May 24

Progress with projects.

Guilty cat hides his eyes in shame after destroying the Inductrix.
Bart hides his eyes in shame after destroying the Micro Inductrix.

My latest major build called “Project Rome” went live on Monday 5/23 and has been declared hugely successful.  I built a new engineering/compute environment in San Diego and migrated the workload from Sunnyvale into it this weekend.  Monday was day 1 on the new infrastructure and we had only minimal issues.  Months of planning, hard work, and stress.  The sense of relief feels very good.  Of course the work doesn’t stop here – I have to tear the old environment down and dispose of the equipment and a lot of other things, but at least I feel like I’m moving forward.

Hal finished up the engine in the 97 NA MX5 and it runs like a new car.  In fact it turns over on the first turn of the key now, just boom, instantly to life.  I think the last thing he needs to do is set the timing more precisely and then it should be good for another 150,000 miles.  We really have gone over nearly every inch of that car in the last few years and it’s a very fine example of a first generation MX5.  I think our next project should be restoring the 1974 Sun Beetle.  (However the racing team has voted that the next project be race-car suspension rebuild, and so that will probably be Project Next.)

Concrete wall rebuild is done and all of the gravel on the sides of the patio has been removed, graded, and replaced with compacted sand & clay.  Essentially it’s just desert hardpan earth which is very natural in this environment.  It feels like about 50% soil & 50% finely crushed gravel.  After it gets wet a few times, it’s nearly hard as stone.  We’re going to have the block walls painted to match the colors of the house.  I think the entire yard will be very pleasing to the eye with a matching color scheme.  Next autumn I plan to get some large 18-20″ pots to plant some desert flowers in.  I’ll place them strategically around the yard and add a bit of color.

Hal and I have been playing with quadcopters lately and have built quite a fleet.  We just picked up two Zeyrok quads and two of the Inductrix models.  One of the Inductrix is about 3″ across and generally for indoor use only.  It was a hoot until I flew too close to Bart and he smacked it out of the air with authority.

It slammed into the ground so hard that two of the motors were damaged.  C’est la vie, eh?  The wind has been a bit stiff the last few days so we haven’t gotten a lot of air time, but I did get enough video to upload a few here & there on the Youtube channel.

I’ve also been doing a bit of gardening lately.  I have had a number of succulents and cactus on my kitchen window sill since I bought the house, but since Sue passed away I’ve taken a bit more interest and gotten quite a few more little green friends.  Sue gave me one of the first plants I had in the house and just a few weeks before she departed, she had given me some clippings from her golden Pathos plant in her kitchen.  I really wanted to keep them healthy so I nursed them in water until they started growing roots and then moved them into a hanging planter near the sink.

Now there are about 20 different succulents in pots, various cactii being spawned, and the makings of two closed-jar moss & succulent terrariums with a collection of at least six mosses.  I have a couple of epiphytes about to spawn even.  Sue used to say that helping plants grow was good for the soul and I think she’s right.  It makes me feel better to do the little pruning and watering and even talking to them a little bit so they can absorb the carbon dioxide.

The weather is getting warm but we’ve been able to get by with using the swamp cooler, which essentially cools the air by adding humidity to it.  Average humidity in this area is 7-12% in the summer – quite dry.  By passing humidified air though the house, it brings the temperature of the air down and does the plants a world of good.  Of course before long (when Monsoon arrives), the air will be too humid for the swamp cooler to work so we’ll have to turn up the HVAC.  But we’re certainly going to enjoy it all we can.

I hope my next update comes sooner than this one did.  I’ve been stressing and working lots over this project, but now that it’s wrapping up I hope I’ll have more free time.

Until then.


Category: GeekStuff, Home, Work | Comments Off on Progress with projects.
March 21

And now Spring is here.

I want to post some video of the race but I there is still so much to wrap up that I won’t have a chance to do it until later in the week.

We crossed the finish line at 3:30PM and had the car on the trailer and ready to roll out by 4:30 or so.  Since Hal & I stayed at a hotel and had kept most of our supplies within easy reach of our truck, we were the first of the team on the road.  I felt bad for not staying to fully pack up their campsite and convoying north together, but the packing was thankfully well in hand before we made our departure.

Life in Willcox Arizona moves at a slower pace, but everyone was friendly and we were able to relax and enjoy the small town life for just a few days.  It’s just about a 3 hour drive back home and even though the altitude difference is only about 2000 feet, I could feel the difference in temperature when we rolled down out of the hills and back into the mesa heat.  The drive is fairly uneventful, but I find the scenery absolutely beautiful.

