Friday, June 23, 2017

Project House Update: I'm Finally An Expert in Something

One thing is for sure: Dan and I are getting much better at building houses for Desert Tortoises. The first time we built Turtle a house (at our new house), it had only survived two years before needing to be renovated. However, once we rebuilt it, we got almost four years out of it. However, between a pack rat, a bunch of lizards, a tortoise, and the elements, his house was definitely looking more shabby than chic.

The pack rat really made a mess of things again. It dug tunnels under the back of the house under the cinder block and compromised the integrity of the structure. We tried to patch things with additional bricks and rocks, but it wasn't enough and it continued to collapse on itself. With monsoon season less than a month away, I didn't believe the house would survive the daily thunderstorms.

This time, we made a plan, a very detailed one. That's what happens when you have two mechanical engineers who really don't want to have to keep rebuilding a reptile house. The plan was multi-layered.

  1. Add more cinder blocks so it would be harder for the pack rat to dig tunnels out from under it.
  2. Stake the cinder blocks with rebar so they would be less inclined to shift if tunnels did form.
  3. Fill the centers of the cinder blocks with cement to help keep them in place.
  4. Once the roof was placed back on, add another protective layer on top of the wood with tar paper or sheet metal roofing material. 
  5. Cover the top and sides of the structure with chicken wire and stake it into place. This would help keep the dirt in place on top of it and also hinder the pack rat from digging through it.
  6. Add a layer of non-smooth river rocks.
  7. Fill in all the gaps with dirt.
  8. Eventually, add some desert plants around the structure to prevent erosion. 

The huge fly in the ointment was the weather. With monsoon season only a couple of weeks away, we needed to rebuild his house ASAP. However, did you know it gets hot in Arizona? Not only hot, but we had a record-breaking heat wave. The temperatures were supposed to hit 115F and stay there.

It. was. miserable.

We were prepared and woke up bright and early on Sunday morning to beat the heat. It was still 90F by 8AM, but it could have been worse. We drank plenty of water and had sunscreen and protective clothing, but it was still brutal. We tried to work as fast as possible to get out of the sun.

Let me be real here: Dan did almost all the work. He was all the muscle. My contribution was planning and keeping this cheeky, little bastard out of the way. Turtle was incredibly interested in hat we were doing and kept trying to crawl into the middle of it. My job was to, about every 30 seconds, pick him up a couple of inches from the ground, move him five feet, and watch as he turned around and crawled back over. He is a very determined little reptile.

Most of the build went according to plan. Dan thought he had tar paper hoarded in his shop, but he didn't, so we used an insulating automobile fabric instead. I couldn't get the chicken wire to stake down as cleanly as I wanted so it will probably poke out through the dirt eventually. And lastly, the layer of river rocks under the dirt was maybe a half-dozen rocks. It was just too damn hot to try to collect and carry rocks. Turtle was itching to get back in his house so we shoveled dirt back on top and let him in.

His little pack rat buddy will probably move back in soon and try to cause trouble but it should at least be harder for him this time. I'm hoping that planting some creosote bushes along the base of the dirt mount will help keep things neater, too.

We'll see. If this one last five years, it's an improvement over the last design.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Space Turtle!

Have you ever done one of those 'Drink and Paint' classes? It's the new trend to go to a studio, have a couple of glasses of wine, and have an instructor walk you through a step by step canvas painting. I've always wanted to try one, but I either didn't like the painting subject or couldn't herd my friends into an organized group to try it.

I mean, it wasn't something I was losing sleep over, but it seemed like a fun thing to try. It probably would have never happened until the opportunity was thrust upon me. My sister found a 'Paint Your Patronus' paint party and strong-armed my mom and I into signing up with her. As much as I wanted to try one of these classes, I had some concerns. First, I'm not a big 'Harry Potter' fan. I couldn't care less about my patronus. Secondly, I don't drink so I was conscious of wasting money if drinks were included. And lastly, my mom is an artist. A professional, awesome artist. You can see her work here. My sister inherited the artistic gene from our mother and I got the engineering gene from our father. I didn't want my sister and my mom's paintings to be amazing and awesome and mine just be crap.

But I was signed up, so I picked a patronus, clearly Turtle, and sent a picture of him in to be sketched out in advance.

