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GIS Mapping for Homestead Layout

My county offers a service on their website known as GIS, or Geographic Information System. It is similar to other mapping tools like Google Maps etc, but offers some very useful and unique features like measuring distances and areas, multiple base maps (past aerial, topographic), viewing property boundaries, and linking to property and tax information. Your county may offer this as well, and you should certainly look for it, just try searching for “<my county> GIS”, or visit your county website and look for info there.

GIS Image

My property in GIS

Here, you can see my property in our GIS. It shows the property boundaries and some tools in the upper corner. Obviously property lines are approximate and you should get a professional survey or find markers before building near boundaries. In my case, I found posts from the GIS image that mark both west corners and gave me a good idea of where the east lines would fall. This image appears to be from the spring of 2018 when we were having new siding installed.

GIS area measurement

Measuring area in GIS

Here is some playing with the area measurement tool. I’m on my iPad so the accuracy is limited to my fat thumb (my Crayon isn’t working with it for some reason), but using a mouse is much better. In our system you can measure area, distance, or look up coordinates (latitude and longitude). Great for laying out gardens, buildings, fences, etc.

Google Maps image

My crooked garden

If you don’t have a local GIS, there is always Google. Along with tending to have slightly newer maps, they cover everywhere. In the photo above, you can see where I put my garden along the edge of the mowed area set by the previous owner, which is not exactly straight (nor are my poor attempts at drawing lines). For a garden no big deal, but for a building you may want to be sure its more aligned. I have printed out images as well and marked then up on paper, sometimes a ruler and pencil is easier than digital.

Hopefully this provides you with some ideas. Your local system may differ in its functionality, but checking a few surrounding counties I found them all to be somewhat similar.


Using an Ecobee with a wood boiler (single thermostat!)

We live in the country, where natural gas is not available (half mile away, but may as well be 100) . We have a gas furnace and water heater that use propane, but it is crazy expensive. For the summer to heat water, it does fine, but we try to avoid it for heating the house. When we moved in we replaced the furnace and AC and opted for an air-to-air heat pump (an AC that can reverse itself to bring heat from outside in, rather than only inside to out) to help with heating in the spring and fall (and even mild winter days). The previous owners though, installed an outdoor wood burner which is awesome (because it works well, and we didn’t have to buy and instal it). If you’re not familiar, you build a fire in a small shed-looking building to heat water, which is pumped underground into the house where your furnace blows air over a coil filled with said water, heating your house. Ours also has a coil to heat water, and you can use them to heat your hot tub, pool, etc (I hope to use it for our pole barn some day).

The problem with wood burners, is you generally end up with one thermostat for the furnace (that you set for 68 or so) and one for the wood burner (that you set higher at 72). In the summer, the furnace thermostat runs the AC, and in shoulder seasons or whenever you don’t have the fire going, it runs the furnace. If the wood burner is operating though, you turn on the second thermostat and it takes over, turning on the furnace blower to send air over the hot water coil, heating your house. If the fire goes out unexpectedly, the house cools to the lower furnace thermostat temp and it will kick on. It works, but its funky and ugly having two thermostats.

This season, I got tired of the pair and decided to try using one. We have had an Ecobee for several years (got it for our last house and brought it with us) and figured there had to be a way. Ive been playing with it for 2 months and it seems to be working, so here’s what I did.

The Ecobee allows for a heat pump, aux stage 1 and aux stage 2 heat. If you don’t have a heat pump, just ignore the heat pump wiring (the brown O/B reversing valve wire). For stage 1, I connected a jumper wire to the blower wire. Stage 2 then goes to the furnace, and voila! OK, that seems really simple, but I dare you to find instructions for it anywhere else (I had a hell of a time finding anything for about 2 years). Here’s a photo of my wiring.

