Yes, it’s true! The MythTV frontend works! But what about the RAM, you ask? Well, I decided to take the stick back to Best to get a refund/swap/something. It was at this point that I discovered that, surprise!, I can’t get a refund! Apparently it was a final sale or something, which I evidentally didn’t realize at the time. This is especially shitty since I’m willing to bet that the stick is simply incompatible with the board, for whatever reason. But, they’re testing it anyway… and if it turns out to be good, I’m either going to try to get it swapped for a DDR2-533 stick or a store credit. And worst case, I could probably sell it.
Meanwhile, I decided to head to Futureshop and buy a stick of DDR2-533 ($71 “open box”, even though it had never been opened). My thinking was that, if I get a working stick out of Best, I can always return the new stick to Futureshop. After all, they’ll give me a refund. And, surprise surprise, with the new memory, the EPIA board POSTs just fine. Shocker!
The bright side is I now have a working Living Room Frontend! It’s not yet perfect, of course. The video output isn’t perfectly scaled to the screen size (apparently the TV-out chipset isn’t fully supported under Linux, yet.. yay!). DVD playback is very jerky (although the CPU isn’t pegged, so something else is going on there). And there are a bunch of things I haven’t finished, such as getting the VFD working, or enabling suspend-to-RAM.
OTOH, TV playback, itself, is perfect, with no tearing or stuttering, and the IR receiver I picked up works beautifully (although I need to adjust the receiver position a bit to improve reception). So overall, I’m pretty happy with it.
Update: Well, I got the VFD working! It was pretty darn easy, too. Lircd, the software I’m using to receive IR signals from the remote, has a driver for the display device, so I just needed to install lcdproc, and voila!, it works!
So, you remember that dead EPIA board, right? Yeah, the one I was going to use in my Living Room Frontend as part of my MythTV project? Well, after shipping it Fedex some time last week, it finally arrived at Logic Supply yesterday morning, and underwent testing. And can you guess what happened? Oh yes, I bet you can! The board booted just fine for them! Oooh, surprise surprise.
But, how can that be, you ask? Didn’t it exhibit some odd behaviour, such as powering up without the power switch being hit? Well, according to the support guy at LS, the board comes with AC loss auto-restart enabled by default! What this means is that, if it notices the AC get connected, it will automatically boot itself (which is good for a system you want on all the time). This mislead me into believing something was going wrong, when in fact it wasn’t. This, coupled with the fact that the board simply won’t POST without RAM installed, lead me to believe the board was toast when it was, in all probability, the RAM the whole time.
Damnit I hate hardware hacking.
Anyway, the bright side of all this is that Andy, another co-worker/buddy of mine, was visiting Princeton, New Jersey (where our corporate head office is). So, on the return path, I had LS overnight the board to Princeton for $25, and then I had Andy bring it back across the border. Result? Three day turn-around on the cheap!
Unfortunately, now I have a problem. I need to test my RAM. However, I’m not yet aware of a DDR2-compatible box that I can utilize for the purpose. And until I can verify the memory, I can’t really move forward on the FE. Did I mention how much I hate hardware hacking?
Well, today I decided it was time to get the IR blaster working in MythTV. This is the device that controls our settop box, so that we can tune channels in the digital tier.
Now, I decided to purchase an IR blaster (and receiver) from the guy running irblaster.info, and I gotta say, I couldn’t be happier! The blaster works absolutely perfectly, and I haven’t seen it miss a tune yet. Setting it up was remarkably straightforward:
- Plug into serial port.
- Install lirc kernel module.
- Copy DCT2524 configuration into /etc/lircd.conf
- Install channel.pl from [http://www.iwamble.net/IRBlaster_Howto.txt this tutorial] (along with some tweaks to make it behave well with our DSTB).
- Instruct Myth to use the channel change script.
And voila! Works like a charm. Tune times are a bit longer, now, as you’ve gotta wait for the box to get the key clicks and then switch, but overall, it ain’t bad at all.
Of course, this is all just testing. Until the replacement EPIA board arrives, we’ll be stuck watching regular ol’ TV for a while, yet.
Well, things are a bit stalled on the MythTV project, now. The Fedex guy came and took away the dead motherboard that was originally destined for the Living Room Frontend, so now begins the great EPIA Return Saga (tm). If all goes well, I’ll have a new board in a few weeks, with minimal fees in the forms of duty or taxes. I remain skeptical.
On the bright side, the IR receiver and blaster units arrived, so I’ll probably play with those this weekend. They look very well made, so I’m hopeful that they’ll work as advertised. ‘course, I was also hopeful that my EPIA board would arrive fully functional…
Meanwhile, the backend continues to work well. I continue to record The Daily Show and The Colbert Report during their late night showings on CTV (aka, channel 2, aka, one of the few basic cable channels I can currently access with Myth), and it seems to be doing the job quite nicely. I’ve also been noodling around with different plugins on the frontend, such as MythMusic and MythVideo, and everything seems to work as advertised.
Thus far, the only glitch was a period where the frontend started to stutter and generate prebuffering errors, but that could be related to running over a lowly half-duplex, 10 Mbs connection.
Well, the wiring is finally finished! With the help of my friend and co-worker, Chris, it took all of 15 minutes to get the coat hanger fished up to the outlet. From there, it was a cakewalk: draw string back through, draw ethernet up from basement, draw some spare string down into basement (for later expansion, if need be), rejoice.
