Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Moon transits the Earth as seen by EPOXI

Very cool - actual photo's pulled together showing the earth and moon spinning. According to BAB, this is the only time anyone's seen the earth and moon move together like this.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Solar Oven

We got another toy in the mail yesterday. Meet, the hybrid Solar Oven:
It's considered a hybrid because it can plug in (in case you lose the sun and need to finish cooking your stuff). When I first got this set up, I plugged it in (you're supposed to) and let the oven heat up to season it. The cooking area got up to 270 degrees with it plugged in - it was a cloudy morning.

Here's what it looks like all set up.

The oven comes with some special pots - they're black so they absorb the heat better.
We're experimenting with cooking some chicken - barbecue in one, and Parmesan and butter in the other.
I'm not sure if you can see this, but the oven, with just the solar part, has reached 250 degrees.

We heated up a children's TV dinner straight from the freezer - and it got hot!


I forgot to update my list, but I've been in a bit of a non-fiction kick lately.

I read Infidel by Ayann Hirsi Ali. Wow. What an incredible story. She had over come SO much. I'm so glad I was born in the US. Really good read.

Next I had to get my fill of trash reading. Kusiel's Mercy by Jaquiline Carey is the sixth novel she's written in this "universe" and I've enjoyed each book. This one is no different. Surprising. Most epic book series tend to get stale. She's done a great job keeping it up. I think then next three books will be written from Melisande's point of view and deel greatly with the Unseen Guild. I think we're going to see her become a much more simpathetic character that will ultimately bring Phedre' and her son into the fold to "save" her. We'll see.

I just finished The Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. I love reading her stuff because she folds in pop culture references that only a true Gen X'er can apreciate. I also like that she writes about her atheism, too. She's a history nerd and it's fun to see how nerdy she gets - and really revels in her nerdyness.

Currently I'm reading Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock is the Supersize me guy who does a great TV show called 30 days. He's got a movie coming out by the same name as the book. The first chapter deals with a brief history of Islam and how it's being perverted and by whom. It also goes into the history of Osama. I like that Spurlock mentions in the book that my generation has been geared to fear - something. During the cold war, it was nuclear war and the Russians. Now its the Terrorists. I like that he's putting a face to something that we're being trained to fear. Makes it not so scarry.

You have to understand, I lived briefly in Turkey and saw a secular Islamic state up close and personal. It worked and the women of Turkey (granted, I ran with the upperclass when we lived there) were educated and liberated. After reading Infidel, I began to really dislike the Muslim faith because of how the author really has been terrorized for most of her life. But I think back to good friends from Turkey and former co-workers here in the US and know that just like Christianity, Muslims have their fundy's too. I know this, but it's so hard to separate it out.

I'm worried for Turkey right now. The Parliment is run by Islamic fundamentalists, and recently there was a movement by secular supporters to bring the current government ousted because they were directly violating the church/state separation clauses in their charter (or whatever). The fundies in turn jailed the secularists and are trying them for treason because they were trying to overthrow the government. I'm afraid what's going to happen is that the generals are going to step in and the country is going to descend into turmoil. I have a fondness for Turkey and their people. I don't want to see it destabilize.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I'm answering a comment made from an Aussie reader.

Yes, we know about solar here in the US, but it's not widely used. I have a unique situation as I have a solar panel on the top of my house - which is used to heat our water.

I also have a laundry sink, but it's terribly small.

But your comment reminded me of our sink out in the garage - we rarely use it. This would be perfect for icing down the beer. I also like the idea of having an outdoor burner, but need to figure out how I can get that done.



I have outfitted my CSM with my 72 needle cylinder and it's knitting quite well. It's not terribly happy with the large needles, so I went back to the original needles I had.

Size 13 mens
50 rows 1 x 1 rib
10 rows pre-heel
78 rows foot

Then I have this Men's 10.5 - need to make the match tonight:

leg: 50 rows 1x1 rib
pre-heel: 10 rows
foot: 68 rows

I have been adjusting the tension on the fly. The ribbing I tend to have about three thread showing, then adjust the tension down to one thread in the pre-heel/foot area. I'm trying to keep that area from flaring out too much.

