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Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Something New to be Bad at

Sunday, March 26th, 2017


I am finally a TIG welder. The results so far are pretty hilarious.

TIG, for people who, unlike me, are not experts, is Tungsten Inert Gas welding. Without getting into a boring description, I will just say that it’s probably the coolest type of welding outside of bizarre things they only do at NASA. TIG produces very controlled, good-looking welds, and unlike MIG, it works very well on tiny objects.

I got myself a Chinese TIG machine because the company that makes them had a crazy sale, and I could not resist. I couldn’t find a good deal on a used American job, and I figured if the Chinese one blew up, there was a 75% chance I could fix it with my gnarly electronics skills.

The welder sat around for three weeks or so because I was scared of it. You can teach someone how to MIG (badly) in fifteen minutes. TIG is way more complicated, and it’s somewhat harder to do. It took me three days just to get the machine put together. I suppose it would have been more like an hour if I had stuck with it, but every time I figured some part of it out, I felt like I needed a day to rest and get over it.

When you TIG, generally, you will do three things at once. Your foot will regulate the heat you shoot into the weld. Your right hand will direct the arc from the torch to the workpiece. Your left hand will feed a rod of filler metal into the weld. This takes practice.

Yesterday I decided to use the torch without filler, just to see if I could guide the arc correctly on flat steel and make a molten puddle suitable for a weld. I was just learning to use the foot pedal and torch.

I had read that TIG produced more UV light than MIG. That’s not quite correct (of course, it’s more complicated than that), so I took pains to get advice on protective gear. I usually MIG in shorts and a T-shirt, which is a BAD BAD idea, but TIG scares me, so I asked around. I ended up wearing a helmet, safety glasses, a dress shirt, a T-shirt, gloves…and shorts. Come on. Change is hard.

When you MIG, you can weld metal that’s only fairly clean. You remove the paint and crap, and you hit it with a knot wheel to make sure there is no rust or scale on it, and you’re okay. TIG metal has to be cleaner. You have to get every trace of rust and scale off, and you have to wipe it down with a powerful solvent like acetone. If you stop welding and come back the next day, you will have to clean it again before you start. If you weld aluminum, you even have to worry about the invisible layer of oxide that forms the instant you expose new metal to the air.

I decided to use a crappy old piece of angle iron, which is a lumpy product that comes covered with scale that seems as hard as rubies. I had to use the belt grinder to get it clean.

I put all my protective junk on and started TIGing. It was so easy! I was liquifying the metal and pulling the torch along, and it was almost like I knew what I was doing. I figured I would be a TIG prodigy. Then I saw the bright light coming in under my helmet.

With all the neurotic effort to protect myself, I had still forgotten to close the helmet tightly against my chest, so reflected UV was bouncing off of my shirt. And of course, I looked right at it, which was pretty dumb.

I stopped TIGing instantly, went and sat on the couch, and whimpered a lot. I wondered if I had burned my corneas.

When you let welding UV hit your eyeballs, even if the UV is reflected off of walls and such, you may burn your eyes. It doesn’t cause permanent damage, but for a day or so, you feel like someone threw sand in your eyes. This is something I dread. I have never “flashed myself,” as the expression goes, but I’m absent-minded, so I live in fear of the day when I start to weld without closing my helmet.

If you flash yourself, you start to feel it after a few hours. I never felt anything. Maybe the safety glasses saved me. Maybe the light wasn’t that intense. Anyway, I was really happy about that.

Today I started over. I prepared two pieces of angle iron and clamped them at 90 degrees to each other so I could do a couple of fillet welds. A fillet weld unites two pieces of metal which are perpendicular to each other. You have to weld down in the corner.

I had high hopes, based on my success with the puddle, but things went very badly. When you TIG into a corner (I now know), it can be hard to get the arc to go where you need it to go. Both pieces of metal try to pull the arc toward them and away from the corner. I think. Anyhow, the arc kept moving around. When I concentrated on the arc, I forgot the pedal, and the amps dropped off to where I was just tickling the steel. When I thought about the arc and the pedal, I forgot about the filler and rammed it into the tungsten (part of the torch that makes the arc).

In about fifteen minutes of welding, I had to grind a new tip on the tungsten three times, so now I’m an expert at that.

The welds were horrific. I’ll post a photo. It looks like a string of poops from a steel mouse with dysentery.

Since creating this masterpiece, I’ve realized you don’t begin your TIG efforts with fillet welds. I’ll try a butt or lap weld next time. Or an autogenous (no filler) fillet weld. That’s supposed to be good for beginners. And I won’t use angle iron. I’ll find something better somewhere.

I quit after a short time because I wanted to see how the protective gear had worked. I think I was protected well enough, but if not, I would rather have 15 minutes’ worth of burns than an hour’s worth.

In spite of this disaster, I’m very upbeat about TIG. Once I can control all three parts of the apparatus at once, I’ll be able to do welding which is much more precise than MIG. Also, for reasons I do not understand, I can see what I’m doing much better than I do when I MIG. With MIG, all I see is a giant red blob.

I like the machine a lot. It looks very nice by Chinese standards, and everything (except me) works. I should be able to get years of use out of it.

Here’s my guess: if you want to weld fast, get stick or MIG, but if you want to weld really well, get a TIG. But get ready for a learning curve.

I’ll keep the world posted on my bad welding. I should be back at it tomorrow or Tuesday.

Every Business Needs a Manager

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Take Charge

Time to get back to writing about God.

I had a big development during the last few days. I’m always learning things about God, and when I apply them, things happen. Sometimes I learn things and then I forget them and learn other things. Then God reminds me of the things I forgot, and I apply them along with the new things. That creates a synergy, so I’m better off than before. It’s better to do several things right than one thing.

A few years back, I noticed that people in the Bible gave commands to their minds and spirits. They spoke to them as though they were servants. You can see this in the psalms. The authors will command their souls to do this or that. I believe the soul is the conscious mind. Also, the Bible says the spirits of prophets are subject to them, and Jesus sent his spirit to God when he died, implying he had authority over it.

I have started commanding my spirit when I pray. I command it to believe, to submit to God, to love, to forgive, and so on. The results are startling. I feel movement inside me. I hear groans coming from within me. It’s very strange. It’s overwhelming.

I find that it works. I have much more control over what I think about and what I feel. Since I’ve been doing it, things have gone more smoothly for me. It seems that I dont have to exert much effort in my natural strength, as long as I cover the bases in the supernatural.

That makes sense to me, because the most blessed people in the Bible were not hard workers. The Bible doesn’t say Abraham was rewarded for his hard work. He was rewarded for faith. When Moses started working hard, it was not perceived as something to admire; it was a problem. God gave him helpers to fix it. Joseph wasn’t put in charge of Egypt because of hard work. His relationship with God did it. You can find example after example in the Bible, but you will never find anyone who won God’s favor by striving.

Over and over, in the Bible, hard work is equated with servitude and defeat. It was part of Adam’s curse. Samson was cursed with hard work. Esau’s sons were cursed with servitude. So were Canaan’s descendants. Freedom from hard work is shown as a blessing. One of the nicest things God promised people was that they would live in houses other people built and have wealth other people accumulated.

Some extremely odd and unlikely things have happened to me lately. Walls I thought would never come down crumbled so fast my biggest problem was adjusting. It’s hard to stay on your feet when you get a huge blessing.

I can give you some examples. Excuse me if I repeat things I’ve mentioned before.

Several years ago, I made a deal with my dad. I would not leave Miami without him, provided he bought a place somewhere else, big enough for both of us, and moved with me. All sorts of barriers rose up. We had problems with his real estate. We had to buy my sister out of the house he owned with her and renovate it. One contractor abandoned the job. The other was very slow and inept. The city held us up for months.

A few months back, my dad claimed he had never made any promise to me. I assume he forgot, due to his memory issues. I thought I was going to have to go alone and then have to deal with his problems and responsibilities from a long distance.

I don’t want to get into all the details, but since then, one by one, his objections have disappeared. I didn’t beg him or fight with him. His mind simply changed, overnight. He decided he would move, grudgingly. Then he decided he wanted to move, provided we got his Miami house renovated first, which was completely impractical. He started saying he couldn’t stand Miami any more. Then, very suddenly, he said we could buy a new place and move before fixing the house. On his own, he started feeling bad about making me work so hard to get this done.

I found places on the Internet. I thought small, because I didn’t want to shock him with a big expense. He asked if I was sure I didn’t want to get something nicer. He said I would inherit it, and if I got married I would want a nice place. I was amazed.

We looked at places in Marion County. The one I liked best seemed remote. I was concerned he might be bored. He was also concerned. He indicated he didn’t want to be so far out. I thought we would have to start looking again. Then out of the blue, he started saying he thought it was fine. He really liked it. He wasn’t worried about driving ten minutes to get to a drugstore or having a limited number of places to go to for lunch.

The game field keeps changing so fast I can’t steady myself well enough to plan firmly.

The place I’m considering has a 25-by-36-foot workshop with a concrete slab. It has never been used. It has a big three-car garage with a beautiful epoxy floor. It has ten acres of secluded, peaceful land. The shop contains a tractor, a bush hog, and a John Deere Gator that appear unused. It’s like someone prepared the place for me, knowing I was on the way.

Can I trust the blessings I’m getting? How do you cope with the change when you go from struggling and waiting to having things handed to you? I feel like one of the four lepers who looted the empty camp of the Syrians in 2 Kings 7. They must have looked around and said, “Is this really for us?”

I don’t know if I’ll get that place, but I’m getting out. That’s a done deal.

I feel very bad for the people I know from church. Just about all of them are stuck in the fake prosperity maelstrom. The Steve Munseys and Benny Hinns and Joel Osteens are bleeding them to death. They are either leaving church in disgust or staying and getting weaker and weaker. I wish everyone could come with me.

The things Jesus said about the crooked Jews of his time are true of Christian leaders today. They don’t know the way into the kingdom, and they keep other people out. They teach people poisonous garbage in order to turn them into slaves and get them to contribute obscene amounts of money, so the preachers can spend it on the kind of trinkets known to be appealing to common white trash.

In the battle for the Pacific, the Japanese came up with smart tactics. At first, they attacked Americans on the beaches of the islands they invaded. They sent waves of soldiers to charge American guns, and they lost thousands of men. Later they let our troops land with little opposition, and they hid in huge, bomb-proof cave complexes stuffed with food and ammunition. Our casualties went way up. This is why we dropped atomic bombs on Japan. They would have used the same strategy on a gigantic scale.

The money preachers are like the Japanese. Some of the devil’s sons go after people in porn theaters and casinos, where no one is even close to God. Other sons wait in their big concrete churches, and they let us come to them. Then they attack on their own turf. They wait for us like goaltenders in hockey goals. Churches are like choke points. A lot of seekers come in the doors, and preachers pick them off by the millions. They teach them lies and keep them weak. People fail just when they think they’re finally almost home.

