Adding Auto-Refill to Keurig

It’s not that manually refilling a Keurig tank is hard, it’s just unnecessary. Commercial Keurigs (and some of the high-end home versions) are built with this in mind and can be directly plumbed for water. Our Keurig, however, is a ‘normal’ home machine without provisions for direct plumbing; so some creativity was involved in adapting it for this feature. Altogether this was a fairly simple 3-step process:

#1 – Make bracket from scrap piece of PVC pipe.

#2 – Install miniature float valve ($3 w/ free shipping) and bracket into tank.

#3 – Plumb float valve to existing water filter under sink.

All plumbing is nicely concealed behind the microwave/cabinets, so the only evidence of anything different is the float visible in the tank. Before anyone freaks out about the evil toxic plastic floating in the water, I should point out that the tank itself is plastic anyways, as is much of the tubing that supplies water to the faucet when filling the old-fashioned way. Total project cost was well under $10.

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Winter Update

Aviation: Winter is here and with it has come lots of overcast weather that’s no good for flight training, slowing progress quite a bit. In total I’ve now soloed 6-8 times and have started working on cross-country training. Cross-country flying adds many new elements: flight planning, talking to Air Traffic Control, radio navigation, visual navigation by waypoints, etc. All this has to be done while still flying the plane, so it’s definitely a challenge. Currently targeting to have my FAA checkride sometime before April.

Bus: Winter also puts a damper on bus driving since I don’t have the heat connected yet. On the last drive before the temperature dropped I had a big loss in power every few minutes and had to pull over and idle before power came back. I haven’t looked into it yet but this seems consistent with a clogged fuel filter; I was expecting the first filter to go quickly since it’s filtering out all the rust/varnish/trash from the fuel tank that sat for 30 years. I probably could swap the filter and have it going again but I think this is a good opportunity to now pull the engine/trans again and go through it with a fine-tooth comb with the goal of getting it smoother/quieter/stronger to enable longer trips. No immediate plans to do this, probably when the weather warms up.

Tech Projects: I just ordered a float valve to automate refilling the Keurig, I’ll post pictures of how that goes. Also I’m getting interested in making a small CNC machine; I’ve had this on my long-term to do list for a while but recently component prices have dropped substantially so I’ve started the planning process.

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First Solo Flight!

Originally this weekend was to be my first solo flight. Sunday I showed the instructor 3 takeoffs, 3 landings, and got signed off to fly solo. Just as we taxied back to the ramp to let the instructor out though, the weather report changed and exceeded the limits that I’m signed off for (12knots total wind, up to 5knots crosswind component). Because of this, we delayed the actual solo until this evening after work.

So today I was back at the field and everything went well. There’s a tradition in aviation that when a student first solos the instructor cuts off the student’s shirt tail; supposedly this dates back to the early days of biplane aviation when the instructor sat behind the student and pulled on the student’s shirt tail to get attention. When I taxied back to the ramp my instructor was ready with scissors…

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I’m told it goes relatively quickly from here but I know there’s a lot left to learn; I’ll now do some practicing on my own and then we’ll get into cross-country flying and procedures for ATC communication.

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Blimp Encounter

Today I was back at the airport after nearly a month away from flying due to weather/maintenance/availability/etc. After takeoff I did some basic instrument flying. Instrument rating is a separate rating on top of the private pilot’s certificate. I’m not working on an instrument rating, but the basic instrument skills are taught/practiced anyways to have some level of familiarity in case I ever accidentally encounter instrument conditions. As I was doing the preflight, the MetLife blimp arrived at the field and we got to watch it land (if this is even the right word; it just got close to the ground and then a dozen guys ran out and grabbed the ropes). It was moored directly adjacent to the runway, so I got a few close-up glances while I was busy taking off and landing. After landing we heard them announce (their callsign was “Snoopy2”) a 5min warning for departure and by the time we got back to the ramp it was taking off.

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Using a Real Aviation Headset with a PC Simulator

In parallel with real-world flight training I’ve begun to use a PC flight simulator more seriously. This reinforces what’s learned in the real plane and also allows me to practice flights ahead of time. The simulator is only vaguely analogous to real flying though, so the more I can do to make it realistic the better. One realism point would be to use the real aviation headset, but the headset does not directly plug into the PC. After a good bit of research cross-referencing part numbers and checking schematics, I came to two critical conclusions:

#1 – Standard 1/4″ mono audio dimensions are the same as general aviation headset plug dimensions. (The speaker plug, not the microphone plug)

#2 – The sound card output levels are compatible with the headset’s required input level. (not so low that they’d be inaudible, and not so high that they’d blow out the speakers on even the lowest setting)

Once those realizations were made it was easy enough to make an adapter cable from a scrap audio cord and a $2 1/4″ mono jack. There are ready-made adapters online, but these go for far more then even the standard 5X markup for anything with ‘aviation’ in the description; so it was worth the effort to spend a few minutes and build myself. The microphone connector is more special-purpose and would require finding the special jack and likely some circuitry to make the levels work for the PC mic input, I don’t do anything in the simulator that requires the microphone though, so that connection just stays unplugged.

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Golf Coolant Leak Repair

A few weeks ago the Golf gave a low coolant warning and, not seeing any immediate signs of a leak, I topped if off. This week, I noticed a few pink drips in the garage. This is actually fortunate because it meant there was an external leak of some kind rather than something more serious like an EGR cooler or head gasket leak. Since the puddles were rapidly increasing in size I investigated the source of the leak tonight. Unfortunately it wasn’t anything as easy as a bad hose, clamp, or o-ring; I could see coolant dripping from the radiator. The next step, as it is with most modern VW repairs, was to disassemble the entire car. Although it looks intense, cleaning up the garage prior to starting this project took about as long as actually accessing the radiator.