Thermostat wiring

Thermostat wires

In the settings, make sure you have all your wires showing in your equipment screen. I set my aux heat threshold to 10 degrees so stage 2 would come on as little as possible, but you can set a smaller threshold and it will kick on the furnace to help heat when bigger changes are needed. I also upped my “away” temp some to minimize the temp swing when I come home so it wouldn’t use the furnace to heat the house faster. No, its not energy efficient, but neither is burning several cord of wood.

Thermostat wiring screen

Thermostat wiring screen

Thermostat thresholds

Thermostat threshold settings

You can barely see it in the photos, but my old second thermostat is still installed below the Ecobee with one of the wires sticking out. I’ll probably wait out the full winter before removing that and patching the area.

This should work for any 2 stage thermostat (will have a W1 and W2 terminal). Our furnace is a 2 stage, but the furnace itself controls what stage (high or low) to run at based on runtime. If its been say 5 minutes and there is still a heat call, it switches up to high. In theory, the point of having 2 stages in the thermostat is to take this over and factor in the temp change needed as well. If its currently 65 because you were away and now you are home and turn up the heat to 70, the thermostat can make the decision to go straight to high due to the large swing needed. Our furnace has a jumper to let me tell it if it should handle 2 stage automatically (it decides) or manually (the thermostat will tell it), I assume this is standard among 2 stage furnaces.

All this because, in reality, furnaces are very dumb. They send out power on the red wire and wait to see if it returns and on what wire, which will indicate if you want heat (white wire), cooling (yellow) or just the fan (green). If I were using the thermostat for 2 stage, the power would return to the W2 (high heat) or Y2 (high cool) terminals. The furnace has no actual knowledge of the set or current temperature, only if it should be on or not (which is why cranking it to 80 because you want it to heat faster is stupid).

So what I’m doing here is letting the thermostat decide Stage 1 (wood boiler) or Stage 2 (propane furnace), but telling it to use Stage 2 very infrequently. Meanwhile, the furnace has no knowledge of this. If the propane heat call is ever made, it will still make its own calls on stage 1 or 2; starting in stage 1 for a set time then turning it up (which incidentally is only a blower speed change, not actually hotter).

So, there you go. Like I said, I’ve been playing with it for a while, mostly balancing the temp settings for Away vs Home vs Sleep and how to read the remote sensors. If this can help someone else though, awesome.

Finally, even if you don’t have a heat pump or wood burner, an Ecobee is awesome and will pay for itself, I cant recommend it highly enough. I haven’t used a Nest, but it should be similar.



So, I tried using rather than Google for a while, but couldn’t get into it. May try again later. But, as it doesn’t modify the search by person, I thought it may be a better representation of “googling” myself, so gave that a try. A few links down, I found this site. Check out #19, I’ll wait… The joy of putting photos on Flickr are they are usable by others, but cool to see one used and even giving credit. I feel a little giddy, I’ll be honest.

I read back a few posts and realized several said pretty much what I said in the last one regarding needing content. I have some ideas in mind, need to flesh them out.

That’s really all I have, but will try to be back soon.


How do you revive a dead blog?

OK, were at over 4 years since my last post, and a good 9 years since I managed even monthly updates. So, how do I come back from that? How do I get to posting regularly? I have some inner energy of wanting to post, to blog, to be geeky. If I can harness that…

What do I post about though? Every 3 days of mundane daily updates is pointless with FaceBook (I believe the near-death of this site can largely be traced to FaceBook, in fact – and at this point I rarely even post to FB anyway). No, what I need is what the blog has always lacked – legit content.

So, what am I into? What do I want to write about? The hell if I know. What do people want to read about? A nerd that lives on a hobby-farm? The (mis)adventures of some guy that manages to be an inch deep and a mile wide, despite knowing the opposite is the goal? Someone who wants to blog but has nothing to blog about so writes hundreds of thousands of words of rambling? Hopefully some of that, because it seems to be what I’ve got to work with.