In addition, last night I got the MythTV subnet running and operating correctly. So, once I get a new EPIA board, installing the frontend should be relatively straightforward. Assuming it isn’t DOA as well…
Speaking of which, it looks like shipping it back should be… interesting. The main problem is in potential customs and taxes which could be levied on the board as it returns across the US border. Hopefully, I can fill out appropriate paperwork and have it marked as a returned item, but we shall see. Meanwhile, on the way back to Canada, I will almost certainly be charged taxes and duty on the replacement, but luckily there’s forms I can submit to get those fees refunded.
Meanwhile, it looks like that EPIA board will spit out component video! It appears to have a header on the motherboard for attaching the proper outputs. Unfortunately… I don’t have a bracket to attach to said header. Fortunately, VidaBox came to the rescue! They specialize it building MCE-based multimedia boxes, but they also sell a number of accessories, one of which is the very bracket I need. A few emails back and forth between their sales staff, and voila! A bracket is on it’s way. After paying $15 for the bracket and $10 for shipping… US. Not to mention taxes.
Did I mention that ordering stuff online isn’t always the most economical thing in the world to do?
Well, after all the problems with ethernet cabling and bad motherboards, things took a bit of an upswing today on the MythTV project, and it all started when the TV tuner card arrived! Yup, it showed up before lunch today, and when we got home this evening, I promptly installed it in the backend and had it configured in around 15 minutes. It went beautifully! And the MythTV setup process went equally smoothly!
But it gets better! What I really wanted to do was test out the backend. So I plugged it in to our basic cable and then configured the mythtv backend. Then, I compiled the frontend on frodo (twice… I compiled 0.20 first, not realizing the backend was running the 0.20-fixes branch), and voila! I was suddenly watching TV on my computer! I could pause, rewind, skip forward, browse around in the EPG (which has a nice little preview of the current channel, just like our existing DSTB), and of course record. And it all works perfectly! Even the channel tune times, which I feared would be a little long, are decent… maybe 1.5-2 seconds to switch? Not bad at all!
So I’ve already marked The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to record this evening (since they run on CTV). We’ll see what they look like tomorrow. Then I can play around with the commercial skip and transcoding functions. Good times! Now if I can only get that EPIA replacement, I can be doing all this right on my TV!
I also managed to play around with MythWeb, the web interface to MythTV, and I gotta say, it’s pretty sweet. It provides a really nice interface for perusing your channel lineup, editting your recording schedule, viewing previously recorded material (assuming your browser and OS are set up correctly), and even accessing your music archive. Very nice! And, again, it worked more or less out-of-the-box (minus a probably unnecessary tweak to Apache’s configuration), proving once again that going with Fedora Core and pre-built binary packages was, hands down, one of the best ways to go.
Things were going so well. The MythTV Backend is now built and humming away quietly in my basement, Fedora Core installed and working nicely. The only minor glitch being some issues with the onboard NIC, though nothing that can’t be solved. Really, it was all going too well.
And then the other shoe dropped.
A couple of days ago, the board for my Living Room Frontend finally arrived after much waiting, whining, complaining, etc. When it finally showed up, I eagerly went home and mounted the board in the lovely Antec case I bought (at which point I realized the EPIA board could also fit in micro-ITX case… it looked so tiny in the mini-ITX Antec). I then wired up all the connectors, routed all the wiring nice and cleanly, and then went to install the RAM. Which didn’t fit. Why? Well, you see, I ordered DDR memory. I then decided to opt for the EPIA EN12000EG instead of the M6000. The M6000 takes DDR. The EN… takes DDR2. $80 blown. Doh.
So, today, after running some errands, we stopped by BEST and I picked up a stick of DDR2. Then, after dinner, I installed the stick and powered up the board. And nothing.
Actually, that’s not true. The PSU and case ventilation fans spun up, even though the power switch hadn’t been pressed. Not good. Experienced computer builders will immediately recognize the potential problem this presents.
So, I decided to start trouble shooting. The first thing was to make sure the PSU wasn’t at fault, so I disconnected the ATX connector from the motherboard and flipped the power switch. Nothing. Nada. This ruled out the PSU.
I then proceeded to reconnect the ATX connector and begin disconnecting other things gradually, testing the PSU in between. And every time, the fans spun up. Eventually, I was left with just the ATX connector attached to the board and nothing else. No RAM. No connectors. Nothing. And when I hit the power switch… the fans spun up. Conclusion? Bad motherboard. Grrr…
So now I have to return the board and get a replacement. Looks like no PVR for at least a few more weeks. On the bright side, at least I can get the backend finished up.
Incidentally, in the process of looking up resources on how to debug this problem, I found this forum post (second one down) describing the process of troubleshooting a motherboard. I mirrored the content here just in case the forum link disappears.
Meanwhile, I figured it would be a good idea to get the networking wired up to the living room. Now, my plan was to reuse the existing coaxial outlet as the ethernet jack. This is particularly convenient, in my case, because I’m dropping down between floors. You see, in this case, when dropping cable from scratch, it’s necessary to drive a hole between the lower wall framing plate and the subfloor. This means augering a hole through four inches of wood… not fun, especially if you don’t want to damage the wall. However, because I was reusing the coax connection, this hole had already been cut, making my job much easier.
Thus, all I needed to do was drop a piece of cat5 around twelve inches straight down into the basement. Easy, right? Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. You see:
- The coax utility box can’t be moved out of the way, because it’s fixed to the stud,
- I’m dropping through an exterior wall, which means insulation, which gets in the way,
- Because it’s an external wall, the box is surrounded by a PVC boot, making it more difficult to access from below,
- The hole in the basement is located near the exterior wall, over the existing framing, making it awkward to reach,
- The existing coax is fixed inside the wall, meaning it can’t be moved (or used to drag the cat5 through).