I do love the mock fair-isle. I think it makes a pretty impressive sock.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I've become one of "those" people - Part Two

Here's a photo of the beer brew kit I bought ($40). Its supposed to taste like Shiner Bock (my all time favorite beer).
Here's what's in the box:
Next I have to boil all that stuff for an hour and I have to make 5 gallons. I went back to Foremans to buy a big pot, but I'm worried about it because it doesn't fit on my burners. Next to the black pot is one that I own. I could make a smaller concentrated 2 gallon batch and add water to the mix to make it 5 gallons.
The other problem I have is that the black pot doesn't fit in my sink. A real problem because right after you boil the mix for an hour, you have to cool it down FAST.

Ugh. Until I can visualize all this, I'm not going to boil a darn thing. I think I need to read up more. Honestly, this looks like a simple process with the kit. It also takes 30 days.

We need to also get some good beer bottles. So I'll have to buy some Sam Adam's bottles .

I've become one of "those" people - Part One

My latest foray into trying to do things from scratch (noodles, bread) is now bleeding over into homemade beer.

J & I always had a small distain for people who would come up to you and say, "try my homemade beer - it's much better than the stuff you can buy at the store." Invariably, it's not as good as they push it.

But I recently tried making my own ginger ale and it worked. It did get a little stinky after a while, but I now know it's because I had some bad bacteria in the bottle.

The friend who turned me on to making the ginger ale mentioned that she made some root beer and that the extract can be found at Foreman's General Store in Colleyville. I visited their website and found out that they have lots of home brewing tools. So, last weekend, J & I ran over and spoke to George Foreman - the guy in charge - and thought about it. We bought a kit. Here's the hardware kit (it was around $50).This is the primary fermentor.

It has a hole in the bottom for a spigot (which comes with the kit).
The lid has a hole that will allow the CO2 to bleed out while it's fermenting in the secondary container (I think).
There are more things that came in the kit (bottle capper, hydrometer, thermometer). I'll post photos of those as I use them.

J's new toy

I've been encouraging J to get a hobby and he'd had a "man crush" on strumsticks. He finally pulled the trigger and bought one:

We knew that when the strumstick arrived that M would want to play with it. It's too expensive for this to become a kid toy, so J bought a cheaper version. Here's the low end strum stick - basically the same thing J has but with a can at the end of the stick.

M was beyond thrilled. She's already announced that she's going to learn the Spongebob theme and play it at the school talent show.

Speaking of M. She went to her first day of Jump Rope Camp. She got her own jump rope and came back incredibly happy. She can't jump an individual rope very well and liked jumping the larger ropes. The class was made of ALL girls (surprise) and she had a great time.

The Infamous Double Slit Experiment

I knew from college physics that electrons travel in waves, but this is really a great video talking about the quantum conundrum of how when you look at the electron, it's a discrete location when you look at it, but it's potential acts like it's all over.

J calls this physics porn. It still blows my mind. Who needs Jesus for signs and wonders when you have quantum physics! No offense meant to the believers out there - just explaining where I get my "whoa, that's deep" moments.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Neighborhood Bully

The house next door to us has had three and a half different families in it over the course of the four years that we've lived here. It was initially rented, then the people who owned it moved back in. They sold it to a family who renovated it, never moved in, and put it back up on the market (hence the half). It finally sold about two months ago to a bachelor with two young teenage boys who visit on various weekends.

I baked some cookies to welcome them to the neighborhood and it seemed like they were going to be nice enough neighbors.

But then. . .

On morning when we were hanging clothes out on the clothes line, I heard something hit the side of my house. It was an arrow. The kids next door were playing with their bows and the arrow misfired - into the side of my house.

I was pretty pissed. I picked up the arrow and went over - Dad was asleep. I insisted they wake him up. Dad just looked at the boys and told them they were being irresponsible with the WAY they were using the bow. That may be, but my kid plays outside and there is a horse trail behind us. I basically told him that I wasn't happy and I trusted him to fix this.

