Free Form Friday, No. 5

Living room sofa; cloudy, 52 F 0625

It is “Black Friday.” I do not plan to go shopping. I believe that the rampant consumerism is driving the current environmental problems and also reduces our lives to a treadmill. I think it is nice to buy interesting things, however, I do not need the newest iPhone or other slick thing.

I took a bit of a break from writing this. It does not seem to matter as no one is reading. Last week was pretty hectic with work and all of the other things going on. I will get back into daily writing this week.

I have about ten posts in the draft stage. This includes one about installing the Photovoltaic system. I realize now that I took no pictures during the installation work. I suppose I will have to come up with a three line drawing showing how the system is connected to the grid.

Thanksgiving was nice. I had the kids here and no one else. It was supposed to be the entire family (13 people), however, we all decided that it would be safer to just have a small gathering. I make an apple stuffed pork roast, which was delicious. I am looking forward to the leftovers tonight. After dinner, we had a nice conversation around the table.

The weather has been warmer than usual. I do not necessarily mind this. The less snow, the better in my mind because it means less winter driving.

I am in the planning stages for what course I might want to take next year. NY State is offering “Coursica” for unemployed or under employed people within the state. I signed up and was accepted. I am looking at several sales courses, since that is my weakest area.

Free Form Friday, No. 4

Living room sofa; Cloudy, 38.1 F 0647

I have missed a few days posting, mostly because I have been busy with work and other things. As of this writing, there still have been zero visitors according to statcounter. Google says one visitor back on the 16th, but that may have been me. It has been one month since I started this and I plan on continuing to post things here for a period of one year.

Since there are no visitors here, I am make this somewhat more personal than I have been. It may just turn into my journal instead of something for other people to read.

Hockey practice last night was good. William says he is having fun practicing but wishes we could play a game. It looks like that might not happen this year at all. In any case, it seems like people are generally being flexible in their approach and that is all we can do. It is good for him to go out and get exercise and see other people.

I am planning to have Thanksgiving here for everyone. It is starting to get scaled back as people are concerned about COVID-19. There is an increase of cases in the area. Of course, we must be careful; Mom is 88 years old and not in the best of health. Thus, it may end up just being William, Eliza and myself here. I am good with that, we will have a nice dinner.

Prior to people coming here, I need to clean the house. It is not terribly dirty, I just need to call away sweepers and give the place a good once over.

Sweepers, Sweepers, Man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweep down fore and aft! Sweep out all lower decks, ladder wells and passageways. Dump all trash clean of the fantail. Now sweepers.

As heard on the 1MC

All of the leaves are off of the trees and the view from the front window has improved. I like the living room arranged this way. Instead of placing my back to the outside, I and now look out and see everything.

I am also working on setting up a remote TV receiver in Albany. The plan is to call it a “monitoring system” for Intrigue TV’s channel 5 (RF channel 30). However, I will be able to change channels and watch all of the over the air signals from Albany. I look forward to it. I receive no over the air TV signals here.

Yard Clean up

Sofa; cloudy, 31 F, 0519

This house has many mature trees in the side and back yards. Every autumn, the trees lose their leaves. Some threes also produce many nuts. This is very nice, but leads to one problem; mice. The mice love the nuts and love the cover of the dead leaves to hide in. If I do not get rid of both, then there is a mouse population explosion and they get in the house.

This requires a layered approach. I do not like poisoning the mice because the effects other beneficial wild life. When a mouse does in the house, there are several traps around the basement baited with peanut butter. That will usually get them.

Outside I make sure that I get as many nuts (hickory and acorns) as possible racked up. I dump them in the woods where the dear, mice and squirrels can enjoy them. I also rack up and get rid of all the leaves around the house and yard. This denies them cover while running from the woods to the house.

Finally, I encourage natural predator like owls, foxes and snakes to take their place in the food chain. I build a nesting platform for great horned owls in the woods. They take up residence in the spring and raise new owlets every year. The foxes are regulars in the back woods and there are plenty of rat snakes living back in the brush pile and stone wall.

