Friday, June 21, 2013

#10 - Double my gas mileage

OK, this is stretching things maybe a bit too much, but listen up while I frantically rationalize.

When I originally created this item I was driving my chick magnet of a 2004 Honda Element, getting a bit over 20 MPG.  I figured any decent hybrid would get me into the low 40s, so piece of cake, right?

Well, WRONG, because Denise beat me to the hybrid, purchasing a Toyota Prius last year, probably motivated more by the solar powered cabin ventilation system than by any promise of a smaller carbon footprint.

Anyway, one hybrid per family as I always say.  Actually it's more like one car payment at a time, especially when you have a kid in college.

Then, fortuitously, my Mom decided that it was time to move to California where she would be closer to her favorite son and also time to quit driving.  (Don't tell my Mom, but when I picture her driving I see that scene in Annie Hall with Woody Allen driving the bumper cars.)  So, good news; Mom is close to us now and the roads are safer!

The other fortuitous thing is that Mom's 2004 Honda Civic had a total of something like 13,000 miles (plus change) on the odometer.  My son is driving my old 1995 Honda Accord.  With upwards of 350K miles, it has been on death's doorstep more than occasionally.  So we figured, what the heck, buy Mom's car and save it for when the Accord shuffles off its mortal ignition coil.

Now, as long as it was sitting in my driveway, I decided (once again,) what the heck!  Might as well put a few miles on the Civic and give the Element a short break.  Turns out that the Civic gets about 37 MPG.


Bear with me while I do a little math.

The Element gets about 22 MPG on a good day.  Denise's old Pilot maybe 18.  18 + 22 / 2 = 20 MPG.

The Civic gets about 37 MPG and Denise's Prious gets about 47.  37 + 47 / 2 = 42 MPG.

42 / 20 = 2.1 times our previous mileage.

I am sure that somewhere amid the droning on about death and poverty and yada-yada during my wedding vows, there was something about two becoming one.  Consequently, there's really no "we" in a marriage.  There's really only an "I!"

Therefore, I (we) have more than doubled my (our) gas mileage.  Works for me (us.)  Until my wife (I) reads this.

#58 - Investigate solar power for our house (and #59, sort of)

I guess I should have signed this one off some time ago, since I "investigated" solar some time ago.  Investigated to the point where we actually signed up with SolarCity.

Somewhere back around early February we were walking through the Home Depot and there was a guy sitting out in the aisle hawking solar systems.  I must have been in the right mood, so we signed up for a home solar evaluation.  A short 4 months or so later and... we are!

It's a small system on top of our garage, because our eucalyptus trees shade the main house.  And I'm not about to lose the eucalyptus, messy though they may be, because they're the only shade we have in the backyard.  Take those out and my AC bill would skyrocket, negating any solar benefit.

Although the installation was completed today, it's not actually operational yet, because a) the city needs to sign off on the permit and b) Edison needs to approve.

I'll probably need to post a comment when it's actually generating power, just to update how it all works out.

And on another note I should also have signed off on...

#59 - Investigate a solar tube for the hallway in our house

In fairness, this wasn't much of an investigation, but investigate I did, however briefly.  My investigation consisted of looking at our dark hallway and saying "Hey, a solar tube might be good in this hall," after which I quickly Googled "solar tubes" and asked Denise if we should get one.

"NO!" came the emphatic reply.

Investigation closed.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

#38 - Learn to make neon signs

Another item a long time in the making.

After a significant amount of searching I found a neon sign design class offered by the Museum of Neon Art,  The museum was setting up a temporary at the NHRA museum at the Pomona Fairgrounds, kind of a poke from Temecula, but better than driving to Glendale, the planned permanent home of the museum.

I signed up for the class starting last January.  The class was taught by David Svenson, an artist who works with neon, glass and wood, among other things, to make some incredible works of art.  You can check out some of his work here -> and here ->

Interestingly, one of my ideas for a neon project was to do something with my Dad's WWII 488th Bomb Squadron insignia.  
I was talking about how my Dad had worked on B25s during the war including aboard the Hornet supporting the Doolittle Raid and learned that David's father also served on B25s, as a flight engineer in North  Africa and Italy.  

It is a small world.

David sent a picture that his father took while serving, a photo of a B25 named "Wet Dreams," which was fairly consistent with the squadron insignia theme, as you might imagine.