If this move works out for me, it will be after a long period during which I haven’t given preachers one red cent. It will happen after I spent years of “touching God’s anointed,” criticizing the prosperity preachers and accusing them of serving the devil. What would they be able to say, presented with my testimony? “Just you wait. God is going to get you any minute now!” Right. Just like he’s always one service away from giving the slaves their thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold financial windfall. I’ll be dead and living in heaven before they see that money.

Sometimes I almost wonder if it’s possible for anyone other than a preacher to get into hell, what with all the clergymen crowding their way in.

If you want to help, pray for God to guide me and help me end up where he wants. That would be a big favor. I can’t seem to do much for my friends, but maybe I can get out of here and put some space between me and the mess.

Bugging Out

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Make Sure you Pack the Skillets and the AK-47

It has been a hard week. I spent two days in Ocala, looking at houses with my dad and my old friend Mike.

I would have blogged the trip from Ocala, but trip blogging is just an oblique way of begging thieves to rob your empty house, so I kept quiet.

For several weeks, I’ve been digging up properties online and talking to a realtor. I ran into some obstacles. First of all, Florida contains a whole lot of extremely ugly houses. I’m not picky, but there is such a thing as a house too ugly to live in. I found a number of places I could not stomach. Very sad, because sometimes great properties have bad houses.

I had another problem: a surprising number of people put two-bedroom houses or trailers on nice farms. I can’t figure that out. I suppose some of the smaller homes used to be caretaker shacks on larger farms, and once the farms were cut up, the main houses went with other parcels.

Third thing: some of these places were just too remote. I’m all for breathing room, but half an hour is too long for a drive to the nearest drugstore. Also, my dad will be with me, and I don’t think he would be thrilled about living in a place where there are only three or four decent restaurants within a half-hour’s drive. And if he needs medical care, it would be best to be fairly close in.

One place had a shop building that almost made me faint. It was maybe sixty feet long and thirty feet wide. I was told it was an RV barn. Think what I could do with that.

I found a couple of places that stood out. One is a mint-green farmhouse a rich couple used as a vacation home. They fixed it up perfectly, and then they rarely used it. It has a small barn, a beautiful shop with a concrete slab, and the nicest house I have ever been in. They even bought a new tractor and a small four-wheel drive utility vehicle. The machinery still has tags on it. It has never been used.

The mint color is odd, but I can fix that myself for a few hundred bucks.

I’ve never seen construction to equal that house. Everything fits perfectly. The woodwork is finished to perfection. The garage has a brand-new epoxy floor. It’s stunning. It would be impossible to build such a house in Miami, because no one here could do it even if they wanted to. People here have no skill.

I don’t know how they did it.

You could put a dirt berm up behind this place and shoot rifles all day. How sweet would that be?

Unfortunately, it’s pretty far out, and I don’t think the price is realistic. The owners got hammered, paying $100,000 more than what it’s probably worth now.

It’s not in the high-rent area of the county, but they’re asking a high price, and I doubt it will appreciate quickly.

The other place I like is a frame house on 16 acres of woods. I don’t want that many trees, but you can have your land timbered selectively, and because the wood is useful, you make money on the process. I could mark the trees I want gone and open it up without destroying the privacy.

The house has no outbuildings (bad), but it does have a nice 3-car garage with a gun room built into the side of it. The gun room has a heavy steel door. A smart person could open it up in a few minutes with an angle grinder, but most thieves are stupid and in a hurry.

Can’t hurt.

We would have to add a shop building. That would take time. I suppose my stuff would fit in the garage until then.

This house is closer in. No issues with distance.

I think the second house is best, but man, that first house is something. It’s magnificent. It’s like someone knew I was coming and built it for me. “Here’s your unused shop, complete with electricity and concrete slab. Here is your new tractor. Here is your huge garage. Here is your steel gate. Here is your emergency generator. Did we forget anything?”

It was wonderful to not be in Miami. The people in Marion County were great. Everyone was polite, and I only heard one conversation in Spanish.

Mike used to live in Ocala. His parents had a thoroughbred farm there, and after that, he and his wife lived near the city. He was a great resource. He knew where the best soil was. He knew what different areas of the county were like. On top of that, he’s an incredile schmooze, so he got people to open up and tell us about the properties we looked at. One lady operated a soap company out of her home. She made him take free soap and tried to get a date. She said he was cute.

Not to be outdone, I also attracted attention from females. While we were walking around the soap lady’s farm, a white horse noticed me and trotted over to the fence like she couldn’t believe I had finally arrived. She was thrilled to see me. She stuck her head over the fence and tried to get me to come over. When I walked around a barn and reappeared on the other side, she saw me, and she ran over to flirt some more.

I tried to take a dignified photo of her from the side, but she lunged at me, and this is what I got:

Mike was not happy. He has been around horses for most of his life, and she didn’t give him the time of day.

I have to decide what to do. Try to buy one of these places, or wait for something new?

There are worse problems to have. I could be upside-down on a Miami mortgage, forced to rot here until I pay it off.

My $120 Milkshake Machine

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Craigslist Seduces me Again

I have a bad habit of looking at tools on Craigslist, even when I’m determined not to buy anything. Most of the time, I’m fine, but every so often, I just have to reply.

Last week I found something really cool: a Dumore sensitive drill press. It’s like any other drill press, but it needs constant reassurance and has a poor body image. I think I’ll name it Caitlyn.

That was humor. It may not have been obvious.

How about “Dudley Dumore”?

I guess not.

Sometimes it’s interesting to go into the reasons why an unusual tool exists. This may not be one of those times, but I will do it all the same.

A sensitive drill press is a small machine that drills really small holes at very high rotational speeds. It’s a nice thing to have if you drill holes in circuit boards for electronics projects. Circuit board material is very hard on bits, so the best move is carbide, which stands up well to abrasion. Small bits require high speeds and low runout, and because carbide is very hard, it permits speeds that are even higher than small HSS bits.

Why do small bits require high speeds? I will ‘splain.

When you use a metal cutting tool such as a drill bit, what you have is a sharp metal edge being forced across whatever it is you’re cutting. As the edge cuts the work, heat is generated. If the bit gets too hot, the edge gets soft, and then the work rubs the edge off. Then you have an aggravating tool that just slides on the work.

This is why you keep getting stuck and ruining drill bits when you floor your hand drill on a 1/4″ hole. You’re supposed to limit your speed and add a little lubricant to reduce heat. About 0.001% of American men really know how to use a $20 drill.

Consider a rotating cutting tool. The speed at the outer edge will be higher than the speed farther in. The linear speed of a point on a rotating object equals the radius times the frequency of rotation (omega times r, as we former physicists like to say), so as the radius gets small, the speed drops off.

Say you have a half-inch bit, moving at x RPM. If you reduce the size to 1/8″, the speed at the outside of the bit is quartered, so to get the same cutting speed at the outer edge, you have to multiply the RPM by four. You can go slower, but you will spend a very long time drilling every hole, and besides, in addition to tolerating high speeds, carbide actually requires high speeds to cut well, for reasons I do not know.

One interesting thing about all this is that every drill bit has a cutting speed of 0 at the center, so it’s not really cutting until you move farther out. You’re cutting the metal surrounding the center and sort of pushing the metal in the center out of the way. This is why it can be helpful to start big holes with small bits. You can drill a 1/8″ pilot hole for a 1/2″ hole, running at high speed, and then when the 1/2″ bit follows up, it doesn’t have to worry about the 1/8″ of metal in the center of the hole that isn’t being cut very fast.

Sensitive drill presses work with really tiny bits. One example people have mentioned to me is the #80 bit, which is 13.5 thousandths of an inch in diameter. That’s a little over four human hair widths. You can’t just cram that in your Harbor Freight drill press and expect good things to happen.

Let’s say you have a #80 bit, and you’re cutting mild steel, which means you want the outer edge of the bit to move at around 100 feet per minute. You will want the drill to turn at about 28,000 RPM. This is around 10 times what your Harbor Freight special will do. You need a sensitive drill press.

The drill press I bought turns at 17,000 RPM. That’s not 28,000, but it beats a big drill press turning at 3000.

If speed is the main thing, why not call them “really fast drill presses” instead of “sensitive”? I don’t know. These machines have little tables you can move up and down with the work (instead of lowering the spindle), and that gives you a delicate feel for what you’re doing. I guess Dumore thinks that’s more exciting than the speed.

The drill press I found on Craigslist sells for over 900 dollars new. Wait till you see it. You’ll wonder where the money went. I’ll post a photo.

Here’s what I’m told about the expense: it goes into the chuck and motor. They have to turn the drill bit very precisely, with very little of the wobble machinists call “runout.” When you use a very expensive large drill press which is tuned perfectly, you can expect the bit to wobble about 0.003″ on each turn. This is not a problem when you’re drilling big holes in a toilet seat mount. When your drill bit is 13.5 thousandths wide, and your three-thousandths runout is almost a third of that, the drill bit will break.

The chuck on the Dumore is tiny, but it costs over a hundred dollars. A new motor retails for around $900 (like buying a new machine). Eliminating runout is not cheap.

I saw the drill press on Craigslist, and I knew exactly what it was. The price was $120. Come on. I was buying that.

I checked Ebay, and it seemed like they generally ran around $225. Low for a $900 tool. Some tools are like that. Crazy expensive new but merely expensive used.

The machine was 30 miles away, and my first chance to get there was on a Friday, during rush traffic. I can’t say “rush hour,” since the rush is pretty much a five-hour ordeal here. It took about an hour and a half each way. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t make that drive to buy air if I was drowning, but it was a miracle that the press was still available, and I had been burned by catching a similar $45 machine too late.

I drove to the seller’s house, had him turn the machine on, and handed him my money. I asked him where he got the drill press. This is the horrible part of the story. It came from his job. They had three Dumores, and he found out they were THROWING THEM OUT. He snagged one before it got to the dumpster.

So right now, two more drill presses are sitting in the landfill.

Someone needs a punch in the mouth.

The press runs fine. I haven’t checked the runout, but I would have taken it even if the chuck had needed work. Even if it can’t drill a 0.0135″ hole, it can drill a #31 hole much better than my big drill press.

Now you know what a sensitive drill press is and why they cost so much. Are you not entertained?

I think I’ll go turn it on and listen to it hum.

Escape From Miami

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Choosing Houses Takes Horse Sense

I feel a little better now that the shock of driving to Miami from America is wearing off.

Today I’m working on various responsibilities and preparing for a visit to Marion County to see the area and visit some houses. The knowledge that getting out of Dade County will take months is weighing on me.

I went to a forum to ask people from the Ocala area some questions, and while I was there, I couldn’t resist looking at posts regarding Miami. People were considering moving there.

I had to say something. I was honest. I said the people were very rude and the traffic was horrible. I said Miami had no culture. I said black people got bad treatment here, which is very true. Cuba had a political revolution, but it never had a civil rights revolution.

Some character popped up and accused me of creating an account just to “bash” Miami. Yeah, okay. What about the people who said they agreed with me? I didn’t see a convenient explanation for their remarks.

To prove Miami had culture, this person posted a video of someone singing in a bar!

I don’t know why a person who lives in an unpleasant city would pimp it to unsuspecting visitors. Why bring people here with crazy expectations? I would be pretty upset if I moved here thinking this was a nice place to live. If people tell you the truth, at least you can prepare and adjust.

