Wednesday 30 November 2022

Repurposing pallets to shelving racks

 In the last 2-3 months, I've made seven shelving racks from pallet wood. These used pallets got a second life when we turned them into a shop counter and product display racks. They were planned, sanded, primed and painted in this process. 

These are the original pallets. I spent a lot of weekends planning and painting.

The shop counter in progress. I never took a photo of the finished counter. It came out very well.

Wall-mounted pallets for product display racks.

With the shop now closed and everything dismantled, I have turned the pallets into shelving racks for storage in my garage at home and also for a storage garage. The seventh rack was a smaller one for the inside of the hanging part of a cupboard. 

When I made the first rack, it took me ages to strip the pallets, especially if the wood was quite dry and brittle. It takes time to get your technique right and to know just how much pressure can be applied before a plank will split. I use a crowbar, hammer and a plank of wood. Where it initially took me an hour to strip a difficult pallet, I can now strip a pallet down in 15 minutes with few to no losses. (the one in the video was done in 15 mins with no losses - my best yet).

I didn't bother to do any additional painting or finishing on the planks - they serve their purpose as is and the patchy paint reminds me of their heritage.

Very chuffed with my first rack. It would be the first of seven.

I made a video of the process of making a shelving rack - from stripping down a pallet and removing the nails to assembling the rack. I properly assembled the racks on site. I transport the sides and shelves 'flat packed' and then attach the shelves on site (at the storage garage in this case). There, I can determine shelf height from the actual objects that I want to store on the shelves.

Over a period of a few weeks, I spent every weekend making these racks with some pallet stripping on evenings during the week to build up my plank stash. I think I've worked my way through at least 13 to 15 pallets. My drilling, measuring, jigsaw and assembly skills improved significantly through these repetitive actions and projects. It has been very rewarding.

In 2:30, here is the video of pallet to shelving rack.

Monday 28 November 2022

Pop quiz and your state of mind

I got sent a 13-question quiz by a young friend. She said that it came from a book called 'Factfulness', which I see is by Hans Rosling. Hans was a Swedish academic; he passed away in 2017.

I first encountered Hans Rosling through TED Talks. He was one of the very first speakers back in 2006. His TED Talk in 2010 on the effect of the innovation of the washing machine has always stuck with me. 

This quiz asks questions like the change in the number of deaths per year from natural disasters in the last 100 years (doubled, stayed the same or halved), or percentage of people in the world that have some access to electricity, or how many years of schooling have women had vs men of the same age.

The questions should be answered without Googling the answers.

The quiz is available online. Give it a try now before reading the rest of my post: Factfulness quiz

My answers were mostly on the pessimistic side of the scale, and thus a large chunk were incorrect because things are, as the title of the book tells us, better than we think.

The full title of Rosling's book is "Factfulness - Ten Reasons We're Wrong About The World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think".

The questions asked are actually fairly general knowledge and the answers are indeed stats that we have heard. I really shouldn't have gotten so many wrong, because I do know better with regards to some of them.

That said, I'm not in a very optimistic frame of mind, so this would most definitely contribute to my decidedly negative responses in the quiz. I am not very positive about the world. I'm also swayed by doses of ongoing bad news in South Africa. Is my judgement and perception of South Africa vs The World skewed? Indeed. I find it hard to dissociate the two.

People have family members who drop down dead - unexpectedly or from sudden illness. If I hear of someone's aunt or cousin who has died, I always ask why, especially if the person was 'young' - 50s and 60s. Many undetermined causes. Life expectancy in South Africa is 64. Life expectancy in the World is 72. The quiz offered up 50, 60 or 70. I went with 60 in the quiz. My perception of the world definitely skewed by my South African biases and experience. 

Other things right now that concern me, which affect my biases:

Some of the kayak factory workers, good guys, who still have no work, or just odd jobs. Some have jobs paying minimum wage. I puzzle over how those on minimum wage of around R3,500 survive and support their families and extended families. 

I've also been contemplating how having freedom of transport, even by bicycle, opens opportunities in people's lives. They can transport themselves to work (reliable, safe, time-saving) as well as children to school and also be able to transport products to market or tools/equipment to jobs. It means more time with family instead of walking for 2-3hrs per day to get back-and-forth to work (or school). Also, if you can move around more easily, you can attend events, shop at better value stores, get involved with and contribute more to the community. But, how can someone earning minimum wage buy a R4,000 single-speed bicycle? 

