Archive for the ‘around the house’ Category.

Goodbye, 2013 El Mariachi Ti

Today it was time to say goodbye to the 2013 Salsa El Mariachi Ti. After getting a warranty replacement for the broken frame then buying and selling and shuffling parts to rebuild it into the beautiful blue 2014 bike, the call tag to have the frame sent back to Salsa still hadn’t arrived… until this week.

Prior to today I’d been storing the frame at my house, hoping against a return, hung on the wall of my office (alternate view) where I’d see it every day. Sure, this is just a bike frame, a mostly-static piece of metal that held together more complicated bits to form a bicycle, but it was also the focal point of a machine on which I experienced an entire range of emotions and adventures.

From finally completing Lumberjack 100 to getting in over my head on the NTN Singletrack in Marquette, from the first trip to Brown County State Park to getting caught in straight-line winds at Stony Creek, from hard and long rides at Poto to all-day adventures from home simply enjoying the local trails… This frame was a big part of what I’ve experienced on a bike. Every time I looked down between my legs or up after a crash, there it was.

183 rides…
5200 miles…
459 hours of glorious movement.

No longer ridable the frame had become art to me. A piece of material embodying memories; a memento. Something to look at every day and remember past good times and think about those coming in the future.

Still, I understand why Salsa doesn’t want broken frames out in the wild, so tomorrow morning I’ll be dropping it off at Rochester Bike Shop where into a box and off to the scrap heap it’ll go. I’ll still have all the great memories, it’ll just be time to find new art for that wall…

…and keep riding.

Aluminum Polishing Disappointment

A while back I stupidly put my Bialetti Moka in the dishwasher. Due to the alkaline detergent it discolored and pitted, no longer looking bright and shiny. In an effort to restore its look I researched restoring aluminum cookware that’d been washed in a similar manner and found that polishing with potassium bitartate (cream of tartar) should work well.

In the image above the left panel was the post-dishwasher state, and the right is after a few minutes of polishing with a mixture of equal parts water and potassium bitartate. While a bit of yellowing was removed the aluminum was not returned to its previous shiny state. The appearance change was actually minimal enough that I didn’t bother polishing the rest of the Moka.

I imagine I could remove more of the discoloration and pitting by using some proper metal polish and maybe a buffing wheel, but I’m not going to bother. While the Moka still works fine I was hoping for an easy return to the original shiny appearance. It looks like the recommendation of using cream of tartar didn’t do this.

T8 Fluorescent Lamp Retrofit

The fluorescent light fixture in the laundry room had issues, with only two bulbs reliably lighting and a persistent buzzing sound. This is the telltale sign of a failing ballast, and with the bulbs being fairly old (last replaced in 2005) it was time for some work.

The fixture had been fitted with F40 / T12 bulbs and a pair of two-lamp magnetic ballasts. Since these bulbs aren’t being manufactured anymore (this was stopped in mid-2012) I had to move to T8 bulbs. This wasn’t a problem, as I’d been keen to try the Philips F32T8/TL950 high-CRI (98!!!) / 5000K bulbs. Outside of very specialized full spectrum bulbs these seem like the holy grail of daylight lamps. They aren’t readily available in shops in less than 25 packs, but some Amazon sellers have them individually for reasonable prices.

Four bulbs were ordered ($13.32/ea) via Amazon, along with an ICN-4P32-N electronic ballast ($15.60), and this evening I put it all together. Wiring was surprisingly simple, with everything being relatively color-coded and easy to fit. Two old magnetic ballasts were removed, the replacement electronic ballast was fitted / capped / taped, and it was ready to go.

These lamps look great, and the laundry room is now brighter than ever. These lamps look so good that I’m now considering them for over my workbench and trying to find a way to use them in the office. With such a high CRI and daylight-like temperature these should be good for dealing with seasonal affective disorder or just general blue feelings in winter. (Yes, getting out and riding in daylight helps, but that’s not really possible on weekdays…)

Contrails and Haze

This is the view off of the front porch, with a nearly full moon and chemtrails contrails casting shadows on a layer of hazy clouds. I really like how this looks, and wish I was better at photographing such things.

Another TrainerRoad Setup

For the past two years I’ve been using TrainerRoad in the basement while riding on a bicycle trainer during the winter months. I’m normally not too keen on getting exercise for its own sake, but I’ve found that sometimes I get feeling grumpy and a bit of exercise, such as riding on a trainer, helps. Along with fatbiking it also helped keep up my fitness over winter, making bike riding in springtime a good bit more fun.

The setup that worked really well for me last year can be seen here, where an old Asus Eee PC (netbook) handled the job of running TrainerRoad and logging data. This worked, but the machine is slow enough that it’d get in my way whenever I needed to update, fiddle with settings, etc. Having some time off work this week and wanting to improve a bit, I decided to see what I could do using spare hardware from around the house.

