Saturday, February 12, 2011

Airships over UConn?!!

Let's just pretend, first of all, that I haven't been on a 21-month hiaitus from my presence here and skip right to the present day. Yes, I like that idea a lot. It avoids a lot of awkward questions which may or may not be answered in the next few posts anyway.

What I need to share with you today is airships. You know, blimps, zeppelins, dirigibles, rubber cows, lighter-than-air... that sort of thing! In particular, I re-discovered an old photo in my collection of airship-related ephemera that just begs to see the light of day.

I've been holding onto this photo now since I was an upperclassman in high school exploring my options toward a college education. Having been an airship and lighter-than-air enthusuast most of my life, I was stunned, amazed, astounded, and utterly entranced to find this photo of a crudely designed and built airship on the back of the pamphlet I'd received from the University of Connecticut's School of Engineering! "Do you mean to tell me, Mr Dean of the School of Engineering, sir, that if I go to UConn, you'll let ME design, build, and fly my own crudely designed and built airship, too?!!" Oh, I couldn't wait to hear back from the admissions office, because as it turns out, UConn back in the day was considered by my folks to be the low-cost alternative to such schools as RIT and WPI.

In the end, UConn is exactly where I chose to go, but due to a conspiracy involving the School of Engineering's insistence on a new project being tried every year, and my own crappy grades forcing me to reconsider something a little more my speed (rocks), I was never to fly my own airship.

So why do I bring all this up? It's not like I am leaping out of my skin to tell you I flunked out of the School of Engineering (oops, there goes my internal monologue again), but what I really want to know is who are these guys who got to participate in what would've been my dream thesis?!! Do they read poorly written blogs? Do they check out shamelessly self-promoting accounts? I sure hope so, because I'm really hoping somebody out there can tell me about that project! It was way cool!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mini-Journal: Fan Blade Commission (Pt. 1)

Last summer, I stumbled into some commission work making ceiling fan blades for a company in New York City. It was a pretty nice bit of work to pick up, and it helped us buy our first tankful of heating oil for the cooler weather. Unfortunately, the economy soon turned crappy, and I had to reconcile myself to the fact that no more fan blade work was forthcoming.

CT Wood Group Hardwood Outlet - My Kind of Lumber Shop!
Connecticut Wood Group Hardwood Outlet - my favorite lumber shop!

Come March of this year however, I decided to place a call to the company and see how things were going. As luck would have it, I was told I've got good timing! Woo hoo!! I was asked if I could make up another ten sets of fan blades for them in mahogany. It's a small order, relatively speaking, but everything helps, right?

No sooner than I had my materials for making up the ten sets of blades, and I received a new purchase order for more blades. I thought at first that the purchasing manager there had sent me a duplicate P.O., but when I looked more closely at it, I realized that they were asking me for another 46 sets of blades!!!

Smile Moon Woodworks: Sighting Down the Mahogany
Sighting down a piece of mahogany to make sure it's straight

Well, I'm currently wrapping up the smaller order of ten sets of blades, but I decided to head up to my favorite lumber yard and grab the material for the next order. It helps for wood to acclimate itself to the temperature and humidity in the workshop prior to working with it, to prevent warping and cupping when resawing it to the thinness required by this kind of work.

Smile Moon Woodworks: Driving My Wood Home
Ever seen $1000 worth of lumber? Look behind me!

I now have about $1000 worth of mahogany, quarter-sawn white oak, maple, and lacewood sitting on my shop's floor waiting for me to finish up the current work so I can dive into the next batch. Well, not all of it. The maple and lacewood I picked up for projects I haven't designed yet. I figure the inspiration will jump out at me if I look at the lacewood long enough. It'll probably make some very pretty box tops!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mrs SmileMoon

This past week was an adventure at our house. Most weeks are an adventure at our house, with all these kids tearing the place up, but this past week stands out for me, and it's taken this long for me to wrap my hands around it sufficiently to talk about it.

Our First Apple Blossoms
Our first apple blossoms

Last Tuesday, the school board in town decided to close down all the schools in our hometown of East Haddam, CT, due to a swine flu scare and the fact that two of our local students had been with a family that had just returned from a trip to Mexico and were ill. The students themselves weren't ill, but the school decided that if there was going to be any kind of too-strong reaction, that it was better to err on the side of caution. So, they closed the schools for Wednesday and Thursday.

