Thanks from the Boys and Girls Club –

Please excuse me for a moment, as I blow a trumpet for my beautiful and talented wife, Liz Hoffswell. Liz used her skills to build a website for a recent Boys and Girls Club function. I found this note on our desk today –

January 30, 2010

Dear Liz,

Words cannot adequately express how grateful I am for your support of the Boys & Girls Club by being a member of the Designer Show House Steering Committee. I am not only thankful, but in awe of the creativity, cooperation, and effort you displayed in a most challenging project. Thank you so much, Lizzie, for the time, talent , and treasure you so willingy gave on behalf of the website. it was great! I hope you are as pleased as I am.

Kindest regards,

Rebuilding an Old Barn

Behind my in law’s home in Holland Michigan lies a old chicken barn. The low 100 foot long barn has been used to house horses for the past 30+ years. In that time, it had never been well refitted for horses, and suffered a bit for it.

Over the past two years, the kids have gotten old enough to appreciate horses. Liz, my wife, re-discovered her love for the equine, and immediately started her new hobby – horse trading. The horses were getting as wet inside as outside with the leaks, and the barn was starting to fall over just a bit too much.

It was time to fix it. In the Summer and Fall of 2006 we rebuilt the barn back to a functional state. This article documents some of the detail of that project.

There are many images of the barn at Flickr

The Foundation
Barn 023

Due to erosion along the south side of the barn (and rain leaking in from the roof), the poured foundation had be slowly falling over. further inspection showed that it was still stable in the ground, just leaning. It was good enough to build upon, if the erosion and roof leaks were taken care of.

I sank some 4×4 posts along the south foundation in a vain attempt to support it from any further shifting. It might help, but the posts only go down about 3-4 feet. Just a bit further than the foundation itself.

Much gravel and sand was brought in on the south end to shore the ground up to a good level to match the foundation. That, and proper drainage slopes were added to carry water away from the barn. This has proven to help greatly.

The Walls

Barn 011

Since the foundation was shifting, so was the south Wall, and as the south wall leaned, so to did it take the roof and the north long wall with it. It was starting to look really bad.

In order to gain access to the barn’s structure, I had to pull out an old fiberboard ceiling. This was about the most disgusting job I’ve ever done. Over many years, chickens had roosted up in the ceiling. There was a 1/2″ layer of dust and chicken droppings. That, and eggs! Ancient eggs, from chickens long gone by, would fall on my head as I pulled the old ceiling down, in pieces. I wore a mask as not to get some strange chicken dust disease. I removed the ceiling and stalls to give clear access to the barn’s walls and roof.

My Dad came up for a weekend to help me shore up the walls, and get the barn square once again. Through a series of jacks and come-alongs, we pushed and pulled the barn square once again. Once it was all propped up square, we built a new south wall inside the old south wall (that didn’t come quite back to the top of the old foundation, and built new stalls.

Barn-Sep2006 017

The Stalls

Barn-Oct132006 013

The core of the rebuilt barn are the stalls. They are made with heavy treated lumber that can withstand the the pummeling of horses, and hold up the roof. The key to the success of the new barn stability were these new stalls. The old stalls were attached to the ceiling, floor and walls. They didn’t contribute to the overall structure of the barn itself. The new stalls attach the the foundation and roof, adding support to the old barn.

The Ground

Barn 014

As mentioned before, there was a serious erosion problem on the south side of the barn. As the earth washed away, the barn was starting to as well. The doors to get into the stalls were cut out of the side of the barn, yet left the foundation in place. In the wet months, a mud hole would form in front of the stall entries, as horses worked to step over the foundation.

We used a bulldozer to create a slope away from the barn, and then added crushed concrete with sand on top. I also rented a concrete saw to cut away the foundation so we had a smooth transition into the stall.

This alone was a great improvement.

Barn-Oct132006 024

The chickens liked it too.

The Roof

PhoneCam-110906 027

The old roof was bad. Beyond bad. Much of the interior of the barn would get wet during the rain. The stalls were a mess due to the extra moisture being added to the waste on the floor. But it could not be fixed until the rest of the barn was. And now it was! Within just a couple days we installed the new roof, and the barn dried out. Great!

Problem ensued, however. The low eaves on the roof posed a challenge for the horses as it is. The addition of the sharp edge of the roof caused further problems! Two horses were injured navigating doorways and bumping their noses into the roof edge. OUCH! It’s amazing however, how well they heal up from these somewhat ghastly wounds. But it will never do!

To alleviate the problem, added a curved section of PVC to the eave above the door. This acts as a nice bumper. Since these were added, there’s been no more horse injuries.

Barn-110906 012

12 year old’s presentation on why she needs a cellphone.

