Monday, December 5, 2016

I Made a Thingy

So I was recently cooking up the new batch of beer for Christmas, and needed to make a yeast starter. That consists of boiling a couple liters of water with a couple cups of malt extract, cooling it all down in an ice bath, and then letting yeast do their thing for a day or two - thereby turning one little vial of yeast into a much larger amount of yeast, primed and ready to go to town on the beer. Lots of happy yeasties make for better beer.

Key to getting the best, healthiest, and most yeast cells is oxygenation. Short of having an oxygen tank bubbling through the mixture (which I could in fact do, but dragging my welding cart in to the kitchen might result in objections, and it's too cold for the yeast out in the garage) frequent stirring is the next best method. So every hour (or whenever I happened to think of it, which was in practice a lot less frequent than hourly) I'd give the container a thorough swirl; the yeast clearly loved it, but it was a pain to have to do this repeatedly. "I wish I had a stir plate" I said. I've said this before. Yesterday I decided to get ready for the next time.

A magnetic stir plate is really pretty straightforward. It's a motor, with a magnet on top. Now you can get fancy and add speed control, or a heater, or a nice case to put it in... but the basic function is simple, and I figured the parts were already lying around the garage.

I had several old computer fans in a box, so I grabbed the biggest one. They're already speed-controlled to about the right speed for this. Hm, what has a big magnet? Why, an old hard drive of course! They have a couple of super-powerful magnets, and I have a big stack of dead hard drives from which I could scavenge. I also keep a box of assorted power supplies, so I easily found a 12VDC wall-wart to wire up to this.  A few screws from the hardware store (but only because I didn't have anything long enough lying around), some foamcore from the craft closet, and a layer of Rapid Ingenuity Tape (Thanks Greg!) and voila - one ugly but highly-functional and super-cheap stir plate! Ta da. A thingy.




Saturday, December 3, 2016

Strange noises on the roof

Last weekend, we heard a strange skittering on the roof, sort of like a million tiny claws tap dancing.  "Must be a critter up there," said Chad.  I was busy, so didn't think much of it.

Monday rolls around.  I'm doing the bills after a windy morning bike ride.   "Skitter skitter skitter skitter...."  45 minutes of annoyance.  I finally went up on the roof to investigate.

No critter.  Fine -- the dumb squirrel or whatever must have jumped off.  I cleaned out the drain grates while I was up there.

Back inside, ten minutes later.  "Skitter, skitter, skitter, skitter!"  Or is it "pop, crackle, pop, pop"?  Now my mind is interpreting the sound as something horrible happening to the foam roof.  We had had some work done on the interface between the edge of the house and the patio cover to fix a leak the previous week, and now all I could imagine in the face of this weird sound was the adhesive unsticking and pulling bits of foam roof off.

Back up to investigate.  No horrible self-decomposition of roof occurring.  No critter.  No apparent weird noises any more.   Hmmm.   In the face of nothing to react to, I headed back inside to eat lunch.

"Skitter, skitter, skitter, pop, pop, skitter, pop, skitter, pop, pop, pop....."   Argh.  I finally took the ipad up on the roof to sit and work there to see if the sound would come back if I waited long enough.  Besides, there was nice warm sun to bask in up there.

Warm until the wind came up, that is.   "Whoosh!"  "Skitter skitter skitter pop pop!"

Where is it coming from????

Then I really looked around and saw that the roof was covered with small bits of plant matter.  These tiny 1/4-inch diameter fruits were rolling around every time a gust of wind came up, making surprisingly loud skittering and bouncing noises as they blew across the foam roof.

Hmmmm....never seen these before.  Never noticed the noise in previous years.  No new big trees in the neighbors' yards.  Where are they coming from?

I looked up one more time and saw this:
See the clump of fruits hanging down from the neighbor's palm tree?  Apparently it decided to fruit for the first time in the eight years that we have lived here.  Mystery solved!

Ok, mystery solved, and I don't have to hunt down any rabid varmints or engage in roof repairs, but there really isn't anything to be done about the fact that the noise of dates raining down and bouncing across the roof is DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Coastal Anniversary

I ran across the pictures from our quick anniversary getaway weekend this morning and realized I hadn't posted any, so here they are.

It was a gloriously sunny fall weekend, so we headed up through San Francisco

with a brief stop on Hawk Hill to enjoy the view and look at the migrating birds,

as well as to admire the lighthouse at Point Bonita.