All day Wednesday, our 16-year-old daughter had a case of the squits, and so was pretty much confined to quarters. At the end of the day, however, she made it known that she wanted to go out with friends. She was told that wasn't a good idea since she hadn't felt well all day and hadn't even eaten anything. As Mrs SmileMoon and I were upstairs putting the little ones to bed, she snuck out of the house. Long story short, she finally sauntered back home at 3:30 the following afternoon, on Mrs SmileMoon's birthday. An hour-long heated discussion that night didn't resolve much, unfortunately.

Then our 11-year old son woke up at 11:30 that same night and got ill all over his bed, the bedroom floor, the hallway, the bathroom floor, and - what was left - in the toilet. Ugh. Happy birthday, Mrs SmileMoon. Poor thing.

Friday was surprisingly non-eventful, relatively speaking.

Saturday we got our new pup for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program we're part of. I'm going to co-raise him with my lovely young bride this time. He's a bit older than the usual ones we've gotten (usually 6 to 8 weeks old) - apparently, he'd had some trouble with his previous raiser (actually we haven't found anything exceedingly horrible with him yet, but I'll write more about him later) so we're taking over his training til he gets to be "of age".

Finally, on Sunday morning, Mrs SmileMoon took me for a little stroll through the grounds of the Smilemoon estate and showed me that one of our apple trees is in bloom. This marks the first time in about 7 years that any of our apple trees have had any blossoms on them. They're late bloomers, apparently - kinda like yours truly!

Brunch with Mrs SmileMoon
Mrs SmileMoon enjoying a breather between courses at this weekend's brunch

Afterward, I took Mrs SmileMoon out for a breakfast brunch at Waters Edge Resort in Westbrook, CT for a make-up birthday brunch. The spread was incredible, and well worth what we paid for the privilege of enjoying the scenery along Long Island Sound on a fog-enshrouded Sunday. It was beautiful spread; delicious food; impeccably prepared; and delightfully presented. Who could ask for more? Needless to say, by the time we were done, we just about had to be rolled out, and neither of us was hungry for anything the whole rest of the day. Now THAT was something to make up for the rest of the week.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yoyos and a Case of the Nerves

Aye, such a weekend! I'm writing this right now from the Z Games Yo-Yo competition in Northampton, Massachusetts, where my two oldest boys are competing against some the best in the southern New England area. They've both attended similar competitions two times before, and I'd have to say they're fairly well seasoned at this by now.

At this point in the proceedings, the younger of my two boys has already competed at the junior level and scored a 46 out of 50 points - his best effort yet in this event. I think he'll be encouraged to attempt something a little more challenging at the next one. I hope so! He's nearly ready!

My older son had some trouble being convinced to compete at all, and I'm sad to report that I had to pull rank on him to get him to agree to it today. Not that he wasn't interested in being here - on the contrary, his intent was to be here, but simply as an observer. I had to pull him aside the other day and explain why it wasn't fair to expect that I'd take 3-1/2 hours of drive time plus how ever many hours it was going to be at the event out of my weekend for him to socialize with all the yoyoing folks he communicates with on the regular basis through Facebook and his yoyo forums.

I think he remained somewhat unconvinced about working through his nerves, though, until I pointed out to him that I had a perfectly valid frame of reference from my youth, in that I used to be stricken with a paralyzing fear prior to performances of any sort, and at far worse levels than anything I'd ever seen him go through. To be fair, the performances that used to bother my nerves were as a member of the school band getting up in front of moms and dads who were forced to sit in the hot and stuffy gymnatorium listening to us tune up for an hour and a half, whereas he was anticipating having to get up in front of a gathering of his peers to compete at a level that he himself may not feel completely and adequately prepared for - especially when one counts among his competitors several regional champions,a national champion, and a couple of his yoyoing idols. Yikes! While his method for dealing with the stress has been to attempt competing at a lower level than his ability (or as in this weekend's case, to attempt not competing at all), my method was barfing all over the place a couple times before showtime.

Hmm, perhaps I reacted a bit too strongly to a lesser threat than he does. Should I maybe consider giving him a break? Nah... If I had, we wouldn't be here today.

