Saturday, January 7, 2012

In the Beginning

Its tough to say when my love of technology first began. To me it almost seems like I was right out of my mother's womb and wondering how the EKG worked , or why the florescent light illuminating most post birth hue would hum the way that it did. I think if I had to nail it down to one of my earliest memories, it would have to be when I was three years old, and playing upstairs in my sister's room. Memories from that time in my life are kind of sketchy and jumbled together like a barely coherent dream. I remember patches of what went on but very little of it came be assembled into any sort of time line.

Our home was a little row house in southwest Philadelphia (when it was safe to live there, probably 1974). The house was built in the late 20's or early 30's and had real old electrical service. Two prong outlets with no ground. The paint was old and peeling, the floor boards creaked, and it seemed like every day my father was working on some part of the house to make it better. At the time I seemed oblivious to all of this. Being three years old my mind was a total sponge trying to soak up as many new and exciting things as I could. EVERYTHING was bright and new, and nothing was off limits.

To get back to my sister's room. I had been playing in there. My sister's listened to a lot of music and hung out in there room a lot and I used to feel left out if I was not in there with them. I am not sure if the size was ACTUALLY bigger than mine and my brothers room, but is certainly felt that way and I felt more comfortale in there as a result. So during the days when my sister's and brother were at school I would roam around looking for things to enlighten my small mind. I was always magnetically drawn to my sister's room, hoping that in some way my presence there would magically make them appear, turn on some music and start hanging out in there. I guess that was my way of expressing that I missed them.

Standing alone in a quite room with nothing happening almost made me feel as if I was frozen in time. Nothing moved, not a sound was heard, and I almost felt a bit guilty breathing since it would upset this delicate balance of the environment. I turned to leave the room and find something else to do and my foot kicked a small Bobby Pin. Seeing as how this was metal and it traveled across a wooden floor it made a slight sound. However in a quiet room with my senses set on maximum gain to scan out anything that my young mind could soak up, the sound was loud and thundering. My attention immediately focused on it.

I picked it up and started to bend it around. I think I even stuck it on my finger. It squeezed it tight and left a small imprint when I removed it. When I relaxed my attention off of the Bobby pin I noticed that I was standing next to a wall.

Being that young and not having a fully developed mind is a strange thing. Your perceptions are different, and you methods for getting tasks done are different as well. Furthermore because everything is so bright and new, being able to rely on a lengthy attention span is never something you can consider. You simply just move onto the next amazing thing and easily forget what you are doing.

So here I was standing next to a wall, after finding this Bobby pin on the floor, which I was still holding, and I decided that I had had enough and wanted to leave the room, but I had focused so much on the Bobby pin that I did not realize I had walked across the room and ended up next to a wall, so I needed to find the door so I could leave. I looked up from my hands and at the wall in front of me and figured that if I ran my eyes along the wall I would eventually find where the door was. Pretty slick thinking for a kid whose brain has not fully developed.

I started running my eyes along the wall scanning for the door and noticed a disturbance in the wall. There was a little box with two dark circles on it. I immediately forgot that I was looking for the door and fixated on this. I walked over to the box and sat down in front of it. It was at eye level for a three year old.

I touched the front of the box and marveled over it. It was cold to the touch, the dark circles when touched were not as cold and had two slits in them. Almost like you were supposed to insert something into them. I knew this because I remembered watching on TV a bunch of ladies sitting in front of walls pulling things out of a desk and shoving them into dark circles with slits on them. This  had to be one of those dark circles I had seen on TV. After they shoved something into the slit they would start talking to someone. Maybe I could talk to my sisters using these dark circles with slits in them?
It was really quiet in the room and wanted someone to talk to. So decided I needed to place an offering into the slit on the dark circle on the box in front of me. But what could I use? 

As I was mulling over this question I noticed that I was rubbing the Bobby pin

"OF COURSE!, I'll use THIS!"

In that eureka moment I felt like a giant. It was like all the planets aligned, the clouds parted, and God himself had delivered the answer to me personally. I could almost feel my mind getting stronger, I KNEW I was more confident. There was now purpose, there was finally a reason for the seemingly unrelated chain of events that led up to that point. I then licked my lips with a swipe of my tongue across my top lip and inserted the Bobby pin into one of the slits.

