Friday, June 10, 2016

Repurposing: Knitting Needle Holder from an old Mac Mini

My media computer broke last Friday. It was a 2007 era Mac Mini core2 duo with 4 GB of memory. It worked great to play video on my TV. Then in the middle of playing Stargate SG1 from an external hard drive it just went off. No power. Rats. A while ago my brother asked me what he should do with the old Mac Mini his kids used when they were little. I said to give it to me next time he came to visit. I emailed him to see if he still had it. He did. He said he'd mail it to me. It arrived yesterday. I tested my mini with his power supply, just in case. No luck. Apparently not the power supply. I took both computers apart and cleaned out a disturbing amount of dust. I reseated the connector of the wireless card that came loose in shipping and tested it on my TV again. I'm all set to knit in bed while I watch movies and TV shows from my hard drive. I tried everything I could think of to fix the broken one. I ended up taking it completely apart, setting aside the hard drive and bagging up the electronics.
I can't fix you
Now what to do with the good looking case? It would be a cute purse, but it's a little heavy. I decided to make a knitting needle holder. Would also work for kitchen utensils. Here's how I did it:

First disassemble the bottom plate of the computer all the way down to plastic. To get the connectors off the back panel pry the shielding back and pull on it really hard until the plastic dots fly off. Wear glasses.

Next get out a Dremel tool and a cutting wheel. I do this stuff outside because I don't like the mess and burned plastic smell in my lab.

Bare bottom/back panel. Power switch can stay on
This is the part to cut off
I clamped mine in a bench vise in a gap in
the latching ears
Here's the rough cut
There are little metal tabs backing up the plastic between the connectors. I just cut the plastic and left the tabs. Then in the cleaning-up step I cut off all the small ones. I left the big piece of metal surround from the video connector so they can be part of the dividers I'm going to add. Clean up the cut with the flat side of the Dremel cut off wheel. Be sure to wear safety glasses. My whole bit flew out of the chuck and bounced off my hat. It didn't break the wheel though, so I picked it up off the ground, tightened it back in the chuck, and finished the job.

Then I brought it inside and washed off all the plastic dust. I finished smoothing all the edges with a foam nail file.

Foam nail file is good for plastic
I have some closed cell foam scraps left over from redoing the roof vents in my lab so I used that to trim out the inside of the enclosure. One of those gardening knee pads might be a good source for foam if you don't have a stash.

Cut dividers long enough to stick out the top
I cut some dividers 1 7/8" wide (by trial and error. Too small doesn't work.) They are long enough to stick out the opening. I cut more rectangles to go between the bottom end of the divider to hold them in the right spacing and to give the needle tips some nice foam to rest on. Then I pushed the bottom onto the top. Line up the metal tabs left behind with the foam so they push into it.

Cut excess off with scissors
I cut the extra off with scissors. Then I poked the edges down into the enclosure.
It works with my 8 1/2" straight needles. 6" DPNs are a little too short for it.
Ended up using it for loose needles
I decided I liked the Mini for my loose needles. I got those long aluminum needles for doing tubular cast ons. I don't use them that much. They are so long they tended to tip over the lucite cup I was keeping them in. This is better.

*** This blog is cross posted from my knitting blog  ****

Monday, May 30, 2016

What was great about America of old?

I recently found some old currency in a book. I put it there about twenty years ago. I remember getting the 1934 $5 bill as change at an antique store in Atlanta, which is funny. The $10 bill is from 1950. I think I got it as change from a Wendy's drive through in Tampa, Florida. They caught my eye because of the extra disclaimers on the front "WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND." And there is a long bit of small print explaining how you can take this to the bank and exchange it for lawful money, which at the time meant silver. Apparently Federal Reserve Notes took a while to catch on.

What I didn't notice until now though, is that on the back the older notes are missing the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST."

I just set up a copy stand so I took pictures of these bills with the new version for comparison. I think if you click on them you should get high resolution versions you can zoom.

I did a bit of research and found out that IN GOD WE TRUST was made the United States motto in 1956 as some kind of reactionary measure based on fear of communism. Somehow conservatives at the time equated atheism with loss of freedom? This makes no sense to me in 2016. I equate RELIGION with loss of freedom.

