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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


Why PropB Won't Fix our Homeless Camps
April 16th, 2021 | View Post
If you're wondering how to vote on Austin's PropB this May, I can't help you with that. But if you're wanting to get a deeper perspective as to why the homeless camps have continued to run as they have, then look no further.



Using C-Channels to Construct a Steel and Cedar Fence
April 8th, 2021 | View Post
Introduction

This is a new method that I came up with for building a Steel and Cedar fence using stainless steel C-Channels in place of other methods like angle iron.


A section of the fence shortly after completion


One of the difficulties of building a steel and cedar fence is the process of physically adhering the cedar pickets to the steel itself. While this might not be immediately obvious at first, the mechanics behind it actually create quite a lot of work for anybody building this type of fence.

The typical method used is to weld angle iron pieces to the vertical posts. They are positioned on the inner tracts of each section and allow various types of backing boards to be screwed onto them. These backing boards can then be used to affix the cedar planks.

I came up with a new method for accomplishing this same process by using Stainless Steel C-Channels. The channels allow for standard pressure treated 1x4s to be slid into the channel slots. These are then used to affix the cedar just as in the standard method.

Here's a detailed video of how I made this work. Full textual instructions can be found below that.



Acquiring C-Channels

Once I came up with a proof of concept for the work, the first challenge was just acquiring all of the C-Channels. I found what I needed at Home Depot, but I thought surely my local metal distributor would have these at a better price and quite possibly in longer segments.

It turns out that I was mistaken.

My local steel company sold C-Channels too, but unfortunately they were quite different from what I actually needed. If you look at the two of them side-by-side, you can see that one of them has angled edges. The reason for this is how they manufacturer them.


Two different types of C-Channels, one with straight walls that I found at Home Depot and one with angled walls that I found at my usual metal distributor


The C-Channel on the right (which I'm told is called "pig iron") is actually manufactured in the forge. They start with a solid brick of steel and then use a press to carve out the channel. The problem is that excess steel has to go somewhere and so it's left behind in the channel. That's what forms the angled grooves.


Some of the C-Channels I acquired at Home Depot just before cutting them


By contrast, the C-Channel on the left is made from an existing piece of flattened stainless steel. They use a machine to bend the two sides of it. This creates the channel with the straight walls. This is an important distinction for the method that I came up with and these types of C-Channels are required for the process to work properly.

Once I had all of the C-Channels that I needed, I laid out half of them on a ladder next to me and started on the process of preparing them.



Jig to Cut the C-Channels

Given that Home Depot only sells the stainless steel C-Channels in 36” pieces, I needed make literally hundreds of cuts for the 3-1/2" pieces that would be useful on the fence. To ensure they were done with relative precision, I built a simple jig out of some scrap wood.

The jig was designed so that the C-Channel could be slid into a groove with walls on either side locking it firmly into place. The outermost edge had a wall that would stop it from being inserted any farther into the jig. In order to get the proper cut, the C-Channel had to abut this outer wall. I left a several inch wide gap in the two side walls. The 3-1/2" cutline that I needed was where the gap first started. So in other words, so long as I cut the C-Channel as close to that edge as possible, the resulting piece would be sufficient for what I needed (with a precision of maybe +/- ¼").


The jig I built for cutting the 36" C-Channels into 3-1/2" pieces


It took about three hours for me to cut all of the pieces that I needed. It should be noted that safety equipment is of the utmost importance here. In addition to always needing safety gear when working with a grinder and cutting steel, the sheer volume of the material being cut produced an unbelievable amount of metal dust and shavings. For that reason alone, I would strongly advise wearing a breather as well as an apron.

Metal dust and shavings are incredibly difficult to get out your clothing. What's worse is that because so many of our modern conveniences rely on strong magnets (your phone, for example), the tiny shards of metal will get stuck to everything and are very difficult to remove.


A view of the jig I used after cutting hundreds of C-Channels


Some of the metal dust that resulted from the massive amounts of cuts made


The Homer work bucket filled with 3-1/2" C-Channel pieces

After each cut, I'd just toss the 3-1/2" C-Channel into a Homer work bucket. The bucket eventually became extremely heavy, but not so much that I couldn't move it around. It provided an easy way to move them to each fence section as we worked on welding them into place.



Welding the C-Channels

Welding the C-Channels into place wasn't especially difficult, but it did require some reasonable welding skills. Admittedly, they don't require a lot of welding to secure them to the frames, but rather can be adhered with just a few well-positioned tacks. We found that placing a tack on the underbelly of each C-Channel as well two tacks on the outer portion of each one worked just fine.


One of the C-Channels tacked into place. The board in this photo is a standard 1x4 untreated common board. This was used as a test, but only pressure-treated wood was used for the final product


Assuming each fence section is 8 feet wide, you should plan on having 3 pairs of C-Channels per fence section. One pair on each of the outermost parts of the section and then one pair dead center.

If you have any sections of fence that exceed 8 feet in width, you might consider using 4 pairs of C-Channels for such a section. In that case, use two pairs on the outermost posts of the section and then space two more pairs equally within the section itself. Keep in mind that if you do this, you’ll want to divide the width of the fence section by THREE and not by four. The reason is because you need to use the number of gaps required (3) for the math and not the number of channel pairings (4).



Once you have all of the C-Channels welded into place, you'll want to paint them. For a black fence, I'd recommend using Rustoleum Black Gloss paint. You can use a brush if you prefer, but I found the spray was much easier for painting the C-Channels given their irregular shape and how small they are. Still though, this is entirely a preference.

