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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

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.
Exploring Angkor Wat on a Scooter - Solo Traveler
September 11th, 2017 | View Post
After trying to do some research over the past several days about exploring Angkor Wat on your own (that is to say, without a guide or even a tuk tuk driver), I found that the internet really doesn't have a lot of great information on it. I found several people online even inquiring about where the new ticket office has been relocated to.

Unfortunately, and per typical internet standards, the common online response I've come across seems to be an entirely different solution rather than providing an answer to the question I was asking. I'd honestly prefer a simple "I don't know" in place of these responses. Many responses I've read online make the suggestion, "just take a tuk tuk, they'll know where to go." Well obviously the tuk tuk drivers and other such guides know where to go, but that's irrelevant to the question and isn't especially helpful for those people who want to explore without a guide.

That all stated, if you're interested in exploring Angkor Wat by yourself on a scooter, please read on! I am delighted to share my own experience and hope some people find it useful.

A corner shot looking over the moat of Angkor Thom (part of the Angkor Wat complex)

Having explored virtually all of the Angkor Wat complex (including the many, many temples throughout it), I honestly can't understand why most people would use a guide or a tour group. There are just so many things to see and so many places to stop and take photos that I can't imagine being tied to a group, much less being at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers. It's also incredibly inexpensive to go by oneself as it turns out.

I rented a scooter in Siem Reap for $9 USD per day (more on that process in a minute). I explored a bit of Angkor Wat after 5:30pm on a Saturday (the temples are closed at that hour, but you can drive around the complex perimeter), and then spent over nine hours exploring dozens of temples on Sunday. In total I spent over 15 hours exploring the place during my stay in Siem Reap.

Stating it very plainly, this was probably the single most amazing place I've ever explored in my entire life. It was absolutely breathtaking. Every stop I made was more incredible than the last one and there was a glow on my face the entire time. I should note that I've also never sweat more in my life. To give an idea, I drank over 4 liters of water, 2 cokes, and a big glass of watermelon juice and I didn't have to stop to pee one time. It was hot; it was humid; paired with about 12 miles of walking it took a hell of a lot of energy out of me. That all said, the wind from riding around on the scooter was incredibly refreshing. I couldn't recommend the experience more. It was truly one that I'll remember forever.

Renting a Scooter

There are places all over Siem Reap that will rent a scooter to you. I'm sure most of the bikes are great or at least good enough, but the problem I ran into is that they all want your passport to secure the scooter. I assumed they just wanted to copy it, but it's not that simple. They hold onto it while I had their scooter. Apparently this is pretty standard practice and I'm sure they're mostly all on the up and up. However, I told them there was absolutely no way that I was going to do that and I'm pretty certain that was the right move. As a general rule, don't ever give a strange your passport. #LifeLesson

And yes, I certainly tried to negotiate with these rental places citing that they could copy it or charge a hold to my credit card or whatever else, but that's just not how they do it. If I didn't part with my passport, they weren't parting with their equipment.

I looked up various companies that you can rent from online. In these cases you use a credit card, but it was unclear if I would then go and pick up the bike or if they would drop it off for me. As it happens, I was having dinner at the Old Delhi Indian Restaurant (delicious by the way) and happened to notice another shop renting scooters across the way. I went into the store and inquired. She initially wanted $10 USD / day for the scooter, but decided that she would do it for just $9 USD / day. Just like the other rental places, the rental company did want some kind of card that she could hold on to. The woman behind the counter inquired about my passport, but after a short discussion said that my Texas driver's license would work too. Since I couldn't care less if my driver's license was stolen while abroad (really, it's worthless and costs only $10 to replace at home), I told her that would be fine. It took maybe 5 minutes to do the paperwork. She let me pick out a helmet. Incidentally, if you've been around Southeast Asia then you know their standards for motorcycle helmets aren't the best. I picked out the best one I could, but it still lacked a face protector and shield. It was slightly better than the small brain cups you so often see, but only slightly.

An outside shot of the scooter rental place I found that didn't require my passport

There was also no official damage form to fill out, but another manager at the store looked over the bike condition with me. There was some minor damage, but nothing too serious. As always, I took photos of everything in front of the guy including the mileage and the gas level (which was just shy of empty). Be sure that you have the guy explain to you how to unlock and open the gas tank, the under-seat storage area, and anything else the bike might have. It's not always a intuitive as you might think.

My trusted scooter for exploring Angkor Wat (still at the rental shop)

Gassing up the Bike

I'm not 100% on this, but pretty certain that the company just drains whatever gas is in the bikes when they get them back and keeps that for themselves. They of course tell you that you'll need to go and fill the bike up and will direct you to a gas station. Don't do this.

For starters, the gas stations can be a huge pain in the ass, especially if you haven't ridden around at all. There are really no rules in terms of driving and cars and bikes are interweaving with each other around every turn. The gas station is really no different. A dozen scooters and motorcycles will pull up at random around a pump and somehow the gas attendant manages it like a craps table. He won't miss a beat, but unless your Cambodian is especially strong, it's unlikely you'll get filled up too quickly. The locals seem to get full attention. I did this for my first fill-up, but learned there is a better way.

Instead, head slightly off the beaten path and as you start passing shops on the side of the road you'll often see a stand out front with dirty liquor bottles. In Bali these were exclusively Absolut Vodka bottles, in Laos they were a mixture of bottles (sometimes plastic liters of Coke), but in Siem Reap they all seem to be some cheap brand of whiskey. Of course none of these places are actually selling alcohol, but rather selling their own variety of petrol (gasoline).