Katie took an evening to write a presentation and call a “family meeting”. Here’s her argument for a cellphone.

by katie hoffswell

Reason 1, After School Activities
Since I am now in 6th grade and have after school activities to go to,don’t
you think it would be nice if I actuly knew who was picking me up? I do.
Some activities my mom or dad can’t pick my up for. If i had a phone, i
could call some one to see who to look for. If who ever is picking me up
dosnt know where to go, they could call me and i could give them the exact
location. Also, since student council meetings randomly come up every week,
i dont know when I’m going to be staying late after school. It would relive
the worries from my mom if she actully knew where I was. Now you may be
thinking that i could just use the office phone or someone elses cell phone.
First of all, after school they lock up the office so no one can get in! I
couldnt use that phone. Second i have used other peoples phones before but
i feel very silly because i dont know them because all of my friends have
left. I dont want to waist any ones minutes and i once have had to call 5
times before i got ahold of someone!!!! I bet the person was thinking “why
dosnt she have her own phone??? she is waisting my minutes!!” I would hope
that you dont want me in that position ever agian.

Reason 2, Responsibility and Money…CHEAP!
I know that you are probably thinking “how is she going to keep a cell phone
with out loosing it or going over her plan minutes???” I can assure you that
i will be 1000000000000000000000000000000000000% responsible and since i
know that you trust me with this, i will definanlty be happyer!!! If i ever
lose it, you can ground me for as long as i can pay for it with alowence and
extra work around the house. I have found a plan on […]com. With
an LG AX4270 phone (wich is really cool) i can get 300 minutes a month for
29.99. Now, with my alwoence coming to about 20 dollors a month, i will let
you lower it to help pay for the bill. Or you can have me doing more chores.
I can also use my babysitting money to help pay for it (when i start baby
sitting of coarse). I promise that you wont regret geting me a phone if you

In Conclusion…..
I know that you will think that a cell phone was definantly a good idea for
me if you get me one. I really need it for after school activities!!!!!! Its
really cheap too with my ideas. I realy belive that i can handle this
responsablity now. Pleasssssssse get me a cell phone and ill be the happeyst
girl alive!!!!!!!!!! I really need one now!!!!!!!!!!!! I love you!!!!!!

I definitely need to show her how to use a spelling checker. Oh, and definitely need to get her a phone.

Pete Speaks on building Fiber Optic Networks (Video)

In June I spoke on the subject of building Fiber Optic networks at the 2006 Merit Annual Meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Once again, Merit recorded the event.

Building Fiber to Control Your Future: A Panel Discussion on the Challenges and Opportunities
Jim Moran, Merit Network, moderator; Bob Eluskie, Grand Rapids Community College; Pete Hoffswell, Davenport University; Matt McMahon, Gratiot-Isabella RESD/MMNet

That’s me, on the Left. I actually speak at the following points in this round table. 12:30, 20:20, 28:00, 33:15, 42:42, 49:15 (Getting a laugh from the audience), and 54:00.

If you are interested in the state of building fiber optic networks across Michigan you might find this interesting.

Logged here for posterity. “See? I told you I had hair back in ‘aught six!”

Tulips and Robots appear in Holland Michigan

It’s Tulip Time in Holland Michigan!

Ok enough on that subject. It’s also FIRST robotics competition season across the country. This year 3 teams from the Holland area are heading to Atlanta for the national championship. Good luck!

My own challenge, to develop a TableBot from my VEX kit is progressing nicely.Vex Tablebot 2  - 1

TableBot version two features:

  • Small Wheelbase
  • Two forward sensors

In order to make the chasis so small, I offset the drive motors. This was done by driving the front left wheel and the rear right wheel. This is counter to common automotive engineering, but the use of two motors allows us to do this without sacrifice. I have no idea if this makes sense for driving mechanics, but it sure seems to work fine for this bot.

The wheels are so close together, that the bot can probably get by with one forward edge sensor once again. Perhaps one that has a large “thumb print”, allowing it to sense the edge left or right with a single sensor. further tuning of the program can improve performance as well.


I will continue with programming adjustments to see if we can make this bot just a little smoother.

Vex TableBot Test #1

My work on the TableBot continues. I now have a basic program that, in pseudocode:

10 move to edge of table
20 back up
30 turn around
40 go to 10

Here is a video of my first test, with Maggie, my assistant.

The programming and design have some obvious issues. The main problem is that the table edge sensor and programming do not account well for an angular approach to the table edge. But, for a first attempt, I call this a success!

I am going to redesign the bot, then the programming for TableBot Version 2. The design will include:

  • Smaller chassis, for better turning radius
  • Smaller wheels for smoother control
  • Two edge sensors, positioned appropriate to the wheels

Another interesting design would be to use the tank treads instead. If the bot went over the edge a bit, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Stay tuned for more bot experimentation!