KD8ITX My Life, My Hobbies – All about Polyphasic sleep, Aquaponics, Ham Radio, Technology and more.

November 29, 2010

Picture of the week (Hiking at Enterprise)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I took this picture a couple months ago when I went hiking at my parents property down at Enterprise, PA.  This rock outcropping is one that my Dad thinks an Indian may have lived underneath many years ago, if you look just to the right of me in the picture you will see a stained strip going up along the back, when you look at it up close it looks like there has been a fire on that rock for a good many years.

Whether or not an Indian used to live there, it is a very cool area and a beautiful hike.  It is right in the middle of the original oil rush around Titusville, PA and there is old pipes and equipment all around that were used on those original wells.

November 25, 2010

Going almost barefoot (Using Vibram Fivefingers)

Filed under: Misc,Outdoors — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I keep coming across references online to people who are starting to run barefoot or nearly so, normally this would hardly register on my radar, but one of the blogs I read from time to time did a really good article on starting to run using Vibram Fivefingers (http://zenhabits.net/barefoot-running/).  After reading the article at ZenHabits I started doing some more research on these to see if it was mostly just hype, or if there could be something to running barefoot.

One of the most consistent benefits people mention when they talk about barefoot running is that it will strengthen the muscles in your foot and calf, which in turn should help with your overall posture which will lead to less back problems, etc.  Great!  One of my main goals for this last year was to strengthen my core muscles and work on getting my back more healthy since I have had back issues since I was a teenager.

The more I read about the Vibram Fivefingers, the more I wanted to give them a try, I was a bit worried that they were mostly just hype and that I would end up just wasting $100 on shoes I wouldn’t ever want to wear, but I decided to give them a try.  I found a local store about half an hour from here that sells them so I decided to go down and at least try a pair on and get sized for them (the sizes are more precise than normal shoes). I don’t know that I would say it was love at first sight, but after trying them on and walking around with them, I decided to go ahead and get them, about $100 later I walked out the store with a new pair of Vibram Fivefingers TrekSport.

From my research I knew that I should expect about 2 weeks of my feet hurting pretty bad since they would be adjusting to doing more work than they were used to.  I had hoped that somehow I would get to be spared the pain from adjusting, but I wasn’t.  The two main things that hurt for the first couple weeks were:

  1. My little toe ached in the bone at the joint, my little toe has always curled just a bit under the next one, and the Vibram Fivefingers forced it to be separate.
  2. The balls of my feet and toes ached a bit because they were not used to flexing so much, in normal shoes your toes don’t flex as much when you walk as they will in the Vibram Fivefingers.

My little toe aching was the worst, the second I would put my shoe on it hurt pretty bad, but I mostly tried to ignore it and know that it was probably temporary (thought it felt like it would never end).  However just like everyone said, by the end of the second week I was mostly adjusted to the new shoes.  I made a point of wearing them everywhere I went so that my feet would adjust quickly, I also wanted to see how they did on different surfaces.

I have now been wearing the Vibram Fivefingers for about 2 months, I wear them to work everyday, I have worn them running, hiking, kayaking, and wading in the water.  It is hard to describe how connected you feel to the ground beneath you.  My balance and sure-footed-ness (Made up word, just go with it!) are much better than they have ever been.  The first time I used them to walk in the Chagrin River it was incredible, I have always been very unsure of my step in the water as totally barefoot, I am a wimp, and with regular shoes or sandals I slip off rocks, stub my toes on boulders, etc.  However the first time I walked into the river with my Vibram Fivefingers I felt as sure footed as I am on land.

I took a fairly long hike out through the woods a few weeks ago in them, and once again, it was incredible how much contact I had with the ground I was hiking over.  The only issue I had while traversing through the woods (no trails, just hiking) was I kept getting ferns stuck between my toes, I wasn’t expecting that one!  After a couple months of wearing these almost exclusively I would have a hard time going back to regular shoes, I actually just got my second pair of Vibrams (A pair of red KSO’s) so that I can use one pair for running and one pair for work.

