Finding Adventure...

My first from-scratch project with my 3D printer

After much research on 3D printers, I settled on the $750 "CTC" one off eBay.  It's a clone of the original Makerbot Replicator, and I suspect it's made by the same factory that originally made the Replicator for Makerbot.  Makerbot has moved on to fancier and more expensive units, but in my research I just couldn't seem to justify the extra cost for the final product.  In fact, I looked at possibly spending at much as $15,000 on a printer, and yet still settled on this $750 unit.

It really seems like you have to step up to $20,000+ printers to do significantly better things than this CTC printer can do.  You would need to be running it constantly, and I'm merely a hobbyist who was looking to learn a few things and perhaps make a few things that could really be used in the real world.

I started out printing a few things I found on Thingiverse.  I'm kind of surprised more people don't just grab things from there and pay to have them printed at sites like Shapeways.  Before I bought my own printer, I did do 3D model of an enclosure I wanted and had Shapeways print it.  The service takes several days including shipping, but it's not terribly expensive and the quality is quite good.  But all it did was whet my appetite to be able to print my own things NOW.  Enter the research and the purchase of the CTC printer.

The first few prints included some mediocre iPhone cases as well as a cool little GoPro mount, seen here:

Not the most complex thing, but it actually works pretty well.  Here's one used to adapt my mountain bike headlamp to work on the GoPro mount of my bike helmet:

The material is VERY strong and fairly lightweight, too.  If there's a downside it's that the color palette is a bit limited and the time to print is pretty slow.  This little item takes about 25 minutes just to print, but setup and everything included makes it more like an hour for the first one and about 35 minutes for each one after.

 A fun thing to do is add a second video camera on the bow of the boat.  Unfortunately there's no good way to do that on these particular boats (and we've tried several different sit-on-top kayaks for surfing, and these seem to work better than most for a 200 pound adult).  So I set out to make something that would work in place of the grab handle in the front.

Here are the parts as I designed them in Sketchup:

 And assembled in place with a GoPro on the boat:

Normally the boat would have a small piece of plastic down where the string connects in this photo attached with a short screw.  I removed that and took the handle off that piece and put it on my GoPro mount.  Then I bolted everything through with a long bolt into the original hole.  It seems every bit as strong as before, except now there's a place to put a camera.  I normally use a chest cam for the best action, but a camera pointed back at the rider is a fun view, too.

There will be more almost-interesting things coming from my evil lab, but not until after the beach.

Anatomy of a perfect day

A perfect day starts with a trip to the North Carolina mountains. Do whatever prayer or sacrifice or other bribe to the weather gods that you have to do so that you get a 75F partly cloudy day. Next, mix in plans for a completely empty day to start with breakfast at the Dan'l Boone Inn with some good friends you haven't seen in a while. From there, plan to take the kids to the park in Blowing Rock, but stop by your respective houses on the way to get appropriate gear for a short hike to a swimming hole. Meet back up at the park.

From there, it gets interesting. First, I decided while at home to add my motorcycle to my "gear." Yeah, I threw my hiking gear in Ashley's car and went my own way on the bike. It's a new-to-me 2009 BMW G650X. For those that don't know bikes, it's a street legal dirt bike that is just perfect for mountain exploration. Anyway, I hadn't actually even had it out on public roads yet (we trailered it up here). So, back to the park...

We let the kids run around and play while the adults did more catching up. Then we loaded back up and headed from downtown Blowing Rock toward Globe. Our intended stop was the China Creek trailhead off of Globe Road. Well, it was our stop, but unfortunately we found that the China Creek trail had been closed by the park service for a year! It's due to reopen in a few weeks, but given the penalty for hiking it was six months in jail, we decided we should head to choice number two, Huntfish Falls. The only reason it was choice number two was that it's a good bit further of a drive, but it's a better swimming hole anyway, so off we went. It's worth noting that I wasn't crying at all, since I got that much more chance to explore the limits of my new bike on twisty dirt roads.

