Archive for the 'Useful' Category

Next stop, purple

You know how when you need something at a store, and then you think of other things to get? Well, my trusty charcoal chimney (as seen in my post Old Tube, New Life a few years ago) had finally rusted to pieces. I’d fixed it a few times over the years, but now the tray was shot, and charcoal could fall right through the sides. But this is not the object at hand.
So I went to smile.amazon.com, and found a stainless steel one that should last for decades for less than twice the price of the rustable one. And while I was there, I needed some low discharge NiMh batteries for our home phones, and a solar light for the garden.
And, well, another pocket camera. I’ve been complaining about my latest one for quite a while. I figured that it was time to stop whining and bite the bullet and buy a replacement.
I’ve been using Canon PowerShot Elph cameras since 2008, collecting a series of them as I burned little dark areas on their sensors by shooting too close to the sun, cracked displays, dinged cases, and chipped lenses. I keep the old ones around because some older models have niceties that they removed from newer cameras.
Like the SD1100IS has built in time-lapse video.
The Elph 110 has 240fps video (used in this video) and 30fps burst mode (good for getting shots of dancers).

They all are pretty much of a size, so I buy them in different colors so I know which one I am grabbing at a glance. I have silver, pink, gold, and black ones.

The time has come for purple. And today’s object at hand (a Canon Elph 360 HS) came in the mail today, and matched the shirt I had on.
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Vegan, Gluten Free Ginger Cookies

chickpeasIn our previous episode, our hero was left holding a can of beans. What, our parsimonious person wonders, will I do with these chickpeas? In my previous post I used aquafaba, the juice from canned garbanzo beans, in a manner learned from All Things Considered. I was wondering what to do with the beans themselves, when it occurred to me: Gluten Free Gingerbread! We have a holiday family gathering to which I usually bring cookies. But several members on my wife’s side of the family have medically diagnosed Celiac issues; they must stay gluten free. And then there is that one thin Vegan that seems to be in every family nowadays. I aim to please.

So I did some Googling, and found hints of what I wanted to do, but not one recipe for ginger cookies using canned chickpeas. So I decided to invent one by mixing a few found recipes with the knowledge I gained from my mother and Harold McGee. Plus some experience with a food processor.

But American “Gingerbread” is actually more like the base layer of German “Pfefferkuchen” in that the flavors of cloves, molasses, nutmeg, and cinnamon mostly hide the ginger note. I like the taste of ginger; I like to feel the burn.

So here is my apparently weird, but rated successful even by non-vegan, non-gluten-free friends, recipe:

  • img_3368One can Garbanzos, drained, rinsed, set in a colander.
  • 1/2 c rolled oats (you can use quick oats, or gluten free oat flour)
  • 1 Tbsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder (or 1 tsp baking soda plus 1 tsp cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional, I think it boosts the flavor)
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c minced candied ginger
  1. Put the oats and powders in a food processor with a sharp blade. Mill till powdered and mixed. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Dump in garbanzos, sugar, oil. Mill till dough. You will need to scrape it down a few times. If using vinegar, add it about halfway through this step.
  3. Fold in the ginger candy. I used a separate bowl for this to avoid chopping it any finer.
  4. Spoon and press, or roll and cut. I used a fork to press and raise crispy ridges on this first try. Next time the plan is to roll it to 1/4″ and cut holiday shapes.
  5. Bake at  350ºF for 30 min for crispy cookies. Try 20 minutes if you want soft centers. INRS

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In the Thick of it

Embossed Card

How many of you remember those old, carbon-paper credit card receipt machines? Revel in the solid “Ka-chunk chunk” sound as the cashier strained to run the slider back and forth, and the waste can full of booklets of carbon paper pulled from the right side of the sandwich of receipts. As a kid I was allowed to take some of those carbons home from stores, to play with fingerprints, and to use for stenciling. Back then, folks didn’t worry so much about identity theft.

But have you even seen one of those machines in the last decade?