** This is part 1 of a 3 part series I am going to write about my experience with the Vibram Fivefingers, you can look for an article on running in them and a FAQ article over the next few weeks.

November 22, 2010

Picture of the week (Inside a crevice)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week — Marcus @ 12:54 am

Here is another picture from my hike a few weeks ago down at Alleghany National Forest.  We found a rock outcropping that had a fairly large crevice that ran quite a ways, I of course had to drop down in it and spend some time exploring around in there.

November 18, 2010

Ham Radio support for local bike race

Filed under: Ham Radio — Marcus @ 2:00 am

A couple weeks ago I helped provide emergency communication support for a bicycle race up at Buffalo NY that was put on by http://www.campuswheelworks.com.  This particular race was pretty easy to provide support for and it only required three of us to cover the course (Me, Paul – KC2TOO and Jeff KC2NVM).

It is common to get ham radio operators involved in bike or running races as you can get a bunch of the guys stationed throughout the course and they can all talk to each other.  The main purpose is to report and relay information about injuries back to the coordinator which can be passed on to either on-site medics, or used to make a call to 911.

Hopefully, during the course of the race, no injuries will happen that require the ham radio operators, however there is plenty more the operators can do.  For example, during this race, I kept pretty busy repairing the tape lines that were setup to define the course, there were several corners that got muddy and the racers kept going through and breaking the lines.  Also I was able to keep track of the different obstacles and report back when one of them came loose so that it could be repaired mid-race.

In the end, it was an enjoyable day, I got to have a front seat to the race and got to play with one of my ham radio’s for the day.  I normally don’t have time to get involved with the emergency operations like this, but I had a good time and I may try to get involved in some of the bigger races in the area.

After the race was done, we stuck around to help clean up, I ended up wrapping quite the ball out of the tape they used for the course lines, I brought it back and presented it to the race coordinator and they took it back to hang at the bicycle shop 🙂

November 15, 2010

Picture of the week (Black mushroom @ Allegheny National Forest)

Filed under: Outdoors,Picture of the week — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

A couple weekends ago I came back to Jamestown NY to help take down a 60 foot ham radio tower for a local club there, however through a series of events we were not able to do it that weekend.  Instead of wasting the weekend back, myself and a couple good friends of mine jumped in a car and drove down to do an afternoon hike in the Allegheny National Forest.  While out we ran across this mushroom, I have been trying to identify what kind it is and I think it may be a “Blackening Waxcap“.  Of course this would be inedible, however just from looking at it I had pretty much figured it wouldn’t be edible!

November 11, 2010

Fixed my furnace (Quatro TrueBlue 90)

Filed under: Misc — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

If you are coming here because you have this same furnace and can’t find a part for it, please leave a comment on this article with the part you are looking for, I found most of them online and can send you links to where I found them, I was looking mostly at the sensors and electronic parts and almost all of them are standard Honeywell parts.

So we got a bit of a surprise when we turned our furnace on this year, it came on a couple times, then one morning it seemed kind of cold, I checked the thermostat and it was about 64 degrees in the house and the furnace should have kicked on at 68 degrees, not good!

So I go through some basic troubleshooting, turned the furnace off and on, checked the breaker, made sure the AC could come on etc.  I ended up noticing the controller for the furnace was blinking an error code, time to call the furnace repair place I guess.  Of course this breaks quite the streak for us, this was the first time we have had to have a repair person to our house to fix something since we bought it 5 years ago, everything that has broken so far I have been able to fix.

So a couple days later the repair man shows up and as luck would have it, the furnace was working just fine that day, he seemed to think it was a clogged up filter causing it, I shrugged my shoulders and said I would replace it.  Two days later, furnace stops working again, called the repair place out and luckily this time it wasn’t working when they got here, I wasn’t at the house so I don’t know what they did, but it was working when they left.  They told Meagan that if it still wasn’t working we would probably have to replace the controller.

