Archive for the 'Projects' Category

Of summer colds, artisan bread, doggie mischief, and scrap metal

Posted by Karen in Bruno, Food, Home Improvements, Landscaping, Projects.
Sunday, June 22nd, 2008 at 7:15 pm


I woke up Friday morning feeling, as Juliana would put it, trundle-bundled.  I kept telling myself it was just allergies, but by the time I biked my sorry self in to work, I realized I was actually feeling pretty miserable.  So I grabbed my laptop and turned around and biked home.  And proceeded to rapidly deteriorate till Nate was left with a whining, sniffling, sneezing Jabba the Hutt-like blob on his hands.  He was a real champ, even bought me ice cream and cheezy poofs!  Aww. 

So my big plans to get everything in the world done on Friday didn’t happen, grr.  With all the weekend work events I have, my free weekends are like gold to me and I pack them full of yard and house projects, hiking, bike riding, and other ways of making the most out of being healthy and living in a kick-ass city.  A summer cold has no place in these plans.  Sigh.  At least I had the weekend off and didn’t have to be tromping around a prairie or something, but why does it seem like colds often wait for the weekend to rear their ugly head? 

20080622174055_brioche.jpgIn spite of feeling pretty crappy, today was a good day.  Wanna hear about it?  Ok.  Nate started us off right by making these crazy delicious fresh fruit brioche muffins

On a side note, we are watching C20080622172320_attack_dogs.jpgasey Jones the black lab this weekend.  Long-time readers may recall that the last time we watched him, the overall mood was something like this: 

Well, these boys are much older and wiser now… and lazi20080622173050_lazy_puppies.jpger!  I mean, they still have some of the rough and tumble in them, but last time there was no sleeping!  It was non-stop Wrestle-Mania!  It’s actually kind of nice.  We had hoped this would also mean that Casey had grown out of some of his naughtiness.  But the first night he ate the rest of the loaf of spinach parmesan bread Nate had made off the counter.  And last night he somehow opened the container of brioche dough Nate had just made and ate a big chunk of it!  You do not mess with a man and his brioche dough.  Seriously.  Luckily we caught him before he ate it all, or Nate might hav20080622165804_lunch.jpge taken inspiration from the movie we were watching, Sweeney Todd, and turned him into a meat pie! 

Ok, moving on.  For lunch I made us these delicious salads with spinach from our first CSA veggie delivery!  I also used chives, nasturtium flowers , and lime mint from our window box.  And we had cheese and crackers, with cheese Nate made from one of our batches of yogurt.  It’s been a good food day so far.

I did my best to not be a total slug and ended up getting quite a bit of yard and garden work done, but Nate worked20080622175203_no_more_shed.jpg his boo-tay off today and tore down our freaking shed!  Brother Dean recently gave us a sawzall, you know, because he had an extra one (?!?).  We had explored the idea of trying to give the thing away, but it was so old and all the bolts were so rusted that it wasn’t really take-apart-able.  In the20080622175340_shedless_possibilities.jpg end Nate decided there were enough people on Craigs List looking for scrap metal that he would just cut the thing apart, stick it in the alley, and post it.  And now behold, the shedless zone.  Oh, the possibilities…  It may not look like much right now, but just you wait! 

And one more thing – HAPPY BIRTHDAY STEVE!

A Few of My Favorite Things

Posted by Karen in Bruno, Day to Day, Garden, Home Improvements, Weather.
Tuesday, February 19th, 2008 at 9:56 am


But first, the big news.  Bruno graduated from Doggy Obedience Level II Sunday evening!  Awww.  He can now (sometimes) do all of the following:  sit or lay down and stay while we do whatever the heck we want and make as much of a ruckus as we want, or when someone comes to the door, walk right past huge distractions (dogs, food) while keeping his attention on us, come to us past a huge distraction, sit and look at us while we greet another person with a dog, and more.  The point of this class was mostly to teach him to do things he already knows how to do in a distracted environment, and to igno20080219071848_pict0002_22.jpgre distractions when we want him to, which is pretty freaking hard for our dog friend. 

