Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Twelve Steps

A recent review of my music database has revealed that I have 94 albums that I have yet to listen to and 16 that I am currently in the process of digesting plus about fifteen CDs-worth of classical music that needs my attention.

Doesn't everyone have a database of all their music?

Some stats, purely for my own amusement.

In Process albums contain albums from the new Ben Folds (growing on me but doubt it will ever be more than a 7), an old Atomic Opera, a Japanese avante-garde metal band Dir En Grey, Cindy Morgan, and scaterd-few.

Unlistened albums include Nick Drake, Gentle Giant, Mark Heard (found nearly all of his albums on eMusic!), Goblin, King Crimson, Nektar, YES, Sufjan Stevens and even Lisa Whelchel. Of Facts of Life? Yeah... I'm chomping at the bit to hear that one but it has one track written by Steve Taylor so perhaps there's some other good songs. Some of these will get two or three listens before being tossed into storage but there may be one or two that will become lifetime favorites. Doubtful but possible.

1199 CDs (rock) plus around 275 classical albums and scant time to enjoy them. It's like that Twilight Zone episode where the guy lives through a nuclear blast and now has all the time in the world to read but breaks his glasses. I'm not complaining, though. Blessed be the ties. One day, all too soon, the house will be all too quiet and I'll listen to a couple of hour-long classical compositions and read a few chapters of a novel and then I'll start wondering what Melynda is doing or when the grandkids will be coming over.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sugar 'N' Yeast

All the female members in my household, save Tessa, are on a food regimine to reduce unhealthy yeast overgrowth that can occur when a body is subjected to more than one dose of antibiotics per year. I should probably also do the program but I'm lazy.

As part of the program you reduce sugar for four weeks. Originally we thought it was eliminate sugar for four weeks but fortunately we were wrong. This is supposed to include sugar substitutes and corn sweeteners and fruit juices.

In an attempt to be all scientific about it we did a little test. However we weren't "high school science project" scientific in that I didn't measure out the amount of water for each sample and warm each to a specific temperature. We did have a control of just water and I did measure out 1/4 tsp yeast per test and let each sit for 15 minutes. I of course was wearing goggles, rubber gloves, spandex, and moon boots. You know, the usual scientific gear.

THE CONTROL: Note the absence of yeasty growth and smell. Also note the clean counter top which I photoshopped in.

SUGAR: If you could have only been here. Foamy like root beer but with a rich, tangy smell. If you want to grow yourself some yeast this is the stuff to use.

STEVIA EXTRACT: A sweet herbal extract that is great for those who really love sweet herbal things. No detectable yeast growth.

HONEY: Very slight yeast growth but not exactly something I'd like to drink.

MAPLE SYRUP: More growth than honey, that's for certain. However when you know that they boil down forty or so gallons of tree sap to make one gallon on syrup, well, it's gotta be concentrated goodness!

ORANGE JUICE: Another big winner is orange juice. At first you think "Why no juice but it's okay to eat fruit?" Well, here's why. Grow little yeasties, grow!

So how about that old favorite CORN SYRUP? Unfortunately I didn't have any of that mythical High Fructose Corn Syrup but I did my best to make pudding out of sour grapes. Or something like that. Pretty decent growth, dontja think? Contract and compare against orange juice at your leisure.

The only non-diet soda we had in the house was ORANGE SODA! Pretty dismal growth, at least for what one would expect. Maybe it would grow better in a name brand.

Now on to the artificial sweeteners! How do THEY make yeast grow? Well... kinda sorta. Here's the first: ALTERN! It's the Wal-mart version of Splenda. A nice and even growth but without the vertical growth potential of sugar.

Here's the official version of SPLENDA. Hmmm... even less growth despite the stuff being made in the same factories. I wonder if Walmart cuts their powdery white stuff with the real thing?

The last is WEETENER. Very minimal growth. I unfortunately didn't have any of those mysterious blue packets to test but I'm sure they would grow mutant yeasts! Maybe some day...

What have we learned? That SUGAR IS KING! Also that I've run out of funnies 'cause it's late and the kids really need to go to bed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How To Build Monkey Bars - Step 4

This last step will be easier if you can gather up a willing victim but it's completely doable if you have a few bar clamps, a few muscles, and are willing to shed a few drops of blood. I gots me lots of clamps but not nearly as many as that Norm Abrahms. Clamp hog.

