Thursday, July 1, 2010

Friday, August 28, 2009

Now that's a peach!

When we moved into our first house we bought two pear trees and two apple trees and planted them in the back yard. Five years later when we moved out they were just starting to amount to something and give a small quantity of...well, small fruit.

When we moved here we bought a peach tree, two pears, and two apple trees and planted on the south side of our front lawn. Whether the water or the light is better I don't know, but these trees have done quite well. The first two years we didn't let them produce so they could focus on growth. This year we let them produce.

By golly if they aren't producing fruit that would make any grocer happy. Our peaches are starting to ripen, and last night my wife gave me some slices from one as a snack. I immediately made a mess when I bit into one and squirted juice all over the place. I've never had a peach that juicy before.

The skin was taut and rosy, and the flesh was just on the edge of crispness, but soft to the tooth. Each bite was exploding with juice, and the flavor was sweet and mellow--and bolder than any peach I've had from a store.

Yes, I'm bragging. We grew that! The first peach I've ever had that I felt could not be improved on by adding sugar and cream or baking in a pie or cobbler.

I really hope we don't have to move, but if we do, that one peach will have made all the effort of growing those trees worth it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Electronic maps

Okay, I admit it, I play role-playing games. Perhaps that doesn't have the same stigma it used to, but I'm used to down-playing that aspect of my life, as I'm also a religious person who doesn't feel like explaining to close-minded and misinformed people that D&D is not a satanic game. Especially not the way I play it.

Anyway, I'm the game master for my particular group, which requires a fair amount of preparation. Okay, it doesn't really, but I really, really love the preparation part. I even made a map for the fantasy world in which the game is set. I used to have a remnant of a newsprint roll that I would use, so this is a fairly large map.

The trouble is, as most people know, when you fold and unfold a map too many times it begins to disintegrate at the folds and corners. If I didn't do something my map would fall apart, and it would be difficult at best to make a new one.

Fortunately at the time I was working for a company that had a records retention department that liked me. They had a large-format scanner. They let me scan my map one day and made an image file of it. Unfortunately the map was in pencil, and the scan came out very light. It's hard to read anything very well.

This last weekend I got tired of having a near-useless map file and took my photo editor software (not Photoshop, but a cheaper knock-off) to it. Using the faint lines I traced over them with my software, then cleaned the whole thing up, put location names and various other bits on separate layers that can be turned off when I don't want to see them, and generally made it all look pretty good.

Now I not only don't have to carry around a 3' x 4' sheet of paper (which is an awkward size when you're wanting to view something in one small area), I can use my software to print out maps of any scale, or smaller maps of specific sections of the map. In short, it's going to make my job as game master a little bit easier.

Next time I need a map I'm going to save time and draw it electronically. I admit that some things are difficult to draw with a mouse, but for what I'm doing it works well enough. Anyway, I'll leave you with a sample of the finished product. The original map is 5100x3600, here it's condensed to 10% of that size. Revel in (or fear) my geekiness!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One tent, no instructions

Last year my mother gave us her old tent. She wasn't going to use it anymore, and I figured with three young kids it was only a matter of time before they'd want to go camping. We would need a tent.

This year they wanted to go camping. You must understand that these are kids who freak out if a fly comes near them, so I haven't been eager to introduce them to the wild just yet. So we decided that last night we'd go camping in the back yard first to see how well they'd handle it.

Yesterday morning I dug out the tent to set it up. It's fairly large, a six-person model. The supporting poles were in about twenty pieces. There were no instructions. I'd slept in it maybe once--twenty years ago.

Well, my father shunned instructions, and some of his DNA lives on in me. I decided I could figure it out. The first break came when I realized that the poles were marked with color-coded labels; red, yellow, and blue. I logically deduced that each color group likely represented a single support structure.

From there it got easy, though I went through some trial-and-error in finding out the best sequence for assembly. But I got it up. I don't have pictures, and it's not necessary. It's a fairly standard model, really. The three sets of poles form three inverted U-shapes that attach to the tent itself front, middle, and back.