That inner energy I mentioned, seems to currently be more of revamping the site, editing HTML and PHP, and coding more than writing content – the same issue I’ve always run into. I want to make a new site, get off (I don’t like that they place ads in, and the customization is limited – unless you upgrade to a higher package).

Moving all that takes time though, and I have much less of that than when I started this blog some 16 years ago. Even writing this post was broken up in the last paragraph as I made dinner, got kids off to bed, etc… Even if I don’t go with a host change, do I have the time to write posts and updates and just keep up with a blog? I suppose I just need to try and see.

I’m not sure I have a point to any of this, or that anyone will see it anyway. My regular readers were a few friends and family that I’m sure have long ago moved on from checking in here. If I want to make any serious go at this, are they my target audience anymore? Is the direction more of a nerd take on a homesteading YouTube channel with the blog just for behind-the-scenes extras? Again, no idea.

I suppose this is just a post to break the silence, get some ideas thrown out there, and talk to myself a little bit (when you need an expert opinion…).

Thanks for listening,


Introduction to Safety Razor Shaving

Once upon a time, I started shaving some 15+ years ago with a Shick razor with safety wires, and graduated to a Mach 3, and Fusion when it came out, never really questioning the process.  The Fusion seemed harder to clean, thanks to more blades packed tighter, and I often found myself preferring the back-side single blade thanks to its easy cleaning and ability to trim closer.

A little more than 4 years ago, I got a Norelco electric for Christmas (as I asked for) and switched to that.  It worked fine, though it would leave my neck red and irritated.  This past fall I needed to replace the blades (after three years, despite mfg suggestion of annually) and found the new blades cut far less efficiently, requiring more passes and thus causing more irritation.

Early this year, I was watching YouTube videos about woodcraft as I sometimes do, and happened upon a video on double edge safety razors.  I researched a bit and then a bit more, and after fretting the entry cost on Amazon, wound up at Meijer.


My new Razor

 I picked up a Van Der Hagen razor, I figured at $20 it would tell me if I liked safety razors, and I could go all in with a Merkur or Parker later on.  Reviews online rated it superior to the Micro Touch One you may have seen Rick from Pawn Stars pushing.  It is chrome plated brass with a butterfly design (two doors open on top for you to insert the blade when you turn the handle screw, as opposed to the screw allowing the whole top to slide out in a two or three piece design).

As I had been using an electric, I didn’t have any shave cream.  I figured Edge gel just wasn’t in the spirit of what I was getting into, but wasn’t up for springing for the matching Van Der Hagen soap, bowl, and brush for another $30.


My new shave cream

 I went with this Pacific Shaving Co shaving cream.  It was on sale at the time for around $4 and claimed 100 shaves.  It does alright, you need to mix with some warm water and work up a lather, then spread it on.  It will dry out and go flat on your face after a few minutes, the more water you lather in the longer you have.  I doubt I am getting 100 shaves out of it, maybe half, but that’s really not bad, close to what I would expect from a can.  I have noticed it has a strange habit of getting stringy in the tube, I assume due to polymerization of the thickeners they used.  Once lathered, you don’t notice, it does seem to make it harder to squeeze that bit out though.
So that’s the what, as for the how, it’s not all that different from any other razor.  Maybe it helps I went electric for awhile and made it a little easier to change up my habits.  Lather up, preferably after a shower so your hair is softened.  I like to fill my sink with water so I can shake my razor in it to clean, I find just under running water doesn’t do the trick.  I start on my right, being right handed, at my ear and go down, using many short (one inch or so) strokes with one side of the razor until I feel it is starting to drag a little and not leaving a clean path, then flip and continue until it happens again, then rinse.  Everyone says go with the grain, I tend to go with, across, against, and everything in between due to a rather odd growth pattern that almost spirals under my jaw.  Feel with you fingers, and make your first path with the grain, getting your whole face shaved.  Now lather up again, this time you won’t get as much lather as there is no hair to lather against.  As you do this, feel for stubble so you know where to focus.  Now, go across or against those areas (depending on skin sensitivity, you should know if you can go against the grain or not) with the razor for an extra smooth shave.

