Farewell Brood X

I’m trying to remember to write down my observances of this year’s Brood X cicada emergence, so that I have some data points to refer back to when the next wave shows up in another 17 years. I don’t have a single photo or note from 2004, which is somewhat unfortunate, but my priorities were elsewhere back then. I guess that’s yet another neat thing about periodical cicadas — they provide reference points for different stages of life. Anyhow, this year’s crop is really winding down. Yesterday, I took a 5 mile walk. Most of the cicadas I saw on the ground were dead, although there were a few live ones here and there. The chorus in the trees is trailing off. Today was cool and rainy, and there was no real sign of them at all. So… for posterity: in our area, things kicked off around May 20, peaked around June 7, and wrapped up around June 21-22. Goodbye, Brood X. Hope to see you again in 2038, and maybe a few of you in 2025 and 2034.

Top 10 Geocache Finds, 2018 Edition

Once again, I had to make some tough eliminations to trim this list down to just 10. I’ll list the “honorable mentions” at the end of this post. Without further ado, in no particular order:

  • Hyndman’s Mail Path Cache (GCNXM9)
    A classic traditional hide on a mountaintop outside Hyndman, PA, which is due north of Cumberland, MD. This was a great hike in an out-of-the-way rural area, and a great find on a cache that had been lonely for 2 years. It got a couple more well-deserved visits after I found it in July, though.
  • Huh? Too (GC373XV)
    This is a puzzle cache hidden on an island in Liberty Reservoir. It took me quite awhile to get the final coordinates. The challenge was not so much figuring out how to solve it, but rather, where to look to find the solution. Thanks to NCPositronics, I had the opportunity to paddle a kayak on Liberty Reservoir for the first time ever (along with Alzarius, who joined me in NCP’s tandem kayak).
  • Diablo Point Cache (GCFE)
    A December 2000 hide located near the peak of South Mountain, just outside Phoenix, AZ. Quite the adventure hiking/scrambling 5 miles up the mountain in the 100° desert heat, but I came prepared, and lived to tell the tale.
  • USS Midway (a Virtual Reward Cache) (GC7B69J)
    This is my favorite of the virtual reward caches I have found to date. A very well-done scavenger hunt aboard the U.S.S. Midway, a retired WWII aircraft carrier which is now a floating museum on San Diego harbor. A definite must-do when visiting there.
  • Psycho Urban Cache #7 – A Good Day to Die (GCQHBH)
    What top-10 list would be complete without a PUC?? This was a fun urban spelunking adventure just outside Frederick, MD. It was noteworthy in that we completed it in the rain. The stage 1 tunnel was dry when we crawled down it, but after making the final find, we noticed water pouring out of it. I guess we finished in the nick of time!
  • Tarryall (GC18)
    This is the oldest active cache in the state of Colorado, placed in July 2000. I made the drive to it from Golden (just outside Denver) in February, dealing with some really dodgy weather along the way. Again, I lived to tell the tale. As with much of Colorado, the area around the hide is beautiful and bucolic. This find completed my first loop of the famous Jasmer Challenge.
    This is an extremely fun, creative puzzle/multi located in southern Maryland that doesn’t get nearly enough visits. The field puzzle by itself is worth a favorite point, but the hike is just as awesome.
  • The Catoctin Mountain Geology Tour (GC7R9VC)
    An ambitious EarthCache in Catoctin Mountain National Park that features some incredible views and a really nice hike. Definitely not one for the “numbers” cachers. 🙂
  • Extreme Geocacher Challenge (GC4N1EW)
    Another crazy adventure in Middle River, MD that involves doing fun, dangerous stuff. What more do I need to say?!?
  • The Ghosts of DelMar (MD/DE Virtual Challenge) (GC3VJWF)
    You might say that 2018 was a slow year for caching for me, but I did complete a few challenges that I had been working on for a long time. One of them was this one, which requires finds on every virtual cache in Maryland and Delaware. It was quite an adventure going after all of them, but well worth it.