The tent I wish I had a picture of is the one we used when I was growing up. Now THAT was a tent. My dad, always the inventive penny-pincher, got hold of an old army surplus parachute. With a little sewing help from Mom, he modified that parachute into a tent. It required one long center pole, and then had ropes at four opposing points that could be staked down to pull out the sides. Loops around the edges would be used to stake it down.

We'd lay an old tarp on the ground, roll out the parachute over top of it, stake down the edges, put up the center pole, and then stake down the four corner ropes. There was a slit from the outside to near the center that served as the door, and could be tied shut from inside. When assembled the thing looked like some sort of mutant teepee.

Hang a lantern inside (I think Dad even welded a bracket on the center pole for that very purpose) and the entire thing glowed from within. It was really something. It served us well for many years.

Anyway, our first family camp-out was a success. Next time, however, I plan to spring for sleeping bags and some foam mattresses. We used blankets and quilts, and while we stayed warm enough, it could have been better. And there was a lump that took me awhile to figure out how to sleep around.

But the kids had a ball, and that's what matters. None of them wanted to go inside in the middle of the night. They probably slept better than I did. So who knows. Maybe in another year or two we might try it in the wilderness. Like my brother's back yard.

Oh, and remind me some time to tell you about my engineer brother-in-law and the "Pepto-Bismol Tent". That would be another good one to get pictures of.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alternate heat sources

This is very cool: using computer processors to heat water for an office.

I can vouch for the heating capabilities of computers. I'm sure the system is not easy to set up and resists moving computers around very often, but otherwise it's a no-brainer. The heat is there. You may as well use it for something rather than having to use up even more energy to remove it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vindication of pack-rats

We save stuff. Anything that may prove useful sometime gets stored somewhere. Far too often we promptly forget it's there and go buy something new next time we need it. But every now and then it pays off.

About a year ago we bought some cupboard kits to increase our storage space in one room. The boxes are at least five feet long, two feet wide, and maybe six inches thick. That's a lot of cardboard! We just HAD to save it. In my shed. In the way of everything I need to get from there.

But today they came in handy. I needed to make a set of yard signs. The outside of the boxes are clean white, which is just perfect for high-contrast lettering. So I cut up three of the four main sides and made four signs.

Two of them are two-sided. For those I cut a length twice as long as I needed, then cut part-way through the corrugation on one side to help it fold down the middle. I then cut a slot in the fold, took a couple 2"x1"x4' stakes I've been hoarding from my arch project, put the top of the stake through the slot, and stapled the sign to the stake on both sides.

I now only have half a box remaining in my shed, and four yard signs that cost me nothing to make. THIS is progress! And slight vindication for hoarding.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Slug saloons of death

Our strawberries have been getting eaten by slugs. We're trying to grow organic as much as we can, if for no other reason than being able to eat berries straight from the garden without having to worry about what might be on them. That means the slug bait is out. But, unlike some of the other organic ideas we've tried to get rid of various pests this year, we have a tried and true solution when it comes to killing slugs.

Beer.

The little buggers-- er, sluggers just LOVE the stuff. We take empty tin cans, usually the 8 oz. size that tomato sauce comes in, but other sizes work too. We bury the cans in the dirt so that a only a small part of the can sticks up above ground. Then we fill them about half-full of beer.

For some reason slugs love the smell of beer, and they'll come from miles-- I mean, feet around to get to it. They crawl over the side of the can, drink it, fall in, and drown. You'll need to dump the cans and change the beer every few days, mainly because slugs in beer turn into something really gross if left too long.

Our strawberry beds are 3' x 13', so we put one can in either end. We may still get a little slug nibblage around the perimeter and could possibly add one more can to the center, but this works well enough. We've had a single can handle a single 6' diameter patch before.

The best part is that the slugs really don't care about quality. Cheap beer works as well as any. They don't care if it's stale, either, so if your beer goes flat, just put in in the garden. After a week or two the slug saloon patronage should drop off significantly. After that you can continue to put some out, or just wait until the slugs start showing signs of a comeback.