Friday, January 30, 2009

Depression and the Pinewood Derby

Seems we had a major setback. Unfortunately I'm out of town this weekend, and it's Pinewood Derby weekend. I read the build instructions that came with the car and assumed they were pretty much the "rules" since they list things like sizes, maximum weight, etc. I don't recall it saying that you HAD to have the axles visible through slots in the bottom of the car, though the build instructions have you using those slots for your axles.

I found our slots weren't square, however, and squaring them properly made them too big. Which to me was fine since I didn't like slots anyway. So Kevin and I used the mill to drill holes and used that instead. So now I'm gone and the tech inspector said he couldn't run it that way...apparently last year they had a car that didn't have the slots that won their competition and then got disqualified when he went to the regional competition. So now they require the slots, too.

What sucks about this? Well, it's not easy to do, but if I had been home this weekend (instead I'm on a trip that was planned long before I knew about the Pinewood Derby being this weekend) I could have fixed it. It would have meant removing the axles and wheels and cutting tiny slots so you could see the axles. Then reassemble. But it's not trivial to do and so Ashley can't make it happen without me. Which really bums me out. A lot. If we had just used the non-square slots the car would have been slower, but he would have gotten to compete. I have no idea if they'll let him go ahead and run it at least some, but it sounded like they might. But I'm not there and I could have fixed it if I were. sigh Sorry, Kevin.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saving Money

So my friend bean has a great story on how to better budget as a family on her blog. If you're having trouble with you or your spouse (or both!) sticking to a budget, give what she and her hubby are doing a look. Might help. But the natural extension to this, in my mind, is saving money. Budgeting to not over-spend is a nice goal, but hopefully everyone out there is also budgeting so they can save a nice regular amount every month. And then hopefully everyone knows how to do something with that money. Hah!

Yeah, if you're laughing at one or both of those ideas, you need to get a copy of this book and read it. The best thing I can say about this book is that not only is it easy to read, it's motivating! You'll be encouraged in ways you never thought of before to "pay yourself first." I can't stress enough to the working folks I know how important it is to save for retirement. The government will only be there to collect their share when you die. They are not there for you before then. Oh sure, they'll help keep you alive as long as the cheaply can, but that's about it. Everything else is up to you. But with this book you can find out how to build the habits you need (and bean's budgeting idea is a very important building block) to retire wealthy, not just comfortably.

I was turned on to this book by Erik Troan way back in the day. I can honestly say that after building up way too much credit card debt and generally not living very diligently, that this book was a turning point. We were well on our way to a better life on our own before our fortune hit and we didn't have to worry about that any longer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You don't need rhythm when you've got a tractor.

If you like tractors and you like music (and seriously now, who doesn't?), then you'll like this video. I should point out that this came via my Dad who got it off the GL1800 forum (where the guys who ride those really big cushy motorcycles hang out), which is the same place I got the political video the other day from.

I mean you gotta respect a band that not only uses a tractor as an instrument, but gives it a solo!

The Pinewood Derby!

So, the Pinewood Derby is one of those "rites of passage" things for most little boys. I think it's different than your typical wait-till-the-last minute school project. Little boys are usually into racing things, and their dads usually are, too. It's no different with my boys and me, so we got started plenty early on Kevin's car. Now, I don't blog about my kids, really, but I did think it would be fun to show off old versus new. See, I still have my original car from when I was a Cub Scout around seven or eight that my Dad and I built. It's pictured here.

One thing to note is that these labels are prototypes for Kevin's car. The 45 on top nor the "Carefree Racing" on the side was there back in the day. You can see two circles on the top where the original number stickers used to be. I have no idea what number I used, but it was the stickers that came with the kit (and the new kits still come with the same basic thing!). But I like them so I'm leaving them. Maybe one day I'll do a full restoration of the old girl, but for now she can sport some new graphics.

