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Best running glasses yet!

2014-03-22 , , , Comment

Quick plug: Pyramex Intruder and 3M Tekk Virtua safety glasses.

I run for recreation and fitness whenever I can, nothing extreme and, honestly, not often enough, and I wear eye protection because my eyes tear up profusely which distracts me. I bought a few of these safety glasses as disposable eye protection for around the forge because they were $3-$4 each from Amazon but they’re great for running. They fit very well, the optics are excellent, they don’t slip off my face from sweat, and I don’t worry about scratching them, stuffing them in a pocket, cleaning them on my shirt, washing them with whatever kitchen spray or detergent is on hand, or losing them. If I drop a set and they get scratched I’ll pitch them and take out another set, except I’m still using the same two pairs I started with sixteen months ago! They take so much abuse that after all that time they have only minor wear and tear on the lenses, not enough for me to notice during activity.


Taking a level

2013-04-23 , , , Comment

Four and a half months ago I began training in Krav Maga to raise my fitness and to pick up a bit after laying off martial arts for fifteen years. In addition to my three days a week regime of running, sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups, I train Krav Maga three days a week. This past weekend I took and passed my level 1 test and I feel like I took a level in Badass. The test was tougher than my expectation, harder than the warnings I heard from the other students and harder than I’d estimated from the youtube videos I’d seen. We were warned that if anyone didn’t push hard enough, didn’t check and guard after our moves, or didn’t drop the pad and guard at a transition we would do extra burpees. That didn’t happen. It still pushed me completely past what I thought was exhaustion while still being able to fight.

The test began with a warm-up and then we spent sixty or seventy minutes doing full speed, 80-90% force combatives and defenses. We covered everything we’ve done in class— hammer fists, straight punches, combinations, elbows with a forward burst, elbows to the side, high, and low, groin kicks, stomp kicks, round-house kicks, kicks with an advance, knees, ground defense, ground kicks, pluck and buck defense for a ground choke, clearing and getting away safely from the ground, inside and outside defenses. After the techniques we did rounds of partnered “band sprints”, where you wrap a belt around your waist and drag your partner as you drive with your legs, and knee strike drives. There were three thirty-second breaks to change pads and sip water over the whole test and I was grateful for every one of those pauses.

Then came the reality-based defense portion of the test. Our assistant instructor donned a riot suit and I stood in the middle of the mat with my eyes closed while music blasted. He attacked and I defended, fighting my way clear. After each I’d drop and do three push-up burpees before returning to the center of the mat to wait for the next situation. I can’t remember which ones he did except for the headlock from the right side and the pushing front choke. I only remember those because I was really surprised at how hard he nailed me.

At some point in this sequence of attacks the assistant instructor took me to the ground and I struggled to fight him off. I remember thinking he’s smaller than me and not gripping, I don’t feel anything on my limbs, just weight on my back and shoulder, I should be able to just stand up and turn shrugging him off so I can use my elbows and kicks but my legs wouldn’t work right. In the exhaustion I was going on automatic. My instructor yelled something like “fight out!” so I drove my hand into the face mask and hook-punched at my attacker’s kidneys and ribs until I slipped out and could hammer punch his back and neck. I could barely pull up to a defensive posture by this point but there was at least one more attack, I can’t remember.

When the cycle was over, I did ten more push-up burpees. I was panting, I was bruised (including a nice abrasion on my check and occular orbit from either a headbutt or contacting the mat, I don’t know which), but I had passed.


Cut the cable

2013-01-21 , , , Comment

It’s been sixty days without cable television and so far no one in the house misses it. The TiVo had been recording a blank signal for a week after the last firmware update went out to the cable decoders so I knew it was time to cut the cord. As a family we just don’t watch, preferring to spend our time reading or fiddling with our portable devices. Netflix and Amazon Prime on the Roku are sufficient video entertainment.

It’s quite a savings. We didn’t have anything extravagant— expanded digital TV, two decoders, phone over cable, and internet service— but the bill was slowly creeping upward until it broke $200 per month when the provider expired the last discount and began charging a rental fee for their cable modem. New customers pay $99 and their customer service was not helpful. Enough. I set up a pay-as-you-go account with and ported my existing number during a promotion for $10, so it runs me $10-$12 a month for usage including e911, CallerID, and a second DID. I replaced their modem with one I purchased and bumped the internet service up a tier and my monthly for internet is $55. I might spring for a HDTV antenna and ATSC receiver (my old LCD flat panel is strictly a monitor, no tuner) so I can get local channels but that’s not urgent.


Switching to VoIP with the OBi100

2012-07-15 , , , Comment

We’ve had telephone service through the local cable company for the past four years in a digital tv-phone-internet package. The “digital voice” service from Time Warner is voice-over-DOCIS but otherwise unexceptional and runs on the same cable network as the TV and internet services. We’ve seen our monthly price of the package climbing up and annual offers to new customers for the same package sliding down and received very little satisfaction from customer service. The whole bundle costs too much for the value we get. Cutting cable is a topic for the future, but I think I can do better for our very modest home phone usage.

