Sandwiches!

July 6th, 2014 No comments

For some reason I’ve been thinking about sandwiches. Over the years I’ve had very few good ones. The kind with a balance of flavors. The kind with enough meat and not overloaded with lettuce and mayo. The kind made with decent bread.
Here are the best I can remember:

  1. A genuine Jimmy Buff’s double Italian hot dog. With peppers, onions, potatoes, and a touch of mustard. http://www.jimmybuff.com/display.php?page=home. Only available in New Jersey.
  2. The “Brookside Special” at Brookside Pizza in Concord, NH. Steak, pastrami, and sausage on a cheap roll with no vegetables to screw it up. Just meat and bread. http://www.brooksidepizza.com/pizza-Concord-nh-menu.php
  3. The Lobster Club at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, MA. Lobster. Bacon. Homemade ciabatta bread. Perfect. http://watersidemarket.com/
  4. The BLATT wrap at In a Pickle Cafe in Waltham, MA. BLATT = Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Tomato, and smoked Turkey. I normally avoid wraps. For this one I make an exception. http://www.in-a-pickle.com/
  5. The Chinese BBQ Pork sandwich from the Bon Me food trucks in Boston. The bread is crispy, the pork is juicy, and the pickled vegetables have a perfect crispy tang. Excellent!
  6. The Cochinta Pibil at Tortas Frontera (locations in Chicago, including O’Hare Airport and one in Philadelphia). The salsa is good and spicy and the flavors are fresh. I get one on every trip through Chicago.
    Enjoy!

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Categories: Food Tags: ,

Homemade Maple Syrup Evaporator

April 23rd, 2014 2 comments

I needed another metalworking project for this Spring. For the past several years, I have tapped several maple trees in my yard and made maple syrup. After a few years of boiling the sap in pots on a turkey fryer burner, I decided I needed something a little bit bigger. And I decided that something wood-fired would be the most appropriate, and the most fun to build.

After looking online for ideas it seemed like the easiest plan would be t convert an old 55 gallon drum to a wood-burning evaporator. With a used olive-oil drum bought on Craigslist, a couple of cheap steam table pans, a barrel stove kit, some black iron pipe for a frame, an oxy-acetylene cutting torch, grinder, and some tools, I slapped one together in a day.

In maple-syrup speak, the big pan you use to evaporate the water from sap to turn it into syrup is called,  simply enough, an evaporator. But the burner is called an “arch.” (Don’t believe me? Look here for an example.) Presumably named after the shape that early wood-fired evaporators took, if you search the Internet for “maple syrup arch” you’ll come up with a host of plans and descriptions. So, technically, I made a wood-fired arch out of an olive oil barrel to hold a steam table pan evaporator. No matter the terms though – here’s what it looks like when done:

Homemade Maple Syrup EvaporatorThe design has a few notable features:

  • The black iron pipe frame and barrel can be separated to make movement and storage easier.
  • Two pans allow the sap to be warmed in the upper pan before being moved to the lower pan.
  • The chimney is completely removable.

Materials & Tools

This project used these materials:

  • Used steel drum. This one contained olive oil and I bought it for $10 on Craigslist.
  • 1/2″ ID black iron pipe. I used about 20 feet of it. Cost about $50 at Lowe’s.
  • A barrel stove kit for the door and chimney collar. ($40 – $60. Got mine on Amazon.com).
  • One full-size and one half-size steam-table pans. I bought mine new for about $30 with shipping from an online restaurant supply company. But you might find cheaper at a local auction or on EBay.

Total cost: about $130.

Most of this project was accomplished with the basic metal-working tools I already owned. The pipe base was cut on a basic chopsaw, fitted with an angle grinder, and MIG welded together. The barrel was cut with my oxy-acetylene torch (using a fine #000 tip). A lot of grinding was done with a 4 1/2″ angle grinder.

Construction Steps

First, build the base. A very simple welded frame that was done using only a MIG welder and a few magnetic welding squares.

Frame

 

Next the barrel was fitted to the frame.