Using a slightly-more-powerful-than-the-Eee PC Asus EeeBox EB1501 that I’d purchased in an ill-fated attempt to use it as an HTPC I connected it to an old Dell Ultrasharp 2005FPW display that was originally purchased for use with a PowerMac. It was first positioned directly in front of the bicycle — just as the netbook was — but this felt really awkward so I went looking for other options. What I’ve settled on thus far is seen above; the 20″ LCD display placed above the television, showing the relevant data and workout graph. A single computer speaker is placed next to the computer so I can hear the end-of-interval countdown beeps, and the ANT+ USB receiver is placed to be pointed directly at the bicycle.

The mouse and keyboard are wireless, so I should be able to set them near the bicycle and pull them out as needed, but as individual workouts in TrainerRoad are started and paused by pedaling (or stopping) they likely won’t be needed very often. No longer having the laptop and stand in front of the bicycle should allow different positions for the blower fan which helps keep me cool. I’ll probably try straight-on first, since that’d be closest to actually riding outdoors.

My biggest fear with this setup is that there’s some on-screen detail that I’ll miss (overall time, parts of the graph) or I’ll find myself getting off of the bike regularly to adjust something in the application itself. If this doesn’t work out, I might look at something like an older iPad, seeing as TrainerRoad has an iOS app under way now… Or maybe my Nexus 7 tablet, if the Android version is ever released. Either would work nicely on a small handlebar mount and probably be quite efficient to use.

Now if I could only find the irritating tick in the bike when pedaling under load… Maybe that’s a project for tomorrow.

Bad Capacitors in Oven Controls

The oven at home was purchased around the same time this place was built, back in 1991. Ever since I purchased it in 2001 the temperature has skewed a bit from the chosen setting, but within the past couple of years it’s become noticably worse, with a ~100°F offset at the high end of the scale. This made things difficult when Danielle would want to bake bread or other things which required high temperatures.

This morning I finally got around to taking the oven apart and looking at the controller. On the board I found four failed electrolytic capacitors, all of which tested bad (infinite reading on a multimeter). Using spares from the pile of parts gathered during previous electronics projects and a lucky purchase at Radio Shack I was able to replace all four of these and get the oven going again. Initial testing shows that things are working better. With the oven set to 375°F I’m seeing the oven (measured with a Fluke multimeter and temperature probe in the air) fluctuating between ~350°F and ~380°F, which seems about right.

The failed parts are as follows: 2x 47μF 25V (C3, C13), 2x 4.7μF 35V (C9, C10). These were originally Nichicon parts, but I failed to write down the replacement brands. The 47μF replacements are Radio Shack generics, and the 4.7μF are something cheap but decent that I’d picked up from Mouser a few years ago.

Total out of pocket cost was $3.16, which is very high for two capacitors, but ordering two capacitors online isn’t worth the shipping cost, and these were available immediately. The only other cost was 4-5 hours of work disassembling the stove, the PCB stack, finding the bad capacitors, and getting replacements.

I’m glad this was fixable myself. Paying someone to fix it would have involved replacing the entire failed control module ($200+ if still available + labor). Or, if I could even find one myself, replacing the whole control module itself would have been an expensive crapshoot: what if it was something else? Simply replacing the stove would have cost near-$1k for something comparably nice.

Defective REI Venturi Shorts (2014)

A few days back I picked up a pair of the REI Venturi shorts, as I needed more shorts and these were quite comfortable when tried on. I wore them for much of the day today and they were comfortable, but poorly engineered pockets is causing me to return them.

Upon arriving home from my parents’ Easter dinner, when reaching into my left pocket with my right hand to get my keys, I heard a tearing sound. It turns out that the thread used to stitch along the pockets is not as stretchy as the short material itself, and stretching the edge of the pocket causes the stitching to burst, as seen above. At $69.50/pair I expected better, and I’ll be returning these tomorrow. I’m disappointed in this because they are comfortable and met a need.

A Project Unfinished

Thirteen years ago, back when I moved into my apartment, I started building what was to be a solid oak mission style queen size bed. I got a fair ways into the project, finishing the posts and horizontal pieces for the head and foot boards, but I never went any further because mid-way through the project I bought the condo where Danielle and I now live. Most of my time was directed into fixing the place up, and then after that I found different hobbies; from beer brewing to electronics, traveling to cycling.

Finishing this bed is one of those projects I’ve kept meaning to do, but at this point Danielle and I are looking to purchase a king size mattress, which wouldn’t fit into this bed, rendering it somewhat useless. This is something I never got around to finishing, and found myself at the point where it was time to abandon it.

Last week I offered the wood to my dad as a project that he could finish up and today he picked it up. I’m really glad to that he wants to work on it, and thus I hope it’ll serve as an enjoyable project and end up as something my parents can use.

A Fine Day


Despite being a bit frazzled at times, today has been a pretty productive day. Due to the snow this morning I worked from home, but I got a fair bit of stuff done all while being able to listen to good music, watch a snowstorm outside of my window, bisected by the tasty lunch shown above†. There are definitely less comfortable ways to work.