So in reality this is a story about a three year old sticking a piece of metal into an electrical socket with no ground. The "cold outside box" was really the metal cover of the electrical outlet that had no ground and was simply shorted to the neutral return. Aside from the horrors of a three year old being electrocuted, my first hand experience with this was rather strange.

"Something is happening", I quickly thought to myself. My hand felt like it was moving back and forth very quickly but I could not observe it moving at all. "Was someone trying to talk to me through the dark circle with slits in it? Did this happen to the ladies I saw on TV?" 

Before I could ask myself anymore questions, my hand and then my arm started to hurt and feel very hot. This was not what I expected, I immediately got frightened, and screamed rather loudly. In one motion I let go of the Bobby pin in what seemed like an explosion of my hand. I then started shouting and crying uncontrollably.

Help was not far away and my Mother soon showed up confused and alarmed. I think the only words that came out of my mouth between the sobs were "It bit me!" At that point she noticed the Bobby pin in the socket and what was really going on.

She hugged me very close and told me it would be alright. I started to feel better. When my crying subsided a bit she grabbed my cheeks and moved my face so I looked her straight in the eyes and she said, "Your not supposed to play with electricity" softly to me.

In retrospect I think back to that time and would like to apologize to my Mother, because I don't think I could ever take those words to heart. Without ever having a say in the matter I was now hooked on electricity, and that type of addiction has lead me to be the person I am today.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Story of My Bathroom

We all need a place to shit. And for many of us our bathroom is a sanctuary away from the ills and pains of society and the world around us. Once that door is shut and the fart fan is engaged we are transported from a confusing, hectic life full of despair and reward-less responsibilities to a safe haven that relaxes our minds and colons. Often while planting one's ass onto the toilet a small sigh of relief can be heard.

So a bathroom is a pretty important place for me. Since I moved into my home in 2006 I have already remodeled one bathroom, and was basically forced into remodeling another one. The latter being the bathroom off of my bedroom. Why was I forced to remodel this bathroom? I think the picture below speaks for itself.

Yes, your eyes are not being fooled. That is a pink door with a pink ceiling, with pink highlighted wallpaper with a sort of butterscotch toilet. Add to this, that the linoleum floor is stained beyond all comprehension, the vanity is rotted beyond all repair, and the shower..... UGH THAT FUCKING SHOWER!

The shower has been a consistent thorn in my side since even before I bought the home. It was a sticking point on the contract when it came to buying home.

I was up against a lot back then. I currently lived in Florida and had to line a job up within a reasonable distance from where I was planning live, I had to close up shop on my old job, prep and sell my home in Florida, and a whole other host of things that were going on that I will not go into detail about here.

So with all of this going on, I had a business trip to Philadelphia planned for my job at the time. I had arranged to stay and extra three days at my parent's house. While up in the region I lined up three job interviews and got to walk through a few homes in the neighborhood I was looking to move into.  All throughout the trip I had the flu, so I was not in any state to be deciding on such a large purchase. Unfortunately I was sort of pressed to do this because of the dizzying timeline I had carved out for myself. While walking through the house I had not seen anything terribly bad (boy was I in for a surprise), and in the end the decision was really based on the height above sea level that the house was because I had experienced so many flooding issues in the past. (Again a big surprise awaited me)

To get back to the shower, one of the things I noticed in the walk through was that the master bathroom shower had cracks in the tile. So in the contract I had them spell out that this would be fixed. This of course was met with resistance. The guy selling the house was a jerk. He was in the middle of getting divorced so the house was up for sale as a result. He wanted as little to do with the whole process as could NEVER be expected. He was already making out like a bandit on the sale because of the artificially inflated housing market, and still he bitched, whined and complained like a three year old the entire time. So all the work he needed to get done on the house he did himself and half assed it ALL, then greased the palms of the inspectors.I reviewed the progress of all of this via pictures that were taken to see the results. From my perspective everything looked fine.
This is a shot of the shower being fixed. New shower pan and tile.

So the shower got fixed, we moved in, blah blah blah, such is life. The first year into it's use the tile started to crack and grout was falling out. We continued to use the shower simply because we needed a second shower with all the people living in my house. 