Barrel+Frame

 

After some bracing was added t the frame, I started to cut the holes for the evaporator pan with a torch.

TorchCut

I fitted the pans and then went to work on the door and chimney collar following the barrel stove kit’s directions.

Complete

Finally I fired it up the next day.

BoilingPan

Impressions

Overall the whole thing was fin to build and worked well enough. One thing that proved tougher than I expected was getting the fire close enough to the bottom of the pans t really get a good boil going. I ultimately ended up adding a couple of half concrete blocks to the barrel to elevate the fire. But the whole system did work faster then the old turkey fryer.

If you are at all handy with metal I encourage you to try and make one of these.

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Categories: Tools Tags: , ,

Android Media File Madness on the Nexus 4

February 10th, 2014 No comments

Background

A few weeks after getting my Nexus 4, I noticed strange behavior with ringtones, notification sounds, and Google Music player. The symptoms of the problem were an odd combination of three basic issues:

  1. Ringtone and notification sound files started appearing in my Google Music player.
  2. The phone would lose custom ringtone and notification sounds after a reboot.
  3. The “Media Browser” wouldn’t see my custom ringtone or notification sound files when I tried to restore them.

The really annoying part of this problem was that it constantly changed and was impossible to recreate with any regularity. By this I mean that if I lost my phone sounds I could sometimes go and restore them via media browser. But other times the files wouldn’t appear in the list. Then if I moved the files from one directory to another they would start to work again, but get lost after a reboot. Then, at times, only some of my notification sounds appeared in lists and others didn’t, even though all the files were in the same directory!

I spent the better part of three hours searching forum posts all over the web and found many similar complaints going all the way back to the Gingerbread days. There were all kinds of conflicting suggestions. For example:

  • Some posts insisted that custom ringtones be put in a /Ringtones directory in the root of the internal SD card (typically /storage/emulated/0/Ringtones). Similarly, they suggested a /Notifications directory for notification sounds.
  • Other posts insisted that the files had to be in a /media/audio/ringtones (or notifications) directory on the SD card.
  • Other posts suggested that one needed a rooted phone and that the files should be dropped in the /system/media/audio/ringtones (or notifications) directory with the stock sound files.
  • As for preventing Google Music Player from indexing the sounds, there was some insistence that a .nomedia file needed to be placed in the ringtones and notifications directories.

What was really killing me is that all of this advice worked and yet none of it did. For example, my files were in the /system/media/audio directories to begin with, when they stopped working properly. I copied them to the /Ringtones and /Notifications directories and they suddenly appeared in my media browser list so I could set them as rings and sounds. But then they started appearing in my Google Music player. So i added a .nomedia file to the directories and most (but not all) of the files disappeared from Google Music (two remained visible) but all disappeared from my custom sound selections and could not be added back by normal means. Then I moved the files back to /media/audio/ringtones or notifications and suddenly they again appeared in the list of available notifications and ringtones, but they also appeared back in Google Music player. I was ready to chuck my phone out of the window.

As is so often the case, forums for Android issues (and for most other technology to be fair) are full of half-baked ideas, wild theories, speculation, and downright wrong advice. After all the conflicting advice I did finally fix my problem. Here’s how.

My Environment

Because all phones and versions of Android are different, your mileage may vary, but unlike most posts I will at least tell you how my phone is configured so you can judge for yourself if it’s similar enough for you to try.

Hardware: Nexus 4, 16GB

OS: Stock KitKat 4.4.2 (KOT49H)

Kernel: Franco 3.4.0 (5 January 2014)

Root: Yes. SuperSU.

The Problem

After all the investigation I concluded that the problem had something to do with the Android media scanner. It was clear that it was scanning after reboots since the files were appearing and disappearing, but something was causing it to no longer follow the rules. Like not indexing files in the ringtones directories for Google Music player. I tried several apps from the Play Store to trigger the scanner but none of the first four I tried worked in KitKat. Some did absolutely nothing. One was so slow it would have taken days to index my phone.

So I decided to start over. That meant wiping the existing data and re-indexing. Here’s how I did it.

