Monday, January 31, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bachelor Chow

This is cheap, tasty, healthy, quick, and delicious.  Without the optional ingredients, it's actually a little too healthy.  I once tried to eat nothing but this soup over a weekend.  It wasn't some goofy diet, I just like the soup and am lazy.  I ate as much as I could fit in my stomach because it's yummy, and I still nearly passed out due to lack of calories.  That's when I started adding sour cream, and eating it with big chunks of bread.

Lentil Soup

32 oz box of low-salt beef broth
1 cup dry lentils, rinsed
2-3 medium tomatoes, chopped; I like Romas
2 medium shallots, chopped
Some fully cooked ham or bacon, chopped
Sour cream (optional)
Couscous (optional)

Bring broth to a gentle boil.  Add lentils, tomatoes, shallots, and meat.  Return to boil, then cover and simmer as directed on the lentil package, usually about 20 minutes.  You may need to skim off some scummy stuff from boiling the meat.  Serve with a dallop of sour cream for a little tangy flavor and much-needed fat.  You can add couscous either because you like couscous, or to soak up the liquid and make the dish more portable for bagged lunches.

In other words, cook the lentils as usual but using broth instead of water, and with meat and veg in.

This works as a main, and sometimes only, dish.  Best served with a filling side like dense bread, and beer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Toilet Training #2

The classic "running toilet" problem is when the flap doesn't stops the tank draining, or the float doesn't shut the valve and water overflows into the bowl (this is when jiggling the handle helps).  My case was different.

After some practice flushes, I realized the tank was filling higher than expected.  It wasn't overflowing into the pipe, but it was close, and the extra pressure caused the flap at the bottom to open very slightly and create a slow leak.  This leak was totally quiet and stopped on its own after about ten minutes, so that couldn't be the whole problem.

I heard the louder drain-and-refill cycle happen a few times, and eventually I got to see it start.  The float is supported and guided by a vertical rod; it's supposed to glide up and down the rod with little friction so it moves with the water level.  The problem was friction between the float and rod, probably due to mineral buildup.  As the water rose, buoyancy was countered by friction, and the float didn't go as high as it should, delaying the closing of the valve.  That let the water rise a bit higher than it should, and the minor symptom of the flap not fully sealing the tank.  But then the tank drained a little bit, and the float was being held up by barely sufficient friction.  A jolt, loud noise, or temperature change could then let the float drop a half inch or so, opening the valve and starting the cycle again.

The most correct solution would be to thoroughly clean or replace the float and rod.  I decided to simply adjust it so buoyancy would overcome friction.  There is a little clip that holds the float in place, and by opening it I could move the float up and down relative to the shutoff position.  I moved it down a quarter inch, so now it shuts the valve when the water is a quarter inch lower than before.  In an otherwise working toilet, this adjustment will cost you some flushing power because the tank doesn't fill as completely, but in my case I think it just canceled out the old over-filling problem.

That was about two weeks ago, and there have been no further problems.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Toilet Training #1

One of my toilets had the runs.  It would randomly start flowing for a minute or so, then stop with a loud thunk.  Unfortunately, I only noticed it when I was in bed (with my head on the other side of the wall from the toilet), so I couldn't be arsed to do anything about it at the time.  Then I'd forget during the day.  Eventually I decided to deal with it while waiting for some Doctor Who episodes to finish downloading.  I mean blind kids to finish being read to.

This page was helpful in figuring out what the bits do.  I'll just supplement the Internet's existing excellent information with my own special incompetent perspective.

I found the flushing mechanism rather clever.  When you push the handle, it lifts a flap which otherwise plugs the bottom of the tank.  Water flows from the tank to the bowl, then down the drain, flushing any let's say "goldfish" down with it.  The force of flowing water holds the flap open until the water mostly drains; if you need more flushage you can hold the handle down to let the tank drain completely.  Meanwhile, as the water drops, a float drops; the float is connected to a valve.  The dropping float opens the valve and lets new water flow into the tank, but not quickly enough to prevent the tank from draining.  More water also flows into the bowl.  When the water level in the tank drops enough, the flap at the bottom closes, plugging the tank.  The new water flowing in begins to fill the tank and bowl.  As the water level rises, it lifts the float, which eventually closes the valve and stops all water flow.

