over the sierras, past the great basin, into more smoke

So, mid September, the opportunity fell in our laps to get out of the Bay for a bit, just when it was looking like the smoke was going to hang around for another month at least. Looking back, we were absurdly cautious. We drove, so no airports; food from drive throughs wherever possible, so no sharing air; we were house and dog sitting for some friends who were taking a rafting trip down the colorado for a month, so we had a place all to ourselves. I talked about the trip a bit before but these are all new photos at least on the blog.

Even with all that, the trip out was something else. I don’t know what your memories of last fall were, but mine will be of the whole western united states on fire. Not a few brush fires here and there; columns of smoke that could be seen hundreds of miles away. Pyrocumulus clouds bursting with drama. Air filters inside, and KN95 masks to walk the dog. Real end times feelings.

The route we took was out I-80, through Salt Lake. Because of the time of day we always leave, we always get to the Bonneville salt flats at night, and don’t get to see much of them. This trip, on the way back, we timed it so we got there at midday. It was early November, but there will be salt flat pictures up here eventually. I just have to go and find them.

There are 10 more pictures but I don’t think I have any more words tonight. Enjoy.

Posted on 2021-03-23 06:56:56Z GMT

Tahoe, last september

Last fall, in the middle of the smoky season, (which was simultaneously 6 months and three lifetimes ago), we had a long weekend around my birthday and took a road trip to Tahoe. This wasn’t a normal road trip with, like, roadside stops for ice cream and the worlds largest ball of string; this was strictly drive to an AirBnB with a key code and stay there; we made a grocery run once there, and sat on a rather nice deck for most of the trip. There was also some smoke there, which wasn’t great, but at least there was different things, thinly visible behind everything.

I am woefully behind on posting, I guess? The timeliness of the posts is totally in my own head, though, and not a product of an actual need to get the photos out. No reason to rush, or to need to be timely. It’s my web site, and I’ll do what I want.

A job listing popped up recently, for a staff photographer at the Chronicle. It’d be a dream job for me, but of course, it’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to work up to, after time at a smaller daily, or working as a stringer. I’ve done none of that, having refused to take a really shitty work for hire contract almost 15 years ago, and failed subsequently to find steady photo work after the 2008 financial crisis, I landed on a backup plan to the backup plan, which turned out to be pretty OK money wise but not super fulfilling otherwise. Hence the blog, the side projects, everything. I might apply, even though my qualifications are thin; it’d be good for me.

Probably nothing will happen, and I’ll end up doing something completely unexpected in 6 months. We’ll see. At least the top post on here isn’t a pepper grinder any more.

Posted on 2021-03-22 01:15:55Z GMT

I made a pepper grinder

So, as some of my longtime friends know, I’m hard on my personal effects, be they the string of watches I wear, the cameras I carry, my bikes, my tools, my phone, laptops, everything. This extends to the kitchen, where the average life of a glass is about a year. Pots and pans tend to be a little banged up, before I switched to aeropress I was always needing a new glass carafe for my french press coffee. Damn I miss french press sometimes. Anyway.

I’ve also been through a number of pepper grinders, the last of which was both really nice (consistent, ground pepper quickly, needed no batteries) and not so nice (plastic) and broke after only a few months. I took it apart and looked at it, and saw that I could replace all the plastic parts with aluminum, quickly mocked up a design in my head, and bought some material to turn the parts on the lathe. I also did a repair on the plastic, to keep us in fresh ground pepper in the mean time.

Fast forward a month. I’ve got all the tooling I think I need, and I’m in the shower, thinking through the kinda complex design I came up with initially. It had two flanges, a main body, and a cap, and I didn’t know exactly how the shaft that connected the burrs to the top would connect. The flanges would have required cutting a bunch of internal and external threads, and just a lot more work in general. And then, there in the shower, I realize: I can just weld a little threaded rod to the end of the shaft, and then not need all the complicated extra flanges; the cap could just spin on the main body and be held in place with nuts above and below.

So, even if you can’t understand my description, you can kinda see that the second one is a lot simpler. It was simple enough I was confident I could make it. That same day, I started cutting material. I cut the main body out, drilling and then boring out to 1.5” about half way down my work piece. I also cut the little shoulder on the top that the cap rides on. Then, I parted off at the right length, flipped the part with a soda can shim over the finished surface, and started boring the bottom.

Innuendo aside, it was a pretty straightforward process. I had to cut a succession of steps, one to hold the outside of the steel burrs I had, and one to hold the little adjuster bar that was from the bottom of the old mill. In the middle of all this, I ordered a better boring bar from littlemachineshop.com (which I love, because they always have good quality import tools), which made the second side and the cap a lot easier.

Then, a minor disaster: I wanted to hurry up and finish, so I was rushing through cutting the cap out. Got the initial work done, but my parting blade wasn’t cooperating, so I decided to cut it with my band saw and then face it. My parting is pretty bad, I usually have to face the parts after anyway. Facing means making a cut perpendicular to the axis of rotation, on the end of the spinning part, often to clean up a cut made some other way.