Honorable Mentions (because I couldn’t just leave them out, could I?):

  • The Maryland and Delaware DeLorme Challenge (GCR7CH)
  • Ever changing Island (GC7B7XC)
  • Thousand Steps Cache (GC59AF)
  • DO NOT Release the Kraken: 1 (GC7WA3N)
  • Puzzle Prep – Cryptography (GC5JJ5H)

Greetings Earthlings

I took a look at my long-neglected blog this afternoon, and realized that it has been about 2.5 years since I posted anything here. That’s right around the time I picked up geocaching as a hobby, and ever since then, I’ve been using my geocaching logs to get my writing fix. Still, it sometimes feels like I lost something when I abandoned the blog. There’s something to be said for just stopping to write whatever comes to mind, whenever the spirit moves me. It’s kind of like a public diary. Maybe I should return here every now and then. I’m here now, at any rate.

I am still commuting by bike regularly, although I’ve dropped from 4-5 days per week down to 2-3 days per week. The lack of bike infrastructure in my area, combined with the realization that no one is really doing anything to improve matters (in spite of talking a good game), has left me a little jaded. It actually seems like the area is getting less bike friendly over time. I no longer find myself looking forward to riding, although I’m sticking with it because it’s become routine, and it keeps me in shape. I hope the situation changes, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe it’s time for a new bike; that might improve my outlook. Moving would also help. You can bet that when we eventually move, we’ll be taking a close look at walkability and bikeability of the areas we consider.

On the positive side, a year or two ago, I discovered that I can hike to work. I have to allow about two hours each way, so it’s not something I can do every day. But recently, I’ve refined and improved my route a bit, and am doing it about once a week. The majority of my route takes me through Patapsco Valley State Park, which is a really nice walk. The route is strenuous, and complements the biking nicely. I’m hoping that the cross-training will keep me more balanced, and help to stave off injury.

I also bought a kayak in late 2014. I’ve yet to figure out how I can incorporate that into my daily commute, but not for lack of trying. 🙂  In the meantime, it’s been a fun recreational activity, particularly when combined with geocaching.

Hopefully will write more soon. In the meantime, keep moving!

Fenders on a Road Bike, Part 2

This is part 2 of my story about how I put fenders on my road bike.  Read about my motivation for doing this in the first installment.

There are a couple types of fenders made for road bikes.   “Full” fenders cover the back wheel all the way down to the bottom bracket, and the front wheel from below the cranks to just past the front brake.  There are also “clip-on” quick-release fenders made specifically for road bikes.  An example of these is the SKS “Race Blade.”  These work, but they are smaller and provide less wheel coverage than full fenders. I knew that full fenders would be a bigger job to mount on my bike, but I figured if I absolutely could not get them to fit, I could always fall back on the clip-ons.  With that in mind, I went shopping for a set of full fenders.  The two biggest names in inexpensive road bike fenders seem to be SKS and Planet Bike. I read up on both, and eventually decided to go with a set of Planet Bike “Cascadia” fenders, which I ordered from Niagra Cycle Works.  The fenders arrived after a few days and I went to work putting them on.

Full fenders typically attach to the bike in two places.  The top of the fender attaches to the front fork or rear brake bridge, and the back of the fender is supported by struts that attach to threaded holes in the bike frame near the hubs.  The rear fender is usually also attached to the “seat stay bridge,” a short horizontal piece between the bottom bracket and the rear wheel.  On a road bike with caliper brakes, the fender goes between the brake caliper and the tire, and typically shares the same mounting hole with the brake.  So, to accommodate fenders, the bike needs:

  • Adequate vertical clearance underneath the front fork and between the brake calipers and the tire
  • Threaded holes on the front fork and rear seat/chainstays, near the hubs
  • Some way to attach the tops of the fenders to the front fork / rear brake bridge (possibly sharing the brake mounting hole)
  • A seat stay bridge piece to attach the front end of the rear fender

My bike met some of the criteria.  All of the clearances were adequate, and it had a seat stay bridge and the necessary mounting holes for the rear fender (although I was currently using them for my rack).  The problems:  It had no mounting holes on the front fork, and no easy way to attach the tops of the fenders to the brake mounts.  So I would need to work around these limitations somehow.