We eventually wound our way up the coast and found our way to the Osprey Peak Bed and Breakfast, up a crazy-steep driveway near Point Reyes.  The place was perched up on top of a hill with lots of big trees to admire from the back deck.

What you can't see in the above picture is the sheer number of hummingbirds that hung around the back yard (due to their being about a dozen feeders).  The sound of fifty hummingbirds right outside the window is actually entertainingly ominous.

Naturally, most of the weekend was spent riding our bikes :)

We headed out to see the lighthouse on one day, did what was supposed to be a 30-mile loop that turned into a 50-mile loop the next, and explored the northern part of the peninsula in the thick fog on the third.




In between, there was lots of good eating, poking around galleries, and mead tasting at the local meadery.  A fine weekend escape!





Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

 I love watching the Halloween pumpkins evolve.

Nim did some evolving this week too, with her new haircut.


She manages to look much more edgy than I ever do.  It's a good cut, despite only costing $12 at the independent local haircut place downtown.


We were invited over to Todd and Sarah's for Thanksgiving this year, leaving us free to goof off and ride our bikes earlier in the day.  Since Nim was seeming strong I suggested Mt. Hamilton.

!!

Hamilton is about a 4500 foot climb.  Kiddo wanted to ride under her own power rather than on the tandem.  We opted to drop Chad off at the base of the hill, and she and I started at Joe Grant County Park, about a third of the way up, as she really wanted to make it up to the top and figured that a mere 3000 feet of climbing might be feasible :)

Cheery kid at the start.

Tired, but still cheery kid reinflating her energy with cookies from the vending machine at the top.  Despite going into death march mode and gritting out the last mile on sheer determination, she made it up, and was an entertaining person for me to talk to all the way up (i.e. goofy and interesting rather than complaining).  Yay kiddo!

Later that evening, she ran around maniacally with Todd and Sarah's kids and still had the inclination to give Chad a hug :)  A big turkey dinner and multiple pieces of pie must have helped.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Existensial Musings


Hello, world. Today, I discovered a particular interest in musing on the fundamentals of human existence.

And, oh, yeah; I got my hair cut.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Happy Halloween


Yes, we did Halloween, in a half-hearted last-minute sort of way.  Monday afternoon found me trying to clean things up a bit, cook dinner for us and Sarah and her kids, and frantically start scooping out pumpkins at 5 pm with a hand that was still a bit sore from the previous week's yard carnage.  Needless to say, the pumpkins were not as carefully designed as they have been in previous years, but they were still properly Halloween-y.

Normally, after Halloween, we move the pumpkins onto the back patio so that we can enjoy them during dinner for the next couple of days, and then watch them rot/melt over the next couple of weeks.  This year, they clearly aren't scary enough to repel the squirrels; we get to watch the pesky critters *eat* them this time around.  I've seen up to four at a time, and probably should just give up and toss the pumpkins in the compost bin.

(Kids did go trick-or-treating -- Nimue and Cathryn used little Scott needing an escort as their justification to extort candy from the neighbors.  Recycled costumes from last year, and I just now realized that no one bothered to take pictures of the kids!  Clearly everyone is growing out of it.)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

New Glasses

Nim recently started complaining that she was having a hard time seeing well when she reads or works on detailed art projects.  I assumed this was just a return of her far-sightedness, so made an appointment with the eye doctor.

As the eye exam progressed, it became clear that it wasn't that simple.  She's not particularly far-sighted.  She's not at all near-sighted.  What she does have is a "fixation disparity" -- in other words her eyeballs don't always track perfectly together.  The difference is slight; you can't see that they aren't pointed together, but it does make it harder to focus on things, especially at the end of the day when one is tired.  Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this with the right glasses.  So, fancy new glasses with a prism correction were ordered.

What was really funny was her reaction walking around downtown Mountain View after picking up the new glasses.  I expected the general "Whoa -- everything is in focus!" reaction.  What I didn't expect was the further description "No, I mean everything, really everything, is in focus, and not just the stuff in the plane that I am trying to look at.  There's no double vision in the background. It's soooooooo weird!!!!"

Apparently the kiddo has had doubled vision in the background, or in planes other than what she tries to focus on, basically for as long as she can remember.  She thought it was normal.  Bad mom never sussed this one out...nor did the eye doctor until now....

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Yard carnage

The grass in the front yard is dead.  I didn't like it much in the first place, and just stopped watering it during the drought-induced water restrictions with a vague notion that I'd eventually get around to replacing it with some combination of drought-tolerant and native plants. 