Back when my Dad and I built this one, we had the full shop facilities of Brady Distributing in Charlotte at our disposal. Unfortunately they were more of an electronics company than a woodworking company, but they did have a band saw, which was what we used to cut the body. We sort of weighed everything and found we were way under the five ounce limit. But I don't think we had a very accurate small scale, so we were pretty conservative in how much weight we added. Dad got a wood drill bit about the size of a nickel and we put a hole in the bottom. Then we put a stack of nickels in there and used a few flat head wood screws to hold them in. Then for good measure we puttied them smooth. Outside of that we simply sanded some by hand and hit it with some blue spray paint. Then we shoved the axles in, made sure there was some play in them, and put graphite in there to lubricate things.

Off to the races! I remember showing up and feeling a bit dejected when I saw the other cars. Many kids had put a LOT of effort into hand carving and painting their cars. I felt bad I hadn't done the same, but didn't know any better beforehand. Then came the weigh-in. Everyone else was weighing in at things like 4.8, 4.9, 5.0 ounces. I was REALLY worried I'd be over. Then we got our turn at the scale. Three-point-eight! Oh no! I was the lightest car in the bunch. For those that don't know, this is bad for the Pinewood Derby. You see, the cars are powered by gravity. They just coast down a hill. First to the bottom wins! Being at max weight is where you want to be and we weren't even close. Oh well, time to take my beating. We put some more graphite on the axles and put her on the course.

First time down, blam, winner by several lenghts. What? How can this be? I was stunned and amazed. And I remained that way, as my little girl rocketed down the course in first place in every race, eventually winning the entire thing. I'm sure I got a medal or something that's now long gone, but I will never forget the day I won. Apparently our sleak body design and special lubricant and leaving some play in those axles was a great recipe, even if we were under-weight a little.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and I'm helping my son build his car. I've tried to make him do as much of the work as he SAFELY can. That doesn't include running the band saw just yet, but he got a clear understanding of the importance of getting the table on the saw square to the blade. He decided he wanted a basic copy of my winning car since it apparently had pretty good aerodynamics. We also did some work to the axles and wheels on his car to polish them MUCH smoother than they come out of the box for less friction. He got a clear lesson in friction, believe me. As for the body design, we also talked a lot about aerodymanics. I'm not sure much of that stuck, but hopefully some of it did. I let him help use my mini milling machine to drill the axle holes. The slots that come cut in your chunk of "pinewood" aren't square to the wood, really (they're close, but off by a little), and that means your car is going to try to turn ever so slightly on the track, which will result in extra friction and thus lower speeds. So we used the mill to try to get ours perfectly straight. We talked about leaving play between the head of the axle (which is really just a fancy nail!) and wheel and the body of the car, again to help reduce friction. I even helped him wax the side of the car where the wheel will no doubt rub the side a little.

We also did some work with the Dremel tool to "true" the wheels as well as polish their inside edge where they'll rub the track a little. Again, lower friction. We had the advantage of a wood shop with big sanding machines, so we used that to help get the wood smooth. Then Kevin did some hand sanding to get the corners nice and smooth. Oh, and we also used the milling machine to cut the slots for the ballast in the bottom of the car. I bought some lead rod to put in there to get to maximum weight. All the way through we kept weighing our pile of parts on the cooking scale we stole from Mom (and dutifully returned with only minor wear and tear!).

We primed her and then sanded a little more. Then we painted her red, which was Kevin's choice (seems he likes his Dad's red race car better than the blue one...which is fine, red is a better "car color" anyway). We called in a favor from the graphics department at our race shop to cut some silver vinyl to make a racing stripe with. I suggested to Kevin that vinyl would be a lot easier to manage than a two tone paint job and he agreed. Seems I'm not expert painter and neither is he, so we decided not to push our limits in this arena. Besides, we were only a couple days away at this point and a botched paint job might end up having to stay if we messed up. Oh, our graphics department went above and beyond by also providing us with a chrome piece of vinyl for the stripe along with the silver. I thought Kevin would love it, but instead he said he liked the silver better. I suppose he thought it was too much bling. sigh That's my boy, conservative to the last.

