Monday, May 30, 2016

More like Labor Day!!


At least it's a day of labor for some residents here in Central Texas.

Courtesy of the many Sky-is-Falling news services, some of you may have heard that we've been getting lot's of rain around here. (I know my Mom did because she called to see if we'd floated away.) Well that's true. In fact since the New Years festivities we have been 'blessed' with all but1of our 40.31 inches of annual average rainfall for 2016.

Not so good for some of us (The 19 inches that fell in April meant we detoured around several washed out roads and bridges for most of May.) but for others it works out pretty well.

For us American humans Memorial Day might be an official holiday, but for the oh so imaginatively named Black and Yellow Mud Dauber, the combination of saturating rains and red clay is a bonanza that can't be ignored and their work goes on.




No, she hasn't been called to prayers, besides Mecca is in the other direction. No, she's checking out the consistency of the clay just outside the barn door here.



Finding it to her liking she digs up a little extra moisture and mixes it in with her mandibles



Then dives head-first into the deliciously gooey mass,shoveling up a ball of it.  This step only takes a moment before she pops back up and, using her front set of legs, folded tightly to her body here in the photo above, clutches a ball of mud about 4 times the size of her head close up under her chin while flying off to the building site.

This whole process, especially the final step between head-dive and fly away, happens pretty fast and after much patience - well, as much as I had today - and a whole lot of wasted shots, I never was able to capture the laden flight - but that would have been really cool. . .





This is her destination, up under a shelf only about 10 feet from where she's excavated her building material.

At this stage the delicate little tube she's building has the consistency of fresh clay because - well - it's fresh clay. But one more trip to seal up that crack to the left, then a little time to dry and firm up while she's off hunting, and she'll be ready to stuff as many as a dozen tiny spiders way down into the bottom, turn around and back into the tube, deposit an egg, then seal up the opening.

If she likes this location she'll then build another tube on top of this one, then one on top of that one, and so on; because for her this is not a holiday, this is real life!



Sometimes you have to wonder though. This photo shows a fist sized condominium and for some reason the engineer thought the tread of a tractor tire made for a perfect location. . . Talk about an impending un-natural disaster!!



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Indignity of Pregnancy!


Yesterday the deer didn't turn up under the feeder in the morning like she has been lately. Could be she was just having a lye-in, but when she hadn't shown by late afternoon I wondered if she was dealing with a new-born fawn, in which case it would be several days before we saw her again.

I wandered the property and from afar checked out the spots I know she's been bedding down, but nothing. Then just as I was sharing my speculation with the wife the doe turned up under the bird feeders. By then it was a little dark for photos but she showed up a little earlier today (But still not until later in the day.) and I was able to photographically document a couple of the indignities of being pregnant.



First, pregnancy plays hell with the girlish figure!!



I mean where the hell did that come from??!!!



Yet even with all that extra room in there, the evil creature inside wants more! I don't know if that's a foot or nose or elbow, but I do know that's one heck of a lot of pokin' going on!



And I know it's barely visible in this still photo, but I stood there for several minutes (She was hanging around so in case I had the urge to throw more corn it wouldn't go to waste. Wasn't that thoughtful of her?) and watched that pokey bulge move all over as if looking for a way out. (Remember Alien??!) At one point there was two of those bulges moving around side-by-side. Freaky!!



And this has nothing to do with deer or pregnancy or aliens, but as I was standing there taking photos of the former this guy flew in and landed at the pond, which is pretty unusual.  Not the having him in the pond part, that happens fairly often, but these guys are very jittery and usually won't fly in and land if I'm standing out in view. In fact I have lots of fuzzy photos of them flying away because that's usually what they do if they're already down there when they see me.

OK, after taking that photo above the doe decided I wasn't going to throw anymore corn and moved on. (Corn is fine as a treat but unhealthy as a substitute for their normal diet so I only throw out a handful.) But in the time it's taken to process the photos and write this entry, she decided to come back and play the short-term memory loss card. She's standing on the hill above the feeders with her head down staring at me. "What da ya mean I already had some?!!!  I don't remember that!! Now give me some more!"


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hornswoggled !


