Saturday, January 21, 2017

Polish snowman and friends...

Polish snowman and friends...  Jo, our friend from Poland, sent along the photos below.  She said they had a beautiful sunny day.  There's wasn't really enough snow to make a good snowman, but they did it anyway.  I especially like the snowman's hair!  Jo is the person on the right in the middle photo; the other people are her sister-in-law and her nephew.  Her brother helped, too – Jo said the eyebrows are all his fault. :)

Paradise ponders, sushi, snow, and semiconductor tractor parts edition...

Paradise ponders, sushi, snow, and semiconductor tractor parts edition...  At right is the pallet I received yesterday morning, containing the vacuum table my friend Mike B. in North Carolina built for me.  He has an identical one for himself.  The shipper's manifest says that pallet weighs in at 296 pounds, and I'm guessing that about 75 pounds of that is the pallet and packing materials; the remaining 200 pounds or so is the vacuum table itself, which is invisible in that photo.

Mike packed that thing using 8 quarter-inch bolts and 42 three inch long torx-drive screws, all of which I had to remove just to get to the vacuum table and it's cover (made of 2x4s and luan plywood).  I didn't actually remove all the packing material, as I can't do anything useful with this table yet.  We still have some more work to do on the rest of the numerically-controlled mill.  But ... I did remove enough so that I could get a glimpse of the vacuum table's top, and that's what you see at right.  That array of holes leads into the inside of the vacuum table, which is basically a giant plenum.  There's a “port” on the bottom of the table to allow connecting it to a source of vacuum – in my case, that will be my dust collection system.  Once I get the actual port and a stand for the table, I'm going to be testing this to see how tightly a part will be held to the table.

I've seen one of these vacuum tables (a commercial affair) in action, and I was very surprised at how well they worked.  Each of those holes is 0.5" in diameter, which means it has an area of about 0.2 square inches.  If the vacuum is 10 pounds per square inch (typical of a shop vacuum cleaner), then there's a force of two pounds from each of those holes, pressing the work piece against the table.  The holes are 2" apart, so if you had a 1' square work piece, it would be covering 25 holes – and there would be a force of fifty pounds holding that work piece against the table.  And that's a pretty small work piece!  There are some tricks we can do with “masks” that fit onto the vacuum table to produce higher forces for smaller work pieces, if we need them.  This vacuum table will let us just throw pieces of wood onto the table, let the machine figure out where they are, then adjust the milling program to fit the actual work piece's position.  Very convenient, and no manual alignment of any kind required.  We like that!

On Wednesday we were in Logan and decided to stop at the Black Pearl for lunch.  We've been there before, and we've always had the avocado egg roll appetizer and either Thai or Chinese entrees.  I felt like sushi, which I'd never ordered here before.  That's mainly because all the best sushi I've ever had has been in dedicated sushi restaurants, or Japanese restaurants that had a sushi chef and bar.  This restaurant is owned by some very nice Chinese folks, and the sushi chef isn't Japanese (I think he's Korean, but I'm not positive).  So I took a bit of a chance, and oh boy am I glad I did!  First, the Black Pearl's sushi is hands-down the best I've had in Logan – nowhere else is even close.  Even better, the basics – nigiri and the standard raw fish rolls – are excellent by any standard.  The photo at right is my order; I had a rainbow roll in addition.  The presentation was beautiful.  The sushi rice was perfect.  The fish, every single piece, was superb.  The unagi's sauce was right up there with the best I've had, with just the right sweetness.  The rainbow roll, which I'm sorry I didn't photograph, was a piece of art, with the pieces of fish perfectly fitted to each other in a spiral, the outside perfectly cylindrical.  I'd only ever seen that before in photographs!  When I got done, I went over to tell the sushi chef just how much I enjoyed his creation – that was some mighty tasty sushi!

