Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Stairs ... a little machining...

Stairs ... a little machining...  So this evening I jigged up a router template (first photo) to cut one of the grooves in the bottom of the stairs, just the big landing step for now.  Both steps are in the pipe clamps.  The other clamps are holding the jig in place, and the bags of lead shot are ensuring that the jig lies down flat on the step.  In the second photo you can see the result after I ran the router through the template (but before I cleaned up).  It took three passes to cut a half inch deep groove, 1.5" wide.  I cut the groove a tad longer than it actually needs to be, so that the rib will fit in nicely without worrying about the radius of the router bit.  After I cleaned out the groove with compressed air, I did a test fit of the rib – perfect fit!


Let the trenching begin!

Let the trenching begin!  I've been trying for two years now to get sprinklers installed in our yard.  I could write several thousand words just describing all the various things that have gone wrong on the three separate attempts I've made.  But today is a red-letter day on this project, because today the first trenching on the project occurred.

If I were to stop right there, you'd think that great things were likely happening.  But about 30 seconds after I snapped the last photo below, an alarm started sounding on the skid-steer – the engine coolant was approaching a critical high temperature.  Oh, noz!  A little quick detective work on Mark T.'s part showed that there was a coolant leak, and that the coolant level was low.  Mark tells me that today's work is the first time any of this gear has been used since last fall, and he's had coolant leaks develop over the winter before.  So now he's off to get some more coolant, and to gather his tools to find and fix the leak.  Sigh.

Ignoring that little problem, though, his trenching machine is a pretty cool little gadget.  It's powered hydraulically, through the enormous hydraulic pump on the skid-steer: 24 GPM vs. the 5.5 GPM on my tractor, despite the nearly identical horsepower rating of the machines.  The teeth on the trencher drag soil to the surface, where an auger scoots it out of the way to the left of the driver.  It makes a very neat trench about 6" wide, and it does so quite quickly compared with a backhoe.  On the other hand, it can only do skinny little trenches – if you need one any wider than 6", you're out of luck...


Paradise ponders, Medicare edition...

Paradise ponders, Medicare edition...  So yesterday Debbie and I visited Sam Winward, our health insurance agent.  He's been very helpful to us the past couple of years, helping us navigate the (many) challenges of Obamacare insurance for older individuals.  Yesterday was the day we'd set aside for him to educate us about Medicare.  I turn 65 this year, so it's time for me to join that system.  Sam told me last year that I was really going to like switching to Medicare, so I wasn't too worried about what I'd learn today.

Though there are a mind-boggling number of options available (unlike with Obamacare!), it didn't take long for us to home in on a low-deductible Part F plan.  While this was the most expensive option available, the price is so low (roughly $400/month for me, $265 of which is the baseline Medicare premium) compared with our current plan, and the benefits so much better, that it was basically a complete no-brainer.  When I say the benefits were so much better, I mean: nationwide network of providers, no deductible, no co-pays, large drug formulary, no caps on hospitalization or physical therapy, and so on. 

How is this even possible at such a low cost?  Well, fundamentally it's because of two things:
  • The baseline Medicare premium is heavily subsidized by the Medicare taxes we all pay on wages.  For me, that's a little over a quarter million dollars over my working life.  That's far more than would be required to subsidize my health insurance, so as an above-average wage earner my taxes subsidizing a lot of other people's insurance as well.
  • The Part F supplemental is mainly insuring against the risk of exceeding the baseline Medicare's caps (especially for hospitalization).  That part of it resembles an old-fashioned major medical policy – the kind of policy I really wish we could have now instead of this #%^(&$# Obamacare policy we have.
Anyway, obviously Sam was right.  The health insurance situation under Medicare is way better than as an ancient Obamacare individual who isn't broke...

Right after that meeting, we went to Los Primos for what is becoming our Tuesday afternoon ritual: a meal of their outstanding beef and vegetable soup.  After we'd seated ourselves, the waitress we see most often (but who wasn't serving us yesterday) came over to say hello.  We ended up having a nice discussion about, of all things, stuffed peppers.  It turns out that stuffed peppers are something of a Salvadoran specialty, and they're making them on Friday.  If they're anything like these, they look great!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The day I have to wear a tie to fly...