At this point you'll be ready to start attaching the 1x4 backing boards. These should be pressure treated boards and you'll want to make sure that you spend time carefully choosing the boards to ensure minimal warping. Horizontal warping is especially problematic with this method given the boards will need to be properly fit between each pair of channels. You'll want them to be as straight as possible.


Pallet of pressure-treated "Yellawood" 1x4s at Home Depot


I found that cutting all of the backing boards was probably the most labor intensive part of the entire job. Because of the unusual shape of the C-Channels, it can be difficult to properly measure the height that you need. Ideally you would run the tape measure from the floor of the lower C-Channel to the ceiling of the upper C-Channel. However, given that each C-Channel is just ?" thick, you can simply measure the distance between the two horizontal steel tubes and then subtract ¼" from the total required height. This is what I found easiest.

I also tended to err on the longer side of my measurements as I needed to ensure that each backing board was snugly fit into place. Consequently, I would measure the distance needed and then subtract just under ¼" from the measurement before making the cut. This would usually result in the board being slightly too long to fit inside of the C-Channel pairing. I would simply set the bottom part of the 1x4 in the lower channel and then see how close it was to fitting inside of the upper channel. Once I could see how much was left to cut, I could usually eyeball it from there and make very small adjustments. While this took a lot of additional time, I wanted to ensure I got the height of the 1x4 as perfectly fit as I could. This would occasionally mean I had to make 3 or 4 cuts on the same piece of wood, but I think the results speak for themselves in terms of the precision that I ended up with.


A section of the fence with three backing boards and a single cedar picket held onto the bottom.
This was still testing the proof of concept


I should also note that just because the left side of your fence section measures some height does not mean that the right side will have an equal height. While you should have certainly used a level when installing the horizontal tubing, it's very possible that there will still be a slight angle to the tube resulting in one side being slightly higher or lower than the other. While this isn't generally perceptible to the eye (provided you indeed used a level), it makes a significant difference fitting the 1x4s given the precision required to slide them into the channels.

The backing boards should fit perfectly into place between each pair of the C-Channels. While you don’t want them to be loose in any way, you also shouldn’t require a great deal of force to knock them into place. I found that they worked best when they required a gently tapping from my hand or a mallet.

But that's basically it. Once all of the backing boards are in place, you can proceed with installing the cedar pickets as you normally would. Cut them to width and then screw them into the backing boards.


Various sections of the fence with the backing boards exposed




Attach the Cedar Pickets

Assuming that you're using 1x6 cedar pickets and paired with the 1x4s, this means that the total amount of usable wood depth should be 1-½". I used Spax #8 1-¼" decking screws for the job. This ensured that none of them would penetrate the 1-½" of depth. The brand is generally very well-received for these kinds of jobs.


The boxes of Spax screws required to affix all of the cedar pickets


If you have any questions about how to apply this method, please feel free to contact me!


Working on cutting and affixing the cedar pickets to one side of the fence



Me, after getting the first few sections of fencing finished after weeks of hard work




Fixing my Wooden Cutting Board
August 14th, 2019 | View Post
For some reason or another someone must have put my favorite wooden cutting board into the dishwasher last week. I'm not really sure how that happened, but I mustn't have realized it was in there when I ran the dishwasher. I guess the extra hot water didn't sit well with the wood and so it broke about a third of it off at one of the original seams.

I decided on a whim a couple of nights ago to break out the carpenter's glue and some wood clamps. I applied it to both sides of the wood along the break line, smoothed the glue out, and placed the pieces together as perfectly aligned as I could. I then wrapped some paper towels along the glue line and clamped everything together. Unfortunately my wood clamps were not quite wide enough to clamp it in the direction of the break. I could have rigged up some kind of jig, but was feeling a little lazy and so instead I just clamped it to hold in position and then applied some weight at the top (using 3 different hammers) to pull the pieces together with the help of gravity.

The video picks up the next day after the glue had dried.



Fixing the Spotlight with MacBook TouchBar
September 20th, 2018 | View Post
Anyone that has the new MacBook with the TouchBar knows that it is simply THE worst piece of hardware that Apple has ever released. Anytime I get a new MacBook there is always that period of time where you have to adjust to the new keyboard. The first time I ever experienced this I cursed them for changing it, but I've learned over the years that the changes are always for the better and after a week or so, my brain is entirely wrapped around the new layout and it increases productivity.

That is simply NOT the case with the new MacBook. I've waited and waited for that eureka! moment to arrive and it simply does not. After reading countless blog posts on the issue, it seems that I am far from the only person to experience the problems that I have.

One of the MANY problems that I experienced was with respect to trying to launch my spotlight. For as long as I can remember, this was a simple combination of Command+Spacebar. I specifically keep my dock as empty as possible knowing that I can pull up any program on the fly through the Spotlight. Unfortunately, the new Apple seems to stutter for lack of a better word.

More times than not I press Command+Spacebar and nothing happens. Usually pressing it a second time will do the trick, but sometimes it takes even a third. Why? Why would this possibly be the case?

Well after some research, it turns out that this has to do with Siri's functionality waiting to see if she is being called upon or not. Note to Apple: she isn't - ever - being called. I just want the Spotlight to open.

So here's the fix:
  • Open your System Preferences
  • Select Siri
  • The first option is "Keyboard Shortcut"
  • Change the dropdown so that it reads "Press Fn (Function) Space"
Once you do this and save the system preference, you'll find that the problem immediately goes away. I am hoping to compile a list of such changes that are necessary to get the computer somewhat back to what it used to be, but unfortunately I don't think the new MacBook is ever going to work as well as its predecessors, regardless of how many tweaks I make to it.