Weed Whack Slide

Today was ‘weed-whacking day’, since the weather was a bit cooler than before (high today around 75F).

My home’s lot size is quite small. The back yard, at it’s deepest part, is less than 27 feet deep. That lot edge drops off into about a 40 foot drop to a 15 foot wide flat ‘common area’ below. From that point, there are berry bushes and a forested area below that.

Along the north-east corner of my lot, there is a less steep drop off to another ‘common area’. That area, between my house and the next one, was apparently not ‘buildable. Although the common areas belong to the Home Owners Association (which is quite active around here, since most owners are retired folks like me), the areas in back of my house are not maintained by the HOA’s landscape contractor. So I get to do it.

It’s not a bad gig. The area is quite pretty; the berry bushes attract a small herd of deer (along with local residents picking the Marion berries), and the forested area in back means that I don’t have any backyard neighbors. A first ‘whack’ of the area in spring takes 4-5 hours, and then another one is needed in summer, which takes about half the time.

It is a bit challenging though. There is a slope to much of the area that is probably up to 65%. So I have to be careful about foot placement as I attempt to cut down the weed growth.

Previously, I’ve used standard work boots, which have a fairly smooth sole. Today, I decided to use my trail-walking shoes (there are lots of nice old-forest-road-trails around here; I don’t walk on them as often as I should) because there is bit more ‘tread’ in the shoes. I figured that I’d gain a bit of traction on the hills with the trail shoes.

And it was a bit better. I am careful about foot placement, making sure that one foot is secure before I move the other foot. I get my feet situated, ensure that I am stable, then use the gas weed-whacker to cut the area that I can reach. Then, repeat.

This works OK on the less steep slopes, but I was working on a section that was quite steep – that 65% slope. The ground is weeds and dirt with a few rocks. I was cutting on the downhill side of my position, and slipped.

And took a nice slide down the hill for about 30 feet. I did manage to flop back on my butt, and pointed my feet downhill, and was able to stop just short of a big rock at the bottom. It was quite fun. Mostly.

I sat there for a minute, then got ‘back up on the horse’, finishing off the rest of the area that I could get to. There is still one small section on the steep part of the hill that is not cut. But I suspect it will stay that way.

I could probably set up a harness and rope thing and use that to cut the rest of the hill. But, probably not worth the effort.

So I’ve got most of the weeds taken care of. There may be one more session in the fall.

But the slide was an interesting part of the day.

Web Site Tweaking and Hot But Cooling

A web site that I’ve been visiting for years needed a quick update. So I talked the owner – we’ve been virtual friends for decades – into letting me do a few tweaks to his site. It’s a WordPress site, and he changed to a responsive theme that I recommended, but some minor visual tweaks were needed to make it more readable with better fonts and font sizing.

He gave me admin access; I spent about an hour on some odds and ends. A bit of changing some options, plus a little custom CSS, and his site is a lot more readable. Looks good, if I do say so myself.

In other news, it has been a bit hot lately here on the Olympic Peninsula. Now, ‘hot’ is relative here: temps above 80 are categorized by the locals as a ‘heat wave’. Many of the houses around here don’t have air conditioning; many heat with wood stoves during the winter, so don’t have any forced-air systems. Newer houses (like ours) generally have heat pumps: forced-air heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer. So temps today that got really close to 90 F were a bit uncomfortable for most.

We fared OK, though. We are a bit closer to the Puget Sound, which keeps us a few degrees cooler. And most of our windows face due east (which makes for really bright and early mornings), so afternoon heat transfer through the west side if minimal. So we didn’t need to turn on the A/C.

How ‘hot’ did it get? My little weather station (here) still reported a high of about 92F around noon. But around 5pm, the temps started a big drop-off to 70F at 7pm, and now down to the low 60’s. Tomorrow is supposed to be 15 F cooler overall, so it looks like a good day to do a bit of weed-whacking around here.


We had some visitors this week. My sister and her husband came over from Utah for their oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation. And they brought along our oldest granddaughter so she could spend some time with us.

So we’ve been doing some ‘touristy’ things this week. We did a whale watch boat tour (it was two three-hour tours, with a stop in Friday Harbor in the San Jan Islands). We saw some Minkey whales in the first part, but all of the big orcas were out of our range somewhere west in the Strait de San Juan Fuca. But it was a nice sunny day, the water was quite calm, and we saw a bunch of other wildlife. It was a fun day.

We took a drive out to Fort Flagler, just north of our house a bit. A nice beach there, and it was a very low tide, so there were lots of empty clam shells to gather. There were a few dead crabs that had washed up on the beach, so those were also interesting.

We also took a drive out to see Mt Walker Falls in the Olympic National Forest. That was a nice drive.

We also had a visit from my cousin Dave and his wife. They are ‘homeless’ (by choice) and use a small van-based motor home to travel around the area. They stopped by for a short overnight visit (and a visit to our washer and dryer, along with a real bed). They headed off this morning to the north, then east into Washington and a short jaunt into Canada.

The weather has been really nice for our visitors. Highs in the high 70s [F] which is approaching ‘heat wave’ for the locals. A bit of clouds today, and a light rainfall that was short, but more nice weather coming up.

