Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hummingbirds not allowed to die on my watch!



The sudden cold snap hereabouts has been very hard on the hummingbird population.  They're small, they burn lots of calories and their sources of food, natural and artificial, have been covered with snow and/or frozen.

I've retrofitted three of our ordinary "Perky Pet" hummingbird feeders to keep them thawed and available:


I used a cheap source of heat - Christmas lights.  Two of the C-7 bulbs provide 14 watts of heat, not a lot, but enough.  Like most incandescent lamps, about 90% of their output is heat.  One is near the narrow waist of the feeder, the other near the bottom, against the red plastic.  To hold the heat in, I used a spare chunk of foam pipe insulation, held on with a cable tie.

But this was prologue.  The other morning, I saw a hummingbird on one of our other feeders, not the ones with the light bulbs.  I went out to investigate and the bird stayed where it was, breathing rapidly.  (They always do.)  It was clear that the bird, either tongue or  beak, was FROZEN to the feeder.

I gently unhooked the feeder  and brought it and the bird inside.  I submerged the bottom of the feeder in a pan of warm water and took it back outside.  In a few minutes, the bird flew off, returning to feed again, this time from one of the heated feeders.  Lesson learned, I guess.

The snow has also provided a sighting of Bigfoot prints - or not.

Well, not Big Foot, perhaps, but at least MediumFoot.
Further details as they become available.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Crittercam

Living around abundant wildlife as we do, we decided to invest in a trail camera.  These are automatic cameras that take pictures (or video) when triggered by a motion detector.  They were originally used by hunters to see what kind of game was using a trail, say, and a what time.   We're no hunters, but the device is lots of fun anyway.

The unit we chose (among many choices) was the Primos Truthcam (tm) 35:


It takes color pictures or video in daylight whenever it senses motion in front of it.  At night, it takes infrared pictures or video, illuminated by the infrared LED array at the top.  Since the "flash" from it is infrared, most animals can't see it.

The camera runs on 4 "D" cell batteries and stores images on an SD memory card.  You can't view pictures on the camera itself - you must remove the memory card and look at the contents on a computer.  Switches select video or still mode, single or multi-shot bursts and video clip length for each triggering.

The first pictures all showed me, fiddling with the camera:




The impetus to get Crittercam came from certain subtle indications that there might be beaver activity on our land:



This is a branch from an oak (read: very hard wood) tree.  Nearly 8" in diameter, it was chewed off completely, then nearly chomped through again a few inches away  The beaver also gnawed off all the bark on the branch.

Once we got Crittercam, we "baited" the area with another branch cut from a different tree and set up for photos:



Looking back at the camera from the "bait" area shows the tasty elder we set out:



Crittercam time stamps all recordings with the date, time and temperature.   Next time:  What the Crittercam saw.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


A Unitarian-Universalist Take on Holiday Lighting

The "Flaming Chalice" is the symbol of Unitarian-Universalism.   Like almost everything else, it means different things to different people.  Originally developed by Austrian artist Hans Deutsch, it has evolved many times since then.  More about it here.  

Not being an evangelizing faith, and given the questionable environmental status of holiday lighting, many UU families don't do outdoor lights, period.  December also brings tension between those who came to Unitarian-Universalism from Christianity, Judaism and other faiths, given the overwhelming association of outdoor light displays with Christmas.

Nevertheless, I've always like holiday lighting, and wanted to do some for our new home in Rogue River, Oregon.  I decided to make a large (about seven feet tall) flaming chalice to display outside our home and to proclaim our UU faith.



As an engineer, I quickly realized that the design had elements of regular, linear composition and of the chaotic shape of a flame.  I decided to lay out the display using FastCAD, a computer-aided design program I've used for years.  The idea would be to design the display on the computer screen, then to scale it up to the full outdoor size.

The straightforward way to do this is to lay out a grid of lines, then create the lines in full size on the framework.  The initial CAD drawing was:



The drawing used a grid of squares (shown here as one foot, but later changed to six inch), so the design could be easily scaled up to full size during construction.

I planned to use six 50-light strings of outdoor LED holiday lights.  The flame, naturally, would be made from red, orange, yellow and white (shown as black in the drawings) lights, while the chalice would be blue and the base purple.  Later, I swapped the base and chalice colors to keep the blue lights away from the slightly-bluish white lights of the flame.

The display would be supported by chicken wire, which would support the lights.  In turn, the wire would be supported  by a wooden frame made of "two-by-two" lumber.