As for nicks, chances are you wont even know you did it until a minute later when you see the red drip or you rub cream in and feel a burn.  Your first time with a safety razor, you WILL cut yourself; not because it’s your first time, but because it’s the blades first time.  I don’t know why, it’s just how it is, new blades nick you more.  I have a few moles that I know to be careful around, I am sure you will learn your own areas to ease around.  Whatever you do, don’t glide the blade long way, the way you cut with a knife, because it will cut you like a knife.  This seems obviously, until you are moving to a new path below your ear and realize you almost just did it.

With your old razor, you held the cartridge flat to your face and it pivoted and floated to follow your contours.  With a safety razor, the head is static, so you need to move the razor to follow your contours.  With experience, you can feel it, whether it is cutting hairs or just floating over.  Each razor has a slightly different cutting angle, too high or low and the head just glides over with now blade contact.  When you get the angle right, it’s obvious.

The jaw, Adam’s apple, and under the nose will take the most care.  The jaw/chin is mostly just several passes at different angles to ensure you get everything, and the nose is about using the the edge of one side of the razor in right under the nostril, to get as close as you can, then using the full blade to clean up after.  Hard to explain, but you will understand when you try it (I hope).

After all that, rinse your razor, drain and wash your sink, rinse your face with cool water, and pat dry.  Styptic if you need, aftershave if you want (or dare?).

Yes, shaving twice takes time.  I only did one pass for the first several times.  As you go, you get faster, and soon you can fit that second pass in.  You get better at knowing what paths to take, what angle, and where to avoid.  Like anything, it’s all about practice.

If you want to go out and spend hundreds, be my guest, you can certainly do it.  Like I said, I started with about $25 in hardware.  I have since added a bowl and brush I got from a farmers market from a lady selling homemade shave soaps.  I also have a family friend who sells shave soaps and similar natural supplied from her website, but not the bowl or brush.  I do plan on getting a stand and some better blades, and eventually a better razor.  Amazon is probably your best source, be it razors, blades, bowls, brushes, stands, soaps, whatever.  Some malls now have Art of Shaving stores, I recommend to stay out.  They are severely overpriced (you can verify on their website) and are generally empty of other customers, so you will immediately be “helped” by the generally sole employee.  They can be a good source of information, but it will be biased to their products, and you may be better helped by many online forums ( I have learned much from the Badger and Blade), friends (after posting on Facebook I was using a safety razor, two friends let me know they have been using them for a while as well), or even your father or grandfather.

So, thats what I have learned in my two+ months.  Feel free to ask me any questions you come up with, or leave any advice you may have for others.

I will try and get a follow up post later, a little more in depth on a few things, maybe even a video.  Those that read my blog may know updates have been sparse for a while, but I have a new direction and will be pushing for more update.


An Experiment of Sorts

Jenn’s computer has been acting up, so we looked at replacing it but $999 for a new or even refurbished MacBook is not in the cards right now. We came upon the idea of an iPad, but she wasn’t sure she could live with just that. So, I got an iPad mini (32GB) and gave her my MacBook for now. Mine is 2 years newer than hers, but still 5 years old or so. It is temporary, I am sure we will get a new laptop in another year or two, but should work for now.

Shofar, I am ok with just the iPad. I have gone back to the computer a few times for goofy websites that just won’t work (namely Hulu, as I don’t see paying for Hulu plus just for Warehouse 13), and for resyncing a few items, but almost completely iPad for about 2 weeks now.

For saving files (I didn’t have all that many) I went with a mix of Evernote for PDFs and other read-only documents and Dropbox for anything I may need to edit. This may change to Dropbox only eventually. There is nothing wrong with Evernote, I just wonder if it may be easier to have everything in one place. I have read of many that swear by having both though, so am giving it a try.