Not bad, right? (C.O, my super cool neighbor said she would have called the cops)

The other problem I have been having with him is that he has been watering the hell out of his lawn. He can water his lawn, he's just been doing it in the heat of the day. We're in a drought and the city has an ordinance in place that we're not to water the lawns between 10 am to 6 pm. He doesn't just water his lawn, he drowns it - for hours. Really. He waters the street in front of his home - for hours. Turned on the water and left - I finally just turned it off - he wasn't home. Another time when he left the sprinkler on all day, I went over to ask him to turn it off and he wasn't home - his oldest son was. I politely asked him to the water off because it had been going all day long. He was nice and turned them off.

Then there's the blaring music. He plays it so loud. I'm just glad we're sunk into the ground. It's really loud - every night. (C.O. also tells me I need to call the cops)

New Neighbor turned the sprinkler on today around 10 am. As I write this at 8 pm, the sprinkler is still going. It's his "fuck you" to me. I went over and asked him to turn off his sprinkler - That was at 1 pm - the sprinkler had been going for three hours.

Why should I care, right? Well, I care because the neighborhood is on a communal well. We all pay the same rate for the water - it's not metered. We've run out of water the first two summers we lived here (last summer was unseasonably cool). It sucks when we run out of water. No showers until late in the afternoon. It's always on days when the temp goes over 100 degrees.

Well, New Neighbor must have been waiting for me. He came out and told me that he was tired of me coming over and telling him to stop watering his lawn. (mind you, I've never talked to him about this - we've just been dancing) I told him that even though we're on a well, we're still bound by city ordinance. He basically told me that he was going to water his lawn and I wasn't going to stop him. I told him that he had never been in the house when we ran out of water and that he really needed to consider that the well was communal. He told me that he thought we were going to be "cool" neighbors. He's never over at our house bugging us. I asked him what have we done to bug him. No answer. He then proceeded to tell me to not come to his house ever again. I said fine and left.

I was really upset about this. I don't know why, but he made me cry. I really was trying to be a good neighbor asking him to be considerate of his neighbors.

The ironic part in all this was J told me just before I went over there that the likely outcome was going to be New Neighbor telling me that I couldn't tell him what to do.

I don't like conflict, and this episode really has upset me. I don't like that my neighbor is mad at me - but I've been mad at him for quite some time. I've been obsessing about how I could get back into my New Neighbor's good graces. Should I bake a bread and send a note apologizing?

Apologize for what? I did nothing wrong. What really bugs me about these types of guys is that they feel the rules don't apply to them. Everyone else in the neighborhood complies with these rules because it keeps water cheap and everyone generally are good neighbors to each other.

So, I guess the next time he does something ass-holy, I'll have to call the cops. I hate that, but bottom line, the guy is just a big bully. There was no reason for him to treat me the way he did today. None whatsoever. I just hate not being able to solve my own problems.

The nice thing I've learned is how nice it is to have great friends. C.O. found out from J what happened. She's a member of the water board. She's going to start step one in the "don't use water irresponsibly" rules. As J said, C is going to drink his milkshake.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wisdom of a six year old

M just announced that if she had $4, she'd buy a snow cone and some juice.

What would you buy?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Second Bread Batch

Mixed up the Deli Rye recipe from the ABIFM book (J's all-time favorite bread).

Not kid friendly. M took a bite and politely declined. The bread definitely has a sourdough taste to it. I think it's the rye flour that was added.

Next time I'm going to bake this in a loaf pan to see if I can get a nice sandwich loaf out of this.

State Fair Entry

One of the categories for the Texas State Fair is for items based on an original design. Since I wrote the Captain Underpants pattern, I've thought about entering one - that and M has been pestering me for one of her very own.

So, I give you an armless/legless Captain Underpants in progress.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Digging out

Here's my green house a la' April 17, 2008
Here it is today.
BIG difference. I'm just glad we got the dead trees down. We get some truly wicked storms and I just had visions of waking up in the middle of the night with a tree sitting inside my home or the home of a neighbor.

