Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sliding dovetails rock

It is getting warmer here, and it will soon be time to rig up the air conditioners for the house. Our house has radiant hot water heat, for which I am eternally grateful in the winter (not only does it cost less, but there's no roaring fan stirring up dust), but which means we do not have central air conditioning, and have to rely on spot coolers instead. To serve this need, we have a larger window unit that goes in the kitchen window, a smaller one that goes in the upstairs bedroom window, and a small "office air conditioner" that goes in the family room. This latter unit is a pedestal model with air hoses that go to the outside for heat exchanger air. Last year, we put this on a small table and ran the hoses out the window, stuffing the gaps with towels. (I meant to cut a panel for the hoses, but when I went to do so, my table saw shot me in the belly, a wound which took some time to recover from and which deepsixed that project for the season.) The table we used last year had the shortcoming that it was too low to allow the condensate tank to gravity-drain out the window (we had to drain it manually into a bucket every day or so). And we're currently using that table for something else now, anyway. So making a custom table for the air conditioner to sit on seemed in order.

I rooted around in the garage (which I had spent most of yesterday cleaning; we can now go in and out both doors with relative ease) and found a sheet of 4/4 melamine that was about the right size for the A/C to sit on. Some in-situ experimentation suggested that the best approach was to rest one end of the sheet on the windowsill, and mount legs on the other end. We added to this sides that would help keep the A/C from rolling off the table. These were cut down from some scrap 12 inch wide 4/4 pine stock that we bought from a cutoffs bin at Menard's a while ago, with a dado to receive the melamine cut on the back faces. This all went together reasonably easily, but the assembly lacked stiffness. This is where the sliding dovetails come in.

Using a router table, I cut stopped dovetail dadoes in the sides, near the front and the back. I then cut a dovetail into the ends of another piece of 4/4 pine stock that was laying about in the garage (we really do have a lot of scrap wood laying about), and then ripped that piece in half on the table saw, thereby guaranteeing that the two braces are exactly the same length. These slid beautifully into the sides of the table, creating a very stable and rigid frame. The front piece will be glued on (it friction-fits well enough on the front of the melamine top, but glue will keep it from falling off entirely), and the top slides into the dadoes cut on the sides and front without any fastening technology at all. All that's left are the legs, cut from a piece of 2x2 cedar stock, which will go between the front and the forward brace. I plan to attach them to the forward brace with screws. A stretcher made of a scrap of panga panga will go between the legs at floor level (once again using dovetail joinery), and the rear edge of the top will be screwed to the windowsill.

Did all the machining and a dry-fit assembly today; tomorrow evening we should be able to finish sanding and do the final assembly with glue, and then installation on Tuesday evening. Should be just in time for the cooling season to start. All I have to do after that is get some tubing for the gravity drain, and to make the window panel I was trying to make last year when my table saw shot me.

I even tempted fate by wearing my Wikipedia T-shirt, the same shirt that I was wearing when the saw shot me. There's even a small hole in the shirt where the piece of plywood ripped it on its way to hitting me in the gut. The most serious injury I got out of today's work was a small cut inflicted by one of the chippers in the dado set, while removing it from the saw.

Next weekend's projects include finishing the half-step I mentioned a couple weeks ago, and building an exterior support for the kitchen A/C unit so that it's pitched <i>away</i> from the house instead of toward it like last year. We got a nice puddle in the kitchen from the condensate drain, and I'd rather avoid that this year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bill Cosby vs. Barack Obama?

Google recommended this article from the Atlantic for me yesterday. I imagine it's probably because I searched "Obama" a while back in order to write my recent article about Wikipedia's Obama article, along with the recent searches for Monique Davis incident to this blogpost. Obviously Google's "interest engine" has decided that I'm interested in black politics. (It also thinks I'm interested in ham radio, probably because a few nights ago I spent a couple hours researching VHF and UHF HT and mobile rigs before deciding to buy a used Yaesu VX-5R.)

