DIY How-to Making

Making a wallet out of a bag of chips

I’d liked the idea of making a wallet out of a empty bag of potato chips, but didn’t know how to use a sewing machine. I finally bought one off of Craigslist this winter and am figuring it out. A sewing machine unlocks some projects I’d long been curious about – this is one of them.

I followed the steps from this Instructables guide and it turned out pretty well! I would make this project again. It felt like it dragged on, my 10 year-old helper and I took our time, but if doing this again I could move much faster and complete it in an hour or two. I wonder what the durability of the wallet will be. I plan to use it, so will find out.

It’s fun to think about what part of the design you want on the outside
DIY How-to Making

Homemade wood toaster tongs

I recently broke a pair of toaster tongs I’d been given. They looked very much like this set ($10):

Magnetic Wooden Toast Tongs
Image belongs to the Vermont Country Store

Complete with the laser-etched phrase and magnet to grip a metal surface. Made from a single piece of wood, with thin tongs, one of the tongs eventually snapped. I generally stick to rough, practical carpentry, but saw these plans from Rockler for DIY kitchen tongs that made this finish carpentry project seem within my reach. And it was! Now I’ll have more confidence tackling polished projects going forward.

I’m very pleased with how mine ended up:

Not perfect, but the imperfections are tolerable!
Data analysis How-to

Python Script to Retrieve SolarEdge Solar Panel Data

After having a rooftop solar array installed on my home in 2019, I wanted to analyze its actual performance and compare it to projections. In particular, we ended up with a smaller inverter (7kW) than recommended for our total panel capacity (11kW). We often experience some shading on our panels, so the inverter should not limit (or “clip”) the energy production too greatly – but I want to quantify the extent of the clipping effect.

That analysis is for later, though. Here is how I first retrieved the production data for my system from the SolarEdge API, in fifteen-minute intervals. It pulls data for both energy (watt-hours generated) and power (power production, in watts). I think the power is average power over that 15 minute period, though I don’t see that documented and it doesn’t line up exactly with energy generation. I’m a Python beginner and relied on my brother, who kindly wrote almost all of this code.

Setup: you’ll need your SolarEdge API key, which you can get by following their instructions (pp. 5-6). You’ll also need to install the solaredge Python package (and Python itself, if you haven’t used it before). In addition to an API key, the script below refers to a site ID. You can find that in the mySolarEdge app, under information about your site, or via the results of a query to the API.

DIY How-to Making Parenting Repair

DIY non-slip soles for footed pajamas

I’ve handed down a few pairs of cozy footed pajamas between my kids. Along the way the soles lost whatever non-skid properties they had and became very slippery. We got them out this fall to keep my two-year-old cozy. He was cozy … and he slid all over on our slick floors, wiping out a few times. Neither slips nor cold bare feet would do. It was time for DIY non-slip soles.

I outfitted two pairs of Carter’s footie pajamas. Both attempts turned out great:

Try to slide in those!

Materials: I used a discarded bike inner tube that could no longer be patched. If you don’t have one, you might be able to score them from a bike shop or repair co-op. I also used heavy-duty Sashiko thread and needle, but I expect you could do this with any needle and thread.


Biking How-to Parenting

Bike camping from Ann Arbor to Pinckney Rec Area

COVID-19 shattered my “fun aspirations for 2020” list, but one survivor is bike camping. I’m planning that trip (this weekend). It will be my first time camping via bike so I’m reading up and asking questions. In particular I’m focused on getting there and back, with two kids and our gear. Here are some notes on routes and logistics, to help me & others in the future and to see if anyone has other ideas.

Where to Bike Camp around Ann Arbor

The closest campsite to Ann Arbor that I’m aware of is Crooked Lake Rustic Campground, at Pinckney Rec Area. I’ve camped here via car several times so know what I’m getting. But I’m curious to know of other camping options within ~25 miles from Ann Arbor.

Getting There via Bike

For this post, let’s assume a starting point of Michigan Stadium. Google Maps suggests taking Dexter-Ann Arbor road to Dexter, then Island Lake Road to Dexter Townhall Road. Total 18.5 miles. This is the route I use to drive there.

Default path from Google Maps
DIY Gardening How-to ruminations

Building a hugelkultur mound in a city backyard

This was a leap-of-faith project during Michigan’s bleak COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” period. I’m documenting it here as a plan for building a hugelkultur bed on a small city lot as well as to preserve a pleasant COVID-19 memory. Behold the thriving hugelkultur mound:

It’s exploding with vegetables – see below for pictures of the hill itself

Hugelkultur is a permaculture concept where you pile up organic material (logs, leaves, compost, etc.) and then grow a garden on top of it. Here is a good explanation of hugelkultur and its benefits. It’s also a fun word to say. We refer to our mound as “the hugel” [German for hill].

This was the perfect COVID-19 project. Under lockdown in April, we had nowhere to go. I was spending lots of time with my kids at home during the day. And I wanted to be outside. Building a garden bed with the materials at hand was a small act of protest against the feeling of being dependent on a global supply chain whose fragility had suddenly been exposed. I couldn’t easily get soil or lumber delivered for a conventional raised bed. And crucially, the city’s compost and yard waste collection was about to resume for the spring, so my neighbors had their maximum amount of organic material awaiting disposal.