For him to really get it down Nate and I now have to make it a point to take him into lots of distracting environments just to train him.  That has so not been my favorite thing to do – something about an 85 pound dog pulling your arm off and completely ignoring you…  But now that he’s already come so far and we have a new understanding of how to work with him in those situations I feel more inspired.  Plus, the better he’s able to behave in those situations, the more places we’ll get to take him!  It’s funny though, I think because of his size he has to be so much better behaved, because you can’t just yank him around like a little yappy dog. 

And now for my new favorite things.  Thing #1:  our new citrus juicer.  The last time we made homemade ginger ale, I hand squeezed lik20080219074136_nate_juicer.jpge 30 lemons and limes and then couldn’t open my hands for a week.  I vowed to get some sort of device for the next time.  So we recently picked up this hot little number at one of our favorite stores to browse in, Kitchen Window.  Nate drools over all the pots and pans, I stare at all the different kinds of cupcake sprinkles, and we both sample as many different kinds of gourmet chocolate as possible until they are ready to kick us out.  Anyway, I tend to prefer non-electric appliances when it’s reasonable, both for the reduced energy consumption and the gratification of using your own muscle power.  So amidst all the crazy expensive electric citrus juicers was this bright orange "Retro Hand Juicer", for something like $25!!  We snagged it and have used it almost every day since!  It’s so unbelievably easy and efficient.  We’ve been drinking fresh squeezed grapefruit juice in the morning, and putting fresh squeezed lemon juice in tabouli and hummus, and I can’t wait to make a new keg of ginger ale knowing how much easier it will be! 

Thi20080219075029_spice_rack.jpgng #2:  our new spice rack.  We cook a lot (and by we I mean Nate, let’s be real).  We have 1 spice rack above our stove but still had lots more that couldn’t fit in there.  So we got this one, also at Kitchen Window, and Nate hung it in the little window nook.  And then he got these wee little hooks for measuring spoons and bottle openers (of which we have many).  It makes my brain feel more organized just looking at it. 

Thing #3: this mint plant.  Lime mint to be exact.  We dug it out of our garden at the end of the season last year and 20080219075217_pict0001_28.jpgput it in a little pot in our kitchen.  And then kind of forgot about it.  I mean we watered it and stuff, but never really used it.  It got real leggy and kinda weird.  But then I all of a sudden like had a hankering for some fresh lime in a drink – mandarin vodka and soda water with fresh lime mint – very summer.  But sometimes you need that when it’s -10 degrees outside!  We’ve also been putting it in our salads lately and I’m convinced this little plant is singlehandedly fending off the February Minnesota winter blues!

Speaking of which, I have to be outside all day tomorrow for work.  Do you know what the weather forecast is for 9 a.m., the time I meet the first group?  -9 degrees, but feel like -26 with windchill.  I hate tomorrow so much already.  No amount of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice or fresh lime mint can help me. 

Blog silence

Posted by Nate in Bruno, Day to Day, Projects.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2007 at 7:03 pm


Whew.  I wasn’t sure if I’d find time to post until after the holidays!  It’s been a little hectic around here, for sure.  A quick recap for those wondering what Duoteam’s been up to:

  • img_0479-resized.jpgCelebrating Thanksgiving in Nebraska at Karen’s brother’s house.
  • Karen helped decorate and overall spread good cheer for her office’s holiday party.
  • We’ve both had colds.
  • I haven’t biked to work since the day before Thanksgiving (see above – but I intend to soon!)
  • junie_bruno.JPGI finally started brewing again after blowing my supply at the wedding.
  • It snowed!  We’ve had two storms in a row, and more forecast for tomorrow.  After a disappointing winter last year, we’re off to a good start.
  • Bruno turned 3!  He got to have a little friend over for some massive bouts of tug-o-war.  Fun.

pict0004.JPGI’ve also been tweaking the mostly-working-perfectly wakeup system, just today I adjusted the sensor to determine when the alarm is going off and fixed a little bug in the light timing.  I had to program it to start about an hour before we want to get up since it takes that long for our house to get up to the temperature we want – it’s been near zero in the mornings for the last few weeks.

pict0003.JPGNot sure who’s interested in the details, but in the pic at right you can see the components that went into this.  From roughly left to right: the cannibalized innards of a 5V power supply ($2 at Savers!), the kit I put together to fade the 120V light, and on the right is a barebones Arduino board soldered into a little PC board I got from Radio Shack that’s also holding the rest of the circuitry I designed.  Nothing too complex, and I know I could have gotten it in a smaller box, but this one holds the light nicely.