A tremendous advantage of CAD software is the ability to "try out" design elements and see how they relate without having to actually build the project.  In this display, I decided to center the chalice and base horizontally, and chose to make the top of the chalice the full width of the display (three feet) along a horizontal line 3.75 feet (3 feet, 9 inches) from the top.

It took a while to get the arc that forms the bowl of the chalice right.  As it is, critics say it's more like a Martini glass than a chalice, and perhaps so.  The base was later extensively revised, too, because the version in the CAD drawing seemed too spindly.

Wife Deborah pointed out that my original design used a symmetrical flame, and that a windblown, asymmetrical one would be better. It was certainly true, though it made the layout much more complicated.  In the original design, I laid out each of the colors of the flame symmetrically around a vertical axis.  Now, the layout had to be symmetrical along a constantly-changing axis.

I laid out what I wanted to use for the central axis of the flame on the drawing (shown as purple line running through the center of the flame), then used a built-in CAD function to draw lines perpendicular to the axis over its length.



Using single-color strings meant that each light could be no more than four inches from the next in the string.  Also, the red outside of the flame is a longer path than, say, the inner yellow one, yet each must use 50 lights.  In the design process, I actually created 50 colored dots of each color to be sure things worked out.

With the design done and the lights ordered from 1000 Bulbs, I was ready to start building.  It didn't really matter if the wood framework was exactly straight and square or not, since the grid from the drawing would govern where bulbs were placed.


To make the grid, I laid out colored hemp strings every six inches horizontally and vertically, being careful that they were parallel and perpendicular.  Held in with large push pins, I later labeled each grid line with the numbers from the diagram.


If I had it to do again, I'd use smaller-mesh chicken wire.  The stuff I bought had hexagonal "cells" about 1"  by 2".  With, say 1" by 1" wire, I could have placed the lights more accurately.  The lights were attached using black nylon cable ties (what some people call "Zip Ties") from Mouser Electronics.  While you can buy these in local hardware stores, they're fiercely expensive compared to $0.007 price when you buy 1,000 of them.  I was fortunate to have a cable tie gun, which tensions and cuts off the tail end of the ties with a pull of the "trigger," though you could certainly do without one.

Then, it was just a matter of attaching all 300 lights.  After that was done, I removed the grid strings, since they were no longer needed.



Finally, I pained the wood frame black so it would not stand out at night.  On the first night we lit it up next to the road, Deborah and I wondered if the peasants would attack us with torches and rakes, but nothing happened.  "That's because," Deborah said, "People don't know what it is."

Perhaps not today.  But it's a start.





Sunday, November 3, 2013

"I'll take Jeopardy! practice signaling devices for 200, Alex"


Any Jeopardy! viewer knows that the signaling button is perhaps the most important and yet difficult part of playing the game.

When Alex finishes asking a question, an off-screen staffer presses a button to allow contestants to "ring-in" and be recognized to give their response.   If a contest rings in before the "end-of-question" switch, their signal is disregarded AND their button is locked out from signaling again for a while.  (I'm not sure exactly what the lockout period is, but it's probably between 0.5 and 2 seconds).  When a contestant is locked out, other contestants have a chance to ring in ahead of the one who jumped the gun.

One of the reasons long-time champ Ken Jennings stayed so long as a champion was his mastery of signaling.  It's a human who presses the "end-of-question" switch, so the best competitor will be the one who is most in-sync with rhythm the staffer uses to press the switch.

Contestant wranglers tell would-be contestants to practice ringing-in, even suggesting using the souvenir Jeopardy! pen they receive as a practice device.  But the pen is not as big as the button used on the show and, most importantly, does not provide feedback when the  button has been pressed.

Since Deborah is going to be on Jeopardy! in only a month, I embarked on a crash program of practice signaling device development.  Electrically, it's simple:  A transformer converts 117 volt power from the wall into 10 - 16 volt power needed to operate a doorbell.   One of the output terminals of the transformer goes to one of the terminals on the bell, the other through the contacts of a pushbutton and then to the other contact of the bell.

The most important part, the signaling controller, turned out to be the easiest:





I used a piece of 3/4" PVC plumbing pipe about 6" long and two 3/4" PVC plumbing pipe caps, for a total price of $2 or so.   The  button is a regular old-fashioned doorbell button that snaps into a 5/8" diameter mounting hole.  It has two screw terminals, onto which I attached a 4' or so long piece of red/black "Zip cord," the kind of wire used in small appliance power connections.

