Chris X Edwards

Sigh. Fine, I'll click on the reddit link. AHhhH!! Why would I have clicked if I only wanted to see 2% of the content? Title's enough then.
2021-04-13 11:47
Yesterday a random Great Dane attacked & bit me. Not the weirdest thing to ever attack me (=Covid19). And hardly the most dangerous (=car).
2021-04-09 05:11
When not in your own repos, commit msgs on Github are never better than WTF-is-this-file notes would be. Like "comments" reciting the GPL.
2021-04-07 05:27
The government just sent an email notice telling me about an on-line account notice which told me they just mailed me a paper notice. 8-/
2021-03-30 10:32
Learning that woodworking raw logs is not simple just because most measurements are rough. Precision cuts lack any datum, a serious puzzle.
2021-03-20 09:53
Blah Blah
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USB Stand

2021-04-11 23:03

I can’t be the only person with a messy collection of USB flash drives. Today I used my table saw to "3d-print" a way to make mine a bit neater.

usb_stand.jpg

This particular implementation uses cellular PVC trim which is a plastic lumber substitute that does not need to be painted (white anyway) and will never rot. I find it to be dimensionally stable and perfectly formed. Anyway, good to have familiarity with it for when all the trees are gone. Another miracle construction substance that I swear by is contact cement which can hold the pieces together.

Here are the important dimensions for making a USB holder — the 4.5mm is the critical one.

usb_stand.png

This is also showing off yet more technical modeling in Blender. Though the model was created in a couple of minutes, this was a good test piece for learning more about the Freestyle rendering mode which can do some absolutely amazing things.

Router Modeling

2021-04-05 21:58

I have always enjoyed making things. I asked for a router for my 17th birthday. Not a networking one like your ISP gives you — there were no such things outside of universities and large companies back then. I wanted a woodworking power tool kind of router. I got one and played with it a lot — fortunately without cutting off my fingers. I built a router table for it to mount to. I then built another router table using the first one. I built fancy jigs for it. I believe my dad still has a set of round stacking coasters I cut with it.

When I started college I soon found myself in the world of machine tools. That was quite inspiring and made woodworking seem kind of rough. I had the idea that I could use my machinist skills and access to a fine machine shop to make a CNC positioning system for a wood router. This would be a serious project today, but back then it was extremely serious. I ultimately was stopped by the expense of motor controls at the time.

Of course today, it’s relatively easy. Last year I even wrote my own PID motor controller in microcontroller C. But that’s not even necessary. It is quite plausible today to order the entire concept I had envisioned complete and ready to go. Here’s an example that I would have been delighted to buy that was not terribly far from the specs of what I was going for.

With my recent construction project I was again using my router and also doing some pretty involved computer modeling. I was reminded of my ancient project and decided that my wood router would make a good practice project for improving my hard surface technical modeling skills in Blender. I have plans to build a high quality router table and, who knows, maybe one day I’ll tackle the positioning system. But both of those benefit from having a very accurate model of the router itself.

Hopefully that provides some background about my inordinate interest in wood routers.

router_photo1.jpg

As I was working on this model in Blender, I had ancient memories of deja vu where I’d already modeled this router before. I knew it wasn’t fancy, but I had modeled it enough to work on the positioning system’s design. I thought I would have a look through my ancient CAD files and see if I could find any actual remnants of that project. And I did!

First up is a 2d drawing I did showing how the router head (the same router I’m using today) would be held by clamps in the positioning system.

clamp_diagram.png

The concept detail for the clamp itself looks like this.

topsclamp2_1k.png

I even found a surprisingly well preserved shop print for this part.

topsclamp_1k.png

Sorry for the terrible image quality but I’m looking at these in Blender after a rather gruesome conversion process and I still don’t know how to clean these 2d line drawings up properly.

This was the one part of the system I actually machined and here’s what those clamps look like today.

router_w_clamps.jpg

Then I found some files containing 3d models of my positioning system concepts. The conversion software made a pretty horrendous mess of it but here you can see the first router model I created.

router-acad-93-v1.jpg

This one was for my original router, the one I got for my birthday. I still own that one and I think it still works, but it is plastic and not an especially accurate or durable tool. It was while planning my positioning system that I bought the Porter Cable 1001 shown in the photograph, and I switched to working on designs based around that.

Here’s a very rough look at that design showing the model of the Porter Cable router in a 5 axis system.

tops-acad-93.jpg

It seems that the conversion software that rescues things from the AutoDesk proprietary dungeon doesn’t do as well with 3d models. But you can get the idea.

