ted | chicago | Monday, April 16th, 2007

Folks, I know that your neck of the woods is different and special. I know you want to live in an exciting and dynamic place. It’s good to be wanted and to feel special. But please, do not, under any circumstances, say any of the following, lest ye be found in a dumpster in Muscle Shoals.

“We’ve got two seasons around here: winter and road construction.”

“If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes!”

“(one-word adjective for the current state of extreme weather) enough for ya?”

five for fightin’, another another another followup

ted | junk | Friday, April 13th, 2007

From Firebase Igloo, a transmission was barely audible over the background static:

1) You are being sent on an engineering job at a very remote and isolated location. You are unsure of the nature of the work once you arrive, but you will need to build something – maybe a building, maybe a machine. There will be ample raw material at the jobsite, but no tools. You will access to the internet via satellite.
What are the five tools you bring?

Since I will apparently have electricity for internet access I infer I will also have it for running tools. I also surmise since it may be a building or machine, it would be wise to have the capability to cut and join metals & natural composites. I also believe you want to know what major tools I would bring and not individual screwdrivers or six penny nails.


One – Combination mill/drill/lathe, a big one. You can cut, drill, tap, turn & mill metal, plastic & wood on one of these. Not the most elegant or efficient tool but an awfully useful one.

Two & Three – Triple process arc welder and air compressor. Not only useful for stick, arc & TIG welding, but the air compressor lets you use it as an air arc rig to quickly cut through massive steel beams with ease. The air compressor is useful for all sorts of weird tasks, not the least of which is powering a die grinder to deburr parts or clean up welds.

Four – Calibrated tape measures. Give me three of them and I can draw most any angle or geometric shape.

Five – a big fat black Sharpie. Doublecheck your trig on the side of a 2×4, mark places to drill and tap, sketch a layout on a sheet of rusty carbon steel. Not as accurate as a scribing line but no need for messy bluing and more useful on more surfaces.

With these five, I believe I could probably manufacture any other tools necessary. Probably.

2) Tough shit, I am going to ask you a history question. As an engineer, how did the development of the American rail network after the Civil War contribute to American science and industry.

I think you have a typo. I believe you meant to type, “War of Northern Aggression” instead of “Civil War”. Simply put, without the ability to move machinery over long distances relatively easily (compared to using a horse & buggy), industry would have been concentrated only at sites that had direct dock access to steam ships. The entire right, left & central coasts would be jam-packed with industry and there would be nothing in the center of the country. I also suspect the waterways would have turned into instant superfund sites should that have happened.

As a barely-related aside, when rail equipment began to be standardized after the WNA, rail tracks had to be put to the same gauge. Most tracks in the northeast were roughly at our current standard gauge of 4′ 8-1/2″ (1435 mm). Most tracks in the glorious south were at roughly 5′ (1524 mm). Aside from a few spurious outliers anywhere from 4 – 6′ gauge, these two were the norm. After huge amounts of arguing and debate, the entirety of the Southern railroads were switched to the new gauge over the course of 2 days, starting 1886-May-31. Tens of thousands of workers pulled up the westmost rail of all broad gauge tracks, moved it three inches east and respiked it. Why change the South? Other than being the nation’s whipping boy, it is easier to move rails in on their ties than to move them out, potentially past the end of the tie.

However, should the entire nation have adopted the broad gauge of the South or even a wider gauge, it would allow for much wider rail cars meaning more cargo in each car, less tipping of the center of gravity if one rail dips a fixed amount and generally all around better for freight transit.

3) What are the techniques you use to deal with the stupidity of non-engineers?

Never go into detail. If someone doesn’t grasp how gears work they damn sure won’t understand how the involute shape of gear teeth actually allows for force to be transmitted tangent to the base circles of both gears at the very same time and permit this to happen even with varying degrees of shaft misalignment.

Draw lots of pictures. I’ve used a piece of soapstone on the side of a railcar, a sharpie on a placemat, ball-point pen on a bar napkin and a my finger in the dirt to make crude illustrations to help get my point across.

If you’re talking about a concept or bit of equipment someone isn’t familiar with, always have a sample to show them. I once had a girlfriend who had her car tuned up before a long trip and it didn’t fix her grinding brake noises. I quickly suggested they did not machine her brake rotors. When asked what that was, I simply took her out to her car, showed her the parts I was talking about and explained why brake rotors must be flat. Apparently it impressed the hell out of both her and her Mom that I would not only explain things such that two very non-technical folks could understand it, but I would show her exactly what I was talking about.

She uncerimoniously dumped me a few months later. Life is hard.
Suffering through college to get an engineering degree is harder.

4) What are the techniques you use to stand living with all those Yankees? Ok, Chicagoans aren’t really dyed in the wool Yankees, but it is very cold there and they don’t know how to cook. Thoughts?

