Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Motivating My Kids

As a parent, getting the kids to do what they are supposed to do is the biggest challenge.  I can handle the birds and bees talks, the life and death discussions - but getting the kids to DO something they don't want to do has got to be the biggest challenge.

Tonight, I had a revelation from God and broke it down for Offspring #1.  The example at hand was cleaning the bedroom (a certified disaster area eligible for federal funds).   I taught 4 principles for tackling a seemingly insurmountable job that I thought were worth recording here for others.

Principle 1: Awareness.  You have to know what the job is, identify it's parts and take stock of what needs to be done.  Do you have the tools you'll need (baskets for misc toys, etc.)?  Never let yourself say "I can't" or "I'll try" because the first totally preempts victory and the second allows the possibility of failure.

Principle 2: Discipline. You'll need to keep reminding yourself of what the task consists of until it's done.  It's the only way you'll know when you are done and it is essential to keeping your mind focussed on the task.  If you need to make a list, do that.  If you need to break the work up into visual chunks, you can do that too.  A strategy I teach everyone here for attacking a messy room is to categorize.  Pick the biggest category of item and get all of that first.  It optimizes your time and frees your mind from the dullness of thinking about each item one at a time.

Principle 3: Motivation. Make a game out of it.  A favorite game here is "mail" where things get picked up into a bag and then "delivered" to where they need to go.  "beat the clock" and "i spy" work well too.  I also pointed out the value of tackling the low hanging fruit first (and what that meant) and how small victories encourage you to tackle larger items, so organizing your work from smallest to largest can work too.  Celebrate each small victory.

Principle 4: Endurance.  The most important thing to achieving total victory over a task is to complete it.  That last fraction will be tempting to put off until later, but do it now while you're still motivated and have momentum.  It's the hardest thing besides getting started but the biggest victory because victory over the last fraction of the job is victory over the entire job.

Brilliant Offspring #1 (we'll name this one someday) added Principle 5: Celebrate!  When you accomplish a big goal, it's time for a big celebration.  Cookies and milk, having a friend over to play, whatever is suitable to the work accomplished.

As I was typing this, my little ward came down with a crayon written version (from memory, with some adaptations) of the above in short form and asked me to type it up and print a copy.  So we did and now it's officially a tool for use in the Carter house. :-)

DIY TV Repair

I confess, that title sounds like the lead in for a comedy sketch or a photographic essay on the misapplication of duct-tape.  But, by the grace of God, it's the truth.  Our TV started flaking out last Thursday and my resourceful wife Googled the model number and problem description and was able to secure information and detailed instruction for repair.  Armed with this knowledge, I set about deconstructing our 5 year old (bought factor refurbished no less) flat panel TV.  After about 40 screws were removed and carefully grouped on the workbench by geographic origin, I was able to gingerly dislodge the circuit board for the power supply, locate the three failed capacitors (bulged out on top a slight bit rather than perfectly flat) and remove them.

The following morning, out for breakfast with Offspring #1, we picked up three new capacitors with the same mili-jule rating (1000uf) at a slightly higher voltage, 35v as opposed to the parts being replaced which were 25v.  I also needed a desoldering tool as I couldn't clear the holes on the board with my improvised bit of wire.  All told, the cost was $16.33 including tax.  I think the capacitors were only $1.87 a piece or so... expensive as capacitors go but the price to pay for one-off access (in multiples of 3).

My wife and I agreed, $16.33 is much more affordable than a new TV or a $75 minimum repair look-see.  And, to my amazement, the  whole thing works just fine... and I learned a bit about capacitors.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall Project Barrage

This past weekend was a good opportunity to catch up on a couple of items that I've been wanting to knock out.

Hung Out To Dry

We decided we liked the clothesline arrangement out back so the posts got set in cement Saturday.  It's getting too cold to use them now but we might chance one or two more days of use before winter really sets in.  Making inside arrangements for clothes drying without electricity has been the subject of some research and discussion.