I began by mounting the rear fender.  I unbolted my rack and attached the fender struts underneath the rack supports.  Conveniently, the rack’s mounting bolt was long enough to accommodate both the fender struts and the rack supports, so I bolted them both to the same hole.  The front of the fender attached easily to the chain stay bridge using a zip tie.  For the top, Planet Bike uses a snap-on plastic clip.  The clip has a bolt slot that’s intended to mount behind the rear brake, but as mentioned above, there’s nowhere there I can bolt it; the rear brake is attached with a recessed hex nut that does not have threads to accept a fender bolt.  However, I was able to use zip ties to attach the mounting clip to the seat stays (this is covered in Planet Bike’s instructions), so problem solved there.  This mounting method does slightly reduce the fender’s clearance underneath the brake, though, so it may not be usable on a bike with extremely limited clearance.  Once the fender was mounted, I adjusted the struts until it didn’t rub the tire, and I was done.  That was pretty easy.

The front fender was more of a challenge.  My fork doesn’t have holes to mount the struts, so I had to improvise.  A couple of web sites recommended using metal or nylon p-clamps, but I can’t use these on my fork because its arms are not round enough.  Instead, I opted to just zip-tie the struts to the fork.  This is not an ideal solution, but it works well enough.  the quick-release skewer caps keep the ties from slipping off the fork, and the ties seem to stay in place otherwise.  But I’d still like to come up with something more elegant.  On to the top.  The front fender has a permanently-attached metal bracket instead of a plastic clip.  The front brake uses the same type of recessed nut as the rear brake, so there’s nowhere to attach the bracket behind the fork.  But unlike the rear, there’s nowhere on the fork to zip-tie the bracket either.  So my only option was to remove the front brake and mount the bracket between the brake and the fork (actually behind the lock nut that retains the brake spring — otherwise the bracket didn’t clear the steering tube).  I did this, and wasn’t happy with the results.  It made it impossible to adjust the fender’s position without also affecting the brake, and it also made it impossible to easily remove the fender.  I needed a better solution, so I went web surfing again, and found out about Problem Solvers Sheldon Fender Nuts.

Sheldon Fender Nuts replace the recessed nuts that hold the brake calipers in place.  The difference is, the Sheldon nuts are slightly longer, so they protrude outside the brake mounting hole, and they have a thread to accept a fender mounting bolt.  The front fender can then mount behind the fork as intended, and the fenders can be adjusted independently of the brakes.  The nuts come in sets of 2 (one for back and one for front).  I ordered a set from Jenson USA.  The front nut was an extremely tight fit in my fork.  Initially, I had to tap it with a hammer to seat it enough to mate with the threads on the brake, but eventually it “broke in” enough that I could thread it on and off the brake without too much trouble.  I was worried I’d torque it apart or otherwise destroy it, but it turned out to be pretty sturdy.  The mounting bolts that came with the Cascadia fenders did not fit the thread on the Sheldon nut — I had to scrounge up some matching bolts and washers from my parts drawer.  After that, though, the fender went on easily and was a snap to adjust.  So far I’ve only used the Sheldon nut on the front fender.  Eventually I’ll take the zip ties off the back fender and remount it with the Sheldon nut, but the nuts were worth the price just for the front.

Initially, I couldn’t get the front wheel to stop rubbing the fender.  No amount of fiddling with the fender seemed to help.  Finally I figured out that my wheel was not properly centered in the fork.  I undid the quick release and centered the wheel, and suddenly the fender no longer rubbed.  There’s not a whole lot of side-to-side tolerance with these fenders, so buyer beware.  I’m a little worried at what might happen if I break a spoke..

