Author: Jimmy (page 1 of 17)

REVIEW: My Toro Snowmaster 724 QXE

The 2015-2016 winter was our first winter in our house, and I fully intended on surviving with only a shovel. I changed my mind, after 8+ inches of heavy wet snow, and almost 2 hours to shovel our driveway. Having already done some research, I seized my chance…I drove to Home Depot and bought a Toro Snowmaster.

I’ve been using my Snowmaster 724 QXE since last year and I was a little apprehensive at first, since it was a new model. After using it a few times, that apprehension is gone.

The Design

Photo credit: Toro

Yes, it is technically a single stage with a different auger design. They call it “inline two stage” because the sides of the auger pull snow toward the center, and the center paddle (much smaller and more scoop-like than a standard single-stage) throws the snow out the chute. The bucket and chute design are shallower in their tapering to maximize throwing distance. It may not throw as far as a two stage, since it lacks an impeller, but if you keep it moving and full of snow, it can throw snow 20-30 feet. The lack of impeller lets Toro use more power in the auger, which spins very fast (“10 times faster than a 2-stage”). This also allows the blower to be a lot lighter, needing much smaller tires (this isn’t a disadvantage).

The lack of weight on this blower means it moves around more like a lawnmower, than a typical two stage blower. Toro even put their personal pace system from their mowers on it. This means that the controls are very minimal:

  • one lever to engage the auger
  • Toro’s “quick chute” joystick (which is awesome)
  • personal pace bar to push the blower and engage the drive-train.

All this means that I can clear my driveway and sidewalk in much less time than my neighbors.

Performance

End of driveway (EOD) snow is the one question mark for most people, since single-stage blowers typically suck here. My Snowmaster 724 has been able to handle EOD snow without fail. I do need to slow down a bit, because the hard-packed EOD snow slows down the auger, but as long as you listen to the engine, you’ll be fine. EOD is the one place that the extra ~$100 for the more powerful 824 might be nice. The 824 would handle it a little faster. though my 724 hasn’t failed me yet, even when EOD snow is 2-6 inches higher than the bucket.

Finally, the other nice thing about the fact it is a single-stage and Toro has a well-designed compression scraper bar. It works in a couple inches of snow as well as a foot of snow…meaning you don’t need two machines.

Final Thoughts

Whether you buy a Snowmaster is up to you and your personal situation. This is a excellent machine that I can recommend (and apparently The Sweethome recommends it now too).

The Best Laundry Basket

The incorrect basket

I read most of The Sweethome’s reviews. They are usually great, in-depth, and well-researched. They impress me with their testing and I’ve had great luck with their picks.  Sometimes, the picks don’t live up to my expectations.  Their laundry basket pick is one of them.  They picked the Sterilite Stacking basket from the Container Store.

I looked these at a local Container Store. Ultimately they felt junky, were too small, and were unimpressive.

The Container Store also vastly disappointing.  The selection was poor and it felt like walking into a OCD nightmare.  The store felt unorganized, but it was a store of organization containers….

The correct laundry basket

Back to the point…the best laundry basket is the 2 bushel Sterilite basket from Walmart: Sterilite Ultra (the good one)

Note that there are two different versions of the “Sterilite Ultra” basket.  Walmart stocks the better one, with the triangle shaped holes and the non-arching handles with a bulge on the bottom. These handles are thicker and more sturdy compared to the ones with oval holes and simple arching handles, which break easily. The basket itself is also made out of heavier plastic.

We have three of these baskets and they’ve held up well to regular laundry tasks, but also to my kids messing around in them (which is what broke our old baskets).  They’ve even survived being thrown down the stairs…more than once by Alyssa.

Check it out!

Quick Tip: DIY Bird Feeder Filler

You know I love the birds.  I buy black oil sunflower seeds in 50 lb bags and fill my bird feeder all year round.  Instead of buying a filler or a special scoop, which do work, I made my own out of an old juice jug.  The design is super simple, very effective, and free.

Make it!

Just a utility knife to cut a decent sized hole in the top narrower side of the container (I used a cider jug, but you could probably use a half gallon milk jug, or some other similar plastic container).  This hole allows you to use the container to scoop seeds out of your seed bag.  Use the juice container’s pour hole to pour the seed/bird food into your bird feeder.  Depending on your feeder, you might even be able to leave it hanging while you fill it, like I do.

The final step is to bask in the feeling of saving yourself $6-$15 and the glory of DIY!

Happy birding!

REVIEW: High Sierra 1.5 GPM High Efficiency Low Flow Shower Head

I know, I know…I’m reviewing a shower head.  The only reason I’m reviewing this is because it is a great shower head for not that much money ($40).