There were a number of doorbells at the hardware store and at the home center.  Some were wireless, with a small battery in the  button enclosure to power a tiny radio transmitter that signaled the bell when the button was pressed.   Others were "wired" types, using the transformer, bell and button system described above.

Wired or wireless, though, the electronic doorbells all proved inadequate.  The reason is that all of them use an electronic circuit.  When the button is pressed, the circuit changes the AC power from the transformer to DC power to operate the sound generator and amplifier that feeds a built-in speaker:


Here's one of the electronic doorbells.  The fatal flaw in them for me is that it takes a finite amount of time for the power conversion to DC, so the "bell" doesn't ring until 0.5 to 1 second after the button is pressed.  As a doorbell, you probably wouldn't care that the bell didn't sound until a second after you pressed the button, but on a game show that delay is intolerable.

In the old days, doorbells were simple.  They used a solenoid, a simple electro-mechanical device that changes electric power to physical motion.   It's really nothing more than a sliding piece of steel inside a coil of copper wire.  When power is on, the steel is pulled into the center of the coil by magnetism.  When the power goes off, a spring returns the it to the original position.

Many doorbells have two chimes, and are set up so that you can have the front door bell go "Ding-Dong" and the back one just "Ding." 

After the hardware store and the home center, I was driven to the place I should have gone first, an honest-to-goodness electrical supply store.   There I found a real solenoid-operated doorbell for $12:


The picture shows the transformer to the left and the doorbell to the right.  The chimes are rectangular pieces of steel.  There are two solenoids in the center.  When the "front doorbell is pressed, the top one (the one with the white plastic striker) pulls to the right and hits the "ding" chime.  When the button is released, the coil spring pulls the shaft back, where it hits the left "dong" chime.  Since I only wanted one chime, I used the lower solenoid.  The "ding" part operates the same as the upper one, but when the button is released and the spring forces the shaft back, it is caught by a (yellowish) foam cushion, so there's no sound made.

It works perfectly.  The button turns out to be an illuminated model,  making it easier to see in the dark.  Not needing an official enclosure, I just stuffed the transformer and  bell back in the box they came in, with the power and button cords running out under the lid:



So, when the answer is "It's the number of doorbells Andy had to buy before getting one that would work," the question is "What is three, Alex?"

Friday, November 1, 2013



Deborah on Jeopardy! The Back-Story

Deborah has earned a contestant spot on Jeopardy!  She'll be in one (or more!) of five episodes to be taped on December 4, 2013 and airing sometime in the week of March 24, 2014.  Here's how it came about:

Deborah has loved the Jeopardy! TV show since time out of mind.  As many of us have considered, but few have done, she actually tried out to  be a contestant on the program - four times.

Jeopardy!  uses a January on-line test to pre-qualify would-be contestants.  It's a wicked exam:  There are fifty questions in fifty categories, and you're given only 15 seconds to type the answer to each one.  Generously, though, the test does not require you to state the response as a question, as you must on the live show.

One never knows how one did on the test.  Either you get invited to a secondary tryout sometime in the next few months, or you don't.  The test that got Deborah was on the show was in January 2012.  Since contestants remain in the "contestant pool" for 18 months, one cannot qualify using next year's test if one is still in last year's pool.

Unusually, Deborah was invited to the secondary tryout on all four of her attempts.  These are regional, though one is always offered the possibility of trying out at Starbase Jeopardy! at Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City, California as well.  Deborah has always felt that one's chances are better, though, at one of the outlying sites rather than in L.A., where there are many locals competing.

The secondary auditions she attended were in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Sacramento, with the last being the one which got her a coveted slot on the program.  It had  been almost 18 months since the Sacramento audition, and she was beginning to lose hope.

The auditions are usually scheduled at a large hotel.  There are usually several auditions over one or two days, but each entrant is assigned to only one.  On arrival, one is given a sourvenir Jeopardy! pen, which one uses to fill out a basic information sheet.  After checking in, the 25-50 auditioners go into the room and meet the contestant wranglers.  Either at sign-in or in the AV-equipped room, each contestant is photographed, and given the photograph to hold.  At her auditions, the wranglers actually used Polaroid film cameras, having apparently bought up all the remaining film stock.  

The wranglers welcome the auditioners, crack a few jokes, and explain some of the many legalities involved in the show.  They play a welcome message taped by Alex Trebek.  The wranglers pass out a sheet with fifty numbers, and you enter your name and the date.    Now the contestants take a second written test, this time with one of the "Clue Crew" members reading the clues on video.  It's the same format as the online test - fifteen seconds per question and responses need not be in question form.  At the end you hand in the test, the questionnaire and your photo.