All that must seem pretty unremarkable these days. What’s interesting about it is that these ancient computer models are truly ancient. They come from a time before normal engineers regularly made 3d computer models and many were still using pencils and paper. Keeping timestamps accurate over decades is a tricky problem but I found one of my TOPS (tool positioning system) files with a full engineering title block with a legitimate accurate date: 1993-09-22.

topstitleblk_1k.png

So what is the state of the art of Chris' router modeling abilities 28 years later? Here’s what it looks like as I work on it in Blender.

router-blender-base_1k.jpg

And here it is textured, lit, rendered, and animated.

router.gif

The difference is obviously pretty huge. I’m quite happy with the model itself. The geometry is generally accurate to well within 1/64" — it will be far more than sufficient for any subsequent design purposes. I’m also delighted with the rendering appearance so far, but amazingly I’ve only scratched the surface of the cosmetic details. That is what Blender really excels at — making things look fantastic. The fact that I’ve been able to model this technical piece with such a high accuracy is my own obsession with getting Blender to not just make things look right, but to be right. It is possible!

The Case For Nordic Skiing

2021-04-04 23:47

If you go back and look carefully at the table of my skiing activity you will see an "A" on February 17 and 21 — that means I was "Alpine" skiing. A few years ago if someone asked me to make a list of things I’d rather be doing in preferential order, Alpine skiing would be at the top of that list. Today it is not even on the list. While no less fun than it ever was, for me Alpine skiing has been completely replaced by Nordic skiing.

I also used to enjoy riding a 750cc Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle. As with skiing, there is nothing about the motorcycle experience I can not achieve with a bicycle. That sounds stupid, so let’s explore that a bit.

I’ve recently become interested in the branch of philosophy called phenomenology. This involves thinking about experiences not as objective data points but as experiences that are experienced by an individual. For example, imagine if I tell you about riding my motorcycle at 120mph/200kph and then ask you to tell me about a time when you were going really fast. Got one in mind? Was it that time you were in Kansas in the middle of the night asleep in a tailwind that was pushing the Boeing 737 you were in? No? I wouldn’t have picked that one either. But if we were talking about "fast" surely something like that is up there, right? Maybe that’s how things work in the "real" world, but it’s not how things really work in the real world. That’s phenomenology.

One day after a superb performance racing to the top of Saddleback Mountain in Orange County on my bicycle, I did something (else) memorable. I came down that mountain in the most aggressive descent of my life. I have never seen a YouTube video of crazy "downhillers" doing anything crazier than I did that day. I was right on the edge of what was possible. When I got to the bottom I marveled at the run and thought to myself, "Wow — that was fucking stupid." Sure, there were some truly objectively fast speeds involved — a motorcycle would not have made things faster. But what had really made the experience intense transcended pure numerical physics. Maybe I got up to 80kph/50mph momentarily. Although that was on unpaved roads, that’s less than half of what I routinely did on my motorcycle. Yet, that day I knew I never needed to ride a motorcycle again. The motorcycle, I realized, was superfluous. I also realized that while it had been fun, the absurd danger was unsustainable and I probably should get my thrills other ways.

I still enjoy spontaneous descents but I don’t agressively seek them out or push my luck. Instead, thanks to phenomenology, the most intense feeling of speed I get now on the bike is climbing, just like my memory of the first part of that day on Saddleback Mountain.

And so it is with skiing. While I love skiing in general, I no longer require the motorized form to feel its excitement and intensity. In fact, I now feel like I require a more active participation than simply standing mostly still on two planks and getting pushed along in the same way a Boeing 737 pushes you. If you think that Alpine skiing is an active sport — and that’s what you like about it — I’ve got some good news about what an active sport really can look like.

If you believe that you like the raw speed and power of Alpine skiing, why not just ride a snowmobile? Or perhaps just ski off a cliff? (I know, some crazy people do ski off cliffs.) It turns out if you get skis that are less effective at dissipating high energy freefalls (no metal edges, heel not locked) you can still ski at the limit of those skis. Since you’re probably not skiing out of an airplane door and saving yourself from death with a parachute, we can conclude that you’re not after maximum "skiing" speed per se. So why not slightly reduce the amount of energy you can dissipate by switching to Nordic skis? (Nordic skis are, in my opinion, faster than Alpine skis — they’re narrow, straight tracking, and aggressively optimized for low resistance — but the difference is in how easy it is to stop.)

A correctly designed/chosen Nordic course is perfectly exciting and challenging because it puts you in situations of maximum skiing speed (i.e. the limit of your abilities to not wipe out) and tries to turn stopping problems into recycled energy. Still, why not just fall down the mountain the dumb old Alpine way? The miracle of Nordic skiing is that you can also go up.

If you’re not athletic and you want the thrill of bicycle riding, definitely consider getting a motorcycle. If you’re not athletic and you want the thrill of skiing, sure, Alpine is fine. But if you are athletic… Do you really need that "help"? Sure it’s not as bad as riding around in a motorized wheelchair because you’re too lazy to walk (i.e. driving a car), but for athletic people it should be considered similar.