Apparently the Federal Reserve started printing IN GOD WE TRUST on its Notes in 1964 or 1966 depending on denomination. It seems so recent! Only a few years before I was born! And now any argument saying it is offensive are waved off with the argument "it's meaningless because it's been around for so long. Nobody takes it seriously." Uh huh, yeah. I know how it feels.

Laudable Longleaf

Before picture from my front porch toward the lab, Tuesday morning
My mother and aunts and I did a summer burn on my hill on Tuesday.

During, lighting along the footpath between the house and the lab
After, from the same spot on the front porch, Tuesday evening.
Since Tuesday several stobs and stump holes have been burning continuously. On Day 6 after the burn there were still enough stumps and stobs burning to make a noticeable smoke haze on the highway early in the morning when I drove to pick blueberries at my aunt's house.

I've been particularly interested in one amazing stob at the bottom of my hill all week. This tree and two near it were struck by lightning about 6 years ago. I heard it strike and I also heard my uninterruptible power supply make a loud pop from the surge. I went to look at the UPS and saw smoke from the window. I went down the hill where the lightning struck the trees and put out the fire with a rake while it was just small. They have been standing there since that event, dead. They still had bark and managed to not catch fire the last time we burned the hill about 3 years ago. But this time all three of them caught fire. Two of them fell over after about 3 days and kept burning on the ground. But one tree stood as a symbol of why about 90 million acres of longleaf forests were promptly cut down by early settlers leaving less than 5% of the pre-settlement forests. Longleaf pine is unbelievably strong as a structural lumber. Unbelievably.
Longleaf stob on Friday, still burning 4 days after burning off
What happens is the sap wood burns off and leaves the heart behind. Longleaf heartwood is saturated with resin. It forms a layer of soot and puts itself out. I'm not really clear on the physics of how it works. But the sap wood must be porous enough that air can get in and it keeps burning and burning. It ends up looking like you took a mechanical pencil and extended the lead out all the way and held it up that way. The big heavy part on the top and the lead holding the whole thing up. 
Same tree on Saturday
Saturday closeup
Monday morning zoom photo from the top of the hill of the burning interface of sapwood and heartwood 
Zoomed out to show the distance from the ground to the sapwood. Tree
is in the center of the photo, leaning to the left.
Black at the bottom, light at the top, and smoking
How is that tree still standing up?! That's amazing. It is so far off center and the thin black heart pine base is barely bending.

After I took these pictures I went in the lab and uploaded them onto the computer and started reading about wood ducks. That's the reason I went out there in the first place with my bird camera. A wood duck came out of a woodpecker hole in a tree between my house and the lab and she was perching in trees, calling, working her way toward the pond. I wondered what she was doing. Cornell Ornithology Lab hinted that is what they do to help their babies find their way to water but I didn't see any babies. I want to see wood ducklings!

HA! sez me,  I knew that thing couldn't stand there like that forever! I rushed out with my iPhone to see how it fell.

Monday, 9:10 am
Dang! It just buned up until the area of the heartwood post was small enough it couldn't handle the stress and that's where it broke off! Neat!

Here's the top part. There is still a lot of top. And it is still on fire.
Here's a piece that flew off the breaking place. It was still warm.
Also not as heavy as I thought it would be.
Top of tree from the other end a little later in the day
I went back with a tape measure. There are about 3 pieces of the top broken apart into 4' and 5' pieces. The long piece on the ground is 25' long. I estimate 43' of tree fell down and 25' is still standing.

Select structural longleaf has the highest maximum allowable stress and compressive strength of any lumber species in the 5th edition of Ramsey and Sleeper’s Architectural Graphic Standards of 1956.  

According to this table, a longleaf post 9 1/2" square and 12' long can support 136,250 pounds. I think that means straight down though, not leaning off center. The diameter of the bottom of the stob is about 9" now that all the sapwood has burned off.

Diameter of heart of tree ~9"
Diameter of whole tree including sapwood above where it broke off about 11"
Here's some pine tar oozing out of the extremely hard wood
Only living tissue gives off the sticky pine tar in normal circumstances, like when red cockaded woodpeckers drill holes to make the entrance to their holes all sticky. But if you heat up dead heart wood enough the sap will come out. The drops beading up on the ceiling of my lab are further proof. 

