Sunday, September 13, 2020

A Wee Life-hack - Making a Simple USB Battery Adapter

Who needs batteries?

Towards the end of summer, I always make a pilgrimage north to do a little bit of fishing. 

Since the place that I usually go has a decidedly poor coverage area for cell and internet signals, I find that those few days of fishing to be my time to fully disconnect from the world and recharge my body and spirit. 

The type of fish that I go for typically is the type that will go only for the freshest of bait - for some reason they are just not easily fooled by artificial lures. 

They especially seem to have a fondness for minnows, which, for those that aren't familiar with all things fishy, are a small fish that about an inch or two long - just the right size for the big ones that I am angling for to swallow in one bite. 

The issue is that the minnows up north know this too, and tend to be very timid about being captured for use as live bait. 

The minnows in the creek near my house however, don't seem to have this fear and are easily persuaded to enter my minnow trap with a few bits of bread. 

The challenge is how to transport my minnows so that they stay alive and well for the 2 hour trip to my fishing spot.  The key to transporting minnows is to make sure that they have plenty of oxygen in the container that I am hauling them in. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Monthly Surprise in the Mail - Checking out a Kiwi Crate

A box of goodies

A few months back I developed a bit of a guilty pleasure in watching unboxing videos that seem to be everywhere on YouTube. 

The concept is that you get a box from an online store and you film yourself opening the box, removing and critiquing the items in the box. I actually tried my hand at doing one myself with my new table saw.  

Admittedly a very odd concept - but a very popular one, and strangely compelling to watch.  I suppose with fewer people going to physical stores, this has replaced "window shopping". 

I am especially drawn to watching unboxing videos which definitely are a spoof on the whole genre

In particular, the videos that I watched seemed to delve into something called "Crate Boxes". Crate boxes are usually part of a monthly subscription where you get a box full of goodies delivered to your front door each month. These crates are usually geared to a particular interest (movies, video games, etc.) and the contents of the crates usually follow a monthly theme. 

Most subscriptions are actually pretty reasonable for what you get - usually around 20 or 30 dollars a month. 

There are quite a few of these subscription crates out there. For example, my spouse subscribes to a crate that sends her goodies for her card making hobby. 

The other day, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about a crate subscription service called KiwiCo that offered something called a Kiwi Crate. 

KiwiCo focuses its crates towards providing STEM, STEAM, and Science kits, mainly for kids. 

While I haven't been a kid for a long long time, I noticed that they had various levels of crate subscriptions based on various age and interest levels. 

I was actually surprised to see that they did offer crates for "older" kids in the 14 to 104 age range with 2 crates - a Eureka Crate that was geared towards Science and Engineering projects and a Maker Crate that was aimed towards Arts and Design projects. 

Of course, I was more drawn towards the Eureka crate so I checked it out a little more. 

I was actually pretty impressed with what you got in a crate. A crate usually contains a very useful item, such as an electric pencil sharpener, or an articulated desk lamp the comes in a kit form. Again the items have a heavy STEM slant as they use the assembly of the item as part of a teaching exercise. 

I was actually pretty intrigued, so I subscribed for the Eureka crate, with my first crate arriving at my door a couple of weeks later. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Necessary Evil - Shop Maintenance

Changing the saw blade

Last week I was ripping some stringers from a pallet for a new project that I was working on when my table saw made a bit of a clunk and shot out a couple of sparks - it would appear that I had forgotten to remove a nail from the stringer before I started cutting.

Obviously, the saw blade didn't really like that too much and proceeded to tell me this by making an absolute mess of the cut on the next board that I ripped.

Effectively I wrecked the blade and it needed to be replaced.

Changing a saw blade on a table saw is a fairly straight forward affair of loosening the nut that attached the blade to the spindle of the table saw's motor, except for a slight twist.

