Sunday, July 23, 2017

Paradise ponders: fuses, filling stations, and irrigation systems edition...

Paradise ponders: fuses, filling stations, and irrigation systems edition...  This morning my brother Scott (who lives about 20 miles from me) emailed me to say that his Nest thermostat had died.  This time of year that means no air conditioning.  Scott told me it was no problem at all, but then he'd say that unless his death from heat stroke was imminent.  So I gathered up my electrical meter and a spare Nest and headed up there.  It took about ten minutes to determine that the problem was caused by a blown fuse in the furnace (which is where the 24VAC power for the Nest comes from).  I'm not sure why there's a fuse in the first place, given that the furnace is on its own dedicated circuit breaker.  So I just bypassed the fuse, and everything started working again.  The funniest part of this for me is that the Nest would have been complaining about having no power for the last week or so, every time Scott walked by it.  He never noticed it!  :)

While I was up there, I got a closeup look at the gigantic driftwood horse he's building (photos below). It's really quite beautiful, and it's almost done – all that's left to do is the tail and the hooves.  Scott figures that the thing weighs 600 pounds or so, which means that there are some challenges moving it around.  Another challenge is that it's too tall to fit through the garage door!


I also got to see the Russian Olive tree that Scott trimmed up last fall.  His intention was to make it evocative of clouds.  I don't think I'd have ever figured that out, but it's nonetheless very attractive, and also very different than the natural shape of a Russian Olive.  He's got a sign up advertising that he did it, but unfortunately the tree is located on a relatively lightly traveled back road – most potential customers for something like this will never see it...

The past couple of days have seen substantial progress around our place.  Randy and his sidekick finished putting the rock veneer on our filling station, and it's just as pretty as can be (at right).  Not bad for a gas station, hey what?  I now have to install the lock and the closing mechanism, but the necessary bolts and holes for that are already in the door so this should be almost trivial.  I'm hoping to do that tomorrow morning.  That means the only thing left on the filling station is to get the leaks fixed.  That was supposed to have happened this past week, but did not – I'll hold out hope for next week...

We also hit a big milestone on our irrigation system: a big part of it is now up and running!  There are 13 zones (with about 120 sprinklers) in the part of our yard that's south of our paved driveway, and all but one of them are now completely functional (the one exception is a bad solenoid controlled valve, which will be fixed on Tuesday).  The past few days saw a lot of electrical work, to run the wires for all those valves under our bridge and over to the new cedar shed.  The fellow running the wires had cut them all too short (by about 15'), so on Friday I spliced 20' extensions onto all of them, using soldered hook connections, padded with electrical tape, then covered with heat shrink.  That was a bit tedious, but not really very hard (not counting the effort to recover the tools and parts that my dogs kept stealing).  Yesterday morning I routed the wires along the inside of the shed, and connected them to the irrigation controller.  Then I used the web interface to set up a schedule (see screenshot at left) and away we went!  I've run the entire set of 12 functional zones twice now, and we'll keep doing daily that for a week or so to help settle the ground.  I've been wondering whether I'd live long enough to see this irrigation system actually working, so it really feels good to see some of it actually going...

Friday, July 21, 2017

A shocking encounter...

A shocking encounter...  I had my cage well and truly rattled this morning.  As I was walking out of our local UPS storefront (where I had just dropped off a couple packages for shipment), a person came walking into the UPS store.  That person looked like exactly like my dad did back in the early '90s.  This wasn't just a passing resemblance: this fellow looked so much like my dad did that my gut reaction was that it was him.  Since my dad died a few years ago, a much older man, this made no rational sense at all – but recognition is not a rational process.

I stopped dead in my tracks.  I'm not sure what my face looked like, but the other fellow was concerned enough that he stopped to ask me if I was all right.  That produced the second shock: he even sounded like my dad.  Not exactly right, in this case, but quite close.  The biggest disjoint was that he had a slight northern New Jersey accent, which my dad certainly did not.

The short version of our ensuing conversation is this: he's distantly related to me, on my father's side of the family.  His last name is not the same as mine – but it's close, spelled as my ancestors did.  His first name (Henry) is the same as that of the oldest American ancestor I have, an ancestor we share and who he is named after.  He hails from East Orange, New Jersey, and is on his way back home after visiting family in Bend, Oregon.  I don't have his permission to use his last name, so I won't do that yet.  We exchanged contact information, and he's promised to correspond with me once he gets back home next week.

I'm still reeling from the few moments when I thought I saw my dad, returned somehow from the '90s...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Paradise ponders: rodeo and project progress edition...

