Friday, November 17, 2017

Paradise ponders: temperature moderation progress, kitten settling in, and great customer service edition...

Paradise ponders: temperature moderation progress, kitten settling in, and great customer service edition...  Debbie and I took a nice drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon yesterday.  We spotted several groups of deer, and noted that the bucks are back with their harems.  We also spotted a large herd of elk just north of the Hardware Ranch enclosure – they're coming back for the winter.  It won't be long now before they're all in the enclosure and the kids are taking horse-drawn wagon rides out to see them.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon working on the return for my office temperature moderation project.  I had a question from a reader about how I cut those rectangular holes in the OSB.  The first photo below shows the beginning of such a cutout, in this case through the second-floor floor sheathing.  I started with a 1/2" hole right in the middle.  Then I used a battery-powered skill saw to cut a couple of chunks out, as you see in the first photo below.  This gives me access to make the square cuts, and I ended up with what you see in the second photo.  To put the return in, I had to make four of these rectangular holes: on the inside and outside sheathing of my office wall, on the second-floor floor, and on the first-floor ceiling.  These all had to be in perfect alignment, which meant much careful measuring.  Once the holes were cut, however, the rest was a piece of cake; in the last photo you see the completed return.  Well, almost complete.  Today I'm going to cut some OSB to make covers for the rectangular holes I cut, with a hole for the ducting.  This will let me refill the holes with insulation and button it all up nicely.  Then I really will be done!

Debbie is working on a name for the new kitten, which she thinks is female (it's surprisingly hard to tell with kittens).  We have an appointment for it at the vet next Tuesday.  Meanwhile it's in one of our isolation cages, with a soft bed, a clean litter box, and an unending supply of food and water.  It looks quite content. :)

I had a great customer service experience last night.  I'd ordered the little camera at right to put in our cattery, so Debbie could watch over the kitties while she was upstairs or away from home.  It didn't work at all out of the box, which of course was very disappointing.  I followed their directions in case of trouble, and fired off an email to their customer support describing my problem.  Then I went to bed.  This morning when I got up, I had a very nice email from Connie – directly reassuring me that if the camera really didn't work they'd send out a new one.  But first, she asked if I could try an alternative microUSB cable.  I did, and that solved the problem.  I let Connie know, and instantly she reimbursed me for the cost of the replacement cable.  Very nice service, and about as easy a problem resolution as I could imagine.  What makes it even more impressive is that the company (Wansview) is in China, as is Connie, and she's Chinese.  Her English was excellent (as so often is not the case), and her service attitude admirable.  Kudos! 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Paradise ponders: first air and fallen kittens edition...

Paradise ponders: first air and fallen kittens edition...  I made good progress on my temperature moderation project yesterday.  The first photo below shows the door (a hatch, really) for the plenum box I finished yesterday, and the next photo shows it installed, with chest latches holding it in place.  The last photo shows the completed plenum box, with the flexible duct leading up to the boot (and on the other side, the grill for first floor air to get into my office).  When I light it off, I can't hear the fan at all – wonderful!  Last night I left the fan going all night with the second-floor heater turned off.  When I checked it out this morning, my office temperature was 64°F, same as my first floor.  That wasn't really much of a test, though, as the coldest it got outside was 55°F!  :)  Tomorrow night it's forecast to get down to 20°F – that will be a real test!

This morning, as I was drinking my morning tea, Debbie called up from the cattery, saying there was something there I needed to see.  That turned out to be a little kitten, to all appearances healthy except for a complete lack of body fat – that little thing was hungry.  Small as it is, it put away two cans of wet cat food in mere seconds.  Debbie found it in the well of one of our basement windows – apparently it wandered over to our house, perhaps attracted to our cats visible in the basement windows, and tumbled down.  You can see in the photo at right just how small it is.  We don't know if it's male or female yet; we're waiting for it to settle down a bit before we handle it too much.  It's already accepting being held and stroked, so I don't think that's going to take long.  It's going to the vet next Tuesday for a checkup, and of course we're hoping it's FeLV negative...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Paradise ponders, moderated temperature progress edition...