So a short while later we found ourselves at the Huntfish Falls trailhead:

It's six or seven miles of dirt on The Globe Road, and another ten miles or so of dirt between Highway 90 and Pineola Road to get to the Huntfish Falls trailhead, but let me tell you, it's stellar riding. Particularly today and particularly for someone on this kind of bike that's new to them. Why? Because it rained a good bit yesterday. I had every surface type imaginable to play on. Loose gravel, occasional large rocks, that really awesome tacky clay, soft mud, and occasional soup. Sometimes you even had weird mixes of those. And yet I never over-stepped the limits of this fine machine. I am impressed, and I am looking forward to a lot more seat time on this thing. Back to the day...

The family and friends caught up, and we headed down the nearly-a-mile-long trail that's pretty much straight down. It lands right at a very awesome set of waterfalls with a large swimming hole that leads to a pretty decent sliding rock (at least for small kids). The best part? There's a pretty decent rock ledge about five or six feet above the water that you can jump off of and into about five foot deep water (so you have to be careful to only cannonball, but it's still great). The water temperature is quite brisk, but you do get used to it quickly. Or at least I get used to it quickly, anyway, but maybe that's because I get addicted to that ledge jump. I think I did it ten times today. Both kids did it, too, and even one of our friends, who apparently had never done anything like that!

After an hour or two or three (who keeps track of time in a place that wonderful?), we headed back out. The hike back up isn't so wonderful, but it's tolerable enough. We grabbed some snacks and headed back toward civilization with a plan to meet at the friend's house to grill some supper. Notice we had missed lunch, but between the awesome breakfast and the snacks, I don't think anyone cared. I left first on the motorcycle...hehehehe.

I did some more limit-seeking along the ten or so miles of gravel road back to the Parkway, where I started to notice gray skies. Uh-oh, might get wet! And sure enough, as I rode the Parkway back to the house, there were occasional showers. Never enough to soak the road, but just enough you knew it was raining and not drizzling. I didn't much care as it was just warm enough it was no bother, and I was still damp from my swimming excursion anyway. I got home, showered, watched the US lose the World Cup, and we headed back out for our supper engagement.

We found our friend's fairly-new-to-them house with no problem, and enjoyed a great meal and conversation. They have a wonderful place that I'm sure they will enjoy for many years to come. They even busted out some sparklers that had been intended for July 4 festivities, but were rained out. Much to my surprise, my children had yet to experience the wonder that is dazzling fire on a stick that you can hold in your hand, so much fun was had by all. Sadly, the sun decided that it was time to end the festivities, and we called it an evening. But it was quite a nice way to cap what was a perfect day.

Sometimes the politicians get it right.

I want to say a big thank-you to the NC General Assembly for passing legislation banning smoking in almost all restaurants and bars starting in less than two hours. I'm not sure if it was original or not, but a friend of mine posted to Facebook just yesterday with something I'm going to repeat here. "A smoking section of a restaurant is like a peeing section in a swimming pool."

I agree completely. Many restaurants had done a great job of having air filtration systems to help mitigate the problem, but I find that I had pretty much quit eating at "sports-bar" type places like Buffalo Wild Wings and Bailey's. And it was because of the smoke. I like bar food, and I like the fact that bars are the kind of place where you can often get fairly high quality food but get it faster than many fancier restaurants (nice for those times when you don't have time for Outback but want something better than fast-food).

As a life-long resident of North Carolina, a state whose economy was long dominated by tobacco, I honestly never thought I'd see a change like this in my lifetime. Thanks, legislators!
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I'm a big HAM!

So a week ago I took the test for the Technician Class amateur radio license. I passed, and today I received my first callsign, KJ4RIC. I'll probably get a vanity callsign, but for now, that's my unique ID on the airwaves! Made my first transmission on the OCRA 442.150 repeater this afternoon thanks to a lot of help from Troy getting the radio setup properly. There's nothing terribly hard about it, but just a lot of little details to get figured out. Fun stuff!