I get the feeling that people think that Nordic skiing is boring and lacks high speed drama. Well, I would like to invite you to this crazy ass groomed Nordic skiing trail (below #46 on this map). I’m not sure you’re even supposed to ski down it (up only) but I did (both directions). I did not die and I considered that a pretty impressive accomplishment (both directions). ski photo

For comparison, here is a black diamond Alpine descent through steep moguls that I thought was impressive enough to take a photo of.

ski photo

When I compare the two experiences (phenomenologically), the Nordic one was way more intense and memorable. But the sky is the limit. Check out this video of these crazy and talented Nordic skiers — it would be hard to argue that they’re the ones lacking the full skiing experience. Or consider the search term "nordix" which seems to be some kind of competition that is so absurd it is quite deliberately hilarious.

If there’s something (good) about the Alpine skiing experience that these guys are missing, I’m not seeing it. And to belabor the point, if Alpine skiers competed on this Nordix course, they would be destroyed, literally stopping in their tracks as the slope turned upward.

I believe that Alpine skiing is — for athletic people at least — an impoverished form of skiing. But there are many more reasons to consider Nordic skiing.

Cheap/Free

Here I’m on the Boreas Pass looking back northwest to where the (Alpine) skiing costs money. SUVs full of it!

ski photo

I’m delighted with having this gorgeous trail all to myself. Cost? $0.

100% Action, 0% Waiting

The amount of standing and sitting around in the freezing cold doing absolutely nothing while Alpine skiing is closer to ice fishing than any other sport I can think of. I’m not really sure of its rules, but curling seems slightly more active than Alpine skiing. Sorry — do some Nordic skiing and you’ll see what I mean.

One of the commandments of my religion requires that: if a day includes the possibility for skiing, then there must be skiing. I found myself sitting on the chairlift constantly thinking, "What am I doing here wasting this fine snow? I could be skiing!"

No Lift Lines

The fact that the slopes are crowded enough to need Disneyland style queue control is a bad sign, but the whole thing is stressful.

ski photo

Beyond just the painful standing around doing nothing in the freezing cold in very uncomfortable footwear, there’s a lot of anxiety about what line lane to get in, is someone standing on your skis, whom will you share the chair with, etc. And now The Plague. I pretty much never like hanging out with a bunch of frustrated people all competing for the same resource I am.

Less Time

Nordic skiing actually takes less time. Let’s say you’re working from "home" in nice place like Breckenridge (which I can not stress enough is totally a possible thing if you’re smarter than pre-2020 Silicon Valley folk). Presumably you need to put in your daily contribution to the software mines or whatever work you do. I find that Nordic skiing for hours is a very special situation that will be more than plenty. I find that even 30 minutes is a great daily workout on cross-country skis. On the other hand, to properly get any value out of a trip to an Alpine resort, you pretty much should be waiting in line as the lifts open and skiing your last run just after they close. Well, that’s how I do it. Which is both exhausting and very time consuming.

Natural Breaks

"Natural break" is a professional cycling euphemism for "taking a piss". And the other side of that coin is not being dehydrated (e.g. drinking coffee). A memorable moment Alpine skiing at Breck this year involved looking for a bathroom and finding that they were down several flights of stairs! If you’ve never worn (Alpine) ski boots before, imagine wearing shoes made of 30lbs/15kg of framing lumber. Stairs!

Nordic skiing by contrast is a lot easier. Obviously way out in the wild woods is not a problem. But even when I came into the lodge to use the BNC bathroom, one of the guys who worked there explicitly mentioned "other options".

Despite that, when I’m getting dehydrated Nordic skiing, I’m usually near a handful of clean snow to eat. On Alpine slopes, that fake snow is often made from (gray?) water from who-knows-where.

Free Parking

This shows the parking situation at at BNC.

ski photo

"My" (rented) vehicle is within sight. There are fires to sit by to relax or change shoes (right above my head in this shot). (Yes, that is a bona fide igloo!)

In contrast, the parking hassle at every Alpine skiing situation I’ve ever been to has ranged from a not so great hike in lumber boots to a substantial ordeal. When I’m at home, the Nordic ski trails I usually use go right past my backyard — if enough snow falls I can put my skis on in my garage.

Ecology

Some people don’t eat meat because not killing animals is more fun for them; but ecologically motivated vegetarianism is valid too. Skiing is similar. Alpine skiing is fundamentally a motorsport. Like skydiving from airplanes or waterskiing a rope’s length away from a motorboat, the sport roughly distances you from that truth while you’re actively doing the fun part. But make no mistake — it is a motorsport. What’s worse is because your motor is locked in to a specific place, you need there to be snow in that specific place; this means that snow-making equipment must be more heavily used with its non-negligible footprint. And while Nordic centers with groomed trails are fun, they are not essential. I think some grooming is necessary for lift accessible Alpine slopes.