Now, the only workable method was to use a coat hanger to fish upward from the basement to the coax box. Once I reached it, the plan was to fix the cat5 to the coat hanger and draw it down into the basement. Things did not work out so well. I eventually gave up at 12:30 last night, after around 4 hours poking and prodding inside my walls.
So, what now? Well, Chris, a buddy from work, said he might come by on Saturday and give me a hand. Hopefully, between the two of us, we can get the cable run. Of course, until the EPIA replacement arrives, it won’t actually get connected to anything…
That’s right… things have started arriving! In particular, most of my NCIX-ordered items arrived, which allowed me to build my MythTV Backend and begin the software installation process. I’ve now got Fedora Core 5 installed and a bunch of services configured (though, without the Living Room Frontend ready, I can only get so much done).
Speaking of the frontend, the case has arrived! So, of course, I had to take a picture:
It’s bigger than I’d imagined, for some reason… about the size of a stereo receiver, and weighing in at a whopping 17lbs! Of course, this is, in part, because of the steel used in most of it’s construction. But, I gotta say… it’s pretty awesome. :) And it’ll fit perfectly in the TV stand.
Anyway, the EPIA board will likely arrive tomorrow (they apparently tried to deliver today, but I owe them money, presumably duty), and that only leaves the remaining NCIX items (which got shipped today) and the IR blaster/receiver, which are in the mail as I type this. At which point the fun will really begin!
Well, with all the hardware for the MythTV project on the way (mostly, anyway… NCIX didn’t have a couple items in stock. Like the TV capture card), it seemed like a good time to get the house in order for the new arrivals. Thus, as a logical first step, I decided it was about time I got my firewall rebuilt and moved all the various networking bits downstairs onto some kind of shelving. The result is this:
As you can see, I re-purposed an old Ikea shelving unit as a make-shift rack, and then moved all these things downstairs:
- Cable Modem
- 10Mbs hub (until I get a proper switch for the main house LAN)
- 10/100Mbs switch for the MythTV LAN
In case you’re wondering, this gear is all set up like so:
[[fig:Home Network Diagram]]
Why so complicated? Well, the primary complication is in my choice to shunt the MythTV stuff onto it’s own subnet. I had a couple reasons for this:
- The MythTV frontends will be configured via DHCP and bootp. Putting this on a separate network prevents conflicts with the main firewall DHCP (and any other network-booted devices I may deploy).
- I figured a dedicated, switched 100Mbs network for the Myth stuff wasn’t a bad thing.
Of course, if I had a proper switch which supported VLANs, I could have done this with a single switch, but I wasn’t prepared to pay the bucks for such a device.
As for the firewall, I ended up abandoning LEAF in favour of m0n0wall, a FreeBSD-based firewall that boots nicely off a mini-CD and writes it’s configuration to a dirt cheap USB flash drive I plugged into the back of the thing (IOW, no more unreliable floppies!). And as a bonus, it has a nice, easy to use web-based admin interface, so no longer do I have to hook a damn monitor up to the thing every time I want to reconfigure things.
Okay, this one’s a little different, though. I swear. It costs a lot more than my previous projects…
So what is it? Well, for many months now, I’ve talked on and off about building a DIY PVR setup. Usually this starts off with me complaining about the timeslots for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and quickly turns into a discussion of how awesome a PVR would be for timeshifting my favorite shows, listening to all the music I’ve transferred onto my computer, and watching all the content I’ve downlo… err… ahem. Anyway, as a result, I’ve often thought about:
- Buying and modding an XBox,
- Building a MythTV-based system, or
- Buying a Shaw PVR.
But it wasn’t until I got my pay adjustment, and the attendant backpay (all the way back to last december!) that it became a practical possibility. The problem is, now flush with cash, I think I’ve gone a little overboard.
It all started with plans to build a simple MythTV-based PVR with a mini-itx board of some kind, mounted in a little case. It didn’t take long before this ballooned into a full frontend/backend networked multimedia infrastructure project, with all it’s associated costs. But you know what? I don’t care, damnit! :)
Anyway, I’ve started some new pages to cover my MythTV project. There you can read about my motivations, details about MythTV, and the hardware I’m using. As for the current status, the gear has all been ordered and should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point, the fun begins! Meanwhile, I’ll need to string some cat5e between my living room and where the backend will live, so that should keep me busy.
And just to give you a little taste, here is a shot of the case I’m going to use for the Living Room Frontend:
Unfortunately, bad fences are another thing entirely. Many weeks ago, my neighbour decided he wanted to build a fence. “Sure!”, I said, not realizing what I was really in for. Some time later, fence posts arrived, and I started to wonder when we would begin.
Well, I found out one morning when, to my surprised, I heard the sounds of digging outside. I went out to find him installing posts with the help of his other neighbour. This would be fine… if they knew what the hell they were doing. But they didn’t. The holes were far too shallow (maybe a foot deep), and the 4x6 posts were turned so the short side lined up with the fence line, and in many cases they weren’t even properly aligned. It suffices to say I got out there immediately. We ended up digging 2’ holes (which probably should have been 3’, but he wouldn’t listen) with no gravel in the bottom (despite my enquiries) and concrete dumped in the holes with the posts (he claims we didn’t need forms).
This is when I first realized something about my lovely neighbour: he’s a know-it-all who doesn’t actually know what the fuck he’s doing. Worse, he is whatever the opposite of a perfectionist is. This certainly explains why he was so impressed with my work on our Cedar Deck.