I replaced a hanging lamp in the dining room, which provides much more light. The old lamp was a Tiffany-style thing that Pam didn’t really like, so when I broke the lamp globe, she decided it was time to replace it. It hangs from a very tall ceiling, so I had to re-wire the light into the existing hanging wire. It worked out OK; no electrocution happened at any time.

And it provides more light in the evening when I sit in the adjoining living room, working on the computer (and a fictional story) or watching the ships go by on Puget Sound. I saw a submarine being escorted by two Navy ships on it’s way to the submarine base in Bangor. I see container and car ships all the time as they go down the Puget Sound to the Seattle and Tacoma docks.

It’s My Domain Name, So Don’t Wear It Out

I got a Rick Hellewell domain name many years ago. I used it for a job search when I moved to Utah years ago after 23 years of doing computer geeky stuff for my previous employer. It was useful to get my job in Utah.

And it allowed me to goof around with web sites and hosting, although I’ve worked on web sites since the late 1990’s, and had my own personal web sites since about 2001. Some of those web sites are still around, and some have gone away (without anyone noticing them, usually).

But you don’t give up a domain name that is named after yourself. And I don’t need a job-hunting web site anymore. So I spent a little bit of time today doing a quick, responsive redesign of RickHellewell.com . Not much content there, but it’s a bit more current than the old place.

Nothing earth-shattering in the design or concept. Took a bit over an hour to do.

But now there is something more current about the ‘there’ that is ‘there’.

Upgrades to WordPress Sites

I have spent a bit of time modifying several web sites that I own or maintain. Most are WordPress sites (as are this one). All use the same theme, but I have modified the theme a bit to make things look and work better.

The proper way to do that is with ‘child themes’, which I have done on most sites. But a few earlier site ‘builds’ didn’t fully implement the child theme concept. There was some customized content (mostly templates) that wouldn’t survive a theme code update. A new version of the theme that I use came out last week. So I had to set up a proper child theme configuration before I updated the theme. (The theme rather rudely gets rids of any customized templates. I have local copies of those templates, but it was a bit of work to get the site pages that use those templates back working properly.)

A bit of code reorganization, and those sites were ready for the theme update. This time, none of the customized pages broke, which is a good thing.

Any new WordPress site that I set up is done with a proper ‘child theme’ configuration. It makes it a lot easier when upgrades are needed — things won’t break.

(If you are interested in the other sites, start with the CellarWeb site at www.cellarweb.com . Then look at the “Things We’ve Done” page to see the various web sites I work on.)

Road Trip and Anniversaries

Just got back from a trip to Rocklin, CA. Had some great time visiting with Stacy and Justin McEwan, and their two children (Dominic and Audrey). Both are very cute and fun to be with (along with their parents, of course). We were able to spend some time with the grandkids while Justin was studying and Stacy was in training for her new RN job at Kaiser.

We went to the park for the swings and slides. We made a quick trip to the pool in their condo complex; the weather was nice enough for the kids to swim. Both are very comfortable in the water with their life jackets.

We had lunches and dinner together (Round Table Pizza; took Taco Bell to the park, and of course The Habit for burgers, fries, and crunchy onion rings).

The other main purpose for the trip was to visit our son’s Jason’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death. It is at the Newcastle (CA) Cemetery, which is a pretty and peaceful setting. Fresh flowers and cleaning off the gravestone, plus a few moment to contemplate.

Pam and I also visited our daughter’s (Erica) grave (she lived only a few hours) in Rocklin, also a nicely maintained cemetery.  And we had a visit with my 95-year-old mother, still doing well at her age (she still drives; the CA DMV extended her license another 10 years last year). Most say that she looks like a 75-year-old. She mentioned that there are 110+ children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren/spouses, and each still get a card from her on their birthdays and anniversaries. She keeps busy organizing photos and family history.

I finished up a redesign of Jason’s web site (www.jasonhellewell.com). The content is mostly the same, at the moment, but it has a new ‘responsive’ design so that it will be easily viewed on any device. There will be some new scrapbook pages put up later — Pam is quite productive in that department.

And I delivered my Raspberry Pi Media Server project to the McEwans. It was a fun project to do, and the Media Server part works fairly well. More info on that project later; I am building another one just for me.

A nice trip – although the long 13-hour drive is tiring, but we arrived home safely last night. It was great trip!

WordPress Plugin Project Done

I’ve been working on a WordPress plugin that stops comment spam from ‘bots’. It uses a technique that I’ve built into a package of custom programs that block comment and contact form spam. The technique is quite effective. When I put it on a web site that gets spam from ‘bots’ (automated programs), the spam immediately stops.

The details are on the FormSpammerTrap web site; that’s were spambots go when they try to submit their spam on a form that I’ve protected. The whole thing is free to anyone that wants it (details on the site).

It was interesting to write and debug (with those steps repeated). But I got it submitted to the WordPress overlords, and it is now available (here, if you are interested).  Of course, there are tons of other plugins that purport to do the same thing, but I think mine is more clever than theirs.

I’m thinking of some enhancements for it, but also thinking of a new project involving the new Raspberry Pi 2 . The RP2 is a small computer about the size of a deck of cards, but it can be quite powerful. Although Linux-based, Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be available for it.

There are lots of projects that use the RP2, and I have found some good (and some not-so-good) tutorials on the project that I am interested in.

The RP2 is not quite shipping yet, but I will be ordering one soon, and it might arrive before the end of this month. More later.