Next step:

  1. Take the "glass" out of the green house
  2. Install chicken wire in the areas - but keep one or two slots open.
  3. Build a small chicken wire enclosure to allow the chickens to roam.
  4. Then figure out what needs to go inside. I seem to remember I need two places for them. One place to lay eggs, one place to sleep. Correct me if I'm wrong.

There's a blog of another guy who is converting an old shack into a chicken coop. He hasn't done anything on it for the past few weeks. I'll have to poke him to see if he just hasn't updated the blog.

Bread, Glorious Bread!

I took photo's of our second loaf (you pre-mix enough dough for four loaves). Here it is resting on the pizza peel.
My largest problem in the past is not having a good idea of how hot/cold my oven runs. As it stands, it runs a little cool.
Look at that beautiful crust . . .
But what does the bread look like?Not the dense mess I was making before! This is really just wonderful stuff. The crust is so nice and chewy and the inside is so nice and springy.

The bread is about the size you would get at a restaurant. The website for the book mentions that if you go larger, the crust will be very dark and the center will be very difficult to cook and it will be doughy.

So, the next time you invite us to dinner, you just might get a nice loaf of bread.

Goal: Find a great sandwich bread recipe. There's one in the book. I'll have to try it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Best Bread EVER!




I just made the best bread I've ever made in my life.

I did it!

The crust was every bit as good as any kind of boutique bakery bread I've ever bought. I didn't have to knead the bread, either. The crust was really chewy and the middle was soft. It wasn't the thick dense bread you're used to getting when you make homemade bread.


J & M were really impressed and the loaf did not stick around for very long. If you have ever wanted to make that type of bread at home, you must buy that book.

I didn't take a photo because we were just too excited to eat it! I'll get a photo of the next one.

I'll have to try to make sandwich rolls or a baguette next with the wet dough still left in my fridge.


I also just bought a book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. I've tried making home baked bread, but I have had difficulty with the bread rising.

Now I know why: I was using hot water on the yeast when I should have been using lukewarm water instead (100 degrees F). I'm currently making my first loaf with this new technique. The dough rose better than it's ever risen before. As soon as I have it baked, I'll have to report on how well it did. So far, it's been an easy process.

Green Tip

We're trying to be a little more Green in our day to day lives.

J just bought a solar slow cooker oven. We find ourselves using the heck out of our crockpot. If we can do the same with the solar slow cooker, then why shouldn't we?

I also noticed how many paper towels I use while cooking - just to keep my hands clean. So the last time we went to IKEA, I bought a TON of dishcloths. I have them now stacked right underneath the paper towel roll to remind myself to reach for one of those instead. The towels also dry very quickly on the clothes line, so it's working out.

Drying clothes on the clothes line is actually working out better for me. J washes the clothes and used to dry them in the dryer - it was my job to fold them and help him put the clothes away. Seeing that I'd rather knit than fold clothes, I'd let the clothes pile up until I couldn't stand the pile any longer. The clothes line forces us to get the clothes put away then and there. We also don't wait so long to start doing the laundry because it takes some time to dry them now.
Hopefully we can keep this up.


We had a good time at a friend's fourth of July party. I was especially proud of M. Our friend had a toss game and made a big production of how someone could win a medal. One of the kids won the medal.

"You are the Fourth of July Medal Winner!" he'd say with much a booming voice while placing the medal around the kids neck.

M was the second one to get the medal. She then proceeded to help all the other kids win the medals. She'd march them over to our friend and excitedly say, "T, so-and-so just won a medal!" Then T would do his deal and the kids were really, really happy.

J asked me if M was being a game show hostess. In a way, I guess she was. I was just very proud that she made sure ALL the kids got one - even the little ones.

Makes a momma proud!

Oh, and I forgot how much I LOVE fireworks! They are SO cool. Grapevine certainly didn't have enough salutes - those are my favorites!

FO-KK's Beret

Made a cute hat for MY cousin who lives in Colorado.