This was all illustrated in our next interaction. We had talked about materials, and I told him I wanted pressure-treated or Cedar, nothing else (I’m not planning to treat the fence right away, if at all). Moreover, standing beside the fence posts which extended far above my 5’ 6” frame, I told him we’d need at least 6’ boards. Well, guess what showed up on his driveway a week or two later? 5’ spruce boards! Well, there was no way I was going to put up with that, so I told him he had to have the boards replaced with 6’ PT.
Oh, but I’m not finished! The neighbour decided, on some of his off time, to put the 2x6 cross braces on. Good idea, right? Apparently not. You see, rather than building a nice sloped fence like everyone else in our neighbourhood, he decided to use joist hangers and make a stepped one. So now, either I’m going to get fucked with two different styles of fence, or my other neighbour will, and I’m not willing to inflict that on him.
But wait, you probably think I’m done now, right? Oh no! No no! You see, we still haven’t gotten to the fence boards! I was chilling comfortably in the house when I heard the sound of a drill outside. “Oh shit, he’s working on the fence”, I thought, and I raced outside to find he’d finished the far panel and had started on the next one. From a distance, it didn’t look too bad… and then I got closer. First, I should point out that he put all the fence boards on his side, which isn’t that big of a deal. However, he also bought screws that were too long. So, on the entire first panel, all the screws had driven straight through and were sticking out on my side. ARGH! Worse yet, his idea to fix it was, get this, to grind the tips off. Let’s just say I objected.
“But what about the second panel?”, you ask? He decided to start driving the screws in at an angle, rather than doing the obvious and just returning the damned screws. Well, in this case, I didn’t care too much, as the screw heads show on his side, not mine. But, upon examining the work, it was pretty damned obvious that the fence boards started level with the top cross-brace, and slowly started curving up! I mean, how could you not notice this?!?
At this point, I simply took over. There was no damn way I was going to let him fuck up my fence further. Luckily, he had to drive his wife somewhere, and by the time they’d returned, I’d already done two panels and started a third, and by the end of the evening, I was done. The next day, I rescrewed the entire first panel (though, now my side of the cross braces are peppered with holes) and repositioned all the boards in the second one. The result is that we now have a decent (if somewhat odd) looking fence on the east side of our property that isn’t going to match with the one on the west. Woo fucking hoo.
Interestingly, this is a very clear illustration of why I chose to work on the deck alone. I’m a perfectionist, and unless I’m working with another perfectionist, I would inevitably get very frustrated. Moreover, if I work alone, I only have myself to blame if there are flaws in the finished product… as opposed to cursing someone else’s name every time I noticed something that annoyed me. :)
Okay, I thought I’d heard it all when I learned about Sailboat Arcadia. I mean, some guy building a boat in his backyard?? Well, I came across something equally hardcore today…
Tell me, have you heard of David J. Gingery? Yeah, neither had I. Well, this crazy nutjob, who was, to quote Wikipedia, “an inventor, writer, and machinist”, wrote a series of books on how to build machine tools. Not too remarkable, right? Well, what makes this so unbelievable is that he didn’t do it by buying parts from hardware stores and so forth. Oh no, that would be too easy. Instead, he figured out how to build his own Foundry in his back yard, capable of melting aluminum and zinc alloys. Then, using Green_sand molds, he casted the parts he needed and built his devices from scratch.
But it doesn’t end there. After figuring all this out, he wrote a series of books which, in simple, clear language, describe how to build a metal working shop. The first book covers the construction of a charcoal foundry, and the remaining volumes describe how to build various metal working equipment from recycled scrap metal, including, believe it or not, a lathe and a drill press. And all this can be done without the need for power tools or other expensive gear.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “does he really plan to build a metal working shop??” In short, no. :) After completing such a project, I honestly have no idea what I’d do with it. But you must admit, it’s pretty damned amazing.
Alright alright, I finally have pictures of the new railing up. Keep in mind, though, that there’s still work to be done. First, there’s a small rail that I need to install on the upper tier near the window well. Second, I need to install something in front of the window well on the lower tier (probably a railing, maybe a bench or something). Third, the stair to the ground still needs to be built. However, much of that will probably be put off for a week or two… I really need a break.
So, here we go:
As you can see, I’ve got the railing and the stair between the two levels completed. Looks pretty nice, if you ask me. ;)
Okay, so we were dumb. We decided to lay down our topsoil and then wait months and months before getting our final grade approval, after which we could look toward planting a lawn. Well, it turns out that the local flora absolutely love fresh black dirt, and the result was a veritable forest, nay, jungle of weeds.
The problem is, tomorrow we are supposed to have some inspector come to verify our final grade. And I can only assume that the poor sucker will want to, you know, be able to see the ground. So, I decided it was time to weed. Two and a half hours later, give or take, I was done, and the result was this:
Notice the barbecue, which I placed beside the pile for reference (note, the pile is more oblong than round, so you’re seeing the broadside in that photo).
The weeds were so bad that the process basically involved blindly grabbing and pulling at whatever I could find. Which is, coincidentally, very similar to one of the basic forms in my highly refined street fighting technique (the other being the Homer Simpson form… you know, crying like a little baby until your opponent turns away in disgust, at which point you kick some back!).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an oversized miter saw with which to cut my 4x4 posts. Like most DIYers, I’m limited to a circular saw for larger scale cuts, but such a saw can only hit around 2 3/4” depth. Thus, the general approach I’ve used in the past is to mark my cut on both sides of the 4x4, then cut one side, flip, and cut the other. However, this can often produce ridges because the second cut isn’t perfectly aligned with the first. Fortunately, during my work on our deck railing, I came up with a procedure that produces virtually flawless 4x4 cuts with only a circular saw and a hand saw. The steps are as follows:
- Mark your cut and then use the circular saw to cut the one side to the saw’s maximum depth.