Alpine skiing concentrates throngs of insensitive tourists into sensitive Alpine biomes. With Nordic skiing, besides being low-impact in pristine natural environments, you can easily repurpose other ecological disasters like clear cut farmland, strip mines, and, worse, golf courses. Nordic skiing improves the value proposition for converting rail corridors into bike paths, bike paths in general, fire road and forest trail maintenance, etc.

I will never expect Nordic skiing to become a big part of commuting, but it is a form of transportation — I used to ski to school in Alaska.

Avalanche Management

Having large concentrations of people packed into structures at the base of steep snow-covered slopes is begging for avalanche problems. Even in relatively hilly Nordic skiing terrain, this is much less of a problem. You can (and should!) also leave pretty much all of the trees intact.

Cheap Equipment

The owner of one of the Nordic centers was showing off the fanciest skis they sell and I asked how much they were - about 3 days worth of Alpine lift tickets. (Chances are very good I will be getting some!) Compared to the heavy price tags on Alpine equipment, I find Nordic gear, even fancy skis or carbon fiber poles, to be a steal. Speaking of stealing, the Alpine skis I once owned cost $10 at the swap meet. I thought that was a steal but it later occurred to me that they may have been literally stolen. Like my dad’s Alpine skis were on this trip.

Light Equipment

Alpine gear doesn’t just come with heavy price tags, it’s physically heavy too. You don’t notice this until you’ve played around with Nordic gear and then it becomes painfully obvious. My Nordic skis, bindings, boots, poles, and all the clothes I typically wear skiing weigh about as much as an Alpine boot.

Simple Equipment

In some ways dressing for Alpine skiing is simple — it will be very cold. That is because you’re not really doing anything almost all of the time. But addressing just how cold you’ll be and what to do about it is quite a challenge. With Nordic skiing, I could literally ski naked and not freeze to death. Eventually I wouldn’t even be cold. No matter what the weather. Instead of the Antarctica gear you’ll need to be comfortable in a high-altitude white-out on a stopped chair lift, for Nordic skiing you basically need to be dressed with some clothes.

Summer Fun

I don’t know how you train for Alpine skiing in the summer. Sit still with your feet weighted and dangling off a high chair? But Nordic skiing has all kinds of cool things to play with in the summer. It’s called roller skiing. I’m totally going to get some! These exercise machines are famous, and these are also high quality. If you live near Austria, there’s even an indoor training hall for Nordic skiing. (I know what I’m building if I ever become a billionaire.)

Never Stuck

With Nordic skiing, there’s never that awkward struggle to traverse a long horizontal stretch on heavy downhill skis. I actually enjoyed skating those stretches as much as any other part of the "downhill" experience, which was a hint to me. When I see sad, sad snowboarders on such terrain or struggling to hop over to and from the lift lines I can’t help shaking my head and thinking: these people paid to do that.

Injury

Just like no one has ever said that it’s somehow healthy or builds face strength for boxers to get punched in the face incessantly, no one ever has thought that mogul skiing is good for anyone’s knees. And hanging heavy weights on your feet and dangling them over the edge of a very tall chair for hours is one of the most painful parts of Alpine skiing for me. I was amazed at the people who didn’t want to use the pull-down foot rests when they were available. Eventually, I just started deploying it pre-emptively — if the group I filled out the lift with disagreed, I was prepared to push them all off the chair.

And that’s just subtle chronic problems. People (now) wear helmets Alpine skiing and for a good reason!

ski photo

(More lines!) This trip is the first time I’ve ever skied wearing a helmet. Might be the last! I actually own that helmet for winter bike riding.

When I was Alpine skiing in my 20s, I once launched myself off a jump I had surveyed previously only to find, mid-air, a gormless noob standing in the landing zone. I avoided decapitating him with some very adroit aerial adjustments which caused me to land with one ski going straight into a hole. If that sounds painful, yes, it was. And everyone involved got off lucky — I’m thankful my knee wasn’t permanently damaged. You can ski the same terrain on Nordic skis for double the stupidity, but you can also comfortably go elsewhere and avoid almost all of the stupidity. Your choice.

Your Best Friend

Bring your dog! A lot of people have dogs and dogs like going outside and being active. But Alpine skiing is not fun for dogs. Nordic skiing, however, is fun for dogs and their people. There is even an official sub-sport of animal-powered skiing called skijoring. I saw an Alaskan Malamute at the park the other day and I knew from direct and personal experience with such a dog in Alaska, that he’d much rather be pulling me on skis than, well, anything else.

akdog.jpg

This adorable machine converts Nordic skiing into Alpine skiing — why would you not do it this way?

