Monday, March 24, 2014

Red wire... blue wire...

 As good as my intentions were there aren't any cool projects or recipes that are "blog ready" today. While I was greatly annoyed by this I realize that the situation is do at least in part to my choices. A week ago I chose to sign up to help clean up at the church house on Saturday, and later I chose to attend the temple with my wife (killing the rest of Saturday). Don't get me wrong both of them were good choices and positive things came out of them, but they did cut into my project time and as a result nothing is ready to post today. This lead me to think about the cause of, and solution to most of life's problems... choices.

The title from today's post is that old question from movies and tv, 'should I cut the red wire or the blue wire'. Usually one sets off the bomb and the other disarms it (Note: as an undergrad I and my theater major room mate talked this one over and decided that if we ever write this scene all the wires are going to be the same color...). Sorry to disappoint the NSA watch dogs (and a few teenage boys) this blog post is really about choices, not bombs (or scene writing). How do we make choices; how do we deal with the consequences of them; and what if we want more than one thing?

First, blind or considered choices

Ok, so first lets go for how we make choices. There are lots of factors that go into making choices (whole books worth actually); I am going to stick to one for right now, blind versus considered choices. Using our red wire blue wire scenario you could just choose a color on impulse and go. That would be one form of a blind choice. You put no thought into it you just choose one and go (with a 50-50 chance of blowing yourself away!). Other options would be to try to trace the wires to components, call someone who knows more than you do about bombs, or for you religious types pray for guidance (I know, kinda the same as the call a friend option but I three is a good number...) and then choose a wire and cut it. This would be what I call a considered choice; you took some time to get some information to guide you in what to choose and or what the consequences of a choice will be.

I myself prefer the considered choice but there is a time for both (if the timer on your bomb is at five seconds you don't have a lot of time to chat (or trace wires)...). Now here's where this gets funny, sometimes it looks like someone's making a blind choice but they really aren't. Experience can help you make the choice faster. (Non exploding example) If the soda fountain  has Coke and Pepsi products I probably won't be spending a lot of time comparing the relative merits of regular or diet, or Coke or Pepsi. I go straight for the Diet Dr Pepper because It's  my favorite. It's not a blind choice it's one I already know the answer to. If the Diet Dr  Pepper is out, then I really do have to spend a bit more time thinking about it.

Second, consequences

Ok, second factor: the consequences of our choices...
It's been said that you can make choices but you can't choose the consequences of the choice. Well, that's true part of the time, kind of. All choices have consequences, and the rule of "no takesy backsy" does apply. Once you make a choice you take the consequences that come with it; however, remember that considered choice thing? If you stop and think about the choices you make before you make them you have some control over the consequences you receive. If you just blindly choose a soda flavor you get the flavor you get. If you get one you don't like you could pour it out and get another, but that's another choice with it's own consequences. If you stop, look at the flavors and choose the one you like then you get a positive result the first time (unless something goes wrong).

This factor also has complications in that we can't see all the factors or predict all of the consequences of a choice. The flavor you want may be out, there may be no pattern at all to the color of the wires, the power could fail and render the expected outcomes of both examples moot. We can't completely know what the consequences of our choices are until they happen, but when we make a considered choice we are better able to predict what the consequences will be. When we stop and think we can make a choice that has a better chance to give us an outcome we want.

Third, multiple desired outcomes

This leads us to the next complication... what if we want more than one outcome. This actually happens and can be paralyzing because we have to choose between two things we want, or are equally drawn to. There is a word for this: Ambivalence (yep it really means that we are equally drawn between two or more choices and not that we don't care). I'm actually going to back off this one for right now because ambivalence and how to deal with it does have whole books written about it (I could include it all now but I don't choose to bore anyone to death). For now be aware that we can be really stuck (ambivalent) and it can take some real thought, soul searching, study and good old fashioned advice and help to get us out (by the way advice and help are among the reasons there are whole books written about this trying to affect another person's  choice can have all kinds of  unforeseen consiquences (That's part of why I'm backing off this for now))

There is a lot more to this topic and I will probably be coming back to it from time to time. For today the take home message is that we have the capacity to influence what happens in our lives by the choices we make. That means learning to make considered choices and really looking at what the options, and consequences, are before we do things. The good news is as we learn we get better at it. By the way if there's five seconds to go before the bomb goes off choose the green wire ("But Patrick all the wires are purple!" Well, you're on your own then!). Sorry there aren't any pretty pictures this time.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cookie biscuits! (see and you thought I was kiding)

Happy Saint Patrick's Day everyone. Today's post is about our ongoing saga with sourdough. I found a recipe for sourdough drop biscuits which don't need a lot of kneading or rise time so they are quick to make and a pretty good little biscuit. Of course being me and being in 'research mode' I sort of pushed the limits of the recipe a bit  (with more to come!) one direction I went (with Lisa's encouragement) was toward cinnamon sugar type biscuits.