19. STAND the end pieces upright.

20. LIFT top piece into place on top of both ends and clamp at least one end to the top. Make sure it's a right angle and all square-ish. It's also very heavy. DUDE, you're lifting four ten foot 2X4s PLUS dowels PLUS screws and it's all dripping in preservative!

21. SCREW in the braces you cut in step 17. I recommend three on top and toenail two in on the lower end.

22. SCREW the top to the side. Note the placement of the three screws in the corner in the above and below pictures.

23. Unclamp and do the other side, again making sure it's square.

24. Time to bolt! DRILL a 1/4" hole on the inside of each corner, about as deep as your 1/4" bit. Slide the washer over the bolt and insert into the hold. Tighten that puppy all the way up.

25. Time to play! Climb up on that thing yourself and have some fun before the kids see you.

You may want to sand down the dowels a bit or you can wait for it to happen naturally.


How To Build Monkey Bars - Part 3

We're over halfway done! Have some skittles.

11. DON'T CUT any of the ten foot boards.

12. Layout and DRILL holes in two of the ten foot boards like you did in step 2 EXCEPT instead of marking/drilling the holes every twelve inches do the first one eleven inches from the bottom and then drill them every fourteen inches after that. What? Do you really need a picture of this? Paintbox to the rescue!

13. CUT eight pieces of dowels to 21 inches long.

14. INSERT dowels, add top piece, pound away, SANDWICH with the undrilled, uncut ten foot boards and SCREW them together between the rungs. If this seems like deja vu it is! See steps 4, 5, and 6 for a refresher course.

15. CUT two 2 21" pieces from the very last eigh foot 2X4. It's been a real champ, hanging in there while all of it's brothers got picked.

16. SCREW these 24" pieces onto the ends of the top ladder. Make sure things are all square-like before screwing. Two, three, or four screws per end, your choice.

17. CUT four brace pieces from whatever scraps you have left (remember the orphans from step 9?). First cut them to 26" (a shade more or less is okay) and then set your miter to 45 degrees and chop them as shown below.
18. Time to ASSEMBLE! If you have a friend or a sibling go get them. Otherwise any Person of Convenience or neighbor will do.

Next up - Almost there!

How To Build Monkey Bars - Part 2

Ready for that sweet smell of pine sawdust? Well, it's pressure treated lumber so there will be none of that. Maybe you should wear a dust mask so that stuff doesn't get into your lungs.

1. CUT four of the eight foot 2X4s to 83 1/2" long. Use that miter saw or, if you're feeling muscular, a hand saw!

2. DRILL HOLES! Line up these boards side by side (flat side down) and mark out where you are going to drill. You want to drill right in the middle of the board. If you want a full set of rungs of both sides do all four boards like this. Otherwise do two boards like this and the other do as shown below.

Mark where you are going to drill, measuring off every twelve inches starting at the bottom. Your square could come in handy here. If one side is going to be a hangin' side mark the first rung nine inches from the top and the next twelve inches below that.

Start drilling! Try to drill straight up and down if you can. I'll wait right here.

3. CUT 8 or 12 two foot lengths of dowels (again, cut 12 if you want rungs on both sides). It's okay if it's a quarter inch or so shorter than two feet.

4. ASSEMBLE ! Lay one hole-riddled board flat and insert six dowels. Use that rubber mallet and smack 'em all the way through so they are flush on the back side. Now place another board on top and pound it down so the dowels are all the way through and flush with the top of the board. I recommend you do this on concrete or other hard-ish surface. Do your best to keep everything square but it should all be pretty close anyway. Neat little ladder, isn't it?

5. CUT four of the eight foot 2X4s to 87" long.

6. SANDWICH! Take two of the 87" boards and sandwich the ladder you just made. Screw them together using the exterior screws every twelve inches or so. If you want it to look nice screw from the inside between every rung. Use your clamps if you got 'em to hold the 2X4s snug against each other while you screw for a nice tight fit. Be sure that the bottoms of the boards all line up nice and straight.

7. REPEAT. Do the same thing to the other side/ladder that you built.

8. CUT two 5' 10" lengths from the eight foot 2X4s. Don't throw away those scraps, though. You'll be needing them soon enough!