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From searches online it appears this is a somewhat common problem; the fan support vibrates against the thin aluminum radiator tubes until a hole is worn through. During reassembly I’ll add some rubber cushioning in this area to prevent recurrence. A replacement is available locally and I’ll pick it up after work tomorrow; I should be able to have everything back together tomorrow night, though I may let the project stretch into the weekend to thoroughly clean/detail the front bumper while I have everything apart.

Update: Finished this Friday night, relatively easy, no more leak.

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Carpentry & Aviation

Today (I have a few days off of work), after a few months of studying in my spare time, I finally took the controls of a Cessna 172 for about an hour. With direction from the instructor I taxied, took-off, climbed to 2000ft, and then maneuvered around and even did part of the landing approach; though the instructor did the landing itself. I’ve got a long way to go but over then next year or so I’ll be flying somewhat frequently to make progress towards a private pilot certificate. Anytime a new skill can be learned (i.e. welding/painting/etc from the bus project) I find that it can be beneficial in unexpected ways, even for seemingly unrelated tasks/problems. So this is about having another tool in the mental toolbox, and I’ve always been interested in aviation anyways…

After arriving back from the flight I starting working on installing crown molding in the downstairs bathroom. For some reason this was the only room in the house that didn’t have it and I always thought it looked odd. In the past, I’ve just propped the molding up at the correct angle and hand sawed at 45degrees in a miter box. Due to the number of joints though I decided to get fancy and make the cuts on the tablesaw. This presents a problem since, when the molding is flat on the table, the angles are in two different directions: a compound angle in which the blade must be tilted and the material angled against the push fence. Luckily I’m not the first person to ever do this so I found tables online of compound angles for a given wall angle (90deg nearly always) and a given trim angle (the angle the trim sits against the wall). There was some scrap made while learning what orientation to use for a given angle; 4 of the 8 combinations don’t make anything useful (i.e. inside right/outside left/etc.) More than a few times during this process I thought back to how much easier flying the plane was (or at least seemed) earlier in the day.

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Hitch Anti-Rattle Device

There’s an inherent problem with the way that standard receiver hitches and accessories are built. No hitch manufacturer wants to build a hitch that’s too small for the average accessory (ball mount, bike rack, etc)., and no accessory manufacturer wants to build an accessory that’s too big for the average hitch. As a result, both manufacturers err on the side of caution and the result is a huge amount of slop on most hitch/accessory combinations. The result of this is a ‘clunk’ or rattle when turning with a trailer and, even worse, a magnification of the backlash at the top of bike racks, causing excessive swaying/looseness.

There are a number of ‘solutions’ to this problem. One of these solutions requires the accessory side to have threaded hitch pins, this is a no-go for bike racks (where the problem is the worst) since there aren’t any made this way. The other solution is a device that wedges between the hitch and accessory. This only works on one axis and would require extra tools/setup every time the accessory is connected/disconnected.

The alternative to this, which I’ve seen other examples of online, is to drill/tap a hole through one edge of the receiver so that a bolt can be used to push two of the flat sides of the accessory against two of the flat sides of the inside of the hitch. To get plenty of threads I went a step further and welded a nut (with small section of tube to fill the gaps) to the receiver. This also significantly reinforces the edge of the hole to negate any compromise in strength created by drilling the hole. This isn’t much of a concern though since most of the forces are transmitted through the hitch pin which is well in front of the new hole. For tool-less deployment and removal I fabricated a bolt with integrated handle, much like what’s found on bench vices. I eventually painted this bolt also, but it’s not shown in the pictures; I’ll leave this in the trunk when not used. The hitch rattle/clunk is now completely gone, plus it’s easy to deploy and will work for every hitch accessory.

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Building a better air return

Today, as part of a repainting project, I constructed a new air return out extra slats from wooden blinds and some scrap wood. Nothing was wrong with the existing metal return other than being ugly, so it will get added to the scrap metal pile and possible used on some metalwork project. All the materials were scraps from other projects, so total cost was just some paint/glue/staples and a few cents of electricity. As a bonus, the new return seems to be quieter and less restrictive than the metal version.

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Prepping the yard for Spring

In years past the yard has struggled to survive, this year we’re getting serious about fixing it. Soil tests confirmed that the entire yard is devoid of anything capable of reliably sustaining plant life; It’s basically 100% clay.

The city runs a facility nearby that takes leaves & limbs (for free) and turns them into compost/mulch (for about $0.01/lb). I’ve dropped of limbs many times in the past, but had only picked up once and couldn’t get much at a time since the pile forms a pyramid on the open trailer. To remedy this, I made some simple sides out of plywood. The sides are very strong but still pack up for easy storage in the shed attic. After tilling up the whole front yard we picked up 3 loads of compost averaging about 2000lbs each. This is the upper limit of what the Golf is rated for in the US, though less than 2/3 of the european rating (1500Kg=3300lbs) for the exact same vehicle; this was evident in that there was plenty of power/braking to spare.

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We spread the compost over the entire front yard and then mixed it in with the tiller and raked it level. Next weekend the same routine will be repeated for the side and back yards, followed by planting and fertilizing. Even with 12000lbs of compost added it’s only a marginal improvement to the soil over a relatively large surface area, so part of the plan is using creeping red fescue. Creeping red fescue is one of the most shade tolerant grass species and it also tolerates poor soil well. Hopefully from this point onwards the soil structure will only improve as it will get aerated and top-dressed with fresh compost yearly.

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