Pattern: Buttercup Beret by Sweet Sassafrass (free!)

Yarn: Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran - Chocolate (lovely yarn - perfect for hats)

Thoughts: Love the yarn. It's superwash and isn't scratchy at all. It would have been nice to have the pattern written so you were knitting it inside out - I didn't like all the purling necessary for a hat in the round. I do think it's a sweet little hat. Great pattern - only found one error on the last line.

CSM Fixed

Okay. I fixed the problem. It was the tappet snagging on the dings of the dials.

FWIW, when my ribber was not "working" (i.e., I didn't know what the hell I was doing), the ribber needles would tilt for two reasons:

  1. Out of timing - The needles weren't knitting sequentially and the cylinder needle in front of the ribber needle would pull down on the yarn. The loop would put tension on the ribber needle - thus making the needles want to tilt. I actually have a photo to show that:
  2. The other issue is that I may not have had the tappet plate snug with the ribber dial - thus allowing the needles room to tilt. I know this is something that a lot of people told me to look for, but I don't think that was my problem. Once I fixed the timing, the problem went away.

Anyway. When the ribber got stuck, I must have banged on the crank and in so doing, I damaged the dials.

I know there are people out there that restore CSM's - but they charge about as much as I paid for the machine (For inquiring minds: $650 - but that doesn't include the cost of new needles, stand, heel forks, etc. . .). Plus, I tend to approach things in the manner that I want to understand why things don't work so I can try to avoid doing it again. I'm a bit stubborn and sometimes need to learn the hard way to "not turn the crank when it's difficult to turn". I must admit that I did use a little brute strength on the machine when the ribber got stuck - I couldn't see why it wouldn't move, so if I just tapped it a bit to see where it was stuck. . .

Goodness I'm glad we have Internet groups. The various yahoo sockmachine groups have been really a great resource - but an even greater resource has been to just meet up with other CSM'ers. I know I've learned something new every time I've made it to a meet up.

Back to how I fixed my problem. First off, I needed to get rid of the divot in the nose of the tappet plate. The damage was relatively deep, so I dug out my handy Dremel tool and sanded down the end. Whoa buddy! A little dab will do you with the Dremel - I forgot how powerful those suckers are.

The Dremel was great on the tappet plate, but I felt that it was a little too much for the dials. So I brought out a simple medium grit sand paper - worked like a charm. I sanded both dials down, washed them and the tappet in the sink with soapy water and used a toothbrush to get the grit out of the dial slots. Re-greased everything with 3-in-1 oil and fit each dial with the ribber attachment to see if I got the same drag as I was getting before.

No. The drag is now gone and I'm feeling fairly handy right now! :)

See how shiny the ribber dial looks now? That's also a photo of the sand paper I used. It's not course at all.

I'm so cocky at this point that I reconfigure my machine to the 72 cylinder (I want to make a couple of men's socks). The ribber works great. Now I just have to pay attention to when I'm doing the heel. Don't you just hate when you go to turn the crank only to have all your work drop off before your eyes! This is a rookie mistake and I think I was just tired of fussing with the machine for the day.

But I got it working again! Whoot!

Oh, and on the pin, I just put it in to a vice and closed it to straighten out the pin. It's not perfect, but it doesn't mess with the timing any more.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

CSM Troubleshooting & Questions

This is a photo of the bottom of my Tappet plate. Anyone know what the A slot is supposed to be for?

I did a simple test with the ribber - I twirled it without needles - and it would snag. So I swapped out my dial for a different one - thinking that I had a problem with either the dial or the tappet plate.

I think I have a problem with both.

Looking at the tappet plate and feeling for any bumps, this is what I found (look at the tip)

There's some damage on the edge. When I put the 36 slot dial back and turned it around, I found a ding in the area where it snags - and guess what - it lines up with the damage on the tappet plate.
Now I decided to look at my 30 slot dial. WOW! Lots of dings in the same general area.
So, my question is would I be able to save these parts by filing down the areas so the dial/tappet spin smoothly or should I just invest in new parts? Of course I'm leaning towards filing the damage down.
Another question I have is I've noticed the tappet pin is bent. Would this have any effect on the performance of my ribber?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ribber - again

Well, travelling with my CSM machine is a bit difficult. After I made the ribbed sock for me, I broke down the machine and haven't been able to get my ribber to work again.