So guess what, couple more days and it stops working yet again, gah!  I call the repair place one more time and they tell me they will research the prices and call back that afternoon.  In the mean time I had been looking on the internet to try and figure some of it out myself, I didn’t want to mess with it too much because I have no experience with gas products and didn’t want to blow the house up or something.  In my research I came to find out the company that made my furnace has been out of business for several years and that nobody carries parts anymore for this furnace.

A couple days later the repair place calls me to tell me none of their suppliers have even heard of this name brand and that they probably can’t get parts for it, they ask me if I can find out who installed the furnace so that they can try a different way of tracking it down, of course I have no idea who installed it and no way of finding out.  So now I am at a bit of an impasse, as per the repair place it is looking more and more like I am going to have to get a brand new furnace because of a $200 part they can’t find.

Anyone that knows me very well will know what came next, the furnace is essentially done for, nothing for me to break at the point, so I started tearing it apart and researching everything I could find, in about a half an hour I found our that #1 all the controls on my furnace are made by a company by the name of honeywell and they are still in business (and a pretty standard brand) and #2 this particular part (the controller) was used in another brand of furnace that they still make, so I could get the part.

A few minutes more of research and I found one used on eBay, I was able to buy it for $35.  A few days later the new part came in and it took me about 45 minutes to switch them out, I flicked the switch and the furnace roared to life!  I was excited, I didn’t have to pay any more money to the repair place, and I wouldn’t have to “somehow” come up with $2,000 or more to replace a mostly working furnace.

Of course, as is probably becoming apparent by now, it wasn’t actually fixed yet, worked for a couple days, then the same error code blinking again.  I was annoyed, but I had spent enough time researching that I was pretty confident that I could fix it, I had cross referenced and been able to find almost every control part on the furnace, so it was just down to determining which part was bad.

I took a ton of high resolution pictures to send to my good friend Paul (He works in maintenance for a local grocery chain in PA and NY) and I would trust his opinion way more than the “trained” guys they sent out.  He told me how to check the different sensors, I checked them once while the furnace was working then I just had to wait till it stopped working test again and compare the results.

While going through the pictures again I found that one of the air lines to test air pressure was half full of water, I drained that, turned the furnace back on and it worked, twice when the furnace wasn’t working I found that that line was full of water and draining it would immediately “fix” the furnace.

Great we know the cause, now to find the solution, there had to be a reason for the water to back up into there.  So this last weekend Paul was out for a visit and we spent some time looking at it and found the drain lines were totally and completely plugged up, he could barely blow through them!  I spent some time with a dowel and hot water getting everything cleaned out, and that seems to have fixed it.

There is a real takeaway from this story, had I just blindly followed what the “experts” that came out to my house had told me, I would currently be at least $2,000 further in debt.  However, instead I took the time to try and work out the issue and in the end I spent about $125 to fix it (Of course looking back I could have fixed it with a 50 cent dowel!).  I know I am most likely better than average at troubleshooting than the average Joe, but for two thousand dollars, I think most people should be willing to spend some time trying to work out the problem.

The writer of one of the financial blogs I read every day (Get Rich Slowly) has a quote that is so true “Nobody cares more about your money than you do”.  I for one am glad to have my furnace working now, and if it breaks again, you can bet I will take a stab at troubleshooting it before calling in another “expert”.

November 8, 2010

Picture of the week (Hiking with Madison)

Filed under: Dogs,Outdoors,Picture of the week — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I went hiking a few weeks ago at one of my Dad’s woods.  The intent of the trip was to see how Madison did on a hiking/camping trip.  I have done both with her in the past, but never combined them, also all the hiking I have done with her was on established trails, I wanted to see how she would do just going through the middle of the woods.

In short, she loved the hiking, she followed me very well, was able to find her way around trees and through streams and such to keep up.  However once we got to our camping spot, every time I would turn my back on her, she would head back the way we came in to go back to the car.

I didn’t end up getting to camp that trip, but I did get some fun pictures on the hike out.