Update: It turns out my oldest boy had a decent run of it today. Not a championship performance, but a good time. In the end, he told me he felt a lot less nervous about being up there on stage performing and being judged. That's only going to help him...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The $50 Sock

It all started when I noticed that the washing machine was sitting idle last Sunday evening with a tub that was filled with a king size set of sheets, a whole bunch of laundry besides, AND a pillow. The sitting idle wouldn't have been so very awful if it weren't for the fact that they were completely submerged in lukewarm rinse-water, as well. I knew my weekend was not going to end on a high note.

I figured that the washing machine may have shut itself down due to an imbalanced load (not to mention a load that looked far to heavy for our basic residential unit), so I removed the pillow and attempted to restart it. Nothing but a loud hum coming from some indeterminate location. Crap.

I bailed a few gallons of water from the tub and again attempted to restart the machine. Again with the same loud hum from some mysterious location in the depths of the machine. I didn't like where this was going, but I knew what had to be done - I pulled out my least favorite (but most useful) book, the one about fixing your own appliances.

That book has helped me out of many a jam involving the self-same washing machine, its errant mate the dryer, and my gas stove, as well. I haven't had to deal with the refrigerators or the freezer chest yet (knock wood), but I'm sure that book'll help me figure them out.

I referred to the section at the top of the clothes washer section's first page: "Washer won't start". I hate starting at that one, because the very first suggestion is "Is the washing machine plugged in?" and I always have to smack my head and exclaim "Now, why the heck did I not think of that?!" Then I start in with the real fun stuff. I went through checking the electrical connections throughout, then tested the resistance on the timer and the timer motor, and checked for bubbles in the water level tube.

Then I fast forwarded to where I had a very bad feeling the problem really lay. I followed the instructions in the book about checking the continuity of circuits between the various leads going into the motor, and discovered that there was one pair of leads that didn't seem quite right. "Aha!" thought I, "they're a great band from Norway who had that cool hit song from 1985 with the really awesomely artsy pencil-drawn video!" Then I remembered that I was supposed to be solving this motor mystery.

I concluded that the motor was likely burned out from the heavy load, so I looked up new motors on line. Hoo boy - the three or four places I found dealing with this kind of motor wanted anywhere from $120 to $145 for a new one. Then I remembered to try eBay, and found a used one for $25 (plus $25 for shipping). I couldn't justify dropping a new motor into a 15-year old machine (let alone a machine that's seen us through two adults' and six kids' worth of laundry day in and day out for all that time), so I bought the eBay motor.

When the new-used motor arrived Thursday, I eagerly got into the job of replacing the old one with this one. Of course, that meant dismantling the washing machine again (but by now I could do it blindfolded), then put everything back together again with the new-used motor. I hit the start button with high hopes, only to be met by that same frustrating hum again. I used a few words I'll not repeat in a family-friendly account of the proceedings, then took to the book again.

Among the many pages in the book dealing with washing machines, I finally found a small little paragraph going through the best steps by which to perform troubleshooting of this nature, and just before checking the motor itself was something about checking the pump. Ohhh, the pump. That part that would normally be able to pull the water out of the tub of the washer when you're otherwise hearing the electric hum of the motor along with it.


So I pulled the plastic pump off the new-used motor (which didn't seem to quite fit right either), and peeked inside. And that's where I discovered The $50 Sock.

It's the attack of The $50 Sock

After wrestling for another 20 minutes trying to pull the stinking sock out of the pump because it was wrapped entirely around the impeller (and you can't take the pump apart because it's a solid body unit), I finally got the sock out, put the pump back on the washing machine (after putting the old motor back on because there probably wasn't anything wrong with it after all - and when confronted with a choice between two evils, one should always go with the evil they're more familiar with anyway), and hit the start button again.

Yay! This time there was success (and much rejoicing)! So now we can do the laundry again, which when I spell it out and look at it like this, isn't really all that exciting. And of course there's the extra spare motor I've got sitting in a box out in the garage. But hey, it was something to do, right...?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hot Date Night and the Arrow of Light!

Long time, no see!