Pretty nice in action, too.  It’s nice waking up to some light instead of bleak & cold darkness.  I’ve found it’s much more of a psychological effect (for me, anyway), where I’ll wake up with the light and the sound and know that there’s more time in the cycle before I’m "supposed" to get up, but I’ve been making an effort to not be tied to this "scheduled" wakeup time.  If I’m awake and it’s close enough, I get up!  Hard to break myself of the "but the alarm won’t go off for another 10 minutes!" thing – but I think that just leads to bad sleep in the morning.  Anyway.  Good progress, and I definitely like it better than any other alarm I’ve used.

That’s all for now!  Keep bugging Karen, maybe she’ll post!

DIY helmet lights

Posted by Nate in Bike Commuting, Projects.
Monday, November 5th, 2007 at 9:35 pm


So the ride home was awesome, windy and brisk, but the wind was mostly with me.  Still not pitch dark at 5 by any means, but it’s dark enough I’m glad to have the light — and it’s super bright!  I still love the Cat Eye for the ground view in front of me, but having a light on my head is awesome!  I can look at a stop sign on the next block and see it blinking back at me, then move my head and it disappears.  It’s a 1/2 watt LED with a really focused lens so it throws a tight beam quite a long way.

pict0001.JPGBut the whole contraption, as I mentioned, was way too bulky and unsafe in case of an accident.  Taking a leaf out of Apple’s MagSafe book, I decided to go with magnets as my "quick-release" mechanism instead of velcro.  I bent a bit of scrap metal into a Z to allow me some leeway to aim and super glued it to the front piece of the light.  This would pict0008.JPGattach to a rare earth magnet on the brim of the helmet.

I intended to glue some metal to the battery case (two AAAs now) and stick this to more permanent magnets on the helmet, but the batteries themselves provided enough sticking power when I used two magnets.  These went along the back right, anpict0007.JPGd in the dead center of the back I glued one more bit of scrap to attach the rear blinker.

I had to bend more metal and wedge it into the clip of the blinker so the magnet could grab something – it almost worked on the batteries inside but not quite.

pict0010.JPGNow I have a super low-profile helmet during the day – just three magnets and a bit of metal – and it converts with a few clicks for night biking!  I’ll have to get it back on my head tomorrow and see how it’s aiming, but early testing looks good.  The super glue seems plenty strong, and I can swing my head around pretty fast without any wobble in the lights.  Sweet!

Biking in the dark

Posted by Nate in Bike Commuting, Projects.
Monday, November 5th, 2007 at 4:57 pm


So we’re finally done with that daylight saving nonsense, meaning we get more light in the morning but less in the evening – "less in the evening" of course meaning "dark when I leave work".  I rode home last week once at about 9 (would be 8 this week) and had pretty good visibility with my handlebar-mounted CatEye light, plus a flashing red light on my back.  Yesterday we stopped at REI and I picked up two new flashers with the intention of attaching them to my helmet – the highest point of visibility on me.  Plus, with a head-mounted front light I can look at something I want to see and get it lit, the bike light only goes straight forward.  Also I can look right at cars and be (more) sure they can see me, since I’ll be shining it right into their heated killing machine.

1875915256_bfb0e79332_o.jpgMy 10-minutes-before-I-leave-what-can-I-rig-up attempt resulted in this cyborg monstrosity.  Aw, yeah.  That really is a piece of wood attached to the helmet with zip ties.  Jealous much?