After the fenders were on, I didn’t have to wait long to test them out.  I took the bike out shortly after a storm, and the fenders worked like a champ.  I hit my first puddle and watched all the water squirt out the front of the fender, instead of up on the bike, my clothes, etc.  In normal riding conditions, I don’t really notice the fenders except for maybe a rattle here or there when I hit a bump.  The fenders don’t get in my way at all.  The instructions warn that my foot might touch the front fender during slow turns, but I haven’t had that problem.  All in all, even if the installation was a bit of a pain, the fenders were well worth it and I highly recommend them for all-weather commuting.

Wiring: Plan B

As is often the case with these things, I hit a snag trying to fish wire from the attic to the basement for my bedroom rewiring project. I encountered some horizontal blocking in the stud cavity which prevented me from running the wire all the way through. That basically left me with three choices:

  1. Press forward and try to run the wire through the cavity as planned, turning most of my hair gray and losing several years from my life expectancy in the process;
  2. Try to find an alternate stud cavity to run my wire; or
  3. Come up with another plan altogether.

I’ll admit, I briefly considered #1. I’ve fished wire through some tight spots in my day, and if I’m determined enough, I could get the wire through, horizontal blocking and all. But if there’s an easier way, I’d rather not deal with the frustration.

#2 might work. I fished wire through a different stud cavity for a similar project a couple years back, and had no problems. But it’s really kind of a crap shoot, and I’d rather not drill tons of holes all over the place just to find a clear shot from the attic to the basement.

All this brings us to #3. After consideration, I decided to tap into some existing wiring in the basement instead. It turns out there’s a nearby circuit that has only a single outlet on it (used to be for a window air conditioner). So I’m going to tie the wiring into this circuit. Simpler and easier than trying to fish through the wall.

Moral of the story: the first plan you come up with is not necessarily the best or easiest, so don’t get set on it.

Drilling top plates

I drilled through another top plate yesterday. Every time I drill through framing, there’s always this nagging worry that I’m drilling through the last bit of wood that’s keeping the house standing, and this hole is going to be the one that makes the whole house come crashing down into a big pile of rubble. So far, I’ve been lucky. But I still have to drill the bottom plate.. so I’m not out of the woods yet.

The good news is, I think I’ve found a cordless drill I’m happy with — the 12 volt DeWalt. I’ve never been a huge fan of the higher-voltage drills because they’re just too heavy and unwieldy for everyday around-the-house work. My old 9.6 volt drill was nice and light, but it lacked the torque to drive a paddle bit through a double 2×4 top plate. The new 12 volt handled it with flying colors, and it’s almost the same weight. For a weekend warrior like me, it seems to be the perfect balance between power and convenience.

Michael’s room finished (except for carpet)

Finally put a wrap on painting Michael’s room last night. Based on prior blog entries, this project droned on for almost a year. Kind of par for the course for projects these days, it seems.

The room has actually been habitable for a month now (Michael slept there for the first time on 9/22… a month ago to the day), but the room has been waiting on one of us to touch up the paint in the corners and around the trim. I finally knocked that off last night. For as bad shape as the walls were in when we started this, I must say the finished product looks pretty nice. At times, I had my doubts about how it was going to turn out.

I learned one valuable lesson from this: when cutting in where two different surfaces meet (i.e. around trim and in corners), skip the blue painter’s tape, use a good quality sash type brush, and just do it freehand. I was amazed at how easy it was, and it didn’t take any longer than it would have with the tape, either. Apparently it’s possible to get better results with the tape than we did, but if it’s just as easy to do it freehand, why bother?

Nothing left to do with the room now except get it carpeted, which we’ll let the pros take care of after we finish painting the master bedroom.