Last thing was to get the ballast tweaked to the right amounts and assemble. I did the grinding on the lead since it's kind of toxic and grinders are also a bit dangerous for small fingers, but Kevin helped with the screws to hold it in place. We put the wheels on and used a metal spacer to make sure that not only did we have enough play in the wheels and axle, but we had exactly the same amount all the way around. Then we hit the wheels with the magic graphite, and things got really good from there. She rolls instantly on even the slightest of inclines. Seems even our kitchen bar has a minor tilt to it that isn't supposed to be there and isn't noticeable to the naked eye! But the Pinewood Derby car tells all.

Last trick was the lettering. I had discovered how cool it could be to customize Playmobil toys at Christmas using my Brother P-Touch label printer, so we stole that same idea for his car. We used some white on clear label tape for the "Carefree Racing" on the side and some black on clear for the 45 on top and his name on the back (and Kevin did the typing!). Stands out pretty well, and doesn't weigh much. Anyway, without further ado, here's Kevin's masterpiece. May she race well this weekend.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

And so it begins.

Are my fears being realized so soon? Seriously?

I really can't believe the "white male construction worker" has been singled out to remain out of work so blatantly. This is troubling. Someone please disprove this video is somehow out of context or something, please. I may not sleep otherwise. sigh

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Good-bye, Coach Yow.

Today NC State lost a tremendous leader in Coach Kay Yow to her battle with cancer. She will be dearly missed by everyone who knew her and even those who didn't. I had the opportunity to meet Coach Yow back in the early 1990's while a student at NC State. A couple of friends of mine, led by fellow student Scott Vogler, successfully helped petition the NCAA to let non-varsity-athlete students practice with women's athletic teams. Why did they need boys? Because at least at the time, it was very difficult to recruit enough girls of enough size to have a big enough second string. If your second string was small it was very hard to simulate playing against some of the teams you would face in the regular season.

The petition was successful and I and my friends got to help in practice. Coach Yow had simple instructions for us. We were for defense only. Straight man to man, no help defense, block out as hard as we physically could. No offense. At the mention of "no offense" she would see we were all a bit dejected and quickly added "unless you get a steal. You get one fast break opportunity at the other end and then hustle it back on defense." With that we had all the reward we could have asked for. I think we only got use of it a couple times, but those couple times were more than enough. It was like we were on her team, and for that we were grateful. So in a sense I can say I played for Coach Yow in Reynolds Coliseum on what would be come Kay Yow Court (later). I don't care if she was a women's coach and I'm a guy. I'm proud to have known her at least for a little bit.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Movie Review

Righteous Kill is a pretty good NY city cop thriller with a few twists you won't see coming. I'm a little surprised they cast De Niro and Pacino in it, unless those two were just looking for a movie to do together or something. They're good, don't get me wrong, but overall the movie just isn't the quality that you'd expect from something with both of these guys. It's probably not fair, but you sort of expect amazing, not just pretty good.

At any rate, definitely a worthy rental if you like fairly dark cop thriller type movies.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It figures.

Thanks to Jane we planned a great vacation in Tahoe to take the kids skiing over this MLK holiday weekend (now that we're beholden to school schedules for all our breaks...ugh!). The one thing you can't plan is weather, and it just figures that while we're in Tahoe the weather is in the low 50's each day and at home there's SNOW! Oh man, snow! Now we might have trouble getting home tomorrow night from the airport, too.

And to top it all off, while I had two great days of skiing, I couldn't ski on our last day here thanks to what appears to be some minor altitude sickness. I thought I was just getting really tired at the end of the day yesterday during our last long run to the parking lot, but I was totally exhausted once I sat down in the car and got home. Stayed that way all evening. Slept fine but have been exhausted and fairly short of breath all day today, too. This is what I'd think exertive asthma must feel like.

Thanks to Murch for the early morning photo at our place!

Monday, January 19, 2009


So, iPhone and iPod Touch users can download (for a small fee) an application that will show you how to tie just about any knot around. Pretty cool. I stumbled across that application surfing for apps for my Touch and it reminded me of my rock climbing class final exam when I was at NC State. It was all true/false and the final question was this:

A not neat knot need not be tied.
The point is obviously that you shouldn't tie a knot unless you can tie it neatly. But you figure out the answer to the question. It's a fun one.