OK, I understand MS's need to constantly upgrade (How else are you going to monetize your efforts?) I even understand the desire to drop older OS's from the supported list. (I come from the UNIX world but the drivers are the same. I mean drivers as in incentives not drivers as in interfaces, which are clearly different.) But this bully crap is getting old!

Because I see no need to perpetually chase the latest and greatest unless there is a clear advantage to me (And just because it's good for some megacorp doesn't count.) my laptop is about 6 years old and still running the same OS it came with. Up until about two hours ago my wife's laptop, more like 9 years old and tethered to the wall now because it's battery-less (Just don't see the need to spend the money for a new battery pack.) was also running the original OS.

Oh sure, MS has been reaching out and flicking our ears every few days (Upgrade to windows 10 and reap the many benefits we didn't bother selling you when you bought version 8 and you don't really need anyway but our marketing crap sure makes it sound good!!) but we've just been spritzing a little bug-spray at the damn thing and making it go away.

But apparently now MS is flinging shiny little windows like Frisbees, or maybe it's those pointy Kung-Fu star thingies, at the heads of those of us that dared to ignore them so far!

Despite no change in our personnel policy of ignoring this upgrade, when my wife turned her laptop on this afternoon she was informed that the windows 10 upgrade was almost complete and all she had to do was sign the agreement.  Now you have to admit, this was a pretty good trick since the router and satellite modem, our only available connection to the outside world, had both been physically turned off for nearly 24 hours, and her system had been shut down during that time too.

Being even less MS-literate than I am she carefully backed away and left it like that while she came looking for me. I sat down, read all the fine print on the screen and said hell no! I didn't agree to this crap!

But it turns out the bully has a bigger stick than me. . .

When I clicked <don't agree> the sucker stepped back and showed me the same screen all over again. I tried some of my old UNIX tricks like booting to a previous kernel, or booting in safe mode, but my stick just wasn't big enough and I always ended up staring at that same screen (Agree or you die!!!)

So now we've been half-choked by having windows 10 crammed down one of our laptop's throats. (And frankly it didn't taste very good!)

But I do feel one small sense of victory.

Other than E-mail, the main activity on my wife's laptop is freecell, sometimes for hours at a time. (I've seen her stats get up into the thousands of games won with zero lost.) but when I went searching through this new realm there was no such thing to be found. Oh there was plenty of crap out there. Zippy games with all sorts of flashy graphics and very annoying audio, Most of which we had to be online to play, in other words the kind of stuff that teenage girls and pre-pubecent boys of all ages can't get enough of, but since nether of us are either of these anymore, that just wasn't going to fly!

I finally broke down and turned the sat-modem on so I could expand my search beyond the local box and discovered that she would be graciously allowed to play a reasonably plain version of freecell under the new regime but only if she subjected herself to 15 to 30 second adds periodically (They didn't seem too eager to define just what timeframe 'periodically' covered. Big surprise!) or paid a monthly ransom to make the adds go away.

Well hell! I would have thought that would be completely unacceptable to even the meekest of conformists! But not to worry. A couple more minutes of searching and I found a download that promised to restore a free, plain-ol' version of freecell, even under the tyrannical rule of 10.

The package comes with a whole bunch of classic games but since freecell is the only one she uses I unclicked all the rest and did the download/install. Not only did she get her original version of freecell back, add free with no demand for ransom, but it picked right up on the stats file that was in effect before this forced upgrade!

Take that you windows bully!!

At the time I didn't make note of just where this game download came from, but truth is it only took a minute's worth of searching to find it so it's not like the thing is buried deep in the darknet somewhere.



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Prenatal Care



Not sure it's often prescribed for human mothers-to-be, but the expectant doe seems to crave a handful of field corn once a day. In fact, if I forget she'll come stare in the window until she guilt's me into tossing some out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Backsplash that Gave a Little Backtalk


No sooner had I finished up my Mobile Hobby Station when I started getting a harebrained really cool idea.



The backsplash in The Van is, and has been, a perfectly serviceable backsplash, but you have to admit, it is firmly entrenched over there on the boiled-white-rice side of the bland spectrum.

The serving tray and splash of color from the potholders do their best to spice things up (Get it? Kitchen - spice??) but it's still not what I would call caliente. (Get it? Kitchen - hot -- oh never mind. . .)