It’s tough to figure out which properties are best. It seems like people in Marion County don’t follow the universal rule of pricing houses 5-10% higher than what they really expect to receive. The prices seem completely random. The realtor is sending me places with asking prices more than 15% above my limit, and he says they’re “negotiable.” If your asking price is nearly 20% higher than what your house is worth, you’re not a negotiator. You’re a scam artist. You’re trying to fleece somebody.

If you don’t know what properties really cost, it’s hard to decide which ones to look at. If your baseball glove budget is $50, and the store prices the good ones at $75 and sells them for $50, you’re going to look at the cheap ones and end up paying $30.

I wonder what a baseball glove costs. The last time I bought one, my dad was not in a spending mood, so I got one from KMart for $5. I cut the label out so I wouldn’t have to hear about it from the other kids.

Wow. I just saw one for $99.

I don’t even have a KMart glove now. I think it was one of the many items that belonged to me that got discarded when my parents moved. I guess I can get by without one at my age.

I have to have a place for tools, and that doesn’t mean half a garage. It means serious room. Some places don’t have workshops. Some have barns with tooly-looking areas that have concrete floors. How hard is it to turn them into shops? Search me.

There are a number of great properties with really bad houses. Florida is known for ugly houses. If you want a geodesic dome made of pink fiberglass, this is the state where you should look for it. It’s sad that so many nice lots have houses that look like machine gun bunkers or log cabins.

Who, in his right mind, builds a 3500-square-foot log cabin? You will never be able to sell a log cabin house to any family that contains a heterosexual woman. Repairs and alterations will be nearly impossible. Every time you hang a picture, you’ll damage your ridiculous wooden walls in ways that can’t be fixed. Is it even possible to insulate these monstrosities? I don’t know. But they’re surprisingly popular.

One of the nicest properties has a house which is “stucco over frame.” Is that even a recognized construction medium? I can’t even tell what it is. I guess they put some kind of siding over wooden studs and then slop cement on it.

I don’t know anything about rural property, so I don’t know what pitfalls to look out for. I don’t want a place that floods whenever it rains. I don’t want drainage problems, swamps I’m not allowed to drain, or nuclear waste.

I’ll have to trust God and do my best.

It’s my own fault I’m in Miami. I chose it. I didn’t serve God, and I didn’t have his guidance. There was a period during and after law school when I was reasonably happy here; I deluded myself. If I had listened to God, I would have landed somewhere else a long time ago.

Don’t be like me. If you’re young, start listening now.

Drowning in Choices

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

As Problems Go, This is a Nice One

I’m writing because some websites are failing to load for me. I figure they’ll probably kick in just as I start getting interested in this blog post.

I’m trying to look at Marion County properties a realtor emailed me. Before I contacted a realtor, I went to Zillow and other sites and found a few properties worth saving. Now I have a bunch of new ones to look at. You would think an Internet search would turn up everything worth looking at, but the realtor found a lot of fantastic stuff that didn’t appear on Zillow.

It looks like the hard part will be narrowing the choices down. I’m overwhelmed. These places are so beautiful, I can’t believe I could end up living in one of them.

For some reason, the prices of properties don’t seem strongly related to the acreage. A place with 10 acres will not necessarily cost much less than one with 31 acres. Obviously, this means I’m excited about the big places. With 10 acres, shooting in my yard could conceivably annoy neighbors. If I get 31, as far as I’m concerned, they can put their complaints in a sock, because I will be way too far away for anyone to have a legitimate gripe.

Why do people live in Dade County (now named Miami-Dade because Spanish-speaking foreigners can’t figure out that “Dade” means “Miami”)? The lots are small. The traffic is starting to rival Hong Kong’s. The people are very, very rude. You have to repeat yourself over and over when you buy things, because half of the population can’t understand English. If everyone here were getting rich, I would understand the draw, but Miami is a poor city. I guess the allure is the knowledge that you can move here, refuse to learn English, and do okay.

There are a lot of variables to look at when I go through these properties. I want reasonably good soil so I can grow food when America finally collapses, so I am looking at the photos and trying to weed out the places that are all pine and no hardwood. I don’t want too much horse stuff. Supposedly, keeping one small barn on a property will bring some sort of tax advantage, but some of these places have tracks and 5000 square feet of stalls.

The north part of the county might be better for my dad, since he will need to be reasonably near good medical care (i.e. Gainesville).

The thought of having a workshop I can roller skate in is intoxicating. I watch other people’s Youtube videos, and some of their shops are nearly empty. It makes me want to jump through the screen and lie down on the cool, satisfying concrete. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have that kind of space. Some of the places in Marion County appear to have shops as large as 2000 square feet. I would never, ever leave. I would move the bed into the shop.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what I need a house for. Oh, yeah. Now I remember. My dad will want a place to sleep.

You know what’s really exciting? We could conceivably have a tractor. A man with a tractor is a man to be reckoned with. In addition to chores like bush-hogging (boring!), you can use a tractor to move machinery, do light earth-moving jobs, and generally wreak havoc. I don’t know if I would actually use one. I might just go out into the shop and hold it, like a Hillary voter holding a rented puppy.

I always say I have no ambition. Now that has changed. My ambition is to move to a rental property, screw around with my tools, have all sorts of prayer meetings, get old, and die. Judging from what I’ve learned so far, when I get up there, I may have a lot of competitors in these pursuits.

This morning I read something from 2 Peter:

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority.

Reading that made me very emotional. To think that God might get me out of here and put me among better people…that is true generosity.

Lot lived in Sodom, and God called him righteous. If you read about Lot, though, you will see that he wasn’t what we would call a saint. He wasn’t on the same level as Abraham. Lot’s deliverance shows that God will help people who fail a lot. That tells me he is willing to help me.

I can’t go back and rejoin the crazy, ungodly world. Life has gotten truly insane. If you’re any kind of a Christian, you now have a target on your back. People will do their best to take away your livelihood and blackball you so you can’t get hired or own a business anywhere. You can’t even have a bakery, because vicious people who don’t really want your cakes will come to you and order wedding spreads just to get you put out of business.

Our culture has gone nuts. This week a female performer named Beyonce (you probably know who she is) did a dance number for the Grammys in which she dressed up as a voodoo “goddess,” put a halo on her head, and had other dancers worship her. She threw in elements of the Hindu “god” Shiva. People lapped it up. If you criticize her on Facebook, her warped fans (the “Beehive”) will come after you and heap abuse on you.

A few years back, Madonna did a similar act in which dancers dressed as demons worshiped her.

Americans see nothing wrong with things like this now. Satan is officially mainstream. People think it’s cute. They don’t realize these “gods” represent real spirits that hate Yahweh.

We’re so filthy now, and so proud, most of us are beyond God’s reach. Persecution will now increase, and it won’t be that long before the state treats us the way Nazi Germany treated Jews. If you think it can’t happen here, wake up. The Germans and Austrians were more civilized and orderly than we are now, and they built the death camp ovens.

I can’t go back. I can’t give up what I have. I can never rejoin the devil’s system, so I will always be faced with bitter, cruel opposition. Unless God wants me to live in complete subjugation and misery, he will have to provide a way out, and I think that’s what he’s doing.

The sites loaded, and I went over the properties and made notes.

You can get more property for your money when you move away from Ocala and Gainesville, but then you have to think about the aggravation of driving half an hour to get to Lowe’s or the nearest hospital. Also, my dad likes to have lunch in restaurants. I just looked at a place called Williston, and it appears that the choices are basically fast food, two BBQ joints that get dubious reviews, and diners.

On the whole, a restaurant shortage in a wonderful place is a much better problem to have than being stuck in a rude, crowded city and having restaurants that are sort of okay.

I really want to go lie down on a concrete shop floor. Like, now.

If I ever manage to choose a place, you will read about it here.

Adios, Al Fin

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Talk to my Taillights

This is a momentous day, or rather, yesterday was. I was working on the problem of leaving Miami, and I realized there was no point in limiting myself to South Florida. Things have worked out so that I will be able to go where I really want to go, farther up the state.

Four years ago, I decided to leave this area, and I went to Ocala and looked at houses. My father was extremely disturbed by this, and I agreed to linger here while he got his affairs in order, with the understanding that we would both leave eventually. Finally, things are more or less organized, and I have realized I can manage his properties just as well from Ocala as I can from places closer to Miami.

It’s funny, but when you’re used to certain problems and certain options, you may not be aware of it when your options change. You have to sit down and reassess things. Sometimes you will think you’re still trapped when the cage door is actually open.

I was looking at properties in Broward County, which is where Fort Lauderdale is. To the west of the city, there are semi-rural neighborhoods where you can cover your lawn with Trump signs without having your house egged. It’s a nice area; no doubt about it. Still, the good houses are already taken, and if you want two acres (the minimum amount of land required to maintain sanity), you will pay out the nose. Also, Broward is 28% Hispanic.

Am I saying I don’t want to live around Hispanics? Not exactly. I’m saying I don’t want to live in a foreign country, which is what Miami is. This county is about 65% Hispanic, and that doesn’t include illegals and tourists. When you go to a mall, you can expect the people around you, most of whom were born in America, to speak Spanish to each other and the clerks maybe 75% of the time. That gets old.

I actually lived in a foreign country where I heard English spoken more often. I spent four months in Israel, and virtually everyone spoke English.

When you turn on the radio here, you may try five stations before you hear anything but Spanish.

If you think wanting to live in an English-speaking country makes me a bad person, wait till you read this: I am also tired of Hispanic culture.

Here in Miami, people talk really loud, all the time, and when they sit in groups, everyone talks at once. People are angry maybe 60% of the time, for no reason at all. People are very aggressive; I think that’s a Cuban thing, not a Hispanic thing. Other Hispanics are less confrontational. Anyway, people here are extremely emotional, and they have no respect for rules (even good ones). It had probably been forty years since Castro’s victory when Miami Cubans learned it was not okay to walk straight to the head of lines in stores and restaurants.

In Miami, one has the persistent sense of being threatened. Everyone wants to deny you the right of way in traffic. Everyone wants to get in front of you and get to whatever it is you want before you do. Everyone wants to get over on you in business. People tailgate and drive with their high beams on. People talk in front of you in Spanish so they can take advantage of you (pretty funny when they do it to Cubans who don’t look Cuban). It makes you feel like you’re Captain Kirk and you can never lower the deflector shields.

I know a Cuban lady who demanded a transfer out of Miami because she couldn’t stand the way people treated her American husband. She told me horror stories. They would be waiting in a restaurant, and the people who worked there would talk to Cuban customers, calling her husband dirty names and saying they would make him wait while the Cubans got tables. They didn’t know she understood.

It’s not like every American is treated badly all the time. Many, many Hispanics treat us very well. There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful Hispanic people here. But it doesn’t take many bad apples to ruin things, and it’s difficult for a person who has lived among nice people and knows how much better life is supposed to be.

