Decorative gourds!

We went to the Georgia State Farmers market and spent 20 bucks getting huge pumpkins to decorate. We decided to paint and glue things to them instead of carving them so they would live longer. Which, I’m useless at painting. So this is all on Margo to get the guys ready for the big night.

The first was to draw the skull bases on them to give them a base.


Next was to draw a face,

And to make them look like calaveras.



Margo has been hard at work making the skulls look more sugar skully. The gems are hot glued on in the hopes that are skulls and skeletons can go back to normal for future use.

Calaveras aren’t usually blinged out. We got some face tattoos to use but after research, we realized wanted something that was a little more visible in low light from a distance.


Another big thing for Día de Muertos is marigolds. Fake marigolds cost a small fortune and we didn’t want a ton of a fake marigolds just sitting around. Real marigolds die sooner than we would like. These are made from tissue, pipe cleaner and parts of an unloved orphan we got from a guy.

and we made a fake guitar for one of the skeletons in the jam band. This year, they will just be static with music being played behind them. I found a Day of the Dead party mix, but I’m not sure they know what it is. My first impulse was Mariachi music but We’ve moved to more general party music that fit with the theme. Plus, it is all Amazon Prime streaming music, so free is a pretty good price.


Robot coffin for Halloween

Every year for Halloween we do a big them. Previous year was a Sleepy Hollow theme and it really bothered people. I think me dressed like the Headless Horseman and waving around a sword was a big part of that.

So this year we decided to do a Day of the Dead theme. A little more light hearted. One of the features was going to be a coffin. I got some fence material from the local home center and built a toe pincher. wpid-wp-1412466439155.jpeg

Which is fine, I even got hammered hinges for it. The problem is it looks new. After some research, I found out that mixing steel wool with vinegar creates a chemical stain that can artificially age wood.

I applied it and got disappointed at first because I just got a piece of wood that smell liked vinegar. After an hour, I got this:


So I put a few more coats on it.

I decided to use some old robot parts and animate it. The first was with a windshield wiper motor that wasn’t able to keep up with the weight, so next I used a pneumatic cylinder from Clippard that I had.

I had to weld up an adapter to cross the threaded rod over to something I could use:


Which shattered the first time I applied air pressure because of the wonderful steel Home Depot uses. Fortunately, it seems to still hold and function, so I’m not too worried, but that is a problem that will need to be addressed before next year.

Second was to weld up an mount to hold the other end:



It is hard to see, but I welded a nut to one side of the bracket and drove a screw through the other side. The nut  also melted under the welding process because of the high quality steel Home Depot uses.


This is a pneumatic 2 position/5 way valve. It fires electronically and pushes air though port A and exhausts through one of the rear ports. When the electricity is removed, the air is routed through port B and it exhausts through the rear ports. I put speed control mufflers on the exhaust to reduce noise and to slow down the piston action to keep it from throwing the door across town.

And to trigger it, I got a cheap motion activated security light and removed the light parts and replaced them with power ports I can use and connected a 14 volt wall wart to drive the solenoid.


Which here is the coffin closed:


And here is it open:



And here is a video of it functioning and triggering as cars drive past on the road:


I think next year, I want to create a comedy routine so he opens it up, tells a joke and closes it.

Some books aren’t very good on Kindle

The way I work is that I go some place and I’m there until the job is done. It could be a week, it could be two months.

It used to be that when I’d travel, books would be the heaviest thing I’d carry.  Mostly because there aren’t a lot of English book stores where  I go.

So when ebook readers became a thing, I got one. It was great, I could stick 100 books into something that weighed next to nothing. Right now, I’ve got the Kindle just below the Paperwhite. And to be honest, I still love the Kindle. I’ve got dozens of books, and sure, I’ve to charge my book and occasionally it crashes, but it is better than the alternative.

The only problem they can’t seem to get to work is technical books.

I bought Headfirst Java which is a good book, but most of the code snippets and exercises are something other than text. So they are lighter than rest of the text and  I can’t figure out how to make them darker or change the font size.  So I’ve got a good chunk of the book(and the teaching contained within) that is unreadable.

I’m not sure if this is an e-ink limitation or a Kindle limitation or the book was just converted poorly.

Either way…. grrrr.