Paradise ponders, moderated temperature progress edition...  I actually got to work on my project yesterday!  It feels ... unusual ... to have an uninterrupted day to work on a single thing.  Focus!  It's a good thing!

The first photo below shows the blower I installed on the ceiling of the first-floor “garage” section of my barn.  I did that well over a year ago, and it's just been sitting ever since.  That's a very conventional squirrel-cage blower, running on a fractional horsepower synchronous motor (so very efficient), blowing straight up.  Above that exhaust port on the blower is a rectangular duct I built out of wood, leading through the ceiling (which has 8" of insulation in it).  The second photo shows what's directly above that blower, on the second floor of my barn.  This is out in the storage section of the barn, which is uninsulated and unfinished.  You can see the top of the wooden duct I built, and the beginnings of the plenum box.  That box is made of 1/2 OSB skin with 2x3 stringers, and stuffed with insulation.  One the inside you can see the “rails” I fabricated to hold a standard 16x25x1 filter (and you can see that filter installed on the last photo).  The next thing I built was the top of the box, a slightly complex assembly (fabrication in progress on the third photo).  Finally, in the last photo you can see the almost-complete plenum box – only the front door remains to be built, and that will be my first job this morning.  Once that's complete, the downstairs blower will pressurize this plenum box, and filtered air will exhaust through the 6" duct connection on the top.  The next step after that will be to install a “boot” in my office and connect it to the plenum box with flexible insulated ducting.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Progress on the lair...

Progress on the lair...  By “lair” I mean my office in the barn, of course.  Yesterday I was suffering more than usual from a lack of sleep.  I was up at 2:30 am, and out in the part of the barn where I need to work on the fan project there is no light and no heat – so I didn't start yesterday.  Instead I worked in my office to put my desk together – another long-delayed project.  The result you can see at right.  There's a story behind this desk...

Originally we'd ordered this desk for Debbie's office, in our house.  At the time we ordered it (almost two years ago), I carefully measured the dimensions needed and sent them to the craftsman who was building that furniture.  The desk and a matching table in her office are made from black locust by a guy in Georgia.  Well, unbeknownst to me, as the craftsman was working he proposed making the desk bigger – much – bigger, with no increase in price.  He made that proposal to Debbie, through the vendor.  Debbie said “yes”, not realizing that the size was a critical factor.  I never heard about this little exchange.  We took that desk upstairs to her office, after taking it apart to negotiate all the corners.  I only realized the size was off after we'd gotten it all up there and the delivery guys had left.  That desk is heavy – I'd guess over 200 lbs all assembled.  Realizing that it wasn't going to fit was quite disheartening.  Finding out it was all our fault (and not the craftsman's) was even more disheartening – that desk was not cheap.  And it wasn't going to fit in Debbie's office, no matter what magic I tried to do.  Dang it!  There was nothing for it but to order a new desk for Debbie.  That left this giant desk with no home.  The only obvious things to do were to either keep it for me, or to try to sell it.  We decided to keep it.  So I disassembled the desk again, enlisted the aid of my brother Scott, and the two of us moved it, piece by piece, over to my office.  What a struggle that was!  It spent the last year disassembled in my office, right in the middle of the chaotic room.

So yesterday I reassembled it and moved it into place where I'd been using a folding table as a desk.  That's what you see in the photo.  It's beautiful, isn't it?  And it took me all day!

Paradise ponders: twilight zone edition...

Paradise ponders: twilight zone edition...  I'm not sure if I've blogged about Kickstarter before, even though it's a place I frequent.  I've never put a project up there, but I have backed quite a few of them over the years.  Amazingly, my experience has been uniformly good so far – every single project I've backed delivered what they promised.  Often, in fact, they over-delivered.  I do choose carefully, though: I only back projects that are something interesting to me and that look practical and competently led.  There are many that I review and dismiss because their goals look unrealistic or the project leaders look flaky.

But ... last night I ran across a new Kickstarter project that has set a new bar for both of my red-flag triggers.  To my surprise, investigating this project was like walking through a portal to another world: one populated with (if I'm being charitable) a large number of astonishingly under-informed people.