- Rotate the piece toward you one quarter turn.
- Insert the saw blade into the half-cut line and complete the cut.
- Using the hand saw, cut out the remaining material.
Voila! Faster and more accurate than hand cutting the whole thing, but without the nasty flaws of the standard cut-flip-cut procedure.
Yeah, I know, this is probably obvious stuff, but for me, this is brilliant! :)
Anyway, back to work…
It never ends. First it’s the damn beam being off. Then it’s all these building code issues. Now, after discussions with Chris, who was told by a Rona employeee that the builder almost certainly didn’t bolt his ledger to the house, and instead only nailed it, I’ve quickly realized that my own ledger board is only nailed to the house! ARGH!
So now what? You guessed it… I have to remove the deck boards closest to the house, drill holes and install lag screws or bolts, all of which is going to be that much more difficult because the damn joists and decking are in place. And who knows if they installed flashing (or something equivalent to stave off water). I sure hope they did, ‘cuz it’s too late now…
Well, I’ve confirmed that there is top flashing on the ledger board, there’s just no back flashing. Hopefully that’s sufficient in these parts.
Incidentally, it looks like this is a job I can safely do now. From what I can tell, the goal is to drill holes through the ledger board and into the house band board (the outside-most board that makes up the flooring). Then, drive through carriage bolts and secure with washers and nuts.
Actually, scratch that, I’m just going to use Lag Screws… less work than bolts, and sufficiently strong for my purposes.
So, when we went ahead with building our deck, I chose to rely on Roy to make sure it matched the building codes of Alberta. Looking back, this was probably not the greatest idea, since, if I was at least semi-knowledgeable in these things, I could ask questions and verify things as we went along.
Well, my buddy Chris has begun working on his deck, and he decided to actually read up on a few things, and now I’m starting to wonder about a few things myself. The biggest concern I have is that our lower tier is set up on 2x6 joists with an 8’ span between the two beams, and has a total depth of 12’, which means a 24” cantilever on either end, give or take. The problem is that, according to the building code, with 2x6 joists you can only have a 16” cantilever (actually, 15”, or 2.5 times the width of the joists). Whoops. Additionally, according to a safety officer Chris talked to, as of July 2005, they’re telling people to use 3 ply beams. We used 2 ply. Hopefully it’s just a suggestion…
Consequently, I think we’re just not going to apply for a permit any time soon. :) You don’t need one until you sell your house, which we don’t plan to do for quite a while (if ever… getting our armoire out of our bedroom is, I suspect, nigh on impossible), and even then, the buyer can choose to purchase anyway and the previous owner may be subject to a fine. And, I gotta say, at this point… I’m tempted to just wait it out and pay the fine.
Well, apparently Chris went and asked the Rona folks about their deck packages and conformance with building codes. Turns out they knowingly sell deck packages which don’t conform to our local building codes! Specifically, they use 2x6 joists and 2-ply beams with a 24” cantilever. How nice of them…
Well, after using the trailer a couple times, I became a little concerned that the surge from the old spring-based hitch might become a problem as the weight climbed (eg, 20-40lbs of rabbit litter). So I decided to try and build a hinged universal joint that would do the job. You can see what I can up with below:
I settled on shelf brackets (which are nice and rigid) mounted to a piece of electrical box cover for the hinge on the bike, and a pair of straightened brackets for the trailer arm hinge. The result seems to work fairly well, demonstrating noticably less surge than the previous design. You can read a bit more about it on the Bicycle Trailer page.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I still needed to build a box for my trailer. Well, how better to spend my holiday monday than to do just that? Below you can see the fruits of my labour:
And, of course, a close up:
As you can see, I built it from some exterior grade plywood and 2x2’s. And before you ask, yes, it’s heavy. Probably 20lbs, if I had to guess. But it seems pretty solid, and should do the job nicely. It’s also quite roomy (40x20x16 inches, give or take), which means I can haul around even more junk!
Interestingly, while the wood was fairly inexpensive ($13 for the sheet of plywood, plus about $6 for the 2x2s), it was the fasteners which ended up being surprisingly expensive. Heck, the wing nuts which are used to fasten the box to the trailer frame were a buck a piece! But, such is life, and at least my project is complete! Now, to find things to move…
Update: I’ve summarized the project in a separate page entitled Bicycle Trailer. Catchy, eh?
Man, it’s been a while since I’ve written, but I have a good excuse, I swear. You see, I’ve been busy. Very busy. With the weather being as fantastic as it has been, I’ve felt compelled to pull out my tools have some good DIY fun! So, what’s the latest? Well, see for yourself:
Oh yes, I built myself a bike trailer! Using the fantastic directions provided by the generous Mark Rehder, who got the design from “The Cart Book, with Plans and Projects” by William L. Sullivan, I combined some parts scavanged from my old bike with some EMT and other goodies from the local hardware store, and, over the span of three days, voila! a trailer was borne.