The wranglers leave to grade the tests, while the auditioners take another similar exam.  During this time, the wranglers set up the matches for the mock game-play.  Auditioners are called up in threes, and are shown how to use the all-important Jeopardy! signalling button.  A video screen shows six categories, but only a few questions under each one.  The person assigned to the "Champion" spot, selects the first answer: "Alex, I'll take 'The Crimean War' for 600."  After that, it's regular play, including the infamous "lockout" function:  If you ring-in before the question is completed, your are locked for a second or two, so you don't want to press the button too soon!  If one auditioner is dominating the ring-ins, the wranglers will call on the others to be sure each gets at least few questions to answer.

Next comes the interview.   On the information sheet, auditioners had listed five "stories" they suggest for interviews.  The wrangler will ask, for instance, "So, tell me about your pet foxes."  You banter a bit, and are asked what you would do with the money if you won the game.  You're sent back to your seat, and the next group of three is called up until everyone has appeared.  Deborah has been in  both the first and last groups called, so the choice may be random, or perhaps they match people by their test scores.  It's one of the many mysteries of Jeopardy!.

At the end, the wranglers explain the "contestant pool."  Everyone who comes to a live audition is automatically in the contestant pool.  You remain in the pool for 18 months, though the show does not tape year-around.  

The rough numbers:  About 50,000 people take each on-line Jeopardy! test.  About 2,000 are invited to the auditions and put into the contestant pool.  About 400 people will eventually be on the show during that period.  So, the overall odds from beginning to end are roughly 0.8 percent of getting on the show.  As in the on-line test, you never learn what is a passing score or what you scored.

The other day, Deborah was working in the garden and, as usual, left her cell phone in the house. "When I came in, I saw that I had missed two calls.  One was from my daughter, the other from an unknown caller in area code 310 - Southern California.  The next morning, I'd been trying to figure out who had called, and finally decided to just call back and say 'Someone called me from this number yesterday.'   I dialed the number, and a friendly male voice answered: 'Jeopardy!'

My heart pounded.  'Robert' told me had called to invite me to be on a Jeopardy! episode that would tape on December 4, 2013.  The program tapes five episodes in one day.  If I were champion at the end of the "week" of episodes, the next taping would be two weeks away, on December 18th.

Robert asked me a long list of qualifying questions.  Most were routine.  Then he asked 'Do you know anyone who works for CBS Television, Sony Pictures Studio or their legal-compliance company.'  I explained that my husband had retired from CBS Radio in February and had worked in the same building as CBS Television's KPIX-TV.  Robert asked a few more questions, then said he would have to call me back about the conflict.

The quiz-show of the 1960's are forgotten by most people but still loom large over production of any game show.  The producers bend over  backwards to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety.  Happily, Robert called back to say that the powers-that-be had OK'd my appearance."

Robert explained the Sony has an agreement with a local hotel for housing contestants and provides transportation between there and the studio.  He promised to email me even MORE detailed paperwork for me to complete, ASAP.

We'll keep you posted on future doings.  In the meantime, Deborah is over the moon at the prospect of finally being on Jeopardy!  It's always been on her "bucket list."  Besides, the rules say that you can only be on Jeopardy! once - though some may be invited back.  That makes it, literally, as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.






Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mysteries of the Well House



Like most homes in rural Oregon, our water comes from a well.  There's municipal water in the city of Rogue River, but two miles out, you're on your own.

Oregon water law is similar to the Talmud, but more complicated.  Basically, all the water in the state belongs to the people.  You can use water from your well for household use and to irrigate a garden up to 1/2 acre, but acreage beyond that must be irrigated with surface water.  We can pump water from the creek for this -- if we pay $330 a year for the privilege and if our "water rights" to the creek are still valid.

The Roguefarm well house encloses our well and water processing stuff.  Originally, it had its own electric meter, but is now powered by underground cable from the house.  Water from the well house goes through pipe to the house and also feeds irrigation water to hoses and sprinklers.



Inside the well house.  The well itself is to the left.  Since Jack & Jill were not available, the builders used an electric pump to deliver the well water.  The pump is actually at the bottom of the 65-foot-deep well and
runs on 220V power.  The tall blue tank is the "pressure tank," the one wrapped in insulation is the water softener and the squat blue container is the "brine tank."