People here hate it when you criticize Miami. They love it because they have never been anywhere else in America, and because most of them are in the top caste. If you’re Hispanic, life is good here. Everyone speaks your language, you have big advantages in business, and people will treat you better than they treat Americans (especially black Americans). If you’re Cuban and you grew up here, no wonder you think it’s paradise. You’re like a Brahmin in India. You don’t know what it’s like to be blackballed.

I have a black friend who moved to Orlando. He’s a hard-working man who is doing a terrific job supporting five great kids. He doesn’t speak Spanish. He applied for 27 jobs here and got no calls. He applied for three in Orlando and got three offers. His wife, who speaks only English and Creole, got a good job, too. Hello? Can anyone guess the reason?

My friend says he absolutely hates to visit Miami. It depresses him and makes him angry. He and his family are thrilled with Orlando, even after two years of getting used to it.

Broward County is 28% Hispanic (and that figure is increasing fast), but up around Ocala, the percentage is more like 8%. That means everyone has to learn English and make an effort to fit in with the existing culture. I’ll take that.

My dad has dementia, and it won’t be long before he will need a place to go every day to be with other people his age. In Miami, he would be surrounded by old people he couldn’t talk to. They would talk to each other all day in Spanish, and then once in a while they would talk to him in English. That’s no good. I always say no one wants to get old in Miami.

I looked at properties on the Internet, and I was dazzled. I got brave, and I removed the “2 acres+” filter from my searches. I changed it to 5 acres. Then 10. Then I went nuts and changed it to 20. I found a place with 56 acres. I found one with 107 acres.

I found houses that had magnificent outbuildings built to be workshops. You know why? Because people up there are like me! Oh, my God. It was too good to be true. One place had several welding stations, 200-amp service, and a lift. It even had a bunker with a steel door. It’s like I dreamed that place. All it needs is a machine gun nest.

That was a joke…or was it?

Yes, it was a joke. Calm down, DHS.

Of course, if it wasn’t a joke, I would definitely pretend it was a joke in order to fool people. Just saying.

I’ll finally be able to practice shooting in my own yard. I’ll be able to practice correctly. No slow fire. Think how good I’ll be. I will be positively dangerous.

My new mission in life is to get my dad’s house ready so he can rent it out after the move. I am doing that as quickly as I can. I would like to fix it up so he can charge a lot, but he is resisting moving out until it’s done, which makes the whole process much harder. My current strategy is to get it done, quick and dirty, and get the hell out. If he has to charge 30% less, well, life will go on.

I gave up on local contractors. I went to Home Depot and told them, essentially, “Give my dad a new kitchen right now.” They’re coming in the next few days. I’m going to have his rotten deck pulled out. I’m not going to worry about the terrible 1950’s windows or the 9000 other problems that will take too long to fix. Once we’re gone, maybe I can do more.

Why is all this happening so fast? I can answer that. A stronghold is being broken. I chose to live in this rotten city, and I chose to rebel and do my own thing, so God required me to have my nose rubbed in this place. I’ve turned back to him, and he has restored things in my life one by one, on his own schedule. I have started apologizing to him for choosing Miami. Now things are breaking loose.

One of the neat things about God is that he may be very quick to break a stronghold that looks like it will last forever. That’s important to know, especially for people like convicts who think they will never be free from the consequences of their actions. God gave birth to Israel in one day. He shook a prison and freed Paul and Silas. He still does things like that.

I can’t wait to leave this area. I won’t miss one thing about it. Not for one second. I will never come back without a compelling reason.

Won’t I miss the culture of a big city? Excuse me while I laugh. Miami has no culture at all, unless you count the new rap culture of Miami Beach, which is now the top vacation destination for ghetto thugs. There is no real orchestra here. There is no classical station. There is virtually no jazz. The museums are hilarious. There is no architecture, unless you count a few cheesy Art Deco hotels. No, I don’t think I’ll miss that.

I definitely won’t miss the gay scene. I wonder what life is like on South Beach now that it’s an uncomfortable mixture of gays and rap fans. I know everyone is complaining, and charges of racism are flying around.

It’s not about race. It’s about shootings, beatings, noise, property damage, intimidation, and theft. It’s about scared Europeans who spend more money, who go someplace else now.

Why am I writing about this? Not my problem.

If you want to be helpful, do me a favor and pray God will help me get all this done, and that he will guide us to a peaceful home. I would appreciate that.

Now I have to call a guy to rip out the deck.


I arranged for a demolition guy to remove my dad’s deck, so I feel pretty good about that. I felt like expounding on my remarks about Miami culture, so here I am

God has helped me to turn my back on my own culture. I used to be proud of my Eastern Kentucky heritage, for some reason I no longer recall. Now I realize Eastern Kentucky is full of racism, alcoholism, ignorance, violence, and God knows what else. It’s a white ghetto. It keeps getting worse because people who have a better mindset keep leaving.

Eastern Kentucky is not going to get better. Lyndon Johnson’s vote-buying money didn’t fix it, missionaries didn’t fix it, and if Trump takes a shot at it, he won’t fix it, either. People up there cause their problems, and every day, they choose to cling to ways that keep their problems in place. I am not stupid enough to worry about people who don’t care about themselves.

A side effect of my sudden willingness to criticize my own culture is a willingness to criticize other cultures. Miami is very messed up, and I am trying to be honest about it. I may sound harsh or even bigoted, but when something is messed up, and you speak the truth about it, you aren’t going to say positive things.

To show that I’m not always negative about other cultures, I will also say that I now think certain American cultures are superior to my own. On the whole, I think people in the middle of the country, in places like Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, are the least dysfunctional. I think their culture is flat-out superior to Appalachian culture and Southern culture as a whole.

People in the heartland commit less crime, and they generally treat each other better. They may not be the most exciting people on earth, but on the other hand, they cause less trouble than the rest of us, and they haven’t completely lost their humanity, even in polarized 2017.

A bigot thinks his culture is the best in the world. That’s not me.

Southern culture, like the culture in Ocala, isn’t the absolute best, but it’s pretty good, and it’s a thousand percent better than what we have in South Florida.

A wise person doesn’t cling to backward ways out of pride. I would like to be wise eventually.

If I offended anyone, well, I don’t apologize. Wronging someone and offending them are two different things.

Lord of the Fleas

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Plus Metrosexual Abuse

Sometimes I don’t know what to make of the Internet. It’s tempting to think of it as a reliable repository containing every type of knowledge you could hope to uncover, but the cruel truth is that it fails a lot.

Yesterday I visited the Florida Swap Shop to see if I could find a few cheap old wrenches to cut up and use for welding projects. I bought three, and I also bought two small adjustable (“crescent”) wrenches made by Williams. This company has made a lot of excellent stuff, and I was able to get a 6″ wrench and an 8″ wrench for eight bucks. They’re not in mint condition, but they work fine, and a new 6″ SK wrench costs about $22.

I cleaned the Williams wrenches up and did a minor repair on the bigger one. When I bought it, I didn’t notice that the jaws didn’t close all the way. At home, I took it apart (screw on the side of the wrench) and cleaned it up, but it still wouldn’t close. I finally realized the moving jaw could not slide out of the body all the way (necessary when it closes) because some ape had used the wrench to tap something. Hammer, wrench…what’s the difference?

The metal where the jaw slid out of the body was slightly deformed. I jabbed it with a file a few times, and now the wrench closes.

If you’ge Googling for information because you need help with ADJUSTABLE CRESCENT WRENCH THAT WON’T CLOSE, now you know what to do. Don’t lose the tiny spring that holds the knurled adjustment worm in place.

To get back to the issue that drove me to write today, the Williams wrenches had some kind of greasy black grit (or gritty black grease) on them. I’m sure you’ve seen this stuff. It magically appears on all old tools and in the bottoms of all old toolboxes. I had some success removing it with my amazing shower concoction (water, no-scrub cleaner, Dawn, and dishwasher rinse aid), but I couldn’t get all of it off.

That stuff works wonders on aluminum wheels. Ask my friend Mike, who used my last batch to clean the crud off the wheels of the Explorer I sold him. Without asking my permission.

I Googled today, and I saw a list of offerings. Which site was most likely to be right? People who write things on the Internet are usually ignorant; they just write for the purpose of filling websites. I wanted good information.

I chose Popular Mechanics, even though I knew better. There was a page about restoring rusty tools. The wrenches I’m working on aren’t rusty, but I figured black mystery crud might be covered as well.

Guess what Popular Mechanics says about removing rust? You soak your tools in vinegar and then scrape the rust off by hand. Are you kidding me?

I don’t like Popular Mechanics. I had a subscription, and I canceled. My take was that it was written by poser sissies who knew nothing about tools. It was full of useless articles about overly diverse-looking millennials who had tech startups (Wow! She’s a woman! And she’s Asian!). It also contained lots of material which appeared to be favorable press given in exchange for free tools. When a story features flattering photos of a new tool, plus gushing prose and a link to a website, hey…it’s an ad.

In the old days, Popular Mechanics was written by guys who still had the blood of dead Japanese soldiers behind their cauliflower ears. The target audience was actual men who had Vitalis in their short hair and surplus lathes in their garages. The magazine was full of useful stuff. Now, it’s useless. I mean, Glenn Reynolds writes for it. Come on.

Here’s how you take rust off of tools. You put them in a plastic bucket with a solution of water and baking soda or washing soda. You attach the negative clamps of battery chargers to them. You attach the positive clamps to submerged scrap iron. Then you wait. Every last particle of rust comes off, along with paint and everything else, if you wait long enough. You will end up with tools that are nothing but ferrous metal. It’s great. How can a magazine dedicated to tools recommend vinegar?

At least it wasn’t balsamic.

Another option: products made with phosphoric acid, such as Ospho or naval jelly. Apply. Wait. Rinse. Phosphoric acid loves rust and hates iron. It works.

I don’t know if pressure cleaners remove rust, but I’ll bet they do.

When you use abrasives to remove rust, as the magazine recommends, you take off sound metal. You’re not restoring. You’re altering. It’s much nicer when you can avoid removing steel.

I can just picture the Popular Mechanics writer, with his skinny jeans, Smith Brothers beard, creepy glasses, and punch-me cardigan, trying to use a Sonicare to remove rust from a pink-handled hammer without getting too dirty. They need to put him to work in a waxing salon.

If you want advice on tools, join a forum frequented by old machinists and woodworkers with missing fingers. They know what works.

Here’s the secret password: “Kroil.” If they don’t know what it is, you’re on the wrong forum.

Maybe instead of being disappointed, I should be glad I know more than Popular Mechanics.

I still don’t know the best way to get the black stuff off of tools. Maybe a good soak in gasoline, at least 20 feet from the house. I don’t have a parts washer.

Having visited flea markets exactly twice in the last 25 years, I am now an expert, so I will give you my take, which cannot be questioned. They work for three kinds of people.

1. People who know exactly what they want and what it’s worth.
2. People who like buying useless crap just to have a good time.
3. Poor people.

If you lack funds, a flea market can set you up with acceptable goods, cheap. If you’re a young man, and you need to put together a tool collection, flea markets are where you should be. Look at what I got. Two wrenches for eight dollars instead of fifty. You can also get well-made old furniture which is just beaten-up enough to look sort of chic in a college apartment. It will work better than Ikea crap, and you will be able to resell it for about what you paid.