However, it is an interesting article. I especially found the author's identification of Cosby as Booker T. Washington's intellectual heir interesting. One of my long-favorite poems is Dudley Randall's "Booker T. and W.E.B." History proved that W.E.B. was right: "Unless you help to make the laws, / They'll steal your house with trumped-up clause. / A rope's as tight, a fire as hot, / No matter how much cash you've got." Washington's "Atlanta Compromise" fell apart in short order; however, integration does seem to have made things worse, not better, and I can see why some people think that going back to a segregationalist stance would be less bad than the current state of affairs. I get the sense, after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' article, that we are seeing the Booker T. vs. W.E.B. debate all over again, with the part of Booker T. being played by Cosby and the part of W.E.B. being played by Barack Obama. What better way to "help make the laws" but to be elected President? Note also that Cosby refuses to even discuss Obama's candidacy.

I don't pretend to understand black politics in the United States; as a white woman I am not likely to have much access to that demographic. If anything, this article did more to convince me that I am even more ignorant of the dynamics in this particular arena than I previously thought.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Superconducting antennas, earthquakes, and other topics

Not sure where to put that 60-plus-foot long 40-meter dipole? If you don't mind a little baking and some liquid nitrogen, maybe you can use something shorter.

Seriously, it is very tempting to try this. Liquid nitrogen isn't that expensive, and making the YBCO ceramic high-temperature superconductor really isn't all that hard by the looks of it. (And then there's this story, which I don't particularly believe -- note the date -- but which is quite amusingly funny nonetheless.) Even if it's totally impractical, there's the sheer fun of making a superconductor in your own backyard. I mean, how can that not be cool? That's right up there with smelting copper in your backyard, something I'd also love to do but doubt would go over all that well with the local zoning ordinances. Not much hope of building any 1-nanometer transistors at home, though.

I'm still the newest Extra in region 9. Also on that page are some trendlines for overall licensing in the US. I'd hazard to guess that the elimination of the Morse requirements (in 2007) have helped boost numbers; the one year trend is positive, reversing the negative two year trend. (The previous two major changes in the licensing model were in 2002 or 2003, and in 1991; neither of these would lead to large numbers of expirations at the present time.) Still, the overall long-term trend is down. I blame the ubiquity of cellphones and the general disdain for engineering amongst Americans.

There was a Midwestern earthquake this morning, as I'm sure most of you have already heard from somewhere or another (such as this blog here, perhaps). Actually three earthquakes, apparently; two four seconds apart and another one some hours later. We get these every so often here, but not often enough that people have made smallish earthquakes a part of their daily lives the way Californians have. (Or Oregonians, for that matter.) And nobody predicted this one, the way the December 3, 1990 earthquake was. Except that there wasn't an earthquake then; this article on the media hype around completely bogus predictions is reminiscent of the same anti-intellectualism that underlies the disdain for engineering mentioned above and Wikipedia's inability to attract (or not chase off, at least) topical experts for complicated subjects like physics.

Two parting items for the day: Any cows who may be reading this may wish to avoid getting stuck under fences. And here's a small catalog of fashion don'ts to keep in mind, whether or not you happen to be a cow.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The observant will have noticed that I've changed the tagline for my blog. I am no longer going to pay any particular much attention to Wikipedia and related topics. There might still be the occasional Wikipedia-related comment, if I happen to find something worth commenting on, but it will not be a focus of this blog any longer.

So, if you're "here for the lulz", now would be a good time to unsubscribe. Trust me, you won't be missed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Warning: Atheism may be dangerous to children

Last year the State of Illinois issued a grant of about one million dollars to a Chicago-area church to repair damage to its building, a registered historic landmark, caused by a fire. It has since come out that this money was diverted to fund religious education; the damage remains unrepaired. This has any number of people upset, especially those who object to state money funding religious education. The General Assembly has been holding hearings in relation to this whole situation.

