The Harbor Freight Conundrum

People love to hate on Harbor Freight.  I’ve had people who don’t work with tools professionally, or regularly, or even occasionally – total non-DIYers – proclaim HF to be the “Wal-Mart of Tools” and vow to never buy anything from there.

And I sort of get it.  I’ve seen lots of equipment of questionable quality from HF.  But I’ve seen the same from Lowes and Home Depot, and even the mighty Craftsman name has been branded onto some real garbage.  Sears – once absolutely trusted for tools if nothing else – has fallen off, especially in the realm of power tools.

And some of us don’t need that saw that can handle being run 7 hours a day 7 days a week.  Some of us need it for a project or two.  Some of us just want to try our hand at something, and can’t afford to make an investment into professional level equipment to do it.

However, I’m definitely That Guy when it comes to “disposable” tools.  Disposable anything, really.  I hate cheap shoes, cheap printers, cheap anything that’s designated as throwaway rather than repair when it breaks.

So there’s a balance to be struck.  Is everything at Harbor Freight crap?  I don’t know… but luckily I’ve found a thread on The Garage Journal where pros and serious DIYers weigh in on their Harbor Freight purchases.  Some of the info within is expected – and some is surprising.  This thread’s an invaluable resource, I think.

The Deck Continues

I actually finished this awhile ago, but I’ve been engrossed in things other than posting to sites no one sees.

After opting to forgo fancy wire cabling deck rails in the name of being frugal, I decided to go traditional with the two unsafe areas of the lower deck that needed railing.  In the process I managed to recycle a lot of materials from that left at the house by the previous owner.

photo 1Running beneath the previously installed privacy screen.

photo 2The other side.  The railing here wasn’t missing, but what was there wasn’t tied in correctly on either side, and was wibbly and loose.  It was also constructed by the ubiquitous brad nailer the previous owner so loved to use on everything.

photo 3So I tore it all out and redid it, including redoing the stair bannister.  It’s much better.  You can get an idea of the “quality” of workmanship I’ve been dealing with by scoping out the rail on the upper deck.  It really seems like the railings were total afterthoughts.  I’ll be redoing the upstairs next.  Then I’ll put a sloped ceiling above the lower deck to divert precipitation and we’ll paint the whole mess something purty.


Resizing a VirtualBox VDI

Expanding drive space in VirtualBox has gotten easier!  Just clone the VDI (this step isn’t required, but if something goes wrong you’ll be happy you did it), then zap the clone with this:

VBoxManage modifyhd <absolute path to file> --resize <size in MB>

Fire up the clone.  If you’re running a modern Windows OS you can use Disk Manager to expand the partition to fill the volume.  Otherwise check out gparted.


Cleaning iPhone 5 Holes

My iPhone 5 stopped charging the other day.  My employer just upgraded me from the 4 not too long ago, and I knew they wouldn’t be happy with me telling them my new phone wasn’t working.  I peeked into the charging cable hole and saw roughly 5 tones of pocket lint within.  After rooting around a bit I found the perfect device with which to get it all out.


GUM Soft Pick.  Normally I would never, ever support these things.  They’re a waste of material, and the ocean is probably littered with them already.  I hate – HATE – single use shit like this.  But we had a couple laying around from a dentist visit.  I snipped off the pointiest bit of one and used the remainder to dig around in my phone (which I’d turned off of course).  The rubberyness of the pick grabbed the lint and drug it out no problem.

HP OfficeJet Pro Plus 8600 time date problems

I got this new printer/fax/scanner/toaster the other day.  It’s a cheap home version of an office multifunction copier.  So far it’s nifty enough for the price.  One giant complaint I found online is people being unable to accurately set the date/time on it, which effects time stamps for emails and faxes.  After fiddling I believe I’ve figured it out.  It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, completely unintuitive.

printerAbove is the time setup in the web config.  You can hit this with it on wireless – no need to have your computer physically plugged into the printer. Set the Current Device Time to actual GMT using the Date field and stupid drop downs for Time.   No, not the current time in your zone…. GMT.  Check the box for Use the same time zone set on this computer and Apply it. This should make the device subtract or add the correct amount of hours from the GMT setting to correctly time stamp correspondence sent from it.  When you return to this page the Current Time will continue to show GMT, not your zone’s time.  I know, I know, that’s stupid too.   An easy test to confirm things are set up correctly is to go into the scan/email set up and send a test page.