The Solution

  1. Decide where you want your files. I don’t think it matters, but since my files were in the /system/media/audio path I left them there.
  2. Wipe out the existing media scanner information by going to: Settings/Apps/All/Media Storage. Click Clear Data.

    ClearMediaCache

    Clear Media Cache

  3. Trigger re-scan of the device. You could just do this by rebooting and waiting for it to finish, but I found an app that works: SD Scanner by Jeremy Erickson worked brilliantly. It’s simple, free, there are no ads, and he makes his source available. He’s my new best friend. Plus it has a progress bar so you know it’s working. Exactly what a simple and great app should be.

    SD Scanner Really Works

    SD Scanner Really Works

And what do you know? It seems to be working. No crap in my Google Music app and my ringtones and notification sounds persist after a reboot (actually several). What a royal pain in the ass, but in the end, not too hard to fix. Good luck. I hope this helps you.

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Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Another Useful Harbor Freight Tool

January 26th, 2014 No comments

image

Was using this wire stripper again today and realized I’ve had it for years and used it often, without any complaints. I don’t remember the product number, bit of it’s on sale, but one!

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Categories: Rants Tags:

New Nexus 4 – Day 2

January 17th, 2014 No comments

Yesterday I received my new phone, wiped it, updated the OS to Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat, rooted it, and installed a custom recovery (TWRP).

This morning I dropped by my local T-Mobile store on the way to work and completed the process of getting my phone working. The first step today was to get a SIM card that actually fit in the phone. I probably could have bought a cheap cutter on EBay and cut my own card down to size, but it’s actually hard to find a mini to micro SIM cutter. There are plenty of full-size to micro cutters, but few, if any, mini to micro cutters. I also figured that a trip to T-Mobile was in order so they could verify that my IMEI was truly clean, and that my old data plan actually supported LTE.

The young woman at T-Mobile was both totally competent and extremely efficient. I walked in, told her I wanted to activate a new phone and needed a SIM, and she had me walking out with a working phone in less than 10 minutes. Oh, and they didn’t charge me a thing. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for close to 10 years and I have honestly never had a bad customer service experience.

I walked out of the store with 4 bars of “H” or HSPA+ service. My next task was to add a hybrid radio to enable LTE. Again, although one could flash hybrid rmodems the old fashioned way, someone has already built a toolkit to automate the process. It worked pretty well, but I did discover a very slight bug in the toolkit which prevented the flashing of the most recent hybrid modem version. The toolkit developer fixed that bug within hours thought and released a new version to the Play Store.

So after the flash, I saw the “4G” icon on my screen and I was able to do a speed test, which gave me 20 Mbps up and down. Not bad, but certainly nothing close to the advertised LTE speeds. But – there are several different modem revisions to try and one of them may perform better. Plus this test was done at 10:30 in the morning in downtown Boston where there were likely a lot of users sharing bandwidth. And finally, even though this phone has an LTE radio, people believe that because it wasn’t intended to be activated, the antenna wasn’t made in the most efficient fashion. So it might never perform as well as a phone designed with LTE in mind.

But nonetheless, I bought a used phone on EBay for $200. The phone was as clean as advertised and was able to be rooted without issue. I added a custom recovery and some hacks to enable a crippled LTE radio. And what I have is a very well built, high- quality Android phone with LTE speeds and the latest Kit Kat software for $203.50. That’s not bad at all.

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Categories: Technology Tags: ,

New Nexus 4 Experiment – Day 1

January 17th, 2014 No comments

The package arrived today. So far, everything looks good. Buying a phone from EBay always seems like taking a chance, but so far, this seems like a bargain. This phone is in near perfect condition – there’s not a mark on it. I plugged it in and let it charge for about an hour which restored about 25% battery. It fired right up to the default Android JellyBean screen. It had clearly been factory reset, but I reset it just in case, taking the phone back to 4.2.2.

I added my Wi-Fi password and it connected without problems. Then within 5 minutes it alerted me that an OTA update was available, which I installed without an issue. A few minutes later I received another OTA update offering the 4.3 update which also installed perfectly. Finally, in another few minutes the OTA icon offered the 4.4 KitKat update which installed flawlessly. So, within 30 minutes out of the package I’m running the latest Android OS available. So far, so good.