My plan for tomorrow is to remove all of that and rig up some amazing magnet system to be able to clip the pieces on and off easily and reduce the overall weight.  Also, I read a lot about helmets today and realized quickly how potentially dangerous it is to have a big stick attached to your head — the helmet’s supposed to slide on the pavement if you crash, not dig in!  So, quick disconnect magnets to the rescue!  Stay tuned for more build pictures.

( Too bad, tho, that cyborg head looks pretty freaking cool when I’m barreling down the path.  Like I have a laser canon on my head.  Hmmm, laser canon… )

1 out of 6

Posted by Nate in Beer, Friends, Projects.
Thursday, October 25th, 2007 at 10:45 pm


1753050100_da87f898d8_b.jpgThat’s how I did in the beer identification last night at Town Hall’s Beerlympics: 1 correct answer out of 6 beers.  What.  The.  Hell.  I don’t know, I’m still trying to come up with an excuse.  Terrible.  The winner got just three, and I think he got the two I was pretty sure about but got the name wrong on one and sort of got mislead by the Belgian 1752233207_c893d2934e_o.jpgyeast in the other.  Talking to the brewer afterwards he said it was the same yeast as the one I guessed, and hell, it tasted the same to me.  Then there’s one I really have no excuse for, should have nailed it, which would have given me 4!  But did I get 4?  No.  Guess I’ll just have to go to Town Hall more this year to "practice".  :)

1753081206_81ef634ffd_o.jpgWe got third place overall, though!  Cody was DQed in the chugging cause he has a leaky mouth – they thought he dribbled too much, even though it was just a few drops.  Boo.  He had the fastest time, too…  Scott was amazing in the quarter bounce – he found his rhythm and I think had 10 in a row at one point!

1752310521_1cf0212e93_o.jpgBut I have to find a new word to describe the awe in which I now hold the eating machine named Peter: 5 brats in 5 minutes.  I’m talking big, greasy brats and buns, none of this little hot dog stuff.  Unreal.  I’m wishing someone had a video phone and I could go find a clip on Youtube of him tearing his shirt off after brat #3.  Oh, my.  First place in the brat eating contest!!

In other news:

  • The wakeup system is moving along nicely.  I found a way to remove the optical sensor piece and am instead monitoring the voltage directly, which gives me a much more reliable (and faster) way to sense when the alarm is going off.  We’ve had it in our room this last week with just a few LED lights instead of the final fixture (the kit for that dimmer just arrived yesterday), and it’s been working pretty well.  I think it will be better once it’s generating more light, and once I stop waking up early every morning wondering if it’s going off soon.  Should be fully operational by next week when I’ll try to document it better!
  • This is probably officially the latest in the year I’ve been continuously biking to work, and it rules.  There were a ton of birds singing yesterday along the Greenway, the weather’s been chilly gorgeous, and I even saw a deer last week!  I’m feeling more and more confident that if the route is ridable the cold is something I can handle with good gear.  And my definition of "ridable" is getting broader, so here’s hoping for a good winter of bike commuting!

1753155212_db8bb5ebd6_o.jpg That’s all for now!  Karen and Cody and I are heading to Chicago this weekend for a halloween party, should be a blast!

(sorry, I don’t know what sort of gang sign I was going for there, but it just looks like I’m hugging myself…)

[All photos courtesy of Peter's Flickr page]

Wake Up! (prototype)

Posted by Nate in Projects.
Friday, October 19th, 2007 at 2:42 pm


Argh!  So close!  Last night was the first night I tried to test the new wakeup system (it feels weird to call it an alarm, but wakeup system is too long..?) and it went pretty well – until morning, that is.  Then, as planned, there were birds twittering nicely, but the room remained sadly dark.  And, totally ruining the intended effect, I was thinking about it all night and kept waking up to see what time it was and when it was supposed to go off!

bpict0002.JPGSo, clearly not working yet.  Let’s back up…  I ended up with a Sony ICF-CD815 Dream Machine CD / radio alarm clock, a nice looking unit with dual alarms.  I can imagine a scenario where one of us has to get up at some terrible hour, and can use one built-in alarm, leaving the second one to trigger the system later for a gentle wakeup.