I hadn't fully committed to the idea of the insignia, but when we found out our fathers both worked on B25s during the war I decided it was probably my karma to go ahead with the project.

I got off to what I thought was a good start with the design, going old school.  I scanned a copy of the artwork, printed it onto a transparency, borrowed an old overhead projector from the office, taped some paper to the wall and traced the projection out into a plan.  

Being not terribly bright, I complicated the design by making it three-dimensional.  My plan called for the circle in the design to be back-lit with a neon (well, technically, an argon-mercury filled blue phosphor-coated) tube, bouncing blue light off the wall to give a short of "wild blue yonder" effect.   The woman and bomb were to be a suspended in front of the circle, also back-lit, this time with green phosphor tubing behind the bomb and pinkish-white behind the woman, all one tube, because you can splice different colors of tubes together.  Well, YOU can't, but someone who knows how to bend tubing can.  I wanted some actual neon in the work, so I added the text "488th BOMB SQDN" in an arc following the bottom arc of the circle.  And the lightning bolt is theoretically to be a crackle tube(s), which I will have to explain later.

I should back up a bit and 'splain a bit.  We tend to refer to all these glowing gas tubes as neon, when in fact a sign may have no neon at all.  Neon gas glows bright red in a clear tube.  Other gases like argon, krypton or xenon, produce colors from violet to white to bluish white.  Inject some mercury into a neon gas tube and the thing turns bright blue.  Glass tubing can be colored or the inside of the tubing can be coated with different phosphors.  The tubes are all white when powered off, but glow different colors depending on the given coatings.  Crackle tubes are a special case where the gas tubes are filled with some manner of glass beads or whatever.  When the tube is lit the current tries to find a path through all the glass bits and creates a lightning like effect inside the tube.  Very cool actually.

After my quick start my project bogged down horribly, mostly because I tried to switch from old school to new school, importing the drawing into Adobe Illustrator and tweaking the pattern.  It turns out that I have no aptitude for Adobe Illustrator.  A smarter person would have sought assistance from one of our designers at work, guys who can probably run Illustrator in their sleep.  I, on the other hand, eventually reverted to my projector and pencil, a technology with which I am much more comfortable.

Sometime around last June I finally got the plans to my tube bender, Michael Flechtner.  Check out his work at  (His work is amazing...check out his Neon Aquarium.  I particularly liked his Carrot and Stick crucifix.)  

Michael makes bending glass look like a piece of cake, which, based on my very limited experience in class, it is not.  Michael mentioned that he offered a bending class (I think he said it was 40 hours a week for six weeks and involved bending somewhere around 300 lbs of glass.)  I decided that tube bending was going to be beyond my grasp.

My tubes were ready relatively quickly, the only real problem being that Michael's studio is in Van Nuys, not exactly a quick hop from Temecula.  Picking up the tubes and driving them all the way back to Temecula was a little nerve wracking.  I had them taped down on some rigid foam insulation to protect them, but I still felt like I was a pothole away from breaking them all.

Once back home, the project went into yet another holding pattern while I installed a lawn, concrete paver walkways, a patio slab and a new hot tub.

Finally a few weeks ago I got sick of the tubes still sitting on their transport foam and decided to try to finish the damn thing.

The fabrication of the panels actually ended up being quite fun, the painting something of a pain as I have no artistic abilities, and the assembly totally nerve wracking, way more so than the drive from Van Nuys.  Because of my stupid multi-level design, I had to install tubes, flip the panels over, install more tubes, flip them back over to install transformers, etc.  Every flip ran the risk of smashing a tube.
Early in the fabrication process
Testing the wall mount, with the first base paint coats
Assembling the layers
In the end I managed to the thing assembled and mounted on the wall, using a French cleat that you could hang a Volkswagen from. 

Mostly finished project
I still have some work to do.  I need to get back together with my instructor on the crackle tubes and need to clean up some of the marginal wiring before I electrocute myself, but I think it's close enough to check this one off.

I have definitely learned what's involved in neon making neon art.  Sadly, much of it is beyond me.  I would have liked to have done some of the tube bending myself, but given the months of training and the expense of the equipment it probably will never be practical for me.  And the bombarding process, where the tubes are filled with gas is a little terrifying, involving enough voltage to light up a small town.  I don't know that I could be trusted with that.

Monday, February 4, 2013

#27 - Eat a Hot Dog at Pink's

Eating a hot dog proved to take longer than originally expected.

