The St. Louis Treehouse
Story circa February 17th, 2022 | View Post

This is by far my most favorite construction project I've ever worked on. It wasn't especially difficult nor did it take a lot of time. But the joy that came from this project is memorable to me.

Our room in the Iowa house was built with a loft in it. The room wasn't especially suited for a loft, but the owner of the house decided to build one in each room nevertheless. It did create more space and fit the overall quirkiness of the house. It was built by hand, mostly using 2x4s and some pine planks. There was a wooden ladder that we had to climb to get in and out of the bed. It was also fashioned out of 2x4s and literally just balanced against the opening in the loft bottom.

The page of plans I drew up before heading off to gather building materials.
The room had two giant windows in it and given Jordan's nightshift schedule, it was extremely difficult for her to get any good sleep in there during the day.

I drew up some plans one evening, purchased everything I needed at The Home Depot, and got to work on a solution.

I had already ordered some blackout curtains and so I framed out the top of the loft in the same fashion one would frame out a wall. I didn't want to anchor the studs into the wall to ensure I didn't destroy the plaster, and so instead fashioned a base plate from a 2x4 and then ran my vertical support columns off of that. While it had limited anchor points, it seemed to be sound. Normally I'd run a column every 16 inches (per modern building specs), but since it wasn't specifically intended to be structural and to save on a little wood, I ran the columns every 20 inches instead. Once the new wall was framed out, I cut up the blackout curtains and stretched them over the 2x4 studs like a canvas. The canvas was attached to the 2x4 frame using staples. I specifically wanted to ensure that it was easy to break through in the event that we ever needed to escape the room quickly. Regardless, the result was immediately noticeable. The room was entirely dark.

I ran the wiring into the bed area as necessary, setup various lights, and topped everything off with remote controlled switches. The entire area was sealed in with the blackout curtains. I wrapped them around the top portion of the window that also bled into the sleeping area. I purchased a standard VESA mount at the store and mounted our TV inside of the loft off of one of the vertical 2x4 columns. Of course we had a small bag of remote controls on our bedside.

A photo taken from halfway up the ladder where you can see the "upstairs" and "downstairs"
Finally, there was a hole where the ladder was designed to allow us to climb up into the loft.

This let a good deal of light through and so it needed to be fixed. I fashioned up a small hatch door, attached it to a counter-weighted pulley system, and voila, our treehouse was born.

It provided the dark quarters Jordan needed for sleeping and was probably about the most enjoyable little escape you could find in a home. To make it feel a little bit larger, I purchased a bunch of rectangular mirrors from Lowe's and had them fastened to the walls within the treehouse. This gave the illusion that the treehouse went on for infinity and beyond and made all of the colored lights look especially cool. Jordan had also purchased me a few different lights, one for Christmas and one just because. I fashioned these into the area and the illusion was complete. We had tons of fun up there for the few months it existed.

As the lease was coming up, the treehouse needed to be taken down. I didn't help with this process and instead Jordan took it apart by herself.

Purchasing the mirrors we needed for the treehouse walls

Jordan and I in the finished treehouse

Updating the Database
February 12th, 2022 | View Post

As a small technical note for my blog, I've been busy writing a ton of code to fix some of the issues that have recently come up. I'd been working on this over the past several months, but took a bit of a break in January while tending to other things. I've written about this rather extensively before, but most of the problems stem from Apple stupidly reorganizing the way they store photos within the iPhoto app.

While they used to keep a tight directory structure on your photos disk (making it extremely easy to RSync to one's personal server), they are now using some kind of hex-based directory structure and simply add all of the photos into these folders using $0 through $F (eg: ~/0/, ~/1/, ... ~/F/). Worse still is that they include the photos in the directories seemingly at random.

This makes it extremely difficult to find your new files and move them where they need to go. Yes, you can use the export feature, but this is SUCH a slow process and makes absolutely no sense for storing your own photos on your own system. It's absolutely bonkers that they've adopted this new structure.

Of course this is all in line with Apple taking the blue ribbon for "most evil tech company". They're quite clearly doing this to make it more and more difficult for people to use software outside of the Apple realm thus ensuring that people stick with iPhoto (and much more insidiously, their Cloud services). I've been writing about this for nearly 20 years now and this is just the latest example of it.

This required me writing code that would look at the MD5 checksum for every single file and then compare those to the files that I already had on my server. The ones that were missing were copied into one of the new directories and processed.

I still have a ton of photos needing to be sorted, but it's coming along in my spare time.

Clearing Claire's Land
February 8th, 2022 | View Post

The Husqvarna Chainsaw and accessories I purchased
My dear friend Claire purchased a sizable piece of property in the general Asheville, North Carolina area about a year ago. I had been wanting to visit her for awhile and unfortunately wound up canceling a few potential visits with her towards the end of 2021. So I thought I'd make the drive out her way and spend a few days with her. A few days turned into a week and a week turned into three weeks. It's a beautiful area.

Since I always love having a good project that I can work on - this is generally how I thrive the most - I asked her if there was anything at her house that she needed done. She explained to me how she wanted to clear out all of the smaller trees in the forest next to her house so that it was walkable and so that the larger trees would continue to thrive. Unfortunately, she mentioned how she only had a small electric chainsaw.

Since I hadn't gotten her any kind of house-warming present, I drove over to the local Tractor Supply Company and purchased her a nice 14" Husqvarna Chainsaw. I also had to pickup a gas can, some oil, and a few chains.

I'd basically spend the mornings cutting down trees with the chainsaw, lopping off the smaller branches, and then either cutting the trunk into firewood logs or dragging the trunk (in the case of smaller trees) up the hillside to our giant pile.

Cutting down one of the trees in the forest

Over the course of about 3 weeks, I wound up cutting down somewhere between 250 and 300 trees. I referred to this as "chainsaw therapy". We had a massive snowstorm come through sometime during my visit with her. This cut into my morning therapy sessions, but as soon as the snow cleared, I got right back to it.

The massive firewood pile that I wound up creating for Claire.

In cutting down all of the trees, I wound up creating five massive brush piles. While this is to be expected, we still needed to get rid of them. Her friends Geoff and Ashleigh came over one afternoon just as I had started burning off some of the brush. Everybody wound up chipping in and helped me drag literally thousands of branches to our massive brush fire.

While we didn't burn off everything (namely as we'd have needed a few more hours and we had a birthday party to plan for), we got three of the giant brush piles entirely removed.

Geoff helping me to burn off some of the extra brush

Standing in front of the ember pile the next morning

Finally, and just before I wound up leaving, there was another giant snowfall. It was spectacular seeing the snow cover the area that I had just cleared out. It entirely changed the look and feel of her property. I'm going to head back there in a few weeks and work on cutting out some hiking paths. I'm told I need to get there before all of the giant forest spiders start coming back out. I'm not a fan of spiders.

The cleared forest after the snowfall

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The St. Louis Treehouse
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