Whelp, Back in Angola

Weee!I tried to avoid it, but after over four months at home, the Angolan government finished my work visa and I was told to get to to Luanda as soon as I could. Last year, I got stuck here for two months because of visa problems, so getting stuck at home for four seemed to be a fair trade. It did make me miss a job Holland that I wanted to do, but it was good to be home for a change and we had somethings going on that made it even better to be at home.

I got here on Easter weekend, so as you can imagine all the super urgent stuff I need to do can’t be done because there is nobody around. This almost included my pass to get into the compound we work at.

Sadly, that guy showed up for work.

The boss here is saying he may send me offshore on a different job to babysit a noob they have to make sure he knows what he is doing. The job promises to be simple, and now- that I have a work visa, I have a feeling I’ll get called often to help.

The Angolan government intentionally makes it hard to bring in expats in the hopes that companies hire nationals. Which isn’t a bad thing. but they make it too hard. It is difficult to get experienced people in to train and supervise until a national is ready to step up.



Last year, I was here three weeks and my laptop started having problems. The keyboard stopped working, which makes it a little hard to do my job. A few days ago, my screen started going red and now it looks like this:


I'd like to point out I was smart enough to take a photo and not a screenshot.
I’d like to point out I was smart enough to take a photo and not a screenshot.



So either the screen is broken or my laptop has joined the communist party.

While I’m here, I’m pretended to learn Java again.  I’ve got a few ideas for programs that I’d like to do and it seems like something I can make progress on in my downtime. I just sometimes feel like my head is full of sand and get discouraged. I figure by this time next year, I’ll either be a billionaire app developer or still pretending to learn programming.

God, this feels like it is all over the map.

Marquetry iPhone Case

I’ve been wanting to build something, but my shop has been in disarray due to work, weather, sharing it with an incontinent dog and a complete kitchen remodel that went on much longer than was expected.

A tool I could use was my scrollsaw, which doesn’t take much room. I don’t use my scrollsaw much because a good 90% of the projects don’t appeal to me. Something that does appeal is the art of marquetry done with a scroll saw.

Recently, Matt made a veneered phone case, and I decided that Margo needed a fancy case, and I could try out marquetry.

So I turned this:

Into this:

And learned a lot along the way.

The first issue was getting a case. I sorted that out and got a cheap one. I didn’t realize it was a two part deal, which created some design challenges. It fits super tight, so that is good and will make for a sturdy base, I just would have preferred A piece.

The next was a design. The wife likes dogwoods, so I decided dogwood flowers on the back would be the best choice. Now, I have all the artistic ability a lobotomized possum, so drawing the flowers is out of the question. I found a picture on the internet and isolated the flower part. From there… tracing paper.

First I created an outline of what the phone case looked like. Another recurring problem was trying to wrap my head around what side was the show face and which one was the glue side. With this design, have the camera hole in the middle of the flower would have been a disaster.

I made layers of the tracing paper. The very bottom layer was the flower picture, the next up was the phone outline, and one top of that was the version of the flower I traced.

Here is the flower traced and I’m trying to work out the Most Unexceptional grain direction for light flow. Another thing I’ve worked out is that a key for appearance is the flow of light and wood grain.

And moved the flower down one to trace it again. I also rotated and worked the picture to make it not look like I just traced the same flower twice.

And the final step was to copy the tracing paper at an ultra dark setting to give me a template.

Now, to deal with the tooling issue. I ordered some Flying Dutchman Puzzler blades, a veneer supplies starter kit, and several packs of veneer from Highland Woodworking.

I went to Michael’s and got a piece of white cardboard. Part of that was used to cover the gaping maw of my scrollsaw with a zero clearance table.

I wanted the back to be walnut burl, so I needed to soften it a little. I used the bottle of Super Soft that came with the veneer supply kit. I sprayed the veneer to get it wet and clamped it between some paper towels and let it sit a few hours to dry.


I think it made a neat pattern on the paper towel. Probably because I did something wrong.

Next, I took all the bits of veneer and made a little sandwich with two bits of the poster board and a lot of blue tape.


I purposefully made the sandwich larger than was needed, so I drove some small nails through the outer bits to hold the whole packet of veneer together. So when I gang cut it, everything will line up within the kerf.

I didn’t take any pictures of the cutting process, but I did make an extra copy of the template and as I cut so I could lay the pieces out. This worked great until the wind blew through an open door and scattered all the bits to the wind and broke the back.
IMG_20140312_123023  Just laying there, prior to finishing.