The Van's decor has always keyed off the rugs for both color and design elements. (I bought two sets of these rugs to account for wear over time without having to change the whole decor, since experience has shown that it will be impossible to find the same rug again when the first set wears out.) When I was building the cabinet doors I took one of the rugs into the paint department and had a whole bunch of little jars of paint mixed up to match (Sort of, but close enough.) its various colors. Then, when I built the cupboard doors, I painted the door-panels to mimic the rugs. To keep the theme going, the towels, sheets, and even the blanket also key off the rugs.

Well at some point while I was building it, I noticed that the base color of the Mobile Hobby Station was a fairly decent match for the deeper red of The Van's decor, and I really liked how rich and interesting the faux leather-look - well - looked.

It was  about this time that the rusty little gears inside my head groaned and squealed to life. Always a dangerous situation.




Now I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble and time by throwing up a little masking tape around the edges and just painting the backsplash, it would be pretty much like one of those feature walls that are all the rage these days, (Actually I could have saved myself any trouble at all by just leaving well enough alone, but apparently there's something in my DNA that denies me the sensible way out.) but nooo! As usual I was plagued with wanting something fancier than that and, as usual, gave in to the urge!!

 So instead of doing the sensible thing I slapped some butcher paper up and started swinging a pencil around like I knew what I was doing. Luckily no one else was within range or they might have gotten stabbed, or at least penciled.



With a plan as much in my head as on paper, I went back to the workbench, grabbed my 24" flexible curve (If you're wondering why I have a 24" flexible curve you'd have to go way back to the days of pencil-on paper drafting and my boat-building projects.) and adjusted my less than elegant penciled curves into something a little more graceful,




and transferred those curves onto a handy scrap of hardboard. With one side of each curve laid down I hand-drew the other side to form what would eventually become 'borders' for my new backsplash.



Once the various curved border pieces were roughly drawn in, five of them in all, I crudely sliced the hardboard into manageable chunks and retired to the bandsaw for a long, careful, squinty session to finish them up.



With all the pieces cut, but left extra long, I taped them temporarily in place starting over on the left, trimming them to fit as I went. (A lot of back and forth between The Van and the bandsaw!!)

The next step was to sand each piece thoroughly through three different grits, rounding over the edges as I went so in the end they would resemble fired tile more than sawed wood. This had to be done very carefully because the 1/8th inch thick hardboard is not the sturdiest of materials when it's cut into such delicate little pieces. (I swear there must be something wrong inside my brain to keep getting myself into things like this!!)

I won't bore you with endless photos, but once sanded I primed each piece, front and back, sanded again, then painted them using a variety of colors from my collection of little jars from the cabinet door project. And for even more variety and interest I blended two or more colors across several of the pieces. Regardless, each got two color coats for coverage and a third clear-coat for durability.

 

But before that, while I had all the pieces taped up in place, I ran a pencil line down both sides of each one. Now that I knew where the pieces went up on the backsplash I could start to mask things off for the main painting project. By masking right down the middle of where each piece fit I accomplished a couple of things. First off, I didn't have to use up any of my expensive artists curve tape trying to lay down a perfect masking line right along the pencil mark. Second, by masking down the middle of where the curved pieces will go, I can make the inevitable adjustment as I permanently mount them without risking exposing an edge.



Once I had everything masked and the T-molding pulled out of the way (That's it hanging there in the bottom right of the photo.) it was time to paint the backsplash itself.

Now let's just say that applying finishes is not my strong point, and this project reminded me of that. (More like beat me repeatedly over the head until I went down then stomped the crap out of me!!)

I have chosen to keep any alleged photos of the painful process, including the epic fail, to myself, but if you remember from the Mobile Hobby Station creating the fake-leather look is a multi-step process that includes a base color followed by a stippled black glaze.

The original backsplash is Melamine and I wasn't sure how it would take this particular paint, one of those two-in-one primer-color paints, so after scrubbing the whole area down well with alcohol I brushed on a small test patch and let it cure overnight. The next morning I rubbed at it with my fingers and it seemed to stay in place just fine.