Yeah, it's been crazy busy here at SmileMoon Labs as well as at Chez SmileMoon! Just this past week saw us with our oldest home from school for spring break and me completing a small project for my sons' Cub Scout organization. It was an Arrow of Light display for the crossing over ceremony (Webelos to Boy Scouts) and represents the only badge the scouts are allowed to keep from their Cub Scout days as they progress up the ranks of Boy Scouts.

Arrow of Light Display

The finished piece is made from a glued up plank of walnut (42" by 18") for the face of the display (salvaged from award plaques found in a closed down industrial facility) and poplar (purchased specifically for the project) to make the lightbox (40" by 17" by 9"). There's a fluorescent light fixture inside the lightbox, and tapered holes drilled into the top of it for the ceremonial candles. The carving of the design on the face was done freehand with a router from scaled measurements made from the Arrow of Light badge.

The piece was shown at the Arrow of Light ceremony on March 19th and was well received by the leaders and other parents. Sadly, it's been put in storage until next year's ceremony. On the bright side, I've still got one more son in Cub Scouts and one more who may join in the fall, so I'll still get to see the display pulled out and used a few more times.

Date Night

Mrs SmileMoon and I went out this weekend for a bit of a date night at the local watering hole. Neither of us is a huge party animal, and the venue we selected was unusually quiet for a Saturday night, so this suited us perfectly. While we were relaxing with our first Blue Moons, my lovely young bride took a pen out of her purse, and proceeded to set up a game of hangman on her placemat. "Hee hee," thought I! "This should be no problem!" Well, I went down in flames in the first match and she guessed the phrase I'd set up for her with only two wrong guesses.

Before long, the phrases took on a pattern of thought involving many of our pet phrases and (very) brief descriptions of events in our relationship. Phrases like "mushroom swiss burger" (her meal on our first date - unpretentious and showing me she was not afraid to be sloppy in my presence), "skirt of the month" (a fictitious club thought up to celebrate the limited wardrobe of one of our former neighbors), and "giant bandaid" (this would take too long to explain and probably wouldn't be funny to anyone but us, but she still gets tears in her eyes laughing about it 20 years after the fact) were among many of the choices we had to figure out for each other before our greasy comfort food was served.

This was such a funny way to bring up events that we've laughed at in the past, I felt it would be fun to share it as an idea, especially if, like us, you've got a few years invested in your relationship and have more to laugh about than not.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Listing - Gunstock Wine Bottle Holder

Smile Moon Woodworks - Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder
Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder

While working on trying to complete some pillboxes that seem to be taking for just about ever, a friend of mine asked if he could 'borrow' my bandsaw to cut up some walnut he had on hand so he could replace the gunstock on his old 1908 Ithaca 12-gauge side-by-side shotgun. He showed me the original wood from the gun, and its 100-plus years of wear were abundantly in evidence. Sections of wood were missing, and bolts were being used to hold some of it together - not at all a safe condition for actually wanting to use the gun.

He traced the general shape onto his walnut and proceeded to coax the block into shape. The woodblock itself was almost twice as thick as what he needed to complete his gunstock, and since the remainder was too thin to make another gunstock, I inherited it and set it aside til I could figure out what to do with it.

This weekend, inspiration finally struck me while I was waiting for the glue to dry on one of those pillboxes. Why not a bottle holder? When I laid out where the hole would have to go in a block of wood the general shape and size of a gunstock, it all just fell into place for me.

Smile Moon Woodworks - Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder
Gunstock Bottle Holder Layout

I planed down the wood to a consistent thickness, cut the angled bottom, smoothed out all the rough cuts my friend had made (while being true to the intended shape of the piece), then drilled the angled hole through the wood. Keeping the piece steady while the hole was bored out was a bit more of a challenge due to the fact that it didn't fit in my usual jig for making these bottle holders. Once all the cuts had been made, though, I sanded the piece down to a P-320 grit (very fine), used a charged cheesecloth to suck up the dust stuck in the open pores, and applied 5 or 6 coats of clear lacquer to bring out the grain structure and to protect the wood.

Smile Moon Woodworks - Walnut Gunstock Balancing Wine Bottle Holder
Closeup of Gunstock Bottle Holder, showing woodgrain

I listed the bottle holder for sale this afternoon in my Etsy shop, then updated my google base data feed to include it so it can be found in the search engines. Hope you like it!