One of the questions in the quiz asked about the percentage of people who have some access to electricity. The answer is 80% (I went for 50%). I know that a low-income household may have access to electricity but they don't have enough money to recharge their pre-paid meter - certainly not to keep them with power for a whole month. They don't have geyers for hot water, which reduces their electricity consumption but means that bathing is out of a tub of water heated on the gas cooker and school homework is done by candle light. I know a middle-income household where they shower every second day so that they only turn the geyser on then as they don't have enough income to pay electricity for use for the whole month. I can go with 80% having some access to electricity as opposed to absolutely no access to electricity. Charging your phone at the house of a friend who has electricity would count as 'some access' to electricity. 

I googled what world electricity access is now... As of 2020, 90% of the world's population has some access to electricity.

I've got a family member who has been going through the public health system. Everything is a standard "come back in four weeks" whether it is for blood results (these only take a few days at most and can be telephonically reported), biopsies, or an appointment with a different doctor. She is almost a year down the line. The aim should be to sort out people's problems quickly so that they are out of the system and also so that the person doesn't get worse and more greatly burden the system.

As I'm learning about plants, my eyes have been opened to how many endangered and vulnerable species there are. If plants are vulnerable, organisms associated with the plants would be impacted too. George is growing. More land space will be used to build houses, schools and shops. This means that the creatures that live in these spaces get pushed out. It is the reality of development, but it comes at a price. 

Did I think that two out of tigers, giant pandas and black rhinos were more critically endangered than they were in 1996? Yes. Of course, I do know that conservation efforts have been successful and that in captivity there have been amazing successes. These animals are still in a fix. The answer is that they are still all critically endangered but none are as critically endangered as in 1996. 

I have just Googled these three animals. We are almost 20 years ahead and numbers in all populations have improved to varying degrees through massive efforts. Black rhino populations have almost doubled. 

More than half of the 13,000 global tiger population lives in captivity with only 5,000-odd roaming wild. This number of wild tigers is much the same as in 1999. With ongoing habitat destruction, wild tigers are almost as screwed as they were in 1996, but, at least there is more awareness, protection and efforts around doing more for them. 

In 1995, there were around 1000 pandas in the wild. There are around 1800 in the wild now, plus <400-odd in captivity.

I've just downloaded the audiobook of Factfulness and look forward to being injected with a dose of positivity, at least in my outlook of the world as a whole.

Tuesday 22 November 2022

parkrun dog-run-volunteer balance

I've been regularly volunteering at our George parkrun since it reopened in November 2021 post-COVID lockdown. I only ran it for the first time in about May this year. I maybe run it every 4-6 weeks and the rest of the time I generally volunteer with barcode scanning being my favourite duty.

George parkrun is a lovely route but it is not the course to set an all-time 5k 'Personal Best' (PB). I'd say that most will be >3 minutes slower here than on a flat course. I've taken 2.5 minutes off my time these past months and I'm looking to further gains as I get fitter and faster with running again. On days when I run, I'm generally in the Top 50 so I'm able to resume my volunteer duties at the finish before the bulk of the field gets there.

I've been taking Rosy along to parkrun, especially on days when I'm running. She has come along to volunteer but it is a bit boring for an exuberant dog. By running first, we drain a bit of energy. She knows that Saturday mornings are parkrun days and she asks me to take her along.

Two weeks ago we enjoyed a lovely run together. It was warm and we took the pace a bit easier. Rosy also enjoyed two swims in streams. 

Rusty used to always come with me to parkrun in Parys to run and to volunteer. I feel bad leaving her at home now but running parkrun is no longer an option for her with spondylosis in her lower vertebra. She would be keen but she would be stiff afterwards. Rusty still loves running, but we keep our runs together very light and short, avoiding anything too steep up or down. We traverse the parkrun route trails regularly, but at an easy pace and without the excitement of the crowds. This is right for her.

I decided to take Rusty along this past Saturday to volunteer as she always used to chill at the finish in Parys and loved watching the people come in. This was her first time at a parkrun since before lockdown. Rusty was super excited at the start. She loves the buzz. We ran about 200m with the crowd before turning back; she loved that. At the finish, she was 99% good, only barking occasionally at some dogs crossing the finish. I was on timekeeper duty, but I think Rusts will prefer the scanning location (more comfy and better views of people), so I'll take her along for the next one.