Yes, of course I knew better, but hell, my test sample was sticking and who am I to pass up skipping a few steps now and then!!! (Oh the complicated life of the stupidly optimistic. . . )

I spent the next two days carefully applying two coats of the base color.

That went just fine, but on the third day everything went all to hell.

I had just begun to apply the glaze. starting over in the corner and planning to work my way out from there, when I just barely ticked the adjacent wall with the edge of the stippling brush. To my horror a one inch triangular flap of the base color peeled right up!!

Ten minutes later I had peeled the entire two days worth of paint job off, wadded it up into a rubbery mass and threw it away; with feeling I might add. . . It came off in sheets requiring nothing more exotic than my fingers, all except for that little test patch that is. For some damn reason that little bit of paint held tight enough that I had to scrape it off!

Thoroughly disheartened but too far into it to back out now, I grabbed a couple sheets of sandpaper and proceeded to make one hell of a mess sanding some 'tooth' into the Melamine in the hopes that I could get the paint to stick next time. The Melamine sanded easily enough, but it produced a finer-than-talc dust that ended up everywhere, so everything got put on hold as I turned a couple of buckets of clear water milky white and produced an impressive pile of used rags as I washed everything inside The Van down. (I just noticed this morning that there was still a dusty white thumbprint on the fan switch for the vent!)

OK, I've dwelled on my epic fail long enough. My second try at painting the backsplash, done entirely by brush instead of the quicker roller application to ensure I got the paint laid down well into the 'tooth', worked much better than the first, although I took special care to be thorough when cutting the paint at the mask-line before pulling the tape away. No sense in pushing it!!



Now, three wasted days later, all I had to do was get all my little curved border pieces mounted up where they belong.

That might look like I've spread white glue on the back of the piece above, but it's actually calking. It's a trick I've used before when mounting things, especially small things, that won't have any significant forces applied to them later.

Think about it, Not only will it protect the back of my hardboard pieces from the inevitable splashes, calk, at least high quality calk, is formulated to stick tightly to a variety of surfaces so time and abuse doesn't pull it loose, so, though it usually doesn't say so on the packaging, calk is actually fairly adhesive. And when spread thinly like in the photo above the calk is a lot less messy than most glues.

The trick to dealing with any spills or squeeze out is plenty of water and a constant supply of fresh rags. Of course this is also true of many glues but in my experience even when you think you've done a good job of wiping up glue, it often leaves a subtle trace behind. Calk seems to clean up a lot better and by using clear calk, any excess that does get missed won't show that much anyway.



When working alone, as I usually do, Power Poles or third hands come in handy and I have a variety of lengths on-hand from ceiling high to these shorter, stand-on-the-counter-and-hold-the-uppers-in-place-while-I-get-that-first-screw-in. But turns out that even my shortest were still too long for the condensed dimension between The Van's counter and uppers, so I ended up cutting a couple of them down by three more inches. There's two nested tubes plus the solid center rod that can be jacked up by squeezing the handles inside there so it takes a lot of cutting!



Calk's adhesive qualities kick in pretty quickly and it grips faster than most glues, but even so, until cured it can't be fully trusted on it's own and I didn't want to leave a bunch of nail holes behind, so using some blocking, a couple of the shortened Power Poles as braces, and several hand-clamps configured into the push instead of squeeze mode I installed the border pieces one at a time, clamping, or more like bracing, each one for several hours before going onto the next.

Before bracing though, I pushed each piece in place, hard, by hand and cleaned up any squeeze-out with little torn bits of damp paper shop-towels, using each piece for just one swipe to avoid making more mess than I was cleaning up.

(If you look close at the base of the nearest Power Pole you can see a white smear. That's a dab of calk I smeared on there so I wouldn't have to guess at the cure-time. Once the smear was completely clear I could assume that the calk had cured enough to keep the border piece in place.)



Eventually, finally, I got all the border pieces installed



and after more time and effort than anticipated,


The Van's backsplash isn't boring anymore.



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

All Gussied Up


The competition out there in the singles scene is tough

 

so, although already an exceptional beauty, 

Matilda  got out her best neon green lipstick and prepared for battle.



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mobile Hobby/Craft Station


The Situation:    In addition to my larger scale projects I also dabble in small scale stuff; literally; like 1:160 scale in the form of N-scale model railroading.