Most low flow shower heads are terrible.  My parents have gone through a few of them, and all the ones they had were cheap, plastic, and had poor water pressure.  It took twice as long to wash my hair, which defeats some of the purpose of the 40% water savings.

If you know me, you know I like to do a lot of product research before I buy.  My shower head research started on The Sweethome.  They do a lot of research and testing, which helps me to understand how a product works and what to look for.  I almost pulled the trigger on one of their picks last year, but an Amazon recommendation stopped me.  The High Sierra shower head is a well reviewed, metal shower head, that was also 1.5 GPM low flow. It had to have fake/paid/incentivized reviews.  Nope.

Continue reading

Making sense of the election: your vote, your voice, let’s learn from each other

All of the responses to my request were very informative and have already challenged me to think differently about things.  While this poll wasn’t scientific, the responses I got are all very valuable.

Without further ado, here are your uncensored thoughts:

Continue reading

“/” (or Fake Submodules in Git)

The current project I’m working on for my new church website requires me to have a Git repository inside of another Git repository.  Typically when you do this, Git assumes you want to use a “feature” called submodules.  You probably don’t. I read up on submodules and don’t see any use case for them.  (There likely is one, of course, but this wasn’t it.)

It took a bit of searching, but if you add a “/” to the end of the folder that contains your nested repo when you are running  git add, you can fake the parent repo into acting how you’d expect, and not ignore everything inside.

Thanks to Felix from debuggable.com!

Making sense of the election: who did you vote for and why?

Like most people, I was shocked at the result of this week’s US presidential election.  Facebook has been an interesting place, to say the least, with differing viewpoints, though very little civility.  (Even many calling for civility are not being sensitive to other viewpoints.)

I voted the way I did for many reasons, and at this point, I’ve come to grips with the fact I don’t really know why others voted the way they did.  I want to change that.

My goal is to compile responses from people as to why they voted the way they did in the presidential election.  I’ll personally review each response and share them all in a future post.   I think it will be educational and enlightening, and it will hopefully help us to understand each other better and work together.

The rules

Please no name-calling, labels, or libel about the other candidate.  If one of your reasons for voting was the other candidate, please express your views respectfully.  Also, if you are going to make a claim about a candidate, please fact check.

Finally, share this with your friends.  I want as big a sample size as possible.

Your views

Website Hosting Update

My last post was about setting up Git on a remote server.  The git setup worked well for me and I used it for a good number of months, but I couldn’t stomach Dreamhost anymore.  As we get closer to launch, I was frustrated with the speed of the site, both front and back end.  I did the best I could to speed up the site:  cache, a CDN, fewer plugins, but it wasn’t me.  The hosting plan was too slow.

Ultimately I switched the site over to WP Engine.  I’ve used them for years and have been very happy.  Their hosting has a lot going for them: performance, their management panel, and customer service (the one time I needed them).

After the switch the speed is where it should be.  Dreamhost’s free free non-profit program is great, but their shared hosting is slow.

Setting up git for deploying website updates (Dreamhost and other hosts)

For this site and the blog I built for my company, I use WP Engine, a WordPress host (which I can definitely recommend).  WP Engine has a built in staging environment as well as the option to deploy to staging or production via Git.  If you don’t know what Git is, you can probably stop reading now.  If you are still here and want to know about Git, lmgtfy.

I’m currently working on a new website for my church, as the current site looks like this:

Since WP Engine can be costly, and Dreamhost offers free hosting for non-profits, we are going to save some money and go that route.  Since I’ve come to enjoy the ease of deployments with Git on WP Engine, I immediately started looking for a way to do the same thing with Dreamhost.

I don’t have a staging environment (nor do I need one for this project presently), but otherwise the end result is nearly the same.  Thanks to Brandon Evans for the bulk of the setup, and Etel Sverdlov on Digital Ocean for the SSH setup instructions.

SSH into your server and init the repo

  1. Make sure you have shell access to the server, in my case, Dreamhost has a wiki article on how to enable.  Other hosts, if they give this access, likely have a similar setting.
  2. ssh into your server:
    ssh user@yourdomain-or-server.com
    and enter your password.
  3. Make sure git is installed on your server.  If it is not, there are a number of ways to do this.  Here is how Dreamhost suggests…if you have terminal access, just use apt-get.  I didn’t have to do any of this, since git was already present on my server.
  4. Create the directory that you want to house the repository:
    mkdir website.git && cd website.git
    git init --bare

    Notice that we are creating a bare repository.   Per Jon Saints, bare repositories are for sharing, as opposed to the standard git init repos that are for working.

