Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rise of the Gopher Tortoise

I have seen more new gopher holes this year than I have ever seen in my life. I don't know if they are just experiencing a real estate boom and all of a sudden they want more holes per gopher, or if there are actual new animals moving in to enjoy life near mown grass. Do they particularly like my yard and my aunt's yard because we are there mowing the lawn for them? Or did the tortoises and the people both pick the same spot for the same unrelated reason — hill tops are the best.

Today I was going to check on things at my aunt's house and take my trash to the dump when I saw a brand new large gopher hole by the chicken yard fence, not 20 feet from another burrow inside the garden under the grape arbor. Both gophers were in their holes, so it wasn't just an extra hole for the one gopher.
Foreground, brand new gopher hole, wasn't there Friday. There's another one
in the center of the photo under the grape arbor.
Here's a zoom shot of the gopher that lives under the grape arbor. View from the new hole. So close!
Of course I stopped and took a picture of it. It's how I do. Then I kept going up the driveway to take my trash to the dumpster. And I saw another new gopher hole under the blueberries. A few weeks ago I saw one just the other side of the driveway there too.

Another new gopher hole under the blueberries.
You can tell these are brand new because the sand is soft and all stomped on looking. As the holes get older the apron of the burrow gets kind of solid looking and smooth.

When I came back from taking the trash I decided to count the gopher holes I could see from the truck. I was wearing shorts so I didn't want to go tromping around in the briars looking for more, so these are strictly ones in direct proximity to our crude variety of civilization. Also I am terrible at counting, so I used my Logger GPS iPhone app.

Total Gopher Holes: 20
Number of holes with leaves in the entrance indicating no use in a week or so: 2
Juvenile holes, smaller than 7" across (by eye): 4
New adult holes: 3

I call this a juvenile hole. It's next to an old burn pile in the middle of the lawn,
which explains the charcoal. 
I don't know how old the juvenile holes are. I think they are all from this year. The juvenile with a hole in my yard has been there over two years. He has had a digging fit this week and has made his much deeper with lots of dark orange dirt on the apron. So these that are still light colored sand, I think they are new.

I didn't see any bitty baby holes at my aunt's house. I have 3 of those over here at my house, under 3" across, as well as 2 juveniles and 10 or more adult. Maybe I'll count them tomorrow.

Here's the plot of gopher holes done on Google Earth. I tilted the scene and rotated it to show surrounding area. Density increases the closer they get to the lawn. Some of these holes are just astonishingly close together. I've never seen them do like this before. There's 12 in under an acre if you ignore the ones up the driveway.

There were always gopher holes along the driveway at the ancestral home when I was a little girl. I don't remember any being in the yard though. And I don't remember any in the yard at my house. But we always had a dog, the big kind that would pick up a baby tortoise in his mouth and slobber all over it and worse. My aunt used to have this kind of dog too. Since she got a Beagle and keeps her tied up the gophers have proliferated.

The last week was a real scorcher too. Do gophers typically get the urge to dig when it's really hot and dry? I know their burrow at the bottom of the hole is usually at the water table so it's nice and damp. I can see digging deeper if the water table drops. But why start over from scratch?! They have excess energy so they just dig another hole just for practice? I don't know, but I'm happy to have them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matrix Poster with Red Pill/Blue Pill Shadow Box

I have a client who is addicted to Mondo Tees posters. I frame them for him for $25 each. They're kind of hard to get. They announce the sales on Twitter and then they sell out in seconds. I saw this Matrix poster announcement and immediately bought it. But my friend was, meh, it's not one of the popular artists. But he said he'd look at it when I got it and maybe in person he'd like it better. I think it's really pretty. I like the colors, and you can look at it for a long time. I like the silver ink for the bright parts. I also thought it would lend itself to a bit of embellishment. Sure enough, I talked my friend into it.

