All posts by eric

Kitchen faucet repair

Most modern faucets have the breakable parts (valves and washers) in a replaceable “cartridge”.  The best place to get replacements is directly from the manufacturer.  Some manufacturers, like Price Pfister, warrant their faucets for life to the original purchaser, and consider you the original purchaser as long as you have the owners manual.  Save those owners manuals, you might be able to get replacement parts for the cost of shipping.

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What Sapphire Energy needs to convert algae to gasoline.

After reading this article at about Sapphire Energy, I did a little research on algae-to-oil and what I found was that the industry had two problems to tackle:

1) Competitive algae.  When using open tanks, naturally occurring algae competes for resources and space.

2) Getting the oil out of the algae.  It has to be heated and dried to extract the oil.

Sapphire will be creating gasoline directly, so it should be possible to extract the gasoline through distillation with solar energy using a solar thermal water heater followed by counterflow heat exchanger.

The solar thermal water heater would heat fresh water entering the system, to kill off anything in it, giving the engineered algae a head start.

The counterflow heat exchanger would serve two purposes.  First, it would cool the fresh water before it enters production.  Second, it would heat the algae that is done, to distill the gasoline.

A counterflow heat exchanger is a pipe within a pipe.  Hot liquid flows one direction through the inner pipe, and cooling liquid flows the other direction, through the outer pipe.  When the flow rates are adjusted properly, the liquid that needs cooling exits the system at about the same temprature as the cooling liquid that is entering the system and the cooling fluid exits the system at about the temperature of the hot liquid that is entering the system

Using the finished algae as a cooling liquid, the hot algae exiting the counterflow heat exchanger should be hot enough to distill the gasoline directly out of it.

Fellow blogger Jason stopped by to say that he completed two sets of sawbucks.  He modified the plans a bit, making one for cutting 16 inch pieces and one for 12 inch pieces.  He used reclaimed wood, which is way cool. Click on the Jason’s photo above for more pictures.  Thanks Jason!

Bike computer calibration

Back in the 80s, when I used to read my dad’s bicycle magazines, I thought bike computers were the coolest thing.  Back then they were over $100, and I just couldn’t see spending that much money to know how fast or how far I had ridden.

Not too long ago I found one at Goodwill for less than $2.00 and could not pass it up.

It installed easily, but I had to enter the wheel’s circumfrence in millimeters.  I’m enough of a math geek to know that that would be the wheel diameter in inches * pi (3.14159) * 25.4, but what is the actual diameter for 26″ x 2.125 wheels?  The computer came with a chart, but my tire size wasn’t listed.

After searching the internet a bit, the best answer is to simply mark the tire and pavement, roll the tire forward until the tire makes one complete circle, mark the pavement again and MEASURE the space on the pavement between the marks.

I wasn’t in the mood for that, so I continued looking and found this:

Sheldon Brown’s Cyclecomputer Calibration Chart

According to his chart, my tires are 2070.

Thanks Sheldon!

Update:  I took the bike for a ride and the mileage seemed a bit off.  I decided to measure the actual circumfrence.  Rather than try to measure around the tire, I choose to measure how much ground one wheel rotation covers.  I marked the tire and the ground under the tire, rolled the bike forward and made another mark on the ground where the tire made one full circle.  It was 82 inches, longer than I thought it was going to be.  82 inches * 25.4 is 2082mm.  So there was a diffrence of 12mm per rotation between the value in the table and the actual measurement.

Reuses for Dishsoap bottles:

Icepacks.  As the summer season approaches, it is the perfect time of the year for this.  Rather than buy commercial icepacks, dishsoap bottles can be filled with water and frozen.  Because of their small size they can fit into the smaller chests, or you can use many to fill up a larger chest.  You could use other bottles, but dishsoap caps make it easier to squeeze the air out, allowing room for the water to expand as it freezes.  I have about 8 in the deep-freeze right now!  Bonus: they will probably help keep my food cold in the event of a power failure.

Replacement glue bottles: I’ve gone through quite a few bottles of wood glue building my projects.  Some have worked better than others, but they always get clogged.  It might have something to do with the long necks, or maybe I should just close them properly when done.  Once clogged, they are impossible to clean.  I had a glue bottle that was so damaged I threw out the cap, covered it with plastic wrap, and had to use a stick to apply the glue.  One of my children suggested that I use a dish soap bottle.  It worked perfectly.  The bottle was easy to open and close, spreads the glue easilly, and doesn’t clog. I made a quick paper label so no one uses it as dish soap.  Now I can buy my wood glue in large, bulk containers and save money too.

Water heater repair

Our water heater was doing something weird. A valve on the side, with a tube running down from it was leaking very hot water onto the floor. We turned off the water to the water heater to prevent a major catastrophe.

According to the owners manual, the valve is a safety valve that opens up if too much pressure builds up in the water heater. This happens if the water overheats and can be very dangerous. 55 gallons of almost boiling water could drain onto the basement floor.

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Alternative power brainstorming

Brain-storming is where you list any idea that comes to mind, no matter how wild or insane it appears.

