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A Rube Goldberg-inspired garage parking assistant

We recently started parking our truck in the shorter of our garage bays—it's short due to shelves at the front that can't be moved any further forward (as they'd then block access to another portion of the garage).

The amount of wiggle room available is quite small—about two inches of leeway, at the most. So parking in the same spot every time is quite important. (The frontmost item on the truck is the bracket that holds the license plate, so that's the part that needs to be watched.)

While there are many ways to solve this issue, here's how I chose to do it:

Sure, I could have hung a tennis ball from the ceiling (I did that first, actually), or put a block on the ground in front of the tire. But I had issues with both of those methods, and I like semi-geeky do-it-yourself solutions. Read on, if you wish, for the details on the project…

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Thanks and goodbye, Tatters!

I was never a cat person growing up; my family always had dogs. Once I got through college, I lived in shared housing arrangements for the first five years of my work life (the joys of living in Silicon Valley)—so that meant no pets of my own. My jobs were also such that having a pet would be difficult, as I traveled a fair bit. So I remained petless for many years.

In January of 1994, though, I purchased my first home (shortly after moving to Oregon). In all ways but one, it was a very typical starter home: 1970s three-bedroom two-bathroom ranch with too much dark wood, not enough light, horrendously outdated kitchen, and and orange-and-white marble-look-but-plastic guest bath.

The one way in which it differed is that the home came with a guilt trip, which led directly to my first-ever experience as a cat owner…
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Five easy steps to a heart attack

Here's how it's done...

  1. Have your cat awaken you at 4:30am, pawing your face to let you know he's hungry.
  2. Head downstairs in a stupor, leaving the annoyingly-bright lights off.
  3. Open cat food and start scooping it into the cat's bowl, letting the cat know just how you feel about the 4:30am wake-up pawing.
  4. See the light from, and hear the click of, the downstairs bathroom light coming on.
  5. Have heart attack.

OK, so clearly I didn't actually have a full-on heart attack. Instead, my pulse merely doubled and I had an amazing adrenaline surge.

As soon as I started breathing again (quietly), I reasoned that any intruder with even a quarter of a brain wouldn't actually bother to turn on the bathroom light, nor would they have ignored my easily-audible talking to the cat.

So what was the cause of the spurious pulse-quickening light? It turns out that our six-year-old daughter apparently heard me, and had gotten up to use the bathroom. Why she chose to come downstairs--very quietly, I might add--I have no idea, as there's a bathroom just down the hall from her room.

Needless to say, after bundling our daughter off to bed again, I found it basically impossible to go back to sleep, given the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

Household math

OK, so it's strange math :). The top-left image (taken before we bought the place; I didn't actually take any "before" pictures) is the wall of brick that surrounded the fireplace in our home. Add to that a Dasco Pro Mason Chisel with Hand Guard and a Stanley Three-Pound Drilling Hammer, and the end result is a pile of brick in the driveway ... oh yea, you need to add a fair bit of sweat, and a wheelbarrow will greatly ease the task of hauling out the brick.

This was the first time I'd ever tried to demolish a brick wall. Overall, it was actually a bit easier than I expected, other than the sheer number of bricks involved. I can highly recommend the chisel I used; it made short work of the mortar between the bricks, and the hand guard definitely works well--I didn't hit my hand once, despite swinging the three-pound hammer probably well over 1,000 times to break out all the bricks. If you're going to break down a brick wall, I definitely recommend a chisel with the hand guard.

(I took out the wall so that we could use the space on the right of the fireplace for a built-in bookshelf and storage cabinet, and to install a gas fireplace in place of the current wood-burning insert. Those projects, however, will be handed off to a professional--I can destroy, but I'm not so good at the build-it-up part!)

Fireworks on the Fourth…

Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the United States. In honor of the holiday, I thought I'd share a fireworks memory from my childhood. It's both educational (in terms of what not to do) and somewhat entertaining (in hindsight)...though as to whether it's more educational or entertaining, well, I'll leave that up to you. As this is based on really old memories, some of the details are definitely wrong, but the basic facts are 100% as presented.

I grew up in Colorado, in a small neighborhood known as Heatherwood. Our home was the brown-roofed one just up and to the right from the "A" on this Google map. As you can see, there's a relatively large park just south of our house. This was a great place to hit golf balls, toss the frisbee, and generally goof off...and on the Fourth of July, the area around the park became a great place to set off and watch fireworks.

When I was growing up--I'm not sure if this is still true or not--Colorado had banned all the interesting fireworks. You couldn't buy anything that flew or exploded, basically. So you were left with little sparkler things, various fountains, and smoke bombs--yawn! Wyoming, however, which was but 90 or so miles north, had no such laws--everything was legal there. (Somewhat ironically, I now live in a very similar situation. Oregon allows only the basic stuff, but Washington (only 30 miles north) allows everything.) So one year when I was maybe 10 or so, my dad drove up to Cheyenne and came home with the motherload--a large bag full of bottle rockets, buzz bombs, roman candles (a bunch of them tied together in one massive device), various small firecrackers, and a couple of large cherry bombs. After seeing the bag, that year's Fourth of July holiday couldn't come fast enough.