The Wider Winter World

With Alpine skiing you need snow and just the right elevation change. With Nordic skiing you need snow. This opens up a lot of possibilities. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario are very large and are, in their entirety, great for human-powered skiing.

Adventure

You want a real experience? Go ski touring. These cool people are showing off some awesome skiing in some awesome Alaskan settings.

Or try camping somewhere very exotic accessible only by skis. Or stay in one of the cool mountain huts only accessible by very hard core people. Visit the south pole like this awesome girl did!

Cool

If you basically plan your day around avoiding crowds as a top priority (ahem), well, here’s what I got — yet more damn lines!

ski photo

But that photo prompts another topic. Remember when there was a winter Olympic sport that was so cool that it made people become sick — or at least use that word a lot? I remember some days on Mammoth where riding the lifts provided quite an entertaining spectacle of endless stunt daredevils rolling down the mountain with snowboards strapped to their feet. Good that it was entertaining because the lifts stopped every few minutes to untangle some boarders who could not negotiate the transition to or from the sedentary lifestyle of the lift. Skiers weren’t just in the minority, but the narrow minority. But today, check out the ratio of boarders. There are even kids learning to ski today. That’s quite an amazing counter-revolution!

What that teaches us is that a lot of people on the slopes are really after a fashion more than engaged in an activity they’d fight to pursue even if nobody saw them. Well, potentially. These days, with the shrinking lack of opportunity thanks to our warming planet and growing population, the people out on the slopes generally fought to be there and could have been doing a lot of other fun things. But that level of not giving a shit what else there is to do that other people do is exactly what being cool is. And I would argue that at this point, Nordic skiing is that kind of cool.

Nordic skiing used to be seen as very square, sort of like being a non-smoker before 1980. However human-powered skiing is not nearly as uncool as it used to be.

When America’s newest ski resort opened on December 31st, Bluebird Backcountry was uniquely adapted to social-distancing measures because it lacked one thing that every other ski resort in America has: lifts. There were no queues to stand in, worrying about your neighbour breathing on you. Instead of shuttling ticket-holders up the mountain by gondola, lifts and other mechanised means, the new resort made skiers and snowboarders slide up the mountain before gliding down.

From 2016 to March 2020, sales of touring gear (such as skis with bindings that release at the heel for skiing up) more than doubled, going from $39m to $79m. By the 2017-18 season, 5% of America’s 30m skiers and snowboarders were venturing out of bounds. Although some resorts are open to backcountry skiers, most choose wilder environs, such as national parks, where they find solitude and better powder.

Now covid-19 has supercharged the growth of the sport. In March last year backcountry-gear sales leapt 34% compared with the year before. Retailers reported that, a week after resorts were forced to shut down, much of their stock was sold out. Car parks at popular access spots were full. This year most resorts are open but the boom continues. Manufacturers and retailers had increased the supply of skis, boots and the like. Yet many stores are still running low. Doug Bittinger, the owner of Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge, Colorado, reported that he had sold as much by late December as in the whole 2019-20 season. Now he has very limited stock.

Well, if what I saw out on the trails and at the Nordic centers was a "boom" then there’s still a lot of room in the sport of Nordic skiing to welcome cool athletic people who love to ski so much that they’ll climb mountains to do it.

Ski Report 2020-2021

2021-04-03 23:16

Yesterday I pulled up my driveway snow poles. I don’t really ever find them useful but I like looking at them and imagining I’m living someplace that (still?) gets a lot of snow. My neighbors took theirs down weeks ago and it’s true we had 68F/20C spring temperatures since. But two days ago, the ground was again white with snow. I was hoping that maybe there’d be another day of late season skiing, but no, not enough. I think that’s it.

But what a great ski season it has been!

To understand how great of a year it was let’s look back at all three years I’ve been in Buffalo.

record.png

This is showing the winter spread out horizontally. The three lines are the three winter ski seasons 2018-2019, 2019-2020, and this season, 2020-2021 (I’m using the last digit of the year (9,0,1).

First I must note that I only bought the skis in late January of 2019. After that I made it a religious commitment that if there was enough snow to ski, then I would ski. So while these records are days when I went skiing, they’re really recording the snow conditions and not my laziness. My laziness was near zero (except for 2021-02-05 when I was feeling very sick and it rained — had the snow or my health been better, I’d have given it a try anyway). While I didn’t keep careful track, it seems like I missed 3 or 4 days of possible skiing in 2018-2019 before I got the skis. Which seems consistent with the next two years. The following season, there were 3 freak early days in November.

What amazes me is that there was absolutely no skiing after 2019-02-04. Wow. And also nothing between 2019-11-13 and 2020-01-18. I had 9 outings the first season. Then 12 the next year. Although this year was missing nearly 30 days after 2020-12-27, 2021 was much better with 20 days skied in Buffalo.