With the wet fall planting season now upon us, and some house-project momentum, I decided it was time to attack this project. Take the shovel out to the front yard, dig up the grass, and loosen everything up so it is easy to put new plants in.  It's only about 400 square feet.  How hard could it be?

Oh, the woe of magnolia roots....  I suspected there might be a few, but the situation is ridiculous.  Basically, under the top centimeter of dirty is a layer of densely matted, tangled, snakey roots throughout the entire former lawn.  Not just small roots either.  I swear some of them are braided, and others tied in knots.  Recall that the city contractor who replaced the sidewalk in front of our house a couple of years ago referred to these roots as "anacondas".  Don't even get me started on what they do in the vicinity of the broken sprinkler head.  Clearing them is not an easy task.

After unsuccessfully clearing the first strip despite great effort, I stumbled back into the house and told Chad that I needed an army of Vikings to come hack the yard into small pieces.  He responded, "Do I need to get you a Pulaski?"

A Pulaski, for the uninitiated, is a firefighting tool that has a head that combines an axe and a mattock.  He used one back when he worked for the Forest Service.  Very good for creating firebreaks, or for digging out nasty horrible root-infested former lawns.  I had no direct experience with this tool, but after looking it up, decided it looked even better than the mattock that the contractor who had done a similar job on the neighbors' yard before they put it up for sale had used.

I suppose I *could* have hired someone to take care of it like a normal person, but it's more fun to get a new tool.  More satisfying to do it yourself, also.  Plus, you just have to love a spouse who says "Do I need to get you a Pulaski?"

Through the miracles of Amazon, the implement showed up on the front doorstep as I was leaving for a bike ride on Saturday.  It even matches my bike jersey!  Muahahahaha!

On Sunday,   I headed outside to try it out.  And boy, the Pulaski is a beautiful thing.  You can chop, dig, pry, and hack those horrible roots out.  It's still hard work, but is so much easier and completion of the task has moved into the realm of actual possibility.  I got a few weird looks, but there was one passer-by who made a point of stopping and chatting about the project.  She had done something similar a couple of years ago, and fully appreciated the evil of the magnolia roots.

You can see how dense the roots are along the edge of the cleared section.  This is what the whole plot is like.

Half the yard done.  Yard waste bin full.  Hands tired.  Time to stop.

I headed back out today to work on it some more after my bike ride, figuring that I was already all sweaty so a little more dirt wouldn't hurt.  I had just started happily hacking with the chorus from the witch scene from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" stuck in my head  ("Harm's my delight, and mischief all my skill!"; it's been stuck in my head since rehearsing it among other things last night for some upcoming Halloween concerts) when a car pulls up in the driveway of the house next door that is up for sale.  It turns out that the driver is one of the people who just bought it.  She came over and introduced herself and seemed pretty nice, though I am now imagining her relating to her spouse that she met the crazed axe-wielding neighbor today...

Through the back fence

Our projects are small potatoes compared to the yard renovation that the neighbors behind us just embarked on.  They're basically taking everything that was previously in the yard out, aside from a couple of mature fruit trees.  Given that the previous configuration was a lot of patio, this is a big change.  

After a full week of near-constant jackhammering to remove all that patio concrete, the fence came down, giving me an up close and personal view of the project.

At about 4pm every day, the "privacy shielding" would go up, sometimes in a rickety manner,

and sometimes more robustly.

Somewhere in here, one of the other neighbors on our side of the fence started getting overly worried about the project; I spent several days convincing her that nothing abnormal was happening, no one was going to break into her house, and that everything would turn out just fine.  The neighbors doing the project are reasonable, have given lots of notice, and don't appear to be asking anyone to pay their half of the fence, so I have no problems with any of it.  Plus they bribed me by leaving cookies in our mailbox :)

It was a bit odd when the plastic came down at 7:30 in the morning while we were still eating breakfast, but I decided it was just entertainment.  We call that back window the "kitty TV", and there was definitely out-of-the-ordinary programming on kitty TV for about a week and a half.

Cute little tractors,

a most excellent hole-digging augur,

dudes putting posts up,

dudes finding old concrete where they wanted to put new posts,

and eventually the beginnings of a fence.

It was a see-through fence for a day or so, but as I expected, it was filled in with more boards.

Now there is a very solid, very new fence along the half of the back yard that borders that neighbor.

I'm back to hearing lots of small tractor noises pretty much constantly, but no longer can see the progress unless I climb up the fence and peek over.  Which I do occasionally...  (lots of new trenches and a hole that looks like it might be for a water feature today)