The very fact they have enriched white hominy on shelves here and bother to call it grits only galls me more, but the ample food and beer helps temper my rage. They do know how to cook up here, just not the right things – I have to bring up my own grits from my native South. I can get some excellent Greek, Korean, Indian, vegetarian or authentic South American food less than 10 miles from my house. Having loads of other choices helps to make up for lack of staples.

I try not to laugh at their silly sayings. Up here they call soda “pop”. Sweet fizzy drinks are all collectively referred to as “coke”, like god hisself intended!

5) Is religion incompatible with the world view of a thinking person, well grounded in the natural sciences? Is the continued position of cultural primacy for religion a threat to our contemporary technologically advanced society, or is it beneficial?

The view that religion and natural science being mutually exclusive is an awfully narrow-minded view of either. For an example that has been beaten to death a thousand times, I can easily see how Christian creation mythologies fit in quite nicely with the Big Bang Theory.

My major beef is with folks what think the Bible dropped from the heavens, leather-bound with gold inset lettering on the cover. It was written by Man and heavily edited by folks that, well, probably had an ulterior agenda.

Back to my example, I can see it right up to the part where he creates woman out of man part. I don’t know any man that would let somebody take a rib from him.


ted | house | Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Did I really say it would only take us an hour to get up the remaining adhesive? Really? What the hell was I thinking? That’s akin to preceding a Frisbee throw with the phrase, “Hey, watch this!”. Shit, I did say it was only gonna take an hour. Damn.

It did not take us “no more than one very soggy and dirty hour to get the glue scraped up”. It took us at least six times that amount. Six hours of sitting in cold vinegar-water puddles, scraping up horrible old adhesive felt. I honestly don’t know what was worse, that or my kidney stone. At least with the kidney stone I had narcotics and a couple days off work.

OK fine, the kidney stone was worse.

Stone or no stone, we got up as much of the adhesive off the floor as we were going to get, which is to say, almost all of it. Last night we painted the ceiling and patched holes in the drywall, both of which were very rewarding since you get near-instantaneous results. Tonight we’re priming the walls, maybe even putting up one finish coat of paint and this weekend we’re sanding the floors.

Things are really starting to come together. In all honesty the one thing I miss the most about not having a kitchen is the sink. We’re getting by surprisingly well with just a microwave (on dining room table), toaster oven (on dining room floor) and coffeemaker (on bathroom counter), but having to wash dishes in the bathtub or fill up the dog’s water bowl or my own water glass from the bathtub sucks.

And as soon as the floor is refinished, the trim is refinished, the cabinets are assembled & installed, the sink/dishwasher/stove/fridge are put in place and hooked up and countertops installed, we’re having a big goddamn party.

Oh, heh

ted | junk | Monday, April 9th, 2007

One of the side effects of getting dressed in the dark is unusual and unexpected clothing combinations. Mismatched socks, shirts with obvious-in-daylight rips (only once and at the elbow so far) and bizarre color combinations are the norm.

I’m an engineer, none of that stuff bothers me. Were you to write a description for your standard engineer, it would be something along the lines of “plaid shirt, stupid hair, least stylish shoes ever” yet we seem to plod along in our daily lives and bring home the bacon. But today I finally figured out what was wrong with my wardrobe (blue shirt, darker blue pants, grey socks, black steel toe shoes) about 20 minutes ago.

My underwear are on backwards.

Outside, it is snowing again.

How to remove old linoleum

ted | house | Monday, April 9th, 2007

I am extremely sore today and was damn near exhausted last night as the last of the linoleum and it’s residual felt/polonium/asbestos/goat-blood glue has finally yielded to the mighty spring steel scraper included in my $15 Harbor Freight always-keep-your-receipt heat gun kit. Yes, the linoleum is long gone and it was mostly all removed manually, with a springy scraper and short pry bar. Forget everything you’ve heard about heat guns and chemicals and dry ice to speed the process. Stop thinking this is going to be easy. Quit doing research on shortcuts. Get down on your hands and knees, and start scraping that shit off the floor.

The remnant glue, however, can be taken off fairly easily. Mix up some hot water and vinegar, then just pour it on like fake blood. Give it a while. Pour on some more, let it soak a while longer. Keep it moist. It’ll come up like butter, only less tasty and possibly toxic. I expect it will take us no more than one very soggy and dirty hour to get the glue scraped up.

Then we can paint. We have the paint and all accessories at the ready, procured from our local independent paint store. Fuck you, Home Despot. Screw you.

Removing old linoleum is very hard work. Your back shoulders arms wrists &c. will be sore for days. There is no way around this unless you can pay somebody to be sore for you. Accept this as your fate, put on the kneepads, and start scraping that shit up. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can be completely exhausted, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, slumped against the fresh drywall. But you will be a sweaty smoking slumped drinker that is done with linoleum.