If you tried to just take a wrench to the nut, you will quickly find that the blade will just spin freely as you turn the nut. No matter how dull the blade is, it is still not a good idea to have something like that near fingers that are in close proximity, nor can you just hold onto the blade with one hand while wrenching with the other - a sure-fire way to get a nasty cut.

To do it properly, you need to wedge in a piece of scrap wood between the blade and the body of the table saw.  The blade digs into the wood, and not your hand as you loosen the nut.

Switching saw blades is just another part of regular shop maintenance,  that thing you need to do from time to time to ensure that your fingers stay attached and your projects look decent.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Instant Pot" Autopsy

One Pressure Cooker Ready for Inspection

With everyone staying home more due to the situation that has been happening in the world this year, there seems to be a bit of an explosion of people letting their inner chef out and trying their hand at making home-cooked meals.

This really became apparent when I noticed a definite shortage in the grocery stores on things like flour and yeast. There certainly seems like there is a lot of bread being baked recently.

Another thing that I have noticed, actually long before the pandemic hit, that that there has been a renewed interest in making meals with pressure cookers.

Unlike the pressure cookers of my Grandmother's time, which resembled something that would have been more at home in a science laboratory, the pressure cookers of today look downright sleek and high-tech with custom programs built-in for handling almost anything you would which to make.

Pressure cooking is the process of cooking food at high pressure, employing water, or a water-based cooking liquid. High-pressure limits boiling, and permits cooking temperatures well above 100 °C to be reached, meaning that foods cook much faster with pressure cooking than with other methods

The most common pressure cooker being sold these days is the "Instant Pot" but there are a lot of other cookers on the market that function in exactly the same way.

A few years ago I bought a no-name pressure cooker mainly to do some canning, but recently I also started to use it to make some nice and easy one-pot meals.

Recently I was cleaning the cooker when the relief valve (which is a safety device that is used to release pressure if the internal pressure of the cooker gets too high) fell out of the lid and fell down the drain in my sink.

This meant that my pressure cooker now had a small hole in the top of its lid - not an ideal situation for maintaining pressure.

As it seems to be the case in our disposable world today, a quick search online for replacement parts made it quite clear that it was more cost-effective to buy a new cooker than repair the old one.

After a quick trip to my local store, I was able to start cooking again, but in the meantime, I still had this old cooker.

Perhaps a little dissection was in order - just to see what secrets it held - and maybe to see if we can find some goodies too for future projects.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Digitizing 35mm Slides with a Smart Phone

Build your own slide converter rig

Recently I got into a bit of a nostalgia kick when I found a box of old 35mm film slides at my parent's house a few weeks ago. 

Finding those slides brought back memories of sitting in a dark room, watching pictures of someone's recent trip someplace far away.  I can remember the click of the slide projector as it cycled through to the next slide, the smell of the hot bulb in the projector, and of course, watching the odd upside-down slide flash up on the screen. 

This was an experience that is now lost to time since we live in a streaming YouTube world. 

Millions of these slides now languish on the back of closets, forgotten. 

The really nice thing about 35mm slides was that they typically had a high-quality image, almost rivaling the high definition quality of the pictures that we can take on our smartphones today. 

There is a lot of history lock up in those slides, the problem is that without a projector of some sort, they remain locked inside their square cardboard sleeve. 

I developed a plan to rescue the slides that I had found by converting them into a digital format. You can purchase devices on Amazon that can convert slides for you, but again, my cheapness kicked in when I saw that even an inexpensive converter was around $150. 

Recently, I picked at an auction a lot of old slide viewers for a few dollars. The viewers were used to preview slides before you put them into a slide projector's carousel.

Most of the viewers had a small viewing window that had a small lightbulb inside to light up the slide. However, one particular viewer used the light from the room to illuminate the slide, and the slide was viewable as a large image. 

As an experiment, I tried to take a photo of a slide as it was seen in the viewer with my smartphone. I was actually quite pleased with the image quality that I got on the phone. 

So between this old slide viewer and my smartphone, I had the makings of a converter for my box of slides.