Typically, these sorts of events happen in a proper painting studio, but this one-off happened in a bar downtown. The other difference between this patronus event and normal events is that everyone had a different painting, a different patronus. Typically at these paint parties, everyone is painting the same sunset or the same tree with little heart leaves. But you really couldn't expect everyone to have the same patronus, right? There were a lot of deer, rabbits, and owls, but I had the only tortoise and one woman had a glass of wine.

It was a fun event, but it was definitely chaotic. Fortunately, each canvas had their patronus pre-sketched onto it so we had some guidelines. Without that, mine would have been a complete mess.

The bar wasn't set up well for the event and I couldn't see any of the sample painting as we went through the steps. It became a weird sort of telephone game of interpreting what I was supposed to do by words only. 'Paint wavy lines starting at your patronus' became 'a background of wavy lines', not what it was supposed to be, smoke coming off the patronus. I didn't have a clue what I was doing most of the time, but that didn't stop me. In hindsight, a tortoise shell had way too many details on it to fit into the painting techniques we were being walked through. My Turtle painting is definitely more 'Space Turtle' than 'Patronus', but I think I like it better that way. Like something from Terry Pratchett, he drifts slowly through space, watching over the galaxy.

And speaking of watching over, I hung him in front of the toilet in the guest room, so he can watch over and judge anyone using the bathroom.

In the future, I'd still like to try a class where we all paint the same thing. My next masterpiece won't be as close to my heart as my Space Turtle, but maybe it will be more along my skill set.

If you are in the Tucson area and would like to try one of these classes, check out Tipsy Picasso.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Fan of Friday: Week of 6/2/2017

This week I am a fan of the website, Shapeways. It's a 3D printing website that lets you upload your own designs and have them created in a variety of mediums. While I haven't uploaded any of my own designs yet, I have fallen in love with many things, especially DnD dice.

When we started playing DnD back at the beginning of the year, most of my group went out immediately and bought cute sets of matching dice. I couldn't find any that really spoke to me until I started looking at the custom ones on etsy. They were expensive, but oh so pretty.

I went without dice for several months, borrowing them from people. Over time, I realized two things: 1) I don't like matching sets of dice because I can't tell them apart. They all look too similar and I don't want to worry that I've picked up the wrong one, and 2) I don't really like the plastic, molded conventional dice.

I was ready to break down and buy a bunch on etsy when I stumbled across the website that produces the fancy ones, Shapeways. I probably spent more on dice than any reasonable human should (except for maybe Dan who for some reason bought thirteen sets of dice, no exaggeration), but they are so pretty that I carry them everywhere with me in my purse. Because they are 3D printed, they are great to show off to just about everyone I know, one of the perks of being a mechanical engineer.

The majority of my dice are gold colored steel. This is my six sided die, or as us nerds call it, a 'd6'.

This is my eight sided die, also in gold colored steel.

I meant to just buy one of everything, but I couldn't choose between these two ten sided die so I just bought both. My house may be a fixer upper and my car may be sixteen years old, but I make it rain when it comes to dice. This 'd10' is gold colored steel.

This 'd10' is my only die that's not gold colored steel; it's polished brass. It meant that it cost more, but it was just too pretty to pass up.

This is my gold colored 'd12'. As a Goliath fighter, I haven't had much reason to use it yet, but when I get more powerful, it'll do some damage.

This is the die that started the love affair. My beautiful 'd20' that I lusted for on etsy. I expected it to be a beast, but it's hollow so it shouldn't destroy as many tables.

And again, it was a one percenter's 'Sophie's Choice' and I couldn't choose between these two insane 'd20's. While the other one was my first love, this one wouldn't leave my heart either.

My only die that isn't from Shapeways is my 'd4'. I really wanted a rectangular 'd4', rather than the traditional triangular design. This one is hand-forged by a partner of 'Critical Role'. Again, I don't have much reason to use it, but that doesn't hinder my love for it.

I will say, for as much as I love Shapeways, I have had a miss with it. I ordered these 'd20' earrings as a gift for a friend and both arrived damaged. I have had great luck with the printed metal pieces, but these 'Black Strong and Flexible' ones did not live up to their material name.

Lastly (I've rambled a lot about my little trinkets), Shapeways is the 3D printing company that produces all the Hero Forge minis, like my beautiful Goliath.

As an engineer and designer, I'm excited to design and upload some of my own pieces in the future!