Snap-On FHLF80 ratchet

Earlier this week, I received a new Snap-On FHLF80 ratchet. Like all the Snap-On Dual80 ratchets, it’s smooth and slender. It is a 3/8″ drive, long handle, flex-head model with soft grip. I prefer the soft grips due to the arthritis in my right hand.

It comes with a red soft-grip, which I replaced with an orange soft-grip (part number FH936-12O). Here’s a picture of it with the red grip:

And one with the orange grip:

And closeups of the red and orange grips:

One thing to note about the Snap-On soft-grips: the grips are slimmer than Matco soft-grips. This is a blessing and a curse. The Matco are more comfortable to me, but the Snap-On are slightly easier to fit between obstructions in a modern engine compartment. I haven’t taken the grip off of a Matco yet, but I suspect the shaft is thicker under the grip than the Snap-On. While I’d argue that’s good for strength, the reality is that I’ve never bent one of the Snap-On handles and warranty would cover it anyway.

Reflecting on 20 years of craftsmanship

This year marked my 20th year as a professional software developer. The anniversary transpired without hoopla.

I’m going to talk about the subject of craftsmanship in general. Why?

Some of us strive to be very good at what we do. It’s my definition of craftsman. Regardless of what anyone else thinks about my work, I find it far and away much more critical to be able to look at my work years later and know that I performed it to the best of my ability. I hold my humility very dear; the lack of it is in direct conflict with the pursuit of knowledge and skill.

Wield a hammer and chisel, a paintbrush, wrenches, a pen, a chef’s knife, a chainsaw or a keyboard (or all of the above)… what’s worth doing is worth learning to do right. That doesn’t mean “It’ll never be finished”, it means “I will do my best, I will make mistakes and learn from them, I will be patient and persistent.”

In 2010 I discovered The Garage Journal, a wonderful forum. It has made me consider my collection of tools in every category… mechanical, woodworking, electrical/electronic, software, kitchen appliances… the things that enable a craftsman or craftswoman to work more productively, to take their work to the next level, to stand on the shoulders of those that preceded us. “What’s in your toolbox?” is a fascinating question to me that can lead in many directions and a long conversation. “What have you created, improved, modified or repaired with the tools at hand?” is an even better question.

I happen to be reflecting on the tools recently because I’m migrating my source code repository and it’s interesting to see what has collected in my software toolbox. The analogies to mechanical tools abound. There are the favorites we’ve used countless times; well-worn and intimate. On the software front, that would be C++ for me, in no small part because it’s a language that can cover a LOT of ground (from embedded to large desktop GUI applications to huge distributed systems). While I write C in automotive embedded environments professionally right now, I continue to write software for my desktop (FreeBSD), my servers (FreeBSD), my laptop (OS X), my iPhone, small embedded devices for home, etc. This means I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time using C, php, perl, javascript, flex, bison, objective-C, java, shell scripts… the list is long. On my web server alone, there’s a good chunk of my own code using php, C++ and javascript. My desktop… more than I care to admit.

Then there are the tools we’ve created ourselves. For a mechanic, it could be as simple as a custom cheater bar or a cut-up wrench to get to that waterpump fastener that seems near impossible to reach. For a woodworker it might be the bench you built. For a software developer, it might be the libraries you authored and use regularly (in my case, libDwm would be a good example).

Some tools find their way into our box out of curiosity, fascination, or just shininess, only to find their way to the bottom of a drawer to collect dust indefinitely. Others save our butt for one task, never to be used again.

Of course, let’s not forget the tools we lust after. For myself… I’d like a new Apple desktop computer, a new 4-channel oscilloscope, a 2-post car lift, a cabinet-grade table saw…

However, a true craftsman gets by with the tools at his disposal. And here’s where software is different than many other crafts; many of the tools are available with only a time investment, not a monetary investment. Download open source, spend some time learning to use it, and produce new software. There’s an up-front cost for the hardware to host the software, but beyond that it’s a wide open world for nearly free. If writing software for personal use, there is no monetary penalty for mistakes. It’s just time (which is worth more than money, but that’s not my point… my point is that the barrier to entry is low). In the embedded software world, if you choose your platform carefully, you can accomplish quite a bit with a small monetary investment. If you’re familiar with electronics, you can design your own circuit boards (and have them fabricated) at a fairly reasonable cost.

Interestingly, some of the “I can see and touch” stuff is also becoming easier for the single designer and craftsman to create. Sites like allow us mere dabblers to design physical objects and have them machined or otherwise fabricated at a reasonable cost with convenience we could only dream about 20 years ago. And software is at the center of it, from Web servers to CAD software to procurement and logistics systems to the software running on the CNC machines. It begs the question: where would be be if computers and software had never been invented?

When it comes to producing things at home, we’ve also forged ahead rapidly. While I bemoan the fact that a considerable amount of tool manufacturing has moved overseas, the flip side is that many tools are now within the reach of the average consumer and it’s not difficult to choose the ones that meet your quality/price ratio.  Reviews are fairly easy to find inline, as are tool and craftsman-related forums in nearly every category of interest: general, mechanical, woodworking, metalworking, machining, welding, finishing, electronics, software… you name it.

My hat’s off to everyone involved in making it easier for those craftspersons among us to convert what’s in our heads to something the rest of the world can see, hear, touch or use.

cleaning up the attached garage bay (the batcave): part 5

The last 2 weeks, I’ve spent my spare time continuing to clean the floor. Last Sunday I decided to stop fussing over it. I’ve managed to remove all the glaring nasty stuff… SO much spilled paint, primer, roof tar I don’t know what else! But to get all of it would require several more weeks working on my hands and knees, or renting a decent-sized concrete grinder. Not worth it. I washed it the last time in preparation for a BLT G-Floor mat (gray coin pattern). I put my dehumidifier in the bay and ran it all week.