The day I have to wear a tie to fly ... is the day I'll stop flying!

2.7 Billion views...

2.7 Billion views...  This says something about today's world, but I have no idea what!  This is the most-viewed video on YouTube.  Here's a list of the top 500 videos, ranked by number of views.  Nearly all are music videos by performers I've never even heard of, much less listened to...


Monday, March 27, 2017

Our man-killing window holes are now covered...

Our man-killing window holes are now covered...  And very nice-looking they are! These are the two covers that we traveled to Kalispell, Montana to pick up.  My brother Scott helped me install them today.  Both of them fit perfectly – another outstanding piece of work from the wonderful folks at Lazy K Wrought Iron!


I don't think I'll go out of my way to try this particular delicacy...

I don't think I'll go out of my way to try this particular delicacy...  Even though it's seafood, which I love.  Because it's fermented for six freakin' months, and I don't have to try that to know that I don't love it.

This stuff is from Sweden, it's called surstr√∂mming, and here's more than you ever wanted to know about it.  Watching the video is enough to convince me that Sweden should be quarantined from the rest of humanity, permanently.  First Volvos, then Abba, now surstr√∂mming?  That's three strikes, and they should be out!

Paradise ponders, burgers and Foyle's edition...

Paradise ponders, burgers and Foyle's edition...  We had kind of a lazy day yesterday.  I finished some chores in the house, built the second rib for the stairs, and then came inside for our afternoon meal: burgers.  That is, I had a burger (at right).  That's 3/4 pound of Macey's 85/15 burger (all that fat makes it delicious!), on a Macey's Asiago-and-onion roll, with avocado, ketchup, and sweet pickle relish.  Yum!  Debbie made her share of the ground beef into an enormous taco salad, low in sodium but apparently very tasty, as she ate the entire (gigantic!) thing.

After that meal we were so full that any resembling ambition flew off to an obscure country in southwest Asia.  So we crawled upstairs (slowly and carefully), and watched the last three Foyle's War episodes in a binge.  That's five hours of television, something I haven't done for decades.  The very last episode is a real shocker, ending with (literally) a big bang.  We're kind of sorry to be done with it.  But no matter, at our age we'll probably forget all about it within a few weeks, and can start it over as though it were brand new to us. :)

Today's big project for me is to help my brother Scott with his taxes.  I finished mine last week, except for the filing.  Doing my taxes never fails to put me in a bad mood, but the trip to Montana immediately following really helped pick me up.  In the future, I'm going to have to plan something nice for the few days immediately following tax prep.  It will help tamp down the anger I can't help feeling as I watch my hard-earned dollars being stolen by the government so they can waste it on something I don't believe in.

Before my brother gets here, I'm working on the stairs project.  I did an hour or so of sanding before I came up to write this post, and I'll probably go do some more in a little while.  Sanding is amazingly relaxing, and it's very good arm exercise. :)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Back to the stairs project!

Back to the stairs project!  The stairs I'm building use a couple of “ribs” to hold up the big landing and the smaller stair.  These ribs will stand vertically, their bottom on the floor and their top inserted into a 1/2" deep slot routed in the bottoms of the redwood stairs.  I just finished fabricating the first one.

I started with a piece of redwood 2x12, cut to the right length on my chop saw.  Then I ripped it to the right maximum width on my table saw, and made the cuts that I could on my band saw.  The result is in the first photo below.  If you embiggen that one, you can see a couple of 1" cuts I made to make a notch – but the last cut (a 2 1/2" horizontal cut) there was no way to get the band saw in there.  I could have drilled a hole in there and then used the scroll saw, but that saw is not very good at straight lines (at least it isn't when I'm using it :).  So I decided to try chiseling that piece out, something I haven't done very often.  That's the middle photo, and it turned out to be much easier than I'd imagined it would be.  That notch will be invisible, so it didn't really have to be a nice straight line – but I'm glad it turned out that way anyhow.  The last photo shows the finished rib.  Now I need to make another one just like it...