Next, I wanted to some sand shading of the leaves to give the piece some depth. With sand shading, you take some sand, get it hot and dip the pieces of veneer in to get them a little darker. I got some sand, a pan from Goodwill and ended up using the stove to heat the sand. The problem with my method is that the pieces are small and the sand is hot. I need to work out a better way to hold the veneer as a run it through the sand. Because of this, I managed to not get the shading I wanted. Still, I think it came out spiffy.

After that, I put the pieces back together and glued them to another piece of Walnut to work as a backer. Another mistake I made was cutting the backer and the face piece separate, when I should have glued them together and trimmed both at the same time.

I’m not sure where the gaps came from, I think it was part of them getting blown about and I didn’t get them back in the spots they are supposed to be. I need to work out a better numbering and storage system. The bits are all small, so I think I’ll get a plastic tackle box that has a lot of compartments. I decided that using more Walnut as a backer(and a little dark wood paste) would fill the gaps and conceal the problem.
IMG_20140312_145837  The completed piece, glued to the backer piece of veneer.

IMG_20140312_184529  IMG_20140313_104144

Attaching it to the phone case, was fairly easy. I just got some slow setting super glue and stuck it on. Later, I realized I should have done most of the finishing work before I stuck it on there. After that, I took an X-acto and cut out the camera hole. And managed to damage the piece a little. So I glued bits of veneer back to work as patches.

Camera hole cut and some patches applied.

I cut the bottom bit off and glued it separately. I put a piece of cardboard between the clamp and the veneer to protect it.

IMG_20140313_154418  IMG_20140313_104158

Now, came one of the biggest mistakes I made. Veneering the sides of the case. It was a combination of technique and probably material. I use the softener to get the material really floppy and some clothes pins to clip it to the case and get it bent into shape. The material was really fragile and I’m not sure it added anything to the case. The sides kept breaking and ended up becoming a hodgepodge of veneer bits and wood filler.


After that came the process of finishing it. I used a soldering iron to create stamens. After that, I used polyurethane to give it shine and protection. It kept getting bubbles in it. Which turns out to be a thing that poly does. I would sand it a little and add a thin layer, let it dry and do it again. I eventually started using poly thinned out with boiled linseed oil. That sort of worked.

IMG_20140314_082137  IMG_20140314_150243

IMG_20140314_164956  IMG_20140314_184407


I finally gave it to Margo, and she is happy with it. I’m just going to say the defects are proof it was made by the hardworking artisans of Decatur Georgia.


I have a few ideas for doing another one. My phone just has a plain black case, so it needs something super awesome.

So, I’m back in Equatorial Guinea

And I managed to see fire number 4 at a Halliburton facility this year.

I’m not sure why the sharp increase in fires, but all of them have been electrical.

This one was a much to small cable used to wire up the building. It melted and started arcing. Fortunately, they stopped it before it became a huge issue.

But attempted repairs by putting the same undersize gauge wire back. Did you know this country has the lowest average IQ?

Vacations are never long enough

As I was leaving Malabo on the 5th, the boss comes up and says “One of the guys that was supposed to come had a medical issue. I need you back on the 15th.” So, My trip to St George Island had a cloud hanging over it.

And to top it off, my American Express had been turned off. So I spent too much time on my vacation sorting that and my flights out.

St George was fun. We split the house(oh god… I first typed staffhouse.) among friends and they brought their kids. We saw dolphins(At one point they were less than 20 feet from the shore), crabs played board games and the people in the house next to us spent their day catching sharks. The only real downer was we took a day to go to Shell Island, a 10 minute boat ride from Panama City. The horseflies were intense. I think we spent less than two hours there. Some people spent less.

Apart from that… the weather was lovely and the water was calm.

Dealing with customs

We have equipment stuck in customs. Which is common. We are always moving equipment in and out of countries. Sometimes… things go haywire.

We had equipment come in a few weeks ago, but the guy that signs the customs forms was on vacation for a week, so the guy that fills out the forms didn’t fill them out.

Signer guy comes off of vacation, but Filler Guy goes on vacation for a week.

Filler guy comes off of vacation, Signer guy quits. Now there is no Signer guy and our stuff is still stuck in customs until they get a new Signer.

On the plus side, my coat rack is a bowling pin.

So, I got that going for me. And I leave here tomorrow. After that is a week on the beach.

There are a million blogs on the internet. This is one of them.