My embellishment idea was to add a shadow box with a red pill and a blue pill under the poster. I found an image of what the ones in the movie looked like.
These are probably DayQuil and NyQuil Liquicaps
I searched online bead shops for something that looked like these. Real capsules seemed like a bad idea because of heat and humidity. I tried grinding down miniature Christmas tree ornaments to look like these. Finally I just decided to get something that would look good from a distance, match the poster, and be easy to attach to the shadow box. (Note: it is impossible to take a picture of your own hands from the angle shown above. To get this shot I clamped my phone to the counter and touched the screen with my nose.)

That'll have to do.
I settled for some wooden beads. I got them from The Bead Factory. ( The colors are Light Siam and Aqua. I got 8 of each color for $1.50. If anybody wants a pair let me know in the comments.

I cut some little spacers of that black irrigation tubing they call funny pipe. Drilled holes in the back of the shadow box, ran some heavy duty thread through there, through the tubing, through the bead, and back down through the tubing and the hole in the backing. I tied a knot around a straight pin. Then I turned the pin until it was all cinched down tight and taped it down so it wouldn't unwind. This took two hands and I couldn't get a picture.
Very hard to photograph because of this reflective glass
When I finished I went down to my friend's office and talked him into moving Sleeping Beauty into the lobby with The Black Cauldron so we could hang the Matrix in the conference room with Back to the Future 1 and 2 and The Birds. I like it!

Reuse: Coach StarTAC case to paperweight

Did you see my stop motion video, Obsolete? Remember the Motorola StarTAC? After I finished messing around with that video (which really hurt my back, which is the reason for the extreme brevity of the film) I wanted to do something with that old phone and the nice Coach leather case for it. I thought of making it into a paperweight by strapping something heavy to the belt loop on the back, but then I realized it would be better to just replace the phone with something heavy. The case is really easy to pick up and the leather is soft. The phone went back in the plastic bin with the laptops.

Now I know what you're thinking, "But Barbara! You told us you were totally paperless!" That's true, I don't keep paper on my desk. But I do frame a lot of posters that come rolled up in tubes. They need to be flattened out. So I got out my sewing stuff and made a heavy thing to go inside the case. I measured the phone to see how big to cut my fabric.

6" around, so I'll make my pouch 3" wide and it
should fill out properly.
3 1/2" long
I had a choice of some black velvet, black speaker grill cloth, or the scraps off some gray black-out curtains I hemmed up. I decided the black-out fabric would be the tightest weave. The velvet kind of passes light if you hold it up to a window, and the grill cloth is right out. It's made to be air permeable. It would look better if it were black and not gray, but scroungers can't be choosers. I can always make a tiny black pillow case for it later. Ooo, I should make a little black pillow case with a wee antenna sticking out. But anyway, on with it.
Measure and cut the fabric for the 6" diameter, allowing for seams
Fold it right sides together and sew it up.
After sewing the two unfinished edges, turn it right side out and fill it with lead shot. I happened to have a 3 lb bag of lead shot from a neoprene scuba diving belt. I loaned the belt to somebody decades ago and never got it back, but the lead weights have been consistently useful regardless. But this one got a hole in it when I was using it to rivet patches on the roof of the Spartan. I fixed it with tape, but I felt ok about using it for another project.
3lb lead shot weight for scuba diving
Here's what's on the inside.
I worked over a dishpan to fill up the bag. I made a funnel out of an index card and poured the shot from the mesh bag into the new StarTAC size bag.
Here's the new bag filled with shot and hand sewn along the end that had the old hem.
Weight inside the case, side view

Weighted case, top view
When I finished I still had some shot left. I made another bag to be a paper weight. I had something ampule shaped in my mind when I sewed a freehand shape.
It's a... I don't know what that is.
This one was a lot harder to fill with shot. I don't recommend this small of a neck. It does have a wonderful feel in the hand though and is easy to pick up. 
Here it is doing its job like a champ
I use the Coach one face down so there's no chance of the brass ring making a mark.
The poster you see here is a Matrix poster from Mondo Tees. I did a neat framing ensemble for that.