Now, the most difficult part of a bike trailer project is coming up with a hitch design. Many people use things like bungee cords, or even purchase one outright (there are some nice ball-and-socket hitches on the market). Me? I came up with my own, inspired by the hitch used in this design. It uses a spring I took from a storm door kit (that just happens to fit the 3/4” EMT precisely) to provide the necessary flexibility:
It seems to work fairly well. Of course, the attachment to the bike is a total hack, but it does the job. And while there’s a bit of surge, it’s not too bad. Though I still need to install a safety line (basically a cable running from the tow bar to the bike), just in case.
In the mean time, I also need a box. I’ll probably build something out of plywood with a base that sits below the main frame. This lowers the center of gravity and allows me to move heavy loads more safely. I also plan to make it easily removable (probably fastened with bolts and wing nuts), so I can easily convert it into a flatbed.
By now you’re probably be asking yourself, good lord why?! Well that seems obvious enough: I want to move stuff by bike! But what, you ask? Well, first and foremost, I had my telescope in mind. Being able to find a nice dark sky is difficult at the best of times. But for one such as myself who has stubbornly, some might say, cowardly… ly managed to avoid getting his driver’s license, this is especially true (unless you want to drag your unwilling, license-possessing wife along). A trailer makes it possible for me to transport my scope by bicycle. Combined with some camping gear, I may have finally found a way to burn some of those holidays I have stashed away.
Of course, I’m sure there are many other things I’ll find the need to move: groceries, construction materials, slave children. That sort of thing. In fact, I’ve already used it to recover some scrap 2x4’s and 2x6’s from local construction sites (it worked quite well, I’m happy to say). Heck, I’ll probably have fun just coming up with new reasons to tow stuff around.
Well, sort of. There’s still plenty of work to do, like installing railings, stairs, evening out edges, installing facia, and other such things, but the bulk of the work (framing and decking) is complete!
Now, it’s been a while since my last update, and some people are really interested in seeing some pictures. So, I thought it about time to post a few shots of my work. First off, I have a couple photos showing the completed framing:
As you can see, it turned out pretty well (thought not perfect… the right-most joist on the upper deck isn’t quite square with the rest of the frame). Truth be told, I think framing was the most enjoyable part. It’s not terribly tedious, but it really gives you a feel for what the final outcome is going to be like.
Speaking of which, second, I have a couple shots of the completed deck. The first is an attempted overhead panorama. Unfortunately, the image is a bit warped, but it gives you a decent look at the final product:
And lastly, an elevation shot, showing the deck in profile against the house:
Not too bad, eh? Again, there are a few warts that I, having built the thing, are probably more likely to notice, and only one semi-major thing: it appears the lower deck shifted forward a bit during construction, and so the front beam and posts are leaning forward slightly:
I suspect this is minor, so I’m not terribly worried about it, but worst case I can unscrew the joists, lift the deck (which isn’t has hard as you’d think), push the beam back, and rescrew.
So there you have it! ‘course, now we need to find a way to actually use the 250+ square feet of deck we now have…
Well, we’ve finally started moving on the deck front! I went to Cedar Village this morning, the shop owned by our unbelievably generous family friend Roy Crosty, and did a little bit of deck planning. I’m incredibly excited, as the end product looks absolutely fantastic:
As you can see, we’re planning a two-tier deck. This allows us to build a full-width deck while still preserving the basement window for an additional bedroom. And for those we haven’t told, it’s going to be built from cedar! So. Sweet. Not to mention fragrant! Anyway, the materials have been ordered, so now we’re awaiting delivery, which will likely occur some time in the middle of next week. Once that’s done, it’s deck-buildin’ time!
Of course, one can’t build a deck without some tools, so we headed to Rona and picked up a couple items, specifically:
- 12A 7 1/4” circular saw
- 18V cordless drill
- Level and other random bits
And all for just over $100! Yay for clearance items, and me being not terribly picky about my tools! I figure, in the long run, should they prove insufficient, I can always upgrade later.
Unsurprisingly, though, I’m now itching to play with my new tools! So, tomorrow I’ll probably scavange some wood from various scrap piles nearby and build me a couple saw horses. Once that’s done, I might even attempt to move up to a set of shelves (for the new tools ;)!
Well, believe it or not, I achieved all of my necessary goals from yesterday. The garden got staked out, the rhubarb made it into the ground (though slightly the worse for wear, I think…), and the composter is now assembled with a bed of twigs in the bottom, ready to accept it’s first household waste! Which doesn’t sound nearly as awesome when I write it out like that…
Anyway, the rhubarb was probably the biggest challenge. It was previously housed in an old tub that, I believe, was intended to be sunk into the ground and turned into a small pond (thanks, Mom… :). As a result, I had to dig around the outside edge and, eventually, man-handle the thing out of the container, damaging the root ball in the process (which had completely filled the tub, much to my surprise). Fortunately, this plant has already proved itself quite hardy (surviving an artificially induced drought last fall) so I hold out some hope that it will survive unscathed.
The only other tricky bit was deciding where to put the garden. The tree was, thanks to me, unfortunately placed last fall, due to a lack of complete understanding regarding the dimensions of our yard. As a result, I had to take Lenore’s suggestion and extend the garden in behind the tree, in order to use up that dead space… obviously shade-loving plants will need to grow there. You can see the layout in this photo:
In total, the back section is 4’x5’, and the front is 6’x19’, for a total of 134 square feet (I think… :). My goal was to make it possible to divide it up into 2 or 4 square foot sections, rather than doing long rows. We’ll see how that works out.
As if having the in-laws over on the weekend didn’t make things hectic enough, it was also Mother’s Day on Sunday (which is, in part, why the in-laws were here), and to top it off, I was actually feeling motivated and decided to get a bunch of TODO items off my list.