Paradise ponders, sea bass and spinach edition...

Paradise ponders, sea bass and spinach edition...  My beautiful bride fed us in style yesterday afternoon, with the dish at right.  That's fresh sea bass, grilled perfectly, with a lovely sauce over it, on rice and steamed spinach.  That was great!

We ended up not doing much yesterday. :)  Our main activity was watching a couple of episodes of Foyle's War, one of our all-time favorite TV series, and one of the very few that I actually enjoy watching...

I'm not really surprised...

I'm not really surprised...  But I do feel the doom coming on...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Paradise ponders, floods and snow stoppers edition...

Paradise ponders, floods and snow stoppers edition...  On Thursday morning, before the latest snow melted, I snapped the photo at right.  It shows our garage with a bit of snow on its roof, and if you squint hard you can see that there's a (new) piece of metal extending horizontally, about a foot above the gutter.  That's a “snow stopper” for standing seam steel roofs, invented by one of the employees (Tyler) of the roofer who installed all my roofing.  When he described it to me, I was a bit skeptical of its efficacy – so I had him install one on my garage (my worst snow falling-off-the-roof problem) as an experiment.  If it works, I told him, I have several other places that I'd add it to.

Well, based on the first test – admittedly an easy one, as we only got a half inch of snow – it's working exactly as he told me it would.  The snow is stopped in its tracks, and only a little bit escapes through the inch or so high open area underneath it.  That open area also allows the melted snow trickle through into the gutter.  We'll see how it does with a heavy snow, but for the moment I'm much encouraged.  I'm going to love it if this really does keep the giant piles of snow from forming right in front of my garage door!

Debbie and I took a drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon this morning, mainly to see the river.  It's just barely above flood stage right now.  The muddy river is violently boiling through normally sedate rapids.  There are a dozen or so spots where the river is over its banks and onto fields or pastures.  There's some visible damage – bank erosion, trees toppled, etc. – but less than I'd expect for the power of the water we see.  That foot bridge that I snapped a photo of a week ago is gone with nary a trace – even the abutments, such as they were, have vanished.

Paradise ponders, 1,200 miles of electrons edition...

Paradise ponders, 1,200 miles of electrons edition...  Well, we rolled back into our garage late last night, after driving nearly 1,200 miles over the past two days.  For some reason I'm a little tired today. :)  We left home at 5 am on Tuesday, and pulled into our destination (Lazy K Wrought Iron's Kalispell shop) just under 12 hours later. 

This trip was a bit of an experiment for us, to see if we liked traveling a long distance in our Model X.  The big question mark was how the charging stops we'd have to make would work out.  Bottom line: it was great, and we'll do it again without hesitation.  We knew that traveling in such a comfortable, quiet, easy-handling, fun-to-drive car car would be great.  We weren't so sure that we'd like the stops every couple hundred miles to charge the car, though.  We stopped four times on the way up to Kalispell: in Idaho Falls (Idaho) and in Lima, Butte, and Missoula (Montana).  The amount of time we stopped varied from about a half hour to just over an hour, depending on how much charge we needed in order to reach the next Tesla Supercharger.

In the case of those particular Superchargers, there was something nearby to occupy our attention: a restaurant, a coffee shop, or the like.  I'm not sure if that's true for all Superchargers, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that's true.  The Supercharger in Lima (at right) is in a tiny little town, but behind me was a restaurant (Jan's Cafe) that truckers seemed to favor.  We didn't eat there, but we noted that it got good reviews on both TripAdvisor and Yelp.  The other Superchargers were all in fairly large cities, with lots of possible charging-time activities within walking distance.

Each time we stopped for charging, we got out and walked around at the very least.  Often we grabbed something to eat or drink, and found a restroom.  This “stop every couple hundred miles or so” is not our usual traveling style when we're traveling to get someplace (as opposed to sightseeing).  For many years now, we've made high-speed dashes for long distances with very little stopping.  So this experience was a bit different for us, and ... we liked it.  It made the drive more relaxing and much less tedious.

