Sunday, January 19, 2020

Searching for High Altitude Balloons

With a quick trip to the hardware store, I started to see balloons

A little while back I posted about my exploration in tracking gliders that were soaring around my area with a software-defined radio and some open-sourced software.

As I had mentioned, it all started with a mysterious phone last summer. Later that fall, I got yet another call from my new glider friend, wondering, since the gliding season was over for the year, would I be interested in tracking high altitude balloons instead.

It turns out that there is a bit of an enthusiast community out there that track and if possible, recover high altitude balloon payloads. A good majority of these balloons are the good old weather balloon that is still very much in use in our high tech world today since they can easily ride along the jetstream, but the military also use balloons in preparation for artillery exercises and there is also an active amateur radio community that use balloons to transmit radio traffic.

The central repository of all high altitude balloon knowledge can be found at The site includes information on how to set up a tracking station using a software-defined radio dongle - similar to the one I used for tracking gliders.

Setting up a receiving station is fairly well documented at the site, so I won't really focus on how to do that since I will leave that to the experts at Habhub to explain. But I did find details a little skimpy on what sort of antenna to use.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder for $5

Birds enjoying the feeder

Last winter I set up a bird feeder for my Grandmother so that she could watch the birds from her window.

She has enjoyed feeding and watching the birds for as long as I can remember, but in recent years she hadn't really been able to look after the bird feeders herself, so she was very happy to see that I was will to pick up the mantle and continue feeding the birds on her behalf. 

One thing that we weren't really happy about was during this past winter, the squirrels also discovered that the bird feeders were an easy way to get a free meal. 

While I cannot blame them for raiding my feeders - they need to eat too - they were also chasing away the birds, effectively defeating the purpose of the feeders. 

While I do plan on finding a more mutually agreeable (between us and the squirrels) way to feed the squirrels, my main objective was to deter the squirrels from literally stealing the food from the birds' mouths. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

A New Year Begins

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to pause and take stock of things.

When I started this site back in the late summer of 2017, I figure that the site would be basically a repository of all the various projects that I had attempted - a virtual notebook for me to jot down how I built something in the off chance I needed to build it again at some point in the future. I figured a website would be a better method to capture things than simply writing it down in some notebook that would eventually get lost in the pile of junk that usually I have sitting around my desk.

At the same time, if folks such as yourself find my ramblings informative and/or entertaining, well, that is just icing on the cake for me - and really it makes me quite happy to pass my experience along.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Making a Hydraulic Clamp

With 2 tons of pressure, it does a very effective job of clamping

Recently I wanted to try my hand at turning some bowls on my lathe using some hardwood scrap pieces that I had leftover from other projects. I wanted to create the bowls that had an alternating layer of different wood types in order to give the bowl an interesting appearance. 

With my first couple of bowls, I created the bowl blank by layering the wood pieces on top of each other and clamping everything together as tightly as possible with standard wood clamps. 

On the whole, everything glued together so I had a relatively solid piece of wood to work with, 

However, I did find that I sometimes got fine little gaps between the glued layers.  The downside of this was that when I turned the bowl, I would sometimes see daylight shining through those gaps in the bowl's side.   

While it is something that the typical person would likely not notice, and I could "cheat" by using wax to finish the bowl (the wax would fill in the gap), I really wanted  to be proud of my projects, and seeing a flaw, no matter how minor, always seems to bug me. 

I think the issue with the gaps is that no matter how hard I clamp the wood, I do not seem to be able to apply consistent pressure along the entire surface of the piece that I was gluing together. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Making a Wood Stove Fire Starter

This fire starter makes starting a fire in your wood stove a snap

Other than getting splinters in my fingers, the other most common by-product of all my work in the shop is compiling a rather large collection of sawdust and planer chips that eventually piles up on the floor around my saws and other tools that I use to nibble away at wood with.

For me, this is a waste product, something to be swept up and dumped into the garbage can to be recycled or composted.

Occasionally, some of my shop waste has been used as mulch material around some of the flower beds around the house here. But for the most part, the woodchips and sawdust were mainly looked at as trash.

For the past few years, I have been volunteering with our local Scouting group. A little while ago the group did a project where they made a campfire starter out of some wood chips, candle wax and a small paper cup that you would normally use for mouthwash. I was actually pretty amazed at how simple it was to make one of those things, and was even more amazed at how well they worked in starting a campfire. 

My parents primarily heat their house and as long as I can remember, they were always commenting that they sometimes had to put in a bit of effort to get the fires burning in the mornings.

Thinking back on what the Scouts did, and looking at another pile of sawdust on the shop floor, an idea struck...