So, in between hanging out with the mother- and brother-in-law and joining my sister and mom for a nice brunch at The Manor Café (which is, BTW, an excellent restaurant… the brunch was really fantastic), I also:
- Got the push mower assembled and the front yard lawn cut.
- Rented a lawn roller and compressed the soil in the backyard and parging, after which I started staking out the garden area (though Lenore and I still need to discuss general positioning, etc ;).
And, as if that wasn’t enough, I also did a little bunny-cage-refactoring. You see, we have this giant, home-made bunny cage, depicted below (note, this is an old picture… the cage went through some other minor refactoring since this photo was taken):
Now, the first thing you might ask yourself is, why so big? Well, the plan was to have our two bunnies co-habitate eventually, but alas, that is not to be. So, until yesterday, Herbie, our smaller rabbit, was in the giant cage, and Chloe was in a rather small floor cage (since her Abscesses made it necessary to keep her cage really clean, a task more easily achieved in a smaller cage). This was doubly silly since Herbie never really used the upper floors, anyway.
But all that has changed! I decided this situation was downright silly (not to mention space inefficient) and modded the mansion, dividing it in half, thus creating two cages, one in the top half and one in the bottom, with Herbie remaining in the bottom, and Chloe now inhabiting the top. Photos to come once I get around to taking some.
Meanwhile, tonight the plan is to get the final garden position staked out, the compost started, and perhaps the unkillable Rhubarb in the ground. And if I still have time, maybe I’ll start planting the annuals that we bought on the weekend…
Here’s the image of the new cage layout. Images of the yardwork, still pending.
The company I work for hired a new sysadmin a while back by the name of Arkadi. He’s a Russian ex-pat (Siberian, to be precise) and made his way here ultimately through work. He’s a quiet fellow, but he has a fantastic sense of humour, and is a great guy to talk to once you get him going. Really, he’s the new Carl of the company… still waters, and all that. But there’s more to him than meets the eye.
You see, Arkadi has this dream. He wants to build himself a boat. A 40’ foot boat, made from steel, to be precise. And then he wants to sail around the world in it. But the incredible part is, he’s going for it. In his backyard. By himself. Now, that alone is incredibly admirable, I think. Honestly, how many of us have really considered pursuing our dreams with such dedication? But in order to achieve that goal, he needed to get an inexpensive house (building a boat ain’t cheap) with a large yard and neighbours that didn’t mind the sound of MIG welding, a combination of attributes that proved highly difficult to find in a home.
So, what was his solution? He and his wife bought a piece of land outside the city, and he proceeded to build his house. No, that wasn’t a mis-print, he built it. By himself (with a little help to get the walls raised). He and his wife even designed it from scratch. And all this without any prior experience in construction, just some background in creating plans thanks to his engineering degree.
Now I bet you’re curious what his house and boat look like, eh? Well, you can check out the websites for his completed house and in-progress boat by following the links below:
Frankly, his story is inspiring to me. He’s proof that anyone with the desire can achieve their goals if they’re willing to put in enough hard work. His achievements also make me realize how often I place artificial limits on my own capabilities. I just hope I can take a cue from Arkadi and push some of my own boundaries. Fortunately, I have some stepping stones in the form of a deck to build, a basement to finish and a garage to raise…
So, aside from the computer building debacle as reported earlier, I finally got around to one other major TODO I’ve had on my list some time, that being to get some household networking going and move the damn cable modem and firewall downstairs. Previously, the cable modem was in our bedroom, and we had a hacked up piece of cat5 running into the den, which was a substandard solution, to say the least, so I felt it was about damn time to do something about this.
The beauty of this situation is that in basically all new houses, they’re wiring up the telephones using cat5, which means 8 pairs of wires, rather than just the old two. This means that, at every telephone jack in a new house, there are two pairs in use, and six extra pairs just sitting there, begging to be wired up. Well, regular ol’ 10baseT, which is capable of doing 10 Mb/s (sufficient for my needs) only needs four pairs. So, using the telephone line already wired into the den, I was able to hook up 10baseT from the den straight to the basement without having to drop a single line. Sweet!
For those wondering how to do this, it’s simple. You need just a few pieces of equipment:
- A modular faceplate and two connectors, an RJ11 and an RJ45 (or two RJ45s, if you like).
- A blade screwdriver.
- A pair of wire cutters/strippers.
With these items, the process of wiring is a simple matter:
- Remove the old plate and disconnect the wires. The blue and blue/white wires should be the ones in use. Warning: the ring voltage on telephone lines is enough to give a nasty shock, so do your best to avoid touching both wires at the same time.
- Connect the original wires to the middle pins of the to-be-telephone connector. For an RJ45, that would be as follows:
- blue -> pin 4
- white/blue -> pin 5.
- Plug in the telephone and verify it works.
- Wire up the ethernet connector as follows:
- white/orange -> pin 1
- orange -> pin 2
- white/green -> pin 3
- green -> pin 6
That’s it! Well, not quite. Now you get to wire up the other end. If you head to the electrical panel in your basement, you should see the various telephone lines from the house congregate. It’s up to you to figure out which one corresponds to the jack you’re wiring. I just disconnected them until I disabled the phone line I was working on. :) Once you’ve found the line, take the unconnected wires (there should be six) and splice a piece of ethernet to the white/orange, orange, white/green, and green lines such that the wire colours match. This will create a straight-through connection that you can wire into a hub. If you want to create a cross-over (so that you can connect the panel end directly into a computer) wire the white/green to white/orange and green to orange.