I tried snugging the plates together because the ribber needles were tilting again - and I had the timing right.

Now I find that the 30 slot ribber dial isn't turning smoothly - I haven't figured out if my tappet plate is warped or if it's the ribber dial. I noticed that whenever my ribber screws up, it screws up consistently in the same location. I took the ribber off and tried spinning it - lo' and behold, I have a drag somewhere.

I've learned that anything from knitting with my CSM, any kind of drag will screw up your knitting.

Fortunately I have the 36 slot ribber dial. I'll put it on the ribber and see if I have the same problem. If I do, then I'm going to say I have a problem with my tappet plate. If the 36 slot dial turns smoothly, then I have a problem with my 30 slot dial.

Slowly but surely I am figuring it out. I did have someone comment on a previous post that she felt lucky because she bought a machine from Pat Fly. I have to agree with her (and am a bit jealous that she thinks using her ribber is easier than a hung hem sock); BUT, I have to say the engineer in me is really enjoying stumbling through trying to figure the machine out.

Jacquie Grant may be coming to the D/FW area, but I'll be out of town in Seattle when she's here. From what I hear, she's a true wizard when it comes to fixing any AK machine. I'm a little on the fence regarding sending my machine to her when she comes to town. On one hand, this is a great opportunity, on the other, I won't be around to learn. Jacquie goes to all the CSM conventions - I think I'll wait and keep on stumbling through getting my machine up and running smoothly on my own.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Okay. I have been making a case for people who support the importance of the separation between Church and State to vote for Senator Obama for president. The main argument is that McCain has already said he'd vote a Scalia type to the SCOTUS.

But Senator Obama does me NO favors by announcing that he is planning on EXPANDING Bush's faith based programs.

This is a terrible idea. I'm not a fan of the faith based programs and I know that it initially sounds like I'm a real meanie. Why wouldn't I want to support these programs?

Well, first off, who decides who gets tax payers money? The government? Okay. Then which religion will get the money? How would you feel if the Scientologists qualify for federal aid? You know the Polygamist Cult in Texas gets funding from the federal government. They bid on Federal contracts and pay their people next to nothing.

There's a reason why the SCOTUS use a "lemon test". Neutrality is the most fair position the government can take.

The whole faith based program raises so many red flags. In 2002, the Texas Freedom Network wrote a great report regarding the status of faith based programs. They found:

  • Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has not served the faith community at
    large, but has instead provided a refuge for facilities with a history of regulatory
    violations, a theological objection to state oversight and a higher rate of abuse and
  • Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has endangered people in need and
    lowered standards of client health, safety and quality of care in Texas.
  • Faith-based deregulation has allowed physical diseases to go medically untreated.
    Regulatory changes have resulted in preferential treatment of faith-based providers in
    government contracting opportunities.
  • Taxpayer funds have been co-mingled with church funds and spent on overtly religious
  • Clients have been ordered by the courts to attend unlicensed faith-based providers.

If you have the time, it's a good read. I think it's just tragic what some of these people do in the name of religion.

I've decided to write a letter to Senator Obama:

Honorable Senator Obama:

I have been defending you to many of my secular friends as the presidential candidate to vote for because you would better defend the wall of separation between Church and State.


Your recent announcement that you plan on expanding Bush's faith based programs made me feel angry and betrayed. The faith based programs, on the face, look like they may solve many societal ills. There is no data to back it up. This announcement makes it look like you are pandering to the religious. But there is a large sector of freethinkers who pay taxes and are citizens. Our tax money should not go towards faith based programs. These programs discriminate - it's that simple. I don't want my tax money going to an organization that won't hire based on their religious views. It's tax money paid by ALL Americans.

As you campaign, I understand you need to combat the Right. Don't forget about your secular constituency, please.