Paradise ponders: rodeo and project progress edition...  Debbie and I are headed down to Ogden this evening, to go to the rodeo that's part of Ogden's Pioneer Day celebration.  If you're unfamiliar with Pioneer Day, it's an annual celebration of July 24, 1847 when Brigham Young and the first group of his Mormon followers finally made it to the Great Salt Lake Valley.  It's a state holiday in Utah, and is also celebrated in several surrounding states, mainly in predominantly Mormon communities.  This particular rodeo is part of the professional rodeo circuit, so some of the best rodeo competitors in the world will be there.

Randy B., his partner Jeffrey, and two of Randy's grandsons showed up bright and early this morning, as promised.  Some photos of their progress are below.  The first order of business was to mount our shiny red door, which they did with a level of competence far in excess of anything I could have mustered on my own.  It is a great pleasure for me simply to watch them work – Randy and Jeffrey have worked together for a good number of years, and they complement each other very well.  Jeffrey is the guy on the left in the first photo; Randy is in the dark blue T-shirt in the second.  In the third photo you can see the door shortly after they had it installed.  The last photo shows Carl (Randy's border collie) and the first foot or so of rock veneer installed.  It's going to be beautiful when they're finished!


Mark T. and the sprinkler guys also made great progress today.  They're still working as I write this, and will be for another 6 hours or so.  By the time they leave tonight, I'm expecting that they'll have all the valve wires plus the 110 VAC for my flagpole lights all run under our bridge.  That means tomorrow we should have the 13 zones on the south wired up to the sprinkler controller and we can start watering everything south of our driveway.  Woo hoo!

Paradise ponders: rock, ignorant Americans, leaky tires, and plumbing errors edition...

Paradise ponders: rock, ignorant Americans, leaky tires, and plumbing errors edition...  Yesterday evening I got a call from Randy B., the mason who built our fireplace two years ago.  He's got a couple of days available, starting tomorrow, and he wants to get our filling station done.  Yay!  He should be here this morning at 7 am, so he and his helper can work in the (relatively) cool morning air...

The great sprinkler project continues apace.  There are now 13 complete zones covering the entire area south of our paved driveway.  Complete, that is, except for the wires leading to the control valves for those 13 zones.  We're running those wires through a conduit installed under the bridge over the irrigation canal running down the eastern edge of our property.  That sounds easy, but it's not – the conduit has to traverse, underground, about 15 feet of abutment on both sides of the bridge.  The trench for that conduit has to be dug amidst a wild rose thicket.  The sprinkler guys lopped off all the rose canes above the chosen path – but the rose roots are incredibly thick in there.  Digging that will be a major challenge.  I'm glad I don't have to do it!  Once the conduit is in place, I'll be helping the sprinkler guys pulling the wires through it.  That's something they're not very familiar with, nor do they have the right tools...

My friend (and former colleague) Simon M. passed along this article, I'm sure just to tweak me.  :)  Among other things, it discloses that 1 in 4 Americans surveyed believe the sun revolves around the Earth, not the other way around.  I'm actually a little surprised at this – I'd have expected that to be more like 1 in 3.  It reminds me, though, of an article I read a few months ago on a tangentially related topic: technological ignorance.  The focus of this article was a single survey question made at widely separated points in time.  The first survey was in 1940, and it asked men (no women) in their 20s how many actually did a set of routine maintenance on their cars, and how many could do them if they didn't have the money to pay someone.  The answers were 81% and 96%, respectively.  The same survey, of (again) only young men, taken in early 2017 gave much different answers: 7% and 14%.  The 2017 survey also asked men who answered “no” to briefly describe why they couldn't do the routine maintenance – and the dominant answer was some variant of “Because I have no idea how cars work.”   I haven't seen any similar survey for computers, but it's trivial to observe that the vast majority of computer users have utterly no idea how their computer actually works.  My dad remarked in several of our conversations that he and my grandfather (his father) knew how everything on the farm worked, and could maintain and repair it.  These days it's common for people to own things whose workings are completely mysterious.  In the space of one man's life we've gone from a norm of understanding one's belongings to not understanding them.  I wonder how far that trend can go?