My dad usually rents a house in Colorado during the ski season (thanks to the miracle of remote work). This year I had the time and freedom to go with him. On 2021-02-10, I skied in Buffalo in the morning and Erie, PA in the evening. The next day, I skied in Erie in the morning and, thanks to catching an unusual storm, skied in Cincinnati, OH in the evening. The next day was spent driving to Colorado.

And that’s where the ski year went from better-than-normal to awesome!

And I have photos! Yay!

Skiing the Boreas Pass trail was amazing. Simply gorgeous. It was about a light 5% grade going up with usually a slight tailwind on the way out. And how much did this fine skiing cost? $0. I loved skiing this trail! ski photo

Most days on the Boreas Pass I went as far as this water tower that used to service the trains. That’s why the grade of the trail is so perfect and mild — it used to be a rail corridor. ski photo

I usually would ski this trail to the water tower but the farthest I got was here which I think is in sight of the pass over on the right; I think it may also be the continental divide. You can see that in this exposed terrain, the wind (headwind on the return remember) was blasting. I was kind of nervous about such a long outing, easily the energy output of running a marathon. But as I got farther from the trailhead the snow was less visited and less packed down. I realized I could hit soft snow and fall through and get kind of stuck. I knew I didn’t have the stamina to slog back through waist deep snow if that happened or if I broke a ski or something. Still, an epic day that I will remember fondly. ski photo

I knew they had bike trails in Breckenridge and there was tons of snow. Sure enough, the Blue River Trail just north of town not only was skiable, it was groomed. I don’t know who did that or why, but it was awesome. And $0. The wind generally was cranking in from the north here. You’ll see in other photos that I often wear a hat with a bill and/or shades. That’s actually to keep the snow crystals from abrading my eyeballs. Like they were doing here! Still despite my uncharacteristic equipment oversight on this outing, I had a great time skiing that trail many times. ski photo

Here I’m at the farthest point (#46) on the trail system of the Breckenridge Nordic Center. It was quite an epic climb to get up here. I was feeling pretty awesome having accomplished it. ski photo

This was a "warming hut" out on one of the remote trails. It had a Scandinavian style hot sauna. I didn’t fire it up — I was not one bit cold after all that climbing! ski photo

Here I am skiing on the Gold Run Nordic Center. It was fine and it is without a doubt the most sensible thing to do with a golf course. But it was a golf course — so, you know, the terrain wasn’t really ideal for my style of athleticism. But there were some fun trails and it would be a good place for skate skiing. ski photo

At Gold Run, it was warm enough to be tee shirt weather. ski photo

Oh ya, The Plague is still happening. Fortunately Nordic skiing doesn’t require a mosh pit at the lift line. I think this was one of the days I was trying different rental skate skis and I would put the mask on to go inside. XC skiing itself with a mask is not really a possible thing, at least for me. ski photo

An igloo! I was so delighted to see — and enter! — this little structure since I’m fascinated by igloos. My dream is to figure out how I can have one where I live. I fear that will involve moving. ski photo

I rented skate skis and was able to try different lengths and models. I learned — my first time on skate skis on a groomed track — that, yes, I am a natural at this. ( Not terribly shocking really. ) I also learned that these 192cm ("192/N251") Fischer CRS Skate skis were awesome! And I learned that this sport (skate skiing) really does require a nicely groomed track. ski photo

I could see this bridge from the road down there and wanted to ski on it. And here I am. But wow, there was a hell of a climb (or crazy descent if you go the other way). I just can’t see this trail getting tons of use despite having a giant bridge and an amazing view of the town. I didn’t see anyone else on this section. ski photo

The snow in Colorado was immaculate. There were some warm mushy days but the nights snapped everything back into a good base. And there were tons of days with tons of live action snow. To illustrate how great the snow was, this photo shows the one place at BNC (yes, I covered all the trails) where the snow was not perfect. It’s totally passable and in Buffalo, I’d call it "just fine". It is a sign though that the season doesn’t last forever, even here. ski photo

Here’s another hut out on the remote trails. This one is more of a normal cabin. Hell, I could live there! ski photo

You may notice that in a lot of photos I’m not wearing gloves. It really has to be down below 15F before I’ll wear some very light mechanics' gloves. The secret are these hand covers which I originally designed for bike handlebars. I made this set as a first attempt and my more serious subsequent set are on my bike now. But these work great for skiing! I’m probably going to do a full redesign of this system to handle the complicated wrist cages and other technical details. But I love these things. This is also on the Boreas Pass trail. ski photo

Driving back from skiing on the Boreas Pass I realized my face was covered in blood. I don’t know when that happened but this kind of fun can be pretty brutal to the respiratory system. But in a somewhat good way ultimately. I hope. It’s better than smoking. That’s the house we stayed in. Damn nice, but then again, I particularly like living in a forest and in a snowy climate. ski photo

If you like these photos but wish there were more looking down at my feet, uh highlighting my skis, then you might like this video I made to remind myself of skiing on groomed trails. Hey, it’s not easy doing this sport and filming oneself doing it; this was my first attempt and I quickly gave up!