Today’s Object at Hand is a new debit card, complete not only with a magnetic strip (tech from the 1970’s) but also a somewhat secure chip (based on the late 1990’s tech now considered obsolete in Europe). And, what is this? It still has the 1950’s legacy support of embossed information! Why, you may well ask, do I make a point of this?

I like a thin wallet. The embossing increases the thickness of each card by 50%, and the friction to drag it out of a wallet pocket by noticeably more than that. It wears out the pocket or adjacent cards faster, as well as frustrating the user when too many get packed in there. And it serves no (expletive) purpose. Well, little potential purpose.

Had I a flat card, and needed to purchase from some Luddite (who also does not take cash, or checks, and has neither the free stripe reader or the cheap chip reader available to anyone with a smart phone), they would be forced to hand write my name and card number on their multi-part receipt form. I’d happily do it for them.

Fortunately, I could walk in to my bank and get a flat version of the card this morning. All the same information at 66% of the thickness. Happy ending 🙂

Socket To Me

Or: All Your Base Are Belong to Edison

As I was putting up lights for the Solstice/Yule/Christmas season this year, I found that my porch light would not work right. I had unscrewed the bulb to screw in an outlet to power the porch-hung wreath, and could not make it work. I had replaced a (CFL) bulb a month earlier, and suspected that the fixture rather than the bulb was at fault. Now, I was sure of it. So I used an alternate source for the season.

P1060115But then we had a warm day in January, so I set up a ladder and took down the light. Yes, I first identified the right breaker (that took a few tries) and shut off the power.

The fixture seems to be from the 1940’s or 50’s.

IMG_0649I had put a dusk-to-dawn sensor on it in 1990. Birds had nested upon it, and insects apparently made themselves at home behind it.

So down it came, and I worked out how to disassemble it. The screws were rusty, but functional. It needed a good cleaning.

But as I took it apart, it became apparent that the problem was not the wobbly nature of the light socket, but rather that a tubular rivet in the interior of the socket had fatigued away, failed. This was the critical problem. Here you can see the two rivet positions for the Edison base shell, one without a rivet. The missing side is the one to which the neutral power line connects. So the light worked if I pushed it in to touch the rivet, and only then.

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So what to do? I hate to replace something that can be fixed. Fortunately, I am a bit of a hoarder. I had saved the light fixtures from a burned out, water damaged ceiling fan a decade ago. I found this remnant and pulled out its socket. See what the rivets are supposed to look like:

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The iffy news is that the wires on the “new” 1980’s socket are a bit corroded. But my experience as a tinker and my degree in electrical engineering led me to think this was not a real issue. With CFL’s and LED’s it will never be carrying as much power as it was designed to.

The good news is that the holes, indents, and threads of the 1980’s socket matched the mid-century light fixture. A perfect fit.

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So the true Object at Hand is the late 1800’s designed electrical screw-socket to mount light bulbs (generically known as an Edison Base) that are still made from ceramic and brass.

As Ice Balls Age

Last winter I had a whim and a handful of cheap balloons, so I made a set of colorful ice balls. This post does show how to make them, and what mistakes I’d made. But unlike other posts you’ll find on making ice balls, I show the odd thing that happens as they age. So read to the bottom.

First, wear gloves if you don’t want colorful hands for a week or so.

Then make sure that you have a place to put them to freeze. I chose to do them naturally outdoors, and will explain what I did wrong there below.

MVI_7642bSo, take a balloon and put a few drops of food coloring in it. Then fill it with water, somehow. Caution, if the balloon pops, you may get sprayed with permanent dye. Wear an apron, or clothes that you don’t care about.

MVI_7642a

Gently place the jiggly ball of dye in a cold place. Below 25ºF is best. If you use a freezer, put them in a bowl or something that will catch the liquid if the balloon fails. I put them on a stoop in the snow. Unfortunately, the warm balls melted the snow and they rested on the warmer concrete. IMG_7645So they froze unevenly, and I tried to move some of them too soon. Next time, I will place them on a chair or bench or anything allowing an air gap between their resting surface and the ground.