After this I was able to:

  • Wash the salt off of my fatbike and experiment with some different techniques for cleaning off salt residue (none of which were successful). Thoroughly cleaned the somewhat-rusty (thanks, salt and lazyness!) drivetrain.
  • Figured out a likely reason why the fatbike has been ghost shifting: a partially-separated plate on the chain. This was easily fixed with a chain tool.
  • Went snowshoeing with Danielle, Erik, and Kristi to pack down the mountain bike trails at River Bends. This was my first time using snowshoes somewhere other than near home, and thanks to the four of us the trails should now be fatbikable and mostly prepped for ¡Ay CRAMBA It’s Cold Out!.
  • Shoveled the excess snow out of the parking spaces that both our neighbor Rick and I regularly use. These had been plowed, but as the plow can’t get right to the curbs, hand-shoveling the final bits helps keep the spots nicely open and accessible. I don’t like shoving the grill of my car into a snowbank to fit in a spot.
  • Ate some really tasty chorizo nachos that Danielle made for dinner.
  • Mopped the laundry room floor in cleaning up from bike washing, then did a the dishes.
  • Get started on some new signage (Coroplast ordered, vinyl spec’d / requested) for River Bends and other CRAMBA trails. Frustratingly, someone has stolen a number of the signs at River Bends and they now need to be replaced.

So, while I felt a bit frazzled and frustrated at times, overall this has turned out to be a quite fine day.

† A hot smoked salmon topped with herbs and an English muffin (Bay’s, of course) topped with cheddar, butter, scrambled eggs, and harissa.

Well Seasoned Cast Iron Pans: Flaxseed Oil

Our house has a couple pieces of cast iron cookware, but it wasn’t seasoned very well and Danielle and I both wanted to change that. After some separate but overlapping research we both found that using flaxseed oil is best for seasoning cast iron cookware due to the high quantities of α-Linolenic acid (ALA) that it contains, as this will polymerize nicely during the seasoning process.

Sheryl Canter’s post Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning : A Science-Based How-To was the basis of much of the information used, but I disagree with some of her techniques (eg: applying very thin layers of oil then wiping them off until no longer visible, starting with a cool oven) as being overwrought. Starting with a clean, dry pan (scrubbing to get food residue off and putting in the oven at 200°F to facilitate drying) I instead did the following, using some food-grade refrigerated flaxseed oil purchased at Whole Foods:

  1. Using a piece of a synthetic fabric sock (a square about 2″ x 3″), spread a layer of oil on all surfaces of the pan. It should look oily, but not have any drips, sags, or pools. Be sure it is an even coat. Paper towel (which I tried at first) left lint residue that’d burn into the oil and get stuck in the coating.
  2. Put the pan in your oven and set to 550°F or so. The temperature needs to be above the smoke point of the oil, because during this smoking the ALA will polymerize and thus the cast iron becomes seasoned.
  3. Once the oven indicates it’s at temperature, set a timer for an hour. During this hour the cast iron should reach the oil’s smoke point, which’ll release a bunch of somewhat unpleasant smoke. Vent the house if you can.
  4. After an hour has elapsed, or once the oil is done smoking (you’ll get a better feel for this as you repeat the process) turn off the oven, open it up, and slide out the racks so the cast iron can cool.
  5. When the cast iron has reached a temperature that it can be handled with bare hands, repeat these steps as many times as desired.

To season our cast iron cookware I used seven repetitions of this process. Each took a couple of hours, but most of that time was waiting for the oil to smoke or the cast iron to cool down. The result on one of the pans, a Lodge Wedge Pan that Danielle received for Christmas from my parents, can be seen above. Prior to the flaxseed oil seasoning it had a factory season on it, which was a dull, thin-looking surface that only seemed sufficient to prevent corrosion during shipping. After receiving a proper season the pan was not unlike a used PTFE non-stick surface and quite pleasant to use.

Post-seasoning the cast iron can be easily cleaned with water, a plastic bristled scrub brush, and a gentle plastic scrub pad / sponge that’s safe for non-stick pans. This has easily removed everything we’ve had stuck to the pans and left the season intact.

† While flaxseed oil and linseed oil are the same thing, products labeled as linseed oil are commonly for wood finishing and usually contain drying agents and other things that you probably don’t want in contact with your food. Thus, it’s best to just suck up the seemly-high price of buying food-grade flaxseed oil at a local store knowing that it’ll be safe. Don’t worry, one bottle will last you for a long time; this process does not go through it very quickly.

Other oils could be used, but flaxseed oil will be the most efficient readily available oil due to it’s high ALA content. This portion of the Wikipedia article on α-Linolenic acid listing the ALA content for a number of different oils, showing that flaxseed is around 55%, while canola and soybean (both frequently branded as vegetable oil) are 8% and 10%. If a lower ALA content oil is used, it’ll take longer to build up a thick coating of seasoning (polymerized ALA).