As far as the yard cleanup is concerned; most of it is done with the lawn tractor. I mulch and bag the leaves up and dump them in the compost pile. The remaining is taken care of with the rake. The white oak always holds onto its leaves. Throughout the winter, the west wind blows the leaves back into the woods keeping the lawn area clean.

The area in front of the house under the hickory tree requires raking to get rid of all the nuts.

It takes a few hours to complete, but is well worth the effort.

The fishing rod holder

Living room sofa; clear, windy, 44.4 F 0537

Since springtime, when my son took his first fishing rod down to the pond and caught his first Large Mouth Bass, the fishing gear has been stored in the dining room. I don’t really mind, except when it all falls over behind the hutch. It also appears somewhat disorganized in a jumble.

Fishing poles leaning up against the wall

I was walking back to the barn yesterday, when I spotted this pallet. Several weeks ago, I had picked up several small pallets to ship a small TV transmitter to Texas. I used one and threw this one on the firewood pile to use as kindling. Then I remembered the fishing rods scraping down the wall and thought; I should make a fishing rod holder.

Pallet and scrap lumber

And so, I rounded up some other bits of materials laying about and spend a few minutes with the skill saw, hole saw, jig saw and sander. I would say, not so bad for a quick afternoon project.

Ready for glue and screw

I will let the wood dry out overnight before I glue and screw it together.

Fishing poles secure in holder

An improvement to be sure.

Homemade Pizza

Living room sofa; mostly cloudy, 27.1 F, 0605

Many years ago, I began a family tradition of making Homemade Pizza every Saturday afternoon. It was a part of family movie night, which is, as the name implies, a night when we would all sit down and watch a movie together. They were mostly kids movies like Cars, Cars II, Cars III, Toy Story, Toy Story II, Toy Story III, etc. Of course, the family unit has since been broken up and movie night is no longer a thing. However, every other Saturday, when the kids are here, the Homemade Pizza is still a hit.

The Dough

Whole wheat bread machine pizza dough

Here is the basic bread machine dough recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 cup of bread flour or regular flour
  • 3 cups of whole wheat flour (freshly milled)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tsp of SAF instant rise yeast
  • 2 tsp of powered milk

I have a Zojirushi bread machine which works great. The dough making setting takes 1:50 to complete. When the dough cycle is complete, remove the dough, divide into two and make rounds. Place the rounds on the pizza sheets and let stand under a damp cloth for 20 minutes.

Zojirushi bread machine

If you want to make the dough by hand, set aside time for kneeding, rising, kneeding, rising, etc.

Grinding wheat berries for whole wheat flour

A note on the whole wheat flour; I have found store bought whole wheat flour does not work very well. Whole wheat kernels have oil in them, which tends to go rancid (oxidize) if the flour is not used right away. I buy wheat berries in bulk and grind up what I need on the day I use it will the WonderMill WM2000.

When the pizza dough is ready, roll out with a rolling pin or pastry roller. I have never tried throw it up in the air, as the ceiling in the kitchen is rather low and I don’t think I would have a good result.

Pizza dough ready to go in the oven

I normally get two sixteen inch pizzas. Prick the rolled out dough liberally with a fork or use a dough docker. This will prevent large air pockets from forming in the dough when it bakes.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

The basic procedure is to put the rolled out dough in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, remove, unstick from the pan with a spatula, place the sauce and toppings on, return to the oven for 12 minutes, remove, enjoy!