  5. The bare repository is now created, but we aren’t done. We need to have the files we push to the new repository automatically moved to the folder we need them in.  In my case, it was the website (WordPress theme) directory.
    cat > hooks/post-receive
    
    #!/bin/sh
    git --work-tree=path_to_folder --git-dir=git_repo.git checkout -f
  6. When you’re done typing everything from #! (hash-bang) to checkout -f, type control-d to save the file.
  7. Next run
    chmod +x hooks/post-receive

    to allow that file to be executed by the system.

  8. Next we need to exit SSH

Add the new repository locally as a git remote

This is pretty standard git and I don’t think I need to outline this for you.  One thing to note is the location of your remote:

git remote add web ssh://user@yourdomain.com/home/user/yourRepo.git

Copy your ssh key to the remote

cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | ssh user@123.45.56.78 "mkdir -p ~/.ssh && cat >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"

This lets you not have to enter your password every time, similar to an ssh setup in github.

You’re done!

Now you can git push to your new remote repo.  You’ll get a message like this if you are successful:

Counting objects: 30, done.
Delta compression using up to 4 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (17/17), done.
Writing objects: 100% (17/17), 5.16 KiB, done.
Total 17 (delta 11), reused 0 (delta 0)

I don’t consider myself an expert, but wanted to share since it took me a bit to get a grasp on all the steps needed.   Thanks again to Brandon Evans for the bulk of the setup, and Etel Sverdlov on Digital Ocean for the SSH setup instructions.

Composting: I do it and you can too!

There’s nothing quite like the smell of decay.  Actually, if you are composting properly, it doesn’t smell much at all.   Plus, when you compost, you get free natural fertilizer for your garden or other plants AND reduce the amount of waste you are sending to the landfill.  (And no, that waste doesn’t compost the same way at the landfill.  It decays without enough oxygen or carbon, and produces a foul methane gas mixture.)

“But compost bins are pricey.”

Sure you could spend $100+ on a compost bin from Home Depot or somewhere else, or you could make your own for under $15.   This is what I did (I actually made three of them) and the compost is flowing.  My bins are made from standard 32 gallon plastic trash cans, with a bunch of 3/4 inch holes drilled in them. DSC00830 This design has a few advantages and a couple disadvantages.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to start
  • Doesn’t take up much space
  • Keeps out small animals looking for a snack
  • Small enough to move, even when full

Cons:

  • Difficult to create hot compost (it is possible, and I have done it, but even if you do get it hot, it doesn’t stay hot for long)
  • Requires drilling some holes

Collecting kitchen scraps

DSC00838One we started composting we had to change our process.  Alyssa does most of the cooking, so she had to stop throwing away fruit/vegi scraps, coffee grounds, and other compostable things, and start saving them.  At first we just used an ice cream pail. It worked well, but wasn’t the nicest looking thing.  Then after it got colder and we didn’t want to go into the garage to get it (we didn’t want a dirty ice cream pail in the kitchen), I bought a nice looking one that can stay on the counter.  It has a cover with a carbon filter so it vents, but doesn’t smell.  It matches our kitchen and works great.

Letting it breathe

DSC00837The most important thing needed to maintain a smallish DIY trash can compost bin, besides the correct mixture of Carbon and Nitrogen, is turning it.   If you don’t turn your compost, it really starts to smell.  They make specialized compost tools, but I just use a garden fork.  At first I tried a garden shovel, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to cut it due to the weight and compactness of compost, so I picked up my pitch garden fork from Menards.

Ramping it up

This is working fine for me at the moment, but if I ever want to speed up my compost efforts there are two ways I’m looking to go: 1) Start vermicomposting (worm bin) and 2) get a bigger compost bin/pile.

Worm bins

Worms actually create even richer compost, and some consider vermicompost as “black gold”.  I plan on doing a DIY flow through style bin based on this design.  I’d also need some “red wigglers“, which according to /u/GrandmaGos are dirt cheap at a bait shops. (Thanks for the tip!)

Larger bin/pile

If we ever decide to ramp up our efforts even more, I’d consider building a larger bin out of wood or just buying a cheap larger one.  A larger bin would be able to accommodate more leaves in the fall, but would also require more “green” materials than we’re currently creating.  We’d maybe look at getting used coffee grounds from a local coffee shop and/or growing some comfrey (though we might do this anyway).

Other resources

How to compost: http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html
Worm composting: http://compost.css.cornell.edu/worms/basics.html
Compost bin designs (Cornell): designscompostingsystems (pdf)
Great gardening Youtube channel: One Yard Revolution
Me (I’ve done a bunch of research, if you have questions ask me in the comments…)

My bins:

 Happy Composting!

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