Still getting my feet wet figuring everything out. Looks like some pretty neat stuff will be possible. At the very least I'll now be much safer when I mountain bike as I'll have communication capability pretty much everywhere.

Interstate 40 Detour

So by now, most people who read this space and who might be traveling on Interstate 40 from points east of Winston-Salem into Tennessee should know about the big rock slide that has I-40 blocked and detoured. Why am I posting about it then? Because the DOT detour is REALLY BAD for anyone coming from anywhere further east than Winston-Salem. Their detour is an extra 53 miles. It makes a certain amount of sense to publish this as the official detour since there could be a lot of people coming from in between Winston-Salem and Asheville, but for everyone else there is a better way.

Check out this map:

View Larger Map

This detour is 13 miles further than just staying on I-40 would have been. It's also the way I go almost exclusively because it's an easier and safer drive. Going up Fancy Gap is much preferred to me over going up the mountain near Asheville. It's a wider and safer road. The speed limit is higher on most of this route and the traffic is usually better, resulting in the extra distance not actually causing any extra time. To summarize it:
  • I-40 West to Highway 52 North
  • Highway 52 North to I-74 West
  • I-74 West to I-77 North
  • I-77 North to I-81 South
  • I-81 South to I-40 West
(If towing, use the above. If driving a car and it's not rush-hour, you might consider taking I-40 West to Business I-40 West and then to Highway 52 North. But know that the ramp from Business 40 to 52N is VERY short and a potential problem in a tow vehicle.)

It's driving me nuts that the only published detour by the news outlets is the official one, even though I pointed out to WRAL that their entire viewing area is east of Winston-Salem and thus they were being irresponsible by posting only the DOT detour. For almost all of their viewers my detour is better. And it will save fuel and time. So it's greener. WRAL did respond to me, but ignored my request to add the better detour.
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New Blog Announcement

I've decided to start a new blog for car enthusiasts called Don't Bring a Trailer. It follows on the Bring a Trailer website, which is a very popular site that brings attention to cars for sale that might be desirable to true auto enthusiasts.

My site, on the other hand, points out vehicles for sale that you should not buy and in fact probably shouldn't have been built. Turns out there is a lot more of that kind of thing out there than you might think! Check it out...

Our new dog!


Meet Hattie, our new Weimaraner. "Hattie" is short for Hatteras, which is one of our favorite places on earth (and on our minds because we just got back from a few weeks there). She's eight months old and her birthday is October 21. She's somewhat nervous still after a few days here, but starting to fit in fine. Our other two dogs seem to not mind her, and she seems to want to play with them but not enough to get her in trouble. She's been great with the kids, but that's because she's still VERY timid in her new surroundings. I think the energy level is still somewhat low for her, but we'll see...

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.

How to start a Stihl

Stihl makes some of the best two stroke small engine machines in the world. Everything from leaf blowers to chainsaws to string trimmers. The best tip I ever got to nirvana when it comes to getting those small machines started is really simple.

Close the choke. Turn on switch. Do not touch throttle. Pull start cord. Should only take once or twice before it "hits." By that I mean it almost fires but doesn't. Open choke. Pull cord and it should start on the first or second try. Works for me EVERY SINGLE TIME. If you leave the choke closed, you will flood the carb and it won't start until you let it sit for a while. But follow those steps exactly and you'll be in two stroke nirvana, too. Probably works for other brands, but why would you buy another brand?!?

Many engines require the choke to be closed until it's completely started and warms up some. Not so with the Stihl. Just use it to get fuel to the carb, then open it up and it'll fire with no choke. And they just run forever if you keep a proper fuel mix in them.

This post is dedicated to Alisa, leaf blower lover.
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Blog Update!


Found out that was available the other day, so I snagged it and now publish my blog to this address. The old one will still work! But when you visit via the old address you're still going to see the new one at the top, and any new bookmarks will go to the new one.

So don't fear, you don't have to make any change. I just thought I'd let people know what's going on. And I liked this warning sign for some reason.