The Sauce

Pizza Sauce

The sauce recipe:

  • 8-12 plumb, Roma or other sauce type tomatoes (or 2 quart jar home canned or 1 28 oz can store bought)
  • 1 8 oz can tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 medium sized chopped onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • fresh or dried basil to taste (many leaves chopped or 1 tsp)
  • oregano to taste (usually 1/2 to 3/4 tsp)
Tomatoes canned from the garden last fall

In a large pot, blanch and peel the tomatoes if using fresh, set aside. Clean out pot and over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Brown and then add the rest of the ingredients, reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

The Pizza

Pizza toppings; fresh spinach, green pepper, onion, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives and pepperoni

As far as toppings go, I have made several different types of pizza, all of which are delicious. The types and flavors are only limited by your imagination. Here are a few examples of my favorites:

  • Spinach and artichoke heart
  • Italian sausage, pepper and onion
  • Five cheese (Mozzarella, Parmesan, Asiago, Cheddar and Colby)
  • Fresh tomato, basil and garlic
  • Seafood (white pizza; mozzarella, lobster, shrimp, bay scallops, fresh basil, thinly sliced garlic, fresh tomato on an olive oil brushed crust)
  • Chicken Bacon Ranch (white pizza, ranch dressing or chipotle ranch dressing, mozzarella, diced chicken and crumbled bacon)
  • Fresh salsa, taco meat and cheddar cheese.
Bon Appetit!

Free Form Friday No. 3

On the sofa; cloudy, 37.1 F, 0548

This week is my son’s birthday. It is hard to believe that fourteen years ago, I was holding a crying, slimy, purple thing just seconds after he was born. Yet, here we are. He has really taken an interesting in fishing and all things related to the pond. I am happy to see him out of doors.

Taking an interest in fish

It took a while, but it seems we have a new president. I am happy that the process is over. Most people on either side of the issue feel the same. Regarding the man himself; meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It does not seem to matter who occupies that office, the same stupid shit continues to happen. I think people put way too much stock in the presidency and do not pay attention to congress. It seems to me, the real center of power is with those who set the agenda; the DNC and RNC.

We had a very nice stretch of warm weather. I managed to get a good deal of yard cleanup done. It has turned colder (seasonal) again.

This weekend, I have to spend time cleaning the house. I am having Thanksgiving here and I would like the place to be at least clean, if not neat. There is also the list of normal chores to complete.

Last weekend, I discovered that there is a bad bearing in the mower deck of the lawn tractor. I thought I could wait until spring to fix it, however, I think I will tackle that on Saturday.

There are a few other projects I would work on; investigate rebuilding the water filters or at least replacing the filter medium, finishing the electrical outlets in the basement, the house monitoring system and so on.

Past Project: Solar Hot Water System

On the living room sofa; cloudy, 53.1 F, 0526

Using electricity to heat water is fairly expensive, as I discovered when we received our first electric bill. Solar hot water systems harvest energy directly from the sun and are an efficient, inexpensive way to save money.

Bolting down solar collector to roof

My friend, Jay and I installed these solar hot water collectors in August 2007. They are Model AE-40 collectors made by Alternative Energy in Jacksonville, Florida. As the name implies, they have about 40 square feet of collector area.

Collectors installed, tilted 40 degrees for better efficiency

System Design

This is a drain back system that uses water as a heat transfer fluid. The differential controller monitors the temperature of the bottom of the storage tank and the top of the solar collector. When the differential temperature is greater than 15 degrees F, the pumps turn on. Pumps move the water through a heat exchanger thence up to the collector removing the heat back to the drain back tank. A second, smaller pump moves water from bottom of the storage tank through the heat exchanger thence back into the top of the storage tank. The drain back tank acts as a reservoir. When the large pump shuts off, the collectors empty out thus preventing freeze damage.

The system diagram:

System Diagram, drain back solar hot water system
System Diagram, Drain back solar hot water system

Cost and savings

The total cost of the system was right around $5,000.00. I received a Federal Income tax incentive of $1,500.00 and a New York State Income tax incentive of $1,250.00 making the net cost $2,250.00.