March 20 marks the beginning of spring and by all indications thus far, 2016 in Phoenix metro is going to feel like living on the surface of Mars.  My face is fairly harshly sun burnt and I could feel the sting while I worked around the back yard today cleaning the truck and unpacking and re-organizing the tools.

IMG_1157Hal has been pulling the engine stats and checking over the brakes, fluids, plugs, wires, and various other components.  Since we have officially participated in a sanctioned competitive road racing event, we qualify for performance part discounts from Mazda Motorsports.  Of course we have much to do before it can go back to the track, but when she goes back out she will be sporting a new suspension kit and will behave like an entirely different animal.

So Spring is here and I am in love with Arizona and motorsports.

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February 19

Winding up

We’ll be having another racing team work weekend to get the car ready to run.  The new clutch got here last night and Hal has already started disassembling the exhaust and power-plant frame so we can get the transmission out.  After work today I think I’m going to start on it.  The seat also arrived yesterday, it’s 2″ thinner than the first one and appears to fit appropriately.  We’re going to need AJ to weld up some sort of frame attachment for it and then get the steering column fastened to the dash bar.


The robotics projects are on hold for now because we have to get the car done and get through the race before I can really focus on the logistics of what I want to accomplish.  I’m also still waiting on deliveries of hardware and lots of this stuff has to come from China and Japan so it seemingly takes ages to arrive.  The race is March 18-20 in Wilcox Az, so after a physical recovery weekend I’m probably going to start on the automated mail delivery project (a.k.a. Project Pee-Wee-Herman), hoping to complete by end of April.


At least the work on the back yard resurfacing project is finally done!  I’ll have to upload some images into the gallery when I have time, and maybe do some before & after comparison shots.  There is a narrow side strip around the pavement which needs to be cleared out and filled in with some packed desert sand.  Our contractor is drawing up a plan to lower the sliding gate a little and motorize it so we can stop having to open and close it manually.  I’m so lazy I want my mail brought in automatically and my gates to open & close at the press of a button.  Life is good.  :)


I mounted the bedroom television to the wall last weekend and recovered a remarkable amount of free space in the room.  It feels so much more roomy that I’m sorry I hadn’t done it sooner.  At some point I’ll have to do the same thing in the living room, but I don’t want to make too many changes or Hal and the cats will forget which room is which.  :)   Eventually though, I’ll get this place into some sort of recognizable shape and style so it stops looking so much like a combination toy-store & frat-house.


The weather is so beautiful at this time of year that we’re leaving the doors & windows open day & night with the hvac shut off entirely.  I updated the front page of the main site with a photo that I took at sunset from the backyard a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not sure I remember it being this warm so early in the year since I’ve lived here, I wonder if that means the summer is going to be especially warm?  Time will tell, right?


Anyway, that’s pretty much it for this year so far.  I’ll get those photos & videos uploaded as soon as I can.  :)

Category: Cars & Transportation, Happy Things, Home | Comments Off on Winding up
December 23

Winding down

Working from home today because the office is virtually empty with nearly everyone out on holiday.  For some reason or other my employer issued Dell laptop doesn’t want to play nice with this external monitor via HDMI and, I really don’t like programming on a tiny screen so I’ve moved over to one of the Linux VMs in my home lab.  The “” program is coming along nicely but I do need to re-order some things because of my scatter-brained approach to program layout.  (Which is to say I haven’t done any program layout at all for this and just started from the hip with subroutine stubs.)

Anyway I needed some coffee and for whatever reason decided to update my blog on what’s been going on since April.  I don’t think anyone reads this thing so I just update a few times a year when the mood hits.  So here we go:

This year was the year of home improvements.  Hal & I had a new roof put on the house in May because of some leaks in the master bedroom had gotten worse.  He & I gave the old one a once-over and decided it wasn’t worth trying to patch it, so I got three estimates and went with the middle one.  So far we’ve seen no more leaks and it’s been a very wet autumn.

As mentioned in a post around April, we got the construction permit approved rapidly from the city of Mesa.  Finding a company to do the work was not a simple process, but we ended up getting the driveway approach ramp completed.  It could have been done better, but at least it’s done and functional.