Flea markets are also good for tool people who care more about how tools work than how they look. Me, I have a weakness for the shiny and clean, so I haven’t bought as many old tools as I should have, but I could have loaded up on quality wrenches and pliers for a hundred bucks.

If you can’t tell good stuff from bad, you will be skinned alive at a flea market, and you will come home with a lot of Chinese tools. Look for “USA” on everything you buy, and you should do okay. Use your phone to check prices.

I couldn’t get people to haggle at all. I got one dollar off the asking price for the three big wrenches. Maybe my clothes were too clean.

I’m happy. I tend to lose small adjustable wrenches, so next time it happens, I won’t lose much.

Maybe next week I’ll hit some garage sales.


Forgot to mention another reason the Internet is not as reliable as one would hope: queered ratings.

I bought a Ridgid Jobmax reciprocating saw attachment. You probably call this kind of saw a “Sawzall.” I had had great results with the drill, impact driver, and sanding attachments, so I figured the saw would be useful.

When I used the saw, I was very disappointed. It seemed to get bogged down very easily. I felt it was worthless. You could cut something like foam with it, but people buy this type of saw for wood and metal.

I gave it a one-star review on Home Depot’s site. One day a guy who worked for Ridgid emailed me, asking questions. I didn’t like being pestered about the review, but I responded. I said I wasn’t interested in being part of product development, because I figured that was what Ridgid wanted.

He said they weren’t trying to involve me in product development, and he said various things to defend the saw. He said it was only for light duty. Okay, but I still didn’t like it.

He thanked me for my input, and he said he would like to send me some Ridgid gear, so I gave him my address. Then he asked if it would be okay to take down my one-star rating.

No, it was not okay. It was disturbing and unethical.

I told him the Home Depot ad didn’t mention light duty. It said the saw “will tackle most any repair job.” I have never found the tool to be of any use at all. I don’t know why I didn’t return it. Maybe I thought some day I would have a job light enough for it to handle. I think my review was right on target.

He said it was intended for things like PVC. Coincidentally, I had to do a lot of PVC work last year, and I went out and got a corded DeWalt reciprocating saw. I was not about to try the Jobmax.

To be fair, today I put a 2 1/2″ PVC pipe in a vise and tried to cut it with the Jobmax. You would not believe how slow it was. I got about 3/16″ into the pipe and quit. It looked like I was going to be there a while. The DeWalt would have gone through it as if it were toast.

If you absolutely have to leave your sawzall at home, yes, take the Jobmax. It’s better than a steak knife. But don’t even let yourself fantasize about the possibility that it’s a real reciprocating saw.

I was not all that excited about the Ridgid gear. I like tool-related shirts, but Ridgid’s signature color is orange, so I felt it was unlikely that I would want to wear a Ridgid shirt. It turned out I was in no danger; after I refused to let them remove the review, he said they were out of shirts. I don’t know what they’re sending.

A cynical person might wonder if they always run out of shirts when someone refuses to change a review, but I assume he was telling the truth.

I agreed to let them send me stuff because there was some chance there might be something good included, and they offered before telling me they wanted to take the review down.

Now that I know they ask people to change their reviews, I wish I had turned down the offer.

The point of this story is to let people know that at least one company out there is asking people for permission to remove negative reviews. When I bought that awful saw, the reviews looked good, and I was shocked when I found out how useless it was. Now I wonder how many helpful negative reviews were abandoned by customers who like orange shirts.

I honestly believe the tool is bad, and I would never consider recommending it to anyone. As a customer, I want to protect people from this product, which disappointed me. It seems to me that Ridgid should put its energy into fixing the tool instead of the reviews.

If Ridgid is doing this, who else is doing it?

It’s a bummer, because I really like Ridgid tools. I have two Jobmaxes, a table saw, an oscillating sander, and two miter saws. Whenever I shop for a power tool, I look at Ridgid first, because I like their products and their warranty. Now I’m afraid to believe other people’s reviews.

Here’s what would really be bad: a review of a Ridgid tool, published by Popular Mechanics. “I give the Ridgid jigsaw two thumbs up, because it was great for cutting out the foamboard background for my bedroom shrine to Justin Bieber! It was so quick and easy, I didn’t even sweat up my man bun!”

I hope people are impressed that I didn’t whore myself out for a T-shirt. It will take more than that to buy me off. They should have offered me a free beer insulator.

If you like researching tools online before you buy, remember my sad tale of woe. You may only be seeing half of the reviews.

As long as I’m here, let me say I bought the Jobmax ratchet, and it slipped. If you buy one, make sure you test it thoroughly and apply for the lifetime warranty.

Avoiding Weld Schmerz

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

More Stuff I Don’t Actually Need to Do

Having had great success with my welded box wrench bottle opener, I am planning to do some more metalworking projects. It occurred to me that turning trash into useful objects would be an effective and inexpensive way to improve my abysmal welding skills. I’m thinking I may hit the flea markets this weekend and pick up some junk to work on.

I really need practice. I had some problems with the last two items I welded.

In 2016, I used stainless wire to weld the corner back onto a cast iron motor base. The weld worked, but it was very ugly, and there was a lot of spatter. I couldn’t see a thing when I welded it, so the weld wandered around a bit, and I also deposited too much wire. Experiences like this are the reason I’m so good at using the angle grinder.

When I welded the wrench/opener, I still couldn’t see, and I ended up with blobs that had to be ground off. The spatter was also bad.

Day before yesterday, I took out some scrap steel and ran some beads on it, and I discovered the cause of the poor visibility. The welder’s shade was set too dark. I guess that should have been obvious, but when I was welding the motor and opener, I had this dim memory of having tried adjusting the darkness setting, and I thought it wouldn’t work. Clearly I was wrong. D’OH.

As for the spatter, I learned that 75/25 is the wrong gas for stainless. People are telling me to use pure argon. Something about the CO2 reacting with stainless. They say it causes spatter and also makes joints rust. There is also something called “tri-mix,” which contains helium as well as argon and CO2. I am told it works really well, and that if you know what you’re doing, you can do just about any type of electric welding with only three tanks. Supposedly you can connect the tanks and create mixtures. Don’t ask me if that’s true.

I decided to get an argon tank. I learned a few things about buying gas and tanks, so I am here to pass it on. Don’t assume I’m right, especially if you live outside the US.

First of all, there are two types of tanks. Some tanks are company-owned rentals, and others are customer-owned.

Company tanks have the names of the companies stamped somewhere on the neck. If you buy one of these tanks from a private party, you may be receiving stolen goods, and if you take it to be refilled, two things can happen. You may be turned away, and the tank may be confiscated. This is bad.

Customer tanks have “slick” necks (people use that word to describe them). No stamps, except for regulatory stuff like test dates. If you have a tank like this, you can take it anywhere to be filled, and you won’t have a problem.

If you have a customer tank, and you want to swap it instead of getting it filled, you need to tell the gas people when you bring it in. If you don’t, they may do two things. First, they may give you a rental tank, and then you have to keep bringing it back to them forever, and they think they own it. Second, they may stamp their name on your tank, which is another way of saying they may steal it.

These things are also bad.

When I got my MIG, I bought a new tank. I thought this was a smart thing to do. I think it was around $140, empty. Imagine my surprise when Airgas swapped me an old one for it instead of filling it. I wanted to use my pretty new tank, but they gave me a crappy one that wasn’t shiny at all. Oh well.

Intelligent people do not buy new tanks. Well…they don’t do it twice. Although I do have two CO2 tanks I bought new, and I bought a beer gas tank new. Okay, they don’t do it five times. That’s my story.

You can buy used tanks and save a lot of loot. If you buy used, you need to make sure a) the tanks are customer tanks, and b) their test stamps are valid, or at least they are still in good enough shape to be tested. If you buy a tank that’s expired but still okay, you will have to pay a certification fee when you turn it in for a swap, but at least they won’t discard it. If the stamp is good when you refill it, you will have no problems at all.

Luckily for me, the Airgas I used did not give me a rental tank, so I still own whatever is currently attached to my welder, and I can get it filled anywhere. Also, they confirm that I can buy a used tank somewhere else and get it swapped at their shop. You need to look into things like this before you buy used tanks.

Final thing: small tanks are generally not rentals, so the stuff I wrote above may not apply to you.

I found a guy on Craigslist, and he sells full tanks cheap. He swears they’re up to date, and that they’re all customer tanks. I decided to give him a try. Today he’s bringing me 125 cubic feet of argon for $120. We will see if it’s a good deal or not. Hopefully it won’t turn out to be propane or mustard gas.

My existing tank is 80 cubic feet. Because I started with a new tank, I went a little cheap. A bigger tank would have cost a lot more. I now think I made a mistake. A bigger tank will last a lot longer, it won’t be much heavier, and it will fit on the same cart. It probably makes more sense to have a 125 cu. ft. 75/25 tank and an 80 cu. ft. argon tank, since one doesn’t generally weld stainless, but I have what I have.

I sincerely hope the Craigslist guy isn’t a complete crook, but I will have plenty of time to call the cops on him later if he cheats me, and I feel like the deal is good enough to warrant some risk. Even if all I get is the tank, at $120, I’ll be doing okay.

I’m not totally sure of the best way to weld old wrenches to stainless. The steel in wrenches isn’t exactly stainless, but it’s not plain old mild steel, either. It looks like stainless when you saw it and grind it. My plan is to use bits of stainless in my projects using tools like wrenches, so I’m going to use pure argon and see what happens. My guess is that it’s better to use argon and stainless wire with stainless and wrench metal than it is to treat everything like carbon steel.

I think the idea of making stuff from scrap is a very good one. I don’t come up with legitimate welding projects very often, and welding is not something you can do once a year and expect good results. You really need to do it more than once a month in order to avoid horrible results.

I’m 65% sure the information I provided here is right, but in any event, it should be a good start for anyone who wants to weld stuff other than carbon steel. If you read this post, you will definitely be better off than I was a month ago.

I do hope the Craigslist guy doesn’t kill me and take all my stuff. That would spoil everything.


I decided to do what I should have done before writing this: I Googled wrench steel. I learned that the “chrome vanadium” stamps on wrenches aren’t just advertising hype.

Good wrenches are made from steel to which chromium and vanadium have been added. This makes them more corrosion-resistant than ordinary steel, and it also gives them all sorts of structural strength. You can actually make springs from it. This steel can be hardened to Rockwell 55, whereas you would generally expect a good knife to be around 58.

Stainless steel has to have something like 10% chromium, and chrome vanadium comes in at about 1%.

People on the web say it’s a good idea to preheat it when welding it.

Hope this is useful or at least interesting.

Even More

The gas guy (He should put that on his business card: “Call and I will give you gas.”) arrived with my tank. I’m awestruck. It’s a newish tank, complete with argon sticker and safety cap, full of argon. A new tank, all by itself, runs $350, so I feel like I got a crazy bargain.

Let’s hope there is real argon in it when I open it up.


Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Out Top Gear-ing Top Gear

If I haven’t posted much lately, it’s because I am exhausted from recreation.

My oldest friend (not literally oldest, but the one I’ve known the longest) decided he wanted my dad’s 1995 Ford Explorer, which I was about to sell on Craigslist. It has at least 146,000 miles (for a while he couldn’t find a mechanic who could fix an odometer), it leans to the left, it smells really interesting, and my dad had the heat disconnected because it went bad and would have cost $800 to repair. I told my friend (Mike) it was “a real piece of crap,” but he wanted it to plow his driveway in New Hampshire, so we cut a deal for $500, and he flew down to get it.

My dad keeps saying Mike “stole” it. Guess I’ll be hearing that for quite some time.

It seemed to be okay before Mike came down, and then when he arrived, the overdrive wouldn’t work, and it lost something like a quart of oil every hundred miles. I have a recollection of adding oil to it recently, but I didn’t know it had a serious leak.

Some interesting facts that make the story richer: Mike’s birthday was yesterday, and he forgot to renew his driver’s license. When we tried to address this online, we found that New Hampshire’s online renewal system only works if you have the code they mail you before your birthday; the code Mike didn’t bring. Can you renew over the phone? Sure. The paperwork takes maybe a week to arrive by mail, and during that time, your license is not considered valid.

Also, Mike decided not to bring his winter clothes, because Florida is warm. Think about that.

He said, “When I left, it was forty degrees.” I pointed out that sometimes weather changes. I think that was helpful.

I had told Mike the car was only guaranteed until he got it out of my dad’s driveway, but he drove it to Delray Beach and back (funeral: a friend’s father had died), and it came back two quarts low, so I reluctantly decided his friendship was worth more than $500, and we spent several days doing a Top Gear-style restoration to get the car ready for the trip north.

During this time, Mike scored a number of free meals off of me via guilt trips, and I also gave him a treasured possession: the world’s best bottle opener.

Mike loves my tool collection. While I was showing it to him, I showed him the severed end of a 1 1/2″ box wrench. I had it on hand because I had bought a $9 Chinese wrench and modified it to use as a tool post wrench. I’ll post a photo. I had cut one end off to make the wrench shorter. You don’t want a really long tool post wrench, because if you have too much leverage, you may crack your compound slide when you tighten the nut.

Mike thought it was disgraceful that I hadn’t turned the wrench end into a project, and he suggested a bottle opener. That actually sounded good, so while he was at the funeral, I got to work. I had a piece of 304 stainless steel, and I cut a semicircle out of it, using a hacksaw and my belt grinders. I then welded it across the wrench opening. Because I am having all sorts of problems with my helmet, I couldn’t see what I was doing, so I left big globs of weld on the wrench, and I had to grind it down to make it pretty.

I was going to keep the opener, but then I thought of Mike’s frozen corpse sitting in a Ford Explorer with a seized engine, surrounded by puzzled state troopers, one of which was busy writing his dead body a ticket for driving without a license, and I decided to make it a birthday present, because that would completely make up for sending him to an untimely death.

Before turning the opener over to him, I put a lanyard hole in the end of it. Now Mike has the world’s heaviest keychain.

Mike thought a new ABS sensor might fix the overdrive problem, so we spent a day crawling around under the Explorer, and we got a new one installed. We put a quart of Lucas Engine Oil Stop Leak in the engine, and that seemed ( ! ) to reduce the leak’s flow to an acceptable rate.

Unfortunately, the transmission fluid level was low, and Mike added too much, so we spent the next day looking for someone to flush the transmission. Mike figured he might as well flush it instead of just having the level reduced. The weather had turned cold and rainy, so that was fun. I wore traditional Miami cold weather gear: a hooded fleece jacket with shorts. Maybe not the best choice.

Sears gave Mike a service appointment, but when we arrived, we learned that a Sears appointment is really an appointment to stand in line. It seems to serve no purpose at all. When we got to the front of the line, they refused to service the car because of the mileage. You would think they would have mentioned this on the phone, but Sears is dying, so I guess the people who work there are not knocking themselves out in order to get promoted.

I did offer to give the money back and put the car on Craigslist, but by now Mike was on a quest. He wasn’t about to surrender. Thank God.

The next day he got up early and bought an inverter from Harbor Freight. This is a device that turns DC into AC. He figured he would install it inside the car and connect a 1500-watt space heater to it. I am completely serious. My suggestion was to stop at Salvation Army stores during the trip and buy a used down jacket and gloves.

He collected me, and we decided to go to a Salvation Army store to see if they had anything he could use to keep himself alive. Miraculously, they had an unused electric blanket. I thought that was the answer. Put the blanket on, turn on the inverter, and drive. That has to be better than a heater, which blows hot air in random directions. It was like five bucks, so Mike decided to buy it. I also found an incredible deal: a #6 Wagner Ware skillet in perfect condition. Mike is my friend, so of course, my first impulse was to grab it before he got to it and buy it for myself, but I already have three #6 skillets, so I decided to let him have it. If he hadn’t bought it, I think I would have shot him. It’s the perfect size for cornbread. He got it for $3.75. Talk about “stole.”

We spent most of yesterday running cables through the car’s firewall and installing the inverter. He fired it up, and sure enough, it powered an electric drill. Now that he’s gone, I’m kind of wondering if it’s okay to use an inverter while the car is running, but I guess he’ll have to find out on his own. Maybe I should disconnect the phone.

He won’t be able to get a heater until he gets to Fort Lauderdale. In Miami, stores only order a few heaters every year, and on the first cool day, Cubans storm the aisles and buy every last one. The ones they can’t use, they sell for a massive profit. Probably. That’s what they do with generators during hurricanes. Anyway, there are no heaters here today.

I am still dealing with the virus I got a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have congestion or anything, but I have a crappy feeling that gets worse with exertion and lack of sleep. Last night I collapsed on my bed and started sweating, even though the mattress was cold. I thought for minute that I might be dying. I was cool with that. I still had Mike’s money, so I was dying a winner.

I slept about nine and a half hours, and then I got up to say goodbye to Mike. I still don’t feel rested, but I think a day of total loafing will put me right.

I shouldn’t worry about Mike. He’s a possibility thinker. Whatever happens, he will come up with a solution that will get him to New Hampshire. Anyone who would put a space heater in a $500 car can be trusted to look after himself.

I was hoping to talk to Mike about God while he was here, but he kept me so busy, I didn’t make as much progress as I had hoped. I managed to get him to sit still for a prayer session with my friend Travis and me. Mike loved it, and he talked about it before he left. He had been in a hurry to get to a car parts store, so he almost missed the session, but I got him to put it off long enough to pray. I told him you pray BEFORE you fix the problem, not afterward. That’s an extremely important thing to learn.

Considering all the barbecued ribs I bought Mike during the week, I’m not sure the car sale will show a profit, but at least it’s gone.

If you have a junk car, and you want a really interesting cheap project to improve it, I highly recommend an inverter. It will allow you to use power tools when the car breaks down. You can’t beat that.

I can’t wait for night so I can sleep some more. And I’m going to miss that bottle opener.

Who Says I Have no Filter?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Mysteries of the Y Capacitor, Revealed

I’m becoming more of a big electronics genius every day. Staying humble is not easy.

Yesterday I posted about the resurrection of my old HP 3300A function generator, and I mentioned the weird capacitors across the AC mains. Right where the three wires entered the box, there were two caps (in one package). One went from neutral to ground, and the other went from hot to ground.

One of these caps had shorted out, and that had killed the generator. I had to replace them. When a cap between hot and ground shorts out, you have a hot wire going straight to ground, and that is pretty worthless.

A commenter mentioned a different type of component which would look just like a dual capacitor. He said EMI (electromagnetic interference) filters resembled capacitors, and he said they had inductors inside them. I went back to my schematic to check, and I didn’t see any inductors, so I think all I had were caps.

I started reading up on this stuff. I could not figure out why anyone would need filters right before a big transformer and two big reservoir caps with diodes. The reservoir caps and diodes kill AC and turn it into DC, so I would think they would also kill any high frequencies in the line. My guesses are worth about what I charge for them, however.

After some Googling, I learned that what I have is a “type Y” setup. Caps like this are intended to keep interference from passing through the power connection. If it’s coming from outside, they keep it out. If it’s coming from inside your device, they keep it inside.

I can’t call the dead HP engineers who designed the machine, so I can’t ask what the big concern was. I was thinking maybe the AC wires, if not filtered at the entrance to the box, could act as antennas and shoot RF into other internal components, distorting the signal the machine provides. I don’t really know.

Here’s an important fact: it is well known that when capacitors in this configuration die, they can short, and then you can get shocked. This is bad, unless you view death as a postive outcome. You need special capacitors designated X or Y. These capacitors will resist things like power surges. Do they eventually die from old age and short anyway? Search me.

I know nothing about X capacitors, but the Y type come in two varieties: Y1 and Y2. Y1 capacitors are expensive industrial components, so people use Y2. You can find them on Ebay. I guess I’ll have to order some and replace the brand-new capacitors I just installed.

I am wondering if there is any point in putting caps like this on my guitar amps. I think the odds that the sound will improve are infinitesimal, and the chance of electric shock is appreciable, but it would still be a cool feature to brag about.

I have always assumed it was impossible to get a shock from a grounded metal box, but I am used to being proven wrong, so I may as well get the caps.

There are components made to divert power surges. I forget what they’re called. There is a list of “immortal mods” for guitar amplifiers, and it lists things you can do to an amp to make it resistant to failure. The power surge shunt things are on the list. You can look it up. I don’t know if they would work on Y caps. Haven’t checked.

I know this information is fascinating to everyone. Try not to get so engrossed you forget to look away from my blog and do whatever it is you’re being paid to do.

Waves of Joy

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Victory is Mine

People are probably dying to find out whether I succeeded in getting my old HP 3300A function generator working, so here I am to help. It is now running.

What is a function generator? It’s sort of the opposite of an oscilloscope. A scope displays electrical waveforms. A function generator creates them. I don’t know all the reasons why this is useful, but I can list one. If you have something like an amplifier, and you want to see whether a signal is finding its way through it, you can hook a function generator up to the input. This keeps a varying voltage going into the amp while you check the circuit at various points. For me, as a guitar amp builder, the alternative is to hook up a guitar and pick a string over and over. That’s work, and as I have often said, work is against policy.

I suppose you could also check an amp’s frequency response by sending different frequencies through it.

For some reason I no longer recall (probably the guitar amp thing), I bought a used Hewlett-Packard function generator a few years back. I don’t know when it was made, but I know they were selling them in 1965. It’s the size of a big briefcase, and it weighs maybe 25 pounds. It will produce several types of waves (sinusoidal, square, etc.) at frequencies up to 100 kHz. I’ll bet it was really expensive when it was new, because it contains approximately 4 million components which were installed by hand.

A few weeks back, I pulled it off the shelf to see if it worked, and I was disturbed to find that I had no cord for it. Did I ever have a cord for it? Search me. I could not find it.

