Archive for July, 2011

Monthly Aphorism: On Preventing Problems

  • You get one chance to throw the snake over the side

The Great Greene grew up in the Midwest, with the type of summer job one might expect of a teen in an area surrounded by grain fields. One summer he found himself standing knee-deep in the wheat pouring into a cart beside a combine harvester, tasked with shoveling grain into the corners to level the load.

In addition to combines, the fields were full of rattlesnakes.

A rattlesnake adopts a characteristic pose when it senses a predator: body coiled, head and tail up, rattle vibrating vigorously. The smaller critters that dine on rattlesnakes (evidently, young rattlesnakes are tasty little pushovers) have figured out, over the course of their long shared evolutionary history, that such a display means this isn’t an immature rattlesnake and they should move along, move along. Raptors pay no attention, having invented the whole death-from-above thing long before we figured out powered flight.

Combines, having not evolved alongside rattlesnakes and being entirely unaware of the threat display, also pay no attention and simply sweep the entire snake into the threshing machinery, where the snake’s characteristic writhing-ball-of-fury reponse to an attack only serves to give the machinery a better grip. The rattlesnake emerges from the combine’s front end as a snakeskin belt surrounded by gibbage.

The combine’s sorters and sieves and transports that separate grain from straw don’t work well on rattlesnake remains, to the extent that much of the snake emerges from the conveyor belt as a damp blob dropped atop the pile of grain in the cart.

In addition to leveling the grain, the Great Greene was responsible for tossing debris over the side. He observed that the machinery downstream of the combine couldn’t do much more than sort out the larger chunks (it’s not like you can wash grain), so if he missed a snake the smaller bits were certain to wind up in your breakfast cereal bowl.

He said he got most of them…

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New Clamp Pads

Clamps with copper-silicone gasket pads

Clamps with copper-silicone gasket pads

The thermoplastic (who knew?) pads melted right off my long-reach clamps while calibrating those thermocouples, leaving the thermoset (who knew?) clamps behind. I tried a few of the obvious candidates for the job with no success, but (while fiddling around with something else) I came upon an unopened tube of Permatex Ultra Copper copper-loaded silicone gasket glop.

The cured silicone rubber is very flexy, which is sort of what you want in a pad, even if I’m not convinced they’ll stay in place. They seem securely mounted in the recesses of the pad tips; I worked the glop in with a screwdriver tip.

Those blocks were spares from the cartridge heater escapade.

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Improvising a Pipe Wrench

Improvised pipe clamp

Improvised pipe clamp

Using the pressure washer to blast the crud off the propane grill has become an early summer ritual around here. I’d reconfigured the extension pipes to reach up the side of the house, so I started by swapping the connectors around to put a shorter pipe at the handpiece. Surprise: those connectors were firmly affixed and a rubber strap wrench on the pipe lacked enough grip.

Rather than wreck that nice chrome plating with a pipe wrench, I clamped two pieces of scrap plywood in the drill press and poked a half-inch hole right down the midline. Add a dab of rosin to improve traction, crunch everything in the bench vise, and spin the connector off.

Well, that’s the way it went for the first connector, with the PTFE joint tape I remember adding last time around.

The connector on the other end was more recalcitrant, perhaps because it still had the manufacturer’s joint compound in place. It eventually yielded to the gentle persuasion of a propane torch, applying just enough heat to wreck the compound’s grip.

The good thing about a plywood clamp is that I don’t form a deep emotional attachment to it: make one when it’s needed to fit the pipe at hand, don’t worry about a precision fit, regard it as a consumable, and move on.


Even More Garish Kickstand Plate

Fluorescent Red Kickstand Pad

Fluorescent Red Kickstand Pad

Having managed to mislay my dingy yellow kickstand plate, I made two more and this time hit ’em with fluorescent red paint. Ought to be unforgettable for another few years…

In theory, you’re supposed to apply a white undercoat. I hosed ’em down with many drippy, runny coats of red and it’s all good. This ain’t art and they get thrown on the ground, so what’s the point of being fancy?


Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk on pole

Coopers Hawk on pole

The hawk who’s been keeping the chipmunks and squirrels under control paused for a moment atop the utility pole out by the garden. He left instantly after I appeared around the edge of the roof, leaving me no time to fight the camera automation into a better exposure, but it’s good to know he’s on patrol.

A few months ago he had a squirrel in a Mexican standoff inside a pine tree, circling the trunk amid all the branches. Eventually the squirrel made a break for it, got about five feet out from the trunk, and wham that was the end of the story: once those claws go in, they don’t come back out.

Notice the noonday sun refracted through his cornea onto his upper cheek (or whatever it is that birds have there). This was with the 1.7X tele-extender on the Sony DSC-H5 zoomed in pretty nearly all the way; if it weren’t for all fringing and blown highlights, it’d be a neat picture.

Coopers Hawk - eye detail

Coopers Hawk - eye detail


Dockers Sock Sizing

We picked up two packs of Dockers socks a while ago and after running them through the washer, I found this interesting situation:

Dockers sock size variation

Dockers sock size variation

The gray sock in the middle shows that I should buy socks somewhat more often,  but the socks on either side came from two packs with identical labels. Well, identical except for one tiny detail (clicky for more dots):

Dockers sock labels - front

Dockers sock labels - front

I don’t know which sock came from which pack, but I admit to a suspicion. They’re stretchy and both “sizes” fit about the same, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

[Update: It does matter. Those small socks became really snug after a few months.]

Oh, in case you were wondering, the pre-printed package reads “3 Pair $12” under that “3 Pair” sticker, with the price obliterated by hand with a marker. The current price is $14, conveyed by another sticker on the back atop the pre-printed price on the UPC barcode sticker. I don’t know if the store raised the price just in time for the sale, but I admit to a suspicion about that, too.


Harbor Freight Multi-Use Transfer Pump: What’s It Good For, Again?

The front of the label giveth (clicky for more dots):

Harbor Freight Pump

Harbor Freight Pump

The bottom line says “Ideal for changing oil and siphoning gas”, which is what you’d expect.

However, the back of the label taketh away:

Harbor Freight Pump - Warning

Harbor Freight Pump - Warning

If it manages to empty three small engine tanks and doesn’t immediately dissolve in gasoline, I’ll call it a win.

Sheesh and similar remarks.