Next: diagnosis and repair.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Roy: 1 Gravity: 0

I finally got on my roof and did a proper job clearing my gutters.  They've been overflowing for weeks, but working up there is kind of fun in the right weather.  Getting on and off the ladder is scary though.

And now I have a ladder long enough to get into my attic.  Unfortunately, that means I have to go into my attic.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Hire a Cleaning Service 2

Step 1: Find out that they expect to get paid
Step 2: Decided not to hire a cleaning service after all

I think I'll just invite people over more often.  That seems to be the only motivation that gets me to clean house.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bachelor Chow

To help mitigate the financial vortex that is my mortgage, I'm cooking more meals at home.  It's tricky to cook efficiently for one person, because if you buy small amounts you pay extra per unit, and if you buy larger amounts you may waste much of it.  So I prefer recipes that A) have a small number of ingredients so I use plenty of each, and B) do well as leftovers so I can make a big batch.  This is one of my staples:


Equal parts brown rice and pearled barley
Low-salt beef broth
Several gloves of garlic
A Bay leaf
Some black pepper
A handful of cheddar cheese (optional)

Prepare the rice and barley together, following the directions on the bag but replacing water with broth.  Rice and barley have nearly identical preparations, but you'll have to do some math to average the two together.  While the mix is cooking, add the garlic, Bay leaf, and pepper.  After it's cooked, remove the Bay leaf and stir in the cheese.

This is pretty hearty and works as a main dish.  Serve with veggies and beer.

Random culinary tip: don't wipe your hands on your trousers.  Wipe them on your socks.  It will be less visible, and if you ruin them they're cheaper to replace.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Coffee Table Zombie 5

Blogger ate the climactic update #4.  I have a hunch it will appear sometime in March.  Anyway, briefly, the lessons I learned from the Coffee Table Zombie project:

1) It is possible to build something useful without expensive tools
2) Some more appropriate inexpensive tools would still be really nice
3) Making a mistake is a step in the process, not necessarily an end to it
4) The people at Home Depot do not think the phrase "inter-dimensional lumber" is funny
5) 2x4's are not 2 inches by 4 inches

If I do another carpentry project, I will either A) get a decent worktable before starting the project, or B) make "make a decent worktable" the project.

On a more serious note, I would not ask or permit my friends to use my table like real furniture if I weren't convinced it is safe.  Obviously I made serious mistakes, but those are mistakes relative to a an intentionally excessive design of heavy lumber and long screws.  I really did jump up and down, and twist around, on the table and it didn't even creak.  This was even before adding the books, which do not directly support the table but only act like pontoons if it starts to tip.

The most dangerous thing is probably splinters... of which there are a lot.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Coffee Table Zombie 4

The frame, which snugs into the recessed tabletop, is complete.  The corners are glued and screwed, although my cuts were sloppy so one edge is bowed out.  But now it's time to attach legs.

I also had some trouble with this:

I made two big mistakes, repeatedly: A) not pre-drilling holes for the screws, and B) holding my electric drill/screwdriver at an awkward position.  This caused the screwdriver to slip, which gouged the head of the screw.  Several screws were so badly damaged I couldn't screw them in further or even remove them:

The last two corners are pretty clean because I pre-drilled carefully and repositioned the piece so I could align the drill vertically.  I also did any more "hard" screws by hand, which is not fun but is much less likely to slip and damage the screw.

Fortunately, those screws are three inches long, so most of the ones that are sticking out still have at least 1/2 an inch in the opposite board.  The screw that's way, way out is supplemented by an extra screw.  So it's still reasonably strong.

With the legs screwed up, the work was basically done.  Here is the "topless coffeetable" I made:

I decided to simply set the tabletop on the frame, using the recess at the bottom of the tabletop, instead of permanently connecting them.  Bizarrely, it's a perfectly snug fit!  Apparently the mistakes I made in my fabrication canceled out the odd measurements of the commercial product.  So here is my coffee table, returned to its natural habitat with new prosthetic legs:

It works pretty well this way, but the new base is somewhat narrow and not really attached to the top, so there's a stability problem.  This was easy to solve with some books I don't expect to read: