Extremely satisfying. I’m still working on consistency from one weld to the next, but I was pretty proud of this one. Tomorrow night we start hands-on stick welding, which is supposed to be harder than TIG but much more flexible.

Date posted: May 9, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

In the face of supremely bad news on Tuesday morning, I’m going to write a little bit about welding class so far to keep myself from screaming. So far, I love both oxy-acetylene and TIG with a new passion; both are excellent in their own way and both come with drawbacks. But it’s like my instructor told us: each one has its uses. Oxy-acetylene is slow and methodical: it’s heating metal with a flame. It’s also the coldest of all methods, so it takes longer and demands patience. But I enjoyed a kind of meditation while welding two sections of 1/8″ metal together. It’s soothing; “knitting with fire” is how my instructor described it. Not quite something I’d do on the couch in front of Netflix, but it would definitely go with some cool jazz or mellow electronica in the garage.

TIG is immediate and gratifying and makes short work of anything. It took half the time to weld the same length of steel together with TIG, and it’s easier to dial in the temperature and keep it steady. I see now why the pros on YouTube bust out the TIG torch when making metal stick together. But I spent half the night running to and from the sander to clean the electrode, even when I kept the tip away from the puddle. That’s a pain in the ass. With skill I bet there would be half the tungsten cleaning nonsense and a lot more productivity; I’d need to take the intermediate TIG course to learn more about how to dial the machine in for different thicknesses and situations. On Thursday we’re going to do another hour of TIG and then start learning about different chemical processes in the leadup to plasma cutting, and then I think we move to stick welding next.

Date posted: May 4, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Last night I joined about fifteen other guys in a cinderblock room and sat through my first welding class. The training facility is on the other side of town on Pulaski Highway, surrounded by commercial printers, auto shops, machinists, small factories, and cheap motels. I got there early and found I was one of three men over the age of 30; as we went around the room for the getting-to-know-you part, I learned I was taking the course with a farmhand, two young men who were learning a trade to get out of their houses, a father and his two sons, and another kid who was being put through the course by his company, among others.

My instructor is a year older than me and became a welder the same year I started college. He’s a bit gruff but approachable, has a sense of humor I haven’t cracked yet, and seems to really know his shit. Don’t judge a book: when a guy in frayed Dickies starts explaining the different molecular reactions behind different welding processes, I lean forward. We sat through the standard safety and basic background presentations, got some books, and did some light Q&A before calling it a night. Tomorrow night is nothing but theory, and we’re starting with oxy-acetylene for the first hands on practice. From there we do TIG, then stick, then MIG, and some quick demos of cutting with torch and plasma. I have a giant binder of reading material to go through and a test to take at the end of the course. I can’t wait.

Date posted: April 20, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Here’s all of the action from Monday, from morning to cleanup, minus the sections of no activity (namely, four trips to Ace Hardware).

Date posted: April 13, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

The weather is getting warmer, which means it’s not quite as painful to stand outside and bang knuckles against cold steel, which is everyone’s favorite winter pasttime. I woke early on Sunday to drive over the bridge to Chestertown and pick up work on the schoolbus, something we haven’t done since early December when we put the seats in.

The first order of business was to get it started. It’s been sitting in the shed for months, so we put a trickle charger on the battery and futzed around with the windows inside. Testing out the theory that the windows are easily interchanged, we moved one of the emergency exit windows forward so that it sits directly between the passenger seats and is easy to get to.

Once we got it running and pulled out of the garage, we decided it would be much easier to work in Brian’s driveway where power and tools were easily accessible. We caravaned back to his house and then had to jockey trailers and tools and building materials around to make room in between the house and his new garage footer.

With that done, we got to work disconnecting the engine and storage batteries, pulling the wires, and disassembling the battery box. It took a while to get the box itself out, because they’d welded the back corner of it to the frame and spot-welded the edges to structural supports on the side. We wound up having to step on the edge to push it downward, shove a prybar between it and the frame, and whack it with a sledge to start separating the materials. Several sawblades, a trip to Ace Hardware, more pounding, and some specialized curse words later, we released it from the underside of the bus and dragged it away.

The plan was to replace it with a newer, bigger box where more batteries will fit and be be easily accessible. But now that the box was gone, we could also mount the passenger seat base permanently, which went relatively easily. Putting the new box in was more of a challenge; we realized early on that we were going to have to drop the other box we’d labored over in September. With that out of the way we got the mounting bolts in place and roughed in the battery box. By 7PM we were beat, the boxes were cattywampus, and the sun was down behind the trees. We called it a night and went in for a cold beer. I laid down on Brian’s spare bed at 9:30 and was fast asleep fifteen minutes later.

Monday morning I made sure my automatic replies were set correctly and we got back at it. Dropping the box, we found a couple of reasons why the box was hanging incorrectly and beat them into shape with a hammer. With that box hung, we put the longer box next to it in place and I set to work fastening both boxes to each other and to the stair wall.