Finally the day arrived, and after the requisite picnics, we set off for the park. We always took a couple buckets of water, just in case any small fires started (but the park was much greener when I was growing up, and we never had any problems). We found a spot to set up the flying fireworks (firecrackers were lit in the street), and set up our first display of the evening. I don't recall exactly what the thing was called, but its cone-shaped casing promised something along the lines of a "huge shower of colorful sparks!" The cone was maybe 18" tall, so we set it on the ground, lit the fuse, then backed away a good distance. Soon enough, a huge shower of colorful sparks did indeed erupt from the cone.

However, as we watched the cone, we noticed something else: the angle of the shower of sparks was changing.
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A most useful home project assistant

toolI took last week off as vacation, though what I spent most of the week doing was far from a vacation: I tackled many of the jobs on the never-ending household to-do list. So instead of relaxing on a beach, I spent last week hanging three curtain rods and curtains, installing towel bars in a couple of bathrooms, and doing some work in the garage to hang a pegboard and clean up the work area--among many other not nearly so exciting tasks :).

Through it all, the cool little device pictured above helped me immensely. That round thing is the STRAIT-LINE Laser Level 30 (LL30 from here on out), a cheap and effective laser level. Until about a year ago, I used to futz with an old-fashioned bubble level whenever I needed to get something straight on the wall. However, for most of the jobs I was doing, a bubble level was next to useless. It takes an extra set of hands to hold it where it's needed, and it seemed it was either too big or too small for the task at hand. So on a sojourn to Home Depot, I spotted the LL30. For the price ($15 or so), I figure I couldn't go wrong giving it a try...and after just one project, I was sold.
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Hasta la vista, hornets!

As you may know, we had a not-so-small hornet's nest in a tree in our backyard. On Sunday I called a couple of the national pest control chains, thinking they'd be best equipped to respond quickly. I left messages with both to call me, but as of Monday morning, none had done so. So I did a bit of searching, and found a local company, Pioneer Pest Management (based in Vancouver, Washington). I spoke to someone for about five minutes, and they called back an hour or so later and set up the removal for Tuesday. I never did hear back from one of the national chains, and the other actually called me back about 30 minutes ago. Too bad!

On Tuesday afternoon, Don from Pioneer arrived to deal with the hornet's nest. I cowered behind our patio door, opening it just enough to take some pictures of the process. I put them together in a small album that shows each step in the nest's removal--just click the first image and then use the slideshow controls to step through the rest. The captions on the larger image explain what's happening at each step.

He was here for about 40 minutes overall, and it cost $99--a bargain in my book when I saw everything he did to remove the nest. They also include a 30 day warranty, so if we have another nest crop up in that immediate area (meaning they somehow didn't get the queen), they'll come back and remove it for free. Sure, I probably could've done this myself...but there are some jobs I'm quite happy to leave to the experts!

Things you’d rather not see in the backyard

wasp image

We were out in the yard about four days ago, and if this thing was there, I sure didn't see it--and it's hard to miss, hanging out in the open about 10' from our kids' play structure. And no, I have no dreams of YouTube infamy, so I won't be attempting any creative destruction methods tonight. Instead, I'll call the experts tomorrow and let them take care of it. The nest is at least a foot across, if not closer to two.

I'm really not sure what they are, though I think they're members of the wasp family. If anyone wants to hazard a guess, here's a closeup of the critters.

Ugh. Bees and wasps. Two of my least favorite things, at least in mass concentrations in my own backyard!

A (messy) parenting lesson learned…

Our daughter Kylie has, on three occasions now, gone to bed perfectly happy and fine, only to wake up vomiting in the middle of the night. By the morning, though, she'd be fine again, and acting like nothing much had happened.

I figured it was something in her food that was triggering the events, but the first two times it happened, there was too much overlap in the meals to figure anything out--she basically ate the identical dinner. When the third incident happened this week, however, I was able to note only two overlaps with the prior meals: on all three occasions, she'd eaten some small cherry tomatoes and some banana with her dinner.

After I related this story to my friend Kirk, he wrote back "yea, tomatoes and bananas don't go together. Acid and starch = boom!" Perhaps this is common knowledge, but I hadn't ever heard this before. I've certainly seen it in action often enough now, however, to believe it. So as much as she likes both, Kylie's days of combining the two are now over!

As an aside, sorry it's been so quiet around here lately. We moved a couple weeks back, and between packing, moving, and unpacking (not even close to done yet), I just haven't had much time to write.

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