I was interested to look at the woodpecker holes in this hard-hearted tree. I didn't see any nesting cavities in it, but there was one cavity big enough to stick my iPhone in it. They just worked around the heart. Not really good for a nesting cavity. Why'd they make that big cavity? Were they finding bugs in there? I see some little holes in the wood at the end. Maybe there was a little infestation of powder post beetles right there?
Here's a woodpecker cavity with an opening big enough for me to stick my iPhone inside.
This is looking toward the tree top.
Near the tree I've been watching there is another tree that was killed by the same bolt of lightning some 6 years ago. It fell down Thursday. The stump is short enough I could get a tape measure to the top and measure it in the simplest way possible.
Another tree killed by the same bolt of lightning
This one broke off short enough for me to measure it, about 13' above the ground.
This tree has almost completely burned up. It's still smoking a bit on the 7th day since the burn.
A white line of ashes and some resinous chunks are all that remain
I wonder what makes some trees burn all the way up and some put themselves out and stay stobs forever? How did the sawmill operators choose what would be called Structural Select lumber with the highest rating? How many tests did they perform to come up with the numbers in those tables? I wonder if they have stopped using that kind of lumber designation altogether now they they make engineered glue laminated beams?

I Googled it. There is a new set of tables from tests done in 2013.
More than 7,400 full-size samples of commercially-produced Southern Pine were destructively tested in a two-step process, resulting in more than 300,000 data points
I studied it and couldn't really understand how to compare the units with the old book. They didn't separate the data by species anymore. Loblolly, slash, shortleaf, and longleaf are all lumped into Southern Pine now. I think longleaf is so rare now you have to go to a specialty sawmill that doesn't do anything else.

Reading about nest cavities in snags was more interesting. I found a study done near here in the '90s to see how many wood ducks use old red cockaded woodpecker holes. They only found 6 active nests, 5 in live trees, one in a stob. They estimated the average age of the longleaf trees with wood duck suitable cavities at 100-150 years. 22% of suitable wood duck cavities were enlarged red cockaded woodpecker holes. My wood ducks use the same nest cavity as a pileated woodpecker. I think they're taking turns. I see them both going in and out of there. I assume it is an enlarged red cockaded woodpecker hole, based on the fact that there is an aluminum number nailed to that tree. Not sure which ornithologist nailed it on there or when. That hole has a west entrance and a north entrance. It has been there my whole life. I can remember seeing ducks go in there when I was just a little girl some 40 years ago. And I have never seen a baby duck jump out. But I'm going to keep watching.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Was a Very Small Year

I didn't write much in 2015. I was busy knitting. I have 145 items in my iPad database of designs. I didn't really keep track of how many finished objects I made. I don't derive my satisfaction from running totals. I started out the year wondering if constant counting and calculating would improve my dexterity with numbers, but I think I have proven I have a bona fide brain deficit and no amount of practice is ever going to make me flawless. It still makes me sad to hear about people who "hate math." I'm grateful my innumeracy never turned into loathing.

I didn't go anywhere in 2015. My car stayed in my home county and two adjacent ones in Georgia and Florida.

Nothing awesome happened to me in 2015.

My house sank, but I fixed it. A duck dented my car, but I fixed it. I felt like crap all year, and I couldn't fix that. When I take my car to the mechanic they keep replacing parts until it works better. If doctors did anything like that I might go to them for help. I did not see a doctor in 2015.

I had no drama in my life in 2015. Nobody told me what to do, I never raised my voice in anger at anyone. I woke up every day and did exactly what I felt like doing.

I think I was the best hermit I could be in 2015.

I am a little worried about money though. I don't see how my mother and aunts can keep buying the stuff I knit at the same rate. I looked online at job openings near my brother's new house since he has an extra bedroom now. I tried to imagine myself going to a job interview. Tried to imagine driving down the turnpike in South Florida to go sit at a Windows computer applying styles to Microsoft Word documents. It was about the same feeling I have when I think about making a doctor's appointment. Despair, hopelessness, dark misery.