The physics of dishes.

I like breakfast cereal, but I have this thing about milk. It must be whole milk and it must be cold. I don't enjoy it nearly as much if it's just in the fridge from the store or something (but we're talking breakfast here, so that's rarely an issue). One thing I've noticed is that thick porcelain dishes have a pretty large ability to transfer heat. It only makes sense that thinner ones or non-porcelain dishes (like plastic) transfer less heat.

I found this out because we only have thinner bowls in the mountain house, but only thicker at home. When I have cereal, I typically have two bowls. What I noticed was when I added milk and cereal for the SECOND bowl, I noticed my milk was much colder on that first bite than it was in the last bite of the first bowl. And thus it "tasted" much better to me. That's with the thick bowl at home. With the thinner bowl at the mountains, the difference wasn't NEARLY as pronounced. So I definitely prefer thinner bowls for cereal now.

I've noticed this same phenomenon with salad. I don't like my salad as much when it's right-out-of-the-fridge cold. I like it closer to room temperature. Put it in our thicker porcelain bowls and it gets warmer faster since it wicks heat out of the bowl. I often actually save my salad for the last part of the meal for this reason (when it's not the entire meal, anyway).

Why do I mention this? Well, because if you're temperature sensitive with some items like me, you might choose your dishes differently. Surely a few of you are as weird as me. Okay, maybe not. Humor me, then.

On a related note, if you like your cereal crispy, check out this contraption. Seems kind of neat. Not sure I'll try one, but let me know if you do! It's pictured above, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Read this book.

You just have to. It's called The Art of Racing in the Rain. I read it in one sitting on the plane from RDU to Vegas. IT'S NOT ABOUT RACING! Granted, those who do race or enjoy road racing will like it a smidge more than everyone else, but this is a book anyone will enjoy. If you're a dog lover you will also enjoy it, but I know self-admitted dog non-lovers that loved it, too. It's just an incredibly well written story. I dig it.

Friday, January 16, 2009


So I'm thinking about the plane crash yesterday (guess why!) and it occurs to me that yes we should praise the pilot and yes, it's okay to call him a hero, he's really not a HUGE hero or anything. He did what he, and every pilot like him, is trained to do. Sure, he did it well, too. Could he have done it better? We actually don't know that. Seems unlikely, but we don't KNOW that yet. Might not ever. But everyone on-board will be fine, which is a great thing.

Anyway, later I'm checking Facebook and my friend, Mr. Blizzard, posts a link to an article on the topic. He is a pilot and said it all so much better than me. Which I'm sure shocks you all. So yeah, let's praise the guy. A key to the city of New York? By all means! But I don't think we need to be naming any monuments after him or anything. Why even mention it? Because I'm GLAD what he did probably wasn't so terribly special. That means I have a good chance of surviving the same kind of thing, should I be so unlucky.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Can't companies streamline how much packaging we need to move products around safely? Case in point, I wanted two bottles of my Garden of Life supplements. Alisa ordered them for me from The Vitamin Shoppe. The came in a cardboard box almost shoe-box sized. It could have easily held three, perhaps four, times more product than it had. The rest of the space was taken up with packing peanuts, the most annoying material in the world (in their defense I believe they were the water-soluble kind and not styrofoam, but that just means they're more environmentally friendly while being INCREDIBLY ANNOYING).

Then the supplements themselves are in boxes (about the size of a light bulb box). Open that and remove the bottle. The plastic bottle is encased in clear celophane type plastic, only the harder stuff that you need a knife to cut off. Cut that off and unscrew the childproof lid and you find another "safety seal" you have to peel off the top. Then off course remove and toss the big cotton ball.

All this to get 360 pills into my hands inside two not so big bottles. It's really nuts. And don't get me started on blister packages. sigh

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Three mile trail run.

Okay, so I'm not setting any records here, but you can check out my latest run via Garmin Connect. The data was collected with the Garmin 405 GPS that's really just a watch. It really looks just like a watch. Has heart rate monitor capability, but you do have to use a chest strap for it. Works great, though. Nice gadget if you're into training. I'm going to start capturing all my workouts with it, even the indoor ones where I can't capture movement, just heart rate.

