Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   inside a cheap MP3 player
Saturday, January 31 2015
Yesterday I'd checked the level of fuel in out fuel oil tank for the first time in a month and noticed it was down near the bottom tick on the gauge. It probably always seems shocking when it's low, and I always feel we're going to immediately run out (as we did precisely once), but this morning when the guy from Ulster Fuels came and refueled our tank, he only added 181 gallons to the 275 gallon tank, meaning it still contained 94 gallons, enough to last the remaining two months of the oil heating season). It's been a cold winter, but the I've been good about keeping the woodstove going.
I had a moderate hangover from last night's overindulgence, but it was Saturday, which meant it would be my first caffeine since Tuesday (the hunkering down for that blizzard that never came), and I didn't know how caffeine on a non-caffeine-addicted biochemistry would interact with hangover. In the end, I got a good coffee buzz, which made the hangover seem like less of a problem. As happened last week, I didn't want the mild euphoria to stop once the coffee was gone. So I transitioned to green tea, of which I drank more than three cups. Green tea contains less caffeine and is generally healthier than black tea, and I'm thinking it could become my tea of choice if only I can find a provider selling it in brewable bags that are not placed in individual envelopes or plastic wrappers (the source of my brand loyalty to Red Rose).
I've had a small cube-shaped MP3 player down in the brownhouse that I listen to sometimes when I'm on the throne there. Because I like to read down there, it only contains music. It's a cheap device from China, but the sound quality is not terrible and it's simple and reliable. The problem with it is that it only has digital volume controls and it always forgets the setting from the last time it was on. So it always starts up at full blast, which is not a good way to begin any experience. In the past I've tried opening the device up so I could maybe install an analog volume control, but there was no obvious way to do it. I took the screw out and nothing loosened up. Today I got the antenna out of the way, shined a light in through the hole, and saw that there were no bolts in the corners, strongly suggesting the thing had been hotglued together. So, using a chisel, I managed to gradually pry the speaker end out of the alumnium framework. Sure enough, it was held in entirely by glue. Once I had the speaker out of the way, I could remove screws holding the faceplate on, and then access the electronics. I'd hpped there would be an obvious place to attach a volume control that had been replaced with a couple tiny resistors as a cost-saving move. But no, there was nothing like that. I tried controlling the volume by attaching a potentiometer as a variable resistor in series with the speaker, and that actually worked. But I needed a much lower-value potentiometer than the 10 kilohm one I was using.

This afternoon, I drove with the dogs out to 9W to get some provisions. I started at Adams Fairacre Farms, the only local source of whole wheat burrito tortillas that do not contain mold-suppressing additives (which I couldn't taste until Gretchen drew my attention to them). While there, I wandered back into the gardening section and was impressed by all the equipment for sale. In addition to an entire aisle devoted to killing pests, they appear to have everything one would need if one were to want to grow plants indoors. (Home Depot and Lowes, on the other hand, lack a few important things.) Adams was absolutely mobbed with shoppers, as was ShopRite when I later went there (though the shoppers in ShopRite are a lot less photogenic).
At Lowes, I bought a bunch of black iron fittings and pipes so that I can make a somewhat-simplified version of the indoor rack that our friend Michæl (of Carrie & Michæl) made.
I wanted to maybe get that low-value potentiometer I needed, though the only retailer of electronic components I know of in the area is Radio Shack. (I usually buy all such components for cheap online or salvage them from my large indoor boneyard.) So I went to the Radio Shack in the mall, hoping they still sold a few things besides batteries, remote-controlled cars, and outfits for smartphones. To my shock, half the store was completely empty, and all that remained was stuff the store was trying to get rid of at deep discount. There were stacks and stacks of identical boxes holding things like RadioShack-branded Swiss army knives, little magnifying glasses, suction cup doohickeys for attaching a smartphone to a dashboard, and of course, lots of casualwear for iPhones and Android devices. I didn't know if it was just this store that was closing down or if Radio Shack itself was being liquidated. As zombie stores go, Radio Shack has outlasted even the rosiest predictions, so I assumed the mall was losing its Radio Shack. There's another one over near Uptown, so it's a real mystery why Kingston has had two Radio Shacks for this long. (Even in Radio Shack's heyday of the late '70s, Kingston-sized cities in the Shenandoah Valley never had more than one Radio Shack.) Normally Radio Shack stocks almost nothing I want, or it stocks things I would buy if only they were a lot cheaper. But with these prices, it was hard to resist. I bought a smartphone-holding suction cup thingie, an LED-illuminated fresnel lens, a couple project cases for Arduino (in a last grasp at hipness, Radio Shack has fully embraced the maker movement), and even a four-relay Arduino control shield.

This evening, Gretchen was working on a "raw foods" unit for her online cooking class, though it didn't excite her. She'd never had any "raw food" that was any good, and she considered the whole idea ridiculous. But then when she made little lettuce wraps filled with a beige-colored paste made of ground-up nuts, seeds, and pieces of celery, she couldn't believe how delicious it was. I tried some and I concurred. If raw foods can taste like that, my mind is open to trying them again in the future. [Later I discovered that the choice of lettuce was very important for these wraps to be good. With spinach, the wraps were noticeably inferior, and they weren't much better on leaves the different things put in a tub of "Organic Spring Mix." The key to a good lettuce wrap, at least with the filling Gretchen made tonight, was the seemingly hydroponically-raised organic Butterhead lettuce I'd bought at Adam's.

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