At this point water was now getting behind some of the tile and that just accelerated the process of the shower's demise. So at some point we stopped using the shower. I would just have to get to it when I could get to it. There were a host of other problems with the home that needed to be addressed first.

Finally when I was able to take a breather from all the other problems that the home had, termite damage, flooding, electrical problems, etc... my wife finally could take it no more and told me to demolish the bathroom.

I gleefully ran upstairs armed with a pry bar and sledgehammer.


Demolishing a bathroom is never as fun as one would think it could be. Sure you get to smash a hammer into a wall like you are Thor on a drinking binge one night, but in reality you are removing a toilet from a twenty plus year old leaky wax seal. So you get the real experience of being able to touch the shit of the five families that lived in the home prior to you. Luckily I wore gloves.
Once everything was ripped out I needed to re-insulate because what passed for insulation in 1959 is pretty sad. After this I had to cut and remove all the wood around the drains of both the toilet and the shower drain due to some wood rot.

A little fancy measuring and cutting made this problem go away. The hole for the shower drain was closed up since I needed to make a new hole for that. The multi-tool helped a lot in that effort.

While under the bathroom I took the opportunity to install ball valves in the plumbing that led to the shower. In the past there were no valves and I had to shut off the entire water supply to work on it. I also got all the measurements I needed to build the plumbing for the shower drain.

Because there are so many people living in my home, it began to be a real challenge for everyone to share one bathroom while one was being worked on. So in the meantime I installed the new toilet and built a temporary stand for the old bathroom sink to at least have SOME sort of bathroom.

Next it was time to start in on the shower. I used mortar to secure the shower pan to the floor. I ran into a lot of frustration with the shower and ultimately ended up having a plumber help me with the faucets and securing the shower surround.

Once the shower was in place it was time to remove the toilet and old sink so the dry-walling could begin. This is one of my most hated tasks. I don't have an issue hanging the drywall but I definitely have an issue with finishing it with Spackle. GOD HOW I HATE TO SPACKLE!

This is me after a day of spackling and sealing with caulk. I definitely was not a happy camper.

 At this point I installed a new sub-floor so the stick on tiles would have something to adhere to. Once complete the project really started picking up momentum.

After the floor was installed it was time to take care of the trim.

Sink and toilet came back, its really starting to look like a bathroom now.

FINALLY we have a bathroom again complete with all the mess. And although it might not be the best or the biggest bathroom.....
It still beats the hell out of shitting outside.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Let the Deep Frying Begin!

So guess who got a turkey fryer for Christmas?

Now frying was not the first thing I had planned on doing with this setup, in fact it was one of the last things I had planned on doing with it. Lets face it, there are literally endless culinary possibilities with a gigantic pot and propane burner.

The first thing I ended up doing was boiling a big pot of water to see how long it would take. To do this, I filled up the pot to the MAX FILL line which was about three gallons of water. I set the burner on high, and measured the temperature of the water to get a starting point. I then placed the pot on the burner and set a timer. It took roughly twenty minutes to boil three gallons of water. Without delving into a bunch of math, I came up with about 3.3 KW of power being used. Not bad.

My original plan was to use the fryer to malt my own barley and boil up some wort for brewing beer. To do this I needed a lot of time, planning, and materials all of which I did not have. New Year's Eve was looming and I wanted to bring something to my sister's house for the gathering that she had arranged. So in the end I decided to fry some things up to take to her house.

First I needed to decide what I was going to fry up. Although this is a turkey fryer I did not have the time or materials to fry up a turkey. Furthermore I would have had to carve it all up and lets face it, a carved turkey is not really something you want to simply grab and stuff in your face after you have been drinking all night. So I decided that finger foods would be best. Fried chicken is a good choice, and of course we will need something sweet, so I decided on fried Oreos and fried Twinkies to cure a sweet tooth.

Next I needed to procure three gallons of frying oil. I had heard that peanut oil was the best for this. I have tasted things fried in peanut oil before and had liked it. The smell was also somewhat welcoming, so I decided that peanut oil would be best.

With a large list of things to buy in my hand I was off to the beast for some shopping. Navigating the isles of Wal*Mart on New Year's Eve was not as difficult as I had expected. The store was crowded but not unbearably.

