Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star


We're making great progress. The team of PJ and Tanya from Cook Varkony Studios who are helping us paint the addition have come up with a great idea for the warm room. They're painting the ceiling in a rich, dark blue. To that they're going to add dark nightime clouds and then stars which will lead you from the staris right to the door of the observatory. Here's my wife and Tanya priming the ceiling:

Andrea and Tanya Priming the Ceiling
Andrea and Tanya Priming the Ceiling
The priming was very hard work, and both ended up looking like they had a case of white chicken pox all over them. The work was well worth it, as you can see by PJ's work on the ceilling.

PJ Paints the Ceiling
PJ Paints the Ceiling

The effect of the night sky with stars sprinkled all over should be amazing. I can't wait to see it. Plus, they're going to uyse the same blue finish in the observatory, which should tie it all together incredibly well.

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Stairway to Heaven



 I was seven when Led Zeppelin released "Stairway to Heaven", but the title of the song fits today perfectly. There are many images to add to show the events of the day, which I will do tomorrow, but it was a fun-filled adventure. The stairs and the boom (crane) truck showed up around 9:00. The adventure began with the boom operator struggling to secure footing for his truck in the ice. A crowbar and a sledge hammer did the trick, and he had sure footing for the side supports of the truck. Then came the debate over how to strap the steps to the winch. After those decisions were made, the stairs were lifted into the air and aimed straight for the window on the third floor.

Then came the challenge of how to get them through the window. I was impressed with the amount of testosterone flowing in that room this morning. That has to be what it was, as I can't think of anything else that would have clouded the judgement of so many men all at once. You see, there is one simple law that Newton wrote about some time ago, and that is that if you are holding something and let go of it, it falls to the ground. That simple little "fact" seemed to escape several people today, but truth, gravity, and the theory of relativity prevailed. Once the first strap was cut, the 700lb stairs did in fact fall into the waiting platform prepared, and they were safely brought into the third floor.

From there it took a lot of muscles, which were now pumped up by all the bickering, to move the stairs over and into position. With some clever placement of eye hooks and supporting 2x4s, the stairs were lowered by ropes to the second floor. Then came the adventure of securing them, getting the right headroom, and putting them in place. Along the way I noticed what seemed to be a design issue with the stairs. A quick searchon Google found this picture:

516200341449_stair3.jpg

Notice at the top of the riser there is an "L" shaped cut. This allows the riser to meet the bottom of the floor above. Well, that little triangle is missing, but will hopefully be "glued back" there by Lynn, the Stair Rail Master.


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No More Leaks!


It's raining like a monsoon here and I am delighted to say that the dome is dry as can be! The extra hour's time and additional tube of caulk seemed to do the job. The dome quadrants were sealed the first time around. The place it was leaking was between the dome and the base ring. The water would run down the dome and follow the curve of the base ring, which brought it right into the observatory. But with the gaps finally filled, we're dry and ready for more electronics to be brought in, including Bertha.

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Changing site to glFusion


After spending considerable time trying to integrate a "standard" html web site with a Coppermine image gallery and a Wordpress blog, it seemed that the use of a Content Management System (CMS) would make mouch more sense. So I did some research and found that glFusion was a much better way to go. I will be moving the blog over as soon as I can.

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First Rain


Although I spent an hour applying another tube and a half of silicone caulk to the dome, I still have some more work to do. The dome has seen its first snow, ice, sleet, and rain storm, and there are a few leaks.

The Dome
The Dome

There are only a few places where rain can enter the observatory. First, the two quadrants on each side are joined together with bolts, and I seem to have successfully caulked those joints as they aren't leaking a drop. However, where the dome meets the "Dome Support Ring" also known as the DSR, is where I still have problems. There's about a half-inch gap between each of the four pieces. I tried to get some caulk to stick in there yesterday, but I guess I wasn't successful, as the rain is running down the outside of the dome, curling around the DSR, and through the holes in the inside of the observatory. Fortunately, Joe from R. W. Buff, Inc., has suggested a caulk product that the siding installers use on larger gaps. He claims it will fill the void better than silicone, so I'm going to go get some tomorrow. Thanks to the fact that the drywall crew left the Spackle buckets behind, I have plenty of tools to catch the rain coming in the observatory.
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The Dome is Installed


I looked up the word, "friend" in the dictionary, and this is what I found:

friend–noun  

 

1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?
4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.
5. (initial capital letter) a member of the Religious Society of Friends; a Quaker.