Here are a few alternative power ideas that we came up with, that now do not appear to be quite that far off:

1. Store lightning. Two problems, you’d have to control the lightning strike and then have somewhere to store it.

I just read on Gizmodo, “Scientists Use Lasers to Create Lightning“. Essentially, they strike a cloud with a laser beam, ionize the air, which initiates a lightning strike.

EEstor, a Texas company, is building capacitors that are claimed to have nearly twice the energy density of Lithium-Ion batteries. They could drive a car for 300miles on a 5 minute charge. The EEStor’s only disadvantage is that today’s household wiring is unable to supply the needed current. I bet a bolt of lightening just might do the job.

2. Use solar power to create a chemical fuel similar to gasoline, rather than electricity.

This isn’t quite the same, but interesting none the less. has this article, “Could Chemical Solar Power beat Photovoltaics?“. Professor Chaurasia of the University of Birmingham, UK, is developing a process in which propanol is dehydrogenated, the hydrogen then generates electricity using a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell. The byproducts then recombine and begin the process again. I don’t know if this is as efficient as photovoltaics, but it might be another way to generate electricity.

3. Windpower. Most of the home-built wind turbines use permanent magnet DC generators, because they are cheap and easy to acquire. This is not the best way to generate electricity, especially as the current increases.

This company, Swift Wind Turbines, has a 1.5kW, 240 VAC, wind turbine that uses parts made locally. I’m very interested in this, except that it connects to the power grid, which indicates that it is most likely and asynchronous induction type, which can’t supply power unless the grid has power.

It occurred to me that you could use a wind turbine to drive both a permanent magnet DC generator and a moving field coil AC generator (Alternator). The current from the DC generator would only power the field coil of the AC generator, so the DC generator wouldn’t have to supply that much current and wouldn’t have to be that big . The AC generator would supply the usable current and could be direct wired (no sparks, no arcs). This arrangement should allow a low wind speed startup, with increased output power as RPM increased, because the power from the DC generator would increase, increasing the power in the field. The increased field would increase the output power. Also, as the field power increases, so would the back torque from the AC generator, slowing the rotor speed. Essentially, the RPM would be self regulating, while the power increases.

The Danish Wind Industry has a fantastic website related to wind generation, They should know, they produce a higher percentage of their power from wind than any other nation. Currently, 20%.

It will be interesting to see how these turn in a few years.

WordPress plugins

WordPress is the software I run this, and several other websites on. One reason I like WordPress is it’s plugin structure. Plugins add features and functions to your website. Here are my favorites:

All In One SEO Pack is a complete search engine optimizer. It combines the best practices in search engine optimization, in one simple to use package, including keywords, page descriptions, title updates and many other features.

Google XML Sitemaps creates compatible sitemap of your website, which makes it easier for Google, Yahoo, and MSN to find web pages on your website.

Ultimate Google Analytics inserts Google Analytics code into your website, without having to modify your WordPress templates. Google Analytics is a website statistics package that tracks traffic sources, web hits and a wealth of information about the people are on your website. I prefer it to WordPress Stats.

FeedBurner FeedSmith redirects all RSS readers to FeedBurner is a great way to track and manage your RSS subscribers. Since FeedBurner is serving up your RSS feeds (instead of your web host), it lightens the load on your website.

Sociable automatically adds links on your posts and pages to popular social bookmarking sites (Digg,, StumbleUpon, Technorati and many, many others). It’s another great way for readers to find you.

WordPress Database Backup is On-demand backup of your WordPress database. You should backup your database on a regular basis and before major upgrades and this plugin makes it a snap.

There are plenty of other fine WordPress Plugins, these are the few that I almost always install

Learn to program with Scratch

There isn’t anything better to learn the concepts of programming than Scratch, a GUI based, programming kit from MIT. It’s like programming with Lego Blocks!

I started programming with BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL in the 70s, and I have programmed in C, C+, Pascal, COBOL, FORTRAN, PERL, Assembly and all kinds of scripting languages. Noting is more frustrating than having to look up how to put something together in a language you don’t know. You spend all your time looking in reference manuals.

Forget Object Oriented programming languages for learning. Not only do you have to learn the language, you have to learn the object library.

That is not the case with Scratch. Everything you need to know is on screen. You just drag the programming elements into program execution area and click them together.

You can build multi-threaded programs in minutes! You will very quickly learn the concepts like FOR LOOPS, WHILE LOOPS and IF THEN statements, and be ready for other languages like Pascal or VisualBasic, then move on to more challenging languages like PERL, with it’s super-powerful pattern matching regular expressions and advanced Object-oriented languages like C++, Java or Delphi.

You should start out by trying to write simple games. Nothing will teach you more. You will have to let the player have a turn, computer have a turn, display information on the screen and save data.

After writing games in high-school, I got my first job programming. The tech manager wanted to teach me about finite-state machines. I realized it was the same way I had coded my games. The only thing I would have gotten from a college degree would have been the names of what I already knew.