Privacy Barrier 1

Completing the privacy barrier on the back deck.  We doubled up on the fabric because the single layer was just a bit too thin.  The cat isn’t going to appreciate us cutting into her deck sun rays.  She’s gonna have to learn to go into the yard I’m afraid.

IMG_0464From the deck…

IMG_0471From the other side.  I’ve abandoned the idea of replacing all those slats with cabling on the railings.  While I think it would look groovy, it’s just too expensive.  It’s stunning how much that stuff costs… I averaged it at around $60 plus a cable a side.  Since code requires there to be no more than a 4.5 inch gap between them… well, you do the math.  It’s just some damned metal wire and grommety ends.  I don’t know why it’s so expensive.  THE COST OF DECK CABLING IS TOO DAMN HIGH!

Aaand, if that’s the worst of your problems you’re doing a-OK.

Next projects, not necessarily in order: redo the deck railings, fixing and or replacing all the way around, building a fence hanging raised bed for some herbs, building a privacy structure for our dining room window that overlooks the neighbors dining room.

More house – siding and deck

The back decks, they be a wreck.  Beneath the top deck the previous owner didn’t bother to put any siding between the joists.  He left the underlying particle board exposed and just painted it to match the house.  Between weather and the hot tub on the deck above it took a lot of abuse.  I opted to run flashing (leftover from what was removed on the deck above) down each and then cover with lap siding.

IMG_0453Flashing up.  See the massive post next to the steps?  That’s new too.  Temporary box at the base, filled with cement.  There was no railing on this side of the deck.  We’re remedying that too.

IMG_0452Running lag bolts in to secure post.

IMG_0455Siding up and ready for paint – if we can ever choose the colors.

IMG_0462Installed a railing and putting up cedar slats for privacy.  Once they’re run all the way up we’re going to affix privacy fabric to this side of them.  Our hope is that it’ll let in some light while obscuring the view into (and out of) the neighbors dining room and kitchen windows, which are a unnervingly close.

IMG_0463Other side.  I’m still trying to decide whether to finish out the lower with the traditional wooden slats as on the other sides of the deck or to pull all that mess out and run cabling.  I think money will be the deciding factor.

Tools I’m wishing I had:  Chop saw, router+table, band saw.  In time…

Buying a foreclosure – Plumbing

Oh, the things the uninitiated don’t think about when buying a foreclosure.  Like, do you know where the sewage clean out is?  How about the whole house shutoff?  Does the irrigation system work?  How?

Here are the answers as applicable to us:

  • Where’s the clean out?  Why, the previous owner poured the cement front stoop on top of it!
  • Where’s the whole house shutoff?  Buried far beneath the irrigation system stuff.  Like, truly buried.  In earth. So it’s a rusted bad gamble (plumber quote: “Don’t touch it.  Ever.”)
  • Does the irrigation system work?  Sure.  It does.  There’s no city required double check on it though.  And the fence company managed to hide some of the heads behind (and one actually beneath) the fence.

We started down this watery path because the water heater is as old as the house, and struggled to provide more than one short shower’s worth of hot water.  Unacceptable in a town as cold as Bend.  We dug up half the yard hunting for the shutoff only to finally discover it in the aforementioned area beneath the front irrigation controls.  We opted to dig out all around that and the irrigation in order to save labor charges because we were clearly gonna need a plumber.

IMG_0382One of the fun things about living next to an extinct (dormant?) volcano is that you’re atop nothing but lava rock.

IMG_0381Lots and lots of big, heavy lava rock.  This is why a rock drill is a default tool for the fencing companies around here.

So the plumbing guys came out and told us that in order to meet code we needed a new whole house shutoff, a whole house double check valve (which we lacked), and a separate double check for the irrigation.  We put them to work on the shutoff and main double check, only to find out after the fact that the city of Bend is putting in double checks on every house in the city limits on their own dime (well, on our taxes), and that we didn’t have to do it ourselves.

The plumbing company is assuring us they’re going to “make it right,” whatever that means.  We shall see.  In the meantime I worked with the plumber they sent out (he was good stuff, and none of the double check mess is his fault) and armed with the knowledge gained from that I’m going to attempt to tackle my irrigation woes on my own.

Oh, we also put in a low rent clean out in the crawlspace.  It’s not technically to code, but if we ever have a localized sewage problem it’ll do the trick.

I still don’t like plumbing, but I’m getting a little braver about delving into it.