Rusty with me at parkrun on Saturday.

Where I could still be lazing in bed on Saturday mornings, I favour getting up to volunteer at parkrun instead. It gets me up and moving, the 1.5km run to the venue is a pleasant trot and we've got a lovely volunteer community that I'm glad to be part of. I also enjoy seeing the regular participants. 

A beauty of a day (my photo)

I should be able to strike a good balance with taking Rosy along on run days and Rusty along on volunteer days.

All of these parkrun photos by Louis. He volunteers every week, taking photos of the participants and volunteers, which he uploads to the George parkrun Facebook page. He is always happy to take photos of my with my girls for my picture memories. Thank you Louis.

Monday 21 November 2022

A few days away - for sleeping

 I enjoyed a few days away last week with my mom and our dogs. This was my first proper break since April last year and it was much needed. 

We stayed little over an hour from George, near the little town of De Rust. The other side of the Outeniqua Mountains, near the Swartberg Mountains in the Klein Karoo is vastly different from George in climate, terrain and vegetation. The warm-to-your-core temperatures were very welcome as well as the crispy-towel dryness. 

Looking towards the Swartberg Mountains.

Our three-days, four-nights away we filled with few activities. Day One consisted primarily of sleeping, reading, hanging with dogs, sleeping, reading, eating, dog walking, reading, sleeping.

Our cabin had a bookcase with an interesting assortment of books. I picked up a book of the 'Best of Roald Dahl' short stories, which I devoured. I'm also busy reading 'Burchell's African Odyssey', a new book on William Burchell's return journey to Cape Town via the Garden Route. This was back in 1814-ish and is utterly fascinating. During his four-year journey, the guy collected 63,000 specimens (plants, insects, mammals etc) - a regular Darwin! I'm about 3/5 through the book, which is one to be savoured.

Day Two, I met up with a chap who I met out hiking in April last year. We enjoyed a morning walk on a nearby farm. It was a beautiful out-and-back route along a small river - a section worth a lot more exploring. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea-and-cake with Jeanne and his wife in town in the afternoon. After being awake for so many hours, a post-outing nap was in order, followed by a dog walk, dinner, a few rounds of Bananagram and more sleeping.

Day Three: We drove the Meiringspoort mountain pass. We've both been through it before (more than once for me) but it is a drive that can be enjoyed over and over again as you gaze in wonder at the exposed rock folds.

Being a 'poort' that follows a river rather than a pass that goes up and over, the gradient is gentle and the scenery is magnificent with bridges over the flowing river, exceptional rock formations and, according to Mountain Passes South Africa, "63 bends, corners and curves".

That outing demanded another read and nap. 

We left to return home on the morning of Day Four.

Dog walks did give the opportunity to capture observations for iNaturalist. I've been stretched learning about fungi, ferns and fynbos... and now succulents, which are abundant in this area.

Those lichens, top right, were great finds for me. I'm not 100% sure on their ID but they caught my eye and were good to log. 

Nice finds here included the angulate tortoise (top right). It was my first time seeing a spekboom tree in bloom (pink flowers centre top). I found a few cactuses with flowers and learned, from my book on succulents, that we only have one indigenous cactus in South Africa. The rest are all alien.

The dogs loved being away. They settled in immediately, didn't stray and were game for walks and naps at any time and in any order.

We had little to no mobile signal in our cabin, which suited me perfectly.

It feels a shame to go away to such a lovely area - one worthy of a ton of exploring, and to spend the bulk of my time sleeping. But, this was exactly what I needed. I've been exhausted and stress has been getting the better of me physically. These last months have been challenging.

I generally handle stress pretty well and mentally I'm mostly on top of things. For the past few weeks, I've been struggling with swollen and numb fingers and hands. Circulation is compromised as well as dexterity and I wake up in the night with no feeling in my hands. I haven't been able to sleep on my sides. 

Three weeks ago, I went to a physio who nailed the problem as tight muscles in my neck, shoulders and back. I initially thought that it was purely physical as it started in the weeks when I was moving Vagabond and other stuff into storage almost daily for 2.5 weeks. Instead, this is more a physical manifestation of stress with the spasmed muscles affecting nerves to my hands. I've had so many weird niggles these past months and they are certainly all related to stress. I handle fine, but it does take its toll.