I've wanted to try Pink's for about forever, but for most of my life never even bothered to figure out precisely where it was.  Then a few years I bought tickets to see "Wicked" at the Pantages.  Denise and I spent the night at a Hollywood hotel and next morning decided to kill time with a trip to the LA Farmer's Market.  On the drive over from the hotel we drove right past Pink's.  It being only about 10:00 in the morning and having just pigged out on the hotel breakfast buffet, I opted not to stop in for a dog at that time.  Have been regretting it since.

I nearly cheated on this one; when Denise and I took Nicholas to LAX for his trip to Italy, nearly two years ago, we discovered a Pink's in the Bradley International Terminal.  So I could have legitimately said I did eat a hot dog at Pink's way back then, but that would have been a definite violation of the spirit of #27.

So, I have bided my time, waiting for the appropriate time to visit the original 1939 edition Pink's on La Brea in Hollywood.  On at least two occasions I have driven to the neighborhood, once going so far as to park my car up the street before ultimately deciding that the line was too long to be worth the wait.  On both those occasions I was alone and the thought of experiencing Pink's without someone to share just didn't seem right.

On Sunday I finally brought this one to a close.  Interestingly, Sunday I was supposed to have been checking off #21 - Run a 5K, by participating in the Redondo Beach Superbowl Sunday 5/10K Run.  Unfortunately, I broke the big toe on my right foot several weeks ago and that has cut into my training somewhat.  That and the fact that I needed to be in Redondo Beach by 6:00AM made the run a no go.

Denise and I were returning from Santa Barbara and I decided that with the Superbowl about to kick off, lines at Pink's might be mercifully short.  Score!  When we showed up there were about 10 people in line.  About 5 minutes in line and had our orders in; Chili Dog with Sauerkraut for Denise, Chicago Polish Dog with a side of Chili Cheese Fries.  Just water to drink, because we're trying to eat healthy after all.

Another five minutes later and we had our lunch.  Beautiful aren't they?

And I did actually eat my dog, photographic evidence provided below.  It was a bit messy.

So, the verdict?  Well, it was definitely an experience, the dogs were tasty and the lines non-existent, thanks to the Ravens and 49ers.  Would the dogs be worth it if the lines were the oft mentioned 45 minutes or more?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you're waiting with.  Any regrets?  Only that there were too many dogs and too little time.

Friday, February 1, 2013

#64 - Shave with a Straight Razor

The original number #64 - Avoid the urge to dye my hair/get a tattoo/buy a corvette/dump my wife for a younger woman - was at worst silly and at best unnecessary, since I have little hair left to dye, no money to buy a corvette and no shot at a younger woman.  As old age sets in and my memory fades I may actually opt for a tattoo, but it will be some handy information, like my social security number, bike lock combination or maybe my recipe for focaccia.

So, out with the old #64 and in with the new.  It is now #64 - Shave with a Straight Razor.  And, as of today, this one is also complete.

For some time I've been researching straight razor shaving, there being several attractions in it.  For one, it's SO manly.  James Bond shaves with a straight razor.  Or to be completely accurate, Bond Girls shave James Bond with a straight razor.  I have convinced myself that straight razor shaving must be more environmentally friendly than those disposable plastic 8-blade cartridge monstrosities, since you don't throw a straight razor away, you just sharpen it.  And the straight razor has to be cheaper in the long run, although it could be quite a long run.  

Those disposable blade cartridges are ridiculously expensive, but as it turns out, so is a good straight razor.  Not to worry; I bought a not so good straight razor for not so much money.  Technically, what I bought is not an actual straight razor, but a replaceable blade straight razor.  It uses safety razor type blades which have the advantage of being really inexpensive and require no honing, stropping, etc.  It's sort of a straight razor with training wheels.  When (and if) the wheels come off, I'll upgrade to a real straight razor, but that will be another day.

The really good news is that you can at least still cut the crap out of yourself with a replaceable blade straight razor, which I demonstrated admirably in my first foray.  

Fortunately, I also bought a styptic pencil.  All bleeding stopped for the moment.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's NOT Happening!

Over two years into this process, it's becoming apparent that I will never complete my chosen one-hundred-one.

A quick check indicates that I have completed (some somewhat marginally) forty-four items.  Leaving FIDY-SEVEN!  Fifty-seven to-dos to be completed by September 28, 2013.

That's 247 days!

247 days is 8 months, 4 days, so roughly 7 per month.