9. SET your miter to 45 degrees and chop of the corners of these 5' 10" pieces. These will be the bases of your set and you don't want pointy corners. You can do a simple 45 degree chop or you can get fancy and make the taper longer. It's up to you.

10. SCREW the base onto the bottom of each ladder sandwich. Center it as best you can and use three or four screws on each ladder leg.

Hey, an entire post with no political commentary! YEAH!

UPDATE: For one of the sides I would recommend three rungs on the bottom only, leaving the top three out. This way kids can climb the three steps and hold onto the monkey bars to swing out. Slight design flaw...

Next up - The Top!

How To Build Monkey Bars - part 1

In an attempt to be less dour and less obsessed with the decline of America (which somehow reminds me of sliding down a banister that turns into a series of razor blades... sorry... I'm done) and because most of my blog hits are from Google and my post How To Build Monkey Bars I've decided to post, for real, instructions on how to inexpensively and easily build a set of monkey bars for your monkeys to play on and I hope no one is offended that I'm calling their children monkeys.

The whole shebang should run you no more than $80 (pre-hyper-inflation carbon/green surcharge flyover country prices) provided you have the very few tools required and should take no more than an afternoon.

4 Ten Foot Exterior 2X4's
11 Eight Foot Exterior 2X4's
4 3/8" 4" long carriage bolts
4 washers that will fit the bolts
1 or 2 pounds of 2 1/2" exterior screws, depending on how much you like your kids
Between 40 and 32 linear feet of 1 1/8" dowel rods

THE HARDWARE (Thank you Alton):
Electric drill
Chop Saw (a.k.a. miter saw)
1 1/8" spade drill bit (one and one-eighth inch)
1/4" drill bit
screwdriver bit
Tape measure
Pencil or black marker or other writing device

A rubber mallet
A Square
A helper (for the last few steps)
A couple of clamps bigger than 3"

Just a couple of things before we start. Always wear eye protection, gloves, asbestos body suit, and lead underpants.

It may take some time in the steps where you are drilling oodles and oodles of 1 1/8inch holes in the wood. I know my tried and true Craftsman got pretty hot and I stopped a number of times to let it cool down. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! If you burn up your hand drill making these don't come crying to me. You can use 1" dowels if you want but I find that the extra 1/8" makes it more manly and meant I got to go out and buy a 1 1/8" spade bit that will now sit unused in my workshop until I'm returned to the ground.

The variance in the amount of dowels needed is because you need to decide if you want rungs up both sides of the monkey bars or if you want a set that has rungs up just one side and two rungs at the top of the other side so your kids/monkeys can hang upside down and help you appreciate our non-socialized medical system while we have it (smacks hand). Buy 40 feet of dowels if you want a full ladder/rungs on both sides.

Also important is to buy the rungs in two foot increments. If your local home center sells three foot lengths, well, they're probably not right in the head.

When you buy 2X4s make sure they aren't bowed. They will probably be mighty heavy and dripping with whatever toxic goo they inject into them to keep them from rotting but you can most likely fit them all into the trunk of your 1995 Ford Taurus. I did.

You'll also notice that the set pictured above is connected to a 2X4 constructed swing set. I love 2X4's. They should build houses out of those things. Anyway, my monkey bars is bolted to the 2X4 swing set which is bolted to a (mostly) 2X4 constructed play house.

Enough of this chatter... LET'S MAKE SOME SAWDUST!

Download all these plans for a mere ninety-nine cents at Amazon!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bottom Heavy

I've been reading In The Event of My Untimely Demise by Brian Sack, a humorous collection of essays on what essential tidbits of wisdom he would like to pass along to his son. It's not exactly appropriate for a son under the age of 18 but it's still quite funny. I just finished a chapter on friends that had some distinctions that appealed to my "MUST CATEGORIZE" brain and, being in great need for blog material, thought I would share. I shall paraphrase and quote wreckless abandon, often without the use of those pesky quotation marks.

Friend: The title of friend should be earned. You are comfortable around a true friend with no need for posturing or pretending. They know your strengths as well as your weaknesses and haven't run away screaming. You can trust a true friend to watch your house and not steal from it. You can tell them secrets that will be kept. There is minimal B.S. You can tell them why you don't want to go out without making something up and though they may try a bit to get you to still go out they will accept your ultimate decision. They will answer honestly if "this makes my butt look big" or tell you if you have bed hair or forgot your pants. If you ask a friend to "drive 1,100 miles in a muffler-less Yugo to staple a banana to a light pole", and you really honestly need them to do it, they will. Friends can stop by unannounced and you're happy to see them and friends will be eager to help you move. You always take their phone calls. True friendships can survive long distances and lengths of time with no contact and when contact is made again it will seem as if no time has passed.