The first recipe variant I tried crashed and burned (for once not literally!) so we will ignore that one for today. Lisa came up with the idea of using cinnamon chips (which works!) this combined with my decision to experiment with a couple other new ingredients resulted in the three recipes included in today's post: cinnamon apple biscuits, cinnamon chocolate biscuits, and peanut butter chocolate biscuits. Note: Lisa said she really liked the cinnamon chocolate ones but kept eating my peanut butter ones...

So, lets get started!
Cinnamon Apple Biscuits:

Preheat oven to 350

Part 1 (wet ingredients)
1/3 cup oil
1 cup sourdough starter
mix well.

Since these are sweet biscuits a reasonably mild starter is appropriate. I frequently use the 'discard' from when I'm feeding my sour dough for these (I prefer to pour off the liquid that is generated if the starter stays in the refrigerator but if you prefer to mix it back in do so).

Part 2 (dry ingredients)
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons of brown sugar (pack it up when you measure but break it up/sprinkle it into the bowl before you mix)
1/4 cup cinnamon chips
1 tablespoon dried apple (I used dehydrated applesauce which we get from Thrive, but there are other apple possibilities (Dad sent us some dried apples that would work well)

Mix well, then mix in the wet ingredients.

Drop by appropriate sized spoon (For these Lisa prefers smaller, that would be a table spoon or heaping half table spoon. I prefer a heaping tablespoon) onto an ungreased baking sheet. Note that these do rise/puff pretty well in the oven (unofficially I will say double in size) so give them plenty of space.

Bake for 12-17 minutes (remember ovens differ so your time may differ; also size can change the baking time (for heaping tablespoon in my oven 15 minutes is about right) so know your set up and adjust accordingly)

When they come out loosen them up with a spatula. I can't say how long they keep because none have lasted that long!

Cinnamon Chocolate Biscuits

This one is a goof that worked out...
Follow the same recipe above except omit the sugar and the apples and add 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips.

The mini chips started with Lisa's fascination for all things mini but they distribute chocolate through the whole mix better than full size chips.

The dropping of the sugar was initially me rushing and forgetting, but it works out. Chocolate plays well with a bit more tart environment (dark chocolate anyone?) and these are a nice treat with less sugar (and calories) than the other versions.

Chocolate Peanut  Butter Biscuits
Start with the cinnamon apple recipe again, but this time instead of 1 tablespoon apples add 1/4 cup peanut butter chips. I just finished some for the pictures below, they might or might not make it to tomorrow.

The pictures:
After (see I told you they'd puff)

So there you have it three easy treats off one base recipe (I have others too but those aren't cookie biscuits)

Looking into the future, now that the work bench is up and I have my snack maybe we get onto that stamping thing, the rocket stove gets used, no specific promise of what exactly, but the next post should be about fire and bent metal.

For any one looking for a reunion teaser...sorry no rock pictures today (better luck next time), but in the mean time ponder an tool I'm working of for the reunion: the ballistic paint brush! (Lisa: Yep, he's crazy. Patrick: Just be glad I was kidding about the fire arrows!)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Back to basics, the bench

Ok, today we're getting on to one of the topics I've wanted to talk about for a while but was waiting to finish, the new work bench. I'd been wanting an additional work bench (I have one that is fairly basic in the basement and a metal desk that makes a fairly decent bench in the shed, but can you ever have too much workbench? (for some readers that could be translated as work table/cutting table, easel, counter space, etc)). I also wanted something that is more specifically designed for doing jewelry/metal work operations, and something that I could easily move with me to shows, to work in my outside space, to upcoming family reunions, in a snow bank (it is Idaho), or other options as needed.

A basic jeweler's bench looks like this:
 Pretty solid, unfortunately not very mobile, oh and the basic model costs about $400 with shipping. Not ideal and costs more than I wanted to pay at this point. There is a portable version that costs $75 without shipping:
Unfortunately it needs to be on a table or a base (which costs extra) in order to be used (I have yet to develop telekinesis so levitating it is a non-option). The base puts the price over $100 and looks like this:
Huston we have a tv tray! nope not solid enough.

While we're at it, I don't really need the drawers. My projects tend to fluctuate between things and I find it much more efficient to use fishing tackle boxes or tool boxes (you can get some way cool and way solid ones at the surplus store for a decent price) so no drawers needed. And I'd like better options for clamping equipment to it.

I kicked the idea around for a while. I salvaged some 3/4 inch plywood from another project that would make a decent top, but still had one problem. I didn't have a decent design for legs, or other supports, until I ran into this
at a local steel fabricator. These are left over pieces after the fab shop made what ever they were making, aka drop. Drop steel like this costs $0.20-$0.40 cents per pound around here.  Still good steel just left overs.