Public Enemy was right, DST is a Joke

ted | offgrid | Thursday, April 5th, 2007

The gummint says we had to switch our clocks back an hour a month early to save energy. Turns out that’s a bunch of hooey, as anyone with half a brain could have told you.

No longer will I sweep for you, for I am not your broom.

ted | house | Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

“Look, do you work here? You don’t understand what I’m saying!”

With those few words, Shawn, the paint-department counter jockey, had lost two customers. Since we were no longer going to trade with this particular Home Despot – store #1908 at 7200 S Cicero Avenue, Bedford Park IL 60638 – we were in no hurry to put the three gallons of paint base, sixpack of rollers, assorted paintbrushes and other miscellany back on the shelves. In fact we left that shit all right there on the counter where it lay. I want to say that whatever part of our collection was in my hands was unceremoniously dropped on the counter as we collectively spun on our heels and made haste but that may be an elaborate fabrication of my imagination.

What, indeed, had Shawn done? He failed to understand our simple request, multiple times. He failed in the modest task what was his charge. Most of all, he got short with us.

All we wanted was to have the primer tinted close to the color of the finish coat, a light greenish grey. The finish coat apparently gave him no trouble, despite it being a color sample from their premium paint line but mixed for a midrange paint. When it came time to tint the primer, he started stammering incomprehensible things about tint bases and pigments and the computer and matching.

“No, really, it doesn’t have to be the same color. Just get it close, so long as it’s not white, we’re OK with it.”

This went on for about twenty minutes. A line was forming.

He gave us the same line about bases and tints and the computer and matches.

“No really, it doesn’t have to match. You’re not listening to us. Just get it pretty close or heck, just use the same pigment in the primer base, it will be fine. I promise.” We were trying to make his life easier. Just get it sorta light greenish grey and we’ll get out of here, honest.

Then he dropped the A-bomb with his attitude and tone.

On our way out, we spoke with the manager, I assume for the shift – not the entire store. He had no sort of identification as such, never offered us his name, a card, a seat. He listened to our complaints about his paint wallah and said that he apologized, that he would speak with the employee immediately and what could he do to make us customers again.

Our treatise had but a few salient points, which we made sure he understood. There are lots of places to buy paint. Mixing paint ain’t rocket surgery. It’s practically automated now, the counter jockey is only a go-between from the customer with a paint chip to the mixer. Said counter jockey’s attitude, tone and problem listening is what caused us to walk off. I’m sure he could have tinted the primer without fail had there been a button for it. As it turns out, there was not, and he did not understand what we wanted, nor did he listen to our myriad suggestions.

We have truthfully spent thousands of dollars at that particular store over the years. As of last night, we will no longer be trading with that store or any other in that chain. No amount of groveling from the manager was going to change it. That ship sailed in a big hurry at about the same time as the 3″ wide natural bristle brush hit the stainless steel countertop as we walked away.

So no more, Home Despot, no more forever.

n.b. Today Nikki picked up the paint at a local independent store. We actually stopped there first yesterday, but finding it closed, continued on to the national chain. She noticed as she walked in a large sign proclaiming, “ASK US ABOUT TINTING YOUR PRIMER!”. Within 30 seconds of walking in, a knowledgeable employee asked if he could assist her, then expertly mixed the paint based on a different brand’s paint code and tinted the primer. The paint itself was quite nearly twice what we would have paid at the big store. For the service, knowledge and professionalism I say it is completely and totally worth it.

If you are in need of paint or other like supplies, I endorse Decorator’s Supply House, 4019 W 63rd St, Chicago IL 60629, just west of 63rd & Pulaski and the Vision Center Indian.

moved the fortressblog

ted | computer | Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

Once again this may affect at most two of y’all what read this.

Having not found a satisfactory solution to blogger not allowing SFTP on nonstandard ports, not wanting to keep the standard ssh port on my machine open and not having success using their FTP even though I can use regular FTP myself without a hitch, I moved the fortressblog from its old repository to my hosted account, here.

Enjoy, or die in a fire.

Kitchen demolition nearly complete

ted | house | Monday, April 2nd, 2007

The kitchen is being re-drywalled right the hell now, which is fortunate because it looked pretty weird with most of the drywall removed. We ripped out everything below 63″ above floor level to get rid of the horrible, horrible tiles the previous owner put up. Stuck ’em directly to the drywall. I’ve seen bigger crimes against houses (like the drywalled-over stained glass window) but this is by far one of the most annoying.

But it’s all gone now, ripped out by yours truly yesterday. Just so all y’all know, while a laser-guided 7-1/4″ Skil saw with a tungsten carbide tipped blade will go through 5/8″ thick gypsum drywall like a red-hot axe through oleo but will create a thousand times more dust. Save your lungs the trouble and just cut it with a straightedge and utility knife.

Pix are up if you know where to look.

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