Over the summer we had lots of concrete work done starting with widening the front walkway on each side so it’s now three times its original width.  This will make it much easier to get in and out of the front door, which has also incidentally been enclosed in a powder-coated steel entry gate.  We had concrete poured four inches thick at the north-west lot behind the block wall on El Dorado, and at the south-east lot we had several large sections filled in with concrete four inches thick in most places.  There is a special pad poured six inches thick and at 4000psi where I hope to have an auto lift installed sometime in 2016.

After the concrete was poured and before the front entry was enclosed, we had powder coated steel bars made and installed over every window.  The bedrooms all have emergency fire releases, and every door has been protected with high-security steel doors with double-deadbolt locks.  The house is much more secure than it was and we can now leave windows and doors wide open without fear of being burgled.  Not that I live in a crappy neighborhood or anything but thieves don’t target poor people and, nearly every time I’ve heard of someone being burgled the perpetrator entered the premises through an open door or window.  Not here.

In August my employer (~2300 employees worldwide), was acquired by a huge multinational conglomerate (~30,000 employees worldwide), and I’m back to being just “another cog in the wheel”.  Not that I’m complaining or anything because they backed a truckload of money up to my door and said, “We don’t want you to quit your job.”.  A few months later, they gave me even more money just because the original company had done very well.  Then a couple weeks after THAT, gave me a written promise of even more money which is to be paid out in chunks over the next 3 years as a “retention bonus”.  Couple that with the fact that I’m the only IT employee they have capable of doing this job within probably 350 miles, I have no direct supervision and only have to commute 3 miles to the office.  I, for one welcome our new overlords.  I’m not going anywhere unless they forcibly eject me.  :)

Early September the front block walkway was completed and work was begun to excavate the remaining uncovered section of the rear yard.  We’re going to have block paving stones laid in the rear between the approach ramp and the concrete pads so that the yard has a bit of style to it instead of being just an enormous impersonal concrete slab.  The stones are not all completed yet and at this point aren’t going to be done until early 2016, which suits me just fine because it’s been quite expensive to get all of this stuff done.

Another one of my favorite money pits, “HobbyTown USA” has closed up and Hal & I had to start looking for a new hobby store.  Lo and behold, there’s a great place called Action Hobby at Guadalupe & Rural who have been happy to take my money and provide much better prices, products, and advice.  :)  Hal and I upgraded the quad-copters with First Person View capability and have started getting into more professional level gear in general since meeting these fine folks.  We even have an AxialRacing 1/10th scale Yeti with a two-speed remote control transmission and have upgraded most of the receivers in every ground-based RC vehicle we own.

Several of my co-workers are also car nuts and we have made a pact to strip my 1996 MX5 to the bone and prep it to race in the 24 Hour of LeMons in Wilcox Arizona next March.  Stay tuned for updates from Trashpanda Racing. ;)

Category: GeekStuff, Happy Things, Home | Comments Off on Winding down
April 30

With all due haste

Got an email yesterday afternoon that the building permit & right-of-way permit have been granted by City of Mesa.  They promised I’d have the permit within ten business days and jumpin’ Geronimo, it was approved and paid in just a little over 24 hours.   Now that’s what I call service!  I’m usually the loudest complainer when it comes to government bureaucracy but the process for this was actually rather painless.  Thanks very much, Mesa!

Category: Happy Things, Home | Comments Off on With all due haste
April 28

Ramping up

I submitted an application to the city of Mesa for permission to cut out a 16ft section of public sidewalk and replace it with a driveway approach ramp on the west side of the property. It should take about 10 days for approval or rejection but I would be very surprised if it were rejected. I think the worst that could happen is I would have to have it redesigned to provide a flat rolling surface for wheelchair passage but, I don’t think handicapped provisions are a requirement for this type of change. At any rate, photos will be added to the gallery as work progresses.

The 97 MX5 seems to have some fuel delivery issues so I ordered a new fuel pump, fuel pickup filter, and fuel line filter from Rock Auto late last week.  The parts arrived today.  If we had the rear driveway completed and the paving done we could get started on this work straight away, but as it stands we’re going to have to retrieve the 97 from storage on Del Rio and make room in the forward garage to do the work.

It’s going to be a glorious day when the work is complete.  We’ll be able to bring all motors to one location and have room to get greasy.  :)

Category: Happy Things, Home, Vehicles | Comments Off on Ramping up
April 25

Pigeon Massacre

When you share a house with four felines, you occasionally wake up to scenes like this.  No need to call CSI on this one, I think we can piece together the chain of events.  The MO is similar to other such “murder scenes” and I have a very short list of suspects.

Looks like someone brought me a present!
Looks like someone brought me a present!