I don't have my welder yet, so this was more of a screw together operation. Of course since I was already planning to screw/bolt the legs to the top (allowing it to knock down for portability, and not being nearly silly enough to think you can mig weld plywood!) it wasn't really a problem. It did require a lot of clamping,
including some interesting tactical maneuvers:

Note the smaller pieces of "scrap wood" those are actually shop made jewelers bench pins that I made for a previous project (You'll get to see a 'real' one set up the way it usually is later) they are wooden bench extensions designed to help you in drilling, sawing, filing, clamping, or what ever else you need on the bench. You can argue about whether they are a legitimate tool or a piece of scrap wood as you wish (they're both!).

Making sure the leg frames were square was a bit of a challenge (gee, if I could use the workbench to make the workbench it would be so much easier...). But we got there.

"Er, um, those legs are pointing the wrong way."

 Sure they are, after I got them on I decided that cross stabilization was a must so I flipped it back up so I could put a 2x4 stabilizer between the top brackets in the center of the top. A second one goes on the ground between the legs on the back (away from where I'm sitting). The top and bottom braces are 1 1/2 inches per side on the angle iron so they match the standard 2x4.

This lead to a new problem. I needed to bore pilot holes in the 2x4s. Yes, I can mark them, pull the parts and drill them, but the legs gave me enough headaches that I wanted to drill them in position so I was sure. Problem, if I drill them in place my normal drill won't fit. Solution, every metal worker or carver's friend the flex shaft. Problem, where am I supposed to hang the flex shaft? Solution
The holes I drilled for the bottom cross brace are just the same distance apart and hole size as my peg board's holes, so a peg board hook becomes a flex shaft hook. Pilot holes drilled no problem and the brace goes on easily.

What about the one on ground. You can't drill them with the legs up in the air and a peg board hook in one of the holes! (I know I know, the levitation thing (and the two objects can't occupy the same space thing...) Well...
Once it was right side up I screwed a hook into the bottom of the table top (technically in the part I'm going to cut out. Drill, screw, no problem. In this picture you can also see the 2x4 top brace. the top is two layers of 3/4 inch exterior grade plywood with a 2x4 down the center and two steel angle iron pieces, that are part of the leg sets, supporting it. Unless I do something massively silly that top isn't going anywhere.
Next we cut out the inside curve for the main work point.
Here it is with the cut out piece.

And here it is with my combination jeweler's anvil and bench pin and a clamp on pana-vise in place. I can clamp them anywhere on the bench, but that center arc is meant to be the main work point.

Why am I going with "non pretty" plywood? Because I'm cheap? Be cause it's strong? Because it's what I had on hand?

Answer all of the above and because 'pretty' isn't really a feature I'm worried about here. This work bench is meant to be pounded on, drilled on, solder/braze/welded on, ground and filed on. A lot of the damage will be done on the bench pin which is by definition a sacrificial surface but on this model I can use the whole top as a sacrificial surface. So if I decide to add a post for my flex shaft (in the works...) no problem, screw it on. If I want to clamp on or even screw into the to support a sculpture or other larger project, I am much more willing to do that with this bench than a $300 dollar bench who's top I can't change out. This one, when the top is worn out I just get a new one.

Why cut in for the main work spot? First, it gives me a place to brace my arms on the sides when I want to. second it allows me to work over the final key component of any good jeweler's bench, the catch drawer.
Actually it's more of a catch sling as you can see. And, yes that would be denim from an old pair of jeans. Other options would be canvas or leather but the jeans were what I had on hand and I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on something that I hadn't really worked out the design for. I'm still not completely sold but I'm not modifying it any more until I've worked with it for a while. The point of this feature is to catch falling objects. Small tools, work pieces and especially small stones have an annoying tendency to disappear and/or get to the most illogical places when they fall off the bench. The catch sling intercepts them before they can hit the floor. It also catches metal dust/shavings which can be sent to a refiner and converted to cash; with copper scrap over $3.00 a pound (and other metals much higher!) this is not a resource to pass up, no matter what metals you're working in.

Yes, it has a bit of wobble, but I've tuned, adjusted and shimmed to the point that more of the wobble issues are from the uneven cement floor in the basement than a flaw in my design. It's still not 'rock' solid, but I've hit the point of diminishing returns for a portable item. I've done some sawing and pounding on it and it is quite stable enough to work on particularly if you are using the sides of the arc as arm rests.

Depending on how much 'whack' you're putting on the subject with a hammer you might want to work over one of the leg braces but it is definitely solid enough for bench hammering (I set the grommets for the sling with a three pound engineers hammer). For heavier hammering, well, that's what my small but growing collection of anvils, stand vise and other 'heavy ordinance' is for!