The cords we have on computers now are called C14/C15 cords. C15 is the female end. I leave it to you go guess what the male end is. As you know, these cords have three conductors, and the connectors at the ends are in a line, with the ground conductor above the others (or below them, if you hold it that way). The function generator had a male receptacle for a cord, but it was a bizarre old setup known as the PH-163. I have written about it before, presumably to everyone’s delight. It’s sort of like a C14/C15, but it has oval pins.

You would think there would be ten billion PH-163 cords for sale on Ebay, but there aren’t. The best deal I found was about $25, for a cord for a machine which, for all I knew, would never work. My solution? I took one of the thousands of spare cords I’ve accumulated, and I bought a receptacle for it. I opened up the receptacle hole in the generator cabinet and installed the new receptacle, and that allowed me to use a new cord.

I was really proud of that job, because I had to use a whole lot of tools, and the stuff I was working on was very small. I had to use a Dremel, two files, a drill, a soldering iron, a solder sucker, a power screwdriver and some other stuff I forget.

Because I know you’re excited about this, I will post a photo, looking down at the receptacle.

The two red things are new capacitors I put in. I will tell you about that shortly.

I got it wired up, and I plugged it in. POOF. It failed to work, and the lights in the garage flickered. Seemed like there was a short.

I looked it over and asked questions on forums, and I learned something interesting. Sometimes old capacitors short out for no apparent reason. One day, you have a capacitor which blocks DC and many AC frequencies, and the next day, you have what might as well be a straight copper wire with zero resistance. The transformer on the generator had a dual capacitor across the main power wires, presumably to filter out crap, and when I checked the cap, I got 4 ohms of resistance (a short) on one side.

A dual capacitor (that name may be wrong) is a capacitor that looks like a single capacitor yet which contains two capacitors that share one lead. It will have one lead in the middle that goes to both caps, and it will have two leads on the sides, each of which goes to one cap. I do not know why HP chose to use a dual capacitor, but it seems like a bad idea, because when one side crapped out, I had to replace both sides.

I guess that’s not really true, but I felt like it was stupid to keep an old capacitor when its twin had just kicked the bucket.

Meanwhile, the generator’s fuse had melted. After I tried running it in the garage, I took it in my office and plugged it in, and the breaker that powers the outlet popped. I assume this is what killed the fuse. I should have used a current limiter, but I didn’t.

Here’s something that may be useful to doofuses like me who can’t read fuses. The fuse in the generator said “6/10A” on it. I couldn’t figure that out. Six amps? Ten amps? Six amps on even-numbered days and ten on odd-numbered days? It turns out it means 0.6 amps, which is something the manufacturer could have stamped on it instead of “6/10A”. I had to go on Ebay and order new 6/10A fuses.

I also had to order the caps. I have maybe 2000 caps on hand at a given time, and when the generator needed one, I didn’t have a single 0.01uF.

When everything arrived, I put the correct fuse in the machine and solder the caps in place. You can see them in the photo. I even saved the funky old insulation from the old cap and put it on the new cap leads.

The solder sucker I used is wonderful. If you to to an electronics store at random and ask for a solder remover, they will give you a clumsy foot-long plastic thing which is hard to use accurately. I found a little metal Japanese solder sucker about four inches long, and it’s much more precise. Solder tends to get stuck in the nozzle, so you you have to stop and get it out, but it’s worth it because it’s so easy to use.

I got everything put together and plugged the machine in. No joy. After going through all this, I found that the on switch was dead. No problem, right? Buy another one for three dollars on Ebay. Sadly, that option was not open to me. This thing had an expensive “Marco Oak Press-Lite” switch, which is apparently an aircraft-grade switch. It lights up when it’s on. New ones are selling for sums well into two figures. No way was I paying that.

I figured out which pins on the switch needed to be shorted to turn the machine on, and I soldered a wire between them. Now the machine turns on when you plug it in. I ordered a small toggle switch, and when it arrives, I’ll cut it into the wire I installed. I’ll put it in the front panel of the machine, and I won’t have to deal with the aircraft switch.

I got all this junk done, turned the machine on, put an oscilloscope probe on it, and got a signal! I was thrilled to the marrow. I got square waves, triangular waves, and sinusoidals. I got big ones, small ones, fast ones, and slow ones. The bizarre “sweep plugin” module that came with the generator worked, too. I don’t know what it is, but it changed the waveform. I still have one knob which is frozen, but at my age, that’s to be expected.

So now I have a huge signal generator which can probably be replaced with twenty dollars’ worth of modern parts that take up ten square inches. I don’t care. It was fun to get it running.

If you’re still reading, here is the payoff.

1. If you repair electronics, use a current limiter when you turn them on. Don’t be stupid like me. I have a variac and a light bulb limiter, and I still decided the best option was to hit the switch and pray.
2. You need a metal Japanese solder sucker. Don’t bother with the big plastic ones. It’s an “Engineer SS-02.”
3. A 6/10A fuse is really a 600 mA fuse.

I still have to fix my old Hitachi oscilloscope. I don’t really have to; I could throw it out. But I should fix it. It could come in useful some day.

My definition of “useful” is unusually broad.

I realize my life is full of excitement and adventure. Try not to envy me.

Geppetto’s Folly

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

In the Future, not all Robots Will be Helpful

My Arduino studies are still progressing.

As I wrote in earlier posts, I got myself an Arduino UNO, and I started learning to program it. I went to a website belonging to a person known as Ladyada, and I began working my way through her tutorials. I’ve run into a few snags, so while I haven’t stopped, I’m not moving as fast as I would like.

To program an Arduino, you have to write in a language which is either C or C++. If you’re wondering which it is, so am I. The Arduino website says, “the Arduino language is merely a set of C/C++ functions that can be called from your code.” They don’t know, either.

I guess they do know, but I don’t. I have no idea what the difference is, except that C++ came later.

Arduino comes with its own programming editor or “IDE” (Integrated Development Environment), which is a program like a word processor. You write the programs in it, and it can compile them (turning them into software that actually works) and help you debug them. It also helps you lay your programs out in a way that makes them easier to understand. Supposedly.

I say “supposedly” because it doesn’t really do that. At least it doesn’t seem like it. When you write computer programs, you make long lists of procedures and statements, and they tell the computer what to do. You’ll say things like, “If this, then that, but if this, if this, if this, then that, or else this.” You have to keep track of which “if” goes with which statements and so on. It’s very helpful if the program turns things different colors and indents them so things are clearly identified and so blobs of text that go together are clumped together visually. Arduino doesn’t seem to do this very well.

While I was using it (and getting confused), I remembered my ten minutes of college programming experience. I programmed in a language called Pascal (so named because computer science students are always under pressure – I kid), and I used a program called Borland Turbo Pascal. My dim and unreliable recollection is that Turbo Pascal did a very good job of coloring and clumping. I figured there had to be something similar out there (free) for C/C++, because the human mind’s ability to keep lines of code straight hasn’t improved since I took that course.

I found Turbo C++, which is apparently Borland’s C++ equivalent of Turbo Pascal. Sadly, when you run it, it takes up the entire screen, so you can’t move stuff to Arduino and upload it to your board.

I started looking for other stuff. I already have something called Dev C++, but it didn’t make me happy. I found Visual Studio, which is a free Microsoft program (free for hobbyists), and I decided to try that.

Visual Studio takes about a month to install. I believe that’s because it’s a huge program you can use to create your own version of AutoCAD or just about anything else. I was planning to use it to make three LED’s flash on an Arduino board, so maybe it was overkill. It took quite a while to figure out how to make it run, and when I did, it didn’t look too promising. People swear by it, though, so I plan to keep trying a while longer.

The tutorials themselves turned out to have a major flaw. The instructor asked students to write a program, and then way down the page, after it was all over with, she said the program wouldn’t work.

I learned this after trying to make it work. For several hours.

This is not the best way to present a course. When a problem has no solution, you really want to tell people up front.

It’s not surprising that a STEM instructor would do this. When I was in school, they did it all the time. They would give us integrals that diverged or problems the professors couldn’t solve, and they wouldn’t tell us until we had pulled all-nighters failing to find the answers.

The lesson I learned from this is to read the whole page before starting to write anything.

I’m starting to realize I need to think a lot about C (or C++) itself as I learn this. It’s not enough to take the little bits Ladyada provides and extrapolate. You have to know more than that. What’s the correct punctuation (or whatever) for an if statement? Can you read the state of a pin powering an LED to tell whether the LED is on? Things like that. If you start guessing, you end up with problems.

Arduino uses integers to label pins on the board. I don’t get that at all. If “int SwitchPin = 2” means the second pin is named “SwitchPin,” then doesn’t any integer you set equal to 2 become tied to that pin? I have no clue. Very confusing.

I’m going to have to go back and forth from C++ to Arduino to figure everything out, and I guess I should join the Arduino forum. I really hope it’s not full of snotty nerds.

I’m trying to come up with a strategy for writing programs. I think it’s best to start by writing a plain-language version of every program first. “This program turns an LED on if it’s off and off if it’s on.” Stuff like that. Then I can break it down into necessary steps, and then I can think up ways to say it in C++. Maybe that will be helpful.

Every mission needs a statement.

I still want to build a self-balancing robot, because they’re cool. I started looking into ways to build a robot that balances on one wheel or ball, and that got me to gyroscopes. Thanks to Arduino, I now know how gyroscopes are used to make rockets fly straight. You can go to Youtube and see the actual gyroscopes that made V2 rockets fly straight on the way to England.

I’m kind of hung up now, because I can’t decide between a kit and buiding a robot from scratch. A kit would get me past the relatively boring tasks of choosing parts and making components by hand, but it might push me into an area where I mainly turn the robot on and off instead of learning how it works.

It would be neat to make a robot that goes from one room to another and bothers people. You record a message into it, and then you send it across the house to your wife to say, “Bring your man a beer, pronto!” I’d need a really brave volunteer to try it out, though.

On a more serious note, though, I am disturbed when I think about the power machines will have in the very near future. As I check out the things very ordinary people with little training are doing with Arduino, as well as the crazy things well-financed organizations are doing with sophisticated electronics, I realize we are on the cusp between two ages: the age in which men were more capable than machines, and the age when machines will be more capable than men.

Some people worry that machines will become self-aware and then try to exterminate us. That’s silly. There is no reason to think electronics will ever be self-aware. The fact that something reacts to external stimuli doesn’t mean its aware, unless a TV is aware when you push a button on your remote. Machines won’t be aware. But they will act as though they were, so the future still looks pretty scary.

Right now, I get calls from robots that argue with me. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, get ready, because it will. They call and ask you something which is obviously intended to smoke you out as a sales prospect, and something tells you you’re not dealing with a human being. You ask, “Are you a human being?” The robot pauses, laughs, and says, “I’m a real human being.” It has been programmed to say that. Then you say, “Can you say ‘God Bless America’ for me?” Then the robot is stumped. They don’t program them to do things like that.

I offended a legitimate caller the other day. She happened to have a voice that sounded too perfect, and I thought she was trying to sell me something. I started telling her I didn’t talk to robots. She argued with me, so I asked her to say ‘Gerald Ford.'” I like tormenting robots. To my amazement, she said it. Then I had to apologize. Unfortunately, she had never received a call from a robot, so she assumed I was crazy when I told her what was going on.