One of the reasons I bought a Nexus 4 for cheap instead of a Nexus 5 was that I know LTE can be enabled on the Nexus 4 with a variety of hacks. But to do that you need root access, so rooting the phone was step #2.

I’ve had lots of fun rooting devices using Fastboot commands in the past. If you’ve never done it, I recommend rooting the old fashioned way (see http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2018179 for instructions) at least once, since you do get an idea of what actually needs to be done to accomplish it. But frankly I’ve had enough command line fun for one lifetime so when a decent toolkit exists to get the job done I’ll use it.

There appears to be two main toolkits competing for attention on XDA Developers at the moment: one created by a developer called “WugFresh” at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2517778 and one created by “mskip” located at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1995688. After reading the full threads I chose WugFresh’s toolkit. Why? Well at the time I write this, mskip’s toolkit only worked with KitKat 4.4.2 if it auto-updated to the latest version, and the only way to enable that was to pay a fee (a “donation”) and get a key from the dev. Only based on this post and this post, some users had waited more than 5 days and still hadn’t received their key and the developer was nowhere to be found in the thread. No way I was chancing that. So WugFresh wins the day.

I watched the instructional video at http://www.wugfresh.com/nrt/wiki/ and followed it as closely as possible (the screens for installing the drivers are different in the newer version of the toolkit, but easier to use so no big deal). Short version of the story – it worked absolutely flawlessly. Seriously, no issues whatsoever. A few button clicks and I have a phone with SuperSU root access, BusyBox installed, TWRP custom recovery, and still running 4.4.2 KitKat. What more could I want?

Next step – tomorrow I get a new LTE-enabled micro-sim card (I only have a mini sim in my current phone) and install a new radio to turn LTE on. We’ll see how it goes.

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A New Android Chapter

January 12th, 2014 No comments

I hate the iPhone. There, I said it. I really, really do. It’s not a particularly good smartphone, regardless of the generation. iOS is an incredible inflexible operating system (widgets? Hell no!) and the phone itself is loaded with proprietary connectors (can you say Thunderbolt) and processors the same as everyone else. Nope – I’m an Android person, plain and simple.

A couple of years ago I smashed my old T-Mobile G2 because the dying GPS finally got to me and replaced it with an HTC Amaze 4G. The battery life was terrible as I wrote here, but after a while the phone settled down (after I rooted it and installed a real ROM) and has been my daily driver for more or less two years. The short version is that the main problems had nothing to do with the hardware and little to do with Android. As usual, they were software problems introduced when a phone manufacturer wants to try and be Apple. Almost no one offers a true Android phone these days. Most manufacturers take stock Android and load it up with all kinds of extra junk. HTC has their “Sense UI.” Samsung has “TouchWiz.” Both of these and all similar “improvements” do nothing more in my opinion than take a perfectly good Android device, slow it down, reduce battery life, and generally make it hard to manage a device because they add so many proprietary settings and hide so many stock ones that I might as well buy an iPhone. I hate them all. I hate my wife’s Galaxy S3, I hate my friend’s HTC One, and I couldn’t stand the Sense UI crap on my Amaze so I finally rooted it and installed Cyanogenmod 10.1 as my daily driver ROM. I’ve never looked back. From now on it’s stock Android (or at least close to it) for me. Which leads me to my new adventure …

New Phone Needed

One main problem with the HTC Amaze is that it wasn’t popular. The Samsung Galaxy S and later S3 stole the thunder from the Amaze and this device signalled the beginning of HTC’s downfall. What a shame because I have always liked HTC devices. For as long as I’ve had smartphones I’ve used HTC devices. I’ve had:

  • an HTC Herald (T-Mobile Wing) Windows Mobile phone
  • an HTC Maple (T-Mobile Dash 3G) Windows Mobile phone
  • an HTC Desire Z (T-Mobile G2)
  • an HTC Ruby (T-Mobile Amaze 4G)

The problem with a phone that isn’t popular is that aftermarket developers don’t do a lot of work on it. Custom ROMs can be hard to find, as can quick and simple tools for rooting etc. I won’t make that mistake again, which means that I probably won’t be buying an HTC phone again any time soon. So what does that leave? Well, in the Android world, if you want something that gives the purest Android experience, you buy one of the Nexus devices that Google markets itself.These phones run stock Android. I like them a lot. But I don’t like the current $350 price for the 16GB Nexus 5. That’s a tad too much for me.