I followed the trail all the way to the scene of the crime and unceremoniously removed the source of the feathers from the premises.  Even after extensive crime-scene cleanup I’m still finding feathers behind furniture.

Ah, the joys of animal companionship.

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April 23

Really, Mister Coffee?

I’ve had my old Mr. Coffee bean grinder for a couple years now and every day I used it at least twice, once in the morning, once in the afternoon.  The grinder doesn’t get moved around the counter a lot so I never noticed before now that whenever it gets moved, it leaves a little footprint of grounds behind.

Not long ago while cleaning the counter, I moved the grinder to another part of the counter top and realized that coffee grounds were actually coming out of two little holes in the bottom of the grinder.  I shook the little machine and more grounds came out.  After just a couple of shakes, I had a small pile of ground coffee about the size of a coffee scoop and there was no sign of it stopping.

I decided to investigate further and went to fetch a screwdriver.  This is what I found:

WTF Mr. Coffee?  WTF?
WTF Mr. Coffee? WTF?


     Apparently this little bastard has been stealing a little bit of my coffee every single time I used it.  It wouldn’t irk me so much if I drank cheap coffee regularly, but some of these grounds cost upward of $40/lb.  Such a waste.

     Hal and I tried to figure out what the problem with it was or if perhaps I may have been using it improperly, but a one-button coffee grinder is not exactly rocket science.  At first I thought I hadn’t been pushing the grind receptacle all the way into the dock, but that would have spewed coffee on the counter and not internally.  Clearly there is some sort of manufacturer defect going on here.


At any rate, this thing is obviously in the trash now and I promise I will never use such low-brow consumer goods again.  The new coffee grinder is a very well made Capresso which is much quieter and more accurate, even if it isn’t quite as simple as pressing a single button.

Category: Coffee Grinder, Frustration, Home | Comments Off on Really, Mister Coffee?
April 11

I Dig Dinosaur Neil

I’ve been updating the site & installing some useful applications to make my life a bit easier.  I wish it were easier to get dropbox installed on my hosted site, but apparently the VM I’m on is pretty stripped.  I set up a new image gallery at where I can post pictures of various people and things.

Surfing through iTunes Music store I found season 1 of “The Tick” live action series and bought it.  I laughed so hard I cried while Hal thought I’d lost my mind.  Then I found all three seasons of the animated series on Youtube and watched them all one-after-another.  I really hope they end up for sale on Amazon or iTunes so I can watch them any time I want.  Right after I watched S1E2, “The Tick vs. Dinosaur Neil”, I went out to CafePress and bought a “I Dig Dinosaur Neil” t-shirt.  :)

The roof on the house got redone last week and the yard work is going to start Monday, where we finally get the excavation done, the ElDorado driveway, and the northwest lot paved in.  Maybe by autumn we’ll be able to get the rear driveway done.  Today we cut out the two little desert shrubs that were growing in front of the windows on the north side of the house.  I realized a bit ago that they weren’t intentionally planted in those places and were actually in a spot that was potentially detrimental to the property plumbing.  They needed to go so they’re gone now.

My friends Shay & Kellie’s little dog Gracey is going to come stay with us for a week later this month.  She’s such a fun little friend to have around, she makes me want my own little doggie.  Unfortunately, four cats are more than enough for this household.

Also, got a new Capresso coffee bean grinder last week.  (I’ll explain why in a later post)  The Capresso has an interesting sound when it runs and, is actually much quieter than my last grinder.  I’ve kept myself true to the “No more than two-pots-a-day” rule for the last few years so I try to make sure I get to enjoy every drop.

Category: Drips of consciousness, Happy Things, Home | Comments Off on I Dig Dinosaur Neil
October 25

Please adjust as necessary

One of my leading goals in life is to own my home free and clear, so I need to pay my mortgage off as soon as possible.  I focus on this perhaps obsessively and to that end, I recently changed employers in large part for the earnings increase and substantial bonus potential.  This has resulted in a need to readjust my perspective on some personal things.


Not being a fan of T.S.A.’s “x-ray or sexual assault” security theatre, I haven’t flown on a commercial airline since 2010.  My new employer requires my presence in Cambridge UK, so I’ve had to apply for “pre-check” clearance in order to avoid having some government goon groping my girly bits without my consent.  I figured since I always like avoiding lines and long waits, I also applied for Global Entry so I can speed my way through re-entry.  I’ll try not to be too smug as I stroll past the suckers waiting in line while twirling my cane.  ;)

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