So the bench is solid enough to work on, light enough to pack around and adaptable enough to do what I want with. So project successfully completed and on it's way to helping me complete other projects. Am I completely satisfied... yes and no. It serves my needs; I will definitely be using it; and I learned a lot in the process. Truth be told the Mark II was already in the design phase before this one was finished (I have more plywood, and extra steel for the top and bottom braces, so why not).  With two shop spaces and plans to do shows and farmers markets a second one couldn't hurt. And I can use my lessons learned from this one to make the next one even better.
I am also looking at adding accessories. For one I'm planning on adding a hook for a flex shaft, but that's actually going to wait until I make some more decisions on my new flex shaft (1/6 hp, 1/3 hp, two motors?). I'm also considering a bolt on power strip, mounting a light and so on.

A couple of last thoughts

This picture from last post
This happened when using my Dremel to cut a piece of old saw blade that I'm shaping to make a knife. The mandrel failed leaving the disk embedded in the stock. The bench didn't shift or shake but steel did fly. Moral, have a good bench and wear your safety goggles/glasses.

Also, more about bench pins:
Here are two of the older ones complete with holes saw marks, abrasions and other mess. the one in the center is the brand new one. It is hard wood instead of pine and doesn't even have it's center cut yet (yes that V is in there on purpose it helps for holding, sawing and so on). By this time next year it won't be nearly so pretty (even if I haven't set fire to it yet!)

For now mission accomplished.
For next time cookie biscuits!
For the future: stamps, molds, and corned beef and cabbage (Monday is Saint Patricks day (Patrick Sean Kidder, part Irish, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You work it out.)
For those headed to the Layne family reunion in a couple of months...

These are from one of the batches of gravel similar to the ones we've talked about bringing. They are smokey quartz. Smokey quartz is the national gem of Scotland (ok boys and girls you're supposed to be doing your family history so again figure it out...)

For those of you who are going to be in So Cal for Christmas this year (Lisa and I are talking about coming down)
It's jasper, it's gem quality, it comes in sizes from thumb to head sized, and it is in an area where running around with dune buggies and/or four wheelers is a distinct option. 'Nuff said?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Generally trying to post on Mondays, but it looks like I will not be saying anything seriously considered or in depth until later in this week. In the mean time here are a couple positive things to think about!

These are from the latest biscuit experiment this week, but don't tell them that, they think they're cookies!

For those attending the Layne family reunion that has been much talked about the last couple of days; I know Lisa and Marisa have been spreading talk of some kind of rock hounding activity... While I can not formally acknowledge any such activity or operation...

If I were aware of such an event it would be highly probable that rocks such as the above were somehow involved!

Last but not least...What the heck???
The answer to this and other mysteries will be posted here Wednesday or Thursday (I hope!)

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Adventures Continue...

Because there is no single big thing this week here are updates on a few things...

First off the pancakes:
   Yes, use the baking soda not the baking powder. It makes them lighter and fluffier. I haven't achieved perfect fluff yet but I'm working on it. BTW for those of you not believing in sourdough's ability to escape confinement...

I barely caught mine before it made a break for it this week. I also learned from this that it will shrink down a bit if you put it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Having served it's time in "Zee cooler" (Ok, you try typing Schultzy's bad German accent from Hogan's Heroes!!!) I think I'm attempting some hamburger or hotdog buns tomorrow.

Second the rocket stove: I got one burn test in this week. I and my impatient self overloaded it with fuel before I started so it never got the right air flow. In the process of demanding that it concede to my will I moved the half block chimney over the other hole. This did not improve the air flow at all but did lead to an interesting discovery...

Apparently if you burn the right fuel load in the high chamber instead of the low chamber (go back a couple posts to see what I mean) you get not a rocket stove but a pretty fair imitation of a Japanese charcoal making oven! This one is not really big enough to be a 'production' model charcoal oven but I can do the charcoal making process with it (which if you're an old school metal worker or back yard chief is kinda neat).

A couple posts are waiting for their projects to be done because I'm working on a new portable work bench (which will get it's own post when it's finished). My main work bench isn't really clamp friendly and my shed bench is an old metal desk which is just about as bad so the project is to make a version of a jeweler's bench that is clamp friendly, can easily be broken down to move (to take to shows, farmers markets and so on) and is still solid enough to work/pound/do what I do on. The thing is giving me fits, but it's getting there and sadly I can't say all the problems have been the bench's fault!

Note to self: before making sure your bench is level try making sure the ground is free from obstacles (cords, hoses, small children, attack trained lawn gnomes (yes that is a joke...there are no small children in my basement))

That's it for now. Remember if you got it all right the first time you wouldn't learn anything on the way.