Reuse: '90s Jeans to Laptop Sleeve

Everything has come together to compel me to write up how to make a laptop sleeve from a pair of old jeans. My niece started college this summer and asked me if I had a slim sleeve for her laptop so she didn't have to carry her whole big bag to class. I thought I had one but couldn't find it. So I made one. Later I found the store-bought one and offered to bring it to her but she said she liked the homemade one. Fall semester started yesterday. I got this text from my niece this morning.

Hmm, I wonder if this admiration for her laptop sleeve has anything to with this thing that happened over the weekend?
I love how it's called a "denim ensemble." I hear it in my head as AHN-SAHM-bbb, like somebody is trying to be sophisticated and then fell down the last step. My niece calls it, "Oh my gosh! That is wayyyy too much denim in one outfit". No, that is way too much denim in FOUR outfits!

Anyway, here's how I made a laptop sleeve that has just the right amount of denim for an outfit. (Pics from my niece in her dorm.)

Here's how I made a laptop sleeve that has just the right amount of denim for an outfit.

First thing I did was go online and find the dimensions of the laptop. My niece has a 15" MacBook Pro (she bought it herself when she was a junior in high school so she could use FinalCut Pro on it. Yes, her computer is better than mine, shut up.) The page with the Tech Specs for Macbooks is under the Support tab on the Apple website. I found the right one and used the dimensions to make a blank out of scraps of foam core. If you have the actual laptop just use that. I didn't have it.
Cut two pieces of foam core to the size of your laptop
Add layers until the blank is close to the right thickness. Better over than under I think.
The middle layers don't have to be full size. I stacked up various strips.
I used plain Scotch double sided tape to stick it together.
Get a pair of jeans from the '90s with big legs and cut the legs off.
Don't worry, you are never going to want to wear them again.
Waists went back up, but that loose thigh and small ankle part
 did not come back in style as far as I know.
I split the legs up the center of the back so I'd have plain fabric to sew without the heavy seams in the way. I'm not sure how my sewing machine would handle that. Play with the fabric and your blank to see how you want to place the seams. Because of the flair of '90s jeans these seams will come out slanted, but I decided to center them. Based on the ensembles above you can see there is no right or wrong to this.
I think something like this... Seam goes here.
The legs of my jeans were wide enough for the laptop but it takes both legs sewn together to get them to wrap all the way around it longways. I decided to use the factory hem of the jeans at the edges of the case, so I had to let the excess overlap at a seam in the back. I could pretty much put it anywhere, but I decided to let it fall at the top of the back of the sleeve, so it was one full leg and part of the other one. Because of the flare cut in the original jeans the original seams didn't line up at the cross seam. This probably best because they are so stiff they wouldn't lie flat if they matched. I let them offset and cut a notch so they both keep going the way they want to.
Try to get the seam in the back to lie flat.
After I made the legs into one long piece I folded it around the blank inside out. I decided how much of the top of the laptop I wanted to come above the front part of the sleeve so you can grab it and get it out. I pinned the sides tight to the blank and sewed it on my sewing machine. Then I trimmed the excess fabric and turned it right side out.

Now this part is counterintuitive. NOW is when you want to sew the buttons on to work as the closure. I messed up and ended up reaching under the lining to sew my buttons on, fortunately remembering before I'd sewed up all the edges. Best to go ahead and sew them on before you move on. The denim is strong and should hold the buttons fine. Going all the way through the other layers is just asking for trouble. I looked through my button box and couldn't find two big matching buttons. I allowed as how my niece could change them if she found better buttons later so I just went with a mismatch. I also had a shoelace in my sewing box. I cut off one of the aglets and sewed that end under the top button.

After making the outer shell I turned to the padding. I used 3mm Volara closed cell foam I had left from the Spartan project. I got it from  If you notice that web page says Yoga Mats at the top. By the transitive property then, you could pick up a yoga mat at TJ Maxx to make this project if you wanted. Cut the foam of your choice using your blank for a template. It needs to fold around it long ways and cover the flap too. I had a hard time getting it to come out with square corners. Watch out for the rhombus.