While I can't speak for the first definition, I can say without hesitation that Bill Dahlenburg and Matt Green demonstrated the second definition to me this Saturday. They gave up their day to work up in the observatory in the chilling wind to help me put together the dome.

Bill and Matt
Bill and Matt

 

The first part of the installation was to install the rectangular skirt, which makes the transition from the square walls to the circular dome. As it turned out, the walls were about as square as a quarter, so we had a heck of a time installing the skirt. It took us an extra two hours getting it together, with Matt filling the gaps with caulk for now. I still have more holes to patch.

Once that was complete, we brought up the four pieces of the base ring, and that went very well. Since it was pre-assembled, it went together very quickly and we knew we had it level. After a trip to the local hardware store for weather stripping and stainless steel lag screws and washers, we secured it tight to the octagon frame. Well, that was after we discovered that my cordless drill was too big, and my right angle drill battery was dead. But after we fixed that minor setback, we were okay.

The next major activity was to bring the four dome quadrants up from the ground. Given that they were too big to bring through any windows, we had to lift them up by rope from the ground. Fortunately Matt the brilliant idea to use a "C" clamp to attach to the dome piece and then tie the rope to that. Here's the view of him from the bottom as we're about to lift the first piece:

 

Matt from Above
Matt from Above

The plan was that Matt was going to lift the piece up from the bottom while Bill and I pulled up the rope. Matt came up with the idea of lifting it up the ladder, which he also offered to do, for which I was EXTREMEMLY grateful. Matt attached the first piece and Bill and I started hauling it up the side of the house. I had this vision that the clamp would slip off, the dome piece would come crashing down on Matt and knock him off the ladder. Fortunately, nothing like that happened, and thanks to Bill muscling each piece over the edge of the observatory, we successfully got each piece up the "mountain."

Matt and the Dome Pieces
Matt and the Dome Pieces

Now we had the adventure of trying to figure out how to put all of this together, four stories up in the air, with about a 20 mph wind, with frozen hands. Logic would have suggested we wait until next weekend, but that wasn't an option, so we made some adjustments to the method the manual suggested (yes, we were reading the manual) and built each side. It went together very well, thanks again to the pre-assembly, and before we knew it, it looked like a dome.

The real trick was trying to figure out what we needed to do before we put a piece together, as it's very hard to reach parts of it from the outside or inside. Fortunately one side of the observatory has a roof that you can stand on, so Matt went out there about four times while we rotated the dome so he could work on parts of it from outside.

In the end, we were rapidly running out of daylight and time, but the shutter went on perfectly. We stationed Matt out on the roof in case something went wrong with the shutter, but it all went together very smoothly. When I pulled it closed for the first time, Bill and I could hear Matt say, "Wow, look at how COOL that is!"

Finished!
Finished!

We climbed down from the observatory, turned off the flashlight, and had a beer to celebrate. Bill and Matt rushed home and Andrea and the gang and I rushed off to our daughter's first cheerleading competition. It was a long and very tiring day, but it wouldn't have been possible without the support and assistance from two very special people. Thanks again Bill and Matt - I hope we can share many nights seeing the the stars from the Bel Tor Observatory, or rather, Bertha Sees Uranus.

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Geometry Lesson


Today was a good lesson in geometry. We had the interesting challenge of supporting a circle with an octagon sitting on top of a square. As you can imagine, it took several attempts, lots of thinking and analysis, but in the end Jay and Josh prevailed. The main problem was that the manual from the manufacturer was wrong, so the framing lumber didn't work out to fit.

Once it was done, the view from the top without the roof was nothing short of stunning. It was like having a deck up on the fourth floor. Here are few shots from above:

Looking Directly South
Looking Directly South
Southwest
Southwest
Looking Straight Down - Part of Dome on the Ground
Looking Straight Down - Part of Dome on the Ground
Looking North over the Roof
Looking North over the Roof
West
West
 
East
East
Straight down and Southest
Straight down and Southest

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Observatory Takes Shape


Tuesday may have been an important day, but today was the inauguration of the observatory floor.

 

Manufactured Beam to Support the Floor
Manufactured Beam to Support the Floor

 

After careful planning and preparation, a quick call to Mike, the draftsman working on the plans, came up with a better idea and we started over.