A good sales robot can get through several sentences without giving you conclusive proof it’s a machine. That’s remarkable. If they can do that in 2017, think what they’ll be able to do in 2025. It won’t be too long before it will be impossible to tell a robot from a person, without considerable effort. Eventually, it won’t be possible at all. Then we’ll end up in a Blade Runner scenario, where an average person will never be sure what he’s dealing with.

Robots already have superhuman processing speed, and in the future, we will be able to give them superhuman physical speed and agility. They’ll be able to move around. They’ll be stronger and faster than we are. They’ll be able to predict what we do. They’ll do our jobs–even complex ones–better than we do. They won’t hate us, because they won’t really have awareness, but they can certainly be programmed to react as though they hate us. From outside, a being that mimics awareness perfectly might as well be aware. We could find ourselves dominated and abused by machines we don’t have the brains or strength to fight.

In the movies, we get around this with ridiculous bits of code saying things like, “Never harm a human being.” That’s beyond stupid. If we have to rely on code–and we do–we’re in trouble. Look how much malicious code there is right now. Do you think things will be different when machines become autonomous? Why would they?

If the human race lasts long enough, we will eventually see people sentenced for programming robots to hurt or kill their owners. It’s inevitable.

There are a lot of malicious people in the tech arena. Right now, they program machines to do evil. In the future, they’ll be able to program machines to program machines to do evil. When that happens, we will be removed from the loop and the problem will be self-sustaining and self-augmenting.

Nikola Tesla predicted that wars would one day be fought by unmanned machines. He was right, just as he was right about so many other things. But it’s going to be worse than that. It won’t be just war, which takes place between nations. It will be intramural conflict, within cities and nations, between human beings and nationless machines. Won’t that be something?

We will have to delay things by putting restrictions on machines. We always say guns don’t kill people, and that’s true. Computerized machines, however, will kill people. Unlike guns, they’ll do violence without our input. They’ll be like super-powerful pit bulls that have to be penned and detuned. Wait and see. It will happen. But we can’t stay in control forever.

Autonomous machines will be able to shoot people extremely accurately and quickly. They’ll be able to dispense deadly chemicals. They’ll be able to blind us with lasers. They’ll act so fast the cops won’t be able to react. They’ll be like the big nasty drones in the Robocop movies, only much faster. They’ll be able to use weapons that exist today, with skill and speed we can’t match, and they won’t feel pain or have fear. They won’t feel regret or mercy. They won’t be concerned about jail.

I wonder if anyone is even thinking about defensive measures yet. I suppose they are. I guess they’ll be a lot like the machines they’ll have to battle. I would imagine you would need a robot to fight a robot.

I won’t worry about this stuff. I don’t know if the world will last long enough for rebellious machines to become problematic. I’m a Christian, so I expect this age to end pretty soon. In any case, making a primitive Arduino robot that wanders around the house won’t speed up our doom.

Arthur Koestler compared the development of the thinking parts of the human brain, in our species, to the development of a tumor in an individual human being. We have greater reasoning abilities than animals, but our emotions are just like theirs, and our ability to control them is also undeveloped. We develop technology, and then we invariably misuse it because we lack love and mercy. We should not have been surprised when we read about drones shooting video through bathroom windows, and we should not be surprised the first time a robot kills a person.

I never expected life to get this weird. But predicting the future should not be hard for those who can see the obvious.

Here’s to a Cherished American Pastime

Saturday, January 7th, 2017


Today I spent a little while reading about Chinese TIG welders. A commenter suggested getting a used Miller instead of looking at Chinese, and out of boredom, I went to see what other people thought. Man, it’s disappointing to see unprincipled old geezers bashing China on the forums. What a waste of bandwidth. Talk about “fake news.”

You can’t trust anything these guys say. They lost their cushy union jobs because American workers refused to accept a competitive wage. With the help of bad management, they killed the companies they worked for. Now they sit around lying about Chinese products on the Internet, like that’s going to bring Packard and AMC back. It will never happen. Not even Donald Trump can make us THAT great again.

I have lots of Chinese stuff. Some of it is real junk. No doubt about that. But all of it works, and a lot of it is excellent. The prices are fantastic.

Ridgid tools are very good. They come from China. Dewalt manufactures in Asia. I have no idea where Bosch makes its tools, but I guarantee you, it’s not in Europe or the US. I just got an Chinese oscilloscope which is built extremely well. My lathe is a very nice Taiwan job, and my mill, which works great, was made in Taiwan and assembled in China. My vertical band saw is Taiwanese. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

The other day I bought a Shars indexable end mill. I paid about $30. Shars sells mostly Chinese stuff. The end mill is magnificent. An American equivalent costs three or more times as much. Am I going to buy that? Are you nuts? Just so some guy in the Rust Belt can be overpaid? That’s charity.

I tried to find some honest comments on the AHP AlphaTIG 200X welder. It was not easy. Creaky retirees who hate China said a lot of nasty things about it. Had they ever used one? Of course not.

I get it. Old American tool companies make better stuff. SOME old American tool companes. But often they’re no better than Asian, and look what they charge. The welder I mentioned can be had for under $850, with a three-year warranty. If it blows up, the seller pays for return shipping, and then they ship you a new one. A comparable Lincoln or Miller will run you over three times as much. It will do exactly the same thing, no better. It will probably last a lifetime. That’s a plus. No one seems to know how long an AlphaTIG will last. But with the Chinese welder, you save two thousand dollars, and you get into TIG several years earlier because of the price.

At worst, you pay about $280 per year for the fun of three years of top-notch TIG and stick welding. That’s assuming the machine craps out in three years.

People always say, “Wait for a deal.” That’s a great idea. When you’re 25. When you get older, waiting five years for something may mean never getting it. You may die first. Or you may lose years of use you can never get back. If you’re 50, you probably have 35 years left (tops) to use your tools. If you lose five years sitting around waiting for a gift from Craigslist, you’ve lost a seventh of them time you could have spent enjoying yourself. If you’re sixty, it’s a fifth of the time. If you’re retired, you may be losing considerably more.

Here’s how it looks:

1. AlphaTIG 200X: $838, delivered.
2. Miller Synchrowave 215: $2735, delivered.
3. Miller Synchrowave 215, used, from a dubious no-name seller, with no warranty: maybe $1600.

Lincoln prices are right up there with Miller.

If I had to rely on a welder to make a living, I would buy American. No doubt about it. I wouldn’t want to worry about having two months of down time while an importer waits for a part or a welder for me. That could kill a business. But to goof around in my garage, Chinese is fine.

If I had to rely on machine tools or ordinary power tools to make a living, would I buy American? No way. Absolutely no way. American mills and lathes are no better than Asian. I’m not sure American power tools even exist. Where would I find them? I know we still make a few big things, like table saws. I think you can still buy American air tools. I don’t know about drills and grinders and so on.

It would be neat to have a shop full of beautiful American tools from the golden age, but people like me never, in the history of the country, had the opportunity to buy those items new.

I remember looking up the Clausing lathe I bought used, to find out what it had cost new. It was tens of thousands of dollars. No normal American had one of those in his garage in 1965. It cost several times what an average worker made in a year. If I spent that much for a lathe, I would have nothing else.

Aside from that, the Clausing was not that great.

Look at the American tools hobbyists were able to afford back when the big American companies were still manufacturing. Atlas and Craftsman lathes. Flimsy garbage, with tiny capacities. Nobody had a new 15″ LeBlond in his home shop. The closest you could get was WWII surplus.

There are a lot of people who buy old US junk and “restore” it. They’re proud of what they’ve done, and they put pictures and videos on the web. About 95% of the time, when it comes to machine tools, they’ve just repainted tools without returning them to new condition. For example a guy will buy a lathe with worn ways, and he’ll strip it, paint it, and make the feeds work. That’s not a restoration. It’s still junk.

Some kinds of machines can be restored without spending too much. Woodworking tools aren’t very precise, so they don’t have to be scraped and ground when they get old. I have a beaten-up table saw which works as well as it did when it was new in the 1990’s. But lathes and mills lose accuracy with time, and you can’t get it back with a can of spray paint.

I considered buying a “restored” mill from an outfit that scrapes them. I found out it was a bad deal. They scraped a few things, yes, but they kept the old screws, the motor, the bearings…everything you would want to have replaced. The paint looked nice, though. That’s important. You could do it yourself for $15, but never mind.

Human beings love to blame others for their problems. China-bashing is just another manifestation of the inclination. What if American union workers hadn’t demanded unrealistic wages and hadn’t refused to work full days? What if the people who ran companies had been more responsible? Maybe we’d still be selling tools instead of buying them.

The most revered American lathe company is Monarch. They still sell their coveted 10EE lathe. This is a small machine that does extremely precise work. Guess what it costs? Over $100,000. And it’s not even new. They sell refurbs. They buy used Monarchs and put new parts in them. Even the manufacturers can’t afford new American products.

I’m surrounded by China, and so are the old guys who lie on the forums. They use Chinese phones and computers to bash China. Chinese goods are all around us. Why should we delude ourselves and pretend these things aren’t there? If your shoes, your computer, your desk, your TV, your flooring, your wallpaper, your appliances, and half of your American car are from China, why not buy Chinese tools, too? Come on.

Here’s something really funny: Harley riders bash the Asians from dawn till dusk, but Harleys are full of Asian parts. Americans don’t make motorcycle forks! We definitely don’t make the electronics in the bikes.

I may get a welder this year. I don’t know. I do know the China-bashers will make it harder to get solid information.

Wanted: Hunchbacked Lab Assistant

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Free Swill; Must have Green Card

I feel like I’m reaching a turning point in my evolution from white collar sissy to metalworking technonerd. I’m finally starting to feel like I have almost enough crap.

Back in around 2007, when I started buying tools, I would go out in the garage, hoping to do something, and I would see a big void. No table saw. No welder. No band saw. No nothing! Then I started accumulating stuff, bit by bit. This week, I knew I had made progress, because the 2017 Grizzly catalog arrived, and I didn’t even open it. There is nothing I absolutely have to have, right now, in order to keep from going crazy.

Mmm…Chinese TIG welders…mmm…credit card points…


Today I was working on Ladyada’s Arduino tutorials again, and I opened a new page. It listed a bunch of junk I had to have in order to do the next tutorial. Listed: a tiny push-button switch which can be inserted in a solderless breadboard.

I groaned. My local Radio Shack went Tango Uniform a while back, so if I want electronic parts, I have to drive across town to the electronics supermarket (where I will definitely spend over $75 regardless of what I “need”), or I have to wait for Ebay. Or I guess I could drive to the nearest Radio Shack, but dang, I love that electronics supermarket.

Anyway, I decided to check my stuff just to be sure I didn’t have what I needed. I went to the garage, and in the little drawer cabinet on the wall, I saw a drawer labeled “SWITCHES.”

Yes, I already have maybe thirty switches, not counting the ones I have left over from making guitar amps.

I’m living the high life. I should be in a beer commercial.