Before this trip I spent some time with Tesla's Supercharger map and Google Maps, planning our route.  The tricky bit was trying to estimate how far our battery would take us, as I know it varies by what speed you're going, how much altitude change there is, what the temperature is, the wind, etc.  It's complicated!  Then when we started actually making the trip, I discovered completely by accident that the Tesla's navigation system does nearly all of this work for you – though not perfectly.  If I put our final destination in, the navigation system figures out all the Superchargers I'll need to stop at, and even tells me how long I have to stay there in order to get my charge up to snuff.  Very nice indeed!

But, as I mentioned previously, it's not a perfect system.  One thing in particular it seems to disregard is your speed.  I'm not sure what assumptions it makes, but it doesn't seem to take into account the high speed limit roads.  Several of the Interstates we took have 80 MPH speed limits, and that means the traffic was flowing along at about 85 MPH typically.  Aerodynamic drag on a car increases as the square of the speed, so the drag at 85 MPH is about double that at 60 MPH, and the drag probably dominates the power requirements for the motors at high speeds.  I suspect the navigation system simply assumes some fixed power consumption per mile, and when the road happens to be a high speed road, that estimate is considerably off.

So that meant we needed more charging than the navigation system estimated, which isn't really a big deal – those superchargers are fast.  But they're apparently not all created equal – our charging rate varied by about 2:1 from one Supercharger site to another.  I'm not sure why the rates varied, although some things I read this morning make me suspect that there was a partial failure in the lower speed ones we ran into.  It seems that the Supercharger equipment has a couple of levels of redundancy, including a modular approach that allows the charger to continue to work (albeit at lower speed) in the event of some kinds of electronics failures.  Slower charging is definitely better than no charging!

One thing we noted with a bit of surprise is that all eight of our charging stops (four up, four back), we were the only car charging.  We had been a bit worried about being delayed by a backlog of cars waiting to be charged, but that certainly wasn't an issue!  Each of the Supercharger sites we visited had eight charging stations, so at least at the moment there appears to be plenty of capacity.  I'm guessing that this is very dependent on exactly what route we're traveling, and probably on the time of day as well.

Another little imperfection in the navigation app took me a while to figure out: the navigation system didn't know about the existence of the Lima, Montana Supercharger site.  That led to it trying to route us from Butte to Idaho Falls, but at the 85 MPH speeds on that road the battery didn't have enough capacity to make it.  If we'd made that trip at 70 MPH, the car said we'd make it – but that would have been inconvenient, to say the least.  Fortunately I did know about the Lima Supercharger (from the Supercharger map on Tesla's web site), so I knew we could stop there.

When we stopped at Lazy K's shop, we got to meet Kevin and Abigail, the couple who owns Lazy K and with whom we worked remotely to get our fireplace door and sun room casement window covers built.  They were as nice in person as they were with all our calls and emails!  We also met their daughter, who helped us load the covers into our car.  Then we traveled just a few miles more to Whitefish, Montana and up to the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.  Though we were only there for the night, we enjoyed the beautiful view from our room's window (at right) and the nice people who helped us.  We ate dinner at the Tupelo Grille, where we had a wonderful mahi mahi entree and a shared appetizer of ahi poke (poke in Montana – what a world!).

Then yesterday on the drive back, we had beautiful scenery all the way, like that at left.  Debbie spotted a couple of pronghorn antelope herds, which made her day.  Along the way we saw signs advertising a “testicle festival” – you know you're in the western U.S. when you see that!

When we finally rolled into our garage it was about 9 pm.  We were dismayed to see that our property was covered in a blanket of snow, but by the middle of the next day it was all gone.

The objective of the trip was to bring home our new casement window covers, and that we did.  I've unloaded them from the car and brought them into our sun room.  On Monday my brother Scott will be here, and with his help I'll put them in place.  They're just as beautiful as the photos we saw.  Once they're in place, I'll snap a photo and post it...