This morning I set out to repair my tractor.  I'd ordered the parts about ten days ago, and a couple days ago they came in.  The plastic shroud surrounding the gear shift levers (first photo below) broke when I was jumping off the tractor one time and caught my jacket bottom on the orange lever; the plastic just to the right of the orange lever snapped.  The left turn signal assembly (second photo below) had somehow been broken; I don't know how that happened.  The photos show the new parts in place.  Both of them were surprisingly easy to replace.  The gear shifter shroud is held on by four 10mm screws through the fender below, and they were easily accessible.  The turns signal assembly is held on by a single 16mm nut, and the wires are connected through a plug.  I had that replaced in about 60 seconds!  While I was doing this work, I also replaced the four incandescent bulbs in the left and right turn signal assemblies with LED lamps that I found on Amazon.  I bought ten of those LED lamps for $12.59.  A single incandescent bulb costs $15.90 from Kubota!  I had one burned-out incandescent bulb, and my tractor has 190 hours on it.  The LED lamp replacement should last the tractor's lifetime, they're twice as bright and they use one tenth the power.  Win!

Sometime today I'll be heading out to plow our driveway.   We've got five days in a row of snow in our forecast, and my current plan is to go out once a day to scrape off whatever we got.  If I do this every day, each plowing will have relatively small amounts of snow to get off the pavement.  If I wait until the end of the five day storm, I'll have a foot or more of snow to try to put some where.  Plus it would be nice to be able to get out each day!  :)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Paradise ponders, oh happy day edition...

Paradise ponders, oh happy day edition...  I have no idea what's going to happen in the Trump administration, but I am celebrating the end of the Obama era anyway.  The graphic at right has been on my blog for eight years now, and it's gone as of today – because Obama is gone

Now we get to find out what the country gets with Trump.  I'm neither optimistic or pessimistic – more like just trying to prepare myself for any eventuality...

This morning I plowed my driveway, as we had a couple inches of snow on the ground and today was allegedly going to be clear.  Immediately after I finished plowing, it started to snow – hard.  Now we have a couple more inches on the ground, but the sun finally did come out.

I received a freight shipment today from my friend Mike B. in North Carolina.  It's the vacuum table component of the numerically controlled milling machine we're building.  He's doing the fabrication, and this is the biggest component of that effort.  It's about 250 pounds of wood that makes a 4' x 4' table; it's very stiff (by design) and has hundreds of small holes in the top and a vacuum compartment on the inside.  Right now it's all packed on a pallet; I'll be unpacking it to see it later today.

I'm also hoping to get some repair work done on my tractor today – replacing a broken turn signal and a cracked gear shifter shroud.

Yesterday I noticed that there was a problem on my Model X: the spoiler wasn't automatically retracting and extending like it's supposed to.  It's stuck in the fully extended position.  This doesn't really affect anything at all about driving it, so there's nothing urgent about fixing it.  But the fact of the problem provoked my first support call to Tesla – and the experience was very reassuring.  I had a tech on the phone in mere seconds, and about a half hour after my initial call I got an email from them.  They had (somehow!) remotely accessed the car and verified that there was indeed a problem with the spoiler.  They could not, however, find the root cause remotely.  They asked me to reboot the computer (with the Tesla equivalent of CTL-ALT-DEL!) to see if that fixed it; it did not.  So now I've got an appointment to visit the Tesla service center in Salt Lake City for diagnosis.  They scheduled it for a day when I was going to be in Salt Lake City anyway, very convenient for me.  If we're lucky, they'll be able to diagnose and fix it.  If the repair can't be done on that day, they'll send a “ranger” out to our house to do the actual repair.  Nice!

Debbie and I have been going through a bit of a life change here.  Since we picked up her car, for the first time in our life together we have our cars in a garage.  This is really strange for us – even the everyday experience of parking in a garage, and pulling the car out of the garage, is new to us.  It's all new in a good way, mind you, but still new and strange.  I'm especially enjoying the fact that we can climb straight into the car in the middle of the winter without having to scrape ice and snow off our windows! :)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Automatic “artsy” photos...

Automatic “artsy” photos...  Google keeps taking my photos, applying some filters to them, and notifying me about their proud constructions.  Usually I'm much less than impressed with them, but this morning's attempt was actually kind of nice:

Paradise ponders, snow reprieve edition...