The "Amish" make collapsible wooden drying racks that look really nice and fold away for storage.  Unfortunately, good ones start around $80 and go up from there.  Plus they take up floor space which, in our somewhat cramped family room in the basement, is at a premium.  God blessed me though with a new friend at work who shares many if not all of my values and views.  He's a remarkable individual in his own right having survived near total bodily decimation in an auto wreck 20 years ago.  On a recent visit to his place, I noticed a very sad looking "party" deck in the back yard.  I asked him if he had plans to fix it up.  "I want it gone."  A quick visual inventory told me that it was a trove of reusable materials, so I offered to help demolish it in exchange for first pick of the best parts.  He readily agreed as his wife was keen to have it gone as well.  A couple of weeks later we were having a party with the Sawsall and a nice hefty sledgehammer.  The railing was made out of 7/8 inch rigid conduit and was one of the first things I called dibs on.  And that's where this story and the need for clothes drying space inside meet.

Taking two six foot lengths of the pipe, I assembled some home-brew expanding gaskets using about $3.00 worth of hardware from Wal-mart.  Starting with a 1-1/2" x 1/8" screw I added:
  1. a small lock washer 
  2. a 5/8 inch washer
  3. a 1" x 2" strip of felt folded thrice and wrapped around the screw
  4. an additional 5/8 " washer
  5. a 6" length of 350 lb. dog chain
  6. one final 5/8 washer and...
  7. the nut.

This assembly was placed inside the end of the pipe and then the nut was tightened, compressing the felt between the two inner washers.  I kept tightening till the gasket made a very snug fit inside the pipe.  Repeating this at the opposite end, I hung the chains from the bottom of the floor joists by screwing 1/2" wood screws through the other end of the chain.  Et viola, semi-instant clothes hanging space.  Using plastic hangers and clothes-pins where needed, we have enough hanging space to dry a load of laundry up out of the way.

Electric Crusade

Last month I posted our results for our electric bill attained by turning off the water heater except when needed.  We managed to narrow it down to about 3 hours a night.  To our great joy, our electric bill for last month was only $87 for roughly 600 kw hrs.  This is half the electricity we would use keeping it on all the time.  That pretty much sold us that it would be worth the hassle for me to wire up the 40 Amp 220 V Timer.   I sent a call out to our neighborhood network seeking just 5 ft. of 10-2 660v wire.  Fortunately, the engineer down the street was installing an electric space heater in his garage last weekend and after getting it run, he had 5 1/2 ft. left over.  God is good!  He was happy to let me have it (and knows I'm happy to share whatever excess I find myself in possession of that fits his future needs as well) and inside an hour I had the switch wired in.

I started by cutting the mains and then cutting the line coming out of the main panel leaving enough to bend it into a new junction box and splice the new wire in.  I used heavy gauge wiring nuts to connect the new splice to the old wire.  10 gauge wire is stiff stuff, so it was easy to use needle nose pliers to bend the leads into alignment like small pipes to make twisting the wiring nuts on easy.  The timer simply mounted to the same board the main panel and new junction box are fastened too.  After carefully studying the wiring diagram, I cut the spliced in line and threaded it through the knock-outs on the timer box  and made the connections.   This particular timer is electro-mechanical and so "setting" the timer involves screwing the properly colored cut-in and cut-out tabs onto the timer wheel.  We set the timer to run the water heater from 6:30 to 9:30 and after a day of use it seems to be sufficient for our 78 gallon tank which has a 4 inch foam jacket.   The other nice feature is that it has a manual cutoff/on switch which itself is actuated with the timer, so you can turn it off early if you like or on early if you like.

I'll report back in the future to let you know if our savings hold out.  One future bit of data crunching to do yet is to compare the dollar figures from last months chart with the actual price per kwh we were paying.  That, I expect, will show that while we've been cutting our use, the cost has been rising with the down economy (for various reasons - lack of wholesale buyers to offset our facilities costs for one) and while we're making good progress against our cost here, it could be a lot lower with the cuts and improvements we've made.

Hogan Hero

The last bit of fun this weekend was building the shell of a Navajo Hogan, sans dug out, out of cedar rails for the kids and their friends to play in.  It was an immediate hit and was occupied for the remainder of the day till sunset.  I got the idea from D.C. Beard's Shelters, Shacks, And Shanties.  It's a great resource for educating your own woodland critters on the finer points of wilderness survival.    A real hogan is sometimes big enough for a man to stand in and is usually dug into the earth or overlaid with sod or dirt.  Ours is just a free standing arrangement of cedar rails for demonstration and play purposes.  Having had a lot of fun building it though, I think we might build a real one (including digging the pit to set it over) out near our campsite sometime next year.  Maybe.  I suppose the last thing they need is a place to get into trouble hidden away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.