There, that’s it! After this, I installed a cable splitter, moved my cable modem and firewall into the basement, and then ran a patch cable from the jack upstairs into my hub, and voila! Done! Good times…
For my next trick, I think I’ll pick up another hub at some point, put it in the basement, and then put in another modular jack where my cable is currently wired in and run ethernet to the hub, in preparation for some sort of video PC or hacked Xbox-type solution. Plus, hey, it’s good ol’ techy fun!
The sequel has arrived. We were passing by a Future Shop downtown, and we decided to stop in, and lo and behold, they got in new stock! So I decided to take the plunge once more. I hope I don’t live to regret this.
OTOH, this time I bought the extended warrantee. Of course, normally, these things are scams, and primarily act as just a great way to pump up the sales dude’s commission. But, in this case, particularly given my first experience, it seemed worth the money. Of course, if I decide enough is enough, I just threw $60 out the window. Then again, if things go south in 6 months, it’ll all be worth it (the warrantee is for a rather ample 2 years).
‘course, the real irony in all this is that, just today, I discovered PocketMod. It’s been raved about again and again elsewhere, so I won’t get too deep into it, but it basically lets you make small, customizable 8-page booklets, which can contain anything from calendars to to-do lists to music staffs, and are intended to act as little organizers/notebooks/what-have-you. Which, of course, is exactly what my Palm is for. :) Oh well, a PocketMod or two is still useful for other things, and I’ll put my more ‘mission critical’ stuff on paper, rather than dedicating the information solely to my Palm (eg, important contact information, etc).
For those new to this place, my wife and I share our lives with two pet Rabbits, Herbie and Chloe. Well, the last year has been pretty hard on Chloe: so far she’s developed four Abscesses, three on her back feet and, now, one on her front. It’s been fun. Real fun.
Well, her most recent abscess has required me to come up with some method for protecting her foot. The problem is, it needs to be fairly tightly fit, reasonably durable, and most importantly cheap and easy to replace, since she will destroy them, even with the damned cone on.
So, I decided it was about time I actually used my knitting skills for something useful and came up with this:
Pretty basic, but it works surprisingly well. I can custom fit them, which is really nice, and I can bang one out in around 20 minutes, meaning if she does destroy it, I can just make another. I’ve also experimented with a couple other variations, like using decreases near the top to tighten it up, and I even created one using reinforced heel stitch, to see if would stand up to more of a beating. But, in the end, the basic Stockinette pattern seems to work the best. Maybe next time I’ll throw in a couple cables, etc. ;)
Tonight I decided to get my Red Green on and hack together a really crappy camera mount for my telescope! It’s made from various pieces of vacuum tubing (which happens to be 2” in diameter, the same diameter of the eyepiece holder on my scope), some hardboard, and much tape (unfortunately not the duct variety… yes, I am ashamed. I had to settle for electrical). The end result was this thing:
Yes, it’s as hackish as it looks. The idea is that it sorta fits over the eyepiece holder and has a separate sliding component which allows the mount to adjust for the camera lens position, differing eyepiece lengths, etc.
So, with it, I decided to take another crack at lunar photography. I captured the following image with my wide-field 25mm eyepiece (for about 60x magnification) (in this image, north is to the left):
I’ve sharpened the image to adjust for some atmospheric turbulence and poor focusing on my part. In addition, there appears to be some blurring toward the left edge of the image which is probably a result of the camera not being evenly positioned against the eyepiece.
After staring at a Lunar Map for quite a while, I managed to identify some of the more interesting features. Among them, toward the right edge of the image you can see the famous crater Tycho (it appears smaller than some of the others, but has a prominent central protrusion). This particular crater is the epicenter of a set of lunar rays which, while not incredibly prominent in this image, are visible.
Oh thank the lord, it’s done. The Dr. Who Scarf is done! And I even took a picture, just like I said I would:
It turned out pretty darn nice, if I do say so myself… a little wavy on the edges, but I blame the varying yarn weight. I swear, it ain’t my fault! It was all the yarn. Stupid yarn.
Anyway, now I’m on to my next project. I figured I’d make a dent in my largish sock yarn collection by making
a pair of socks! Toe-up socks, no less! You see, typically socks are made from the cuff down. Unforunately, this has two disadvantages:
- You have to sew the toe closed. And for someone who sucks at Kitchener Stitch (like, say, me), this sucks.
- It’s not possible to try the sock on as you make it.
Making socks toe-up solves this problem. It’s also cool. Or so I tell myself. Anyway, here’s a picture of the current work-in-progress:
Amusingly enough, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a bit big.
So much Knitting, so little time. I’m currently working on a project for a friend of mine (I’d worry about you reading this, Massie, but… I doubt anyone is reading this :): a Dr. Who Scarf. I used to have a decent picture of the original, but it’s misplaced somewhere, and the best I could find is this:
It’s freakin’ huge… probably about 10-11 feet when finished, many colours, and simply a whole heck of a lot of work. Fortunately, it’s almost done. Almost. Probably another foot to go, and then all the weaving-in-of-ends (damn I hate that part). Once it’s done I’ll put up a couple pictures.
On a more Gardening-related note, Lenore and I decided to plant apple trees! ‘course, we bought them over a week and a half ago, and only now, with our landscaping finally completed, have I been able to get them in the ground. One is a Norland and one is a Battleford, with the Battleford going in the front yard and the Norland in the back. Both are quite small right now (I’ll take some pictures soon), around 2 feet tall, so we won’t be getting a yield for a couple years. But, in the meantime, here’s something to look forward to.