Cut some closed cell foam for padding
The idea is to get the foam to roll around the sides to protect the corners, but not so much as to bulk it up too much. The denim will provide some protection there with the seams. I put the foam inside the denim shell 

Next it needs a lining. I had some navy blue silk jersey that a friend brought me from a business trip to China. That will do nicely. Repeat the process for making the denim sleeve to make a sleeve out of your lining fabric that fits snugly around your blank.

Silk lining.
Before you sew the lining in, have you sewn on the buttons for the closure? There are lots of ways to potentially close this thing. I was just using what I had on hand. I was criticized by some for not using velcro, but I just don't think that works with this design. Other ideas would be to transfer some of the belt loops and tie it closed through those. Or attach a strap to the flap and a buckle to the front I had some buckles, but I just thought buttons would be less fussy and faster. You can get out of class in a hurry with a string and two buttons.

Once you have the lining made and slipped inside the foam and the denim you can figure out how to sew it in. I folded in the edge of the denim of the flap, folded the lining around the foam and pinned the lining to the denim and just top stitched through the two fabrics on my sewing machine with navy blue thread. You can barely even see it. I didn't stitch through the foam. If you sew the foam it is about the same as cutting it. It just separates and you end up with a little piece bulking up the seam for no reason.

I top stitched the lining to the front as well. It was hard to get up to the thick jeans seams so I did a little hand sewing to get it all secure. 

I hand sewed the lining to the denim in the bottom corners so it doesn't flip inside out like a starfish stomach. 

And there is it!



Monday, August 25, 2014

Can you find a hidden hard drive with a compass?

I finished Season 4 of 24 yesterday. In one episode a hiker found a tiny radio transmitter under the leather of a briefcase with a compass. Then in a later episode the baddies trashed an apartment looking for a hidden portable hard drive. There's very strong magnets in a hard drive. Couldn't a compass reveal those fields? Could they have used the compass trick to find the hard drive? 

It was easy to put my hands on my compass and a portable hard drive so I tried it out.

The compass definitely jumped all over the place when I put it near the hard drive. But it has to be REALLY near it.

Compass held above the hard drive so it points
to natural North. 
This is how close I had to get before it moved
the needle significantly.
So if you cram a hard drive between the cushions
of your upholstered furniture nobody will find it
with a compass.
Of course while I had the compass out I had to see what other stuff did. The steel legs on my glass table made the compass go mad. My 27" LCD monitor made it jerk wildly. My large loudspeaker makes a very nice magnetic field. As I was playing with the compass by the speaker it occurred to me my Mac mini is in that same spot on the other side of the speaker, in a strong magnetic field.
Hmm. That's a magnetic field.
And here.
Up above the speaker is where it should point.
I moved the speaker and moved the compass around the computer. Much less deflection of the needle. The high end driver of that speaker is a horn. The compression driver has a strong magnet quite close to where the Mac mini is. The midrange driver magnet is about the same distance the other direction. 

But so what? Well, so what nothing. It's just interesting. Modern hard drives are virtually immune to normal everyday natural magnets. Besides, erasure requires a hard drive to MOVE THROUGH a magnetic field to reverse the polarity of the magnetic particles on the platters. And as you can see by the pictures, the field drops off quickly with distance. I'd need to rub the biggest speaker magnet I've got right on the case of the hard drive to have a chance of erasing it. And it probably still wouldn't count. The computer performs just fine in this magnetic field. 
Here's a piece of art I made out of hard drives from work I was told to destroy.
Several parts spin.
This was at my old place in Austin. I hinged the frame of the picture to reveal
the original wallpaper that was under the top layer I peeled off. It was stuck on so good
I just painted over it. When I moved out I gave the art work to a friend
and painted the remnant. Too bad.
For more fun with a compass I recommend running it over your iPad. It clatters around like mad. Very strong magnets in the smart cover.

*In case you missed it, Can you find a hidden hard drive with a compass? No. But you can have fun.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Iceland Volcano Under a Glacier

Volcano Bárðarbunga is hard for me to pronounce. There are two rolled r's in a row. I have a hard enough time with regular r's, like in library. I was hoping I could call it something like Volcano MuaHAAHahahaaa because of the resemblance to a villain planning some terrorist act. This led me to do more extensive research, to see if it really could be the jolt of reality that politicians need to start planning ahead to cope with climate change. Because it's a blog and I know most people don't want to read the whole thing, I'll go ahead and admit it probably won't be that kind of volcano.

The spelling I think of is based on my recent binge watching of "24," Bauer-thar-boon-ka (A topic for another blog. That show makes me so glad I don't work in any kind of chain of command.)

Saturday, August 16 a seismic swarm started around the caldera of Bárðarbunga, which is underneath a glacier. Since early June GPS stations have indicated activity under this massive volcano. Taken together that means magma movement, but it is over 5 km below the surface. Over the course of the week the earthquakes have moved to the east and north along a fissure. My favorite site for up to date information is the Icelandic Met Office.

Here's another article from Daily Kos with some nice photos. This one got me thinking about how a big volcano might change the weather in the northern hemisphere. So I read this one by Dave McGarvie of the Open University. He seems unexcited about the possibility of a big ash-spewing volcano. I think mostly because it's under 400-600m of ice (I've seen both numbers, not a stat I would vouch for.) Here's what he says:
What would the eruption look like? 
At the very least, magma will stall in the Earth’s crust and form an intrusion. We may never see any manifestation of this, except on instruments. But if magma does break through to the surface, then how much magma erupts and what is above it will determine the eruption style. 
If it is under thick ice – that is more than 400m thick – and not much magma comes up, then a pile of volcanic rock will accumulate at the base of the glacier. This will melt a lot of water (14 times the volume of magma under ideal conditions), and we may see a depression in the ice surface. This will add water to a major river, and cause flooding downstream. 
If it is under thick ice and lot of magma erupts along a fissure, then we will see a repeat of the Gjálp eruption of 1996, with erupting magma melting a pathway to the ice surface within hours and forming an eruption plume. Compared to the massive plume of Grímsvötn 2011, this will be a small plume and less problematic for air travel as the particles will not be dispersed widely. 
If magma breaks to the surface outside the glacier margin, there are likely to be small but powerful local explosions as the rising magma encounters the water-bearing sediments that occupy the land in front of the glacier margin. Explosion may occur because flashing water to steam involves more than a thousand times expansion in volume. After the water has been used up, or the magma isolated from the water, then a normal fissure eruption would be expected. 
I emphasise that the above are what I currently consider the most likely scenarios. The “likeliest” scenario could change at a moment’s notice. That is part of the fun and frustration of anticipating eruptions at poorly-known and remote volcanoes.
Well that sounds like it would be pretty bad for Iceland, but not enough of an effect to make American politicians understand how quickly Earth can change the normal weather patterns for years at a time. He goes on:
What is the worst-case scenario? 
That this is the start of a major volcano-tectonic event at Bárðarbunga, which may further develop to the southwest. This is a concern because in the southwest there are fissures that have produced Iceland’s most voluminous lava flows, since the ice melted some 9,000 years ago. 
These fissures are up to 100 km long, and far to the southwest they can trigger eruptions at the Torfajökull volcano. Torfajökull happens to have an abundance of sticky magma that can erupt explosively and produce lots of fine ash. The last eruption, in 1477-1480, produced just two lava flows and minor explosions. But the one before, in about 874 AD, produced an explosive eruption plume that was carried over much of Iceland. 
Also to the southwest of Bárðarbunga lie the rivers which produce much of Iceland’s hydroelectric energy, and a fissure eruption in this area could cause big problems. Icelanders have long known about this possibility and have specific plans in place should this happen. 
I emphasise that we don’t know yet whether this is an isolated event or the start of a more prolonged and larger volcano-tectonic episode. It may be years before we know for certain. But at some time in the future there will be a major fissure eruption to the southwest of Bárðarbunga – we just don’t know when.
I wonder what he means about the Icelanders having specific plans for their hydroelectric energy? I expect magma melting 400 meters of ice in a day would be a pretty epic flood. What do they do exactly? I found a PDF about the plans one hydroelectric plant has in place for a catastrophic flood from magma under a glacier. Flood design criteria for Kárahnjúkar dam – a glacially dominated watershed by G.G. Tomasson et al. This one is northeast of Bárðarbunga, to power an ALCOA aluminum smelting plant. I'm starting to think there is likely a dam that's going to get damaged if magma erupts under a glacier no matter where it happens. This particular reservoir is formed by three dams. The biggest one has these tunnels that send the water to a powerhouse some distance away. I guess that right there is the biggest precaution. The tunnels will only pass so much water. The power house should be protected even if the dams are completely destroyed.