My first clue was the title of the project: Gabriel Device - Free energy for everyone.  That seems to over-promise a bit, no?  The photo at right is a screenshot of the device itself, taken from the video on the project home page.  It appears to be a simple toroidal transformer, a common enough device in modern electronics and electrical gear – one without any magical properties that I'm aware of.

My second clue was the first bit of the project description.  I'll just quote it:
How to change the world, Changing the world in of itself is a undertaking only most dream about and bicker about in early morning rush hour or afternoon coffee-shops, The United states is hapless says a Englishman, the new world is destroying our faith says a Muslim, why does my country seem to be in free-fall all the time, says a American.

Most of these issues are brought about by the media and propaganda that aspire to enrich or enslave a mind, but what if, the core issue to all of our problems stems from a power-source that just either hasn't been developed or needs to be fully developed,

If power was a source that could be transported and established across a well, a farm, a school, a vehicle, a hospital, all without moving parts and the only need to make it work is to get it initialized, that would even make Tesla himself dance in his grave.
I think Nicola Tesla may well be dancing in his grave, though perhaps not for the reasons this fellow thinks!

Further along in his description, he calls his device a “nested bi-toroidal transformer” – something I'd never heard of.  So I googled it.  It was when I started following the links that I felt like I'd entered that portal into another universe: the Universe of Perpetual Motion.  The current phrase in vogue is “above unity”, referring to devices with a ratio of output power to input power that is greater than one.  In the short intervals of coherency I found in the posts and videos, I think I figured out why the bi-toroidal transformer has entranced these folks: it's because they don't understand power factor, and this has fooled them into believing they're creating power from nothing.  This wouldn't be the first time that power factor has been a perpetual motion factor.

But ... this project is certainly the first time I've seen something so plainly loony on Kickstarter.  People are being asked to pledge a half million dollars (for what, I have trouble imagining, and the project doesn't actually say).  I'm somewhat relieved to see that as of this morning there is just one backer who has pledged $40.  I'm reasonably confident that this fellow won't get a half million dollars in pledges – but what if he did?  Would Kickstarter actually give him the money?  Kickstarter's guidelines and prohibited items list don't seem to rule out perpetual motion schemes.  Kickstarter and Stripe both make money from funded projects, so clearly both have an incentive to actually follow through with the funding, should there be sufficient pledges.  Gulp.  Part of me says “Yikes!  That shouldn’t be allowed!”  Another part of me – dominating at the moment – says “If there are enough fools willing to donate to an obviously hopeless cause, then … it’s on them. ”

But still ... oh, my!

A bad vendor experience..

A bad vendor experience...  Our old trash compactor (one that we inherited with the house) was on its last legs: rusty bin, problems with the tracks, noisy as all get out.  I'd been looking into a replacement for over a year, and I waited for a highly-rated KitchenAid model (at right) to become available – and for some of the other projects I had going to settle down.  So in early October, I selected a vendor (Lowe's) and ordered it.  They promised delivery on October 24th.  I was surprised that it would take two weeks, but that was still ok.

Well, the 24th came and I hadn't heard from Lowe's at all.  Not good.  I called, was promised a call back with a delivery date.  Never heard back.  I called again, this time got another delivery date promised: the 30th.  The 30th came and went.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  In this day and age, when vendors like Lowe's must compete with Amazon, the experience was so bad I can still scarcely believe it.  Overall it was five weeks from the time I placed the order until it arrived in my house.  I called Lowe's on six separate occasions, was promised three different delivery dates before they finally got it right on the fourth try.  There is no online service to get this information, and every employee I contacted seemed to be uncertain about how to even find my order – much less any accurate information about it.  I never received any sort of email confirmation from Lowe's (no snail mail, either).  I still don't have a receipt, though the cost was charged to my credit card.  About the only positive thing I have to report about the experience with Lowe's was that their delivery people were great: they had the right equipment, they took great care in the delivery, and they were friendly and polite.

We will never be ordering online from Lowe's again, unless convincing evidence of improvement is presented to us.  You may remember that we had a similarly disappointing experience with WalMart a few months ago.  Based on these two experiences, I'd say Amazon has little to worry about.  The bad service from Lowe's and WalMart contrasts especially keenly with the almost perfect record of great service with have with Amazon...