I bought an Obihai OBi100 VoIP device. A colleague raved about how great his was and I found it selling new for less than $50 with tax and shipping. The first thing that struck me was how tiny it is, pictured here with a pack of gum and a pen for comparison:
OBI100 size
The device is about the size of a deck of playing cards, but a bit thicker. The second thing to know is that once it picks up an IP address with DHCP, the web-based interface offers both a “wizard” guided setup and a do-it-yourself mode where you input the configuration. I spent an hour reading the PDF documentation and forums on the vendor site, fiddling with Google two-step authentication, setting QoS on my router, and flashing the device with the most recent firmware before setting it up. The “wizard” is, at least for me, easier and I had the device working perfectly inbound and outbound as line #2 on my desk phone with Google Voice in five minutes.

My next step is to select a SIP provider and configure it as a second service.


Forge-welding flux recipes

2012-06-24 , , , Comment

I’m keeping track of flux recipes used by blacksmiths for forge-welding as I run across them. The flux reduces oxidation and lowers the melting point of any slag or scale and helps to carry it away. There are two schools of thought: borax and no borax. Fortunately, the MSDS for commercial fluxes is available.

  • Borax-based
    • Borax, Sodium tetraborate decahydrate (Na2[B4O5(OH)4]·8H2O), sold as Dial Corp 20-Mule Team Borax. Some report better results after baking it to remove the water, producing Anhydrous Borax.
    • Iron Mountain Forge Welding Flux. Reportedly anhydrous borax and iron powder. No MSDS, no proportions. The third party videos of its use are convincing.
    • Folk recipe #1: 3 parts Borax, 1 parts Sal Ammoniac (NH4Cl) available from hardware stores and ground.
    • Folk recipe #2: 2 parts Borax, 1/4 to 1 part Boric Acid. Some include 1 part Black Iron Oxide (Fe3O4) or chips from a bandsaw or lathe. This sounds like a homemade version of the Iron Mountain product.
    • Folk recipe #3: 3 parts Borax, 1 part Sal Ammoniac, 1 part metallurgical grade calcium fluoride powder (CaF2, aka Fluorite or Fluorspar). Used for Damascus steel. (Looks like reagent quality in small quantities sells for $2.00/g so I’m not going to try this one soon…)
    • James Hrisoulas uses: 5 parts anhydrous borax, 2 parts powdered boric acid, 1 part powdered iron oxide, 1/2 part fluorspar, 1/4 part sal ammoniac.
  • Boric Acid-based
    • Boric acid, sold as Copper Brite Roach Prufe (98%), Pic Boric Acid Roach Killer (99%)
    • Superior Flux & Mfg. products, aka Anti-Borax, Cherry Weld, EZ-Weld, etc. Composition varies but the MSDS reads:
      • Boric Acid 8-13%
      • Iron Oxides (FeO, Fe2O3, Fe3O4) 45-55%
      • Steel Chips 35-45%
  • Neither

    Interestingly, there are remarks on forums about using clean, white sand and ordinary table salt in lieu of flux. This makes me think they rely on a mechanical action instead of a chemical one.


The new forge

2012-06-20 , , , Comment

I built a forge out of a scavenged refrigerant canister. It works! Here’s my first effort, a 1/2” steel bar drawn, scrolled, and twisted.

The construction of the shell was simple. First, I holed the empty canister with a large punch and filled it with water (the MSDS read that the old contents were non-flammable, but better safe than sorry), then cut the opening with an angle grinder fitted with a cutting wheel and trimmed the cut with aviation shears and snips. Next, I brazed on two pieces of bed frame angle iron and two flat sections to make legs. The burner support is a hand drilled and tapped 4” x 2 1/2” threaded pipe nipple held to the forge body with a pair of thin collar nuts. If I do this again, I’ll need a better method as the grinder is sloppy on curves and the shears barely make it through the steel. A drill press would also have made for easier going on the burner support, I improvised a U-shaped wooden jig and clamped the whole thing in the vise.

The lining was applied in layers. I lined the shell with 1” 8# Inswool 2400dF refractory blanket. I wanted it to fill in so I used the exterior circumference (c=Π*d, see how that middle school geometry is useful?) plus a half inch over and the full, untapered length of the cylinder for my measurements. The ceramic blanket was easy to cut and I misted it with water to keep the dust down but I misjudged how hard it was to work with it in a tight space. I had planned to roll it up, slip it in, and let it unroll and expand but I had to cut it into three pieces to get it to fit without crushing. I cut a tapered hole for the burner flare and later I stuffed some scrap into the collar around the mounted burner to seal it. The second layer is roughly 1 1/2” of Kast-o-lite 3000dF castable refractory applied in two layers. I mixed up six pounds of it a little thinner than indicated and applied it by hand to the wetted ceramic blanket, let it dry a few days, fired the forge for a few minutes then followed the next day with another six pounds. I paid attention to making a cone for the burner. After letting the refractory cure for a few days, I fired the forge to full heat and let it cool overnight. The last layer is a thin coat of Plistix 900F, a refractory service coating that is good to 3400dF and supposedly improves the efficiency of the forge due to reflecting IR. I mixed roughly a pound of it to a thin consistency and dabbed it on with an old paint brush. It went on like a chalky, slightly gritty, thin white paint.

The insulation works fairly well. After forty-five minutes the exterior of the forge is uncomfortably warm but not painfully hot. The burner holder gets just less than searing hot where it enters the shell and the pipe collar does not show discoloring yet.

Forge in operation and tuned. Nice blue flame.

The dragon’s breath and a look into the hot forge


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