Now that the box was in, we had to sort out how to put a set of industrial ball bearing rollers in and fabricate a shelf. The rollers were pretty easy to mock up, and I figured out a way to reuse the shelf from the original box with some new angle iron. Another trip to the Ace scored us the hardware we needed, and by about 5PM we had the shelf in place, the batteries mounted, the wires rerouted, and everything reconnected. Brian turned the key and the bus roared back to life.

We had a new power awning ready to be hung, but found quickly that the arms were too long, so we packed everything in and I hit the road for home.

Today most of my joints are sore, I’ve got gouges in three of my ten fingers, and I feel like I could fall asleep as I write this. But I’m happy with the results, and we’re that much closer to the interior work.

Date posted: April 12, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

Frequent visitors here know that I’ve been hoarding a lot of truck parts for the last couple of years. This week a set of original Rallye rims popped up on CL down in Virginia, and through the course of the week, the seller dropped the price from $400 to $350. On Friday I contacted him, and he sent me pictures of each rim that were clearer than the listing. I did a quick freelance job last weekend through a friend—basically creating a vector outline illustration of his car—and the payment hit my Venmo account a day later, for roughly the same amount as the rims. Serendipity, right? I thought it over all day Saturday, and in the afternoon I decided to pass. I don’t need different rims, although Rallye rims are my favorites. Something in my brain told me to slow down.

I’m very aware that I’ve been filling the pandemic void with retail salvage therapy, basically hitting the parts listings daily to find good deals on stuff locally. I love the thrill of the hunt, planning for recovery trips, and the fun of going to discover and pick over old wrecks for good parts. I enjoy the planning and preparation almost as much as the picking itself: having all the right tools to do the job is a satisfying feeling. And knowing I’ve got spares of most everything is a comforting thought, as well as helpful when I want to refurbish what I’ve got. I learn by example—seeing how something is put together vs. squinting at a poorly-printed diagram or following shitty directions in a Chilton’s manual, so it’s been worth the money to have spares to refer to.

But how much is enough? Do I need more than one of a lot of these things? I tell myself I can refurbish some of this stuff and resell it, but I haven’t made a lot of effort to do that in the last couple of years. If I was serious about it I’d put the word out before Nationals to pre-sell, and bring it with me (I don’t want to piss off the vendors there by selling from the back of my truck). I have enough sheet metal, one or more of everything that unbolts from the tub. I have spares of almost all of the mechanicals save the chassis, some of which I want to learn how to refurbish myself. Do I need more stuff? Where do I put it?

Going by that Mayo Clinic article, I’m not to the point where sheet metal is piled up in the house, but the garage is pretty well stuffed with parts. I’ve got things organized as best I can in the space that I have (and I have plans for re-organizing it all in the spring). I have sold lots of parts in the past, in the Before Times, when we did more in-person meetups, so I’m always willing to wheel and deal.

The other problem is ongoing projects. I’ve got about six different projects on the bench right now waiting for parts or better weather to complete: the heater box, the steel gas tank, the windshield washer switch, the spare hub, the rear seat etc. When my focus shifts and I let things go for too long, I forget where I am in the process and I have to start over again. The gas tank needs warmer weather, as do the washer switch and seat. So I have to finish those first before I move on to other stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to be patient.

Jen and I were talking about this a little bit, and something she said resonates with me: I’m a results-oriented person. I like to see progress in some form for each day: What did I accomplish? How did I make a difference? A pile of rusty parts is one way to scratch that itch, especially when my career is less and less defined by tangible products and more and more by an Outlook calendar filled with Zoom calls. But there’s got to be a balance somewhere, and I’m struggling to find it.

Date posted: March 14, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

In 1994, after a series of mass shootings, Congress banned many assault weapons. A decade later, the ban expired, and these firearms flooded the market. According to the Wall Street Journal, before 1994 there were an estimated four hundred thousand AR-15s in the U.S.; today, there are twenty million AR-15s or similar weapons.

The New Yorker does a deep dive into the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting and how a troubled, bullied kid made a colossal series of mistakes and was co-opted by a whole slew of opportunists eager to exploit his situation. Nobody comes out OK in this story.

Date posted: March 12, 2022 | Filed under general, politics, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

After a long pause in the logistics chain, my readers finally arrived last night, and it was with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation that I tried them on. They are made better than the safety glasses I bought last year. The progression is much less abrupt, and there’s a midpoint where I can use them for middle distance (about a half an arm’s length away). There’s a bit of distortion at the bottom of the lenses that affect my vision when I turn my head back and forth—it’s enough that I notice the curve of the lenses down there—but not enough to bother me that much. The biggest thing to get used to is the same issue I have with my safety glasses: keeping my eyes aware of the two main zones and moving my head to put my eyes on what I’m focused on instead of moving my eyes. I’ve also got to break the habit of moving to take them off to see things up close. I’m not using them for work; my monitors are far enough away from my eyes that I don’t need them, but it’s great to have them for reading in bed and doing detail work.

Date posted: March 10, 2022 | Filed under general | Leave a Comment »

I finally got around to updating the idiotking post count in an interactive visualization instead of a flat graphic. I’m going to see if I can find a way to overlay the category counts next.

* * *

I’ve been working on some sketching projects at work which required me to lower my desk chair, bust out the pencils, and get close to the drawings I was making. After a short while working without glasses, I put my progressive safety glasses on and used those to switch back and forth between the drawings and my computer monitor. Those glasses work OK, but I look like a total dork if I have to take a call wearing them.

Warby Parker made me new progressives and shipped them on February 22nd by USPS. When I check on it with their tracking service, it arrived at the Baltimore sorting station three days later and hasn’t moved since. No updates, no movement, no nothing. USPS offers an “extended tracking service” which I’m sure would provide me absolutely zero further detail; I’m going to call Warby Parker on Monday and see if there’s anything they can do—but I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, a friend recommended me to her client for a quick linework illustration job that I knocked out in a couple of hours this afternoon. I like making extra money on the side.

* * *

I made a list of projects to tackle around the house this year in my notebook the other night before I went to bed, mainly as an excuse to collect them all and quell anxiety:

  • New basement windows. I’ve been back and forth with my rep this week waiting for her to get the quote correct, but when that comes in I’ll sign off and get it paid for. I’m told it’ll be 4-6 weeks for delivery, just in time for some warmer weather.
  • Find a fixed basement window with a dryer vent. I really don’t want to close off the window over the washing machine with glass block, but we may have no choice.
  • Basement step rebuild. The concrete pad right outside our basement door has been tilted toward the house since we moved in, allowing for rainwater to spill over the edge of the stairwell and flood our basement doorwell. This pad needs to be broken up and removed, and the yard regraded away from the house. I’m going to mix a couple of bags of concrete and pour a higher threshold for the stairwell while I’m at it.
  • Bust out the concrete walkway out back. Running over the walkway with an eight ton boom lift broke it up into lots of portable chunks, so it should be easy to lift and haul away.
  • Clean up the treeline behind the greenhouse. This is a Sisyphean task that never seems to amount to much, but it’s got to get done. I think I need to nuke it all with Round-Up and then take the mattock to the earth. Or maybe rent a tiller…
  • Repair and paint the garage. It’s never been painted since we’ve lived here, and the front “doors” make it look like we’re cooking meth inside. I’m going to pull the front off, reinforce the doorframes, and build new doors that look and work better. Then the whole thing will get sprayed to match the house.
  • Pressure wash and paint both rear porches. This didn’t get done with the rest of the house last spring; both of them need a freshening up.
  • Finish scraping the outside windows. There are a couple at ground level that need some attention, but everything on the second floor got painted properly with the boom lift.
  • Polish the headlights on both Hondas. I did this for the CR-V three years ago and it made a huge difference, but the plastic has broken down again and fogged over. Time to buy another kit and have at it.
Date posted: March 5, 2022 | Filed under general, house, list | Leave a Comment »

technical difficulties

We had guests over for a lovely dinner on Saturday night, and I figured I’d set up some soft jazz in the background for mood music. I’ve got an iTunes library with a real nice jazz collection that I’ve spent years curating. For a long time, all it took to work was to have iTunes running as a shared server and the AppleTV would pick it up on the network; I could scroll through the shared media from there and play that through the head unit into the speakers. So that’s what I did.

But Saturday our AppleTV didn’t see the server; an app is supposed to pop up called “Computers” and from there the library is visible. But I didn’t see that. I checked the connections and realized the AppleTV was on the wireless network, so I hardwired it: still no luck.

Thinking it could maybe be that the ancient version of iTunes 10 I’m running downstairs (the server is a 2008 model and maxed out at OS 10.7) isn’t compatible with the AppleTV, I figured I’d bypass that and started hunting for old laptops from that era which could still talk to it. I’ve got an ancient Powerbook G4 running 10.6 in the basement, so I dug that out and booted it up to see if I could access the shared library. Success! I moved it to the den and balanced it on the receiver, then plugged an iPod input to the headphone port. But from there I got nothing; I guess the mini headphone jack isn’t compatible with that port.

The receiver has a big Spotify sticker on the front, so I checked into that as an option. For some stupid reason it  needs an app on your phone, which is a ridiculous situation and one I can’t use anyway—I’m still on the free account and it requires a paid subscription. So I just tuned into the local college radio station and we suffered through some hair metal.

This morning I did some sleuthing and happened upon a random comment on Apple’s boards which led me back to iTunes on the server to check whether I was still logged in to the iTunes Store: I was not. (How I ever got logged out remains a mystery). I logged back in and presto! the server popped back up on AppleTV.

Date posted: February 28, 2022 | Filed under apple, general, photo | 1 Comment »