It reduced our electric use by approximately 3,500 KWh per year or 45.5 MWh over thirteen years. Electricity rates fluctuate over time however, the average rate over the last thirteen years is about 15.5 cents per KWh (includes delivery charge). That is a $7,050.00 reduction in my electricity bill and is a net savings of $4,800.00. Thus this solar thermal system has paid for itself thrice over.

The US Energy Information Agency notes that each KWh generated in the United States produces 0.99 pounds of CO2 emissions. A reduction of 45.5 MWh represents a 22.5 ton reduction of CO2 emissions.

Those interesting Historical Markers

On the porch; cloudy, 60.2 F 0612

Local Historical Markers:

Example of a Historical Marker owned by New York State

There are many of these erected by the New York State department of Education in the 1920’s and 30’s although the program continued on through the 1960’s. According the the New York State Museum:

In 1923 the New York Historical Association was directed to suggest possible celebrations for the upcoming “150th Anniversary of the American Revolution”….While details are sketchy, apparently markers could be acquired from the State Education Department for as little as $2, after an application form detailing the text, location, and supporting historic documentation was filed and approved.

Lord, P., Jr. (2018). Office of State History. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research-collections/state-history/resources/historicalmarkers

There are many of these markers are on the major roadway going north to Kingston. That makes sense because it is one of the oldest routes in continuous use in the United States. Unfortunately is it a busy road. Thus, zipping by the various markers does not give enough time to read them. I have often though that there should be an online database. Alas, someone else had the same though. The Historical Marker Data Base is exactly that.

Example of Historical marker owned by New York State

I spent perhaps much longer than I should have looking up all of the Historical Markers around this area. The great thing about this website is it contains all of the known markers in any given area. People and organizations have privately erected markers and memorials in addition to those erected by the state education department. Many of those markers look similar to the state erected markers, however, there are subtle differences in shape and wording.

Example of a privately erected and owned historical marker

One such is the Fantinekill Massacre monument near Ellenville. Life was not always peaceful around here.

Several markers appear faded and are in need of some attention. The New York Museum website gives good information on how to clean and repaint the markers:

  • Remove rust and scale with a wire brush. A heavily rusted surface will require a wire wheel and drill to clean. Be sure to wear the appropriate personal protection gear.
  • Paint the background surface with Rustoleum Gloss Exterior metal paint, color #7727, Royal Blue.
  • Paint the raised lettering with a small brush or foam pad with Rustoleum Gloss Exterior metal paint, color #7747, Sunburst Yellow.

Markers are often placed on the edge of the public road right of way. If the marker is on private property, then permission from the property owner must be obtained before entering said property. Markers that say “State Education Department,” are the property of New York State. If the marker does not say that, then the marker itself is also private property.

Here are a selection of interesting markers:

Privately erected and owned
Most likely privately owned
Privately owned, needs a touch up
State owned
State owned, on state road right of way
State owned, on private property
State owned, along a US Highway

How to Cook a Steak

Living room sofa; clear, 55.9 F 0653

My son is hitting his growth stage. As such, he is requesting lots of protein in his diet. I am all too happy to oblige him. One of his favorite meals these days; steak. For this, there are all sorts of ideas, recipes, dry rubs, aged meat and so on. I find simple is best.

The first step, get good meat. Grass fed beef has a different taste and texture. It is always important to understand the differences between grass fed and corn fed beef. Cattle are grazing animals. They take food which we cannot eat and turn it into products that we can eat. They are not designed to eat corn. In fact, eating too much corn based feed with cause their stomachs to get infected, which then requires antibiotics to cure. During their life time cattle are, in effect, giant food processors. They need to be treated humanely.

Next step, get the right cuts of beef. You want some fat, which adds flavor and contrary to popular opinion, is good for you. Grass fed beef tends to be a little bit tougher. For grilling; New York Strip steak, London Broil, or T-bone cuts are the best. T-bone steaks will tend to have the most fat.