So, get Scratch, write games, have fun. You’ll be surprised what you will learn.

How to DIY

This 3-ring binder is the real “Eric’s Projects”. It contains all my drawings and plans. All of these projects started out as something I wanted to make. The first step was a drawing.

Once things are on paper, they become static. You just have to do what is on paper and you are done. It is very easy to imagine how a finished project is going to look, but imagination isn’t static. If you built it from imagination, the project would be constantly changing while being built. By putting it on paper, you can start measuring it, calculating the parts needed and building it.

While some of the pictures are better than others, you don’t need CAD software, drafting skills, or even need to draw straight lines. Most of my initial drawings are not to any scale. I just needed to be able to determine the basic shape and look of the project.

Here are the original plans for the play stools. The design goals were simple. A 12 inch by 12 inch by 12 stool, with a hole in the top, so it could be picked up and carried around. I was making 8 stools total, so they had to be easy to build. This drawing shows my initial concept, 1 x 6 boards for the top and 2 x 12 boards for the sides. I also put a 2 x 6 board in the middle, to keep it from collapsing (I’ll talk about this in design basics, another post).

I drew the actual boards, not just a single line. I did this so I could see how they would stack. This is very important! 1 x 6 boards are actually 3/4 inch x 5 1/4 inches and 2 x 12 boards are actually 1 1/2 inches by 11 1/4 inches. So a 3/4 board on top of a 11 1/4 inch board gives a 12 inch height. With the picture, I can clearly see it.

This Sand and Water table drawing shows that the shorter side is 24 inches. The actual boards are 22 1/2 inches. That is because it is using 3/4 inch lumber. Together, the front and back take up 1 1/2 inches. 24 minus 1 1/2 is 22 1/2 inches. Without the drawing, I might have forgotten that.

All of the drawings I’ve shown so far are “orthogonal views”, in drafting terms. Orthogonal views do NOT have vanishing points and do not take into account the fact that the farther away something is, the smaller it is. This makes orthogonal views easier to draw. Anyone who has doodled a picture of a box has drawn this view. An orthogonal view shows 3 sides, usually the front, side and top. They are easiest to draw if you start with the side of the object that is closest to you. Then add the lines to give it depth. Then add in other lines to create boards.

Some projects, like the playstands, would be too difficult for an orthogonal view, so I just drew the front and a side. If you draw the views near each other, at the same scale, you can almost see the whole thing at once.

It’s not always important to draw the entire project. For this doll house, the drawing shows the floors of the house and one side of the roof. This drawing shows three different configurations I tried. First, with three floors, then only two, and finally I realized that it needed to be taller.

Also, I was having trouble visualizing how the roof was going to work, so the last side view shows one of the roof boards.

This doll house is not much more than a shelf with a roof, so this drawing was enough.

More recently, I found a barn in a catalog that I wanted to build, but I wanted a different roof. It was the same basic design as the doll house, so I just did a quick diagram, so I see how the roof would go together.

I wrote a few dimensions on the drawing and began building. The barn and doll house were very close in design, so this drawing was all I needed.

There are times when scale is important. The hook piece on the playstands had to to be large enough so that I could attach it with screws, even though other boards were going to be in the way. I drew it a full size, 1 inch on the drawing = 1 inch in real life. That way I could measure boards, where screws were going to go, and get a chance to think it through before cutting wood. When the drawing was just right, so I cut out and and traced it onto the wood.

You may have noticed that some of my drawings are on plain paper and some are on graph paper. I prefer graph paper. The lines help me draw straight and keep things in proportion. For this playstand hook drawing, 1 square = 1/4 inch. For the doll house drawing above, 1 square = two inches. Try to pick a scale that is easy to work and lets your drawing be as large as possible.


  • Mechanical pencil – so you don’t have to keep sharpening it.
  • Eraser – so you can change your mind
  • Graph paper – makes it so much easier to draw
  • Ruler – to draw straight lines and keep things in proportion
  • Drafting triangles, 30 / 60 degree and a 45 degree. Makes angled lines easier.

Most of these supplies can be picked up where ever your purchase school supplies. has quite a few books on design and drafting, but most of these books are way beyond what is needed to complete a project. The playstand drawing and sand and water table drawing are third generation drawings I did as part of this website and not what I used to build my playstands and sand and water table. The originals were misplaced, but looked much more like the drawing for the stools.

Here are a few other drawings and projects. The first is a rabbit hutch. I had trouble scanning in the drawing, so you will have to click on the picture to view it. I wanted the sides and doors constructed with lapjoints. The front door closes similar to the Henitentiary, and the dimensions were determined by the litter pan I had already purchased. The drawing is messy and crooked, but it enabled me to visualize how all the parts went together.

The second project is a saddle stand / play horse. You may notice that the saddle horse is very similar to the playstands, so I didn’t have to put a lot of work in the drawing, just enough so I had the dimensions of the parts.

Drawing take practice, but after just a few pictures, you will notice improvement in your drawings and your projects.

In the next article in this series, we’ll look at how the parts of a project go together.