Master bedroom wiring – know what I need

Replaced the outlet at the foot of Andrew’s bed this morning, and it confirms the wiring layout:

  1. Master bedroom ceiling fixture  
  2. Master bedroom switch box
  3. Andrew’s room, outlet at foot of bed
  4. Master bedroom, outlet behind bed
  5. Back basement, ceiling fixture

This is everything I need to know to come up with a plan to redo the wiring. It will be very similar to what I did in Michael’s room:

  1. Disconnect the old wiring between #1 and #2, and replace with a single run of 14/3 which will function as a switch loop.
  2. Disconnect the old wiring between #3 and #4.
  3. Run a new wire from the ceiling box (#1) to the basement.
  4. Mount a new junction box in the basement and splice the new wire into the existing wire between #4 and #5.

An alternative would be to run the new wire directly from #1 to #5, but #5 already has a lot of wires going into it, and I think mounting a new junction box would keep things neater.

The basic idea is to splice the ceiling fixture to the closest fixture downstream of the switch box with accessible wiring, then back-feed the two outlets immediately downstream of the switch.

Anyways, I now know enough about the circuit layout to put it in the wiki.

Incidentally, the old outlet in Andrew’s room was cracked almost in half.  Check it out:

Broken outlet from Andrew's room

The outlet was most likely original to the house, and it was plastic, not porcelain.  So apparently they were using plastic outlets back then, but not thermoplastic-coated wire.

Demystifying master bedroom fan wiring

This evening I did a little preliminary detective work to try to figure out the ceiling fan wiring in the master bedroom, in preparation for redoing it. The goal is to reroute the hot and neutral wiring around the switch box, leaving only a single 14/3 switch loop going to the box. That way the fan control will fit properly in the box. More background is here.

Today I just opened up the switch box, disconnected the spliced hot wire, and observed what went dead.


Master bedroom – ceiling fixture / Switch
Master bedroom – outlet behind bed
Andrew’s bedroom – outlet at foot of bed
Andrew’s bedroom – outlet behind crib
Andrew’s bedroom – light in closet next to door
Back of basement – ceiling fixture
Basement bathroom – light and fan


Master bedroom – outlets on wall adjacent to bed (2)
Andrew’s bedroom – outlet behind dresser
Andrew’s bedroom – ceiling fixture
Andrew’s bedroom – light in closet at head of bed

Like everything else in this house, this raises as many questions as it answers. The next step is to inspect the wiring in the attic (there’s very little visible wiring for this circuit in the basement), and work on replacing some of the outlets. As each outlet is disconnected, I can repeat this evening’s exercise and get more info about how the circuit is laid out. Stay tuned..

Fun with Michael’s future bedroom

Well here it is New Year’s Eve again. Once again, I took a nice, (2 week) long holiday break from work. And once again, I started out hoping to get tons done around the house, but it didn’t happen. Well OK, I got some stuff done, just not as much as I wanted to. It’s tough getting much done around the holidays, even when you only consider the social and family obligations. Then you add two young children to the mix, and that’ll be all she wrote. Next year I may rethink the long break, and maybe do a week around the holidays and another week a little later in January or Feburary.

In any case, I did manage to get several solid hours of work in on Michael’s bedroom, mainly trying to fix up the water-damaged area around the window seat. It’s a huge mess. I finally got all the crumbling plaster removed, and squared up all the openings, so I can patch the areas with drywall. The Dremel diamond wheel does a pretty good job at cutting through the plaster topcoat. If I run a shop vac at the same time, there’s not much dust. However, the Dremel isn’t the ideal tool for making square cuts in the plaster, because the tool itself is wider than the cutting wheel. I was able to make do with it, but what I really need is a tool that won’t get in the way of the cut, like a tiny angle grinder.

It will be really interesting to see how the finished product ends up looking. There are some issues with using drywall to patch plaster. It’s hard to get the drywall exactly flush with the existing plaster surface. In particular, the thickness of the plaster can vary from place to place, while drywall is always a single uniform thickness. I think I’ve got it pretty close, and my current plan is to skim-coat everything with drywall mud to get a smooth surface. I’m cautiously optimistic that this will give me a good final surface. Time will tell.

Once the window seat area is done, I have the other walls to prep. The existing paint is in horrible shape, so it looks like I’ll be doing more skim-coating…