pict0001.JPGSpeaking of "trigger the system", that’s where my troubles began:  I needed a way to tell the Arduino that the alarm was going off.  I had toyed with the idea of watching voltage across the CD motor, etc, but ruled this out because we’d never be able to play CDs in the room without starting up the light dimmer!  After pulling apart and testing everything I could think to test with just bpict0003.JPGa multimeter (if I keep doing this I’m getting an oscilloscope), I decided to tie into the LED for Alarm A.  By attaching my own light here, I could create a signal outside the clock that I hoped I could detect with the Arduino.

It wasn’t that easy.  The light can be either solid on or solid off depending on if the alarm is set or not, and it goes to a "flashing" state when the alarm is actually going off.  Hmm.  I wrote and tested numerous versions of code to watch for resistance changes in a light-sensitive resistor, and went to bed believing I had it nailed.

blinking.jpg

The complication lies in the poor sampling ability of the resistor (that pulse line above is actually pretty wavy) and the timing issue of the blinks: no matter what I tried, the code would sometimes miss a blink, and decide the alarm was over.  What I ended up doing was keeping track of the last 8 samples and counting state changes.  If I could say that the light "changed" (beyond a certain threshold) at least 3 times out of 8, it was "blinking".  This leads to a little bit of lag – 8 samples takes about 5 seconds – but it seems to be working.

bpict0008.JPG… of course, I didn’t get that sample size right until too late.  This morning some combination of being in the dark and possibly a loose connector left the whole thing inoperable.  Dag.  Always tomorrow morning, I guess!

At right: the little guy making it all happen.  (The Arduino board is actually under the piece you can see.)  The three clear LEDs are for temporary lighting, the red one represents the furnace until I run that wire, and the buzzer is for the backup alarm.  That blue-tape-wrapped thingy on the top is the Alarm A LED glued to a photoresistor for sample the alarm light.  Once I get it finalized I’ll put it all on a new circuit board and in a nice box.  Also still waiting for the final dimmer kit to arrive…  Fun!

(oh, and there’s an output pin standing by to fire the coffee pot in version 2…  :)

Time for a project!

Posted by Nate in Ideas, Projects.
Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 at 6:06 pm


I’m sure you’ve all experienced this: waking a half-hour before your alarm, alert and ready, but decided to sleep the extra half hour.  When the alarm goes off you find yourself back in REM sleep and can barely open your eyes.  Or, like this morning for me, the heat comes on and the temperature change causes you to wake up too early.

Ever since moving north, I’ve been looking for an answer to waking up in the dark and trying to convince my body it’s actually time to get up.  Last fall I researched a number of products, include the DayBreak Duo Sunrise Simulator, the Soleil Sun Alarm, and the Progression Wake Up Clock.  They all look intriguing but are either pricey, ugly, or both, and none offer the full set of features I’m dreaming of.  Recently my coworker pointed me to an article about a guy using an Arduino to control the temperature in his kegerator, and it got me thinking…

The human body responds to light and heat to come out of deep sleep and into an alert waking state.  Surely there’s a way to combine all of these into a cohesive and natural wakeup system??

Wish List

  • must be easy to set the alarm, no tricky knobs or interface
  • has to fade a light on over an adjustable period of time
  • must have an option for external lights
  • play birdsong and morning sounds, also faded in
  • have an actual "alarm" sound if not deactivated
  • flash lights if not deactivated
  • tie into the thermostat to bring the heat on
    • must be separate from the programmable thermostat so we can adjust the wakeup time without reprogramming
  • has to make me coffee!

wakeup_system.jpgMy current plan is to find a cheapish CD player alarm clock, and hack the guts of it to find a way to tell the controller the alarm is "on", or going off.  This may end up being the hardest part of the project, but I’m hoping that with the CD circuitry there will be a pretty obvious change I can monitor, maybe voltage across the motor?