This diagram shows how the water system works.  Water from the well is sent out to irrigation use untreated.  The pressure tank stores water so the pump doesn't need to start every time you turn on a faucet.  When the pressure starts to drop, the pressure switch turns on the pump to refill the tank.

In the water softener, minerals dissolved in the well water are replaced (I think) with salt.  The controller monitors how much water we use and periodically cleans the beads inside the tank by flushing water through it backwards.  It recharges the beads by dosing them with brine, which is stored in the brine tank (duh) along with salt granules.

In the house, softened water from the well house is used for everything except drinking.  To provide better-tasting drinking (and cooking) water, a multi-stage filter removes sediment and minerals.  The heart of it is a "reverse osmosis" filter.  It uses water pressure to force water through tiny pores in a filter through which minerals cannot pass.  The bargain you make with the Devil in R/O systems is that they waste a gallon or more of water for every gallon they process, mostly to flush out the filter membrane.  The R/O system can purify about 50 gallons of water a day, but it takes 24 hours to do that much.  A small storage tank lets us use up to 3 gallons of drinking water at once, then refills from the R/O filters.

Today's project was winterizing the well house.  Since water expands when it freezes, frozen water will crack pipes.




This "before" picture shows the pipes that connect, among other things, the well, pressure switch and pressure tank.  Some of the pipe is iron, some is plastic.

To keep pipes from freezing, I use "heat tape," which looks like an extension cord, but is made of resistance wire that heats up when electricity flows through it.  A thermostat ensures that the heat tape only comes on when the temperature falls to near freezing.

The other part of prevention is foam insulation around pipes.  This keeps the heat tape close to the pipe and insulates it from cold air.


In this "after" picture, you can see the insulation installed over the pipes.  I've also put a couple of wraps of heat tape around the tanks, too, so they won't freeze...I hope.


Water and electricity may not mix, but at Roguefarm there's a lot of electricity involved in water.  When the previous owner installed underground wiring from the house, he did so in a way that brought in 220V for the well pump, but not 110V for other uses in the well house.  (You may recognize this as wiring with two hot leads and a ground, but not a neutral wire).

To deal with this, I added a new breaker box (the gray one to the left of the picture, with a 30A 220V breaker that feeds the well pump.  It also feeds a step-down transformer (above) that produces up to 1500 watts of 110V power from the 220V source.  The output of the transformer is monitored by the little "Watt-miser" thing, and is then used to supply the water softener controller, heat tape, irrigation controller (the brown thing) and anything else in the well house that needs 110V power.



As noted, the water softener cleans itself with brine, which it makes from water and salt.  The three pellets in the picture show the kind of salt it uses.  The bag holds 40 pounds and costs around $6.  When the brine tank runs low on salt, I dump in another bag.



Under the kitchen sink in the main house is the R/O system.  The five filters last six months in some cases and a year in others.  The R/O filter itself (which is expensive) seldom needs replacement.

A coward by nature, I hired a local plumber to install the R/O system.  That's why it doesn't leak as it would if I had done it myself.



Friday, October 11, 2013

Raised beds: "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!"

Today I finished staining the raised beds and set them in place inside the 50 x 50 foot "Deer Stalag" garden.  (The fence is 6 feet high, but some locals claim that some SuperDeer will leap over even 8 footers.  We shall see.)  Note that the fence is lined with "Graduated" wire - close together at the bottom, to keep out little critters, and wider as it goes up, since large mesh is cheaper and still too small for deer to squeeze through.




The stain is Superdeck Transparent Stain in "Canyon Brown."  The color was recommended by the fence company for the posts in the fence (note that they are not stained yet).

The stain only goes about 3" down from the top on the inside of the bed, since the rest of it will be covered by dirt when the bed is filled.

These beds were a gratifying project, keeping pressure-treated wood out of a land fill while providing us with more raised-bed planting space.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

BUILDING RAISED-BED ENCLOSURES

We recently had the steps at both ends of our rear deck rebuilt.  The old ones were made of pressure-treated lumber, which you're not supposed to burn.  Instead of sending it to the landfill, we decided to repurpose it into raised-bed enclosures for our garden.  Some think it doesn't belong in gardens, either, but it seemed better to us to use it.

Stairs usually have two parts; a horizontal piece you step on called a tread and a vertical piece at the back of the tread called a riser.  On our stairs, they were made from "Two-by-Six" lumber and each were around four feet long.  There's no magic to the size, but our beds came out slightly rectangular because the treads and risers were different links.  It doesn't matter.  If you have to buy lumber, you can use all four foot long pieces.