Paradise ponders, snow reprieve edition...  Our forecast called for up to 3" of snow last night, but we got none at all.  I fear the reprieve is but temporary, though: the current radar (at right) shows a giant blob o'snow approaching from the west.  Methinks I will be spending time on the snow plow today...

Yesterday was largely consumed by little (but necessary) things, again.  Today I will be focused on catching up on my paperwork mountain.  Sheesh...

One more day of Obama – now there's something celebrate!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Paradise ponders, missing day edition...

Paradise ponders, missing day edition...  Man, yesterday just slipped right through my fingers.  I got absolutely nothing done that I was planning to.  How did this happen?  Well, it started with some chores: hauling firewood into the house and barn, filling the bird feeders, and so on.  Then we had to run one of our cats (Konani) to the vet, where we discovered that he needed to have a tooth extracted.  We left him.  Then home, got my office fire going, and discovered that Debbie's prescription couldn't be refilled because we changed insurance companies effective January 1st, and we didn't have the new insurance cards yet.  Dang!  Zipped to the Post Office, where we had a letter from the new insurance company – but no cards.  That letter had our ID number, but that was insufficient for the pharmacy; they needed four other numbers.  After two hours on the phone with Regence (our new insurance company), most of it on eterna-hold, I finally got those magic numbers.  Called the pharmacy and took care of that, but that took another half hour.  Then it was time to take off again – ran a couple errands in town, stopped and had a bowl of (delicious!) beef soup at Los Primos, then picked up poor Konani after his surgery.  By that time it was 4 pm and I'd accomplished nothing on my agenda for the day.  Sheesh!

So far today is little better, I'm afraid, though some of it is of our own making.  We took a lovely morning drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon, figuring this would be our last chance for a while (we have six days of snow in the forecast starting tomorrow).  We saw lots of deer and elk, and a bald eagle flew right over us (and we could gawk through our Model X's windshield as he was right overhead!).  When we got back, we had a phone call from our local Kubota dealer: some parts I had ordered were in.  So we jumped back in the car and zipped up there to get them.  I'm surprised, very pleasantly, by how easy it was to get a couple of obscure proprietary parts for the tractor (a plastic surround for the gear shift levers, and a turn signal assembly).

Now my lovely bride is in the house making us a meal of her homemade chili, which is pretty much guaranteed to make my brains fall out.  I'm drooling just thinking about it.

We're having some more metal fabrication done for us by the same people who built our fireplace door (Lazy K Wrought Iron, in Kalispell, Montana).  We've developed quite a list of projects for them to do for us, but the next one is for a couple of covers for the window wells that open into our new sun room.  We want to avoid having people fall into those holes!  Those covers should be done in a few weeks, and we're planning to drive up there (it's about a 9 hour drive) to get them.  They should fit nicely in the back of the Model X (though I haven't measured to verify this yet), so we're planning to drive that up.  It will be our first test of a long-distance drive using the Tesla “Supercharger” network that will let us charge up our car for free, and quickly.  It should be a pretty drive, no matter what happens – and we'll learn whether we like the experience or not...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Paradise ponders, toasty office edition...

Paradise ponders, toasty office edition...  My office woodstove is burning a nice chunk of black walnut, and the temperature in here is 74°F (but it's only 7°F outside).  Ah, that nice heat feels so good!

Over the past couple of days I've had a frustrating experience with Nest's support for their thermostat.  We have five of them (two in our house, and three in our barn), and for the most part they have operated flawlessly.  However, a couple months ago one of the thermostats in our house started misbehaving.  From the on-screen indications it was obvious that the battery wasn't charging.  I thought at first that it was a problem with our furnace, but after lots of troubleshooting I came to suspect that the battery in the thermostat was failing.  I then decided to take one of the thermostats out of the barn and install it in the house, and now it has worked flawlessly for several months.