I do not have an office app yet, but have been looking. I am waiting to see if LibreOffice comes to the rescue or if the rumors of Apple giving away iWork come true. I did by Grand Theft Auto III though (priorities, you know), but have not played enough for a review.

I got a case from someone at work, but not sure I like the bulk it adds. I had a case on my iPhone 4, but it ended up scratching the phone when dirt got caught between the case and phone. After that, I have been caseless on my iPhone 5. I have a feeling my iPad will end up the same, perhaps with a sleeve for travel though.

In other news, I took and passed my amateur radio exam last month, and have the call sign KD8VHX. Jenn was awesome and bought me a radio, 2 meter and 70cm bands. That gets me 10 or so miles range. It is a low cost option for now to see if I actually use it and if its worth spending for a HF radio with worldwide range (which are several hundred to a few thousand dollars!).

Jenn is going to Vegas with her mom and sister, on my birthday. I will make sure she makes it up to me later.

I think that’s about it for now, later all.

BREAKING UPDATE: Just noticed after posing, this is post 600 (in WordPress, it is probably a bit over that in post count).

Ten Years

Yes, today marks ten years since my first blog post.  Around 2:21AM, so you could argue it was kind of yesterday, but whatever.  This is post 599, with an unknown number of words, since I no longer have a way of tracking that.

I really do want to post more, it just has a habit of slipping my mind.  When I had no life, I had nothing better to do but nothing to really say.  For the past few years though, I have plenty to say, but no time to say it.  I tried to blame Facebook, as I would just post there, but I barely even do that anymore.

I think not posting also brings on the issue you have with friends you don’t see for a while.  You have a million things you would have told them, but you need to prioritize what to say and can’t pick, so wind up with nothing to say.

I have decided I am going to better utilize Flickr, especially with their new nearly limitless storage.  I will post a link to my album prominently once I have it better set up, but for now you can view my photo stream here.

I have a few ideas for posts.  I have some projects I did around the house I may try posting, or recipes or whatever.  We will see.

I can’t say how much longer I will be blogging, but I do plan to keep it up for a bit longer, and take a serious stab at being more frequent.

Any thoughts, leave a comment.

Ninja Parade!

Me:  Sweet, a Ninja Parade!

Lame Guy:  What?

Me:  I reached in my pocket and there was a mini Snickers bar, there must have been a Ninja Parade.

LG:  What the hell is a Ninja Parade?

Me:  You are just standing there, then with no signs at all, there is candy in your pocket.

LG:  I didn’t get any.

Me:  They must have sensed your non-belief.

LG:  How can you not believe in Ninjas?  They are a fact of history, elite Japanese soldiers.

Me:  Exactly, yet they sensed it.

LG:  I mean, their not some magical superpower like they are depicted in some movies and comics and whatnot…

Me:  …there’s the doubt, and that’s why there is no candy for you.

LG:  Whatever, you’re weird.

Me:  mmm, ninjalicious nougat…

Nine Years!

I think I may have said it before, but when I started this all I had no life, which gave me nothing to say but all the time in the world to say it.  Now, I have a life, am doing stuff, but always have something better to do that write it all down.  That and Facebook gets most of the little updates now.  I do mourn the loss of my record, that I could look back on when something happened, or reminisce about whatever event.  It would be nice if I kept that up.

Regardless, today is nine years since I began the blog, and it will stay only for at least another year.  I will put some thought into what happens beyond that over the next year though.  Does it get converted to some different format, does it stay online, do I start using it for another purpose, or does it all just get archived to my hard drive?  I have a year to decide.

In life type stuff, for those unaware, I have a permanent job (since July), a house (since September), and a dog (since November).  All are going well.

So, thats about all I have for now.  Too much to update on everything thats happened in the months since I posted, so I will just leave it here.

If you actually read this, let me know, so I have an idea of weather anybody reads and how worth it continuing to post would actually be.