Petrol stocked up in whiskey bottles

Getting my scooter filled up with petrol

I'm told the bottles are filled with a slightly rougher petrol that is leftover from the refineries. Presumably it's gasoline that is somewhat imperfect. They work just fine, but I'm guessing are a little less environmentally sound. Either way, a single whiskey bottle's worth of petrol (I'm guessing 1.5 liters worth) will set you back about 3,500 Riel (about $0.85). It's also super fast. You pull up, you tell the guy what you want, he breaks out a funnel and pours one of the bottles into your tank. You pay. You're done. If you have your money ready to go, the whole process takes less than a minute. It's also kind of amusing to see it in action and provides cash to a local shop instead of (what I assume are) nationalized petrol chains. A single bottle filled up my scooter about half way from empty, so I was fine with this.

As a side note, there are dozens of such stands selling gas like this between Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat compound. They're far enough out that I wouldn't venture out on an empty tank, but you'll definitely be able to find fuel along the way.

Getting to the Ticket Office

You would think that the ticket office would be located near the entrance to the park or at the very worst case in the middle of town, but that's just not how they did it. It's not near the temples nor is it especially convenient from town. It's just kind of out there on its own. It's even difficult to find on the map unless you know what you're looking for. On Google Maps it comes up as "Angkor Panorama Museum". I think this museum actually exists at that location, but it is also where they happen to sell the tickets to Angkor Wat.

To get there, head north of the city on Charles de Gaulle until you get the Street 60. There will be a sign directing you to turn right and continue for 3km. Do turn right. Do not drive for 3km as you will overshoot the ticket office by a solid kilometer and wind up on the 60kmph section of the highway (as I discovered). After about 1.8km or so there will be a roundabout. Go straight through the roundabout and there will be two giant buildings on your left. They are not marked all that well, but the first of the two buildings is the ticket office. There is a small sign alongside the first building illustrating that it is the Angkor Wat ticket office, but because the sign is exactly parallel with the road, it's difficult to see as you're approaching. Just trust it's the buildings immediately past the roundabout.

A map showing how to get to the Angkor Wat ticket office from the center of Siem Reap

Park your bike in the parking lot and head towards the back of the building behind the various gift shops. You'll see dozens of ticket window stalls. When you walk up to one of them they'll ask you if you want a 1, 2, or 3-day pass to the temples. I did a 1-day pass; it cost $37 USD. They'll take your picture and immediately print you out a custom ticket with your photo on it. Keep it somewhere safe as they will definitely check it several times. Also bear in mind that you're probably going to sweat a lot and it's just a paper ticket. I kept mine in my waterproof iPhone bag/case (which by the way, if you don't have one of these, I would highly recommend; they're incredibly useful).

Once you get your ticket head back to the roundabout. This time you'll head to the right (after leaving the ticket booth parking lot; left if you are considering how you originally went through the roundabout). From there it's roughly another 6km or so to the park. When the road eventually hits a T-interesction there will be a checkpoint. Show the guard your pass. If you purchased a multi-day he will punch a hole in one of the days. This is not necessary if it's just a single day ticket. Incidentally they only check westerners passes. Locals are free to visit without charge. Once you get to the intersection, turn left. You'll continue for another few kilometers driving underneath a beautiful canopy of trees and eventually paralleling the lake which ultimately serves as the moat for Angkor Wat.

A map showing how to get from the center of town or the Angkor Wat ticket office to the actual Angkor Wat compound

When you finally get to the Angkor Wat parking areas, there is a good parking lot right next to the Blue Pumpkin Cafe. It only cost me 2,000 Riels (about $0.50) to park there for the day, albeit I only wound up staying in that particular lot for two to three hours. The parking attendant will staple a ticket onto your bike and then hand you a receipt for it. Don't lose the receipt as they did ask for it later (though it seemed a little stupid since I obviously had the key to my own bike). It's probably not necessary, but I had a lock for the bike and so I ran it through the wheel and into the frame just for peace of mind. If you don't want to pay for a spot, you can drive beyond the general tourist area where all of the locals are camped out on the lawn (if facing the Angkor Wat entrance -- which will be very obvious to identify when you're out there, it's to the far left of it). I left my bike there for several hours on a separate trip. The bike will likely have a storage compartment, but beyond the helmet, I don't know if I'd trust leaving anything locked in it. They're not especially hard to break into.

Once you've explored enough of the main Angkor Wat temple, your day is really just beginning. Exit the parking lot where the bike is and head down the main road - the one that looks to come immediately out of the front door of Angkor Wat. There will be taxis and tuk tuks everywhere. When you get to the first intersection, turn right. This will start you on your path towards Angkor Thom - another absolutely breathtaking temple. From there, you're pretty much on your own if you have a scooter. Provided you picked up a map of the facilities from the ticket office, you can just navigate around and check out as many of the smaller temples as you'd like.

I would ride up to one, jump off the bike, explore it for 10-20 minutes, and then carry on to the next one. Definitely do bring water and some snacks, but there are also restaurants and vendors all throughout the park. You'll not be in dire need of anything so long as you're in the compound. It was really just an amazing place to be and honestly was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I highly recommend it.

If you're in need of food or especially fuel on your way out, be sure to stop in at one of the refueling huts, especially if it's getting dark. It's a bit of a drive back and while it's beautiful, once you get past the main park area, there really isn't much until you get back into Siem Reap.