So I take it out of the lathe, put it in the vice, and start cutting it with the saw. The band saw is balky and doesn’t like the 2” round. Rushing, not getting things in position, etc. Also, at this point, it’s midnight, so I’m tired and making dumb mistakes. The blade pops out, I put it back in, keep sawing. finally, the part comes off.

I take it back over to the lathe and start to cut. It’s really rough; almost immediately, the part snags, and because I’m only holding the thin side, it’s ripped out of the jaws, and ends up in the chip tray (the metal that comes off from machining operations is called chips; the chip tray collects some of them; much of machining is dealing with chips). The part is bent, ruined. I give up for the night.

The next day, on lunch, I start cutting on a new lid. I have just enough material, and at least the drilling parts of the work only take maybe 20 minutes. That evening, I get the boring and parting done, flip it, carefully true it up, and face it off without incident.

Then, finally, I was ready to assemble it. I was a little surprised that it went together on the first try. Everything fit; all my measurements had been within tolerance, and after a quick washing, I loaded it up with pepper. Works great, doubles as a bludgeon. Very tough.

The next day (today, the day I’m writing this, I looked at the simple nut on the top, and decided it would be better if it were a bigger sort of knob (the technical term is “thumb nut”), that could be operated without tools. So I went back down to the lathe and made one in about 25 miuntes. And that’s the grinder we have now. Hopefully I won’t break this one, but if I do, I can fix it.

Posted on 2021-03-13 21:06:12Z GMT

just a walk around the block

So, I was having a cigar, screwing around on twitter, and I tweeted:

And well, I was sitting there and I realized that there was nothing stopping me from going on a little walk right then and there, so I did. Grabbed my camera and went on a little stroll. My left ankle and knee complained most of the way, but overall I’m really glad I went somewhere and did something. Vaccination and a bit more personal freedom and leeway can’t come soon enough.

In other news, I launched the bag website recently, to almost no fanfare at all. I don’t really know what to do to drum up customers… not my area really. I should talk to other people that make niche goods maybe.

Anyway. There are a lot of RVs parked in the hood now. I hope they’re OK, whoever might be living in them. Going to push publish and go to sleep.

Posted on 2021-02-21 10:36:52Z GMT

left the house today, took some pics

I was going to stay home and nap today, but fate threw a good excuse to go walk around the mission for an hour today (double masked and keeping my distance from everyone, naturally). It’s been a while since I was out in the world. Five thousand steps according to my watch. Maybe the longest I’ve walked in a year? It’s been a while. I kinda wish I’d gone further. I used to do 10 or 15 miles in a day, no problem. Solvitur Ambulando, I’ve always thought.

The Mission was much as it always was; rumors of a dead san francisco are greatly exaggerated. Valencia had a couple blocks closed off, and a lot of the restaurants had ‘outdoor seating’ with varying degrees of ‘outdoor’ for each of them in the unused parking spaces. None were the fully enclosed spots like I’ve seen in photos from other cities, but I’m still not about to sit down that close to other people. I kept walking.

Trying to work on the backlog of tasks, but these pictures were fresh, and I kinda like them. Getting out the superwide was a good choice; something to break up the monotony of the 50mm which I love, and won’t ever really be done with, but/and I definitely needed to take the wide view today.

The pandemic is about to enter its second year here. The early days were hard; not knowing what was safe and what wasn’t; it was maybe a month into things before the CDC was recommending mask wearing? We were worried enough that we wiped down our groceries, because nobody knew if fomite transmission was a thing (and we all suddenly knew that word). People figured out new things to do; I figured out recipes to try to relieve the boredom, we had movie sundays, where several households would start a movie at the same time, and we’d chat on discord.

Then, people started figuring out ways to see each other somewhat safely. Abstinence is a bad model for public health, and the good news is we could meet outside, in a park, with six feet between households. Lots of people picked up new hobbies; bread baking, cooking, netflix watching. I re-did this web site, kept fucking up my ankle, my knee, and finding myself unable to walk for periods of days, and hobbling around a lot. I guess that’s what happens when you cut off physical therapy too soon after surgery, but what was I going to do? Go, and breathe someone else’s air for an hour twice a week? No thank you.

anyway, at this point, we’ve figured out what’s permissible and what isn’t. Stuff outside, with the six feet rule, is fine (ish). Avoid crowds, though; the more people in an area, the more likely someone is there, spreading the virus but asymptomatic. Don’t go inside someone else’s building, unless they’re in your pod; pods are less than six people. This last is broken a lot, because people have to eat, and grocery stores are full of other people. Even with restricted occupancy, you’re definitely sharing air. If you do ‘break the rules’, self-isolate for two weeks, do not pass go, don’t collect $200.

It was a nice day after a load of crappy ones. Winter has been especially harsh this year. I always get a bit down in January. The holidays aren’t as bad, buoyed as they are (normally) by family and food and giving and receiving presents. It’s not yet spring, but it’s getting warmer.

Posted on 2021-02-07 09:27:24Z GMT