The Issue:     Assembling a branch-line railroad station that measures something like 4" x 1.5" and stands less than 2" high does not mix well with projects like a 10' x 10' greenhouse with a 7' peak, or even a 4' x 2.5' kitchen island that stands 40" high. The tools aren't the same, little scale parts that took hours to assemble get stuck to the bottom of full-sized paint cans and disappear forever, and whole miniature buildings get crushed to little splinters by a single dropped drawer-front. (Go ahead, ask me how I know this and put me into a bad mood, I dare you!!)

The Solution:     Build a dedicated Hobby Station

The Criteria:     It will hold all my modeling crap, or at least the majority of it. It will be on castors and rolled to where needed when needed, including the ability to roll through standard sized doorways in case I want to work in the air-conditioned living quarters during the summer. It will have lots of partitions to neatly store all the little bits and pieces that my hobby requires, plus include a 'workbench'. It will close up tight to protect everything when not being used. Oh, and it needs to look good in the process.




I've always been attracted to self-contained and portable things and I'm old enough to be drawn to what nowadays we call 'mid-century' chique; you know, that good stuff from when I was a boy unjaded by an excess of years and a few aches and pains.

Initially I thought of something that could pass for one of the old camp-kitchens, but quickly realized that was not going to be large enough for all my modeling crap, (Besides that tiny little tripod stool looks about as comfortable as the original hard-shell seat that came on my bike!)










so I switched my concept over to those old steamer trunks used by the privileged when they traveled via luxury cabins in the steam-ship and passenger-train era, the kind of trunks that were really a portable walk-in closet, the epitome of self-contained and portable.










I started the project by acquiring a variety of plastic  drawers that I can store all sorts of little parts in and have at least one chance in hell of finding them again!

I know, I know, really? plastic?!! But the hard truth is that would be lighter, frankly less expensive, and take a whole lot less effort, than if I built 39 (Yep, count em, 39) of my own drawers from scratch, so give me a break!








Once I had my collection of drawers in hand and knew the sizes I had to accommodate, I designed a 'trunk' to go around them that includes a drop-down work surface with space left over for long, skinny things like sections of track.















The carcass of the trunk was actually pretty straightforward



















and I built it out of two sheets of furniture grade plywood.

I then installed a total of 8 castors, decent castors, (Nothing worse than trying to move something around on cheap-ass castors!) and gave the carcasses a good finish of primer inside and out, topped with semi-gloss white on the inside.










At this point I could have just finished the outside of the two carcasses with the same white semi-gloss, slapped on some hinges and a couple latches and called it done, but apparently it's not in my nature to do things the easy way. (I know, crazy. I think maybe it's a disease.)

In an attempt to keep them light, (Presumably in case there was no cheap labor handy to shlub them around.) steamer trunk bodies were usually made of pressed paper or, for the more elite, leather, and relied on braced strapping for structure. In my case I clearly didn't need this strapping, but since I was going for the look, leather and strapping it is.







For my own personal version (Read cheap) of expensive old leather on a budget I stared with a base layer of shockingly bold red paint with a suspicious hint of pink to it, (Yeah, I know. I was questioning my artistic decision making process about this time too!)















then 'stippled' over that with a black glaze to get something that, if you use your imagination anyway, looks like antique dyed leather.

I'm not sure if it actually came out looking decent, or if I was just so invested in the process by this time it had to look good, but it looks good doesn't it.













I will point out that the 'official' stipple brush for this process costs a whopping $26!  Being a cheap bastard I went one aisle over and bought three $1.50 brushes that, to my eye and touch anyway, used the same sort of bristles as the expensive sucker, and with a few cents worth of electrical tape made my own stipple brush.







I had the top of one of those big old wooden dining tables squirreled away. You know the kind, with thick, heavy turned legs and wooden slides to open it up for the leaf.

Unless it's a true Pennsylvania or some such antique, most of these have been made someplace in Southeast Asia of an Asian hardwood of some sort, and this one was no exception.






So I turned some of that table-top into strips that I then milled into pieces that would eventually become 'straps' for my trunk.


Through the milling and sanding process I made sure to leave some, OK, a lot, of the toolmarks and added a bit of my own distressing with a variety of heavy objects applied forcefully.






