entirely by children
Monday, July 13 2015
The backpack I used to bring firewood home was designed for hunters hoping to carry heavy carcasses out of the woods. While I routinely use it to haul loads of 100 to 130 pounds, supposedly it is only rated for 70 pound loads. As you might imagine, the daily use of this backpack is hard on it, and it has experienced considerable wear in the year and a half since I bought it. Not long into my use of the backpack, one of the strap clips supporting the lower shelf broke, and so now that strap is simply tied to its partner in a knot. The velcro holding the webbing and straps to the bottom of that shelf is pretty much destroyed, though when I use bungee cords to lash down my loads, they act to secure the shelf correctly. Other bits of webbing have fallen away, though not in a way that has made the backpack any less usable. Of greater (and more recent) concern has been the gradual deterioration the attachments for one of the shoulder straps. Theses straps are made of the same sort of thin manmade fabric used in the webbing. It's very strong, but for some reason it had developed a tear, leaving only about 50% of the material holding onto the strap. Some days ago I'd taken delivery of a set of replacement straps made of much more substantial material, and today I installed them on the frame. They didn't include a waist strap, but fortunately the old one was in good enough shape to keep.
The firewood backpack with new straps. Since Americans fight wars in deserts now, mass-produced outdoor gear tends to blend in with sand and rocks.
The old straps. Note where the internal foam is peeking out.
The way the garden is looking these days. Click to enlarge.
Today I assembled a tiny self-contained circuit that consisted of three interconnected connectors. One of these was an eight pin DIP socket, where a ATTiny85 running my freshly-perfected AmbientWeather data collection code would be running. Another was a four pin female socket to accept a 433 MHz superheterodyne radio receiver. The last connector was a four pin header for connecting an I2C bus. With the RF receiver and ATTiny85 plugged in, all I had to do was connect the circuit to the standard I2C bus that I include on all my Arduino-based circuits. And then it could do all the work of capturing and remembering AmbientWeather sensor reports.
After I had that built, it didn't take me long to alter the code in my barometric weathervane Atmega328 so that it could send temperature data along with barometric data down its serial line (most of the work consisted of stripping out the code that is now no longer needed because the work is now being done asynchronously on an ATTiny85). Eventually I will come up for a protocol for the sending of this data and then I will build an Arduino-based frontend, which I will use as a nifty new open-source replacement for the crappy weather station I've been living with (and mostly ignoring) at my workstation.
This afternoon Gretchen wanted to go to the abandoned dam ("Middle Deep") between Little Deep and Big Deep on Sawkill Creek east of Woodstock, and I was at a stopping place in all the things I wanted to do, so I decided to come along. Surprisingly for a Monday, there were about six cars at the Little Deep parking lot (that's more than we expected). But Middle Deep is just far enough away to be largely empty even when there are lots of cars parked there. Today there was only one person, a middle aged man reading a book on a chaotically-flung piece of concrete out in the water. Gretchen immediately began swimming, but all I could do was wade in. I have trouble psyching myself into getting under the water quickly, and today I never managed to get more than about belly-button deep. Meanwhile, the guy sunning himself seemed to like dogs and managed to convince Ramona to go over to him for a pet. Happily, she didn't then proceed to wear out her welcome with an excess of enthusiasm, which is what she would've done a year ago.
Eventually Gretchen and I crossed the creek and went up to the top of a dam. Out in the water about 20 feet upstream from the dam was a small building atop a tower, and it was connected to the bridge by a dam. The planking of the bridge was all gone, but it was still possible to cross over to the tower on the bridge's remaining skeleton of steel. The building contained two wells going down to the water with slots to accept screens (evidently to protect an intake from debris). Large steel wheel controlled something (probably a valve) down deep in the water. Surprisingly, there wasn't all that much graffiti and only a trace of shattered glass inside the tower. We had to leave when the dogs started swimming out towards the tower, as there was nothing at its bottom for them to haul themselves out on.
On the way back to the car, Ramona and Eleanor met a number of new canine friends, including a couple of white Pomeranians.
Gretchen said she was hungry, which was exciting to me because its not hard to turn that idea into a bowl of french fries. That was how we ended up at Catskill Mountain Pizza. Unfortunately, though, we came either at the wrong time of day or on the wrong day of the week, because the place was being run, as Gretchen put it, "entirely by children" (that is, teenagers). Our fries came first, and they looked and smelled somehow wrong. I could tell immediately from my first bite that they'd been fried in old oil, which gives a fry an off flavor that is clearly not a spice. The fries had also been insufficiently cooked. Furthermore, some knucklehead at CMP had decided to put the ketchup in the refrigerator, and it was so cold it didn't want to come out of the bottle. When the pizza finally came out, Gretchen was nowhere to be seen, and I didn't want to start eating without her. I know myself well enough to know that I can easily eat a half pizza in the space of a few minutes. But where the fuck was Gretchen? Was she taking an enormous dump? Unless she was having trouble in the bathroom, there was no excuse for the delay of my pizza eating! Some five minutes later she finally materialized, having been talking to some random strangers only because they were wearing pro-vegan teeshirts. It turned out that they were a just-married couple from Rochester, and Gretchen wanted to give them all they needed to know about being vegan in this area. So yes, my enjoyment of pizza was delayed by a vegan informational emergency. Despite the teenage cooks and the foreboding awfulness of the fries, the pizza turned out to be pretty good. Gretchen had gotten it on spelt, which she insists is better, though I don't think that's true. (Also, for some reason spelt pizzas at CMP are always smaller, which is a bad thing.) Gretchen had also gotten different pizza toppings for the two halves of the pizza.
It was after 5:00pm when we got back to the house, and I still hadn't collected any wood. I didn't want to go too far out on the trail system because I like to leave it empty in the evenings for our neighbor Crazy Dave, who likes to walk his dogs then and is a bit autistic and very people-averse. So I didn't even go as far as the Chamomile. 30 feet shy of that, on the uphill side of the Stick Trail were a pair of dead skeletal oaks leaning against live trees. I managed to jiggle one of them enough to cause it to fall, and then I bucked it into pieces. The trunk was only about five inches thick on average but I managed to assemble what turned out to be a 123.5 pound load. This was, of course, the maiden voyage of my new backpack straps, and they performed well. I may have had the straps a bit tighter than I should have (they were much tighter than I used to wear the old straps) because they actually restricted how deeply I was able to inhale. That never becomes an issue until the brutal climb up the new mountain goat path connecting the Stick Trail to the woodshed.
This evening on her drive back from some poetry thing in Woodstock, Gretchen saw Nancy playfully giving her a finger near the intersection of Dike Road and Route 28. Nancy was with her brother David and his wife, and they all ended up coming over to chit chat and drink wine. We tried doing that out on the east deck, but the air was so calm that it allowed the mosquitoes to come attack us, so we retreated into the living room.
All this work I've been doing lately with microcontrollers has me thinking again about spacecraft computers, since my communication with microntrollers frequently has the improvised and slightly-exasperated feel of trying to reason through the ether with a distant robot. Contributing to this renewed interest is that the New Horizons probe is about to fly by the erstwhile planet Pluto. Yesterday I was reading about the flight computer on Apollo 11, and today I read parts of an obsessively-detailed web page about the Gemini flight computer, which includes a link to a gorgeous graphic of the Gemini capsule control panel. The most surprising fact about the Apollo computer was that it was made entirely from thousands of identical three-input NOR gates wired together to give it registers, an arithmetic logic unit, and most of the other stuff that happens inside a computer. The memory was on magnetic cores, though, which is a form of memory that does not use solid state digital logic.
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