The physio's work, my ongoing exercises and these few days away have improved my hands significantly. I saw the chiropractor on Friday. He uses an electrical thing to hyperstimulate muscles to 'exhaustion' so that they relax. This works too for rectifying alignment, which I needed again. I can now lie on my sides to read in bed and even to sleep a little on either side again.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed a lovely run at the Garden Route Dam. At 13km, this is one of the longest runs I've done in a long time. Pace was chilled, morning was perfect and I ran easy - like in the 'old days' (2.5 years ago). This evening, I joined the weekly 'Social Run' for an 8km at the dam. 

I hope this is the real start to be becoming 'normal me' again.

Friday 4 November 2022

Not 'just' a fern

 The annual Bioblitz on iNaturalist took place this past weekend - from Friday to Monday. The objective of the Bioblitz is for observers to log their observations of fauna and flora of their region to contribute to the database of diversity for the area.

I'm part of the Great Southern Bioblitz - Garden Route region. On Saturday, my mom and I did a little walk - maybe 300m down and then back up, scoring 24 observations of different plants (a drop inthe ocean compared to the high scorers).

This time last year, I saw my first wild orchids along the trail that I chose to visit to capture some Bioblitz observations. I was really hoping to spot more. I got lucky finding two - a Satyre (with flowers) and a Disa (flower buds).

My big score was actually in the fern department.

I've never been big on ferns. Sure, they are green, leafy and pretty, but I've never really paid them much attention. 

The little that I remember about ferns from school is that they are ancient with evidence of ferns in the fossil records going back millions of years before the dinosaurs, and that they have spores, not seeds, underneath the leaves.

A quick search reminded me of the weird lifecycle of ferns, another interesting characteristic of these plants. No other plant has two separate living structures in their lifecycle.

Not knowing much about types of ferns, my identification skills are somewhat limited to the domestic sword fern, maiden-hair fern and tree fern. And then there is the common bracken, a type of fern, that grows all over the place. I tend to ignore ferns, not bothering much to photograph them for iNaturalist.

My mom saw 'our' one and exclaimed, "A tree fern," encouraging me to take photos of it. I did.

I didn't really plan to log the observation. Afterall, it was 'just' a tree fern type fern. On Wednesday night, wanting to contribute more to the Bioblitz, I decided to log it.

I logged it as Class Polypodiopsida, which is the 'Fern' class. I then scrolled through dozens of photos of types of ferns, settling on the Knysna Wood Fern as the closest candidate. There were only a few photos from one observation. In South Africa. I made a note about the almost rectangular-shaped pinnules and that Amauropelta knysnaensis - Knysna Wood Fern looked like the closest option. 

I went to bed.

The next day, I had a response from an identifier who knows his ferns. His response said simply, "It is!".

This 'just a fern' log is now the second observation logged for this species not just for the Garden Route, not just for South Africa, not just for Africa, but for The World!

Base of the Knysna Wood Fern

Uncurling frond of the Knysna Wood Fern

This is it, the Knysna Wood Fern

Frond of the Knysna Wood Fern

Close-up of the pinnules of the Knysna Wood Fern

Back of the pinnules of the Knysna Wood Fern.

This is the real purpose of iNaturalist.

Sure, there are more of these fern individuals that exist, but they haven't been logged. The purpose of observations is to collect data on species, distribution, seasonality, flowering, fruiting, and frequency. The more citizen scientist observers you have out there, collecting the data, the better the boxes will be ticked.

There will be biases because observers are selective in what they want to photograph and log. A non-descript, small green hard-to-identify plant will be overlooked in favour of a flowering plant; and then you get people like me who mostly ignore the plants in favour of fungi. Having more people, each with different preferences, I like to think that so much more will be covered.

I didn't do much for this Bioblitz - a short outing with my mom; but I'm glad I did something. Only one other guy when out to the same area (another trail nearby) and I saw a lot more than I photographed. 

With this fern as a notch in my observation belt, when I took the dogs out on Thursday evening I decided to pick fronds from any of the ferns that I encountered to be able to closely compare them. I was astounded by the diversity.

Within about 300m, next to trails that I regularly take, I found these (and a few more):

Each one different - and there were more. Note the sori (clusters of reproductive structures) on some of the pinna and pinnules. Just fabulous. 

I must have about 12 or 13 different ferns that I brought home and photographed. I haven't tried to identify them yet but I certainly do have a whole new appreciation for ferns.