The good news is, Nexus devices are popular with the kinds of people who develop custom ROMs for phones, so there is always support for older generations of Nexus devices. Meaning that enterprising people already have Kit Kat running on the previous generation Nexus 4. So that is what I am going to do … but a used Nexus 4 and bring it to life as a full-featured daily-driver with all the bells and whistles. I’ve found what looks like a good one on EBay and I won the auction last night for $203.50 including shipping. The phone should be here this week.

In a nutshell, here were my criteria:

  1. Google Nexus device.
  2. Either carrier unlocked or already on the T-Mobile network.
  3. Clean IMEI.
  4. Close to new condition.

Having found all that I believe that with some work I can root and install Cyanogenmod (or another ROM) and patch the radio in the phone to work on the T-Mobile LTE network and end up with a phone that performs as well as any brand new off-the-shelf phone for under $250. Plus have a lot of rooting fun along the way.

So, look for some upcoming posts about my progress. And hopefully I will have a new phone by next Monday.

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New Harbor Freight 4000 Watt Predator Generator

January 4th, 2014 1 comment
HFT 4KW Generator

Image from Harborfreight.com

A couple of years ago I bought a cheap 800 watt HFT generator. The whole $79 generator experiment didn’t work out so well. After the first one seized right out of the box and the second one died and wouldn’t start after only a few months I was ready to give up. Unfortunately, I had promised to have my generator available for some volunteer work the morning after the POS died, so I really didn’t have much time to think things through if I wanted to meet my commitment. Like a sucker, ran right back to my local Harbor Freight store and talked myself into a 4 kW peak / 3.2 kW running generator. I’ve had it for a year now and I have to say I’m impressed. This line of Predator generators might just be a winner for Harbor Freight.

First Impressions

I brought the generator home, opened the box, poured in some gas, and then something happened that I never expected. The thing started on the first pull. Seriously. One pull. My wife said the look of shock on my face was priceless. The Predator generators, and indeed all the engines Harbor Freight sells, are widely described in Internet forums as copies of Honda designs. If they are, they did a good job copying them, because first-pull starting has always been a Honda hallmark.

Once the generator was running everything else worked fine. It was reasonably quiet and seemed to handle the limited loads I gave it on its first run with no problem. I let it run for about thirty minutes and shut it down. The next day I took it to work and it started and ran fine while powering electric sanders, saws, and other tools.

Ongoing Performance

Over the last year I’ve used this generator for a variety of projects, from powering a vacuum in the driveway while cleaning cars to running an electric shredder for leaves and small branches. The shredder pushed the generator towards its limit, but the unit handled the sudden load without trouble. Although I didn’t break out an oscilloscope to look at the power, the basic measurements with my multimeter showed that the generator was holding voltage and frequency even as the load varied. Can’t really ask for more than that.

Other Notes

This generator, like most, provides a variety of outlets, including 4 110 V sockets. But it’s important to understand that these outlets are actually each providing one half of the generator’s center-tapped 220V output. So each 110V outlet bank can actually support only ½ of the total wattage of the generator. Thus one can only power 1600 watts per 110 V outlet, not the full 3200 watt rating.

Otherwise, this generator has continued to provide reliable service, easily handling the odd jobs and loads that I’ve thrown at it. It still starts on the first pull every time, even after sitting for a month or more between uses. I did buy the optional wheel and handle kit and find them pretty valuable, though the handle could be longer – I’m 5′ 10″ tall and when I drag the generator behind me I am often bumping the back of my feet into it. But they are sturdy and useful for moving the generator around.