Tonight the bay was very dry, with a relative humidity of 35 percent. I rolled out the G-Floor mat. It’s 10′ wide and 24′ long, which leaves 6′ at the end uncovered, and roughly 18″ uncovered along one side. On the 6′ end that’s uncovered, I will either leave it bare or put down a BLT motorcycle mat. I don’t really have the option of leaving the 18″ side bare, since it will be damaged when I try to roll my jack over it to jack up the passenger side of my cars. I’m looking at getting something like McMaster-Carr 6821T714 to cover the edge there.

cleaning up the attached garage bay (the batcave): part 4

Last night I mounted the 5th fluorescent light. I think I’m done for now, and will utilize the 6th light elsewhere or just keep it as a spare. 300W of fluorescent light seems like enough for my purposes in this single garage bay. It’s definitely better than I had before, and the installation is MUCH cleaner than what was there previously.

Tonight I replaced the worn-out outlet that was used for the old rickety fluorescent lights. One of the problems with this outlet is that the box is mounted too deep, and some erosion of the surrounding plaster (it’s actually stucco). The outlet itself wasn’t snugged up against anything. I shimmed the new outlet with washers to make it snug against the box.

I am going to look at getting rid of the long extension cord used to power the central vacuum; it’s awkward and in the way. That would simply mean installing an outlet and running wire to it. Maybe a new breaker so it has its own circuit. Relatively easy to do since the basement ceiling is unfinished. I don’t use the central vacuum since it’s weak and a power hog compared to my uprights, but I didn’t take down the extension cord for it since the owners used it.

cleaning up the attached garage bay (the batcave): part 3

Tonight I finished the wiring for the lights.

First I finished the conduit work, including a solid EMT elbow to bring the wiring into the wall. I reinforced the entry with a piece of 3/4″ plywood that I drilled a hole in and then hammered a straight set-screw coupler into the plywood. It’s not going anywhere, I think I could hang my weight on it without it moving.

I then finished wiring all of the outlets.

I removed the existing single-gang switch box and enlarged the hole to fit a double-gang switch box. I then pulled the wire to it from the junction box, installed the switch box, wired the switches, and buttoned things up.

It’s so nice to be able to flip a switch to get bright light instead of messing with an awful plug on the end of solid wire and worrying about a very heavy 8′ fluorescent light falling on me or my car! The 4′ shop lights I installed are lightweight and attached very firmly to the ceiling.

I have one light left to hang, and a spare that I may or may not hang. I also need a cover for the junction box.

sub-par electronic design in GE appliances

Two days ago my 1994-vintage GE countertop microwave oven started misbehaving. It would not start unless I jiggled the door. I assumed the door switches needed cleaning.

Last night it went further awry. The blower would run when I _opened_ the door and stop when I closed the door. I’m assuming the interlock switches prevented it from running the magnetron, but nonetheless it’s disturbing for the microwave to seem to be running while the door is open.

The root cause: a small, low quality Korean-made microswitch with 120V across the contacts and 10A of current (more during start-up). The switch is rated for 15A and 250V, but… every time the microwave door is opened while the microwave is running, arcing will occur. What happened in my case: the contact that is supposed to be depressed by the plunger when the door is closed had deteriorated to the point where a piece of it fell off. That piece had positioned itself such than when I opened the door, the piece would straddle the remains of the contacts and the microwave would start. Closing the door moved it out of the way, opening the circuit.

I can’t really complain since this was an inexpensive microwave that lasted nearly 17 years. However… it goes to show what can happen when a designer thinks he’s doing the right thing for the target price range but uses a sub-par part. Why a mechanical switch instead of a relay or contactor? Because in theory it tends to have safer modes of failure (high mechanical leverage against the contact spring to prevent contact sticking, etc.). But if you use an el-cheapo part and don’t test it for the many thousands of cycles it’s expected to see over the long haul, you’re gambling.

Arcing wasn’t the only issue. The microswitch housing was deformed from heat. If you ask me, a switch of this size and design shouldn’t be carrying 10A of current on a regular basis. Once the contacts are dirty from arcing, there’s more heat being generated than the housing is designed to handle, which causes the contacts to melt the housing. This accelerates the demise of the switch. When I tried to remove the 2-pole connector from the switch, one of the contacts came right out of the housing instead of the connector coming off of the contact. And it was black from arcing and melted plastic (the switch housing is gray).

Since I’m an electrical engineer by training (but not by profession), I diagnosed the problem and ordered a replacement part. Hopefully I can make it a habit to turn the microwave off from the front panel before opening the door to prevent the switch arcing. There’s nothing I can do about the fact that it carries 10 amps of current when the microwave is on, unless I get motivated to replace it with a normally-open relay and energize the relay coil (low voltage, low current) from the switch instead of letting the switch carry the load current.

I wonder if there are any microwaves with the smarts to open and close the load relay at the zero-crossing of the AC input voltage…

Creating new Subversion repository part 1

In order to retire my old CVS and Subversion server, I need to migrate everything to my new web server.  In the process, I intend to migrate the old code in CVS to Subversion.

I installed Subversion 1.6.15 from ports on all of my FreeBSD machines.  I then created an svn user on www, which will be my new Subversion server.

I need to think about how to organize the new repository (or repositories).  All I know at the moment is that I want libDwm to have its own repository.