As you can see, I look pretty delighted in all of these photos. If I don’t, recalibrate now, because in every one of these photos, I was pretty delighted. Besides being a great opportunity to do something I love in a setting I love, another objective I had for this trip was to see how I felt at high altitude. I had reported that my Covid symptoms dragged on into a year where some days — not all — I would feel like I was at 3000m. Well, now I actually was! And I was ok. And then XC skiing, especially skate skiing and heavy climbing, is notoriously high-wattage. I was really pleased with how my body handled it. I was in pretty great shape when I left and I came back much better. I’m really starting to feel like I have my proper energy levels back and I think pushing my cardio-vascular and respiratory systems to the limit was beneficial. I certainly hope so, because even if it wasn’t, I’d do it again!

Leaving A Log On The Bathroom Floor

2021-03-30 20:09

I apologize of for the title pun, but I felt we needed to get that out of the way as quickly as possible. Take a moment to collect yourself. Once you’re done snickering at that inevitable and amusing linguistic coincidence we can flush the figurative and move on to the literal.

A couple of years ago I was outside cutting firewood and a crazy thought came into my head: this pine log is really a fine piece of solid wood and I wonder if it could be used as the pedestal for the sink I need to install in my downstairs bathroom. The log seemed solid and straight so I set it aside to season.

Fast forward ~18 months and I finally have some time to work on that project. The answer turns out to be yes, it can work! And here it is.

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If "Chris installed a sink" is all you need to know, stop reading now. However, many people I know will appreciate nerdy details about its design and construction. The rest of this post is for them!

This log was cut in 2019 from a tree that grew within sight of my house. I counted 37 rings which presumably means it was planted in 1982. I think it’s kind of cool to have a piece of the local forest memorialized in my interior space.

First I had to prepare the log by stripping the bark. I used an insanely nice Stubai drawknife from Austria to do that job. Seriously, this is one fine cutting tool!

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This project was far more complicated than I expected. (Which, by the way, would make a good title for my biography.) Take the "simple" matter of crosscutting the log — this turned out to not be simple at all. How do you line up such a cut? What exactly constitutes the long axis of this quasi-cylindrical block of wood? If it still seems obvious to you, consider a log that captures a 30 degree bend — how exactly would you cut it to length such that its faces were parallel? Just because the imperfections of the log were closer to a 3 degree bend didn’t eliminate the quandary when trying to get things perfectly lined up.

In the end I stood the log up on my glass table and shimmed it until it looked pretty "vertical" even though it was never within 1/2" of a carpenter’s framing square anywhere along the circumference. Once I was satisfied that it was vertical enough, I used a surface gage to mark a ring around the top and bottom separated by the correct final height. Here I’m laying out the second cut after the first cut was made.

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Which does invite the question, how does one cut such a thing? Sure normal people use chainsaws, but normal people aren’t trying to get the two cuts to be within 1/16" of parallel. I ended up cutting it about 1/2" oversize with a miter saw; this left alignment inaccuracies and mismatches where I had to rotate the log because my saw could only handle half at a time. I then routed out the middle leaving only a ring on the outside that would need to be accurate.

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With care, this was possible to cut by hand accurately with a back saw.

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It seemed to come out decently enough.

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That was just getting datums cut on the log. There was more complexity. Pedestal sinks are deceptively simple looking but I found out the last time I installed one that this is far from the real story. The instructions for that previous sink said something like this.

1. Position the pedestal.
2. Place sink on pedestal.
3. Attach sink to wall.
Note: If your wall does not include framing for a pedestal sink,
tear down your house and rebuild it so that it does.

Easy! On that project I ended up machining a thick aluminum plate that mounted to the studs and which the sink could perfectly mate to. I was going to be smarter about it this time. To start with I was going to use a proper computer model (for the first time in decades). I can’t model my ideas as fast as I can describe them in words like I once could in AutoCAD but I am slowly regaining that superpower with Blender. Comparing my virtual model with what I actually created shows that it can provide profound insight.

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I had originally envisioned shelves coming from the wall to stabilize the log. These shelves would be a small one-sided unit that would mount to the one framing stud I had to work with (just left of the electrical outlet). The other ends of the shelves I was going to sink into the log. I realized that if the drain plumbing leaked, getting to it would be a nightmare. And since drain plumbing always seems to leak at first, I needed a new plan.