So yesterday I set out to see how to fix my thermostat.  It's a lithium-ion battery, so how hard could that be?  A little googling and I determined that I had a second generation Nest.  A little more and I found unofficial teardown instructions – and it looked really easy.  The battery, however, is a proprietary one.  How could I get one of those?  My usual sources (Mouser, DigiKey) had nothing.

The next thing I did was to contact Nest support via their chat application, where I briefly described the situation and asked if they could provide me with a replacement battery (which I'd be happy to pay for).  After a bit of back-and-forth with the very polite support agent, I determined this:
  • My Nest thermostat was indeed broken, and the likely problem was the battery
  • My Nest thermostat was out-of-warranty
  • Nest would not sell me a replacement battery
  • Nest would not fix the thermostat for me
  • The only thing Nest would do is to give me a coupon for 20% off on a new Nest thermostat
This response, I thought, was completely inadequate.  I told the agent how disappointed I was with that response, and that I would replace the thermostat with one of another make.  She then said “Let me go check with a senior agent”.  After a bit she came back and said that she'd gotten approval for a no-cost replacement.  Well, that sounded great!  But unfortunately I had to leave my computer at that moment.  So she sent me the case number for our session, and said I could chat with anyone there to make arrangements for the replacement.  I was very happy with that resolution, which was actually more than I had been expecting.

But (and you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn't you?) when I started a chat session with another agent, an hour or so later, there was apparently no record of the approval for a replacement.  I told the agent what had happened, and he promised he'd look into it and email me back shortly thereafter.  I waited a few hours, but got no email.  So I started another chat session with yet another agent, and had basically the exact same interaction.  After that I went looking harder for a replacement battery, and found one from a highly-rated seller on eBay.  I waited until this morning, and then tweeted about my frustration and started yet another chat session – but this time I got the same agent (Kathleen G.) that had gotten approval for a replacement on the day before.  She apparently had some record of that approval, because shortly after we finished up I got an email from Nest confirming the imminent shipment of a replacement thermostat.  I'll be sending them the dead one back, presumably for repair (which makes me wonder why the don't offer repair as a service, as I'd have been happy to pay for that).

Apple handles this sort of thing so smoothly, so easily, that I have come to expect that from other high-end hardware – it's jarring and disappointing to find out that's not the case.  It's not quite bad enough to cause me to eliminate Nest products from consideration in the future, especially since after some hassle my problem did get resolved – but it's darned close.

Yesterday we had lunch at Herm's Inn, and both of us had their carnitas skillet.  I ordered mine with a fruit cup instead of potatoes – I've done that before, so I knew I was in for a treat.  The carnitas were excellent; nicely spiced slow-cooked pork with salsa fresca, guacamole, and a couple of eggs over easy.  The English muffin came with some excellent raspberry freezer jam.  The fruit cup was simply superb: perfectly ripe strawberries, blueberries, black raspberries, and an orange slice – and a few grapes for sweetness.  Their potatoes are good, too – but in my book, those fruit cups are way better...

On the way to Herm's, we drove through the classic inversion layer that happens in the winter, mostly to portions of Cache Valley north of our house.  Yesterday it got us as well.  The haze made for an unusual view of the Wellsville mountains to our west, though.  I snapped this as we drove north on State Highway 165, just south of Hyrum.

We were driving in our Model X, and we noticed something odd at the top of the big center screen: a red triangle with an exclamation point in it.  That didn't look good!  When I clicked on it, I got the dialog at right.  What the hell does that mean?  Sure enough, when I tried to navigate somewhere, I got an error message.  There was no clue on-screen about how to fix it.  So when we got home I did some googling, and quickly found out that (a) that error is fairly common, and (b) you fix it by rebooting the computer that runs the center console.  With some more googling, I found out that you reboot that computer by holding down both the left and right scroll buttons on the steering wheel for a few seconds.  I tried it, feeling a bit like I was having a trick played on me, and ... it worked!  It took about 30 seconds to reboot, and then everything was working fine again.  I haven't used Windows for quite a few years now, but this instantly brought to mind the CTL-ALT-DEL ritual that every Windows user knows by heart.  C'mon, Tesla, you can do better than Uncle Billy, can't you?