That's the map from the Civil Engineering Report. Now here's the map from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration showing the area evacuated because of the risk from this volcano. It looks like the ALCOA plant is outside the evacuation zone, but just barely.

So how about these plans they're supposed to have? Here's a section from the introduction:
Several active volcanic areas are known to exist underneath the Vatnajökull glacier, none of those however within the drainage basin of the Hálslón reservoir. Still the possibility of volcanic activity within the reservoir drainage basin cannot be ruled out with absolute certainty. 
No specific legislation or regulations apply to flood design criteria for dams in Iceland. Landsvirkjun has therefore developed their own rules, based mostly on Norwegian regulations for flood design criteria for dams, but adapted to Icelandic conditions (VST et al. 2006). In particular, these have been adapted to the possibility of drainage basins covered partly by glaciers with areas of potential volcanic activity underneath.
I guess if the basin for this reservoir was coincident with the fissure they're watching for this volcano they would have evacuated this area too. They may not get to try out their countermeasures this time. But if they did, what would they be?

Here's a photo from the report showing how the spillway of the largest dam works for a run of the mill hot summer glacier melting flood. What is up with that turbidity?! Doesn't look like the glacial rivers and lakes I've seen. That's got to have ecological repercussions. 
The countermeasure for the magma under the glacier melt amount for one of the smaller dams is called a fuse plug. I never heard of that before, but it sounds interesting. Basically they blast out the rock and then refill the hole with something that is more likely to erode. When the big rush of water comes down the river from the glacier this whole end of the dam washes out and trashes the valley downstream, but hopefully the dam doesn't get destroyed. I imagine that if it overtops the dam the falling water undermines the front side and the whole thing just tips over. They don't really say. Here they explain where they came up with the numbers to use in their calculations.
An even larger flood than that estimated above could result from major volcanic eruption underneath the glacier. As there are no known active volcanoes within the catchment area, no direct data exists to assist in estimating the potential size of such floods. Experience from a major eruption at Gjálp in Vatnajökull glacier in 1996 some 20-30 km west of the Hálslón drainage basin indicates continuous discharge of some 6000 cubic m/s from direct melting of glacial ice by the volcanic activity for several days at the height of the eruption (Gudmundsson, 1997). This estimate is used as a catastrophic flood for the Hálslón reservoir.

It's all very interesting. I found photos of the big dam on Flickr. They are very good. Then I went to the photographers website, Saving Iceland, which is depressing as hell. Apparently this dam has very bad karma. (The Wikipedia entry is unsurprisingly wrong claiming there are three reservoirs instead of getting that the three dams are all for the one reservoir. Another one for the reservoir gets it right. Lest we forget, check your facts when it comes to Wikipedia.)

Apparently that high turbidity behind the dam ends up deposited on the sides when the water level goes down in the winter. Then comes the wind and it turns into dust storms. It's always something when you try to mess with natural processes on a large scale.

Anyway, now I know more about how to build a dam against the contingency of a magma intrusion melting a glacier. Now I can start referring to the road over the culvert in the creek as a fuse plug.

* Update: Saturday August 23: "A small lava-eruption has been detected under the Dyngjujökull glacier" from Icelandic Met Office. You can see in the map above this is the glacier adjacent to the drainage basin for the reservoir I talked about.