A note about lumber:  When you go to buy wood, it's usually labeled "two-by-four," "four-by-four" and so forth.  These are supposedly the size before finishing.  Whatever the reason, lumber is ALWAYS smaller than the numbers suggest.  In this project a "two-by-six" measures about 5-3/8  by 1-1/2, while a "four-by-four" post is about 3-3/8" square.  Don't worry about it.

Each side of the bed is made of two stacked pieces of two-by-six about four feet long, so eight are needed for each box.  The sides are braced  by one-foot-long pieces of four-by-four at each corner, so four of those are needed for each box.





This drawing and parts list shows how the beds go together:


For two boxes, I bought an eight-foot-long piece of four-by-four and sliced it into eight one-foot lengths.
If you were buying wood for the sides, you could use eight four-foot lengths of two-by-six, cut from two boards each eight feet long.  If you can, get the store to do the cutting for  you.  I cut the corner posts myself using a hand-held circular saw, which is convenient but very dangerous.  If in doubt, use a hand saw instead.

Each of the eight side pieces is screwed to the corner post with two lag screws.  The ones I used are 3/8 inch in diameter by three inches long.  I used a 3/8 inch flat washer under each screw head.




Lag screws have a hexagonal head.  The 3/8 inch size can be tightened with a 9/16 inch wrench.
As you can see, the screws have a large smooth section, called the shank between the head and threaded portion.  When you install a lag screw, you drill a hole for it with an electric drill.  Holding the side against the corner drill a 5/16 inch hole through the side and into the corner post.  Make the hole about three inches deep.  This pilot hole keeps the screw straight.  It's slightly smaller than the threaded part of the screw, so the threads can bite into the wood.  After the pilot hole is drilled, you drill a second, larger hole through the side piece but NOT into the corner post.  This shank clearance hole is 3/8 inch in diameter.  The screw should tap in easily through the side piece, then you tighten it down using the wrench.  I usually leave each screw slightly loose, about 1/8 inch above the side piece, until all four screws on that side of the box are in.  Then I tighten each of them until the washer is pressed slightly into the wood.  If you over-tighten the screw, you can strip the hole, so the threads can't bite and the screw turns freely.  If this happens, just drill new pilot and shank-clearance holes nearby and try again.  The exact position of the screws is not at all critical.  On the drawing, you'll see that I offset the screws on adjacent sides a bit so they won't hit.  This isn't likely to be a problem anyway, though.

To start the assembly, lay two corner post pieces about four feet apart.  Lay two sides on the corner posts.  Using lag screws and washers, attach the sides to the corner post.  Make two of these assemblies.




Notice that the corner posts stick up a bit above the sides, because the two sides add up to less than 12 inches.  The end that sticks up will become the top of the bed and the other end the bottom so the bed will sit flat.

Using four more side boards, attach the corner posts together using lag screws:



That's the end of the carpentry!  Now turn the bed over so the flat bottom is facing up.  Using a staple gun, fasten weed-block fabric to the base of the bed:



The fabric I used came in a three-foot-wide roll, so I overlapped it in the middle, leaving a few inches of margin beyond the frame, then fasten it down with staples.

To keep gophers and other critters from burrowing into the bed, I covered the bottom with screen, or, as the hardware-store people call it hardware cloth.  Made of galvanized steel wire, the size I used had quarter-inch mesh and came in a four-foot wide roll.  This is an expensive item -- I paid around $5 a foot for it, and you need 4 and a half feet for each box.  But I think you'll regret it later if you do without.

Leaving an inch or so of overlap on each side, staple the hardware cloth to the frame on top of the weed-block fabric.  If you bought it in a long roll, as I did, cut it to length using tin snips.



Fold over the excess fabric and hardware cloth and staple them to the sides.  Assembly is finished!
This "see-through" view shows how the fabric was overlapped in the middle:



You can stop here.  I decided to stain the wood with a brown transparent wood stain to even-out the color, especially of the raw wood at the ends of the corner posts where they were sawed.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As it did for my wife, it took me a couple of tries to get going with this book.

That said, it becomes a cracking good story once one gets involved with it.

I was sometimes trouble by what seemed like shifts between first and third person narrative. It feels like a literary trick to me - a way to have the intimacy with the character that first person provides, with the omniscience of third person when convenient for the author. Maybe that's just me, though.

Recommended.

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