This is the point I started getting very serious about my computer model of the project. I realized that instead of having the log literally do the heavy lifting I could make the log optional. If I could slide the log out when I needed to service the plumbing, that would be very helpful. When in place, the log could still stabilize and support the system. Without playing with all the parts in my computer model, there’s no way I would have imagined that design.

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From the moment I conceived of the idea I knew that one of the most difficult fundamental problems with the concept was that a sink needs a drain and while logs are sometimes hollow, this one wasn’t. I started by roughing a channel for the drain using a circular saw and a brick chisel.

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I did a lot of hand chiseling until I got it roughed in. I used my magnificent Sandvik scraper (not just for hand scraping machine tool ways!) to smooth out the surfaces.

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I have to admit that when I bought the sink from The Store sight unseen I didn’t really think about how such sinks were held in place during earthquakes or toddlers. It turns out this one had two blind holes that I could use. Only what do I use for an anchor? I tried all kinds of designs that did not work. These seemed good but I could not get them open once inside the sink.

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Eventually I just went with a bent piece of #10-32 threaded rod with some heat shrink tubing on the inside end.

Building the shelf cabinet was also an adventure. There are three wooden dowels in the column and, because I’m a buiscuit joinery enthusiast, biscuits everywhere it is possible to put one. Since I’m not wealthy (and wood has doubled in price it seems in the last couple of years) I used cheap pine boards made from edge-glued planks. They’re decent enough but there was some cupping and I’m too lazy and unskilled to attack that with a hand plane. Given the imperfections of the boards, I feel the cabinet came out as well as can be expected. Let’s just say it’s much more accurate (parallel, perpendicular, flat, horizontal, etc) than the wall it’s mounted to.

I don’t know what posessed me to try to mate the top shelf board to the contour of the sink, but that’s what I set out to do. There was some rather heroic layout work involved that I think turned out pretty well.

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But what was really astonishing was pulling off this compound elliptical cut perfectly in one clean shot. Hut ab to my insanely excellent Swiss-made Bosch jigsaw!

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And then my least favorite part of the whole deal - painting. I used boat topside paint which I figured would be sane for a bathroom feature. I kept thinking that I should fill the wood like I did on my guitar but unfortunately I was too lazy to get the proper wood filler necessary.

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The painting still seemed to go ok.

For the last two years I’ve looked at two feet of janky plumbing coming out of the wall. You see that "workbench" in the pictures of the work on the log? That horror is what used to be in that bathroom and it is definitely doing a much better job as a workbench. But they had the sink shifted over a couple of feet from the supply and drain with weird cantilevered extension plumbing. So actually step one was to fix all that. I was pretty happy with how that all looked except for the ragged hole around the drain fitting.

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I am quite proud of the inspriation I had to use a Trader Joe’s peanutbutter container lid as an escutcheon. And also proud of being able to cut it to size perfectly.

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It looks great! And this is pretty important with a pedestal sink since the plumbing is all exposed to a certain extent. I’m actually pretty happy with how that all came out.

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How technically tricky was this project? Let’s consider a planning mistake I did fail to prevent. I had considered counter-boring the sink’s hold-down studs just to keep them hidden from view, but I was lazy and since it’s on the underside of the top shelf, I didn’t. I was however surprised to find during installation that this feature was not optional; if the sink hold-down nuts were not recessed into the shelf, the log could not slide under. I had modeled the log’s cross section as a perfect ellipse and that simplification proved insufficient. It turns out that one of the hold-downs was exposed halfway and the other was completely covered by the log’s top.

But things get sillier. For a flavor of how this project went consider the fix. I experimented with different Forstner bits. I discovered that my 3/4" was the right size but when in testing I found it was not cutting well at all. I then dug out a set of fine grinding stones and dressed the cutting edge. Not exactly sharp, but once again plausible for cutting. I then went to cut these counterbores and realized that my hand drill would not fit between the shelves. Great. I had to dig out my router again and that worked fine, but it would have been infinitely easier had I started with that plan while the shelf was disassembled. This project was a long list of reminders why careful planning can be more essential than optional.

Here are the counterbores hacked in place in what welders nonchalantly call the "overhead position".

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Here is the installation in progress showing the hold-down fasteners I fabricated. Here it’s easy to see how the log is designed to slide away for easy maintenance on the plumbing. You can also see my layout marks to carve clearance for the drain plumbing’s lockrings.

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Finally here is another view of what the finished installation looks like.

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And yes, it does work! In the end, I think I was successful with this project. Well, if by "successful" I mean I can wash my hands in the bathroom without a puddle on the floor after only a couple weeks of exacting labor. Does it work aesthetically? Probably not for normal people. I personally like it — as someone who has also taken "tree hugger" from figurative to literal.

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