But most were solid enough for me to pop and remove the balloons. The blue one up close ruptured and leaked, but the other blue one bounced to the bottom of the stairs without losing its cool.

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But I did get a nice set of balls to stack as a decorative accent. They got snowed in, and the snow faded and stuck to them over the course of a few weeks.

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But note this weird thing! When the temperature got up close to freezing and then cooled at night for a few days, the dye settled within the solid ice!IMG_7752You can see the distilled, purer water ice at the top, and the more concentrated color collecting lower down.

IMG_7671

So The Object at Hand today is either the literal ice balls, or the lesson in physics showing how simple natural processes can cause dye to un-mix from frozen water; an apparent reversal of entropy.

This process is similar to Zone Melting, by which silicon is ulta-purified to make semiconducting wafers to make the chips that make it possible for you to read this.

Procrastinated Antenna

In 2008 we had to convert to digital television. I have avoided cable and satellite to try to reduce my temptation to watch so much TV. So when we got the converter box for our old analog set, I had to use an antenna better suited to digital. Because digital TV uses part of the old UHF band, an old UHF bow tie antenna should work. I clipped one to our old rabbit ears, and it did work.

But we gave in and got a discount flat screen TV in 2011, and I had to rearrange things to fit it somewhere. The antenna didn’t work that well right at TV level, so I put it on a paint roller extension pole and slid it up near the ceiling. This helped some. But it was unsightly.

Also, the many layers of plaster in our house, and several houses of thick brick walls between the antenna and transmitter meant unreliable digital reception. Passing trucks and SUV’s would cause regular drop-outs on several channels, and we live on a busy street.

Bow Tie Antenna

Also, Around that time, and loathe to spend a lot of money, I soldered together an HDTV antenna from wire clothes hangers and scrap wood. I had intended to put the ugly kludged HDTV antenna up in the attic above the street trouble. But at the time I didn’t have the impetus to run the wire; the bow tie still mostly worked.

Last year, I did run a salvaged length of 70 ohm coax from the attic down the pipe chase, across the basement, and back up. And there it sat, unused, because I worried about the long run and needing an amplifier at the antenna.

Until today! On impulse I finally hooked the long cable to the attic antenna to the TV. Up above the thick brick walls we get much better reception, despite the long run of cable. So today I finally acknowledge, use, and celebrate the now-rusty Object at Hand: Repurposed wire clothes hangers, roughly cut and bent,  soldered together, mounted to scrap wood, and hung from a rafter by a rusty nail.

Zero cost HDTV Antenna

If you are interested, you can Google how to make your own. Note, there is an air gap between the vertical wires that apparently cross. This is better insulation than the tape most instructables show.

Lucky Letter Opener

Today’s object gets a nod because of a recent unintended doubly-off-label usage. A few years ago I ordered some furnace igniters online. Within the package, they had included this promotional wine bottle opener, today’s Object at Hand.

Bottle Opener

Wine and furnace repair seemed an odd non-sequitur, but I found a use for it: This bottle opener has sat on my counter as a fine and efficient  letter opener for years.

But a few weeks ago, I knocked it off the counter and it stuck vertically into the wooden floor right by my foot. You can picture the sound of it quivering there. I felt lucky that it had missed my foot. The same physics of angular momentum that causes toast to land butter side down gives this device good odds of sticking the floor.

Then a few days ago, I was setting a package on the counter in the dark and I heard a “thunk,” and felt a pain in my toe. I looked down. The letter opener lay innocently on the floor next to it. There was a small red spot, growing larger, near the center front of my sock. Yeah, in the winter I wear socks in the house.

I pulled off the sock, and noticed that the blood was coming from the middle of my medial toenail. I soaked up a few minutes of bleeding with tissues, then put on a band-aid. My coagulation is good; it stopped bleeding in minutes.

Here is what it looks like a few days later; pretty neat as punctures go. Not the best of pedicures, either.

Owie toe

This reminds me, I’m due for a TDaP, or DTaP, or whatever they are calling the standard 10 year vaccination nowadays.