Or, 35 weeks (rounded down) for about 1.6 per week.

 274/57 is one to-do every 4.333333333 days.

Of the fifty-seven, at least six involve travel time of a couple days to a week, to say nothing of the travel budget.

Ignoring for a moment the travel difficulties, I have about thirty-eight that I might have reasonably expected to complete.  I made a rough SWAG of the time required to complete those 38; 248 days.  So, assuming I take a sabbatical and dedicate myself exclusively to those items, it will take me one day more than I have available to complete them all.

That doesn't even address the nineteen that I've decided have no shot, e.g. learn a language.  What was I thinking?

Aside from choosing items poorly, I've also sidetracked myself into projects that were not on the list, but probably should have been.  Exempli gratia, install a hot tub.  Now that should have been on there.  Would it be wrong to list something after it's already completed?  Other list-worthy accomplishments that I neglected to enter; home-made batches of kim-chi, Sri Racha, habanero and cayenne pepper sauce, invented two cocktails (Pink Taser, and a Thai Lemon-Grass-Ginger thingy,) built a project table with drawers and cabinets for my woodworking, MacGyvered a stationary bike laptop holder out of welding rod and shrink tubing, pickled quails' eggs and attended the Stone Epic Festival!

The upshot is that I have two choices; 1) give up or 2) radically alter the parameters.  Well, when the going gets tough, the tough change the objective.  Radically altering it is.

Of course, several of the 101 were just silly to begin with, so they won't be horribly missed.

So, most likely on the way out...

9. Bench-press my body weight (i.e. lose 150 lbs) - it is to laugh.
10. Double my gas mileage - this assumed I'd be buying a hybrid; Denise preempted that plan.
11. Learn a language
23. Attend Shakespeare festival in Ashland, OR - too much travel, too little time.
28. Learn a new card game - turns out I know all the card games I care to learn.
40. Swim in the ocean - What?  And be mistaken for a manatee?!  No way.
41. Grow my own barley (and hops!) - I managed the hops, barley is unlikely.
42. Brew a beer from scratch (see #41) - without the barley I'm not likely to be brewing any beer.
53. Build a brewing station for storing all my stuff - considering sending my brewing stuff to live on a farm.
64. Avoid the urge to dye my hair/get a tattoo/buy a corvette/dump my wife for a younger woman
65. Encourage Denise to dye her hair/get a tattoo/buy a corvette/dump her husband for a younger man
70. Learn massage - to what end?
71. Get a massage (71-a; get back waxed first) - just too weird.
74. Ride a bike (get a bike) - this is sort of a duplicate of #81 - Ride bike to the market
77. Shoot hoops - having disposed of my "hoop" this has no chance
83. Use or lose the golf clubs - not likely to use, could possibly still lose
89. Create a reading nook - too many other remodel project related items.

And possibly on the way in...

  • MacGyver something
  • Host a Hunt, Gather, Grow or Barter Dinner
  • Design an Arduino Project
  • Send my brewing stuff to live on a farm
  • Shave with a straight razor
  • Forge a home-made knife out of an old saw blade 
  • Design a wood-fired pizza oven/adobe oven for the backyard
  • Climb "Walk on the Wild Side" (at Joshua Tree)
  • Fly a sailplane?
  • Design a cover lifter for the hot tub?
  • Remove the alarm system from my truck
  • Take a welding class (if I can find one short and cheap)
  • Re-join a gym?
  • Host an "End of the List Party - September 28, 2013"

Much editing to follow.  I'm open to other suggestions.  Anyone?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

#66 - Decorate with a home-grown Christmas tree

Fortunately I was not too specific about what I meant by "decorate."  My original intent was to use a home-grown tree in lieu of a store bought, farmed tree.  Turns out those Christmas trees take a lot longer than three years to reach any kind of size (at least the way I grow them.)

The tree I ended up using was actually a little volunteer pine that showed up along our fence.  Denise was out talking to our neighbor who was spraying his weeds with Round-Up.  He offered to spray the tree, but I had fortunately already mentioned to Denise that I had plans for the little guy.  First a rescued mastiff, now a rescued pine tree.  Who knows what we'll rescue next.

Anyway, I nearly got through the holidays without finishing this.  Finally on Christmas Eve I got up in the morning and started "decorating" the tree.

In case you're wondering, yes that is the ribbon out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can at the top of the tree and the ornaments are Thai and Habanero Peppers.  I thought it was beautiful.