Yesterday I took my Model X in to the good folks at Hyrum Tire to get a slow leak in my left rear tire fixed.  I'd made an appointment so I could wait while they fixed it.  However, when they actually saw my car, they realized they had a problem: their tools only work with rims up to 21" in diameter, and I've got 22" rims on the Model X.  Dang!  So they sent me up to Logan, to the Les Schwab location there.  I drove in, walked up to the counter, and in under two minutes one of their people went to work on my car.  They had me drive into one of their service bays, and in short order they had the wheel off the car.  That left the axle and disc brake visible, and several people there noticed something odd about the disc brake: there are two calipers on it!  The red one is the main brake; the gray one is only for the parking brake.  Ezra, the tech helping me, found my tire's problem in seconds: a 2" deck screw right through the exact center of the tread – the easiest possible repair.  When he got the tire off the rim, he discovered something he'd only seen once before: a foam ring around the inside of the tire, opposite the tread.  That foam is there to reduce the tire noise; he's seen it only in a relatively quiet car (a high-end Mercedes) where the tire noise becomes dominant.  In about ten minutes the repair was all done, and the wheel mounted back on the car.  We had to look up the wheel nut torque (129 ft/lbs) on the web, as his chart didn't have Tesla on it.  I went to pay up when he was finished, only to be told that the repair was free.  All they asked was that when it was time to buy tires, I'd give them a chance for my business.  Nice!

Yesterday morning I discovered that I'd made an error in my plumbing work for the irrigation pump.  Fixing it correctly requires some new parts – including two that aren't available locally.  I put both on order, but they won't get here for a week or so.  Dang it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Disgusted, I am...

Disgusted, I am...  So the Republicans have a majority in both the House and the Senate, the President is a Republican.  During the 2016, both Trump and the majority of Republican candidates for both the House and the Senate loudly and proudly proclaimed their goal of “repealing and replacing” ObamaCare.  If there was anything the Republicans stood for, eliminating ObamaCare was it.  Naturally, they have completely failed.  The House passed some tweaks to ObamaCare, pitched (falsely) as repeal and replace – and then fell all over themselves distancing themselves from the monstrosity they passed, begging the Senate to “amend” it with something better.  The Senate tried, three times, with different bills that tweaked ObamaCare less and less.  Last night, the Senate gave up on that idea, and instead decided to to a straight repeal.  Already this morning that idea is also dead, as enough Republican Senators have come out against repeal to ensure its defeat.

Of all the issues at play in the last election, this is the one with the most direct impact on Debbie and I.  Last year we spent over $22,000 on ObamaCare premiums, and a further $14,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.  This year the totals will be even higher, unfortunately (mainly because of mainstream but expensive osteoporosis drugs that are not covered by ObamaCare policies).  Repeal of ObamaCare would have meant the return of old-fashioned major medical policies, which were they available would cut our healthcare costs by about 60% (this is based on information from Blue Cross, a major supporter of ObamaCare).

As of this September, I'll be enrolled in MediCare, and (theoretically, anyway) insulated from the ongoing disaster that is ObamaCare.  Debbie still has three years to go on ObamaCare, and already we're being warned to expect yet another 30% or 35% increase in premiums.  At this rate, by the time she can enroll in MediCare, her ObamaCare premiums will be even more than we pay for both of us now.  Worse, it seems all-too-likely that we'll be hit with income tax increases as the ObamaCare exchanges continue failing because of insurer withdrawal (because they're losing money).  The Democrats in Congress are already floating the idea, and I won't be a bit surprised if enough Republicans sign up to that idea to make it politically doable.  There's also talk of taking higher income people out of MediCare.  Either way, we'd be back in the super-high premium insurance boat again.

Anyway, I am utterly disgusted with our federal government's overwhelming incompetence.  The more I learn about how it actually works, and how self-interested the typical politician is, the more disgusted I get.  I can easily see how the most informed people would be the ones most likely to support revolution, as a clean slate seems vastly easier than reforming the bureaucratic state.  Hell, after reading up on the bureaucratic heaven that is the Veteran's Administration (where even murders can't be easily fired), even I feel the urge to revolt!  I still hold some hope that my “big three” reforms could be enacted (term limits, abolishing civil service job protections, enacting efficiency incentives) – but in twenty years of hoping I've seen exactly zero progress on that front.  Sheesh...

Paradise ponders: missing parts, hospice, and unexpected rain edition...

Paradise ponders: missing parts, hospice, and unexpected rain edition...  I spent most of yesterday working, again, on the plumbing for my new irrigation pump.  The biggest piece of progress was building a mount (of wood) for the four pressure gauges the system needs, and running some of the tubing for those gauges.  Further progress was blocked because of some missing parts.  These are things I ordered from Amazon, but which are taking longer to get here than expected.  Some are due in today, the rest tomorrow.  I hope.