Next step, good preparation. The only thing I put on steak is some salt. About 4-5 hours before cooking, I rub about 1/2 teaspoon of salt into both sides of the steak. This really makes the meat flavorful. Prior to cooking, I take the steak out of the fridge for 30-40 minutes and let it get to room temperature.

Steak cooked medium rare

Grilling is the easy part. Get the grill nice and hot, I usually have it on high for 5-10 minutes before putting the steak on. Next, cook the steak about 5 minutes on each side depending on how well or not well done you like your meat. If you want to make fancy crossed grill marks, then you can flip it over three times, once every 2.5 minutes. The internal temperature must reach 160 degrees F.

Yummy!

Finally, enjoy!

There is no A-1 and no barbecue sauce in my house. Well raised, well prepared meat does not need anything to cover up its flavor.

Repairing the XBox One S

Living room sofa; Partly cloudy, 43.2 F, 0607

I am not a huge fan of video games. I would rather get my kicks in real life, but then I am told that I am an odd person. Regardless of all that, my son has an XBox One S that he likes to play on. In this time of COVID-19, I suppose it is better to play video games than do other less productive things.

About a month ago or so, I complained to me that it was locked up and would not reboot. The dreaded System Error: E105.

Xbox One S System Error: E105
Malfunctioning Xbox One S

XBox (Microsoft) has a somewhat helpful troubleshooting guide on line; restart the machine, reset the machine, factory reset the machine, do an offline update, send the unit back. We got through to “do an offline update,” which fixed the problem.

Last week, it happened again. This time, the offline update failed, which left the last option of “send it back.” Microsoft wants $179.00 to fix these things, more if the hard drive needs to be replaced. That got me thinking, what if it is just the hard drive has failed. I can replace a hard drive no problem. Of course, there is a Youtube video on how to do just that. However, sometimes it is easier to read instructions off of a screen than watch a video. Thus, here are step by step instruction on how to replace the hard drive.

You will need the following items:

  • Basic prying tools to get the case apart
  • #10 Torx (AKA T-10) head screwdriver
  • A downloaded copy of the XBox operating system OSU1
  • A USB thumb drive of at least 6GB formated the NTFS
  • A replacement hard drive (I recommend a 1TB SSD like Crucial MX 500 (CT1000MX500SSD1)) (purchased from Amazon for $114.99)

The first thing you want to do is get the bottom off of the XBox One case. This is likely the most difficult part of the repair. Start at the corners of the unit. It is a little bit difficult to get the first catch to unhook. Once you get it started, work your way around until the bottom cover comes off.

Taking apart Xbox One S to replace HDD
Removing screws that hold the cover on

Once the bottom is off, you will see several screws. In my XBox unit, the long screws that hold the top on are green. Use the #10 Torx driver to remove these screws. There are six of them.

Next, carefully remove the Xbox top cover. Keep in mind, the back cover plate is separate from the top cover and stays with the inside parts of the XBox.

Once the top cover is off, you will see the fan and the hard drive. The hard drive is in a caddy which is attached to the bottom of the unit with three short screws. You should be able to figure out which three they are and remove them with a #10 Torx driver.

Installing new Crucial MX500 1TB drive in Xbox One S
Installing new SSD

The drive caddy will lift up. On the bottom there are four more short #10 Torx screws holding the drive in the caddy. Remove those, remove the power/data connector.

Re-assemble the XBox One in reverse order.

Failed 1TB HDD from Xbox One S
Failed 1TB HDD from Xbox One S

Download the Offline System Update File from support.xbox.com. Unzip OSU1 and copy the $SystemUpdate file to the thumb drive.

Start XBox One console. Plug XBox One into available USB port, navigate to the offline system update button and start reloading operating system. When completed, you will need to sign in and download your games.

My son noted that with the new SSD, the Xbox was working much faster than before.

I figured that I saved at least the $179.00 repair fee, the shipping costs, plus any markup Microsoft would have charged for the new hard drive. The entire repair took about an hour and a half.