I settled for a fried chicken recipe that was easy, yet crispy and delicious. I had my list of ingredients tightly clenched in my hand and ended up buying chicken legs and wings since there were no pre-cut whole chickens about in the meat department. Also I had to get buttermilk. I've never bought buttermilk before and was unsure if it was even carried in the dairy section. It would appear that only small quart sized bottled were available so I snagged one.

When I found myself  in the isle for snack cakes and cookies, I got pretty confused. I had no idea that there were so many varieties of Oreos. I mean it was just outright mind boggling. It was like they had a variety of cookie for every subtle change in the density of creme between two pieces. Then on top of all that, they had all sorts of colors, flavors, shapes, and seasons they were marketing for. It took me a moment but I FINALLY found the regular run of the mill Oreos.

Also while in the snack isle I was equally perplexed by the fact that there were no Twinkies about. I ended having to buy the Great Value Golden Cream Cakes. What a generic rip off! Whatever! It looked like a Twinkie.

As for the frying oil, I searched high and low and was not able to find any peanut oil. It's like there was a shortage or something. I ended up having to pay WAY too much for cottonseed oil at Target.

Now that I had all my ingredients, I soaked the chicken in buttermilk overnight, and got it all breaded up. For the sweets I just used Belgian Waffle mix. Later that day I fired up the fryer.

The frying was a little tough seeing as how it was my first time. Also there was some difficulty in maintaining the oil temperatures throughout the frying process. I suppose I just need to work on that a bit. Some of the chicken in the beginning came out a little darker since the temperature was a too high. In the future I need to keep it between 310-320 degrees.

Despite the setbacks and roadblocks, there was a lot of fried food that fed a lot of smiling faces.

I deem this first fry a success!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Arduino Synth

To continue my efforts in learning as much as I can about the Arduino Uno board I decided to piece together a small synthesizer as per the Auduino project. Below is a small schematic I put together.

I used a 10 Kilo Ohm potentiometers in series with a 100 ohm resistor. To isolate the amplifier I used an 8 ohm to 1000 ohm audio transformer in series with another 100 ohm resistor to keep things safe.

This is a shot of the setup all hooked up and ready to go. Below is a video of it.

Arduino Uno Test

So one of the things I received for Christmas this year was a "Getting Started with Arduino Kit". This came with the Arduino Uno board, a hand full of components (resistors, LED's and the like), some hookup wires and a breadboard.

At first glance all the pieces and parts seemed a bit confusing, but with a little reading and some patience the development process turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. Please note of course that I had just come from using the Microchip SDK MPLAB IDE which requires programming in assembly language.

Anyways, in no time I was up and running. I got the little LED (Pin 13) to blink with some of the example code provided with the Arduino Development Environment.

After this I got a bit ballsy and went right for a program that makes the Arduino speak. Its a rudimentary speech synth and I merely just had to load and run. Below is a video of my effort.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, Same Problems

Well here we are firmly planted into the new year. A time for new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities, and, hmm well the same problems it would seem. My mortgage is still too much, my equity is still too little (thanks to the market), and every time I try to make a minor improvement to "my investment" it turns into a major project.

This past year the "major project" I had going on was taking care of my flooded basement. The basement was once poorly finished and in great need of some attention, however I did not want to have to completely redo the entire thing. I literally had to rip everything out, get french drains installed and then build something else in it's place.

 This is the basement when we first moved in.

This is during some flooding after I ripped the carpets and walls out

This is the room I built in its place, that took a lot of time and debt to create. Incidentally I spend little to no time in this room. I am so used to having a sinking feeling in my stomach while down here, up to my shins in water, moaning about how forsaken I feel, that I cannot possibly be comfortable in the room in any carnation. Also because the room was finished when I bought the house, it added little to no value to it. On the plus side the french drains and pump have been working rather well this year.

So I ended this year with a minor home improvement, a great deal more debt, and a room that I still do not use. "But that's OK the real-estate market always goes up, Right?" Oh wait! It hasn't. In fact home values in my area have gone down a bit. Perfect.

I hadn't planned on staying in New Jersey the rest of my life. I miss having land. I need at least an acre so I do not feel like I am up my neighbors ass every-time I stretch in the morning. At the moment I am situated on a quarter acre that is higher then all the homes around me so at very least I can lord over them in my smugness and they in turn can point and laugh at me as I try to stop the house from falling apart around me.

Such is life