The chirpy little job descriptions caused a rising background hum of cynical growling on top of the constant ringing in my ears.
Excellent technical writing skills for environmental consulting applications are required as are outstanding engineering/scientific problem-solving abilities. The selected candidate will demonstrate passion for the business of environmental consulting, technical excellence and quality, leadership potential, a commitment to lifelong learning and growth, and the desire to build a long and rewarding career with the Firm.
I feel so much negativity for "passion for the business," "leadership potential" and "desire to build a long and rewarding career with the Firm." I just want some fucking health insurance. Why do I have to buy into this Tony Robbins bullshit?

I actually do like working with teams of engineering consultants. I like making people stop fucking up the environment. I just don't give a damn about the business of it. To me the whole point of working in a big company is division of apathy. Lots of people don't give a damn about a stylesheets and passive voice. I will handle that, they can handle making a profit. I do not expect the head of accounts receivable to be passionate about illegal sea walls, don't ask me to be passionate about time sheets.

Does anybody read that paragraph and feel inspired and motivated? Are they coasting along on the delusional wave of normal behavior? Career, children, pets, crippling debt? Do I really want to hang out with them 40 hours a week? I don't know. It would be fine I guess. I would adapt. But how many of them would be happy with a year like I just had? I probably spent less than 40 hours TOTAL FOR THE YEAR in the company of at least one other person. And I liked it. Isn't it a shame to waste that aptitude?

It's very difficult to stop doing nothing, of course. Reduce, Reuse, Recluse, Repeat. Here's the first video I ever uploaded to Vimeo. I made it with Keynote. I miss Graham Chapman.

I Didn't Speak Dressed as a Carrot from Barbara Tomlinson on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Conflatulagration: Formal Terminology for Flaring Flatus

I woke up this morning wondering if an astronaut ever tried to light a fart in microgravity. If they could do it without setting off a fire alarm that would alert Houston and get them in trouble they've probably done it. Those Nomex flight suits.... But what if it turned out to make a really fascinating spherical ball of flame and a charming burst of soot, or nothing happened at all, which could happen because there's no convection to bring more oxygen to the party, and they wanted to share their findings? They'd need a big word for the title of the white paper. "What happens when astronauts on the space station light their farts?" simply isn't formal enough. It would have to be "Controlled Studies in Microgravity Conflatulagration" or "Flaring Flatus While Floating: Combustion Experiment Foiled by Lack of Convection"

I checked the etymology of conflagration and flatus. They are both Latin. Conflagration comes from con - (expressing intensive force) + flagrare - to blaze. And flatus comes from flare - to blow. "Flaring your flatus" is therefore redundant, but it makes me think of those tall pipes flaring the gas off a landfill or oil derrick so I like it anyway.
Gas Flaring in Louisiana, with gravity in full effect
Photo by me, 2010
The thing about living on a planet with 7.3 billion other people is whenever you think of something new, chances are good somebody else already thought of it too. So I googled "conflatulagration." I found a single occurrence of the word conflatulagration on the Internet.

It's in a comment after an economics article in The Guardian in 2011 answering another commenter who wanted to know why oil prices go up when anybody in Libya farts.

This user has 305 comments on Guardian stories. Skimming over them I see farts are sort of his pet topic. He would get along with my step-sister. I think she would enjoy the term "fartisinal" quite a lot.

I'm not really a fartficionado. I only know about flaring flatus from stories my father told us when we were little about what he got up to when he was in engineering school. And when I went to that same school my brother's friends confirmed it is a real thing that engineering students do. Lots of astronauts were engineering students once. So I consider the probability that somebody tried to light a fart in zero g is better than the odds of being one of the people on earth to make up a formal word for it.

There's a TV show called Going Deep with David Rees where he spends about 25 minutes investigating the details of things people think they know all about, like how to tie your shoes. Of course I watch every episode. These are my people. David Rees was on The Daily Show last week. Trevor Noah clearly doesn't get it. "But if you are compelled to investigate the details of every trivial aspect of life, how do you LIVE?" 

I'm still trying to figure out what he means. How do YOU live, Trevor Noah? Ignorant of the fascinating details of the world? What kind of life is that?!