at that time I went and got my brother-in-law.  He then called his son and some friends and between the four of them, one of them had the arm strength to actually round off the bolt head with the wrench.  We then had to get a plumbers pipe wrench which completely buggered up the bolt itself.  In light of this, I concluded that the mechanic was the one to give this job to in the future.  They must have some special way of loosening those Honda caliper bolts. They also have a lift they can use to give themselves not only a more comfortable position to work but the space to swing the large wrenches. Not to mention the pneumatic tools to force things when arm strength is not enough.

Then I discovered that Autozone does not re-machine rotors any more.  That was the last straw. As much as I love self-sufficiency, sometimes I just give up.

So I pay a fortune like everyone else.  In light of the troubles I’ve had, perhaps that price is pretty reasonable.

It has gotten hot already and there is little evidence that it will cool off any time soon.

Normally June is pretty nice and for a few years there it was relatively cool.  Usually it gets hot permanently in July and by that I mean into the mid 90’s.  Then in late July you can expect a day over 100 and several such days in August.  Not this time.

It’s been over 100 for a week or more and no end in sight.  On those days it’s been less than 100, it has been 97 or more.  On these days, Mel and I tend to act like we do in the middle of the coldest part of winter: we stay inside and watch TV.  One of the people I follow on twitter has already said “OK people.  Enough with the posting photos of your car thermometers.”  I’ve been trying to get some projects done like practicing my guitar and building some electronics projects but Evan left with the desk and I haven’t built another one yet.  Plus, Erin came home with the first two seasons of Big Bang Theory borrowed from a coworker and I’ve gotten addicted to watching those. I find much that I can relate to.

I did get one small project done: Erin’s wand.  She’s going to the premier of the Harry Potter movie along with a bunch of other people.  She’s had her ticket purchased for over a month.  They don’t usually do this but they’re going to dress up.  It’s easy for them because they still have their robes from graduation.  She crocheted a Gryfindor style scarf and asked me to make her a wand on “my spinning thingy”, i.e., my lathe. So I got out early last Saturday morning to take care of that before it got too hot. (BTW, all my turning tools are so dull that they almost don’t work.  There’s something else I have to take care of.)

My biggest problem with the heat is the sweat that runs down my forehead and into my eyes.  For this I have always employed a sweat band around my head but ever since John McEnroe retired from tennis these have been hard to come by.  I finally found one on Amazon that advertises to be the best of the breed.  I bought one to test it and if it works I will stock up.  I don’t like hats that much for this purpose; I have to pull them down so far that they get annoying vis-à-vis my glasses. If this doesn’t work I have toyed with the notion of applying underarm antiperspirant to my forehead.  This is definitely one of those first-world problems and as such I don’t put too much thought into it except when I see something on the “cool tools” website touting the “best sweatband”.

Evan had returned home for that day in order to keep an appointment at the optometrist so I had a second opinion as to how it looked.  It looked good.  A quick application of stain, some shellac, and it was ready to swish and flick.  Wingardium Leviosa!

So the high heat isn’t so bad after all.  Unless I have to go outside.

I never like it when July 4th falls on a Monday and yet we managed to have a good time.

I guess the prime advantage was that nobody could decide when to have their fireworks displays so they were scheduled for every night of the weekend.  We could have gone somewhere to see fireworks every night of the long weekend although I’ve seen so many fireworks I’m starting to lose interest. 

Evan came home for Mel’s family hoorah.  Her sister has recently moved into a new house and so her and her husband wanted to show it off.  A holiday is a good occasion to invite everybody plus her birthday is on the 3rd so there’s another reason to have a party.  We had the usual meat and detonations and I brought the ice cream maker over and made up a batch of vanilla ice cream.  Somebody else brought two strawberry rhubarb pies and those two make an excellent combination.

In recent years, Bass Pro Shop has built a store on a hill just off the expressway and this has spurred a lot of related growth there.   As a result, there are parking lots on top of the hill where we went on Sunday night to sit and watch fireworks from horizon to horizon.  The biggest were at Rhema Bible College which always has a carnival although since they are a fundamentalist evangelical college, they don’t call it that.  They are careful to avoid any name that may have its origins in a pagan celebration.  As a result, I can’t remember what they call it and neither can anybody else.  We just call it the Rhema Fireworks.  Both Evan and Erin have gone to the carnival part several times with friends and say it’s fun.  Kind of like the state fair without the squalid rides and dishonest games.  Mel and I just go park somewhere close and watch the fireworks.

Erin really likes buying our own fireworks and shooting them off in the street in front of the house.  We bought a few but got back so late Sunday night that we felt guilty setting them off (I tried to buy only ‘pretty’ stuff but several of them let off piercing shrieks).  Note that we did it anyway. She had to work on the actually 4th and when she got off, went to a friend’s house and so wasn’t around to do any fireworks with me, hence the early fireworking.

That left Monday (the actual 4th) as a ‘rest up and get ready to work tomorrow’ day.  Evan though is 21 and does not need rest so we went to see “Cars 2” which he had been wanting to see and which none of his friends are interested in.  We also attempted to go to dinner at a restaurant and realized that we had never before done that and we learned that many, if not most, restaurants are closed.  We found one at last and then sent him off to Fayetteville. 

Mel and I went home to watch some fireworks on TV from New York and Washington but I got distracted by the actual fireworks going off in the neighborhood.  A larger than normal number of people had apparently spent a lot of money and were setting off some pretty big stuff.  I found a spot from which I could see three separate parties and watched for some time.  I was with one of our nicer neighbors but he’s quite a gossip and I quickly tire of all that sort of conversation so I just excused myself and went home to bed but the booms continued long into the night. I felt sorry for all the terrified dogs in the town.