Starting with a hole

How-to Repair

Sand the bottom of a door that sticks without taking it off its hinges

Problem: a wood bathroom door rubs slightly on the tile of a bathroom floor at the midpoint in its swing, sticking in place. I wanted to sand off the tiniest bit so that it swings free.  But it wasn’t worth removing the door from its hinges.

Solution: get some rough sandpaper (I used 60 grit) and an old magazine. Open a dozen pages of the magazine and lay the sandpaper on top, grit up. (Without the magazine padding I’d be nervous that I’d mar the tile floor). Put this stack at a point in the door’s arc where it swings freely.

Before you start sanding: you want to avoid pulling off any strips from a veneer that may be covering the door’s surface.  To avoid that, first sand the trailing edge of the door (that is, the side that hits last when you’re slamming it into the sandpaper), so it isn’t caught and pulled while you slam.  Also consider using a finer grit of sandpaper, which would add a few minutes to the sanding, and opening-and-closing on the sandpaper with less force.  Keep an eye on the veneer throughout the process.

Now, slam the door into the paper stack so that it sticks. In the process, it sands exactly the lowest point on the bottom of the door. Keep swinging it back and forth, slamming it into the sandpaper. As you make progress in shaving the door, you may need to add pages to the stack or move it closer to the point where the door sticks.

Test periodically. In a few minutes you’ve removed a millimeter or two from the bottom of the door and it should swing freely, without altering the look of the door or needing to remove it.

Besides the convenience of this solution, I enjoy its elegance: by replicating the act of making contact with the floor it shaves the door in precisely the right place.

DIY How-to Making

Building a compost bin out of pallets

The project: My mother-in-law had long expressed interest in composting her food scraps, but didn’t care for the plastic bins available for purchase. I’d been interested in building such a bin by reusing salvaged lumber, mostly discarded wood pallets. This presented a fun challenge: construct a compost bin that satisfied her aesthetic requirements and followed my principles of reuse.

It turned out well: it’s attractive (in a rustic way) and functional, though took longer to build than I expected. Breaking down pallets was a big chunk of that time overage: they were free in monetary cost but not in the time they took to process.

After weathering its first winter

Design: I built it probably a little too big, 32″ L x 30″ W x 29″ H. Compost bins have to solve for the problem of emptying the finished compost (after a year or so) while leaving in place any recently-discarded food. In bins like this, which will be emptied via a not-yet-installed door in the bottom of the side (see below), that separation is achieved by the depth of the pile. The bottom of the pile, with older finished compost, is no longer turned, while the fresher, unfinished material rests on top. In a narrower bin, the walls support layers of material such that the top layers can be left in place while the bottom is scraped out. This bin may be too big to neatly do that. Perhaps the over-sizing just means it can go a few years between emptying.

DIY How-to Repair

Watch repair: metal spring bar tore a channel in a Casio G-Shock end piece

For Hanukkah 2008, I received a new watch from my wife. (I don’t remember the watch before that). It was particularly magical in my job as a high school teacher. After the first bell of the day rang, it was 4 minutes to the start of school, then 46 minutes per period alternating with a 4-minute passing period. Like clockwork, so to speak.

The watch had a auto-repeating countdown timer that I set for 50 minutes and would almost always successfully synchronize with the day’s first bell. That would mean that at any point during the day I could look down and see precisely how many seconds were left in a class or passing period. I could walk the hallways and announce “27 seconds!” or count down “5-4-3-2-1” and then the bell would ring, with me the only person in the school who had that level of precision. There’s probably something there for another post but I digress.

After years of daily wear and companionship, I received a smartwatch as a gift and stopped wearing the digital watch. Then I went from the FitBit to a Basis and then a Garmin. At one point I realized I’d fallen into a consumerism trap and sought to go back. The notifications were disruptive and the data I was generating was useless to me but creepy in the hands of Big Tech. I tried to go back to the Casio, but it had a problem. (Remember the torn-out spring bar in the page title? This post is about the torn-out spring bar).

Each strap is attached to the end piece / bezel by a spring bar. In the course of replacing a broken band and with wear and tear over time, the spring bar on one strap carved a channel from the hole it sits in. With slight force, the strap would pull the pin out through the channel and detach from the bezel. (If this post wasn’t an afterthought I’d have a “before” picture). This person appears to have the same problem, though they too did not post a picture.

How-to Making

SD card not recognized in Ubuntu after formatting with GParted? Label it

I formatted an SD card for use in a Raspberry Pi, in fat32 format using the GParted and following the steps in this post.

But then Ubuntu didn’t recognize it, so I couldn’t put the NOOBS files on it. I went around in circles before giving the SD card a label, a step described as “if you wish” in that post. Voila! My SD card was immediately recognized.

That’s all. Label the volume. Maybe this brief post helps someone searching the internet, but if nothing else I hope writing this makes me less likely to fall in this same trap again.