Today, during those hearings, and specifically during the testimony of well-known atheist activist Rob Sherman, Chicago South Side representative Monique Davis attacked Sherman for being an atheist. Specifically, she declared that it is "dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy [atheism] exists!" She then proceeded to attack him for not doing enough to keep guns out of the hands of children, a topic that was totally not relevant to the hearing (but is of quite some relevance to Chicagoans; there have been several killings at or near Chicago schools in recent weeks and the issue of teen gun violence is a hotbutton issue with Chicagoans, especially on the South Side). She even had the lack of sense to tell him (a citizen of the state of Illinois) that he had "no right to be here" testifying before a committee the state legislature, presumably because he is an atheist.

Sherman is generally something of an ass, but he handled himself remarkably well in the face of a seemingly deranged person (listen to the audio if you want to hear for yourself). I applaud even more the chairman of the committee for directing Sherman not to answer the question and to restrict his comments to the matter of his conversations with Governor Blagoyevich, which is certainly much more relevant to the purpose of the hearing than Rep. Davis' rant.

This really harks back to the olden days when most Midwestern states had explicit law that declared that atheists were not qualified to testify because, as atheists, they had no fear of God and thus had no reason not to lie under oath. Such absurd rules have long been invalidated as unconstitutional and absolutely have no place in public discourse. That Rep. Davis would ignore her oath to support and defend the constitution of the State of Illinois and hearken back to such antiquated notions is disturbing in the extreme.

Illinois has no provisions to recall elected officials (although it did recently entertain a constitutional amendment that would allow for recall of the governor and certain other statewide offices, almost certainly a reaction to the highly unsatisfactory and evidently corrupt Blagoyevich administration). However, I suspect that the General Assembly has the power to censure its own members, and I think it would be quite appropriate for them to do so to Rep. Davis for her quite unseemly outburst. Those of you who live in Illinois, please consider contacting your representatives to let them know how you feel about Ms. Davis.

Kudos to Eric Zorn for blogging about this.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Panga panga!

We have been planning for some time to add a half-step between our kitchen and our laundry room; the existing step is a bit steep for some of us and adding a half-step in between would make it much less jarring, especially for those of us with back trouble. Our basic plan has been to build it out of wood, because that's what we build most everything out of around here. We have a good supply of cedar 2x4s and 4x4s, which will be fine for the base, but we need something harder for the tread as cedar does not wear all that well. Separately, we also have in mind to replace our "patio" (currently a 13 foot circle of outdoor carpet over dirt) with some sort of irregular stone.

So, our plan for yesterday was to go out to Schaumburg (yes, that's "foamy city", not "foamy mountain", which would be Schaumberg) for the FCC amateur radio licensing exams, then stop by Schwake Stone in Des Plaines to price stone for the patio. We decided to add to this a stop at "any place along the way that sells hardwood". That meant Rockler, which is conveniently located in Schaumburg off Golf Road. However, Rockler didn't really have anything we wanted, and what they did have was more expensive than we wanted to pay. After going by Schwake and getting pricing information for the patio (it'll cost about $1000, which is a lot but not really a lot) we realized that our favorite hardwood lumberyard, Owl Lumber in Des Plaines, was directly on the way home. So we ran over there on the way home, planning to buy some white oak to use as the tread.

When we got there they had a cart full of a hard, dark wood resembling wenge called "panga panga", priced at about $3.50 a boardfoot. This made it quite a bit cheaper than white oak, and we loved how it looked, so we bought enough for this project and some extra for whatever came to mind. The wood is quite hard, with lots of resin pockets and giant bucketloads of splinters. (This stuff is not to be handled without gloves.) Upon getting home and doing a bit of reading on the Internet, we realized that this was the ideal wood for the computer desk that we're planning, so we went bought and bought a bunch more of it. All in all we got $1000 worth of really nice panga panga for about $300. I can't wait to see how this stuff turns.

The only downside to all this is that I have a bazillion panga panga splinters in my fingers from handling the wood without gloves.

Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia has no article about panga panga. There's probably an article about the tree from which panga panga comes from, but I don't know what tree that it is, and neither does (apparently) Wikipedia. But Wikipedia's coverage of woodworking topics is weak at best.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


(I missed one each on elements 2 and 3, and three on element 4.)