What am I going to do with the data? I have no idea. Suggestions? For now I think I'll just post it much like I do what I ate today for public scrutiny. It'll make me try harder. The question is whether I post the workouts here, on the food blog, or on a new one. Hmmph.

Here he is.

Here is Indy, our new dog. Yes, he's in a stall in the barn while he recovers from his minor surgery. He gets out a good bit to play, though. He's very house broken, so we have to let him out often!

He had fun today getting to know Clint a little more. Clint is a paint horse baby we've got who has only been weaned a few months. Indy had to stay on the leash as I don't think he's quite ready for independent interaction with Clint yet. But both did want to play.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Dog!

I'll get some pics soon, but we've officially got a new dog in the Barnes household. His name is Indy, short for Indiana (notice any connection to my current blog theme and our new dog?). He appears to be full blooded pitbull, but he's very non-aggressive. He wants to chase any critter I'll let him chase, but it's to play, not to fight or attack. He wags his tail more than any dog I've ever seen. He is very young, probably around two, and is rambunctious as can be because of that.

My aunt found him in the road near her house. She took him in for fear he'd get hit by a car and put up fliers all over near her house looking for the owner. He had no collar, no microchip, and appeared well cared for in his previous life. Maybe someone just turned him out hoping he'd find a better home due to money? I don't know. But he seems like he'll fit in very well here once we get him fixed and get some training in him. For now he loves attention and would be the world's toughest lap dog if you'd let him. He appears to be incredibly inquisitive and seems to be learning fairly fast and thus is pretty smart. Time will tell on that.

He's a gorgeous brown and white with a split colored face. Should be fun getting to know and train him. Hopefully he doesn't turn into a Marley.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I hate blue LEDs

Ever since the advent of the cheap LED, electronics manufacturers have planted them in every device they can, many with no way to turn them off. Ah, but enter the age of the blue LED! It's so different, not only can the electronics manufacturers not stay away from them in some putrid attempt to make their products stand out, now every manufacturer who makes ANYTHING that uses electricity has to use them. Case in point, our new humidifier. It has two LEDs, one blue, and both are on when the device is on. For NO REASON. This is maddening. I don't need a light to tell me the thing is on. I can hear it. I can see it. I can FEEL it if I need to. What I don't need is YET ANOTHER GADGET lighting up what would otherwise be the calm darkness of my bedroom. I'm sick of having to modify things to make lights go away.

What's great is this one hides the things behind a translucent plastic, so a small piece of tape doesn't even suffice. ARRRRGH!!!

Mark Twain Says...

In Marley & Me, there's a line where John Grogan says something very close to "Mark Twain says never use an exclamation point, it's like laughing at your own joke." I was curious if Twain ever really said that, so I started Googling...

Turns out his book How to Tell a Story and Others does mention this, sort of, but it goes like so:

But the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts it at you--every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany, and Italy, he italicizes it, puts some whooping exclamation-points after it, and somtimes explains it in a parenthesis. All of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life.
Now, that's out of context, but you get the idea. I think this is what John Grogan was referring to, but I'm not sure it's a commentary on exclamation points in general, more that he didn't like their use in triplicate in a specific, and sometimes general, instance. What I found more interesting (like the italics?) was how joking was somehow causing one to defer any attempt to "lead a better life."

Of course, maybe I just didn't find what Grogan was referring to and I'm just rambling. Suck it up, it's my blog and I can ramble if I want!!!


Some people were wondering how I could have posted everything I ate in a day by 4pm. At first I thought it was just that I had my timezone set improperly when I setup the new blog, so I fixed that. Then I noticed that today's entry did the same thing. Huh?

I figured it out. I actually started the post at 4:42pm to go ahead and list what I had eaten thus far and just left it sitting there to finish tonight. Finished it and posted it. Blogger defaults to use the time you STARTED the post, not the time you finished it. There is a "Post Options" link under the edit window of new posts, and you can change your posting time that way to reflect current time if you like.

