Finished my compost bins

I finally finished my compost bins over the weekend. I decided to build a triple-bin (turning bin) system, each approximately one cubic meter (3’x3’x3′.)

Compost Bins

The bins are constructed entirely of cedar (renewable, weather resistant, and generally termite resistant), using cedar fence panels and 2x4s. The lids are made from cedar 2×2 deck-railing slats, covered in a square, wire mesh (to keep the birds and squirrels out.) The bins are held together with cedar-rated Deck Mate screws, which I had left-over from another project. (It’s pointless to use nice, weather resistant wood if you’re just going to join it with cheap, rust-prone fasteners. Spend the extra money on rust-free nails/screws/staples so you don’t end up with rust stains running from every joint.)

For those new to three-bin compost systems, here’s how they work:

  1. New compost materials are put into the bin on the left. (You can still turn materials in this bin like normal.)
  2. Part-way through the composting process, you shovel-out the materials in the left bin and move them into the center bin. (This provides opportunity to fully flip/aerate the pile.)
  3. When done, shovel the center bin’s pile into the right bin. The right bin stores ready-to-use compost.
  4. Once you have a cycle going, you can have a new pile starting, while still having a steady stream of available compost.

It’s hard to tell in the picture above (by design), but the front of each bin opens for easy access. The doors are held on with a simple gate latch:

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The screen lids lay on top of each bin, resting on simple guides made from exposed screws. The mesh is attached using staples:

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Using cedar raised the materials cost a bit, but the extra durability should be worth it in the long run. All said and done, the materials were a bit over $100 for the whole unit (which is still significantly cheaper then buying a pre-made bin this size.)

For more on composting, see:

Cat in a tree…

Here’s an obscure link, but if you happen to have a cat, you might want to click over and have a read just in case you need the info: “How to Get a Cat Out of a Tree.”

This comes up because I had a cat up a tree over the weekend — WAY up a tree. Happened after a poorly trained neighborhood dog got loose and ran into the yard toward one of my cats. She climbed up a good 15-20ft at first, but didn’t find a good perch, so she continued to climb up to about 30ft. In classic TV shows, this is where you call the Fire Department, but I’m pretty sure they actually only help attractive women, so I didn’t bother. Instead, and being the nerd I am, I busted out the PowerBook and started googling.

I found a few blog posts and the eHow article from above, and the common theme was that the cat will eventually climb down once she no longer feels threatened. Sure enough, about 45 minutes later (while I was busy constructing a make-shift bridge/ladder to run from the roof of the house to the tree), she started climbing down. I stayed under her (ready to catch) just in case, but she made it down just fine (and had no complaints about staying inside the rest of the day.)

The picture below didn’t come out very well (the sun was setting), but I added a red arrow to show how high she was:

cat_in_tree

GPS + Compass for location-aware mobile search

Found this nice piece on an application of geo-aware (location based) mobile search:

What’s that? In Japan, phone has answer

“If you stand on a street corner in Tokyo today, you can point a specialized cellphone at a hotel, a restaurant or a historical monument, and with the press of a button the phone will display information from the Internet describing the object you are looking at.”

The technology is a combination of GPS + compass + internet connectivity. With the GPS chip on-board, the phone knows where it is, and with the compass it can tell which direction you are facing. Using that information, the phone can perform a very accurate location-based search.

It would be interesting to combine this technology with what the ZoneTag folks are doing on location-based image recognition. It’s pretty easy to imagine mobile devices that can tell exactly what you are looking at, translate signs, give directions, and pull in community feedback to help navigate and explore the world. Anyone who’s experienced the joy of wandering foreign cities can appreciate the value in having your mobile keep an eye out for restaurants and activities nearby that you won’t want to miss!

Shopping for a new helmet..

I’ve been slowly shopping for a new mountain biking helmet, and in the process, heard a rather interesting story yesterday that I wanted to pass along.

Most of my riding is what I’d call “urban assault”, meaning, general mucking around in the city — jumping off things that were never meant for entertainment. If I’m on the trails, I prefer downhill riding, and again, just goofing around having fun rather then riding for “exercise” per say. In addition to playing around on bikes, I also use them for general transportation. Because of these uses, I really have two different needs when it comes to a brain bucket. For the general transportation and easy trails, a traditional bike helmet serves just fine. However, when playing around on asphalt and rocks, a full-face helmet is a wise choice for those looking to avoid medical bills.

Recognizing the need for two different helmets, manufacturer Giro introduced a convertible helmet a few years back called the Switchblade that fill this niche:

Switchblade

The Switchblade features a removable chin guard that allows the helmet to fill both downhill and cross-country needs with the turn of a few screws. The Switchblade isn’t on the market anymore, but Met Helmets offers a similar style called the Parachute:

Parachute

This sounded like the perfect solution for me, but being a rather unique helmet, I haven’t found any at my local bike shops. Yesterday, while out on a ride, I decided to stop and ask about the availability of a convertible helmet like this — the response was a bit surprising. Apparently, the Switchblade was pulled off the market because the detachable design wasn’t strong enough and the chin guards were breaking. When they broke, it could be particularly nasty, and one of the bike-techs at the shop found this out the hard way. During a nasty spill, his chin guard broke and sheared off most of his nose. He required over fifty stitches on the side of his face, and reconstructive surgery to reattach his nose. Even worse, the story went on to say that this wasn’t an isolated event, and that dozens of serious injuries had been reported due to failing helmets. The manufacturer picked up the complete medical expenses for this guys’ surgery, and the helmet design was pulled off the market.

That’s enough convincing for me! So I guess I’m now shopping for a proper full-face helmet like the Giro MadMax II or a Bell Bellistic.