I should be careful to point out here that we have zero complaints about the trash compactor itself.  It is exactly as advertised.  So far we are very pleased with it.  It opens and closes effortlessly, and its operating noise is roughly half that of our old compactor.  A win on that front! 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Paradise ponders: temperature moderation edition...

Paradise ponders: temperature moderation edition...  My office is located on the second floor of my barn.  It's well-insulated, and last year I installed a heat pump that both heats and cools it.  That heat pump works great, but there are a couple of less-than-perfect things about it.  First, when the weather is very cold (under about 20°F), it stops heating.  The only other source of heat in the office is a little woodstove – which works very nicely indeed, but of course only while I'm there to feed it.  So when I walk into my office after a very cold night, it might well be below freezing in there.  Secondly, in the summertime if I turn off the heat pump when I leave in the afternoon, by the next morning my office is very hot indeed.  So I've been leaving the heat pump running all night, spending the extra money to make it comfortable for me in the mornings.

The engineer in me says “There has to be a better way!”  A couple years ago I thought of one, and actually started to implement it.  This better way depends on the fact that my barn's first floor is heated, and never goes below 64°F.  It's a very nice heating system, using in-floor circulating hot water.  The first floor isn't air conditioned, but it is very well insulated and rarely goes above about 77°F.

So I came up with the idea of circulating air from the first floor through my office in two circumstances.  First, when the temperature in my office goes below about 60°F, and the first floor is warmer than that.   Secondly, when the temperature in my office goes above about 70°F and the first floor is cooler than that.  Last year I installed the fan required to do this, and started with the ducting for the fan's output.  My next big project is to finish that work: the fan ducting, the return and its ducting, and a controller.  The controller will be the fun part, of course. :)

Why not simply use a thermostat?  The challenge there is the thermostat would base its decision solely on the temperature in my office, but I need something different: to take the temperature at the ceiling of the first floor into consideration.  Of course I'm going to tackle that with a Raspberry Pi (diagram of proposed system above right)!  The parts are on order and should be here soon.  I'm going to put a temperature sensor in my office, near my desk, and a second on the ceiling of the first floor.  I'll use a solid state relay to turn the fan on and off.  The Raspberry Pi will implement the fan control algorithm exactly as I described above, and in addition it will act as a monitor for both the first floor temperature and my office temperature.  Once I have that all running, I'll be able to restrict my use of the heat pump to when I'm actually in the office (saving a few bucks a month), and I won't have to worry about the office temperature descending into the deep-freezer realm...

Paradise ponders: powered by UPS edition...

Paradise ponders: powered by UPS edition...  My “install the UPS” project yesterday went about as well as it could.  There were no major challenges, and no extra trips to Home Depot were required.  The new L5-30R receptacle (at right) is about the only visible part of the project, other than the UPS itself.  As I'd hoped, at the current draw my actual equipment has, the UPS is fairly quiet.  I located it in the storage area of my barn, outside the insulated walls of my office, so from inside the office I can't hear it at all.  I put my 'scope on the power produced by the UPS, and it's a beautiful, noise-free sine wave.  Put my freq counter on it, and it's running at 60.0002 Hz: more than close enough for anything I need!  That's actually probably better than the power company, especially when you take the noise on the main lines into account.

I did run into one disappointing thing.  The “Multilink” software that comes with the UPS is a restricted license with very limited capabilities.  It has an embarrassingly bad user interface, and there's no obvious way for me to write software that can interact with it, or monitor it. This is not what I had been expecting out of a datacenter-class piece of kit.

Multilink communicates with the UPS over a serial port.  That got me to wondering whether the serial protocol was documented.  A little googling and I discovered that (a) no, it's not documented and in fact is explicitly proprietary, and (b) of course some other datacenter operations folks have reverse-engineered it (the same protocol is used on many UPSs, including the monsters used in datacenters).  This fellow made a start on documenting it, and includes some interesting information about how he did it.  Here's another guy who actually wrote a Linux device driver for it!  It looks like it won't be too hard for me to integrate some monitoring for this...