Once the controller goes into an alarm state and the CD starts playing, it will start looping:

  1. The CD player will be playing either a blank CD or birdsongs or whatever
  2. Arduino loop:
    1. fade the light up a bit
    2. check the room temperature and fire the furnace if needed
      1. some timer here to make sure we don’t call for heat too often
    3. exit the loop if the alarm is turned off or times out
  3. If the alarm is still on after X minutes (we’re not awake)
    1. flash the lights
    2. the CD will switch to an actual loud alarm sound or song

I put the coffee maker in there as a joke, but it’s totally possible – who knows, maybe I’ll include it!

Watch this space for updates – I’ve ordered the Arduino and a dimmer kit, with any luck I’ll have something hacked together by next week!

Sounds like trouble

Posted by Nate in Projects, Wedding.
Thursday, June 21st, 2007 at 7:02 pm


Our ceremony will be outside, and I’ve been worried about sound — will the trees "swallow" the sound?  What if there’s water in the creek?  I’d been planning on some wireless battery-powered "something" to solve this problem, and a few weeks ago I thought I’d found it: a Pyle Pro PWMA3600.  (Don’t worry, it was on Amazon for like $80 less than that)

I’m sad to report it was a Pyle of crap, or rather, they were.  That’s right, I got two…

Pyle Pro 1The first one arrived and I excitedly set it up, adding an external speaker as advertised to increase the spread – it sounded great!  The included wireless mic seemed very responsive and feedback-free.  I wrapped up my test and went to turn it off – and nothing happened.  Music continued to play.  Hmm.  "That’s going to wear down the battery pretty quick," I thought to myself.  An hour spent fiddling with it didn’t improve the situation and I noticed some pretty visible sparking when I went to plug in the adaptor to charge it.  Whoa.  Rather than messing with it I further took advantage of Amazon’s amazingly customer-friendly return policy and asked for a new unit.  "They can’t all be bad!" I confidently told Karen.

…except they are.  The second one arrived yesterday and I carefully removed the layer of foam wrapping and opened the box.  I reached in and took hold of the handle to remove the unit, and…  guess.  Guess what happened.

Pyle Pro 2That’s right, it came right off – the whole lid.  Followed by the sides falling into the middle, like a cartoon house collapsing.  I never even got it out of the box.

The good news is, this is all happening with almost 3 months to spare, so I’ll get it figured out.  And it sure makes my online searches go quicker when I can skim over any Pyle Pro products without even clicking.  Grrrr…

Spring stuff

Posted by Nate in Landscaping.
Sunday, May 20th, 2007 at 10:36 am


First of all, it went from 80+ degrees yesterday to a creepy 45 right now!  So…  it would have been smarter to be out working today instead of sweating yesterday, but ah well.  Our south-side bushes were totally overgrown and leggy, so I cut them waaay back and will let them recover as much as they can this year, but really next year they’ll be better.  They were borderline overgrown when we moved in and we never attacked them when they needed it…  Ah well.

hammock.jpgI finally found a joist in the ceiling and hung our awesome hammock chair in our under-used "foyer" area.  It’s now a nice place to sip a drink or read a book, it catches great light in the evening and can get a good breeze from all the windows.  I got a sweet sonic stud finder, but it really doesn’t work well on the ceiling, what with the rough texture and insulation — or something?  It works great on the walls, but it was quite a challenge to find a stud without drilling a million pilot holes…

rainbarrel.jpgThe city of Minneapolis gave a great deal on rain barrels to anyone who wanted one, so we of course jumped in on that.  Hooked up a sump-pump drain pipe for the overflow and cut off the gutter to the right height and we should be good to go!  No real rain yet to test it out, I need to see how the rain comes out before I secure the gutter over the barrel.  Now about half of our house runoff is either captured or helping the raingarden grow!

pict3252.JPGAlso emptied the compost into the garden and moved the bin out of the shady corner into its new home by the garden.  I’ve read the heat from the sun will rapidly accelerate the decomposition process, which should be good.  pict3251.JPGAnd another shot of the little plant zones on the South side of the lawn.  I do love me those ferns…

Finally a wonderful picture of Bruno and his mommy.  Aww…
pict3285.JPG