November 4, 2010

My new rainwater collection system

Filed under: Aquaponics — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Water is an ongoing problem for me, I need to replenish the water in my Aquaponics that I lose both from evaporation and from what the plants use to grow.  The bigger my Aquaponic system the more I have to replace, in my original system (About 15 gallons) I was losing about a gallon every other week, in my upgraded system (About 50 gallons) I lose about 2 gallons a week, after I build my next system (About 150 gallons)  I will probably be losing 8-10 gallons a week.

Historically I have just used the city water and run it through our Britta water filter, however that only really works with small amounts of water, when you have to fill the Britta up 10-15 times a week just for the Aquaponics, it gets old fast.  Also using that much tends to make the filters not last as long and they are fairly expensive.

Even with the water being filtered by the Britta, I still worry about using the water, I do not know for sure if the Britta will remove the chloramine added by the city (An additive to kill off any bacteria in the city water), if I add water that has chloramine in it to my Aquaponics I run the risk of it killing off the good bacteria that I depend on to convert the Ammonia from the fish to Nitrate that my plants need to grow.  Also the city tends to force the PH level of the water to be fairly high “Base” to keep it from wearing down the cement pipes the water travels in to get from the water department to my house.

So why have I continued to use city water filtered very slowly through a Britta water filter for all this time?  I thought setting up a rainwater collection system would cost a fair amount and be a real pain to setup.  It turns out I was right and wrong.

If you look at commercially available rainwater collection systems, you will see they are going to run you at least $200, and you are going to have to setup some special equipment on your downspout to redirect the water into your rain barrel and then once your barrel is full it will direct the water back into your normal drainage system.  Also it will have a fancy setup so you can hook up a garden hose from the bottom to use in your garden and such that works via gravity.

Those are nice, and they may be worth it for many people, but I realized I could go much simpler.  I don’t need a hose attached, I am carting it into the house for my fish tanks anyways.  I am not worried about what happens if the rain barrel overflows, so I don’t need anything fancy setup on my downspout.

So my solution?  I bought a garbage bin from WalMart for $10, washed it out really well and just have the downspout sticking right in the garbage bin.  I cut a notch out of the lid so it will go around the downspout and keep most of the leaves and such out of the water.  The first 2-3 times the bin filled up with water, I just dumped it out so that any of the chemicals that might leach out from the new bin didn’t make it into the fish tank (The water and bin smelled a bit like burnt plastic at first).  Now the water is perfectly clean and clear, it doesn’t have any kind of bad smell, and the water tests I have done on it show it to be close to perfect (Just a bit on the acidic side when I test the PH).

Now rather than spending the better part of an evening filling the Britta, I can just go out with my gallon jugs and bring in whatever water I need, so far it has been working great!  I have also started setting up some barrels in the basement where I intend to store about 150 gallons of water to help me make it through the winter.  I plan to put an air bubbler in each barrel in the basement to keep the water from going stale.

A quick word of warning, if you decide to setup this type of system yourself, be aware of the possible issues with your rain barrel overflowing.  If you are collecting water off your house and you allow the barrel to overflow, it could end up flooding your basement by putting that quantity of water in the ground right beside your house, normally your gutters will drain out through your normal drainage systems away from the house.  I was not worried about this because my collection barrel is on my garage a fair ways away from my house.

November 1, 2010

Picture of the week (Capri Salad)

Filed under: Food,Picture of the week — Tags: , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

One of our favorite side dishes that Meagan and I like to make is Capri Salad, in the summer when we have access to decent tomatoes we tend to have this at least 1-2 times a week.  This is such a simple dish to make and it is hard to get tired of, and I am constantly trying to find ways to use up the basil off my basil tree in my Aquaponic system.

To make enough for two you will need the following:

2 Tomatoes
1 Mozzarella ball
1/2 Cup of Basil
Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce

Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella ball about 1/4″ thick, dice the basil into small strips.  Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella however you like on a place, sprinkle the basil on top then drizzle a bit of the Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce around the place.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

See wasn’t that easy?  Takes about 10 minutes start to finish and it tastes just as good as any salad you will get at a restaurant.  Also don’t skimp on the tomatoes, they are what makes this dish.  Also if you don’t have Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce, you can just use regular Balsamic Vinegar.

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