The first job was to hang the 7.25" beam that would serve as the nailer for the rest of the floor joists and to which the half-spiral stairs would be attached. Josh (left) is holding the beam while Jay (right) attaches it to the wall. Doug (center) keeps an eye on progress to make sure everything is done properly.

As you can see, this involved some rather unnatural acts of carpentry by Josh and Jay.

Josh with a Back Hand Shot
Josh with a Back Hand Shot
Jay with the Upper Cut Shot
Jay with the Upper Cut Shot

 

Of course, none of these heroic feats of carpentry acrobatics would be possible if it weren't for the accurate and careful cutting of Douglas (a.k.a. Douglas, the Italian Christmas Donkey). I was first introduced to Doug when he entered our house with a cordless DeWALT reciprocating saw, asking how he could get to the basement to cut off the outdoor faucet. That was our first taste of demolition on the project. But Doug was successful without a hitch.
 
Doug making another perfect cut
Doug making another perfect cut

The rest of the floor went together pretty quickly, except for a few bowed 2x8s. Maybe Barack can do something about our nation's lumber supply? At any rate, the team was successful in getting the floor together. We made a 16" x 16" opening for the pier to follow, as shown in the shot below:

 
Pier Location
Pier Location
 

We made the opening a bit bigger so I had room to align the pier to the North and also have plenty of room for wires and such. I think this will work just fine.

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Observatory Revealed


As we were planning the support rails for the rectangular skirt the goes on top of the dome, it become obvious that we should look at the piece in order to take some measurements. Armed with a pair of wire cutters and a hammer, I attacked the end panels on the shipping box. Here's a looks from either end of the box.

Base Ring and Dome Quadrants
Base Ring and Dome Quadrants
Shutter and Rectangluar Skirt
Shutter and Rectangluar Skirt

The color looks great. It's a lot better than the standard white color since we're mounting it on our house, and they were able to really match the siding and flashing colors well. The color is actually mixed with the resign that makes the fiberglass parts, so it's embedded int he pieces and not just painted on. I think they did an outstanding job with what I'm seeing so far.

From there I unpacked the pieces for the skirt and got them up in the storage side of the third floor. Here they are laid out on the floor so we can see how the start coming together.

One side of the Rectangular Skirt
One side of the Rectangular Skirt
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Arrival of the Dome


Monday morning of January 12th, was an interesting moment, to say the least. The morning before my wife and I awoke to the smell of something burning. Minutes later there was smoke billowing out of the vents in the house. It turned out that the heat limit switch on our oil furnace had malfunctioned, and the oil burner just kept heating and getting hotter and hotter. Some of the Armaflex insulation had some how gotten inside the air conditioner coil on top of the furnace. Given that it's rated to stay flexible to 220 degrees, it's no wonder that it melted down and caused all the smoke. So after having our HVAC person there all day Sunday, he was due to arrive at 8:00 Monday morning with a new temp limit switch.

So, on Monday morning we of course missed the bus, so after dropping off everyone I was late getting back to the house. As I'm getting close to home my phone rings, and it's the HVAC guy asking where I am. Then at the same time I get a call from Yellow Freight about the dome. The gentleman on the phone was asking if someone would be there tomorrow for the delivery and wanted to make sure we had something to get the large box off his truck. I explained that he was delivery the shipment to a residence and that my neighbor had borrowed my fork lift. He suggested I call the shipper to discuss a resolution.After getting the HVAC guy started on his job I called Jerry Smith at Technical Innovations and explained the situation. He jumped right in to help, calling me back minutes later with two flat bed towing services that could do the job. About an hour later I had received a call from the towing company asking for directions and telling me they would bring it here later that afternoon. At least there was a glimmer of sunshine on this very dreary day. The driver didn't know if he should go up the construction road, so he stopped and walked up the hill to talk to the guys putting on the siding. After explaining my intention of putting it in the yard, he jumped back in the truck and drove up the driveway.

Dome Delivery
Dome Delivery

 

From there he maneuvered around by the garage and I had planned on him putting on a spot in the yard the would hopefully be out of the way yet still allow us to get to it easily. Given that it was a flat bed truck, it was a pretty easy delivery. He backed up the truck as far as he could go, unhooked the straps, and then carefully and slowly lowered it onto the ground.

The drop off went pretty easily, although his truck slid towards him slightly. We had gotten a few inches of snow that day, which made it even more interesting.

 

Bombs Away
Bombs Away

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