Though the straps in this photo are still raw, I did apply a three-step finish, starting with a light coat of clear poly. The poly helped keep the generous slathering of black walnut stain that came next from digging into the grain too deeply. I partially sanded away the walnut once it was dry so what was left emphasized the grain, tool marks and defects. The final step was a pecan stain that evened things up and gave the straps a warmer glow as seen in the next photo.


With a little careful measuring, glue and pin-nails, I fastened the strapping to the carcasses.

But I wasn't happy with the large un-strapped expanse across the backs, so I milled and finished a bit more strapping to break it up as can be seen in some of the photos below.





The next step was a real puzzler for a while. Normally trunks like this have corner braces wrapped around the corners (Duh, where else would you wrap a corner brace?) of the strapping to hold everything together. I found some reproductions but they were something like $8 each and I needed 16 of them!!  Sorry but that's not going to happen on my budget!






So I cheated.

I started with a roll of left over galvanized flashing I had laying around.











Played around with some patterns until I had one I liked,











used that to make a wooden template and used the template and a awl to mark the shape on 18 small pieces of the galvanized flashing. (A couple extra just in case.)

The sharp edges of the flashing make this a process not without it's dangers. (Hint: that's not paint on the template!)








A trip to the bandsaw followed by the drill press and I had the raw material for my corner braces, but it's stating the obvious to say that they looked a little flat. (I'll leave it to you to decide if the pun was intended or not. . .)

Under the raw brace in this photo, hard to see against the black metal of my bench-mounted pattern maker's vice, is a small sheet of 1/4 inch thick hard rubber. The slightly malleable rubber let me beat the crap out of the pieces I had just formed, leaving them with a vaguely hand-forged appearance.








Now of course shiny bright galvanizing has no place on an antique steamer trunk, but not to worry, I had a plan.

Not wanting to get into the whole hot blackening treatment thing with boiling oil and tongs and flames and all, I followed the abuse-by-hammer step with a copper colored undercoat (Which the camera has looking rather silvery here.)













and finished that off with a thick application of the same black glaze I used on the carcasses.


















A careful bend in the middle and the same blackening treatment on some screw-heads to represent the rounded rivets that would have been used back in the day, and for about two hours of work and a few pennies each, I had my corner brackets
















































Now the trick was to join the two carcasses into a single trunk.

Same story on reproduction hinges; way too much money for my budget.

So I got some plain old strap hinges from the hardware and promptly beat the crap out of them, this time on top of an old oak stump down by the tractor barn, to give the impression of hand-forging.


















Again with the copper and black glaze routine





























and the carcasses finally looked something like a trunk.

In this photo, if you look close at the bottom, you can see how the adjacent castors under the center of the trunk, admittedly barely visible, are spread out far enough that they don't interfere with each other when - well - castoring. Each pair can spin a full 360 degrees without impediment.











I'm not terribly happy, in fact not happy at all, with the latches I was able to come up with so I think I'll be making a trip or two to architectural salvage places while trying to come up with something better.

If I end up with some screw holes showing after replacing these latches with something I like better I'll just blacken the holes and call it the effects of wear and repairs over the years.





 A few remaining details, like mounting some full-extension draw-slides with a bracket assembly fastened to them to support the drop-down work surface, (No, I wasn't playing poker out there in the workshop. I use the playing cards, each of which is slightly more than 1/128th of an inch thick, as temporary shims when trying to get something aligned just right, such as when mounting the drawer-slides parallel to the fixed shelf above them,)






installing the work-surface and hanging a couple cheap battery powered touch-lights,



















and my mobile hobby station is ready to go at a moment's notice.
















And when it isn't that moment, the whole thing quietly curls up out of the way, doesn't need feeding and never craps on the floor.

In the end, the proportions of the trunk are a little off, It's just a little too wide across the hinge line for the height, but that was dictated by the size of the various plastic bins and apparently the designers of said bins didn't bother consulting with me before settling on dimensions.

Maybe changing out those whimpy latches for something more period and adding some big leather strap-handles will help, but I'm not sure I really managed to pull off the steamer-trunk look here.

But hey! So far it functions just as hoped and that's a good thing.