Final Words

I am not using this generator to power a house or to run appliances during a power failure – I have a 12 kW Kohler for that – so I haven’t tested the total runtime of this unit. But for the odd jobs I need, it works great. Interestingly, Consumer Reports rated generators recently and the Predator line did pretty well in their tests. You need to be a member to see the review, but the overall ratings of the Predator model they tested were near the top of the rankings even if the price was well below the competition. I was impressed. Notably, the generator got high marks for power quality.

So after a year I am much more impressed with this little unit than I was with the 800 watt generator. I recommend you check it out if you’re looking for portable power.

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Categories: Technology, Tools Tags: ,

One of the Most Useful Tools Ever…

December 3rd, 2013 1 comment
Speedy Stitcher

The Speedy Stitcher

Back in 1991 I needed to ad some lash points to a backpack I was using. In my local outdoor shop (the Kittery Trading Post) I found the tabs I needed, but there was no apparent way

to attach them to the pack. I asked the sales guy and he said that they needed to be sewn on and sold me one of these: a Model 200 Speedy Stitcher sewing awl kit. The package still has the $8.95 price tag on it, and I can’t think of a better $8.95 that I ever spent. 22 years later I still have this tool and I still use it. Just this Spring I had a new wedge pouch for my chainsaw wedges arrive, only to have the cheap Chinese stitching fall apart in less than a week of use. Basically, the loop that was bar tacked to form a place for the belt to slide through ripped out. But 10 minutes with the Speedy Stitcher and I was back in business, even in heavy nylon fabric.
This tool has been around since 1909 according to the company website and was made in my home state of Massachusetts until the year 2000 when the company moved production to New York State. Wait, what?! Not China? Nope … this thing has been made in America for more than 104 years and apparently is still selling well.

The company has a website where you can find links to videos and other information at: http://www.speedystitcher.com/main.html. If you are the kind of person that repairs things rather than just chucking it and buying new, then this deserves to be in your toolbox. There are very few tools that have lasted me for over 20 years. That should tell you something about this one.

For what it’s worth, the last points I added to my pack, sewing through the plastic flanges, stayed in place for more than 16 weeks of backcountry hiking in Wyoming, and were still on the pack when I sold it on EBay ten years later. They hadn’t loosened at all.

You need to get yourself one of these.

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Categories: Tools Tags:

The End of my 800W HFT Generator …

April 22nd, 2013 No comments

I officially take back all the good things I said about the 800W Harbor Freight generator.

It worked well enough while it worked, but as you might expect from HFT, it just didn’t last very long. Nine months after first putting it into service, it came out of my garage two days ago and simply wouldn’t start. The engine gave all the symptoms of an ignition problem, including a weak spark, but no matter what I tried, the little POS just wouldn’t run. And of course I discovered this in the evening, the day before I actually needed the generator for some work.

Many will say that the problems I had might have been prevented. I’m not 100% certain the ignition was the problem, but I didn’t have a lot of time for troubleshooting either. And I freely admit that I didn’t follow the recommended procedure of emptying the gas tank after every use, so this could very well have been a fuel issue in addition to or instead of an ignition problem. But seriously, how valuable is a generator that needs to be completely emptied of fuel after every use? Who the hell has the time and patience to get all smelly from gas while pumping/dumping the tank after every use, no matter how short? Not me – that’s for sure.

In the end, I guess I really can’t complain too loudly. Bought on sale for $79, this ultimately ended up being a disposable tool (this was the blue version, the new red version has had a price increase). It gave me some good BBQ at a racetrack when I wouldn’t have been able to make it, and it made a couple of other projects easier. But in the end, the old adage came true: “You get what you pay for, and usually less.”

So, goodbye HFT 800W generator. You were useful for six whole months.

So what did I end up using for my work? Well, I’m such a sucker, I rushed out to my local Haror Freight store and brought home a new 4000 watt generator! That’s right – I went back to HFT. Only this time, I got the extended service plan. And after the first 3 or 4 hours, the new generator seems to work just fine. We’ll see if it lasts.

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