John H. wrote, asking why on earth I needed four pressure gauges when everyone one else makes do with just one.  Fair question. :)  The four gauges, in order of the direction of water flow, are as follows:
  1. Supply pressure.  This measures the pressure of the water on the input side of the pump.  Ordinarily this should be at around 60psi, in which case the pump will be off and the water will flow around it.  When the supply pressure drops below 60psi (as it does with alarming regularity), then the pump will kick on and all the irrigation water will flow through the pump.
  2. After-pump pressure.  This measures the pressure of the water on the output side of the pump.  If the supply pressure is over 60psi, this will be the same (or nearly so) as the supply pressure.  However, when the supply pressure drops below 60psi, the pump will kick on and the pressure should be regulated at between 60 and 70psi.
  3. Between-filters pressure.  This measures the pressure of the water on the output of the coarse filter, which is also the input to the fine filter.  The difference between this and the after-pump pressure increases as the filter gets more clogged.  When this difference gets over about 8psi, then it's time to clean the filter.
  4. After-filters pressure.  This measures the pressure of the water in the line that goes directly to sprinklers, which is also the pressure of the water just after the fine filter.  The difference between this and the between-filters pressure increases as the filter gets more clogged.  When this difference gets over about 8psi, then it's time to clean the filter.
More than you ever wanted to know about pressure gauges!

I got a letter yesterday from the hospice that took care of my mom just before she died last year.  Like the six or seven other letters I've received from them, it was a particularly warm and friendly message from the nurse who took such great care of mom.  This is the last letter I'll be getting from them, I discovered as I read it – they stay in touch for a year, offering any help we might need.  I've talked with the nurse several times over the past year, just friendly conversations and catching up with each other.  I called her again this morning, to say thanks one last time for all her care.  I discovered that she's leaving the local hospice, to go to a much more remote part of Utah to open up a new hospice – where she will be the head of the nursing staff.  She's very excited about this – just 29 years old and taking on quite a responsibility.  Her husband is a diesel mechanic, and found a great job at a big-rig service facility.  It was a lot of fun to hear her so excited about this new adventure for the two of them...

My friend and neighbor Tim D. cut his alfalfa a few days ago, and yesterday morning he turned it all over with his tractor rake.  Not 15 minutes after he finished, we got rain – on a day forecast to be hot and clear!  We ended up getting two tenths of an inch over a couple hours, enough to thoroughly wet his hay.  But then just three hours later, it had been actually hot and clear, and you'd never know that hay had ever been wet.  This afternoon they'll be baling those fields, and hopefully today is hot and clear to get that hay thoroughly dried out...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Paradise ponders: wistful puppies and plumbing edition...

Paradise ponders: wistful puppies and plumbing edition...  Shortly after dawn this morning I caught our two field spaniel puppies (Mako and Cabo) relaxing on their (very comfortable) deck bed while gazing wistfully at the five sheep in our neighbor's pasture.  They're 16 months old now, so not really puppies any more, but we still think of them that way.  The sheep are grazing roughly 500' away, but those two would be there in a flash if only they could.  Our fence stops them (yay!), but the pasture fence is just four-strand barbed wire, which wouldn't even slow the puppies down...

Yesterday and today I mostly worked on the plumbing for the irrigation pump in the cedar shed.  That included quite a bit of running around for parts and a bit of carpentry.  The carpentry was for the rack that is holding up the two filters (the black objects in the first photo).  The water flows from right-to-left through these two filters.  The first one has a 500 micron screen; the second a 300 micron screen; these can be replaced with other sizes if we haven't guessed well at the junk content of our irrigation water.

I've had to make a few modifications to the original plan, all because my original linear design would have taken about 6 feet more than the 10 feet I actually have available.  The second photo below shows one such modification: three taps (for pressure gauge, pressure sensor, and pressure tank) are now oriented vertically rather than inline with the horizontal pipe as originally planned.  That change saved almost two feet of horizontal space.  At the far left of that same photo is another change, though it's not really visible: a union, valve, and 2"-to-3" adapter all all at 90° to that horizontal pipe, thus saving another 16".  One other change is coming with the next batch of work: a 3" full-port ball valve that I'd intended to have inside the shed will instead be outside – saving 16" all by itself. 

In the third photo you can see the vertical “stack” connecting (top to bottom) a pressure gauge (with 1/4" tubing), the pressure tank (with 1" PEX), and the pressure sensor that provides feedback for the variable-speed pump controller.  Aside from the challenges related to space, so far everything is coming together well.