Associates are much like friends - you go out to dinner with them, share some secrets, attend events. They know who you've dated but not necessarily which ones broke your heart. They probably don't have copies of keys to your house. If one of you moves away there's a good chance that you'll trade sporadic phone calls and e-mails but "the relationship will slowly crumble like Soviet-era cement. They might stop by unannounced, which can bother you." When asked the "big butt" question your answer might depend on your mood instead of the truth. Sometimes when an associate calls you'll check your caller ID and not pick up. They might not jump with joy to help you move. You have fun with associates, sometimes a lot of fun, but it's on a different level than a true friend. Associates are "important parts of the friend spectrum, offering many of the perks of true friendship but without requiring the same kind of commitment."

The lowest form is People of Convenience. If you have an extra ticket to some event and you can't decide whether to invite Grover or go by yourself, Grover is a person of convenience, the "no-frills airlines of friendship: they're handy but usually not for the long haul." They are easily replaced and habitually forgotten ("Oh, I was supposed to call him yesterday.") When people of convenience invite you to things you have to think about it and weigh your options. They are great in groups of other People of Convenience but one on one you might find them annoying or dull.

Sack writes lots other things about friendships, such as how they can cross various social barriers and how it's possible to move from one strata to another, etc, etc but it was interesting to me because in my social awkwardness/retardation (and yes, I really did read "Social Etiquette for Dummies" and it was too advanced) I tended to rate people a step higher than they should be. This chapter helped open my eyes and explain a lot of the puzzled reactions I received in my past from people, why person X wasn't so happy for me to drop by even though I would have been pleased as punch for them to drop by my house (but they never did), or why I would be willing to take a day off of work to help person Y but person Y wasn't willing to take even an hour away from his family on a weekend to hang out.

A final "take away" is that friendship is about chemistry - you can't force it.

Veddy veddy interestink. I can't wait to read the chapter on Self Defense!

More Paranoid Lunacy

If the government gives money then it can pull the strings. We've seen it in the education system where they can withhold funds until a school does things their way, regardless of how the local community feels about it.

When Nationalized Health Care starts up it's going to be the same. Why should politicians give up that power? If you are over a certain age or over a certain weight or have something that has a low recovery rate (or high cost) then you'll be S.O.L. when it comes to getting medical treatment. If you have doubts simply look to the U.K. or our lovely northern neighbors.

It also means that if they think you need to be taking heart or cholesterol medications then you had best listen to them if you want to get covereage (or possibly coverage for their families) even if you would rather live with the "condition" rather than the side effects. I had thought they they would probably do annual drug screenings but now there's something even better! ROBOPILL!, a device that will monitor you to make sure you've taken your medicine and notify authorities if you don't.

This hits home because I've been turned down for premium insurance rates due to having high cholesterol. Heart disease does not run in my family and though I have a desk job I'm not exactly a regular at Dunkin' Donuts. So I researched cholesterol and found it's pretty much a farce. The original studies (early 1900s) were based on rabbits, noticing that if they fed these HERBIVORES lots of meat then their choesterol went up. Later, when the margarine industry started taking off, there were margerine company funded studies that showed how butter increased choesterol more than margarine, thus making this margarine "healthier." Now these studies are never questioned because they are so established that everyone knows it's fact. But please, don't think about that. Instead take this pill (paid for by your insurance company) and disregard the side effects and they can almost guarantee that you will have less of a chance of heart attack than if you didn't. Pretty much sure on that one. Yep.

Okay... I'd better put my tinfoil hat back on and get back to work.

Chinese Democracy

From the people who gave us lead-coated childrens toys comes tainted drywall! Its fumes corrode copper pipes, blacken jewelry and makes ya just plain sick. This was used lately in the housing boom when American drywall was in short supply. The kicker is that this kind of sub-standard hazardous product is the result of a communist government. You know, the "everyone gets their fair share" kind of government that our current crop of politcal leaders is promising.


Mr. Optomist

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