Very odd that you can't set that to do publish-time instead of "started typing" time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Movie Review

I don't actually go to theaters very much, but I let friends talk me into going to see Marley & Me. I heard going in that it was one that required tissue, and that was spot on. It's a really cute movie that's really well done, but it'll definitely be difficult for anyone who has gone through having to put a pet down that you've loved for a long time. Still, it's a must-see for dog lovers. Maybe not in the theater, but definitely at home once it's on DVD. I do still pretty much detest Owen Wilson, but he's passable in this.

It will be particularly hard on those who have or had rambunctious Labrador Retrievers.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mountain Bike Suspension Experts

I had an old, yet never used, shock for a mountain bike that I needed some work done to. Specifically, it's a 1999 Rock Shox SID air shock. In 1999 and 2000 that shock had proprietary air fill inlets for rebound and compression. After that, they switched to a traditional schraeder valve and continued making the same shock. The one I have, however, is specific to a Yeti frame in the way that it mounts, so there is really no option to "upgrade" to a newer one since this one was only made back in 1999 and later Yeti frame designs changed to accommodate a standard mounting setup.

That proprietary air inlet was giving me some fits in getting the shock air set properly, even after I sourced the right adapter for it (wasn't easy to find, but I got one thanks to the interwebs). So I did some searching and found MTB Suspension Experts in Asheville, NC. I sent them an email and after a couple of quick exchanges Kevin said to send it in. We sent it UPS ground on Monday and Tuesday around lunch I got a call that it was ready. For under $50 they had already gone through it internally to make sure the seals were good and changed those inlet valves and were ready to send it back. I gave them a credit card number on the phone and the shock was back in my hands on Wednesday. That's TWO DAYS (and yes, it flies in the face of my rant against UPS in a previous blog post, but it is only a couple hundred miles down the road!). I am a big fan of those folks and will send them all my air shock work from now on. Thanks, Kevin!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

UPS is not doing well.

Just a heads up for those of you used to things arriving via UPS by certain timeframes. They're really starting to miss badly. It's usually only a day, but I've had several shipments lately that were late. Something like four out of the last six or seven, with at least one being a couple days late. That's sort of strange, but rumors have them cutting a lot of corners lately (supposedly thanks to the economy, but I believe there were signs of this long before that).

Just a word of warning. Do not trust shipping estimates or even UPS's own chart.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

What I Ate Today

There's a new link in my blog list in the's another blog I'm going to do. It's a simple food diary that's aptly named What I Ate Today. Head on over if you want to keep tabs on what I'm eating each day. I know you'll find it insanely riveting!

A funny.

So I'm looking at upright exercise bikes, and in my research I end up looking at a listing for a treadmill on eBay. Yes, I know, they aren't the same thing...but I'm looking at a particular brand of machine that can come with a 7" or a 15" LCD touchscreen display, and the displays are the same from machine to machine. So I decided to check out the treadmill since I couldn't find any bikes with it listed on eBay. And I find this little gem in the description of the 7" display feature:


Yes, the typo is funny, but the real funny part is the idea of a "navigation" system on a treadmill. I mean sheesh, if you're getting lost on your treadmill, you got bigger problems than just being out of shape!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bad Economy Helps Gene Pool!

So if the economy is bad, then elective medical procedures go down. One popular type of elective medical procedure is plastic surgery. Without plastic surgery, people who need plastic surgery to attract a mate may not be able to and thus may not procreate. So just when you thought nothing good came from the bad economy, think again!

May not be worth it, though, huh? I mean after all, the economy probably isn't so bad that people can't afford allergy medication, and that's another gene pool dilution device. Just something to think about!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tubing at Hawksnest

New Year's Day was a good one! We went tubing at Hawksnest near Boone, NC. It used to be a ski resort, but is now all tubing. They have five or six tubing runs and two different "magic carpets" (which are really just long conveyor belts you stand on). There's still some walking up hill, but it's really not bad. I'd recommend it as a great way to tire out some kids on a cold winter day in the NC mountains! Here's some video...